Hemlock's Diary
27 August-2 September 2006
Mon, 28 Aug
Reading about Pluto being relegated to the status of dwarf planet, I learn that there is a similar place called Xena, which is, apparently, a ‘distant icy body’.  For some reason, I am instantly reminded that it is shapely Administrative Officer Winky Ip’s birthday.  So I dedicate a diary entry to her…
Interfering, arrogant big-mouthed foreigners who think they know the answer to everything try pushing the Government around by threatening to damage Hong Kong’s international image.  Again.  This time, it’s the American Chamber of Commerce, whose survey of business leaders shows that, thanks to air pollution, four fifths of them are considering leaving or have done so already. 

Did they survey the ones who have left already?  Do they have any evidence that overseas investment has gone elsewhere to avoid the smog?  And aren’t these the same know-it-all Westerners who dismiss our hard-working officials’ attempts to encourage foreign investment as simplistic by pointing out that Hong Kong is a major net provider of capital and has no need of inward flows of funds?  Do they seriously expect us to believe that they will sacrifice their ultra-low local taxes for the sake of their kids’ health?  And why are their children here anyway – why don’t they send them away like normal people?  And why this ridiculous obsession with letting your offspring run around outdoors?  What do they think air-conditioned SUVs are for?

It’s the same with the attack on Albert Ho.  Of course, everyone was upset.  But there’s no reason to go so over the top about it, getting it into the
New York Times and the Guardian.  It’s not like they killed him.  And – let’s face it – when you take on legal cases like that, what do you expect?  (And every cloud has a silver lining.  Thanks to Queen Mary’s Hospital, he looks far better now than he did before the beating.) 

Or dragging Hong Kong’s name into the dirt all the time by comparing our standards of corporate governance and shareholder rights with those of the distant and alien nations expats chose to leave in order to come here.  There is no single, correct approach to stock market regulation.  Don’t they know everywhere has different traditions and needs? 

Or constantly bleating about market forces and laissez-faire every time our policymakers devise exciting and pro-active ways to make Hong Kong into a high-tech hub, cruise liner hub, sports hub or car parts manufacturing hub?  Don’t they have any vision?  Don’t they realize the British don’t run this place anymore? 

And then there’s all the whining over the proposed Goods and Services Tax.  Most people hate it because it will damage tourism or hurt the poor.  But not the gwailos.  No, they have to oppose it on the grounds that the Government’s whole rationale is flawed because its calculations omit revenues from land sales and premiums.  Why drag that into it?  Can’t they think
inside the box for once? 

The Country of the Blind by HG Wells, a lost explorer finds a civilization of people whose eyes have become vestigial organs.  To cut a short story very short, they eventually agree to let him settle provided he agrees to the removal of his own orbs, which seem to make him unhappy and troublesome.  Is there a lesson here for Hong Kong’s leaders and civil service, as they try to do their job in the face of constant heckling from the city’s pushy and impossible-to-please international community?
It’s cheaper than sending flowers.

Tue, 29 Aug
The putrid stench of hypocrisy permeates the Big and Little Lychees this morning.  In Hong Kong, Gillian Chung of the inane Twins duo
sobs to the press in the company of fellow Canto-stars about the terrible ‘ordeal’ she has suffered after gossip rag Easy Finder ran blurred photos of her apparently adjusting her bra strap.  All sorts of publicity-seeking invertebrates and moralizing bores, from politicians to feminists to the Society for Truth and Light, are jumping on the bandwagon.  Were my hands not occupied gripping an extra-large air motion discomfort receptacle, I would be tempted to give Chung a slap on her tear-streaked face and a reminder to tone down the hysterics.  Much more weeping, and she’ll start giving people the impression it’s just an act.  They might even think that rather than being the distraught, innocent victim, she is no more than a talentless bimbo who signed up to become a manufactured product created by a company whose boss sleeps with every starlet and her mother and gets his way by ordering kidnapping, rape and choppings.  Which, being totally untrue of course, would be tragic.  “What I am most worried about,” she tells us, “are my young fans who look up to me as a role model.”  They scare me, too.

Meanwhile, in Macau, Stanley Ho is equally distressed about how much harder life is when you no longer have a casino monopoly.  In recent remarks on the subject he has accused his new American rivals of poaching staff that he has trained (but also somehow threatening people’s jobs) and taking money out of the city.  He has even dropped hints that Beijing will not be happy.  Sheldon Adelson, owner of the space-age Sands casino and the
vast, forthcoming Venetian, says that the real competition has barely started – wait until Steve Wynn sets up shop. 

Ho’s plight is a vivid reminder of how our local tycoons are to real businessmen as Twins are to the Berlin Philharmonic.  They don’t do creativity, acumen or skill.  All they know how to do is corner a market with Government help and skim the wealth off.  Hong Kong’s property development industry has made Li Ka-shing, Lee Shau-kee and the Kwok brothers multi-billionaires, and officials and the public fawn over them as if they were Cantopop’s finest.  But the industry is little more than a state-organized pyramid scheme.  A chimpanzee could make money out of it.  And all the members of the cartel have ever done with their gains is buy up other rigged industries at home, like utilities, bus lines and supermarkets.  Only Li has ventured much overseas, and then only to indulge in (sometimes clever) asset trading.  Henderson or Sun Hung Kai wouldn’t last five minutes in an environment where you fight to add the most value.  They survive only because consumers have no choice.  The same, of course, applies to our political leadership.  Some places get Bill Gates or Richard Branson, Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcher.  Here, we’re impressed if you can adjust a bra strap.

