Hemlock's Diary
26 March-1 April 2006
Mon, 27 Mar
I am having trouble keeping up with the convoluted trial of bulky Foreign Correspondents Club stalwart Kevin Egan and his fellow lawyer Andrew Lam.  The two are, so far as I can tell, accused of trying to extract a woman from Independent Commission Against Corruption witness protection either to allow evildoers to get their hands on her or because she was in fact being held against her will – depending on whose story you believe.  No-one seriously imagines that New Zealander Egan will be found guilty, if only because the ICAC never seem to convict anyone worthy of note.  Of course, one reason for this is that anyone worthy of note hires Egan to defend them.  The ICAC therefore has a longstanding grudge against the hulking Kiwi, which might – if they were that sort of people – lead them to prosecute him out of malice, or – assuming they have a good case – get so excited about nailing the expansive Antipodean that they bumble it. 

Step forward witness Aaron Nattrass, a blubbery chick-magnet like so many New Zealanders involved in this saga and a former employee of Egan and Lam.  Like many wannabee legal experts, he likes to help out in human rights actions, and is involved in the doomed but fascinating attempt to win permanent residency for foreign domestic helpers who have lived here for seven years.  Many years ago, back in Auckland, he encountered problems as an immigration consultant, leading a parliamentarian to
say in 1990…
Aaron Nattrass … is now being pursued all around the Pacific. …I am told that he is hiding in Taiwan. He will not even go back to Singapore, because if he did the 100 clients from whom he took fees of between $10,000 and $20,000---a total of more than $1 million---would want his hide. He has not been able to deliver immigration permits because the immigration service has caught up with him. The service knows that he has been involved with bogus job offers---the Minister has stated that in the House. Mr Nattrass is a Labour Party activist and a senior party official who is now hiding because he has taken $1 million from potential immigrants and they want it back. I would bet my bottom dollar they will not get it back. I doubt whether Aaron Nattrass will be seen in New Zealand again.
So far, it has been revealed to the court that he has in the past claimed to be Philippine President Arroyo’s personal counsel and the official who arrested the French agents who blew up the Greenpeace boat in 1985.  Eager to be seen in the right company, he would attend funerals of famous people he had never met and gatecrash the social functions of living ones.  And his office computer was found to have an impressive 60,000 pornographic photographs on it, as well as links to websites specializing in Asian women being spanked.  “I was also doing research on exploitation of women.”  It would all look bad for Egan and Lam, except for one small detail – Nattrass is a prosecution witnesses.

Tue, 28 Mar
The disturbed-looking girl who reads the Bible is occupying my favourite spot in the IFC Mall branch of Pacific Coffee this morning.  A lesser man would have a tantrum, or simply pull her out of the chair, toss her holy book at her and seat himself in his rightful place.  But I am mature enough not to get upset about having my morning routine so brutally disrupted, and simply seethe silently at being forced to stroll the extra 100 yards round the corner to Starbucks, where it takes them three times as long to hand your cup over and the seats are uncomfortable. 

As I sit there and sip my hot, brown, water-flavoured liquid with a dash of cinnamon, I sense someone hovering over me.  I look up and see a slightly anxious-looking middle-aged Westerner in a suit. 

“Um, are you Bill Richards?” he asks.  I think about it.  If I tell him I am, what will happen?  It could go two ways.  He might sit down next to me, say “it’s good to meet you in person at last, and it’s been great doing business with you – here’s the money, as we agreed,” and give me a suitcase containing millions of dollars, and I would say “thanks, keep in touch,” and make a beeline to the nearest HSBC high-tech deposit machine.  Alternatively, he might signal ‘this is the guy’ to a pair of burly accomplices with shaved heads and tattoos, who would drag me outside, bundle me into a van, and take me off to their secret lair where they would chain me to a bed and gang rape me, as Bill Richards – by now looking slightly lost in Starbucks – requested in a personal ad in
HK Magazine.  It will be forever a mystery.  He seems quite relieved when I finally say “no.”

Wed, 29 Mar
The working day starts in a deserted hotel ballroom.  Rows of chairs face a dais, which has a long table on it.  Behind it is an expanse of scarlet curtain and a cheap polystyrene and cardboard sign.  My suggested snappy slogan – ‘Another year of mindless, impulsive deal-making and obscene shareholder returns’ – was rejected in favour of the more prosaic, even moronic, ‘S-Meg Holdings 2005 annual results announcement’, in order not to confuse the literal-minded audience.  In a few hours, these veteran business reporters, some even in their 20s, will be sharpening their pencils and testing their tape recorders, while TV cameramen and newspaper photographers circle around the podium trying to capture the Big Boss looking down on the assembled press corps at his most statesmanlike, profound and visionary.

To our Chairman’s left will be: the spotty accountant, starring as the nervous Chief Financial Director; Number-One Son, starring as the blinking and fidgeting scion destined one day to run the operation into the ground within days of inheriting it; and the Deputy Managing Director, starring as himself.  To the great man’s right will sit the other Deputy Managing Director, starring as the man who can convincingly dismiss disappointing numbers as aberrations, and – trying desperately not to be noticed – me, starring as the Company Gwailo, mute but incontrovertible evidence that this must be a modern, international organization.  I will hide behind the screen of a laptop PC, apparently controlling the Big Boss’s brain as he extols the wondrous benefits of contemporary Cantonese business management practice.

