|26 Nov-2 Dec 2006|
|Sun, 26 Nov
“You wouldn’t steal someone’s car. You wouldn’t steal someone’s phone. So why would you buy a pirated DVD?” So faithful to the original is a pirated DVD that it even reproduces the warning against buying pirated DVDs. So, shall I go to confession tomorrow and say, “Bless me father for I have sinned, I bought some fake disks in Zhuhai over the weekend”?
I would never steal anyone’s car or phone. But if I could help myself to an exact replica, and they would be none the wiser, why not take it? The analogy in the warning is false. But so, in theory, is mine. By buying fakes, I am depriving the owner of the intellectual property of revenue. But I am not, because legitimate copies are far more highly priced than I am prepared to pay, and I would never buy them. Watching a film is a last resort for me. Chances are, I’ll never watch half the ones I got yesterday, unless I am put under house arrest. If ‘stealing’ means depriving someone of something, I am innocent. Al Gore should be grateful I shelled out RMB9 for his global warming documentary. If Hollywood priced its disks at HK$50 or so, the equation would be different. It would be nice to have the blurb on the package in English rather than mis-spelt Finnish.
To give me an even clearer conscience, I can assure myself that my money is going into the pockets of hard-working and amazingly customer-oriented Zhuhainese entrepreneurs. The proprietor in the secret DVD place under an escalator in a dilapidated shopping arcade (door disguised as part of a knock-off handbag shop) tells patrons not to bother with the new James Bond he has on offer – it’s a video taken inside a cinema. Some desperate fans are buying it anyway. People here are also ingenious. Where else in the world does the bakery hang baguettes from the ceiling to save space or hit upon the ultimate, labour-saving shortcake recipe?
|Mon, 27 Nov
I start the day wandering around Central’s most dazzling shopping complex to see if it is still true that when a man is tired of IFC Mall, he is tired of life.
|The Yuletide spirit has also spread to Hugo Boss, who, in a fine, seasonal gesture of corporate social responsibility, have generously donated some space in the window to the Oxfam Shop, which is using it to offer a tatty (but clean) second-hand tie, shirt and jeans.
|In my experience, anything bearing a colourful polystyrene sign saying ‘Enchanted’, isn’t. And this sadly seems to be the case with the ‘Enchanted Christmas Village’, which I capture for posterity, taking care to include in the scene the Enchanted Christmas Village idiot cleaning the artificial snow. Or do they mean ‘enchanting’? No, it’s not that either.|
|Over at Prada, someone has added a creepy – indeed, deathly – touch to the display of luxury leather goods by scattering crude little cardboard cars around. Or maybe it’s just me. You know you’ve lived in Hong Kong for too long when you think a crude little cardboard car can only be used as an offering for the dead rather than as a stylish and extremely cute adornment for a display of designer label goods, guaranteed to leave all but the most brutish and insensitive passers-by enchanted.
Tue, 28 Nov
The clean air movement fumes after exceptionally pragmatic Chief Executive Donald Tsang meets its scare stories head on, grabs them with both hands, wrestles them to the ground and stomps them into a pulp. Our air is as good as Barcelona’s, he declares in remarks to the business community. This is clever. Most people in Hong Kong couldn’t find the Catalan capital on a map, and, for those who can, it conjures up images of Gaudi’s architecture, or a steaming paella. It sounds like it must be a clean place. Furthermore, he points out, we have the highest male and second-highest female life expectancies in the entire solar system – so obviously all this gwailo panic about air pollution being a health issue is a load of hogwash.
The best bit of his speech was at the end...
|“Get real. We’re not going to cut air pollution anytime soon. And you’re not going to leave for Singapore or some other place, because a 17 percent tax rate is far more important to you than some kid’s asthma.
“The fact is that any measures that will reduce air pollution within a reasonable time frame are simply incompatible with our system of government. The administration must and will build more roads and create more traffic. It must and will use all available space in urban areas for development rather than, say, parks. It must and will allow developers to erect vast expanses of skyscraper that block air flow for entire neighbourhoods. It must and will serve the commercial interests of noted power station proprietor Mr Li Ka-shing.
“This is not just about pollution. Our political structure does not allow reform of our tax system, our health care financing system, our welfare system, our immigration system. It doesn’t even allow reform of itself! Live with it.”
|A true statesman. It’s at times like this that the contrast with Sir Bow-Tie’s predecessor is at its most vivid. Poor old Tofu-for-Brains would have wrung his hands and agreed with every whining expatriate businessman about how terrible everything was and how something must be done. Tsang won’t clean the air, but at least he can clear it.
Wed, 29 Nov
The Big Boss drags me into a meeting with a fellow tycoon – ‘Dr’ Tai. The proud owner of an honorary doctorate from a little heard-of university in a distant land, Tai straddles the generations of the current and former Chairman of S-Meg Holdings. “My father always told me to be nice to him,” mutters our illustrious leader, “but they’re nothing now.” The Tai family made its fortune trading durians back in the 1950s, then lost much of it by going into property at the peak of the market in the ‘70s. The fading company is ripe for asset stripping, but face overrides commercial sense in these circles. “This is a bit embarrassing,” the Big Boss whispers before we enter the reception room where the gentleman is waiting. “Hopefully, when he sees you he’ll go away.”