Wed, 30 Aug
Like a pack of starving hyenas circling, leaping on, then tearing to bloody shreds a baby gazelle, gwailo and other dissenting architects savage the Government’s replacement Star Ferry pier.  Is any more evidence needed that, regardless of what our officials do, these people will pile in and criticize it?  In this particular case, a committee of civil servants worked tirelessly to come up with a design that looked exactly like the sort of building gwailos hate to see knocked down.  If the new structure was crumbling and dirty and the wrecking crew turned up, the environmentalists and conservationists would be out there, whining and linking arms around it.  Build a new one, and still they moan!
The new pier, necessitated by the Government’s exciting and ingenious Let’s Cover The Harbourfront With Roads Plan, deserves our solid support for two reasons. 

First, naysayers notwithstanding, the structure represents a brand new school of architecture – Pastiche Disneyesque Edwardian Municipal.  This will surely emerge over time as Hong Kong’s finest gift to the art.
Second, the location is so far away from the old pier and the rest of Central – you walk a quarter of the way to Kowloon just to get to it – that the Star Ferry will cease to be a practical method of cross-harbour transport.  It will be quicker to go down three levels to the train.  To make the ferry even less viable, the Government is moving the Public Transport Interchange (or, to use the technical term, ‘bus stops’) outside the Tsim Sha Tsui pier hundreds of yards away to TST East.  The upshot is that the Star Ferry will link a pair of urban wildernesses and will probably close.  That will be the end of the last activity for visitors not dreamed up by the hallucinogenic drugs-crazed Hong Kong Tourist Board.  The city will therefore lose its last attraction, and the number of tourists will decline sharply.  And if that’s not worthwhile, what is?

Thurs, 30 Aug
People whose idea of fun is clambering around in the woods at night with broadcasting equipment will be disappointed to learn that the Police have busted pirate station Citizens’ Radio.  According to taste, we will now see the authorities prosecute a group of people for the indisputably illegal act of transmitting a signal on an FM frequency without a licence, or we will witness the martyrdom of valiant pro-democracy activists dedicated to freedom of speech.
The forces of law and order have plenty of justification here.  You need a licence to broadcast because otherwise the airwaves would be full of interference.  Interfering with licenced stations’ broadcasts is no different from blocking a public road.  Licences are scarce because our hilly geography means stations often occupy multiple frequencies, and Shenzhen takes up some as well.  It’s not censorship of  your opinions.  There are dozens of family walky-talky and citizen band channels on 409MHz and 27MHz that you can use without a licence.  And the Internet.  Worst case – stand on a street corner on a soap box.   Screech away all day on any political subject you like.

While being dragged off to jail, however, the activists could ask some pointed questions.  Why does a city of 7 million have only 13 radio stations?  Why are all the commercial stations in town owned by just two companies?  Why does Government-run Radio Television Hong Kong make all its own programming rather than offer public access slots for the pro-Beijing, pro-democracy, pro-flat earth and other groups who claim their views are never heard?  Does RTHK need to use a channel to relay the BBC World Service now its own English news reports largely ignore local affairs and just cut and paste from overseas public broadcasters?  Does the Government give existing broadcasters bits of spectrum just to use them up, rather than leave them free to be claimed by low-power college or community stations or commercial interests that would drive down profits for the existing duopoly?  They could.  Instead, with the hyperbole of born radio stars, they will warn of… a
White Terror.
Fri, 1 Sep
The mood on the Mid-Levels Escalator this morning is one of grim forbearance.  The
sentencing of journalist Ching Cheong for five years on a charge of spying for Taiwan is no surprise, and where there is no surprise there is no outrage – or at least not much.  He was held for 18 months, then given a one-day secret trial.  Mainland authorities have recently jailed a blind activist for trying to defend peasants’ rights and a New York Times researcher for making prosecutors look foolish because they couldn’t find any evidence against him.  It’s important that this happens from time to time, to remind us of the fearful and tormented world China’s leaders inhabit – a life of smiling, patting schoolgirls’ heads and shaking foreigners’ hands, interspersed with bouts of neurotic savagery.
If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.
EM Forster
A superficially noble-sounding sentiment, but actually silly.  What sort of a friend or country is it that requires you to choose between them?  Anthony Blunt quoted it with regard to his fellow traitors Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and Kim Philby, if that’s any help.  But amend the aphorism to read “my country’s government” or “my country’s ruling party” and we see the predicament of Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing camp, many of whom are devoted admirers of Ching Cheong.  Or were.  Now, as good patriots, they have mostly fallen into a grand United Front silence.  What voices do they hear in their brains?  “That could have been me?”  “It’s all for the greater good?”  This is assuming they have brains, if no guts.

As Hong Kong’s tolerant and civilized middle class glides down into Soho, our subdued gloom turns to abject horror.  Like the evil pusher who hangs around schools luring children into a lifetime of heroin addiction and misery, an amply proportioned man is handing out free samples of Krispy Kreme donuts next to the soon-to-be-opened franchise.  No commuter is spared.  Filipino maids, frail elderly Cantonese ladies, bespectacled office workers and, of course, kids – everyone gets a box thrust into their face.  My reaction, verbal and visual, is as if Liberal Party boss James Tien were offering me a plateful of dog vomit and cat diarrhea swarming with tapeworm and blowflies, but the sweaty and oafish Krispy Kreme Kontraktor takes no notice.  It’s all in the numbers.  If only one in 10 Mid-Levels residents can be hooked on the loathsome habit of cramming these disgusting objects into their mouths for breakfast, he will be rich.  Truckloads of the things line the road.  From Beijing’s Number Two Intermediate People's Court in the north to Elgin Street in the south, China descends into barbarism.