Hemlock's Diary

The ravings of Hong Kong’s most obnoxious expat

24-31 August, 2002
Sun, 24 Aug
Try the buffet at Au Trou Normande, in darkest Tsimshatsui, with wild American friend Odell. Very pleasant.  Which is more than can be said for the Mormon church, which has officially excommunicated poor Odell, using as evidence testimony from his fellow missionaries.  The tales they told of drunken returns to the Caine Road flat at 3.00am, used condoms in the garbage, incessant phone calls from Southeast Asian ladies and secret coffee-drinking sessions in the bathroom were wildly exaggerated, he says.  I quietly raise an eyebrow. The Elders don't know 90% of it.  He then announces that he and Mee, the Thai lady who can barely count and is old enough to be his, well... older sister, will be getting married next Saturday.  Odell looks at me remorsefully.  "Hey, I'm really, really sorry," he says, "but I got drunk and asked Kevin the Australian doorman at the pub to be my best man. It shoulda been you, man, ya know that."  Oh joy. What a relief! I'm not going to be the best man.  "No problem, Odell," I say stoically. "It'll make Kevin's week.  Though I didn't know you were friends."  Odell chews on an escargot.  "Umm... No, I hardly know him."  No problem, I reassure him. 
Being on Kowloon side, go up to Shamshuipo to see the local rice shop owners throw small change into the street to celebrate the Hungry Ghosts festival.  This event never fails to amuse, with 70- and 80-year olds scrabbling around, adroitly elbowing one another and scooping up the coins with all the energy and agility their arthritic little bodies can muster.  I sense an opportunity here.  If the participants were armed with non-lethal devices – cattle prods, perhaps – the international TV and bookmaking rights for this quaint custom could be quite impressive.

Mon, 26 Aug
A perfect day at the office, with absolutely nothing to do but browse the classier bits of the web, notably
New Criterion's Theodore Dalrymple archive.

Tue, 27 Aug
Ms Tam, S-Meg Holding's delectable, firm-rumped Deputy Assistant Senior Manager for Human Resources, appears at the door of my office, clutching no fewer than three resumes from recently-liberated
South China Morning Post scribes seeking gainful employment.  I know she is mentally undressing me while I peruse them.  "The Big Boss wants to know if any of them would be useful," she says. "All native English speakers, and they seem happy with very low salaries."  The applicants offer their services in PR, advertising, investor relations and various other corporate activities that have no place in a traditional, Chinese family firm like S-Meg.   "This one might make a good waiter for the company penthouse," I say, waving the submission of an inconsequential columnist, "otherwise, it's just 'thank you for your interest, we wish you success in your job search' – all that rubbish."   Ms Tam nods, spins round and exits the room with a delightful wiggle of her pert buttocks.  There's room for only one gwailo around here.
Wed, 28 Aug
Drop a quick email to the Heritage Foundation hinting that they might like to announce that Hong Kong's precious top ranking in their
Index of Economic Freedom is threatened by the socialistic, interventionist leanings of equine-featured Commerce Minister Henry Tang and our other clownish policymakers. Tormented by visions of Cantonese sans-cullottes storming Central Government Offices, our bold leader CH Tung has decreed that unemployment must be the the sole priority, leaving its cause – low economic growth – to stew on the back burner.  In response, these amateurs and their cronies are dreaming up ever-more bizarre schemes to entice yesterday's industries back into Hong Kong. In short, hand-outs and free lunches for unprofitable businesses, at the expense of the (hitherto) profitable bits of the economy.  Henry "the Horse" Tang may well be deranged.  But does he really have to be this deranged?
Thu, 29 Aug
I almost feel sorry for civil servants this week.  The pen-pushers are being forced to endure focus sessions at the Conference and Exhibition Centre in which enthusiastic men with beards and clipboards use trendy presentational techniques to wheedle out of them answers to the question, how do we solve Hong Kong's problems?  Well, five words
: Dump Tung, get a professional – not that difficult is it?  Fans of alliterative pith might prefer "bring Brits back", though it would be debatable as a solution.  The most valid answer would be "why the hell are you asking us?"  I hear that, inevitably, the bureaucrats in fact fall back on lame, vacuous twaddle, mostly involving "enhancing communication", the government's fuzzy, feel-good, all-purpose solution to every problem in the world. Contrary to received wisdom about the relative might of pens and swords, the most effective form of communication usually involves pain.  The signals provided by free markets are an obvious example. What we need is the infliction of pain on bloated cartels, landlords, the public sector and other freeloaders, so they scuttle out of the way and provide some space in which wealth creators may flourish. On the subject of which – no response from the Heritage Foundation.  Maybe they are on holiday.  Most people are when the Morning Post has a headline like "Embalmed pet rabbit injures four" on page one.

Fri, 30 Aug
S-Meg has completed a deal to buy a grotty-sounding company in Shanghai, and I am ordered to leave on Monday to help with the takeover. As company gwailo, my main task will be to alarm the Mainland managers by strutting around menacingly and not smiling. S-Meg's only other non-Cantonese, Beijing-born fixer Freddy Mao, will lead the team, which will also include Number-One Son, for familiarization purposes, and – to my delight – the pleasantly posteriored Ms Tam.  How will I get her into my hotel room?  My last attempt –  the old
haunted hotel story – failed miserably. In my experience, variants of this ploy, such as reports of escaped psychopaths, will simply have the same effect. That she lusts after my body is obvious, but like most Hong Kong women she has been conditioned to fear all that is natural in the world, including her most human instincts. Less well-bred men in my position would simply rely on alcohol to do the trick, of course, but that's why they're rabble.  My challenge for the week ahead.

Sat, 31 Aug
Odell's wedding, 10.30am at the registry office in City Hall. Top hat and tails for him, and a flowing white dress for Mee, whose marriage to a financially distressed constable many years ago was presumably never consummated. Kevin the Australian pub doorman initially refuses to enter the place after noticing that the facility is under the jurisdiction of the HK Immigration Department, with whom he prefers to have as little contact as possible.  As best man, he is supposed to act as a witness, but the only ID he can produce is an expired New South Wales driver's licence. I gallantly step in.  My other contribution is to ask Mee to remove her chewing gum before the solemn event. Two minutes into the 10-minute ceremony, the windowless but pink and flowery wedding hall is invaded by a horde of chattering Thai ladies dressed in brightly coloured ball gowns and hats, who immediately set up little video cameras on tripods to capture the event for posterity. The prim civil servant in charge doesn't bat an eyelid, and despatches the happy couple with great efficiency. Ten more to go before lunch.  The reception is in a privately booked bar in Wanchai and will be lengthy and raucous.  Sadly, an urgent, if imaginary, appointment prevents me from attending.