Hemlock's Diary

The ravings of Hong Kong's most handsome expat
17-23 August 2003
Sun, 17 Aug
Wake up next to a Southeast Asian gentlewoman demanding physical attention.  After satisfying her needs, and burning a few days' excess calories in the process, I make an omelet while she showers.  Her carnal requirements sated, I arouse her maternal instincts by pulling out the ironing board and a pile of crumpled shirts, mentioning how the last time I tried this, the Fire Department had to sort things out.  She assumes control, and less than an hour later everything urgent in Perpetual Opulence Mansions is ironed, cleaned, washed, swept.  We part ways in equal happiness.
In the news today, Uganda's favourite accordion-playing, ex-boxing champion and self-proclaimed King of Scotland Idi Amin has died, and the South China Morning Post has an exclusive – they have found a Hong Kong retail outlet with no Nazi regalia.  Meanwhile, I am busy organizing Hong Kong's first flash mob.  How can we be a world city if we don't have a spontaneous, pointless gathering of people summoned by email and text message?  The challenge is to contrive a sufficiently bizarre activity for the mysterious, suddenly assembled masses to perform.  In all modesty, I think my idea is weirder than anything hip Americans or Europeans can manage.  One lunchtime soon in Central, thousands of people will line up outside McDonald's and take it in turns to go in and ask for a Snoopy doll. Let's see New Yorkers and Londoners match that in their efforts to be surreal.
Mon, 18 Aug
A discreet breakfast of fish congee and fried noodles at Yuet Yuen with buxom Administrative Officer Winky Ip, just returned from a trip to Beijing.  The comrades are debating Article 23 legislation furiously, she reports.  She reckons there’s a 50% chance that it will be put on hold indefinitely.  The bad news is that this would be accompanied by a major united front-style effort to isolate the HK Government’s opponents.  A big friendship campaign. “Not just anti-Tung tycoons and wavering pro-Beijing types,” she says.   “Moderate Democrats, media people,
us, of course…” she points to her civil-servant-self “…and as many professionals as possible – lawyers, teachers, doctors.”   I put down my glass of jasmine tea.  “That’ll just polarise the middle class – what’s the point?”  She shakes her head.  “They think they’ll pull nearly everyone across,” she replies. “They think everybody will be one big happy family, given access to the CE and Beijing, lots of face, photo ops.  That, plus a revitalised economy, and it’ll just be Emily Lau and Margaret Ng frozen out on the sidelines, sulking, and no-one wanting to know them.”  I nod at Winky – “You, of course, waved your hand in the air and said ‘no, you don’t get it, that won’t work in Hong Kong’, didn’t you?”  She stares out of the window.  Is our insightful and visionary, ‘consensus’-obsessed Government stupid enough to go along with this rubbish?  What a stupid question.

Tue, 19 Aug
S-Meg Holdings’ soon-to-be-released interim results will not enhance the Big Boss’s reputation as a dynamic and visionary corporate titan.  “You have all failed!” he bellows, slamming the table at the morning meeting and almost hurling a Mont Blanc pen at the spotty accountant.  I later join the luckless beancounter, the company spinster – sorry, secretary – and the pink-skirted corporate affairs floozy to think up excuses. “These results are not ‘disappointing’,” I suggest, “and they are not merely ‘satisfactory’.  They represent … ‘a highly encouraging recovery’ from the grave setbacks we suffered because of SARS, the Iraq war, SARS, low consumer confidence … and SARS.”  Everyone nods, except the corporate affairs floozy, who is mentally undressing me.  “With its carefully developed strategy to take full advantage of exciting new opportunities,” I continue, “management is confident that the company’s performance in the second half of the year will leave shareholders totally beside themselves in a state of euphoria and bliss.  Or something.”  The corporate affairs floozy suddenly grabs her pad and pen. “Sorry, could you repeat that?”  A virus is so tiny – yet it lets giants off the hook.  Where would under-performing companies point the finger, what would our bloated, spendthrift Government have to blame, without the Special Administrative Region’s Scapegoat?

A 76-year old man leaped to his death yesterday with his dog, according to the
SCMP.  Typically, the rag neglects to tell us the things we want to know.  What breed?  One of the nasty little yappy things with a congenital grin?  In which case, good riddance.  A collie?  Such a graceful creature, one could almost imagine it struggling free during the fall and soaring into the sunset.  Or a pavement-cracking, fully grown St Bernard?  Maybe we will never know.

