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

25-31 July 2004

Sun 25 July
I am still thrilled by yesterday afternoon’s performance at City Hall of
Othello by the UK’s Cheek by Jowl theatre company.  The last time I saw the play was in Hong Kong’s Academy for Performing Arts, if I recall, and just as the Moor was smothering Desdemona, someone’s mobile phone went off in the front row.  No such problem this time.  Indeed, Othello despatches his wife so physically – hoisting her into the air by the throat while she thrashes about – that no-one would notice.  It isn’t perfect.  The title role is played by Nonso Anozie, a bulky man costumed in contemporary British-style military attire and unfortunately conveying a slight air of Idi Amin.  He plays the role straight.  Jonny Phillips’s Iago, on the other hand, is almost played for laughs, drawling and leering and totally vile.  Jaye Griffiths as Emilia and Caroline Martin as Desdemona hold it together. 

It is not every day that you see a portly, drunken, middle-aged gwailo gnawing – with his bare teeth – a phoney restaurant review from the window of one of Soho’s eating establishments.  But I see it today, as an irate iconoclast takes extreme exception to the fake
South China Morning Post write-up displayed outside Shang-Hi.  I noticed this public relations blurb falsely attached to a photocopy of the SCMP masthead back in 9 February last year, and I have to say that the perpetrator of this bizarre act has struck a blow for truth in advertising and consumer rights, not to mention the integrity of our finest English-language newspaper.  Not that I would ever condone such behaviour.

Mon, 26 July
Flicking through the newspapers in my office, Steely Dan’s
Here at the Western World playing on my PC, I see that David Chu, the flying pig, has dropped out of September’s Legislative Council election race in New Territories East.  The word from the campaign nexus of Mainland emissaries, pro-Beijing figures and local Government officials was “you probably won’t win a seat anyway, so please give other loyalists a better chance by standing down for personal reasons.”  A pity – he brought a welcome dash of colour/unpredictability/mental derangement (choose one) to the circus.  Meanwhile, takings in the main bar of the Foreign Correspondents Club must have plummeted over the weekend when barrister Kevin Egan was arrested by the Independent Commission Against Corruption, who also raided The SCMP, Apple Daily, Oriental Daily News, The Sun and Sing Tao’s editorial offices, waving search warrants and – apparently – looking extremely macho.  All part of an essential crackdown on enemies of the justice system who leak the names of people under witness protection/a totally disproportionate and heavy-handed action that raises disturbing questions about Government intimidation of the media/I haven’t a clue.
I inwardly wax wrathful about having to miss the 89th Universal Esperanto Congress currently taking place in Beijing, which I am reliably informed is a veritable non-stop orgy of sexual and gastronomic licence.  Esperanto is an anagram of ‘personate’, both meanings of which – to attribute human qualities to something inanimate, or to masquerade as someone you are not – sum up this artificial and useless language admirably.  It is ironic that a tongue that is so much easier to read and write than Chinese and with such simpler and more consistent grammar than English should fail so miserably – until we recall that its crazed inventor insisted on packing it full of Slavonic vocabulary.  I note that the vice-president of the Universal Esperanto Association is one Professor Humphrey Tonkin of the USA.  No doubt Chinese officials will insist on calling him Professor Beibu.  As in “Cxu profesoro Beibu midzas mortintajn kaprojn, kiel oni skribis en la pisejo?”

Tue, 27 July
What’s that rumbling sound, rolling over the horizon from the distant shores of the southern ocean?  Why, it’s the trembling with anger of members of the Singapore Government, who have just noticed that the latest issue of
The Economist has the headline ‘Singapore’s Lee Dynasty’ on the cover.  Glancing through the article, the Rumanian word for ‘nephew’ leaps off the page at me.  ‘Nepot’, from the Latin word for ‘brother’s son’ or ‘son’s son’, lives on in Singapore’s main language with the suffix ‘-ism’ and means ‘grievous slur against the integrity of the Lion City’s senile Senior Minister, Lee Kwan-yew’.  The rumbling dies down, and a faint but furious scratching noise starts.  A long letter is being written, from a Singaporean official reflecting the displeasure of the crotchety, quarter-Malay three-quarters Hakka elder statesman whose adrenal glands – if his belief is correct – bestowed upon him the gritty determination to transform a backward swamp into the world’s most boring city-state.  Knowing what’s good for them, the good folk at The Economist will allow this communication, with its laboured allusions to meritocracy, to consume a large portion of the letters page with not a demented, authoritarian dot or comma changed.
On the front page of the SCMP today, a photo of Kevin Egan, recounting his nightmarish 41 hours in ICAC custody, which he says he spent “sleeping and drinking water.”  It is a wonder that he survived two such massive shocks to his metabolism.  I am unsuccessful in getting to the bottom of this wanton harassment of our valiant free press/essential crackdown on a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.  Our visionary Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa was told of the operation, say the headlines.  But so what?  It’s not as if the crop-haired one actually listens to people.  A call to Morris, the greatest living Glaswegian in the Hong Kong Police, yields nothing but a snort of derision about ICAC Nazis.  “King Abdullah II of Jordan is arriving tomorrow,” he goes on. “I’ll be on bodyguard duties – oh aye – because of my Arabic.”  I mention that I once met Ab’s mother, Queen Noor, but he is not interested.  “I’m looking forward to the banquet,” he says.  “The Government protocol people have suggested Yunnan ham braised in rice wine – my favourite.”   Buxom Administrative Officer Winky Ip is similarly unhelpful.  “King Abdullah II of Jordan is arriving tomorrow,” she says – obviously the excuse du jour for not discussing the ICAC.  “The Chief Executive suggested that we should name an MTR station after his country to mark the occasion.  ‘Consider it done’, I told him.”

