Hemlock's Diary
5-11 Nov 2006
Mon, 6 Nov
I am thinking of entering the next Miss World competition.  That would bring to three the number of Hong Kong people taking part in races they cannot win. 

The first is former Director of Health Margaret Chan, who has been nominated by China for the post of Director-General of the World Health Organization.  Does the international community really want the WHO to be headed by a representative of a country that unleashes deadly diseases on the rest of the planet – kills people, in short – by covering up mutations of viruses and outbreaks of pestilence within its borders?  Mainland officials’ secrecy and lies left six Hong Kong people dead of bird flu in 1997 and 299 dead of SARS, and more in Vietnam, Canada, etc, in 2003. 
As of last Thursday, it remained Beijing’s policy to endanger the rest of the human race by refusing to cooperate with nasty, bullying, foreign, barbarian scientists trying to protect us all from new viral threats. 

The second no-hoper is barrister Alan Leong of the Civic Party, who has officially announced himself the pro-democracy camp’s candidate for the post of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive.  In a month’s time, some 200,000 people and non-human entities representing our highly esteemed ‘various sectors’ will elect an 800-strong Election Committee.  The system being heavily but not precisely rigged, between 690 and 710 of the people voted into this electoral college can be guaranteed to rubber-stamp Beijing’s prior decision on who will win the Chief Executive
‘election’ next March.  The remaining 90-110 can do nothing about that.  However, it takes 100 members to nominate a candidate.  They must do it in public, and therefore in the knowledge that they will incur the displeasure of Beijing, which may have undesirable consequences for their business, career or other interests.  So they probably won’t.  And with Beijing putting pressure on those among the 200,000 who might vote for such foolhardy souls next month, fewer than 100 of them will probably make it onto the Election Committee anyway. 

In different ways, Communist Party rule of China makes it impossible for Margaret Chan and Alan Leong to win their respective contests – leaving my bid for Miss World looking that little bit more realistic.
Tue, 7 Nov
In the morning meeting on the top floor of S-Meg Tower, the Big Boss peers with distaste at a Government document, which he then slides over to me.  “Will this affect us?” he mutters.

There are two types of Hong Kong Government consultation exercise.  There is the ram-it-through-regardless type, in which the bureaucrats outline the decision they have already made and are condescendingly presenting it to the public as a tiresome formality.  Then there is the we’re-clueless variety, in which they disclaim any responsibility for a proposal that might upset vested interests and are condescendingly presenting it to the public in the hope the idea will go away.  This one, meekly suggesting a mild competition law that won’t inconvenience anyone in a serious way, is the second sort.

The document poses a number of questions…
- Does Hong Kong really need to do anything about the fact that developers can call a 500-square-foot space 700 square feet and charge double what it is worth, and one family seems to own most of our supermarkets, drug stores, radio stations, telecoms networks and construction materials suppliers?
- Should any competition law exempt companies and industries controlled by the illustrious, extremely patriotic and successful Mr Li Ka-shing, who donates so much to worthy causes?
- Is there any chance we can use this as an excuse to start up a new bureaucratic empire for our friends to run when they realize they won’t make it to Permanent Secretary level but still feel a deep desire to ‘serve the community’?

The real question on everyone’s lips, however, is this – what exactly is happening on the cover of this booklet?  A gwailo showing the first signs of middle age ennui is sitting back-to-back next to a fetching young Cantonese lady – the intellectual-but-wild-in-bed type – who is mentally undressing him, while a male accountant leers at us in the foreground.  The fact that each has a chair is obviously a clue.  My guess is that the three are business partners who, thanks to a new competition law, have finally succeeded in breaking into the once-cartelized office furniture market.  But the story has a murky underside, involving sexual jealousy, burning resentment and fraudulent cash flow figures.  As our scheming civil servants know perfectly well, the whole community will be far too busy solving the Three People With Chairs Puzzle to think about taking part in a boring consultation.
Wed, 8 Nov
The mood on the Mid-Levels Escalator this morning is one of slight bemusement, as our visionary Government invites us to jump with joy after it hands out residency of the Big Lychee to 83 sports stars, concert pianists, PhDs and other eugenic wonders under the extremely exciting Quality Migrant Admission Scheme.  As we glide past the Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Emporium, personnel manager and fellow commuter Ms Ng looks up from her newspaper and asks me, “Yes, but what are supposed to do with them?”

Like throwing billions down the toilet to attract Disneyland, or putting embarrassing degrees of effort into getting Margaret Chan elected as head of the WHO, this is a policy for a city that lacks confidence and desperately wants to be loved – or, failing that, just noticed.  Will these people create jobs or start vibrant new companies?  Apparently not.  Indeed, one hopeful was rejected precisely because he wanted to start a marketing agency – far too common, sniffs Henry Fan, chief enforcer of the strict ‘no darkies or entrepreneurs’ rule, who has spent months checking ultra-talented applicants’ teeth, IQs and net wealth. 

