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

21-27 November 2004

Sun, 21 Nov
Are we allowed to pick on the South again?  There was a time when it was
de rigeur, partly because it gave wits like Tom Lehrer an excuse to rhyme ‘boll weevil’ with ‘medieval’ – but largely because, as Phil Ochs showed, there was a lot to pick on them for.  Then victor’s guilt became trendy and people like Robbie Robertson felt the enemy’s pain.  Besides, as Randy Newman observed, Northern superiority was not short of hypocrisy.  I recall being told as a child not to snigger after great-aunt Martha made the 500-mile rail journey up the east coast and called asking to be picked up at the station because “the cab drivers here are all darkies.”  After the late, great Warren Zevon sent a last blast across the cultural Mason-Dixon line to remind them not to get too full of themselves, the South became cool, with cities that were too busy to hate, black mayors, a booming economy and even stylish cuisine.  The introduction of Georgia’s new flag in 2003 consigned the Confederate banner to the rusting pickup truck of history.  It was politically incorrect to disrespect the South or dwell too much on its Scots-Irish DNA-cursed heritage.  Or so I thought until today, when I receive an email linking to a brilliant, maybe classic, rant hilariously listing selective and obscenity-strewn evidence of the region’s shortcomings.  Meanwhile, in a dark corner of cyberspace, the fuckthenorth.com domain lurks menacingly.

Mon, 22 Nov
Inspired by the elegant and tasteful Christmas decorations that have adorned Central in recent days, Hong Kong’s clean-living middle class marks its early-morning arrival at the bottom of the Mid-Levels Escalator with a spontaneous, rousing performance of
Joy to the World. It is not just festive spirit.  It is not just the natural high we always feel first thing on a Monday, looking forward to another week’s wealth-creation after a long, refreshing night’s sleep.   We are singing to celebrate the imminent selection of a new leader of the Democratic Party, following the resignation of Yeung Sum, whose strategic skills and charisma made the party the force it is today.  An investment banker and fellow resident of Perpetual Opulence Mansions looks up from his newspaper.  “Was he the one with the glasses?” he asks me.  A marketing manager pulls her ermine earmuffs down and helpfully points out the photo of Dr Yeung.  The big question, she remarks, is who will replace him?  They look at me expectantly.  “Whoever it is,” I tell them, “I’m sure he’ll see how pointless it is trying to persuade an 800-pound panda bear through open confrontation.  I’m sure he’ll get the whole membership together and declare ‘we must become a pro-Beijing party’, and tell them to drop the referendum idea, cut off ties with the June 4 movement, and buy a good shoe-shining kit.”  My companions nod in agreement – the collapse of the pro-democracy movement into self-indulgent stagnation and irrelevance will soon be reversed.  Further up the hill, our fellow commuters burst into a spirited rendition of I Believe in Santa Claus.
Tue, 23 Nov
Yearning for a unique quality family entertainment experience, Hong Kong undergoes a near-orgasmic, communal surge of pleasure on learning that the world’s first government-owned Disneyland will be
opening on 12 September 2005.  I can’t wait to see the looks on Mainland tourists’ faces as they enter this, the glorious motherland’s latest state-owned enterprise, and find themselves in Main Street, USA® (designed after quintessential small-town America and evoking a time gone by when the gas lamp was giving way to electricity and
the ‘horseless carriage’ was the latest novelty).  I can’t wait to see the looks on their faces when they encounter serving staff announcing “this way to Mickey’s PhilharMagic” in Filipino- and Nepalese-accented Mandarin.  I have already seen their expressions when they get given change in a store and find it has Queen Elizabeth II’s head on it, but it is such a joy to behold – a unique quality family entertainment experience that will be well worth repeating.  As a confirmed fan of cultural imperialism – especially on communist soil – my heart swells with pride to be one of the Hong Kong taxpayers who handed a mere HK$22 billion, plus 180 hectares of land, to an American corporation that managed to make Winnie the Pooh worse than the original, plans to debauch the MTR, and which is regularly labeled ‘worst employer’.  Could we erect any more fitting monument to the greatness of our visionary and patriotic Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa?
Wed, 24 Nov
A mailing from HSBC excitedly advises me of their latest exclusive offer to dear valued customers – invest HK$680,000 in bonds or mutual funds through them and receive a HK$500 Park n Shop coupon.  There is something rather tawdry about this.  It’s like buying a Mercedes and getting a free T-shirt, or buying a luxury apartment and being given a toaster.  They could at least have made it a coupon for CitySuper or some other vaguely up-market emporium.  Or has Park n Shop come up in the world and become acceptable?  Back in the days when we were poor but happy, we would venture in and wade knee-deep through maggots and dead rats down cramped aisles of leaking cans of fetid Ma Ling pork, and come out with fleas and botulism – all because San Mig was on special at 75 cents a can.  A revelation strikes me.  Why doesn’t HSBC just cut the handling fees?  Obviously, their marketing people are on drugs.  Inspired, no doubt, by Hong Kong Post’s latest exciting series of stamps – hallucinatory mushrooms of the New Territories…
Thurs, 25 Nov
Breakfast with the bearded Australian public relations man/event organizer.  He has started up his own ‘practice’ he says, giving me his new name card.  He is now a ‘communication counsel’.  I choke on my turkey and pumpkin congee.  “You’re just a PR floozie,” I tell him, laughing.  He visibly takes umbrage.  PR floozies are female, he informs me in a hurt tone.

