Hemlock's Diary
The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat

18-24 April 2004

Sun, 18 Apr
According to Hong Kong’s last governor, Chris Patten, the situation in Iraq is more serious than the Vietnam War – a minor, 16-year conflict that claimed a mere 5 million casualties.  I blame all those Tai Cheung Bakery egg tarts he stuffed into his face in between bouts with Mainland officials back in the mid-90s.  Either that or being ‘External Affairs Commissioner’ for the Euro-rabble and gorging himself on sickly Brusselois fare has made Fat Pang’s brain as soft and flabby as the rest of his corpulent torso.  Not content with involvement in the John Major administration, the brief semi-democratisation of the Big Lychee, and the self-important, bureaucracy-Reich of the European Union, Patten is destined to take on another lost cause – the Vice Chancellorship of fast-declining Oxford University.  Still, happy memories of the man’s good taste come back to me.  I recall him giving me a wave from behind a plate of steaming risotto at Va Bene, still probably Central’s best Italian place.  And who can help but be jealous of him?  I would give anything to be called just one of ‘tango dancer’, ‘serpent’ or ‘prostitute for a thousand years’ – let alone all three – by Xinhua.

Strolling through Wanchai in the afternoon, I can’t resist dropping into one of the disco dungeons full of lithe Southeast Asian women resting after a hard week’s domestic toil by leaping around to loud music.  “You never know,” I tell myself, feeling slightly esurient, “what you might pick up”.  Ignored by the throbbing pulchritude in the gloom, I find myself chatting to a greying, Pattenesque, middle-aged Swedish man who unfortunately has a serious stutter.  “That g- g- g-…”  He points across the bar to a short, plain young Indonesian lady.  “…g- g- girl.  She g- g- g- …”  Gets?  Goes?  Gargles?   “…g- g-gave me c- c- c-…”  Coffee?  Crackers?  Cacti?   “…c- c- chlamydia.”  I raise an eyebrow and nod slowly.  I see.  Interestingly, this cures my appetite for pleasures of the flesh wonderfully.  I joyfully return to Perpetual Opulence Mansions to listen to Bartok’s violin duos while improving my hand-eye coordination
swatting old tofu-for-brains.

Mon, 19 Apr
On the top floor of S-Meg Tower, in the heart of Hong Kong’s central business district, Pansy the Marketing Bimbo drops into the company gwailo’s office.  “This year,” she announces, “the Big Boss has decided to have a picture of snow-covered mountains on the cover of the annual report.”  She holds up some artwork mounted on stiff card.  ‘S-Meg Holdings annual report 2003’ says a sans serif typeface across the top of a striking photograph of what looks like the Canadian Rockies – a clear blue sky behind white-capped peaks towering over green forest.  “We need a title – a slogan – to go down here,” she says eagerly, pointing to the lower part of the cover and hoping that the only person in the firm capable of creative thought will produce some suggestions.  “It’s not very ‘Hong Kong’ is it?” I point out.  She gives me a weak smile.  I lean forward conspiratorially.  “Do you know what I’ve heard?” I ask in a low voice.  “I’ve heard that in some companies they would think up the theme first and then do the graphic design accordingly.”  She looks at me blankly, her mind barely able to function when faced with the possibility that the Chairman’s command can be questioned.  “The Big Boss chose this picture.  We need the title today.”  I take a deep breath and put on a stoical ‘I’ll-see-what-I-can-do’ face.  This sort of thing can really bite into a Monday of web-surfing, newspaper-reading, music-listening and generally goofing off.  Well, what can I come up with in three minutes?   ‘Another year of fortuitous progress and productive incompetence’.  ‘Blundering our way to record profits’.  ‘Continued healthy returns from unfocussed, reckless money-grubbing’.  Those will do.
Tue, 20 Apr
How long has Hong Kong been blissfully dull?  The last real riot must have been some 20 years ago, when a taxi-drivers’ strike provided the perfect opportunity for an outbreak of youthful exuberance in Kowloon. My
bet that 2003 would break the pattern proved wrong, and earned Morris, the finest Scotsman in the Hong Kong Police, a bottle of Glenmorangie malt.  Other world cities have decent civil disturbances from time to time – sports fans overturn cars, anti-war protestors vandalize historic monuments, anti-globalization morons get some basic economic lessons beaten into them.  In Hong Kong meanwhile, we get ‘brutal police damage Hello Kitty phone, claims protestor’, or just ‘monkey steals banana from Fanling housewife’.  In search of apocalyptic visions, I turn to Spike editor Stephen Vines.  After getting into the opium and listening to an old Buffalo Springfield album, he presents us with his revelation.  The big clampdown... 

“Beijing has decided to embark on the path of confrontation with the people of Hong Kong. … With no experience of dealing with lawful opposition to government polices and a fundamental inability to comprehend the implications of civil liberties, Beijing will respond to this crisis in ways with which it is familiar … Will we finally start seeing political prisoners in the SAR? Will Hong Kong go down the Singapore route where political opponents are hounded by the government out of jobs, and into court on all manner of pretexts and almost routinely bankrupted by a variety of means? Or, far more worrying, will China decide that when dealing with democrats it is really dealing with subversives who need to be treated in the same way as subversives are treated on the mainland?”

