|16-22 April 2006|
|Mon, 17 Apr
Something strange was happening in the Mid-Levels on Saturday. Filipino maids strolled down the street bearing elegantly balanced bundles of bananas, toilet paper, Coca-Cola and bread on their heads. Elderly grandmothers waddled along with piles of fresh pork, oranges and greens gathered in their skirts. I now find that it was Hong Kong’s first No Plastic Bag Day – an astounding success, with 90 percent of shoppers eschewing polyethylene containers to battle environmental degradation.
If this catches on, supermarkets will no longer hand out plastic bags. Every time we go shopping we will take a small, reusable sack with a trendy, ‘green’ slogan on the side. All our groceries will fit into it just so, and everything will seem wonderful. But within a week or two, we will encounter a problem. Each household will exhaust its supply of old Wellcome and Park N Shop plastic bags to put their garbage in. We will therefore make a note, on our next trip to the supermarket, to buy a large box of disposable black plastic bags in which we can discard our fruit peel, crumpled beer cans, empty Vitasoy tetrapaks and so on. But our trendy reusable shopping bag won’t be big enough to carry this as well as our ordinary shopping. So we will have to buy a second one. To make all these extra environmentally friendly sacks, all the world’s jute, hessian and hemp forests will have to be chopped down, and carbon dioxide will smother the planet, global warming will increase, and we will all drown in boiling Arctic meltwater. Otherwise, it’s a great idea.
|Tue, 18 Apr
The top floor of S-Meg Tower is quiet. The Company Gwailo sits calmly in his office. A trip on Saturday to exotic Cheung Chau to look up such old haunts as the colonial-style police station would have been a good idea had it not been the 23rd day of the third moon – the birthday of Tin Hau, the goddess protector of fishermen and, by extension, Hong Kong. The island’s tiny streets were clogged with lion dancers, and the ringing of drums and cymbals is only now fading from my ears. My colleagues of all ranks are slowly regaining consciousness after their Easter holiday buffets. The Big Boss, in an expression of disgust at the very concept of a four-day weekend, is still out of town in search of the ultimate Cantonese business deal – a tawdry, speculative transaction in which the company makes money without doing any real work or adding any measurable value.
The front page of the South China Morning Post reports the establishment of one Shenzhen and Hong Kong Investment Alliance. Unlike the multitude of Pan Pearl River Delta Cooperation, Partnership, etc, etc organizations, this is an all-private sector affair, comprising 80 transport, manufacturing and other companies from both sides of the border. “We need to overcome protectionist sentiment,” says President Raymond Chien of the MTR. The SCMP adds…
|The formation of the alliance comes amid concerns that Hong Kong could be marginalized as the mainland continues to develop.|
|That word again. The Great Marginalization Debate of 2006 was launched by Chief Secretary Rafael Hui in mid-March. The Mainland infrastructure development outlined in China’s latest Five-Year Plan was a threat to the Big Lychee, he declared. Others, such as the boss of the Federation of HK Industries chimed in, warning in particular about the loss of seaport trade to Shenzhen. The Monetary Authority’s Joseph Yam claimed that it applied to flows of money too. Then, in early April, a string of Beijing officials, from academics to National People’s Congress Chairman Xu Jialu and Premier Wen Jiabao, all said it wouldn’t happen, citing Hong Kong’s international status, strengths as a financial centre, legal system and all the rest.
