Hemlock's Diary
9-15 April 2006
Sun, 9 Apr
Strolling past the Good Taste Carpet Shop, I find myself agonizing and asking which would look better in the guest reception area of my apartment in Perpetual Opulence Mansions?  The exquisite reproduction of Picasso’s
Les Demoiselles D’Avignon, or the lovingly hand-woven hundred dollar bill?  The latter bears a label from the North Korean People’s Rug Manufacturing Corporation.  So, I suppose that answers the question.  I don’t want any fakes in my home

I now also need a ‘please take your shoes off’ sign.
Mon, 10 Apr
“Even by your rather low standards,” shapely Administrative Officer Winky Ip remarks as I stir hot sauce onto my plate of Yuet Yuen’s finest noodles, “you’ve been writing complete rubbish recently.”  It would be so easy to lean forward across the Formica table and jab the arrogant bureaucrat in the eyes with my chopsticks, but it would upset old Mrs Ng, peering at us from behind the cash register by the door.  So I just shrug.  “You said the Civil Service will cost 600 billion dollars over the next five years,” she accuses me.  “Total fiction!  More like half that!”

I am tempted to give her a simultaneous congee shampoo and lecture on the public-sector pensions burden, but let it pass.  “In which case,” I reply, “the phasing out of a few, but by no means all, ridiculous, colonial-era allowances will cut the total cost of the establishment by a massive 0.13 percent – barely a thousandth.  It’s like making that bowl of
juk with half a grain less of rice.”

I decide to change the subject and ask her if she knows the answer to the great conundrum of our time – why is the Chief Executive so desperate to build a lavish and unnecessary Monument to Vast Government at Tamar?  Is it purely an excuse to shovel our money into the pockets of the engineers, architects, surveyors, construction companies and cement suppliers?  Or is there something more sinister to it?  Something to do with the presence next to the site of the People’s Liberation Army’s HQ?  

Without even the slightest hesitation to recall an official Line-to-Take or put on an especially straight face, she simply states, “GDP!”  She looks at me incredulously.  “To drive GDP.  The economy.  Jobs.”  

It is my turn to be stunned.  Could she be referring to the same economy that grew nearly 7% last year?  And why a waterfront Government HQ?  But she seems to believe it absolutely. 

I tell her how, the last few times I have walked through Soho in the evening, I have seen fewer rats scuttling around in the alleyways.  Apparently the traffic fumes in the restaurant neighbourhood are killing them off.  Perhaps, I suggest, the Government should start up a billion-dollar rat-breeding farm to repopulate such stricken districts with their traditional wildlife.  Think of the boost to GDP.  The jobs!  She stirs her porridge thoughtfully, raises her delicately groomed eyebrows, and purses her lips.  I can read her thoughts on my idea clearly.  She can see nothing wrong in principle.

MINDFUL OF the horrendous death toll among its citizens every year as they celebrate the resurrection of Our Lord the only way they know how, the Hong Kong Government wisely releases
Safety tips for enjoying Easter buffets.  I study the important advice with the care and respect it deserves and am struck by two thoughts.  First, it is surprising how many potentially lethal consequences of all-you-can-eat deals threaten us not only at this important time in the Christian calendar, but year-round.  Vibrio parahaemolyticus does not attach itself only to the first Sunday after the first full moon after the 21st of March, but to immoveable feasts of cheap oysters, overdone pork chops, faux sushi and warm, runny Thousand Island dressing every single day.  Second, it is just hours since I berated a member of the same body of noble public servants who, without any regard for their own personal convenience or comfort, have put themselves to all the trouble of drawing up this detailed warning.  We will never know how many lives their self-sacrifice will save.  And now I am full of remorse.  I will atone by taking Winky to Café Too at the Island Shangri-La and let her loose on the carvery, where she can push the chef aside, hurl the silver boats of gravy and mustard to the floor and fall upon the giant leg of roast beef with orgasmic writhing, slobbering and chewing – as many times as she wants.
Tue, 11 Apr
The sound of frenzied scraping at the bottom of a very empty barrel permeates the air as the Big Lychee sends a delegation to Glasgow in search of creative talent.  Most of our migrants from Scotland’s first city have traditionally been large, hairy, not especially bright but dutiful police officers like my friend Morris, among whose fine achievements was passing a Humane Destruction of Animals course and reducing the New Territories’ canine population with a 12-bore Remington.  Now, thanks to the
We’re Amazingly Desperate Trade Mission, we can look forward to the gallantry of our North British law enforcement community being joined by the inspired aesthetic genius that brought the world such sensory delights as the deep-fried pizza and the deep-fried Mars Bar.  I feel a new catchy Tourism Board slogan coming on…  ‘Hong Kong!  Live it!  Love it!  Eat deep fried mooncake or we’ll slash your face open with a razor!’
ACCORDING TO the South China Morning Post, Jockey Club Chairman Ronald Arculli is tipped to succeed air pollution victim Charles Lee as boss of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.  Did Sir Bow-Tie, who effectively makes the decision, have a chuckle about the irony of moving someone from the Big Lychee’s gambling (horses and soccer) monopoly to its gambling (IPOs and warrants) monopoly.  Or was it the lack of irony he found amusing?  Or was he grim-faced, straining to cram as many job titles and appointments into the tiniest, most incestuous and cronyistic clique possible?  It’s the Philemon Choi syndrome – named after the mysterious doctor who, possibly aided by cloning, manages to serve on endless dozens of public advisory boards, committees and commissions.  We have 7 million people, yet the Government draws from the same pool of 200 or so faces to sit on every public body – garnished by the occasional gwailo dragged in from overseas for jobs that might require enemies to be made.  The Hon and affable Ron Arculli GBS, CVO, OBE, JP is also a member of the Executive Council among a myriad other things that I personally would run a mile to avoid.   Maybe that’s the explanation for this apparently extraordinary concentration of talent, dedication and expertise – they’re the only people in town too stupid to talk their way out of requests to ‘serve the community’.
Wed, 12 Apr
The mood on the Mid-Levels Escalator this morning is slightly bemused, as Hong Kong’s clean-living and hard-working middle class ponder the KCR-MTR merger while gliding down the hill towards the central business district.  “I fail to see what all the fuss is about,” says Mrs Chan the marketing manager, displaying a double page spread in the
SCMP.  “I mean – so what?”  I too have been struggling to take an interest in the story.  A couple of public-sector empires, one distinctly better run than the other but both subsidized by vast amounts of public wealth, are being consolidated, yielding a few but not many economies of scale. 