I see Martin Lee being charged under Section 9 (1) of Part II of the Crimes Ordinance – legislation that makes it illegal to “bring into hatred or contempt or excite disaffection against the Hong Kong Government” , and which he helped keep on the books by opposing the Article 23 laws. I hear tanks rumbling past Exchange Square, leaving mangled Mercedes, investment bankers and copies of
The Economist in their chewed-up concrete path.  I see middle-class families impaled on barbecue forks on the beaches, mown down by automatic gunfire in the entrance of Sogo, thrown in shackles from helicopters among the Park n Shop bags floating in the harbour.  But most of all, I see a large pinch of salt.  I see dull compromise that pleases no-one.  I see Hong Kong – the city where history worth televising doesn't happen. 
There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware
I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

There's battle lines being drawn
Nobody's right if everybody's wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind
I think it's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side
It's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you're always afraid
You step out of line, the man come and take you away
We better stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

    For What It's Worth
     Buffalo Springfield
Wed, 21 Apr
Central is knee-deep in foamy sputum this morning, as members of the pro-democracy camp froth at the mouth about not being invited to the
consultations in Shenzhen prior to the National People’s Congress Standing Committee’s hyper-efficient deliberations on Tung Chee-hwa’s report on constitutional reform.  A bit absurd – obviously you can’t invite someone to a consultation if you know they’re going to complain afterwards that it wasn’t a real consultation.  But then the pro-democrats know as well as everyone else that everything’s already been decided.  The consultation is an act.  The complaints about not being invited are an act (who ever complains about not being invited to Shenzhen?).  Everyone’s reading from the same script for a change.  And the good news goes on and on.  No less than 28 percent of the Hong Kong people are astoundingly considerate and kindly, according to the latest HK University public opinion poll.  It makes my heart swell with pride.  Forget holding doors open or helping old people cross the street.  More than one in four of us will take pity on the weak, the congenitally incompetent, the slow-witted, the feeble and the lame by claiming to have confidence in their ability to form a government.  Where else in the world can we find people with such compassion and sympathy that 28 percent of them will tell a ludicrous falsehood in order to spare a group of mentally disadvantaged people hurt feelings?   And as if life weren’t wonderful enough, the Chamber of Commerce finally, belatedly, almost reluctantly falls into line with my forecast from 2 January of 6-percent GDP growth for the Big Lychee in 2004 – a year now nearly one-third over.  Or they almost do, predicting a miserly 5 percent.  Considering the Chamber’s curious tradition of always appointing a chief economist who has no economics qualifications, I will forgive them.  This is Hong Kong, and we are considerate and kindly towards those who are a bit slow.

Thurs, 22 Apr
Singapore, the sad city-state where it is illegal to have oral sex and chew gum at the same time, is becoming a nation of incomprehensible babblers.  So say its farsighted leaders, who fear that their subjects’ habitual use of Singlish will lead English standards to
fall behind those in a long list of Asian centres – a list which mysteriously does not include Hong Kong.  But then, in a world where Americans writing for the International Herald Tribune describe Singaporeans’ gruesome Indian-Chinese lilt as ‘British-accented’, who can say where the Lion City’s obedient citizens rank in terms of linguistic hygiene?  All we know for certain is they tak boleh pakai, giam chai isn’t it lah!

Fri, 23 Apr
Stepping out of the lift into Private Office in S-Meg Tower, I notice a damp red patch spreading in the carpet just next to the antique Buddha statue.  Behind the statue, I find the severed head, covered with teeth marks, of A-Bun – an inoffensive epsilon whose main mission in life was to carry stationery supplies around the building.  A few yards away, Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary sits at her desk, specks of blood around her mouth, her eyes closed in anguish.  Before her, a glass jar of health-giving twigs and herbs infused in hot water sits half-finished.  With both hands, she clamps a small Hello Kitty hot water bottle tightly to her abdomen.  It’s that time of the month.  The time when even the Big Boss, one of the most savage beasts in the Hong Kong jungle, treads in fear lest the personal assistant seeks relief from her cramps by carving a passing tycoon into pieces with a chainsaw.  The company gwailo tiptoes silently across to his lair and gently closes the door.  This is a day to be still and quiet.

Fearful of disturbing Ms Fang by clicking my mouse too raucously, I read the news in a gradual and orderly manner.  I am struck by the ingenious logic of one of the business leaders attending the
consultations on political reform in Shenzhen…

"Ann Chiang Lai Wan, chairperson of C and L Group of companies, said it is not suitable to conduct universal suffrage to select the chief executive in 2007. The best way is to increase the number of people in the election committee in a bid to encourage more people to participate in the election, she added."

This surely explains why sales of C and L Group’s main products – intelligence-enhancement pills – have been weak for so long.  In a ‘bid to encourage more people’ to use the things, she refuses to let 99.9 percent of the public buy them.