It was too amateurish to be a contrived attempt to make us wet ourselves in fear and then drop to our knees in grateful thanks to the emperor. We didn’t even get any serious lectures about harmony, working together, focusing on the economy and all the other anti-democracy euphemisms. So we have to take the episode at face value. Hong Kong’s top officials, out of their depth, unimaginative and influenced no doubt by vested interests, still dream of freezing the city’s economy in the ultimate Cantonese 1980s. They can’t accept the inevitable decline of old industries like the port and construction. To them, our only hope for the future is to go on being a go-between, skimming wealth off business between China and the world, not actually creating any. They see neighbouring cities’ gains as Hong Kong’s loss. With leaders like this to watch over and guide us, who can blame Cheung Chau for turning to the Queen of Heaven?
|IS THE SCMP aware that its occasional columnist Lau Nai-keung is re-hashing his contributions in a rival English language newspaper, namely the China Daily? Not that repetition makes the mildly deranged Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference member’s ramblings any more convincing. In the most recent example, he latches onto the Grand Marginalization Question. Of course we must be absorbed into the PRC’s communist-led central economic planning, he proclaims, as a way to cleanse ourselves of the traces of foreign, positive non-interventionist mud left by the British.
He could serve as a case study of classic pro-Beijing forensic style. A slightly childish smugness about being on the ‘winning’ side in the struggle between Hong Kong’s communist loyalists and democratic ‘dissidents’. And an arrogance, occasionally revealed as real bitterness and loathing towards the latter – presumably a way of dealing with a deep-rooted suspicion that they are in the right. A letter in today’s paper chastises the patriot for presumptuously warning democrats that President Hu Jintao can turn nasty, as if he has special insight into the minds of China’s leaders. Lau was one of the loyalists who signed a letter last October calling on the Central Government to release journalist Ching Cheong, who was under arrest for ‘spying’. As of this Saturday, Ching will have been in detention for a full year. Such is the influence of Lau in the corridors of Zhongnanhai.
Wed, 19 Apr
Fresh off the plane, the Big Boss regales S-Meg Holdings’ senior management team with exciting and passionate tales of bold asset trading among Southeast Asia’s Overseas Chinese – the diaspora that eats other diasporas for breakfast. According to Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary, our visionary Chairman will be out of town again tomorrow and Friday, but our hopes are dashed. “I’m not going to that Boao thing,” he announces. He pauses for a few seconds before realizing that we are not going to leap to our feet and cheer with joy. “Donald invited me, but frankly it seems pointless.” He looks at me. “I mean, what is it exactly?”
Good question. Modeled unashamedly on the World Economic Forum’s gatherings at Davos, the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference draws bores and has-beens from throughout the Orient to Hainan Island, to listen to one another deliver extremely tedious speeches. To make absolutely sure that nothing of substance or interest is uttered, Asian values are in force, with no-one saying anything negative about anyone else, especially the host country. This year’s theme is ‘Asia Searching for Win-Win: New Opportunities for Asia’, which would have any sane person slashing his wrist in despair within minutes of the opening remarks. A quick Google search reveals that Boao is also the title of a Lucky & Happy Fashion Magazine for Working Girls. Which will contain more profundity and cranial stimulation – the glossy book of beauty tips for Japanese office ladies, or the hall full of people too dull to be invited to Davos, plus people whose English is too bad for them to be invited to Davos, plus Fidel Ramos? It’s a close thing.
AFTER BREACHING the HK$9 mark, how much more upside does Petrochina have?
|Common sense and prudence dictate that at the very least, the Hemlock Fund should dispose of half its stake in the Mainland oil giant, which has bloated to nearly 20 percent of the portfolio. On my left shoulder, my devil jabs his fork into me and says, “C’mon, it’s gonna hit 12 bucks someday, and think of the dividends!” My guardian angel, perched on my right shoulder, whispers, “It’s up 500 percent in five years – how much more do you want?”|
|Reasons it might go down… The company is 90% owned by a government of paranoid tyrants ruling over an inequitable, corrupt and demographically warped society and overseeing an economy that might go from ‘hot’ to ‘meltdown’ at any minute. Someone could invent a car that runs off water. The world might be invaded by giant, oil-eating killer worms from Pluto.|
|Reasons it might go up… The Federal Reserve has indicated that interest rates are reaching their peak. Mainland institutional investors will gain access to the Hong Kong market. Oil doesn’t show any signs of slipping much below $70 a barrel anytime soon, and they stopped making it ages ago. Chinese demand is rising. The grubby little fanatics running Iran are just begging for a serious, long overdue seeing-to.|
|Thurs, 20 Apr
Breakfast at the elegant and prestigious Maxim’s, to sample their latest creation – the delectable King Size bowl. A generous half-pound of macaroni, hand crafted from the finest Italian durum wheat, accompanied by delicately shredded, succulent Ma Ling ham and artfully garnished with not one but two double-boiled dog penises, arranged to convey the chef’s defiant triumphalism in the face of modern nutritional fads.
