Hemlock's Diary
8-14 October 2006
Mon, 9 Oct
Padding shoeless through the metal detector at the airport the day before yesterday, I saw my bag plucked from the X-ray machine and put aside.  A woman of Pakistani or Persian origin asked ‘oos it was in a cockney accent and started to open it, then looked up at me and shrugged.  “Nah, I know what I’m lookin’ for, but…”  She pushed it towards me with a knowing look and went off to the next suitcase.  ‘Racial profiling allows blond, blue-eyed Anglo to take water bottle and toothpaste on board plane – full details at 10.’

After spending 12 hours in a metal tube packed full of obese, hyperactive, tubercular claustrophobes who got up every three minutes to retrieve essential items from the overhead locker, I am back in the Big Lychee, bleary-eyed and yawning, but not too jet-lagged to notice that the grim reaper has been busy in my absence. 

One victim of note was
Dr Raymond Wu Wai-yung.  Pro-Beijing figures come in several flavours.  There are those who act purely from material self-interest, like the ‘instant noodle’ patriots who metamorphosed from colonial to communist cronies in the 1980s and 90s to further their business prospects.  There are the born party loyalists, reared in devout homes on tales of the Long March, who burst into tears at the sight of the red flag.  And then there are the people who join the winning side in search of a sense of superiority, acceptance and importance.  In exchange for snapping and snarling at their deluded fellow-citizens who think they can and should have better quality government, they get pats on the head and a ready supply of dog biscuits. 

One of Wu’s was chairmanship of the Community Investment and Inclusion Fund Committee, a body whose members were drawn from as socially and politically exclusive a list of bores as Tung Chee-hwa could devise.  Did he see the irony of wealthy nondescript insiders pompously dispensing public funds for projects aimed at making dispossessed lower orders part of our happy and harmonious Hong Kong family?  We will never know.  Wu also served on the Equal Opportunities Commission, where it seems he conspired with the Commissioner he recommended Tung appoint, nonentity Michael Wong, to smear predecessor Anna Wu, who had embarrassed the Government by making it obey its own anti-discrimination laws.  It was one of those shabby little episodes that typified the triumph of mediocrity in Hong Kong under the crop-haired one.
Raymond Wu couldn’t resist bringing derision on himself by making insulting or plain stupid public comments.  Otherwise, his passing would have gone largely unnoticed.  He was of no political consequence in Hong Kong – just a classic example of what happens in a bankrupt political culture that rewards useful, shoe-shining idiots and banishes or bullies those who dare suggest the city’s people deserve reform.

Presumably joining Wu in dog biscuit heaven is one Bo Jai – which, with a twinge of the stomach, I would tentatively translate as ‘little treasure’ – a Jack Russell terrier that appears to have been neatly dispatched by my peculiar acquaintance A-Hing, the famous Mid-Levels Dog Poisoner.  No doubt the deranged, anthropomorphic, mutt-loving residents of the area will cancel their pets’ acupuncture appointments to indignantly call for hundreds of police equipped with night-vision goggles and helicopters to patrol Bowen Road and ensure the safety of the barking, defecating, teeth-baring beasts.  Heroic Lassie-types who rescue the blind apart, the only good dog is a dead dog, preferably stir-fried with a dash of ginger and black bean sauce.  A-Hing has sent 20 to their doom since 1989, and while this can only be described as a beginning, it deserves recognition.  Can there be any more fitting tribute to the indomitable, ‘can-do’ spirit of the Hong Kong people than to appoint the Mid-Levels Dog Strangler to Raymond Wu’s seats on the Basic Law Committee and in the National People's Congress?
We are so lucky to have such a good Chief Executive as Mr Tung.

Raymond Wu, quoted in the Legislative Council, 2002
Tue, 10 Oct
North Korea’s nuclear bomb test leaves the whole of East Asia near-paralyzed with terror.  The deranged Kim Il-sung can now vapourize entire cities at the snap of a finger, wiping millions of innocent people off the face of the earth.  HSBC shares fell by 1.4 percent yesterday as investors reeled in horror at the potential impact on the bank’s future profits of the destruction, mutilation and general inconvenience.  This morning, RTHK Radio 3 trimmed 20 seconds off its in-depth report on the development of cricket in the Mainland.  It doesn’t get much more knife-edge than this.  We hold our breath and stare into the abyss.

