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

19-25 December 2004

Mon, 20 Dec
Like all residents of the Mid-Levels, my heart would swell with civic pride if the winner of this year’s Award for Most Morose-Looking Shop Assistant Wearing a Santa Cap were from this neighbourhood.  And I believe we are in with a strong chance, now I have nominated the desperately miserable, middle-aged woman behind the counter at the Soho branch of 7-Eleven.  We will have to wait and see.

SENILE OLD hag on welfare takes on Government, investment banks and half a million investors’.  Sitting in my office admiring the view of Victoria Harbour, I try to envisage such a headline coming out of Singapore or Shanghai.  In the Lion City citizens know their place, and the idea of a public housing tenant opposing a major state initiative would be ludicrous.  But if she tried it there, Ms Lo Siu-lan would be evicted, sued for libel by the Lee dynasty, arrested for filing a false expenses claim 10 years ago, and probably accused of taking nude photos of a domestic helper.  In Shanghai-the-city-that’s-taking-over-from-Hong-Kong, she would attract as much attention and wield as much influence as an ant in the path of a bulldozer.  This is evidence of our inferiority.  ‘Big Lychee's status as financial hub decimated’.  Obviously, investors will lose confidence in a city where private citizens can check Government incompetence and arrogance in the courts.  From now on, international financial houses will quake in fear at any mention of the name ‘Hong Kong’ – the place where they let a vicious 67-year-old woman stomp Goldman Sachs and HSBC into the ground, grinding the soles of her slippers into their fat faces and beating their pin-striped bodies into a pulp with her purse, while passers-by looked the other way.  Meanwhile, the beer money I had earmarked for the suspended IPO is being returned.  I have nothing to do with it but pay my annual tax, which will be divided between stupid, overpaid officials mismanaging world record-breaking privatizations and mad, staring senior citizens determined to thwart them.  Looking at it not as bad governance but as entertainment, I can’t imagine anything that provides better value for 16 percent of my salary.

OUCH…  POOR Tofu-for-Brains is publicly dragged over to Macau’s fifth anniversary celebrations, told to bend over and given a
severe spanking for his somewhat uninspiring performance during the last seven years as Chief Executive of Hong Kong.  Some think that President Hu Jintao is a sadist simply for leaving Tung Chee-hwa in office, but I’m sure he knows what he’s doing.  The people of Hong Kong left Beijing with no option but to leave the crop-haired one in place when they demanded his removal in July 2003.  Tung is our punishment – a dead, rotting carcass we must wear around our neck as a daily reminder of the folly of questioning the realities of the new order.