Between sips of the fragrant sodium and cholesterol broth, I ask Guillaume the Maitre d’ to bring me a newspaper. I take the broadsheet off the silver tray and soon find myself absorbed with the Mystery of the Vanishing Gwailos. Hong Kong’s small but economically and culturally essential population of Anglo-Saxons is declining. Faced with a choice between paying a 16 percent salaries tax and breathing oxygen, Westerners are opting for fresh air, and fleeing the lucrative but sulphurous and sweaty climes of the Big Lychee According to the data, the number of Her Majesty’s subjects dwelling in the city has fallen by over 10 percent. So, I recall – and this is surely compelling evidence – has a certain company's share price…
|That’s the story, the press has decided. But then again… Our Immigration Department, in its wisdom, does not count people as common-or-garden foreign expats once they have obtained permanent residency. So when a son of Albion completes seven years in the Big Lychee and gains right of abode, there is, statistically, one less Brit in town – even though the individual concerned continues to hang around Lan Kwai Fong, staring drunkenly at soccer games on TV and loudly telling passing Mainland tourists about the tattoo on his Filipino girlfriend’s left buttock. The casual observer strolling through Central certainly sees no fewer white English-speakers than before. As for the decline in brewers’ fortunes, we can attribute that to the preference among these new holders of upgraded ID Cards for wholesome Red Bull and vodka rather than beer. They like a healthy image. Which must be why none of them are in Maxim’s this morning.|
|Fri, 21 Apr
Why did the US Government give press accreditation to the Epoch Times, let alone Dr Wenyi Wang, to attend President Hu Jintao’s speech yesterday on the White House lawn? American officials must know that the newspaper is a Falun Gong front. They must know that Wang has a history of picketing consulates, asking anti-communist questions in press conferences and protesting against Beijing for harvesting organs from fellow disciples in prison camps and for canceling her passport. They must have known that she would take the priceless opportunity to go into hysterics during Hu’s proudest moment. They let her in deliberately. The only alternative explanation is an unbelievable degree of negligence. And why not? Limp-wristed, namby-pamby State Department protocol experts wouldn’t let George W Bush shriek “Hu, your days are numbered!” to the Chinese leader’s face himself. So this was the next best thing. And who better to do it than one of the demented followers of Law Wheel Qigong? The Falun Gong and the CCP are, to use one of Li Hongzhi’s own phrases, the Two Cosmic Extremes. “Only by Rectifying Ourselves and Assimilating to Dafa Can We Better Assist Master’s Fa-Rectification and Save People.” “Accelerate and Improve Party Reconstruction According to the Demands of the Three Represents.” It is hard not to conclude that they deserve each other.
|On the subject of mental health, pro-Beijing hallucinatory drug abuser Lau Nai-keung’s column appears in today’s SCMP. He manages to use the word ‘dissident/s’ 10 times in what looks like a 750-word article. He doesn’t need a thesaurus so much as therapy. Hong Kong’s pro-democrats, he writes, are “licking their gaping wounds and cannibalizing their partners.” Which would seem to suggest they are licking their partners’ gaping wounds, but no matter – logic would ruin his fortnightly delusional and vitriolic rants about the opposition’s decline, irrelevance and lack of public support. Who needs Fa-Rectification when the most hate-filled Buddhist in town is the most entertaining?