In the heart of Asia’s leading international financial centre, on the top floor of S-Meg Tower, the news inevitably dampens the mood of the 2006 Hide-the-Mooncake competition.  Following a mushroom-cloud holocaust, with the streets full of blinded and irradiated victims, isn’t there a possibility that we would be grateful for the sustenance offered by these heavy seasonal pastries?  Looking at the new, savoury mixed-nut-and-ham ones that have gathered in suspicious numbers on my desk, I suspect that many of us would just go along with having our teeth fall out and limbs drop off.  I wrap one in a plastic bag.  At lunchtime, after reading the magnificent
Singapore Donkey, I will sneak over to Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary’s workstation when no-one is looking, and stuff it two thirds of the way down her wastepaper basket.  I hope it doesn’t go into the shredder.  In the event of a thermonuclear war, these are the only things that will be left in one piece.
Wed, 11 Oct
Gliding down the Mid-Levels Escalator, I casually study my 2006-07 Legislative Council calendar, making sure that all my fellow commuters catch a glimpse of this treasured object of desire.  Forget a yellow Lexus, a platinum Hello Kitty American Express card or a gold-plated Blackberry with a Christmas carol ringtone – this is the ultimate status symbol.  As one of the few calendars in the world that run from October to September, it expresses my originality and self-confidence as an individual.  Being produced in only limited quantities, it conveys an air of exclusiveness and refinement.  And speaking, as it does, of power and friends in high places, it is of course an absolute babe magnet, as admiring glances from every passing marketing floozy and accounting assistant confirm.  Yesterday evening, I positioned it on my table outside the pub in Lan Kwai Fong and between sips of beer had to beat lust-crazed young ladies away with a rolled-up copy of The Economist, while other men strolling by could only look on in envy.  And unlike most calendars currently in use, there’s another 11 months of this to go!

Among its many unique features is a large orange dot to highlight the date of the Chief Executive’s annual Policy Address.  And, to my great delight as I pass Soho’s elegant new Krispy Kreme, I find that Sir Bow Tie is delivering Hong Kong’s most eagerly awaited political oration this very day.  The title of this speech will be
Proactive, Pragmatic, Always People First.  Proactive in this context means constantly fiddling, like a child with attention deficit disorder and a budget for recurrent expenditure of HK$200 billion.  Pragmatic means unburdened by principles, to justify incessant fiddling in areas that were previously off limits owing to stupid gwailo ideas about positive non-interventionism.  Thus, when Donald announces millions of dollars in cash subsidies and free land for a tiddlywinks factory, he will be able to wave aside claims that it might be counter-productive.

The slogan Always People First is necessitated by the fact that the title has to fit on the front of a standard-size Government document, and listing all 46 of them, plus their property companies or civil service job titles, is sadly not Pragmatic.
LUNCH IN an exotic Canto-Sicilian place with shapely Administrative Officer Winky Ip, who brings me a copy of the world’s most exciting Annual Policy Address to provide minor amusement over our pork chop with spaghetti and mayonnaise plus free soft drink.   “How do we solve Hong Kong’s problems?” she asks me as she hands it over.  “It’s all there.”

I open the first page.  “So how
do you solve them?”  She looks at me and starts to unbutton her dark blue blouse.  I look round nervously.  This is neither the time nor the place.  Eventually, she pulls the garment out to reveal a fetchingly tight but decent T-shirt with the slogan Have Money, Will Chuck.  I flick through the book a bit more.
Air pollution is getting worse?  Throw cash at people to get them to buy cleaner vehicles.  Private sector stubbornly refuses to invest in high-tech and creative industries?  Throw cash into so-called R&D centres and small-medium film makers.  Citizens refuse to take interest in ballet and opera?  Throw cash into cultural development.  Still nobody jumping up and down in frenzied excitement because Hong Kong will host the 2008 Olympic and Paralympic equestrian events?  Throw cash into sports development.  Lower orders still stabbing and defenestrating each other?  Throw cash into community mental health outreach programmes.  Young children getting lousy pre-schooling?  Throw cash into a kindergarten voucher system.

Hang on.

