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

23-29 January 2005

Sun, 23 Jan
Lunch of
pho at Nha Trang in Wellington Street with Polly the lipstick lesbian.  She presses me to spend the afternoon at the new nudist beach at Sai Kung.  Squirming to find an excuse, I plead another engagement today and end up promising to go another time.  “Maybe over Chinese New Year,” I tell her.  “After all, it will be the Year of the Cock!”  I lean towards her waiting for her to laugh, but my dazzling wit obviously goes over her head.  I will have to hide during next month’s holiday.

Strolling from Central to Causeway Bay later, I can’t help noticing the many Mainland ‘tourists’ breaking the law during their visit to the celestial empire’s richest city by making money.  They are supposed to be spending it – on non-poisonous baby formula, cosmetics, banned books and tours of Lan Kwai Fong zoo, to photograph the exotic beasts on display.  Instead. some of these northern felons are selling garish baby clothes to Filipino domestic helpers sitting in the parks on their day off.  To such honest trading I can turn a blind eye.  But I feel less charitable when I am approached by a man with a shaven head wearing a faded saffron tunic, bound leggings and slippers. 

“Drop dead!” is all he gets from me as I wave him aside.  A few hundred yards into Wanchai, I see a similar scene.  A bald man in grey robes with beads round his neck waylays a fat, middle-aged gwailo, grins and offers a little coloured picture.  The gullible fool takes it and, after listening to a brief bit of grovelling, reaches for his wallet.  I stop and tap the Westerner’s shoulder.  “I hope you’re not thinking of giving this leech any money.”  The pink-faced Lockhart Road habitué replies that he was.  “This isn’t a real monk,” I declare, nodding at the mendicant, whose serene smile turns into a karma-wrecking scowl.  I explain how the Buddhist leaders in Hong Kong forbid begging.  “Monasteries will look after any real monk.”  As I look around and mutter something about the police, the fake holy man marches smartly away, while the gwailo puts his wallet back in his pocket.  I leave both enlightened.

Mon, 24 Jan
Like Babylon, Carthage and Venice before it, once-mighty Hong Kong is fading into economic irrelevance.  In its glory days, the fragrant harbour was the world’s greatest producer of plastic flowers.  It was the global leader in the production of transistor radios that by some miracle of technology could be carried around in just one hand.  Nimble-fingered, rosy-cheeked peasant girls fresh out of Mainland paddy fields worked 12-hour days, seven days a week to make the Big Lychee the proud, number-one manufacturer of cheap, flimsy T-shirts.  One by one, these pillars of commercial empire came crashing down.  Today, Hong Kong struggles to keep its supremacy.  We clutch vainly at bizarre achievements, like our record-breaking ratio of suicides to road deaths, our unrivalled per-capita consumption of oranges and the fact that we have humanity’s
highest average IQ.  But only in one serious activity can we still claim world leadership – moving big metal boxes around on huge dirty trucks that clog up the roads and border crossings and use up lots of valuable space.  And now this last claim to significance is under threat as plucky little Shenzhen – already the world’s foot-massage capital – prepares to leap past us and become the biggest container port in the entire solar system.  Honest toil will be a fading memory on this side of the border.  We will decline into decadence and ruin, with nothing but the savagery of investment bankers, lawyers, accountants, advertising executives, real estate agents and movie starlets – vultures, parasitical intermediaries and whores – to put rice on our tables.  And maybe oranges.
Tue, 25 Jan
Massed ranks of killer fire ants threaten civilization as we know it in Hong Kong.  Sitting outside the IFC branch of Pacific Coffee, sipping his tea tree oil and loganberry yoghurt, wild American friend Odell prepares to play his part in the city’s defence against the deadly, psychopathic insects.  He lays out his weaponry on the table.  Three cans of Baygon, a half-gallon thermos flask of boiling water, a large magnifying glass and a big picture of the Liberal Party’s sultry vice-chairman, Selina Chow.  “Solenopsis invicta,” he announces.  “The enemy.”  I voice mild concern about that ‘invicta’, but he dismisses my fears.  “We’ll head them off at the border.” 

He picks up two of the cans   “They’re extremely attracted to honeydew-secreting invertebrates,” he explains.  “So someone has to stand about here…” – he positions a can on the table – “…with Selina’s portrait.  As the fire ants march resolutely toward it, we’ll take them in a pincer movement…” – he moves the other two cans to illustrate – “…and spray them with Baygon.  I’ll fry any stragglers with the magnifying glass – it’s years since I’ve done that.  Then we find the nest and nuke it with the boiling water.”  I wonder aloud whether the vermillion entomological hordes will be singing
The East Is Red, but I am cut short.  “Their only art is killing,” my friend declares.  “Have you seen what these things do?  Their sting is a mixture of venom and bacteria.  If they crawled up Tung Chee-hwa’s trouser legs, they’d strip him down to bare bones in minutes.”  SARS, chicken flu, Faye Wong.  Now this.  We pack our equipment and set off to Lo Wu to defend our home against the latest evil terror from the Mainland.  Ils ne passeront pas.
Wed, 26 Jan
Ambulant merchant and
symbol of the ‘success story’ of Hong Kong style receives award from oily, unprincipled Euro-rabble.  Full details at ten.  The Big Boss is in a mood of heightened excitement on learning that alpha tycoon Li Ka-shing has been made a member of the Legion d’Honneur for his hitherto un-noticed role in France in China Year.  The news propels the Chairman of S-Meg Holdings into a shoe-shining frenzy.  He has ordered a ridiculous amount of flowers to be delivered to the fragrant harbour’s wealthiest citizen, along with an elaborate letter of congratulation crafted by a noted calligrapher.  Will a hundred bootlickers listed in alphabetical order take out a double-page ad in the newspapers, offering obsequious best wishes to Superman?  “Find out!  This is very important!” the Big Boss shouts at Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary.  He shudders at the thought that his name might not be there. 