Wed, 20 Aug
If a public opinion poll showed that HK people’s favourite foods were, in order, shark’s fin soup, pickled onions and cat excrement, eyebrows would be raised. Did the pollsters set the question badly – perhaps by giving respondents an artificially restricted list of answers to choose from?  Thus we have the results of the recent
HK University survey on the popularity of Legislative Council members. Things have changed since last year's. The people’s favourite is lawyer Audrey Eu. I recall how, voting for her in 2000, I was strangely tempted to help myself to an amusing souvenir, namely the little self-inking rubber stamp provided to mark the ballot sheet.  Then I realized how disappointed she would be at the very thought, so I didn’t.  Will this survey convince her to run again next year?  Coming in second place is Legco President Rita Fan.  Seeing her sitting on her throne and never voting, people think she is a nice, even-handed schoolmarm, never realizing that in private she is a Satan-worshiper who bites the heads off gerbils. In third position – out of a remaining choice of 58 clowns in the circus – the benighted HK public opts for the ludicrous James Tien.  As a staunch opponent of democracy and a firm believer in the intellectual superiority of people whose daddies owned large numbers of sweatshops, he ought to dismiss this survey as inconsequential.  And quite right too. The survey confirms that universal suffrage would be a disaster – the deluded rabble see James Tien as a hero for withdrawing Liberal Party support from Tung last month, when in fact he is a shallow, opportunistic buffoon. Thank God they can’t vote.

Thurs, 21 Aug
Is there any truth to the rumours that the marauding herds of
giant gerbils wreaking death and destruction throughout Northwest China are sweeping towards Hong Kong?  And, if so, what will these golden, furry sons of the Gobi make of their plucky, sewer-dwelling cousins, Rattus Cantonesus?  It would be an interesting clash of rodent might – the gerbils with their Genghis Khan warrior tradition, versus Hong Kong’s black rats, with their meat cleavers, tattoos and horse racing magazines.  My dreams about this battle are rudely interrupted at 3.30am by a more immediate wildlife infestation – a 6-inch cockroach gnawing on my big toe.  Given that I sleep in the nude, I suppose it could be worse.  Switching on the light, I kick the repulsive beast smartly across the bedroom towards the bookshelves, where it bounces off RH Tawney’s Religion and the Rise of Capitalism and falls to the ground.  Stunned at this unexpected turn of events, the loathsome creature pauses to collect its thoughts. Whoever determined that these hideous life forms will survive nuclear bombs was obviously keeping the wrong anti-insect weaponry in his bedroom.  Grabbing and rolling up last week’s issue of The Economist, I leap fearlessly at the insect and beat it mercilessly to a pulp, ignoring its pitiful cries and the agonized flailing of its antennae.  Out of death, irony.  If the Filipino elves were in town, The Economist would have been “cleaned up” – filched on the off-chance that, as a British publication, it may contain photos of Princess Diana’s sons, in whom middle-aged Filipino women seem to have a (to my mind) unhealthy interest.  But with their regular attendance – especially, I suspect, in the vicinity of the kitchen – the cockroach menace never rears its giant and ugly head.  I can’t win.

Fri, 22 Aug
Hong Kong’s middle class – the backbone of our civilization – is in a good mood, as I find out when I bump into favourite married couple Lincoln and May on the Mid-Levels Escalator.  Two months ago, they were talking of fleeing to their bolthole in a Chinese colony in the Toronto suburbs, heedless of the freezing weather, the high taxes and the disgusting chipmunks that infest the place.  Now, they dismiss the idea of leaving their hometown.  They feel good because in early July they knocked the Government to the ground – a Government committed to excluding them from political participation.   They then sat back and relished the sight of this dismal leadership clumsily picking itself up, with distinctly unenthusiastic help from its supposed friends, dusting itself off, and realizing how silly and small it really is.  “I thought – wow, that’s cool!” says Lincoln, “we actually
did that.” It felt great.  The emperor of our first-generation middle class, Li Ka-shing, agrees.  Asia’s richest man says he is proud of the 1st July protestors – yet another slap in Tung’s chubby face.  Of course, KS is peeved about Tung’s latest white elephant, the HK-Zhuhai bridge, which could encourage competition – horror of horrors! – for his port and cargo-handling business.   He probably also wants to distract attention from the dismal dividends he is paying Cheung Kong shareholders (I will have words with him on that, myself), and from the usual complaints from bores whining about the supermarket duopoly.  But at the end of the day, Li’s only human.  Slap! God, yes – that does feel good.