Hemlock's Diary

The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat
25-31 May 2003
Sun, 25 May
Bump into Mike Rowse, the rotund, chirpy boss of
Invest Hong Kong, who tells of a fun game that only he can play.  Touring overseas with a locally born female civil servant with Australian citizenship, he takes delight in placing both their passports before immigration officials and watching the look on their faces as they open the documents and find the PRC citizen is the gwailo!  I am almost tempted to take Chinese nationality myself and share the amusement, but the joke would surely pale if the yellow emperor adopted too many Anglo Saxon sons.
A job for the world's highest-paid janitor.  Will call Donald Tsang, our Chief Secretary for street-cleaning tomorrow to complain about the pile of dead cats on Staunton Street, determinedly bludgeoned as potential SARS carriers by the simple-minded folk of that low-rent part of the Mid-Levels.  The expired tabbies are civic, as opposed to civet cats, the latter being a relative of the mongoose, with their strong-flavoured but slightly stringy, not to say coronavirus-laden, meat.  While there's no excuse for confusing the Felidae and Viverridae families, Soho will be none the worse for the loss of a few dozen felines.  Time to start a rumour that Kenny G fans carry the virus.
Mon, 26 May
“Tung to the Rescue” says the headline above the report of our valiant Chief Executive assisting a distressed Australian woman on Bowen Road.  Frankly, this wasn’t a great moment in image-management, and I am glad my involvement was limited to commenting on the original plan.  Which was not bad – he would give her the kiss of life just as a busload of news photographers passed.  However, despite being paid well, it seems the actress took fright at the last minute and put up a struggle.  Meanwhile, the photographers’ bus was five minutes late after skidding on a dead cat and hitting a “We Love Hong Kong” billboard.  If they want to do this sort of thing they should do it properly.  Footage of him leaping onto a runaway 10-ton truck full of explosives, clambering into the cab and slamming on the brakes just yards from an orphanage would do wonders for his poll ratings and the morale of the community.
Tue, 27 May
…nowadays Clancy can’t even sing…”  Ms Doris Pang, S-Meg Holdings’ fascistic new Deputy Assistant Senior Manager for Human Resources, marches into the company gwailo’s office.  “Please switch off the music,” she says, scowling.  Obviously not a Buffalo Springfield fan. “I understand you have been responsible for assigning English names to new-joining staff who do not have them.”  I smile and nod.  “These are not sensible names,” she says, placing a long list on my desk.  “Well,” I explain, “they’re appropriate – and memorable. Take Vlad Chan in Accounts.  He sticks receipts on a metal spike all day."  I look up at her unlovely face, hoping for at least a trace of a smile. "Vlad the Impaler – get it?”  She stares at me coldly.  “He can’t even pronounce it,” she hisses as she storms out.  I shrug and look at the list.  Lucifer, Humidor and Babs are “out”.  Ricky, Stanley and Kenky are “in”.  Switch music back on
Wed, 28 May
Have a cup of hot, water-flavoured, brown liquid at Pacific Coffee in the IFC Mall, perusing the newspapers and letting delectable PAs and marketing assistants silently lust after me as they stroll by in their pastel skirts and glistening dark stockings.  CH Tung’s poll ratings hit an all-time high in
North Borneo.  If only North Point were as easily impressed.   The World Health Organization places Toronto back on the list of places too boring to visit.  Rudi Giuliani, a giant drum, Liverpool soccer team, a huge luminous pearl and the Rolling Stones jointly prove the theorem c + a = (ue)x   where c = civil servants,    a = attempts at creativity, u = ugliness, e = amount of taxpayers’ money and x = the number of points Tung’s ratings have fallen since their peak. 

For light relief, there is the Government’s policy towards the
Tamar site in Central, which lurches like a drunken white elephant.  Late-night phone calls in 1998 from property developers fearing an oversupply of office space inspired in CH a vision of a grandiose monument to Huge Government That Does Everything For You, the Motherland and Downtown Rental Yields, occupying valuable real estate – not to say the harbour view from Kowloon.  Now, long-whispered doubts are becoming audible.  Popular enthusiasm for facilities that will be as lavish as their official occupants are incompetent might not be as strong as earlier thought   And then there’s the dreaded s*c*r*ty issue.  Is it such a good idea to have the legislature, the executive and the PLA’s HQ packed next to each other, with three railway lines below them for terrorists to choose from?   No matter – there are plenty more toilets to throw all this taxpayers’ money down.    c + a = (ue)x   QED.
Thurs, 29 May
Donald Tsang has been busy.  Just three weeks after Team Clean was launched, an
Interim Report on Measures to Improve Environmental Hygiene lands on my desk.  Digging down beneath the increased fines for spitting and stepped-up checks on drains, I find rich detail.  The list of Priority Blackspots includes “Pavement opposite Lockhart Rd public toilet” and “Escalator opposite Jardine House”.  The list of ways to Add Shine to the City mentions the re-painting of faded road markings, the cleaning of grimy street signs and the replacement of blackened trees.  But where is the list of Difficult Things that will Upset Obstructive, Obnoxious Bores?  A ban on the slaughter of chickens in residential streets gets a nervous, brief mention – it won’t happen.  A ban on dog ownership in crowded neighbourhoods?  Not a word, though we must ditch our masked palm civets.  A-Hing attends to the disgusting brutes with his carbofuran-laced meat on Bowen Road from time to time, but he can’t be everywhere.  As for the threat to hold annual commemorations to honour SARS victims and “remind people of this tragic episode” – what can I say?  Good news for Macau hotel owners.
Bump into Hong Kong’s greatest living photographer, Hu van Es, taking an afternoon stroll through Lan Kwai Fong.  He, too, is engrossed in Team Clean’s report – and he has spotted a fault.  “There is no escalator opposite Jardine House,” he growls.  He’s right.  The awful truth slowly dawns.  Rather than walking around Hong Kong for three weeks, dutifully recording hygiene blackspots, Donald has been goofing off, sitting in his luxury office, playing solitaire on his PC and dreaming up unhygienic locations – calculating that no-one will actually check. Do I inform on him, as he would have public housing tenants snitch, Singapore-style, on their disease-spreading neighbours?  Or do I keep my silence?  And – if the latter – how much would it be worth?

Fri, 30 May
While gliding down the Mid-Levels Escalator into Central, I make an important discovery that might contribute to solving one of Hong Kong’s most pressing mental health problems.  I note that the few remaining people wearing face masks are exactly the same people who stop in front of escalators or moving walkways, hesitating to step onto them for fear of being hurled into the air by the sudden change in velocity or consumed and horribly mangled by the strange, possibly evil contraptions. Hopefully, they will discard the masks before long.   It is no fun shoving them from behind if you can’t see the expression on their faces – a look of terror that gradually changes to wonder as they realise they have defied death.