Hemlock's Diary

The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat
20-26 April 2003
Mon, 21 April
Calling it "The City of the Name of God" paid off.  Macau remains free of SARS,.and I am free of the attentions of redoubtable matrons expecting me to make a fool of myself scrubbing Hong Kong's greasy, pus-ridden streets.  The old Portuguese place hasn't change since my
last visit.  An excellent show put on by the Holy Romans in their churches on Sunday.  Spent last night watching Peking opera on TV in my hotel room with a bottle of Segada Tinto from the local grocery store.  Tastes almost like chocolate.

On the subject of the Holy Romans, does Pope John Paul II really kiss the ground (lips – tongue, even) after alighting from an aircraft and, if so, is it scrubbed clean beforehand?  This occurs to me on my return to Hong Kong, where the big weekend clean-up has left the sidewalks so sparkling that they leave those of Singapore in the same class as the offal-strewn streets of Elizabethan England.  TV footage of our Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa eating a dinner of noodles and a fried egg straight off the pavement is in order – it would do wonders for our beleaguered tourism trade.

Tue, 22 April
Earth Day, apparently.  This deserves support, as it enables us to read through the
South China Morning Post much more quickly than usual, its comment pages being crammed with tiresome environmental drivel.
"He took a deep breath of air. Once again he caught a strangeness in the wind, neither pleasant nor unpleasant, neither odor nor perfume – just strange, and curiously exciting. "Superintendent, what's that smell?" Armstrong hesitated. Then he smiled. "That's Hong Kong's very own, Mr. Bartlett. It's money."
James Clavell  Noble House (1981)
No – it's bleach.  And now it’s Macau’s turn.  It seems I spoke too soon yesterday.  I do hope their first suspected SARS case isn’t the pert croupier I accidentally sneezed on in the Hotel Lisboa casino on Thursday evening.
Wed, 23 Apr
“Process, politeness, and accommodation” face off against "facts, values and outcomes". 
Newt Gingrich’s reading of the conflict between the State Dept and the Pentagon.  He is thinking in terms of the effete, cosmopolitan moral relativists in their Wisconsin Avenue seafood restaurants versus the rugged, cow-eating, proud Americans beyond the beltway, where the 10 commandments and the second amendment are the law.  But what an interesting choice of qualities at a time when Hong Kong deputies to the National People’s Congress are being discreetly approached for performance reports on poor old CH Tung.  Our embattled Chief Executive is all “process, politeness, and accommodation”.  He can’t make a decision.  He can’t bring himself to contradict his critics.  And he can’t help appeasing any and every interest group and emotional blackmailer that gets a foot in his door.  And what are "facts, values and outcomes" to him?   If he thought people wanted to hear the world is flat, he’d blurt it out.  He has no discernable political principles or economic ideology.  And he is driven purely by panicky, short-term, micro-manageable schemes intended to make us cheerful and compensate for his lack of a popular mandate.  With the heads of China’s Health Minister and Beijing’s Mayor rolling on the ground, our “dump Tung” campaign smells blood.  They will be disappointed.  The quizzing of the deputies is a message to Tung, who will kneel on broken glass and criticise himself when people start getting bored of SARS – and that will be that.
On cue, Tung throws a press conference to announce a SARS relief package, his latest panic-stricken attempt to be popular.  He could lead by example, remaining positive, calm and confident of a swift recovery from this short-term setback. Instead, he prefers to wet himself and throw huge amounts of taxpayer’s money around to no effect, while surrounding himself with second-rate advisors sporting miserable and depressing “mother’s funeral” faces.   Is it any wonder that people throw themselves off tall buildings all the time?
Thurs, 24 Apr
At least we have taken our World Health Organization SARS travel advisory on the chin.  Toronto – where bodies have been piling up on the streets for a couple of weeks – is
sorely vexed at being declared a diseased danger zone, a destination fit only for the suicidal.  My one visit to the place was long, long ago, my only real memory being the chipmunks and squirrels running around everywhere – the source of the current mayor’s rabies, presumably
A call from wild ex-Mormon friend Odell, who is in the doghouse with his Thai wife, Mee. Bored at dinner last night in a Thai restaurant in Wanchai with Mee and her friends, it seems he excused himself for a 10-minute stroll.  Two (Odell-speak for four)  hours later, drunk and covered with lipstick in some wretched-sounding girly bar, his phone goes.  Seeing it is his wife calling, he runs out of the loud place to answer the call – where Mee is standing waiting for him to answer.  “Why does this happen to me?” he wails. “Now I’m not allowed out of her sight after dark.”  This will be a major blow to Lockhard Road’s hospitality industry.  Let’s hope they qualify for Tung’s aid for small and medium enterprises.
Fri, 25 Apr
My experience with women from the great white north long ago convinced me that Canadians are like panda bears. If you prod them with a stick and offer food, they might take an interest in mating, or things in general, but there’s no guarantee. Otherwise they are a rather docile people, if uniquely interesting – as
Mr O’Rourke pointed out – in that they keep French people as pets. But my prejudices are being challenged by headlines screaming “Canada, apoplectic with rage, seethes over SARS”. Such anger!  A WHO travel alert is punishment for being disease-ridden – what can you do but clean up your act?  In future, Toronto must follow the example of Shanghai, whose total of just two suspected cases of SARS illustrates superior municipal governance.  We in Hong Kong long ago resigned ourselves to being overtaken by the Paris of the East, with its tasteful skyscrapers, healthy fried dumplings and impeccably regulated financial markets – and our colony in Ontario should do the same.  Perhaps part of the problem is the Canadian trait of taking oneself a Bit Too Seriously, like the blogger who declares his output copyright and imagines the Economist saw and stole “his” obvious and derivative idea for its cover this week.

Am I alone in entertaining impure thoughts about Dr Julie Gerberding, the USA's SARS mastermind and Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta?  This fantasizing is no fault of my own, it goes without saying.  In this hot weather, with only tepid water in the shower, my mind toys with my body – what can a red-blooded male do?  It is not as if I find public health a particularly arousing subject. But I can't help wondering – is she going gray …
down there?  American taxpayers surely have a right to know.   One of those rare occasions I regret no longer being one.