|4-10 June 2006|
|Mon, 5 June
Despite reminders from Polly the lipstick lesbian to attend, a combination of humidity and laziness yesterday evening kept me from Victoria Park, where thousands of people gathered to commemorate the Beijing massacre. Today’s South China Morning Post refers to the killings as ‘the crackdown’, as if it were an anti-littering campaign. Was it 17 years ago? I had to pay a surcharge on the second installment of my salaries tax that year, having forgotten to pay it on time in all the excitement surrounding Hu Yaobang’s death and the student movement. I’ve paid it all in one go in December ever since. Apart from the million-strong demonstration stretching from Central to Causeway Bay and back to Happy Valley, my main memory is the rumours. Tanks lined up on the border in Shenzhen, for example.
Was Donald Tsang among the throngs supporting the students? Veteran pro-democrat Szeto Wah recalls seeing him there. Without using words like ‘senile’ or ‘liar’, our dashing Chief Executive denies it. He doesn’t appear on my secret ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ list of half a dozen very prominent members of our pro-Beijing establishment who think everyone has forgotten that they marched, red-faced in their suits, in outrage at the slaughter. Donald is over 800 miles away in Kunming, attending the third Pan-Pearl River Delta Regional Cooperation and Development Forum, babbling away about enhancement of mutual partnership, as if anyone in Hong Kong would even notice if Yunnan – a medieval province that borders Burma – vanished from the face of the earth tomorrow. But he probably has little else to do, now he has secured enough legislators’ votes for his HK$5 billion, mega-luxury Palace of Big Government at Tamar. Edwin Ma, the SCMP’s gifted seer, advises Sir Bow-Tie (born 1944) against lapsing into self-denial.
The latest issue of Civic Party newspaper A45 carries a one-page ad by NOW broadband TV, part of PCCW and therefore owned by Richard Li, son of Li-Ka-shing, who owns extensive retail and property companies that (along with other conglomerates, including Cathay Pacific) don’t advertise in the pro-democracy Apple Daily and Next magazine. It is the only commercial ad in the paper. There is also an article summarizing the horrifying idiocy of the planning and land system in Hong Kong, concluding that the main problem is our power-crazed Government’s own fixation with extending bureaucratic empires and raising superfluous revenues at any social or economic cost.
Why doesn’t the Civic Party propose the replacement of land premiums with a straight tax on development profits? (Or, in practice, postponement of premium payments until completion and sale of the property.) It would open the cartelized market up to far more developers, and the revenue would count as recurrent rather than capital, so it could be spent on schools, hospitals, or something useful like tax cuts, rather than stuffed into the construction industry’s pockets. If it comes to that, why don’t the grassroots politicians constantly bleating for more handouts for the unemployed force officials to answer a basic question – Does the high land price policy suppress demand for low-skilled labour? Maybe, like turning up at the June 4 vigil, it’s just too much like hard work.
|Tue, 6 June
Breakfast in the Foreign Correspondents Club with shapely Administrative Officer Winky Ip, who is unhappy about pro-grassroots politicians frothing at the mouth over the widening wealth gap. The newspaper headlines look bad – more than 182,000 domestic clusters of Hong Kong economic production units are earning less than HK$4,000 a month. “But it’s gone down!” she protests. “Read the Annex.” She tosses a report from the Government Economist at me. “It’s good news! Average monthly household income is up year-on-year 3.7 percent in real terms – from HK$24,600 to HK$26,000. The percentage of households on less than HK$4,000 fell from 9.1 to 8. That’s a 5 percent drop from 192,000 to 182,200!” Her face is flushed, and she starts to wave a chopstick at me. “And get this – 66 percent of those households are over-60s, and 80 percent of them are one-person households.”
I respectfully suggest that the pro-grassroots mouth-frothers’ point could be that HK$4,000 a month is too little even for a single, modestly sized and abstemious senior citizen to live on. “Of course,” I add, “their remedy will be more welfare payments. But why are people living in this city if they can’t afford it? What if the poverty lobby had a few brain cells and called for more incentives and support for old people to live in the Mainland?”
Winky looks at me in horror. “That’s exporting the poor!” she exclaims. “It will cut demand for Government services. How can we serve the community if they live somewhere else? And, um, it will hurt the retail sector, because all those old people will spend their money outside Hong Kong.”
Watching her tighten her grip on the chopstick, I decide not to mention that they don’t have money. “OK,” I say, “what if – assuming these legislators had any sense – they called for the Government to tackle the cartels, stop keeping property prices artificially high and cut its own costs, and made Hong Kong cheaper to live in?” The buxom bureaucrat is speechless. I burst out laughing. “Just kidding,” I assure her. “You know I like to start the day by saying something completely absurd.”
I stir some peanuts into my rich chicken congee. My two economically literate solutions to the problem are unthinkable. Higher welfare payments are obviously out of the question. The policy wonk in me strains for an answer. “I’ve got it,” I tell Winky. “You could redesign the garbage bins on the street to make them easier to rummage through – ‘encouraging self-reliance’, you know.” She looks suitably impressed with this fine example of lateral thinking.
