|2-8 April 2006|
|Sun, 2 Apr
What on earth does US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice see in her scrawny, pasty-faced UK counterpart and paramour Jack Straw? My stomach churns as I watch the pair pawing each other during their taxpayer-funded jaunt around Blackburn and Baghdad – the world’s two least liveable Muslim cities. It’s easy to see why Straw should fancy Condi. Who could seriously imagine physical intimacy with John Foster Dulles, Henry Kissinger, Al Haig or George Shultz? Or – this is where it gets really mind-boggling – Madeleine Albright? But she can surely do better than Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, whose idea of showing a lady a good time is to drag her off to watch a soccer game. She is probably using her feminine wiles to gain his support for the beating of Iranian nuclear facilities into parking lots. Even so, it’s supposed to be a ‘special’ relationship, not a nauseating one.
FOR THE first time, I can record someone’s death while they are still alive – that of Art Buchwald (20 Oct, 1925-TBA, 2006). Suffering from kidney problems in a Washington DC hospice, he has refused dialysis. After being brought up on the savagery of National Lampoon and Hunter S Thompson, I found Buchwald’s satire lame. But since buying collections of his older work in second-hand bookshops, I’ve concluded that he is to newspaper columns what Mel Brooks is to film – often ahead of his time when he was funny. And he always had a kind word to say about everyone, even Richard Nixon…
|I worship the quicksand he walks in.|
|Mon, 3 Apr
During the morning meeting, the Big Boss tosses a printed-out email at me. A Western journalist wants some quotes from him on economic and political affairs, and it naturally falls on the gwailo factotum to decide the great man’s thoughts. After a few inane questions on China’s rise as the world’s leading manufacturer of cheap commoditized disposable junk …
|Have you noticed any changes in Hong Kong since Britain handed the city over to China in 1997?|
|Let me see… The integrity of rule of law has been tarnished, the political system has been made less democratic, the air quality has fallen, business interests have become bolder about abusing their political power for their own ends, Government officials’ decision-making skills and confidence have declined, a clutch of family-run cartels have cornered a greater concentration of wealth-creating opportunities, the harbour is being filled to make more roads, the majority of the population fears for their economic future, the black wings of the pestilence spread just across the border, and a pint of San Mig at Hardy’s during happy hour now costs HK$32. Apart from that, everything’s just tickety-boo.
Tue, 4 Apr
“I would only talk to you if you agree with me.” Thus replied our dashing Chief Executive Donald Tsang when Civic Exchange boss Christine Loh asked to see him to discuss his farsighted plans for Tamar and the rest of the Central waterfront area. Having nothing better to do here on the top floor of S-Meg Tower this morning, I pick up the phone and dial 2878 3300. Would it be possible, I ask in my most reverent tone, to see Sir Bow-Tie for a few minutes – any time it’s convenient for him?
“What’s the magic word?” asks an officious and skeptical-sounding woman. I clear my throat.
“Covering a third of the harbourfront with a six-lane freeway and other roads will not cause any adverse impact on air quality!”
“Hmmm. He can squeeze you in for 10 minutes at three this afternoon,” the voice says. “What business sector do you want a free lunch for, and how much do you want?”
I outline my grand vision of a Government order for HK$4.5 billion worth of plastic flowers.
“It will create jobs,” I explain. “The industry has been declining for many, many years. Furthermore, public opposition will be fierce, so it will provide him with a superb opportunity to display Strong Governance by ramming it through the legislature. He’ll be able to strut around like a spiteful schoolgirl constantly adding names to her secret list of enemies, and bleating ‘I’m not talking to Muffy and Octavia anymore because they’re not my friends – they’re not mature’. It would do wonders for his image.”
The voice at the other end becomes warmer. “You’re right! More out-of-touch, insecure and pigheaded than Tung Chee-hwa on a bad day! See you at three.”
|Wed, 5 Apr
Burn-A-Mountain Day, when we honour our ancestors by flinging lit joss sticks around bone-dry, grassy hillsides and run away before the helicopters come and dump water everywhere. For me, it’s a Pyjama Day – unplug the phone, lie low in Perpetual Opulence Mansions. In the kitchen at 6.30 to get a pot of rice and chicken stock simmering, then back to bed for an hour and a half. Then, back to the kitchen. Put an egg in the pot to harden. Shred some lettuce, ginger, leftover roast chicken, a chilli, some green onion and coriander. Retrieve, shell and chop now-boiled egg. Chuck it all into the pot, with some peanuts, salt and pepper, and stir.
Checking emails over my congee, I find a message from BoresComeBackToHauntYou.Com advising me that a former classmate from the dreaded convent school has contacted me. Not without trepidation, I click on the link. One Alph Smith is organizing a reunion – will I be attending? I think not. I glance down the list of fellow inmates all those years ago.
