Hemlock's Diary

The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat
23-29 November 2003
Sun, 23 Nov
Election day.  Put on my James Tien for Mensa Chairman T-shirt and take an early morning stroll along Robinson Road to perform my civic duty. It is simply a question of choosing the candidate whose victory is more likely to irritate the right people, a task I accomplish with a simple stamp of the chop (which, yet again, we are not allowed to keep as a souvenir) on the ballot paper.  Great moments in Central and Western District Council history come to mind. The proposal to move the statue of George VI in the Botanical Gardens to an obscure location behind a cage of monkeys.  The fight to rename Soho "Mid-Levels Themed Dining Area".  The opposition to the pedestrianisation of Soho streets on the grounds that it would "attract Filipinos".  Councillors get HK$17,000 a month, plus the same again in expenses – presumably to satisfy their hallucinatory drugs habits. 

Afternoon at home.  Sinking my teeth into the buttocks of a plump Southeast Asian lady, it occurs to me that I have not yet read my copy of
Spike, Stephen Vines' new magazine.  After steering the girl into a cold shower to quell her passion temporarily, I sit down to look at it.  The bits that are supposed to be funny aren't.  A limp Larry Feign cartoon, a "Dear Regina" advice column, Betty Tung's diary.  You're supposed to outrage the bourgeoisie!  The only real satire appears by accident.  The Shoeshiner column, which aims to mock sycophancy, features an apology by an English woman for the burning down of Beijing's Summer Palace by the British in 1860.  The fact that the piece, which has been on the Internet for weeks, is plainly sarcastic seems to have whooshed over the heads of the people at Spike.  Not a good sign, especially since China Daily fell for it as well.  And it's not as if there's a shortage of obsequiousness in this town.  The good news is that Spike's serious bits are much better.  If the magazine succeeds, it will be because it delivers the goods to Hong Kong politics and business junkies (many of whom live overseas and would probably pay for an on-line edition, if it existed).  But don't give up your day jobs.  Oh, you did?

Mon, 24 Nov
Eating my breakfast of congee and noodles at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, I read an account in
The Economist of maternity care in a part of Afghanistan four days’ donkey ride from the nearest hospital.
“...The baby was breached in a shoulder position … The traditional midwife told the father she was not strong enough to pull the baby out.  So the father reached in, found the arm of the baby and pulled as hard as he could.  But the arm came off in his hand.  The rest of the baby remained in the womb...”
As HL Mencken said, life may not be exactly pleasant, but it is at least not dull.  It doesn’t apply here in Hong Kong, of course, where life is pleasurable largely because it is so predictable.  Take the birth of Hong Kong democracy.  Our leaders seem reluctant to allow that there is even a pregnancy, while their detractors are already stocking up on bottle warmers and little pink socks.  But we will be spared the messiness of an Afghan labour, whatever happens.  The Big Boss, a natural plutocrat and enemy of the masses, is in a good mood at the morning meeting.  Just as voters took pleasure yesterday in punishing pro-Government candidates, so he enjoys watching Tung Chee-hwa’s remaining friends and supporters scuttle yet farther away in shame.  Attempts in years past to ingratiate and shoeshine his way into the inner circle never really paid off, and now the Chairman of S-Meg Holdings can sit back and smile with relief.  “I never had much time for that lot,” he will be able to tell any future, elected Chief Executive, as he drops to his knee with his brush and polish.
Tue, 25 Nov
Quote of the day comes from incisive on-line writers
Batgung, who tell an obscure website “We’ve consciously tried to avoid … pushing too hard to post very frequently.”  These are men after my own heart.  Men who exert tireless effort to avoid doing any work.  It certainly bites into my day.  Clutching important-looking documents as I stride purposefully along S-Meg Tower’s aisles of shapely office fodder, on my way to another floor where I will repeat the process.  Filling my wall calendar with fictitious appointments, often at improbably regular times of the day – the sort of hours when a gentleman of leisure might go to the gym, or the pub, or both.  And, just a click away, the vitally important project for the Big Boss that leaps to my computer screen at the speed of light when someone approaches the Company Gwailo’s lair. Does anyone appreciate what we go through, those of us who tragically have nothing but authentic genius where others more fortunate are gifted with the ability to grind?  Richard Neville missed the point in his classic work Playpower when he mocked the way people have been taught to “cherish the right to toil”.  They have nothing else to do, and they know of nothing else to do.  They have enviably simple lives, compared with those of us who must strive ceaselessly to disguise our freedom and ease.
Wed, 26 Nov
Hong Kong University's Public Opinion Programme reports that 17 percent of respondents have confidence in Tung Chee-hwa.  Punching 6,800,000 / 100 X 17 into a calculator, I get a figure of over a million.  Obviously, that calculator goes into the bin.  But after trying several other methods, including pencil and paper, the awful truth dawns on me that the number is right.  If the pollsters’ methodology can be trusted, there are a million people out there, walking on our streets, who look at our Chief Executive and think, “What a hunk – King Solomon, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Oliver Cromwell, Winston Churchill and Martin Luther King, all rolled into one.”  I blame lead in paint, which was widely used in the manufacture of toys when many of today’s voters were children.