With the help of Mr Lee the banker, we pool our knowledge of the two railways.  The KCR goes overground from Kowloon to the border, hence the advertisements in the carriages for Shenzhen abortion clinics.  Passengers bored of waiting for trains can walk on the tracks instead.  The MTR goes underground in the urban areas and employs vicious enforcers who bludgeon passengers on the platforms with day-glo cattle prods, even though no-one would want to walk along the tracks because they go through dark, scary tunnels full of spiders.  Both mass transit systems refuse to acknowledge the other’s existence, displaying only their own route maps so users have no way of knowing that it is possible to get from, say, Fanling to Quarry Bay by train. 

In its desperation to attract a better class of clientele, the MTR has installed the famous Cheap Scumbag Magnet so we can swipe our magic Octopus Cards on our way to work and get a HK$2 fare discount.  But we work in Cemtral, so there’s no point.  Instead, the device attracts thousands of office slaves who commute in from Tsuen Mun and other far-flung, festering neighbourhoods.  For a couple of bucks, they stand in line for half their lunch hour every day – a striking display of poverty, and a sobering reminder to the industrious and disciplined among us of the punishment that God inflicts upon the indolent and intemperate.  And that’s not counting the bright pink cattle prod in the ribs.
Thurs, 13 Apr
Wild American friend Odell and I start the day relaxing in the splendour of the IFC Mall branch of Pacific Coffee, sipping elderflower and tea tree oil yoghurt and humming along to Mantovani’s
Fantasia on a Theme by Nancy Sinatra.  Or is it Mantovani’s Fantasia on a Theme by Nancy Sinatra?  The creepy girl who reads the Bible has positioned herself disturbingly close to us, so I turn my back to her – she’s going to mentally undress me however I sit, but I don’t have to see it. 

The luxuriant calm of an approaching four-day weekend is suddenly shattered as Odell lets out a horrified yelp and pulls his feet up onto his large, soft chair.

“Jesus!!!” he screeches, pointing downwards.  “She’s brought a fucking rat in here!”  The panicked ex-Mormon looks around and snatches a heavy book from an elderly woman seated behind him.  Grasping it firmly, he kneels, leans down over his armrest and starts beating the young Christian’s shoulder bag, which is lying on the floor.  He thrashes away hard and repeatedly, muttering breathless curses about the rodent, while the petrified girl helplessly waves her arms and squeals in protest.  After a few more grunts, and thwacks, Odell slides off the chair and crouches over the bag.  There definitely had been something moving in there.  Very slowly, using the now-bloodstained copy of
The Man who Turned the Lights On – Gordon Wu by Rosemary Sayer, he parts the opening and peers inside. 

“Oh shit...”  He looks away, his mouth hanging open.  I lean over and see a small, motionless, silent and sadly rather misshapen, furry kitten.  The reader of hagiographies of Hong Kong tycoons gently strokes the traumatized former cat owner’s arm and stares down at the felicidal madman, obviously tempted to kick him.

“Young man,” she admonishes him, “tomorrow is Good Friday.  The day Our Lord died for our sins.”  This triggers something within Odell.  He gets to his feet, blinks and seems to collect himself.  He suddenly leaps over our little coffee table, mutters “I’m outa here” at me and sprints out the door and across Exchange Square. 

Everyone stares at me.  I pick up the book and give it back to the old woman.  “Um…  Madam, are you Korean by any chance?” I ask.  “I hear this is selling really well up there.”  No response.  What do they expect?  I desperately need to change the subject.  Loudly.

“Oh my God, no!”  I slap my hand against the side of my head.  “He hasn’t taken his pills yet today!”  And I turn and flee.
Fri, 14 Apr
Victims of phallocentric capitalist exploitation or shallow, self-obsessed bimbos?  Either way, women spend frightening amounts of money trying to improve upon the bodies Mother Nature saw fit to give them.  Faced with a choice, at age 18, to spend 20% of the next 30 years’ income on either skin-whitening masks or HSBC shares, a rational person would choose the latter and retire before 50.  Or is the idea to use the anaemic simper to lure a man, or at least his credit cards, by age 20?  None of these questions are directly answered by today’s news that Hong Kong’s flat-chested womenhood are having their breasts enlarged, mainly in the Mainland, by injection with a
dangerous gel.  Six have had to undergo partial or total mastectomies as a result.  As the Brits put it when disaster strikes, it all went pear-shaped.  Or didn’t, in this case.