Tue, 21 Dec
I planned to start the morning with wild American friend Odell roaming IFC Mall in search of its
seasonal delights.  I wanted to find one of the Juggling Elves from Santa’s Grotto and dangle it upside down by its legs, which I understand they enjoy greatly.  Odell was interested in the Acrobatic Snow Fairies from Finland, who he thinks might be ‘worth a grope’.  However, I am summoned at an early hour straight from home to S-Meg Tower for an extremely urgent meeting/visit/trip – no-one knows – with the Big Boss.  Some three hours later, I am sitting in my office patiently waiting, listening to Robert Moran’s Ten Miles High Over Albania – the only piece of music I know that is scored for eight harps.  My mind turns to the pair of Filipino elves in Perpetual Opulence Mansions.  What should I do about the small ivy and tinsel decoration they have been impertinent enough to drape over the never-used hallway light outside my kitchen?  They know that I strictly forbid any Christmas ornamentation in my apartment.  But it is such a tiny sprig.  This is a challenge.  The little fiends are testing me, to see what they can get away with.  I can pretend not to notice, and see if they dare install further festive displays behind my back.  Or I can nip this disobedience in the bud and give them a sound thrashing.  A well-deserved taste of the old camel whip.  Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary shrieks through my door.  Our visionary Chairman has arrived.
LUNCH IN S-Meg’s executive dining room with the Big Boss, colleagues and an intelligent but dull senior civil servant who explains what Hu Jintao really meant at yesterday’s Tung-lashing.  To the extent that Hu was criticizing, the pompous and tedious official tells us, he was criticizing everyone in Hong Kong.  He falls silent and gazes upon us.  The Big Boss finishes his last slice of slimy primeval marine invertebrate – sea cucumber, I think – and nods.  “Exactly,” he says, putting down his chopsticks and looking at me and the others accusatively.  “I hope you all bear that in mind.”  We all nod dutifully.  We walk to the elevator to see the Government apologist off with plenty of face.  The door closes, and we hear the machinery transport him away.  “What complete rubbish,” the Big Boss splutters.  “But I think that’s what Tung actually believes.”  I am tempted to leap to our much-maligned administration’s defence, pointing out its sterling work in valiantly defending the community from such menaces as the deadly fart bomb.  But I let it pass.
Back in the company gwailo’s lair, I catch up on emails, including one from noted shareholder activist and philosopher David Webb, who has entered into the seasonal mood of goodwill to all men.  He is pleased to unveil his Hall of Shame, a list of company directors in Hong Kong who have something interesting in common.  They have all worn cold steel manacles around their wrists, had their hair brusquely shorn with clippers, donned pale brown smocks and shorts, slept on canvas mattresses in bare brick-walled rooms with no aircon, and eaten plain congee for breakfast for months – to atone for their misdeeds.  Also, I note, many of them have a curious preference for spelling their names in Pinyin.  Perhaps we can have a Hall of Shameless, a tribute to the far better-known company directors who should have been in the slammer, but weren’t – thanks to amnesiac prosecution witnesses, mysterious but fortuitous procedural bungles by the police, the intervention of understanding friends in Government, or the disinclination of someone, somewhere to be chopped to pieces in a dark street or found one dawn in a car park with a 7.62mm hole in the head.
Wed, 22 Dec
An early morning visit to the post office to pick up a parcel.  Sitting at my desk in S-Meg Tower, I peel the brown paper away to reveal a brightly wrapped seasonal gift – deer and Santa Claus frolic amid snow-clad phrases like Joyeux Noel, Boas Festas, Buon Natale and Nadolig Llawen.  A large label indicates that it is for me from my mother, and adds ‘NOT TO BE OPENED UNTIL DECEMBER 25!!!!!!’  Despite the crepuscule of her mental faculties, it is clear that she can still read my mind.  I rip off the wrapping with gusto and eagerly survey my loot .  Books, CDs, the usual things.  And a men’s shaving kit.  Shaving oil, gel and – to my horror – moisturizer.
Moisturizer?  Are men using moisturizer nowadays?  I shudder at the thought that someone might see this stuff in my bathroom.  This is the feminization of humanity.  There was a time when men were men, and women were overgrown children – unfit to make decisions or handle votes, machines or money.  Today, women are the regular, standard-issue human beings, and men are the deficient ones – unable to trust, nurture or emphasize.  Some women won’t have one in the house.  In schools, 13-year-old girls’ verbal skills match those of 16-year-old boys.  Sperm levels are plummeting.  Maybe it’s something in the modern environment.   Plastics, perhaps.  Which brings me back to this PVC tube.  Curious, I can’t resist opening it and smearing a bit of the greasy white cream on my fingertip.  I take a sniff.  For a ‘dual skin defence system, which combats harmful UVA/UVB’ it has remarkably little odour.  What shall I do with it?  I’m certainly not going to rub it into my face.  A flash of inspiration later, I email wild ex-Mormon friend Odell.  “At great expense,” I inform him, “I have just bought your Christmas present.”
Thurs, 23 Dec
The mood on the Mid-Levels Escalator this morning is subdued as word spreads that our neighbourhood’s best hope for winning this year’s Award for Most Morose-Looking Shop Assistant Wearing a Santa Cap has been ruled ineligible by the competition’s organizers.  It seems that the suicidally depressed-looking woman who works the morning shift at the Soho 7-Eleven serves RTHK personality Phil Whelan.  Apparently, this is considered to be cheating. 

