|7-13 May 2006|
|Sun, 7 May
Golden week – sandwiched between two three-day weekends – comes to an end. Arrivals of Mainland tourists are below expectations, partly because the visitors are being herded into shops and held captive at gunpoint unless they buy Disney souvenirs, jewellery or skin-whitening lotion equal to or greater than the cost of their trip to the Big Lychee.
In fact, many of the visitors from across the border are not coming here to put money into our economy but to take it out. Not, as many right-minded people would say, that there’s anything wrong with that. They are gathering at the bottom of the Mid-Levels Escalator, posting look-outs to spot approaching police patrols, and selling a wide range of hand-selected, finely crafted T-shirts and children’s toys to passers-by. I applaud their entrepreneurial flair, despite their shyness in front of a camera.
To my resounding gratitude, our very own Hong Kong Tourism Board has joined in the long-overdue attempt to rid our fair city of the ‘leisure visitor’ menace. Selina Chow’s Board has organized a Temple Fair near the outlying islands ferry piers in Central. Is there such a thing as a Temple Fair in Hong Kong? It sounds authentic to gullible visitors to our city, so who cares? The Board has lined up a variety of musical, dance, opera and other performances by vaguely qualified and competent artistes… And then ruined everything by holding the shows on a high and deep stage facing the harbour and leaving all of 30 feet of space (standing room only) between the platform and the concrete wall abutting the fetid water. Apart from half a dozen people over six feet tall wedged in at the back, no-one could have seen anything. My own attempt to see the Bian Nian (or ‘face changing’) Sichuan opera seemed typical. Along with tourists and other interested folk I came, mulled around unable to observe any of the action, and drifted away. There is an acre of lawn next to the site lying unused. If this convinces tourists never to return – and it surely will – it was money well spent.
|Mon, 8 May
The week ahead is going to be indescribably unpleasant for me. I will suffer an existence of harshness, discomfort, and deprivation all but unknown in the Mid-Levels – life without the two Filipino elves. It is unusual for both of them to be away simultaneously, but it happens – like the planets occasionally falling into alignment, only with more catastrophic results. Already, in the plastic basket in the corner of my bedroom in Perpetual Opulence Mansions, two pairs of socks, two T-shirts and two pairs of underpants stare up at me malevolently, taunting me with their mute threats to fester until and unless I personally take hold of them in my hands and transfer them to the washing machine. In the kitchen sink, the residue from last night’s meal somehow manages to reach halfway up to the ceiling. How can a single, simple meal of pasta leave a wooden chopping board, a Triad hit-man-style meat cleaver, one small saucepan, one big saucepan, one strainer, one bowl, one fork and one spoon in its wake? Now I know what it must have been like for all those people hit by the earthquake in Kashmir last year, their villages reduced to desolate wastelands of rubble. Perhaps, as they no doubt did, I will consider moving into a hotel for a few days.
Tue, 9 May
The Big Boss splutters in frustration at the Government’s official announcement that civil servants will stop working Saturday mornings from July. “Now everyone will expect us to do the same,” he complains to his senior management team in the morning meeting. Apart from the Company Gwailo, who usually has important research to do, everyone at S-Meg Holdings reports for duty on Saturdays. For four hours, the desk meat and office slaves sleep, chat, surf the Internet, read gossip magazines, preen themselves or eat. Then, at 1pm, they leave and their weekends begin. The company would save money in air-conditioning bills by letting them stay at home. But that’s not the logic that drives a traditional, family-run, Hong Kong conglomerate. If someone loses something of value, someone else must gain it. Thus, by depriving employees of cherished free time to relax with their loved ones, the company profits. It’s obvious.
|FEW THINGS are more distressing to watch than an elderly, senile gentlemen wetting himself in public. But I find it impossible to avert my gaze when the poor wretch is Singapore’s drooling ‘Minister Mentor’ (or PM’s Daddy), Lee Kuan-yew. The cause of this latest loss of self-control is one James Gomez, the leader of the Workers’ Party, one of the city state’s tiny opposition groups. Such groups won a third of the votes in Saturday’s election, despite Government attempts to cow them through the usual law suits and to bribe voters with last-minute welfare bonuses and promises of extra spending for neighbourhoods that voted correctly.
If I am correct, the story goes something like this. Gomez went to file his application to run as a candidate. He thought he had handed over the forms, and accused the Elections Department of deliberately losing the paperwork. He then found that he was mistaken and apologized. Had the matter rested, it would have been a mild vote loser for his apparently scatterbrained little party. But the demented Lee saw an opportunity to froth at the mouth over nothing, and mounted a lengthy and loud character assassination against Gomez, declaring him a liar and daring him to sue. Out of embarrassment at their crazed senior statesman’s ranting, many Singaporeans pretended not to notice. But more than a few seem to have voted for the Worker’s Party for a rare bit of fun. Last night, Gomez was detained and had his passport confiscated. The police are now investigating him for criminal intimidation and providing false information to the Elections Department. Even if he escapes hanging or flogging, this dangerous and overwhelming menace to Singapore’s well-being could be fined heavily and barred from running again – thus ensuring that the Lion City remains secure in the paternal grip of the Lee dynasty’s hereditary genius.
|Wed, 10 May
Blame. The assignation of guilt for a misdeed. Who is to blame for the failure of December’s political reform bill? Last week, academic Michael DeGolyer announced survey results showing that half the population blames the pro-democracy camp. Frank Ching picked up the theme in yesterday’s South China Morning Post. But DeGolyer’s never-ending Hong Kong Transition Project is begging the question. Who says the failure of the bill was a bad thing? Why not ask who deserves the credit, rather than the blame?