Thurs, 27 Nov
Spend half the night searching a rat-infested landfill for a week-old
South China Morning Post, in which I am apparently mentioned in an article. I decide against sending copies to family and friends around the world when I eventually find the item.  Written by a half-starved hack working for 10 cents a word, it is in the City section of the rag, which no-one reads, except perhaps when they are trapped between floors in an elevator for an extremely long time.  Personally, I take my clothes off and practice standing on my head, to entertain the security guards downstairs monitoring my fate on closed-circuit TV. That's how tempting the City section is.  As a result of pointlessly wading through Vitasoy cartons and Hello Kitty candy wrappers, I miss David Li’s wonderful outburst on the Equal Opportunities Commission in the circus.  The engaging and debonair banker uttered the barely parliamentary term “hypocritical” when comparing the administration’s own standard of governance with those it requires of banks – his brother’s membership of Tung’s team as Education Secretary notwithstanding.  He also demanded that the Government apologise to ex-EOC head Anna Wu, and later implied to reporters that he thought Home Affairs Secretary Patrick Ho should resign.  Why this high-profile eruption from a legislator with a famously low attendance record?   Not simply because Anna Wu’s husband wrote a glowing history of the Li family, surely?  No.  This can only mean one thing – he has heard the rumours that a fellow high-ranking financier (probably high-standard and chartered, too) might run against him for the banking industry’s functional constituency seat.  The 2004 election campaign has started.  For making me miss this historic moment, I pull out the old voodoo doll and stick pins in.  The Curse of Hemlock is now upon the SCMP.  Something nasty will happen there before long.

Fri, 28 Nov
“What’s the difference between a supermarket bag and Michael Jackson?” asks ex-Mormon friend Odell over peppermint and cinnamon mocha in the IFC Mall Pacific Coffee.  I give him a long list.  Bags are small.  There are millions of them.  They are cheap.  They brighten up the drab, monochrome waters of the fragrant harbour.  They don’t create artless dance videos or sing ugly songs.  He interrupts me.  “One is plastic, white and dangerous to children,” he starts, and then pauses, trying to remember the punch line.  “Umm… Oh, and the other holds groceries.”  Having cleared that up, he mentions an embarrassing personal problem, for which I prescribe fruit and vegetables.  We must go back to using the word
emerods – it’s so much easier to spell.   Not much in the news.  Bush made a surprise Thanksgiving visit to Baghdad.  Maybe Tung could do something like that – flying unannounced to Yuen Long by helicopter, abseiling to the ground with a bag of lunchboxes to boost the morale of our fearless Agriculture and Fisheries personnel as they bravely defend Hong Kong from Bo-Bo the killer crocodile.  In fact, the crop-haired one is on a flying visit to Beijing, where he has some explaining to do.  Years of work building up a loyal, publicly acceptable political grouping went to waste on Sunday, and now, as Stephen Brown points out, the Democratic Alliance for the Beijingment of Hong Kong has no purpose.  All, ultimately, because Tung surrounds himself with idiots.  What’s the difference between Odell and Tung?  One shifts painfully in his seat because of too few vegetables, the other because he has too many.