According to the
South China Morning Post, 1 percent of the 83 – someone missing a leg, perhaps – is from Africa, and a smattering are from the rest of the world.  The fact is, this is a scheme for famous Mainlanders who want to stash their foreign earnings in a nice, safe bank account far from the clutches of the glorious motherland’s dedicated tax officials.  At the margins, they will bid up the price of our extremely scarce decent-sized apartments, which, as everyone knows, will add immensely to our economic growth.  They will provide our paparazzi and tabloids with fresh targets to harass and take blurry photos of.  They will just Be Here.  And our wide-eyed, open-mouthed officials will point stupidly and say, “Look, we have residents with really impressive credentials like top people in New York and London,” and break into a big smile on realizing how clever they are to have made Hong Kong such a big and important place.
Thurs, 9 Nov
As I so accurately predicted just a few days ago, the international community decides that nothing could be more delightful than letting a country that covers up outbreaks of disease install its candidate as head of the World Health Organization.  The reaction in the Big Lychee to Margaret Chan’s apparent victory is surprisingly subdued.  No public holiday declared, no fireworks let off, no grinning officials jabbering about how the city has been put on the map.  Just the Chief Executive mumbling vague pride in
‘our Hong Kong girl’ getting the job.  Perhaps it is because the glory rightfully belongs to the motherland, whose officials’ powers of persuasion over their counterparts in the picturesque and plucky ‘less developed countries’ seem to have clinched the deal.  What better illustration can there be of the solidarity and brotherhood of the human race than the Chinese Communist Party and a load of African dictators coming together to pick the boss of the planet’s main public health bureaucracy, while everyone else stands around smiling and thinking this is the best thing since Libya got to run the UN Human Rights Commission?

Another reason for the lack of fanfare in and around the Fragrant Harbour is that Dr Chan is not universally adored here.  When, in early 2003, strange rumours about the panic-buying of vinegar and surgical masks in obscure Guangdong towns first started to circulate, her health bureaucracy assured us that there was nothing to worry about – China wouldn’t hide anything serious from us.  When Mainland medical staff started to flee their hospital posts and make a beeline for Hong Kong to vomit the virus all over us, she told everyone to keep calm, take two aspirin and call her back next morning.  To the residents of Amoy Gardens, where hundreds were infected, Chan is remembered for visiting their tower blocks at the dead of night, personally squirting large quantities of the virus into their apartments, then nailing the doors shut, painting a big X on them, and running away.

But there is a cause to celebrate.  Hong Kong now has one less former high-ranking civil servant with an overpowering urge to ‘serve the community’ by running some quasi-public organization with no purpose, constantly getting in everyone’s face, talking to people as if they are infants and meddling in anything and everything they can find.  Now she can do it in Geneva.
Fri, 10 Nov
A bracing early-morning stroll through Central leads me past the Legislative Council building, where a sheet of paper swirling in the autumnal breeze catches my attention.  It is a motion to be put before our esteemed legislators by James Tien, whose principles, intellect and imagination can be detected only with the aid of a huge subterranean accelerator whose electron microscope captures fleeting images of sub-atomic particles that exist for a billionth of a second. 

His Liberal Party’s policy platform is the result of pure opportunism and self-interest and is totally devoid of any consistent philosophy.  They oppose a smoking ban in restaurants because that’s what the voters in the Catering functional constituency want.  They think it should be legal for minibus drivers to run red lights because that’s what the voters in the Transport functional constituency want.  They oppose a mass transit railway to the south of Hong Kong Island because it might cost bus drivers’ jobs.  In the past they have held a protest march against homes not being expensive enough, and, in a moment of crude populism, convinced the Government to reduce the minimum wage for foreign domestic helpers.  More recently, they have opposed the idea of a sales tax, but only because voters in the Wholesale and Retail functional constituency are against it.  So loathsome and slimy are they, even Beijing can’t stand them.

They are also besotted by the unthinking assumption that tourism is wonderful for Hong Kong, and having more and more millions and millions of low-earning Mainlanders clogging up our immigration points, roads and sidewalks is now the city’s main mission in life.  They also strongly believe that they and their friends can rescue the Big Lychee from the doom threatened by such mighty, competitive and progressive cities as Singapore, Shanghai and Macau – if only the Government would give them some free land with which to make a ‘hub’ of some sort.  Which leads to Tien’s motion…
(Can you ‘inactively’ study something?  Now I think back, I did it for years, so the answer must be yes.)  The mild wording of Tien’s motion is designed to make it harder for lawmakers to justify voting against it, though this has never stopped them before – the Liberals would instinctively oppose a motion gently supporting the concept of motherhood if a pro-democrat had drafted it.  And this isn’t going to divide the circus along traditional pro-Beijing vs unpatriotic dissident lines.  Something strange happens to many Hong Kong legislators, of any political opinion, when you suggest a casino.  They go purple, make strange gurgling noises, froth at the mouth, then drop to their knees and start banging their heads against the ground.  Maybe it’s the loansharks, the throat-slittings, the gang wars, the suicides, the pressing of indebted gamblers’ wives into prostitution – who knows?  Something about gambling sets them off.  To make things interesting, Tien has said he will ask Beijing if they don’t object to Hong Kong moving into smaller-than-Shatin Macau’s one and only source of income.

I fold the motion up and drop it carefully into a bin for an elderly citizen to salvage for recycling.   My mind drifts back to
13 December, 2004, and a little voice in my head says, “Tien, you oily mental dwarf – we’ve been through all this before.”