MID-MORNING in S-Meg Tower, and the Big Boss bails out of an interview with a youngish American newspaper reporter to answer a conveniently-timed urgent call from Tung Chee-hwa.  As a nonentity of whom no-one has ever heard, someone whose very parents say “who?” when he calls, I am of no use to the journalist.  He wants a famous name, not a lowly company gwailo.   So we have an informal chat.  He is new to Asia and asks me why China is so utterly obsessed with Taiwan and so petrified about the plucky little island declaring independence.  America would drop Puerto Rico tomorrow, he says, and the UK shrugged Ireland off decades ago. “Exactly,” I reply.  “Why do they want an island of people who drink their own urine?”  I give him my take.  “If Taiwan declares independence, the Communist Party probably falls from power.  The CCP has only one ideology, one
raison d’etre, and that’s to keep the mandate of heaven.”  The keen-eyed reporter nods slowly and starts writing in his notebook.  “To stay in power,” I go on, “it must deliver two things to the people.  One, continual improvements in material living standards.  Two, national pride and glory.  So let’s imagine Taiwan declares independence.  If Beijing uses military force to try to recapture it, the international economic backlash makes China’s people poorer, and the CCP falls.  If Beijing lets Taiwan go, it’s the ultimate national humiliation, so the CCP still falls.  Taiwanese independence is a gun pointed at the CCP.  Beijing begs the US to stop Taipei from pulling the trigger out of self-preservation.”  I watch him finish scribbling.  “But don’t quote me.”

Fri, 26 Nov
Proof that drinking in Wanchai improves the mind comes in the form of
International Action
...a small group of semi-intellectual gweilos, overseas Chinese, local Chinese and other Asians who live in Hong Kong.  Instead of wasting time drinking in Lan Kwai Fong, or in our case the more salacious bars of Wanchai, we have decided that as foreigners living here, we have a responsibility to speak up and contribute our small part in making Hong Kong a better place
According to their credo, ‘We believe the obscene gap between the rich and the poor in Hong Kong is completely unacceptable’.  I am heartened to find that someone else feels this way.  For years, many of us have told officials and legislators that the lower orders should not be on this side of the border.  Since 1980, virtually all our manufacturing industry has moved to the rest of the Pearl River Delta – just as factories have left London or New York.  Yet our low-skilled workforce has remained here, in a city they cannot afford to live in and where there is no demand for their labour.  And, incredibly, more arrive every day from their Mainland pig farms under the family reunion scheme.  They leave everything – our unemployment data, our public housing estates, our welfare bill and our gini coefficient (0.525 ) – looking disgraceful.  If we halved their welfare and other subsidies but made them payable in Shenzhen, everyone would be better off and happier.  An economist would call it lowering barriers to labour mobility.  Our politicians, unionists and do-gooders call it exporting the poor.  So they sit in their squalid housing estates like Tin Shui Wai and chop each other up, while our hard-working middle class has to subsidize them from cradle to women's refuge to morgue.  I will send International Action a donation.