Wed, 7 June
Like any well brought up Catholic, I am outraged by Donald Tsang’s attendance at a mass celebrated by a bishop of China’s schismatic ‘patriotic’ church. His act was in flagrant defiance of the Vatican’s ban on contact with clergymen who are not in communion with our Holy Father, Pope Benny. Unless he repents publicly and sincerely – not something he has proved especially good at in the past – Sir Bow-Tie will be excommunicated. And when he dies he will go straight to Hell, where a team of little imps will sodomize him with a durian for eternity while making him listen to Kenny G.
|Our supposedly devout Chief Executive might wish the more thoughtful among us to believe that Bishop Ma of Kunming has secretly sworn loyalty to Rome, as the majority of Beijing-endorsed priests in the Mainland are rumoured to have done. But if that were the case, God would smile benevolently on the Big Lychee. He has not. In an unmistakable sign of His extreme displeasure, the Almighty is wreaking swift and bitter retribution on us – plagues of obesity, tooth decay, diabetes and heart disease, in the form of Krispy Kreme doughnuts.
It is many years since I attempted to put one of these revolting items in my mouth. They taste like a mixture of refined flour, fructose and partly hydrogenated fat – a combination that appeals greatly to the more infantile palate. The number of calories ranges from 200 in the basic version (which aficionados eat by the pair for breakfast) to nearly 400. They are being introduced to our benighted city by one Wayne Parfitt, a tool of Satan who many years ago corrupted our innocent and hitherto cheese-shy younger citizens by luring them into the evil practice of pizza consumption. Barring one Christmas Eve, when I was forced to go by an elderly relative with a shotgun, I haven’t been to church since I was 15 – and God piles more and more blessings on me. All Tsang had to do was skip mass for a day.
|Thurs, 8 June
On the top floor of S-Meg Tower, in the heart of Asia’s international business hub, the three Stanleys from the mailroom withdraw from the gwailo’s lair, clutching their little mp3 players in their envelope opener-scarred hands. After sampling my choices of non-Cantopop songs, they have become converted Smiths fans, buying legitimate copies of the band’s works – not that the entertainment industry, with its steam-era business model, will thank me for expanding its market by distributing a few copies of music I legitimately own. I have just given them The Cocteau Twins’ Pearly Dewdrops’ Drops. If that doesn’t send them fleeing back to Hacken Lee and Gigi Leung, what will?
|Like the low clouds drifting aimlessly over the harbour, thoughts of little or no weight cross my mind as I stare out of my office window. If more students than ever in the nation’s capital were cheating in exams by looking at their neighbours’ answers, the South China Morning Post could use the headline ‘Peking Peeking Peaking’. Instead, the paper is giving its readers a new column, called Political Animal. The masthead promises inside dirt and vicious comment, red in tooth and claw. The content of course doesn’t deliver. We are told that Chief Secretary Rafael Hui wants to go on holiday, Education Secretary Arthur Li made a barely witty riposte to a legislator, and young members of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment, Etc of Hong Kong will watch a televised soccer match together in a pub. It’s not hard to do better. Even my unimportant little desk has damning confidential documents dropped onto it daily by the three Stanleys, after the Big Boss – ever-so important advisor to Sir Bow-Tie – waves them away. And unsubstantiated prurient rumours are two a penny. If the column is lame, it’s because someone has decreed that it will be.
Things would be different if Apple Daily bought the SCMP. If I were Jimmy Lai, I would print advertisements for Li Ka-shing’s companies – Park N Shop, Watsons your personal store, Cheung Kong’s latest exclusive, luxury, high-class, 480 square-foot apartments next to some landfill in the New Territories – in my publications for free. Then I’d cut them out and send them to the local branch of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, complete with an anonymous note ‘informing’ on the tycoon’s lack of patriotism in allowing his companies to allocate some of their marketing budgets to the dastardly anti-communist’s rags. And I’d send a copy to Superman himself, in the hope that he would take me to court for unauthorized use of his trademarks, so the world would be treated to such headlines as ‘HK billionaire sues tabloids for promoting his products for free’. And I’d have a word with the person who does my hair.
|Fri, 9 June
A study shows that the death toll resulting from air pollution in Hong Kong is the equivalent of five 2003-style SARS outbreaks per year. The respirable suspended particulates swirling around in the local atmosphere and burrowing away in our lungs probably have tragic non-fatal effects, too. Could they impair our foresight and judgement? That would explain why the well-respected authors of the survey released their findings in such a way that radio stations were reporting the story yesterday morning, while the SCMP and the Standard run it only today, and the document has yet to appear on any of the supporting organizations’ websites.
Eager to show its grave, concerned commitment to protecting its citizens’ health, the Government responds by releasing Health Tips for People Who Stare at Men in Shorts Chasing a Ball Around a Field on TV. I would have thought this would largely be of a psychological nature. For example, sufferers of this disorder could be urged to switch off the volume – in my experience, without a commentator screeching and jabbering every time one of the men in shorts does something, victims inexplicably lose much interest and return to a normal state. (Conversely, if Legislative Council debates were broadcast with an over-excited, high-decibel description of every paper shuffled and eye rolled, millions of these tragic people would no doubt be glued to the screen every Wednesday afternoon.) As a next step, officials could start to plan ways to tackle the greatest mental illness of our time – golf. But no, the Central Health Education Unit merely urges World Cup viewers to nibble salt-free celery, sip water, do 20 sit-ups and breathing exercises between games, and wear sandals and loose, absorbent underwear. And…
|Strike a balance between watching matches and fulfilling your social commitments.|
|Planning to do neither, I expect to be the most balanced person in town in the coming weeks of contrived sporting mania. The approaching outbreak of mass hysteria will pass me by. Should I accidentally hear one of the occasional roars of atavistic tribalism emanating from a hostelry with a 100-inch screen, I will savour the uplifting thought that somewhere out there in the darkness, an entire nation of cretins has just been plunged into grief.