I ponder how, exactly, Li has been of such estimable service to
La Republique.  According to the original script, after the Hong Kong Government had handed him 100 acres of publicly owned real estate at West Kowloon, he would squeeze a museum among the luxury tower blocks, and let the Pompidou Centre use it as a base from which to thwart the inexorable spread of Anglo-Saxon culture throughout Tartary.  Is this his reward?  Or perhaps Jacques Chirac imagines that China’s richest man is worth a medal on the off-chance that it might help lubricate the wheels of commerce, such as trade in military materiel, between Paris and Beijing.  Nothing makes the Gallic cockerel crow more happily than arming a tyranny, irritating the US and making money simultaneously.  It is the same feeling Li Ka-shing experiences on buying land from the Government for a billion dollars, covering it with ugly blocks of concrete and selling it for five billion.  Or the kick I get from luring a Muslim woman into committing sins of the flesh – with an infidel at that.  A veritable frisson.

I SPEND the afternoon training for this evening’s Foreign Correspondents Club quiz.  Of the 280,000 victims of the Asian tsunami, how many had bulbous heads, elongated limbs and two belly buttons?  Easy –
two.  Which body part does the Mona Lisa lack?  Simple – her eyebrows.  Members of which team here this evening have photographic memories and can recite pi to 1,000 decimal places, but can’t tie their own shoelaces?  Obvious – Mensa.  My team's victory is assured.

Thurs, 27 Jan
A little before 6.30 in the morning, and RTHK Radio 3 decides to rouse Hong Kong’s English-speaking community with a friendly public-service message.  “The Chief Executive in his policy address explained how the Government is working for a vibrant economy,” says an irritatingly cheerful and enthusiastic male announcer.  “And it is creating jobs!  It is also working to bring about a caring community with social harmony.”  I miss the next few sentences, owing to my futile but instinctive habit of hurling abuse at helpless electronic equipment conveying offensive broadcasts.  “…bringing you people-based government!” gushes the sickening voice in conclusion.  This comes just two days after officials asked newspapers to print a 1,800-word article by pitiful Technology and Industry Secretary John Tsang, laboriously claiming that Cyberport – Tung Chee-hwa’s gift of billions in public wealth to Li Ka-shing’s son – was not cronyism.  The newspapers were required to print it unedited and without comment, orders with which the
South China Morning Post droolingly complied, to the disgust of The Standard

Delectable Administrative Officer Winky Ip squirms when I tackle her about all this over breakfast at Yuet Yuen Restaurant.  What on earth, I beg her, is going on?  She takes a deep breath.  The situation is complex, she says, shaking pepper onto her congee.  “Some people imagine this sort of thing is effective and persuasive – so it pleases them when we show them this stuff.  ‘Great communication’, they think.”  I nod wearily.  Tofu-for-brains is the obvious example.  Say something is true – and it becomes true.  “Other people,” Winky continues somewhat awkwardly, “um…  Well, they know this heavy-handed propaganda doesn’t work.  In fact, has the opposite effect.  Makes certain people look bad.”  I nod some more.  “And, um, that’s what they want,” she says.  “So they’re happy too.”  I see.  So how much does a civil servant’s soul go for these days? I wonder.  Winky shakes her head defensively and puts her teacup down next to the newspaper with its story marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.  “We’re only implementing policy,” she asserts.
WHAT IS an RSS feed?  The question didn’t come up at last night’s FCC quiz, at which the Mensa team disgraced itself by coming almost last.  But an email from a distant admirer informs me that the kindly and gifted Micah Sittig has created one of these exciting and prestigious items for me.  Until I work out what to do with it, it will look very attractive on the shelf in my office, next to the stuffed aardvaak.  A wild guess – the Royal Scatological Society’s annual dinner?
Fri, 28 Jan
One day next month, the doors to 18 luxury apartments will open.  An occupant will emerge from each and go down to a car park.  Soon after, 18 chauffeur-driven Mercedes (nine silver/grey, five white, three dark blue, one black) will draw up at an office block in the centre of Asia’s leading international financial hub.  The passenger of each will alight and enter the building.  Minutes later, 15 men in tailored suits and three women in elegant ladies’ attire and tasteful jewellery will sit round a long rosewood table in a smart conference room.  Six Government officials will join them, along with an eager-eyed flunkey to take notes.  The first meeting of the
Commission on Poverty will be in session.  Their mission – to study and identify the needs of the poor.  Over many months they will hear evidence from highly paid and respected academics, opinion formers, captains of industry and other experts.  What makes the poor ‘poor’?  A lack of money.  So if they had more money, they would no longer be poor?  Correct.  But they are too stupid to earn money for themselves?  Sadly, this seems to be the case.  So if they are to get more money, it must come from someone else?  It is most regrettable, but yes.  Members of the commission will look round at each other, all reluctantly thinking the same thought.  Tough titties.