Wed, 28 July
I continue to seek the truth about the ICAC’s raids on newspapers and lawyers. 
-  Explanation 1 – the most likely – is that all parties concerned are useless scumbags and are equally justified in raiding, suing and abusing one another.  The possibility that this is just another piece of post-1997, shooting-selves-in-foot-while-slipping-on-banana- skins entertainment is strengthened by the presence of poor, frail Secretary for Justice Elsie Leung lurking in the picture. 
-  Explanation 2 is that the ICAC is in a genuine panic about a leak from within its own ranks and is desperate to find the mole.  But who could possibly believe that such a thing could happen?  .
-  Explanation 3 is that, with little to do in our squeaky clean city, the ICAC is throwing its weight around simply as an exercise in institutional self-assertion, possibly taking the opportunity to settle some old scores. 
-  Explanation 4 is that this is yet another stage in Tung Chee-hwa’s campaign to systematically trash Hong Kong’s international reputation as part of a Mainland strategy to establish Shanghai as centre of the universe.  I discount this latter conspiracy theory – popular among our more imaginative young folk – on the grounds that tofu-for-brains is too incompetent to succeed so magnificently in any task by design. 

My digging uncovers one little story that, if true, is revealing, though probably too minor for the press to bother with.  One of the ICAC’s weekend guests, the tale goes, was a first-year college student working as a humble intern in a law office – a young woman of no possible use to the fearless graft-busting sleuths.  She was called in and kept for seven hours, with no food.  Minutes after being allowed to go, they phoned her and asked her back.  She went home, swiftly followed by ICAC officers, who were turned away by her irate father.  A tiny shred of evidence to support my police friend Morris’s thesis, just received by Glaswegian-accented email – “The ICAC are a bunch of arrogant, out-of-control pricks.”

Thurs, 29 Jul
I am being inundated with emails from my adoring public.  ‘Queen Noor is Abdullah’s step-mother, dummy’.  As if I didn’t know that all along.  Then, one that has to be translated from Esperanto.  ‘To answer the question – no, it’s not true that professor Beibu fellates dead goats, whatever is written in the piss-house’.  I am glad to have cleared that up.  And then an extremely angry one from the law enforcement community.  ‘How dare you refer to the ICAC as arrogant, out-of-control pricks?  That’s outrageous and you should be ashamed.  They are Sun Yee On triad-infiltrated, Mainland official-connected, arrogant, out-of-control pricks!  Please correct this mistake immediately.’

Fri, 30 July
The mood on the Mid-Levels Escalator this morning is grim.  The sacking of Albert Cheng from Commercial Radio comes as little surprise.  Nor does the exoneration of the ICAC’s recent escapades by its fearless Operations Review Committee, or ‘watchdog’ – as in ‘poodle that’s forgotten where it buried its dentures’.  Indeed, there is cause for great joy as we learn that mighty Belgium will be sending security experts to Athens ahead of the Olympics.  If the
waffle warriors don’t have Al-Qaeda scuttling back into their caves, who will?  No, Hong Kong’s clean and industrious middle class glides down the hill into Central in a mood of despondence and muted horror because the realization is dawning that Beijing is serious about the Liberal Party.  Not only is it shooing away would-be candidates from other loyalist groups, it seems to be eyeing James Tien’s band of opportunistic, pro-cartel nematodes as the anti-democratic mass-appeal movement the DAB has failed to become.  I hear the thud of fresh-shaven chins against cold escalator steel as people read the jaw-dropping paragraph…
Tien, with his current popularity and Beijing's blessing, is said to be looking even further ahead to the chief executive race in 2007 should he succeed in moulding the Liberals into a potent political force.
The idea of someone as unprincipled, let alone un-burdened by cerebral ability, as James Tien as Chief Executive is so frightening that hundreds of commuting taxpayers momentarily consider making a dash straight to the Airport Express.  But no, that’s just Baby James fantasizing.  Even so, it is a sobering thought that Beijing feels a need to boost a political grouping so driven by naked self-interest that it stabbed Tung Chee-hwa in the back over Article 23 last year. 

As well as being slimy, the Liberals lack even the faintest grasp of public policy.  Indeed, their shallowness when it comes to political issues is a wonder to behold.  Who can forget their brilliant initiative – the levy on foreign maids, which raised irrelevant amounts of revenue, irritated maids’ middle class employers and effectively taxed the lowest-paid members of the workforce?  In a recent attempt to prove themselves friendly to the working class, they recently argued against the proposed MTR rail line to the south of Hong Kong island, on the grounds that consumer preference for this faster and cleaner transport system would deprive 300 bus drivers of their jobs.  Such intellectual bankruptcy, such deficiency of any sort of integrity, cannot be matched by any other Hong Kong political grouping – and that’s no mean achievement.  We can only hope that Beijing’s anointment of these unprincipled worms will turn out to be the kiss of death.