Bet Jones. She used to look so angelic at mass, lighting candles for Our Lady. That must have stood her in good stead a few years later in high school, when they said, “What’s the difference between Bet and a Rolls-Royce? Not everyone’s been in a Rolls-Royce.”
Gam Musky. I vaguely recall a short boy who used to peer over my shoulder and copy my work. What’s he doing now? A teacher. Divorced (amicably). Thinking of moving to another city, but maybe won’t. Would love to hear from anyone who remembers him. He sounds as if he would be surprised if anyone does.
Del O’Connor. The only black kid in the school. In the county, probably. Now an accountant in California with Tamika (9), Alaysia (7) and a spaniel with a name you can safely put on a resume, Barkshire (4).
Ep Wilson. How I hated him. Always good at sport. Nearly always top of the class in everything. Burst into tears if he wasn’t. Arm shot up every time a teacher asked a question – “Madame, please, I know, madame!” I click on the repulsive little creep’s name and find, to my glee, that it’s better than I dared hope. A middle manager in a dreary local government office. How depressing. Never left town. Pathetic. Married. Excellent! He must be utterly miserable. This puts me in such a cheerful mood, I resolve to get dressed and go out.
|Thurs, 6 Apr
Would an educated, professional man expose his wife and children to potentially life-threatening levels of air pollution just to stuff his pockets full of cash in a jurisdiction that imposes only 16% salaries tax and no levies on capital gains, investment or offshore income? Yes, of course he would. Which is why the recent warnings of an impending expatriate exodus from the Big Lychee are hollow. Indeed, the number of skilled newcomers arriving is higher than ever, with lines of respiratory and cardio-thoracic specialists stretching through the airport immigration hall.
Temporary, panicked flight of womenfolk and infants might happen at anytime if some form of plague strikes. During SARS they were urged away by men eager to enjoy business-trip-style opportunities to misbehave without leaving town. But the real, permanent mass-departure of our Western population is a couple of years off. It will come when their dogs finally succumb to the same streaming eyes and constant coughing and wheezing that more money-oriented life forms learn to tolerate. Fewer dogs. Fewer gwailos. And they call it ‘worsening quality of life’!
|Fri, 7 Apr
The week – horribly busy at times by the standards of the S-Meg Company Gwailo’s calling – lurches to an end with a flick through the news.
The civil service’s array of bizarre, colonial-era allowances is to be trimmed slightly, saving a grand total of HK$390 million over a five-year period. That’s 0.065% of my quick but conservative estimate of the HK$600 billion total cost (at today’s prices) of civil servants to the Big Lychee over that period. In essence, they keep the Overseas Education Allowance for their children, who are obviously far too important to attend the pitiful local schools overseen by their parents. And they keep the Furniture and Domestic Appliances Allowance, lest their average incomes – often double those in the private sector – won’t even stretch to a trip to Ikea, leaving them sleeping on the bare floor and sitting on boxes. The Punkawalla Loincloth Allowance, however, will be cut by 20%. Any more would apparently have caused the Government employees extreme psychological distress. The difference between them and the cartel-owning property developers is that the latter have the decency not to pretend to be ‘serving the community’ as they skim our wealth off.
How has Donald Tsang lured the Democratic Alliance for the Long-Winded Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong into supporting his planned Palace of Big Government at Tamar? Their big vision had previously been to relocate Government HQ at Kai Tak – for reasons that were never any clearer than with Sir Bow-Tie’s obsession with Tamar. Has he promised them oral sex? Candy? A special section of their very own in Donald’s List of Friends and Mature People He Really Likes? Photo opportunities in which they can be seen hanging out with Don and his buddies, looking cool leaning against the pool hall wall in their leather jackets and shades, flicking their cigarette butts onto the sidewalk and sneering as pro-democrats walk past?
Charles Ryder had, as a desk ornament, a skull with Et in Arcadia ego inscribed on its forehead, and everyone thought it was in poor taste. Buddhist gods drank the blood of their slain enemies from bowls made of sawn-off crania, and people collect them as art objects. Which they are – finely polished or carved and presented on intricate stands. Reproductions are common and cheap. But if these ceremonial Tibetan cups are made from genuine human remains, they sell for the equivalent of several years’ earnings for the impoverished peasants in that part of the world. Add market forces and modern Mainland China’s community ethos to the equation, and the inevitable outcome is the discovery in remote Gansu Province of a big plastic bag full of 121 topped skulls. The best-case scenario is that the parts were plundered from corpses in a morgue. The worst case is something that will make the sale of executed prisoners’ organs or the trafficking of kidnapped toddlers seem… what’s the word? Tickety-boo!