On a brighter note, oleaginous Filipino-Chinese hotshot Bong-Bong Queveco has sent his Gulfstream up to Lychee International Airport to collect the Big Boss for a day-long meeting in Manila.  The S-Meg Chairman didn’t want to go – it’s a waste of time being with that diamond cufflink-encrusted, cigar-chomping, Hokkien-yacking oaf.  Knowing that our master is congenitally incapable of saying ‘no’ to a ride in a private jet, Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary had a word with Bong-Bong’s people, and lo! – we have a free day.  Two hours in the office should suffice.  Flicking through the
South China Morning Post, I see that the Sands Casino in Macau has lost its virginity, having experienced its first on-premises suicide – a 41-year-old Mr Li, who flung himself off a third-level ledge after gambling away around HK$3.2 million.  After the failure of the Link REIT, I feel like a flutter myself, though it needs to be of a more intelligent variety than a game of blackjack.  After sniffing around a few days ago, I put a modest amount of beer money into an HSBC warrant, 4441, at $0.83, with a strike price of $123.88 and a maturity date of June 2005.  If I lose money, it will be because the underlying stock price has fallen – which is what I would secretly like to happen, so I could accumulate HSBC shares cheaply with more serious sums.  I win either way.  Life is wonderful.

Fri, 24 Dec
One of the best things about Christmas in Hong Kong is that people don’t insist on dragging religion, goodwill and similar distractions into it.  Thus it neither surprises nor dismays us to see the battle for the top job between Chief Secretary Donald Tsang and Financial Secretary Henry Tang finally erupt in the open.  Nor does it come as a shock that Liberal Party boss and odious nematode James Tien is the
one to say what everyone else has long known – that bow-tie man aims to bestow billions of dollars worth of public wealth upon Li Ka-shing and his friends, in return for becoming Chief Executive. 

As Donald told me when I bumped into him on
6 December, he has wrestled with his conscience and concluded that he has little choice.  Another 10 years of rule by tycoons, and Hong Kong will surely go the way of Carthage, Venice, Malacca and Batavia – an economy trapped in the past and slowly suffocated by parasitical, rent-seeking vested interests.  “Let the property developers choke on it,” Donald will mutter, as he crams the West Kowloon reclamation into their gaping jaws, takes over from Tofu-for-Brains in 2007 and leads Hong Kong into its 21st Century renaissance, under the enlightened, impartial policymaking genius of the Hong Kong Civil Service.  Blinded by the glare, Tien would finally come to realize that his grubby and shallow little dream – that a grateful Chief Executive Tang would one day be demented enough to pass him the throne – was all along a prospect too laughable to imagine.
“I KNOW!” said the young, lateral-thinking marketing manager at a Bank of China Group brain-storming session, “let’s foster a spirit of social unity by getting Hong Kong people to reflect on all the Government’s achievements in the last 12 months.”  How they laughed.  Thus, I spend the afternoon using my skill and judgement to pick the Top 10 Government Fuck-Ups of the Year, hoping to win at least one of the 200 stylish pendants worth HK$250.  Sponsored and supported by various PRC state-owned companies and patriotic Hong Kong enterprises and organizations, this amusing little competition cannot fail to encourage the whole community to dwell at length upon the litany of disasters and embarrassments that made 2004 such a memorable year for our visionary local leadership.  Oddly, one major blunder omitted from this contest is the now-legendary public savaging that a rabid President Hu gave the tragic Tung in Macau earlier this week.  As if to make up for this, the Rt Rev Hugh Janus DD sends me his touching shot of the event, along with a stirring portrait of the festive scene at Telford Gardens – the hallucinatory drugs capital of Kwun Tong...