Unfortunately, Dr Tai is unfazed by the appearance of S-Meg Holdings’ most exotic staff member and eagerly gets down to business. He wants his son to be made a Justice of the Peace. Many of his friends’ sons sport a ‘JP’ tag after their name, and he thinks it’s unfair that his own boy – now in his 40s – should be left out. He reminds us that he was one of the first members of the business community to start saying rude things about Chris Patten in the early 1990s, and the family donated generous sums for Mainland flood victims a few years ago. We sit and nod politely. The Big Boss says he will “speak to Donald about it.” You can tell you’ve been in Hong Kong too long when you find nothing remotely strange about a man feeling that his loyalty to the Communist Party and the Chinese motherland should be rewarded by the symbolic appointment of his first-born to an English public office dating back to 1361.
TO ATONE for their spelling mistake in a headline last Saturday, the South China Morning Post today comes up with Most Deadpan Photo Caption of the Week…
|Thurs, 30 Nov
So joyous is the mood on the Mid-Levels Escalator this morning that everyone bursts into song. “Here in Hong Kong we are one big family,” we chant. “And we’re proud of this place we all call home.” It was the unofficial Big Lychee national anthem back in the days when the city was confident, happy and prosperous, before it became self-doubting, miserable and prosperous. It was a rousing tune – an anti-littering ditty that stirred the heart of free men and women of all colours and creeds, rejoicing in their good fortune to live in a land of liberty, where the Government’s idea of intrusion into people’s lives was to urge them to place their Hello Kitty ice cream wrappers in the garbage bins provided at 10-foot intervals the length and breadth of our colonial paradise. Like the people, the bins were rugged and sturdy – crafted of steel and painted a bold and defiant orange. Today, we put our used tissues and half-eaten quarter-pounders into effete, cheap, plastic purple receptacles – a reflection of the pitiful, childlike weakness and meek subjection to authority to which we have been reduced.
|In the old days, you could hire anyone you wanted and be open about it. You could announce, “I want a clerk who is young, able-bodied, female and Chinese,” and fire her the second she got married. You could say, “I want to rent my property out, but not to an Indian because they will cook curry,” and get a blond-haired, blue-eyed British tenant who cooked curry. There was an unwritten rule. No-one started up hate or supremacist groups. No-one got lynched, beaten up or spat on. In return, we were all free to loathe each other in peace and harmony. It was too good to last. The great libertarian experiment succumbed to lawyers, activists, do-gooders and bureaucrats.
Being civilized and progressive, we will now be able to sue each other for race discrimination, except under circumstances carefully chosen to avoid any serious inconvenience to decent people with perfectly understandable reasons for favouring or rejecting persons of one particular hue or another. Indeed, I already feel that a trip to the Equal Opportunities Commission might be in order. Under the proposed law (Urdu version, Nepali version, Bahasa Indonesia version and Thai version coming soon), racial harassment and vilification will be an offence. Is this not what I face in my own workplace? Barely a day goes by when I do not hear some snide remark about the Company Gwailo – an island of Anglo-Saxon DNA in an ocean of the seed of the dragon – and the way he is allowed to turn up late, go home early, skip the excruciating annual dinner, not wear the puce and lime-green company tie on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and enjoy all sorts of other privileges and immunities. Just because he is white, reports directly to the Big Boss, and the Human Resources Manager is petrified of him. The next expression of hostility or intolerance about this situation – Ms Fang the Hunter Killer Secretary is a frequent complainant – and I will see to it that my persecutors are struck with the full might of justice.
|Fri, 1 Dec
The best cure for self-pity is a sharp reminder that there are always others worse off. Some may be tempted to be depressed about Hong Kong. We have to put up with stupid government – second-rate administrators who are out of their depth and openly treat public opinion as an enemy to be thwarted, while implementing the same old idiotic policies that serve the same old vested interests. Population growth has basically come to an end. Air pollution is getting to critical levels. Therefore, what do you do? You build more and more roads and allow more and more downtown monster tower blocks. This is mental retardation.
In Singapore, meanwhile, opposition politician Chee Soon Juan is now in prison for speaking in public without a police permit. It is not the first time. On one occasion the courts, which invariably do the ruling family’s bidding, once jailed him for pointing out that the courts invariably do the ruling family’s bidding. To Chee, a few weeks in a cell was a small price to pay for such eloquent proof that he was right. Although he is lapsing into senility now and tends to dribble a bit, Lee Kuan Yew, who single-handedly turned the Lion City from a malarial swamp into a dazzling metropolis of gleaming skyscrapers with no litter, cannot be said to be dimwitted in the manner of senior Hong Kong officials. He is malicious. Chee is on to him – there is corruption in the Singapore establishment, and nepotism has put low-quality people in top positions where they can fritter away the people’s confiscated wealth on deals with Burmese drug barons. In return, Lee does the only thing he knows how to do, and that is use physical force to persecute and silence his critic.
Victims of Hong Kong officials’ incompetence should spare a thought for those few Singaporeans who stand up to the Lee clan’s malevolence (such as Chee’s fellow defendant Gandhi Ambalam, who told the court it was an ‘honour’ to be imprisoned). One day, the Lee regime will be toppled, and these people will be heroes. And where will that leave Hong Kong? This reminds me of a new, exciting and elaborate theory that I am developing, which goes something like this... Donald Tsang, much derided for claiming that air pollution increases life expectancy, is not the buffoon that many make him out to be. He is in fact a very clever, scheming, closet pro-democrat who calculates that the imposition of wretchedly brainless policies on the Big Lychee is the best way to hasten the demise of the current political system. Or maybe he is just a cretin, after all. Either way, we’re not in Singapore.