I re-read the last one.  “There’s something wrong here,” I tell Winky, turning the book round and pointing at paragraphs 43-44.  “Making sure all kids aged three to six have a decent start.  I’m sure it’s far from perfect, but…  How can I put it?  It’s not totally cretinous.”

Winky reads through it with a bemused look on her face.  “God, you’re right,” she mutters.  “That’s quite a sensible policy.”  She gazes out of the window in a state of shock.  “How on earth did that happen?”
Thurs, 12 Oct
Least Impressive Compliment of the Day Award goes to Legislative Council member Abraham Razack, who, after being handed a plate of dog vomit to eat for six consecutive days, is given a mouldy, maggot-ridden mixed-nuts-and-ham mooncake, and declares, “Yum!  This is the best meal I’ve had all week!”

Shek Lai Him (his alias when angling for the Most Jewish-sounding Chinese Name Award) has reason to be pleased, with Sir Bow-Tie promising to transfer truckloads of our wealth into unnecessary infrastructure projects built by his voters in the construction industry.  But not everyone is so happy about the exciting new policies unveiled yesterday.  The labour lobby, after piling on the pressure for a minimum wage, gets fobbed off with a
voluntary arrangement, whereby employers may choose to pay menial workers above market rates if they wish.  This is surely pragmatic government at its finest and a sound intellectual basis for future policy formation, not to say an entire philosophical structure to guide us in the way we live our lives.  To tackle pollution, we will have a voluntary arrangement whereby power stations may reduce emissions if they wish.  To reduce crime, we will have a voluntary arrangement whereby triads may cease operating protection rackets if they wish.  To encourage domestic harmony in an apartment a few streets down the hill from Perpetual Opulence Mansions, we will have a voluntary arrangement whereby wild American friend Odell may stop going down to Wanchai, drinking 10 beers and groping gross Thai hookers at three in the morning if he wishes.  There is no end to the possibilities.
Fri, 13 Oct
In the morning meeting, the Big Boss tosses a hypothetical question at his loyal senior management team – what effect would a statutory minimum wage in Hong Kong of, say, HK$5,000 a month have on S-Meg Holdings?  Human Resources Manager Doris Pang fingers her knuckle duster as she tells our visionary Chairman that hardly anyone on the payroll is on less than that sum, especially after a few years.  The spotty accountant gently reminds us of the company’s aversion to outsourcing.  We hire the Pakistani security guards directly, the jobs passing from father to son.  The cleaners – a travelling show of midgets, mutes and Mainlanders – are also full employees, getting their annual increments, 13th month’s bonus and paid leave like everyone else.  We could save a tidy little sum by using sub-contracted staff, but the Big Boss thinks the number of employees is a direct reflection of the might of his corporate empire.  Besides, he isn’t comfortable with the idea of other companies’ workers keeping watch over the foyer or scrubbing our toilets.

The Chief Executive’s plan for a Wage Protection Movement typifies Hong Kong’s post-1997 leadership-by-vacuity.  He has a choice of two basic responses to calls for a minimum wage.  The first is that he will not interfere with market forces.  There is a welfare safety net for the truly indigent, and anyway why are you living in this very expensive city if you have no skills?  The second is that some suppliers of sub-contracted labour shamelessly exploit a vulnerable part of the workforce and must be forced by law to pay a living wage.  Instead, Sir Bow-Tie’s decisive and strong administration comes up with officially endorsed moral blackmail to persuade ruthless but legal employers to behave differently. 

The spotty accountant raises his hand.  If there’s a minimum wage, he says, some of our corporate clients’ costs might go up.  He thinks for a few seconds and then adds that, on the other hand, low-paid consumers’ purchasing power would increase.  The Big Boss shrugs.  “It’ll happen – that’s the ways things are going.”

Thanks to our wonderful political structure, the Government cannot do anything that hurts existing vested interests.  Therefore, we cannot have reform to open up economic opportunities.  Therefore, we see economic distortions grow, and some parts of the economy stagnate.  To compensate for this, the Government tries to prop up tired and lame industries like the port, tourism and construction.  It tries to nurture trendy-sounding creative and high-tech ones.  And, as the Big Boss says, it will resort to a minimum wage.  We are being smothered in band aids.

It is sufficiently depressing to justify cheering myself up with an extra early start to the weekend, which I hereby declare open.