While an epsilon from the IT Department checks the Powerpoint presentation – profit from durian-flavoured chewing gum up 25% – I browse through the news.  The score in the International
Relocate Government HQ For No Good Reason While Withholding Democracy Contest is now Burma 1, Hong Kong 0.  But all is not lost.  Under the rules of the game, the move to a new administrative centre must be as pointless as possible.  The generals who vacated Rangoon for their new capital of Naypyidaw seem to have done so on the advice of astrologers, which is a far more rational reason than anything Donald Tsang’s State Arrogance and Bureaucracy Restoration Committee has come up with.  The Big Lychee still has everything to play for!

Thurs, 30 Mar
I arrive at Pacific Coffee before the creepy Christian creature can grab my chair, only to find that wild American friend Odell has beaten me to it.  He is nursing a reddened cheek.  It seems his Thai wife Mee caught him ‘also doing research on exploitation of women’ and gave him a good slap.  But his rosy glow is nothing compared with the ruddy face sitting at the next table.  Its owner is white, short brown hair, early 30s, dressed in ‘smart-casual’ semi-sportswear.  He is tucking into a small pie on a paper plate.  An Emirates Airlines baggage tag dangles from his suitcase.  Just flown in from Dubai, I would guess.  I lean over towards him.

“You are a Wykehamist!” I declare.  After looking slightly stunned for a few seconds, he bursts out laughing and admits that he did indeed go to Winchester College, England.  How on earth did I know?

“Oh, I can tell these things,” I murmur.  It’s obvious.  He eats with his mouth open, producing a variety of chewing noises and – it goes without saying – holds a knife as if it were a pen.  He might as well have a tattoo saying ‘I went to an expensive school in England and have the table manners of a delinquent orangutan’ on his forehead (which, now I look at it, is broad enough to accommodate such a lengthy confession – a sure sign of inbreeding).  

“And you,” I say, looking over at Odell, “went to Beaver High School in Utah.”  The ex-Mormon, whose educational background I have long heard about, puts on an exaggerated show of surprise to impress the former boarding school inmate.

“And what about you?” asks the red-faced Englishman.

I regale him with memories of our governess, who taught us to knit, skate, draw a map of the world blindfolded, skin moles, use chopsticks, milk a cow and count in Arabic.  Then I tell him about the convent school, where Nazis dressed as nuns forced us to eat rancid porridge full of weevils, beat us with long sticks for not speaking French, and made us do sums and joined-up handwriting. 

“Rugby?” asks the Brit.  Another boarding school. 

“No, I never went there.”

“No,” he corrects me, “did you
play rugby?” 

I explain that it was one of the things our governess had stressed – avoid endeavours in which to be obese, mentally deficient or hormonally imbalanced is to have an advantage.  Then it dawns on me. 

“You’re here for the Sevens aren’t you?”  Of course he is.  That curious migration each Spring, when every Anglo-Saxon expatriate east of Suez feels compelled to come to Hong Kong and cram himself into a stadium along with thousands of others, all wearing rugby shirts, to drink and watch oafish Fijians run up and down a field.  I tell him how I used to get free tickets and left them face up and peed upon in Lan Kwai Fong bar urinals to see how long it would take before some desperate victim of Sevens mania retrieved them.  Twenty minutes, maximum.  He stares at me in disbelief.  I don’t go?

“No, never,” I tell him.  Odell joins in.

“The atmosphere sucks!” he sneers. 

“Exactly,” I go on.  “It’s a horrible atmosphere.  It stinks.  Loud, boisterous, infantile…” 

The Brit shudders and looks around him.  “No!” he blurts out.  “No…  The atmosphere is wonderful!”  He shudders again and blinks.  “The atmosphere is wonderful!”  Another shudder and blink.  “The atmosphere is wonderful!”  He gets up and walks straight into a wall and starts banging his head against it.  “…is wonderf!!  …is wonderf!!  …is wonderf!!  …is wonderf!!”

Fri, 31 Mar
A small flurry of emails from highly intelligent people suggest that Kevin Egan, defendant in the perplexing ICAC witness protection trial, is not a New Zealander but a Queenslander and therefore an Australian.  Faster than you can say ‘Joh Bjelke-Petersen’, I dash back a note stating that I already know this – do I look stupid? – but had specific reasons for saying what I did, which unfortunately I cannot divulge for reasons of national security. 

But the truth, if I am to be honest to myself, is different.  The fact is that I can’t tell Aussies and Kiwis apart.  They all look exactly the same to me.  All I know is that the former are famous for their genetic predisposition to criminality, while the latter have a reputation for being utterly law-abiding, except towards certain ruminants.  All of which puts a totally different light on the trial, with Egan cast as the sinister and evil perverter of justice, and Aaron Nattrass as the dedicated fighter for human rights being smeared relentlessly by porn-obsessed defence counsel.

The charge carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.  Could it be that Foreign Correspondents Club members will finally learn the answer to that age-old question – if Kevin isn’t leaning against the main bar, does it collapse?