Such thoughts pass through my mind much faster than the Big Boss’s Mercedes proceeds through the streets of Central this morning. As Parker the chauffeur guides the hulking black chariot along Caine Road, I put it to the visionary tycoon that, if Beijing refuses to give us universal suffrage, it must come up with some other alternative. The current political structure is a slow-motion disaster. He shakes his head. “This is the way it’s going to be for 10, 15 years,” he mutters.
I always make a point of telling anyone who will listen that when Donald Tsang was a puny, bespectacled schoolboy, he would give classmates candy in exchange for being his friends. It has a ring of truth to it. The Big Boss is on his way for his regular 10-minute chat with Sir Bow-Tie. Support me, and I’ll give you face by inviting you round. As we pull in to Government House, the S-Meg Chairman asks me for an amusing policy proposal to bounce off our great Chief Executive.
This is why I was dragged away from my desk a few minutes ago. One of the three Stanleys from the mailroom had delivered something to my desk. I asked him what he was listening to on his music player, and he amazed me. It wasn’t Nicholas Tse, not Leon Lai, not Joey Yung – it was the Beatles. A 20-something Hongkonger who doesn’t listen to Cantopop. Western rock music sounds more serious, he explained. So I have promised to broaden his cultural horizons by giving him an ‘mp3 of the week’ from now on, starting with Fairport Convention’s Meet on the Ledge. Then the call came.
“Well?” The Big Boss is getting out of the car. “Any ideas?”
I think for a few seconds. “I know.” I look up at him. “How about – sell Disneyland to Shanghai?”
He stares at me for an instant and turns towards the mansion. It’s either stupid or brilliant.
|Thurs, 11 May
Wild American friend Odell walks into the IFC Mall branch of Pacific Coffee accompanied by two fellow members of the Hong Kong Association of Gwailos Married to Southeast Asian Women of Humble Origins – Ron and Rod. Or are they Jack and John? They are both British, middle-aged, overweight and tattooed on their upper arms. They both order tea with milk, to which they add what looks like eight ounces of sugar. Both are married to young Filipinas who loyally cut their toenails, peel grapes and cook baked beans and fatty sausages for breakfast. And both, today, are in mourning. “Real pity innit, know wot I mean?” asks Ron.
They are lamenting the withdrawal of artificial colouring in Smarties, the M&M-style chocolate drops with a crisp outer shell. “Yeah, this is bad news for divorced men,” grumbles Jack, who translates Ron’s explanation from loveable cheeky cockney into English for my benefit.
Throughout the UK, he tells me, honest and upright men are lured into marriage by women who turn out to be “fuckin’ vicious, scheming bitches,” possibly as a result of low self-esteem arising from the ladies’ increasingly serious weight problems. The men eventually flee, but the torture continues as their ex-wives extract vast amounts of money from them in return for allowing them rare opportunities to see their five-year-old kids. On these infrequent, joyful outings, the adoring father takes his boy or girl to the zoo, a movie or – under pressure from the tightfisted mother – the shoe shop. Since time immemorial, a tube of Smarties has been the traditional accompaniment to such days out. Dad dispenses the treats with care, reserving all the orange ones. Only in the evening, just before the child is delivered back home, are these special vermillion candies handed over.
“Sumfin in ‘em, chemicals in the colouring like, sent the lad nuts,” Ron cackles. “He’d be screamin’ and bouncin’ off the walls til three in the morning. The bitch’d call – Why is he like this? – and I’m like, I dunno, don’t know nuffink.” We all laugh, though my own jollity is tempered by a deep, nagging regret at never having experienced the bliss that is married life. In truth, it’s sad. Future generations of men, hounded from their homes, beggared and denied fair access to their children, will now be denied this ultimate form of sweet revenge.
|Fri, 12 May
Hong Kong can sleep easier at nights, as our fearless law enforcement agencies clamp down on one of the greatest dangers facing the community – 16-year-olds. Like any law-abiding citizen, I am shocked and disgusted that our young people today are indulging in such illegal and immoral acts as uploading intellectual property (Cantopop, in this case) onto the Internet, where millions of similarly depraved teenagers can access it for free, depriving the renowned composers and singers of the music of their rightful reward for their contribution to our understanding of the human condition. It is simply theft from starving artists, and from their talented management companies whose hard work and self-sacrifice deliver ever-greater cultural achievements to the public.
As part of my own research into this crime, I spend part of the morning examining how easy it is to locate and download copyright material. I find, not for the first time, that even the most obscure and forgotten ditties, unobtainable in any music store in the Big Lychee, live on in cyberspace. Such as the oddly catchy numbers of the New York ensemble Left Banke – written, as it happens, by a 16-year-old. I right-click on the three tracks, Desiree, Walk Away Renee and Pretty Ballerina, and within a couple of minutes the quirky strains of ‘Baroque’ rock fill the room. I have so far found several gigabytes of rarities this way. Tom Lehrer, for example. It is an absolute outrage that our Customs service has been wasting its resources up to now trying to intercept traffickers of methamphetamine, guns and kidnapped girls, while right under their noses felonious youths are putting endless mp3s on-line. I don’t know how many new prisons Hong Kong will need in which to incarcerate all the schoolkids committing this evil, nor by how much taxes will have to go up to pay for it. But who can deny it will be worth every penny?