Hemlock's Diary
17-23 Dec 2006
Mon, 18 Dec
My assumption that anyone with a name like Guy de Jonquieres needs to try extra hard to get ahead in life is confirmed by his
column, originally in the Financial Times, which encapsulates Hong Kong’s governance problem more neatly than any other few paragraphs I have read recently.  The only thing I would add is the cheerful thought that we are condemned to be badly governed because any known system of more responsive and accountable administration would give us a government able to pose a (theoretical – but that’s all it takes) potential challenge to Chinese Communist Party supremacy.  Which is why serious change is not a conceivable option. 
Down at the political coalface, the cherubic Albert Ho becomes this month’s leader of the Democratic Party.  People who feel they don’t get invited much to social functions might like to muse on the fact that his “popularity rose sharply after he was brutally attacked in a Central fast-food shop.” Specifically, it is the silver lining to Ho’s cloud that he emerged from hospital after the assault by hired henchmen in McDonalds more handsome than he had been before, and, so far as anyone can tell, the Democrats always choose their leaders primarily for their good looks.
Tue, 19 Dec
Commitments of various types and a death in the family mean some brief entries in the week ahead.  This is one of them.  Vaguely interesting photo
du jour
Wed, 20 Dec
What is this year’s best use of taxpayer’s money?  Could it be Michael Suen’s chauffer-driven limousine?  Could it be the exciting Hong Kong Police 2007 calendar, featuring a different scantily clad lady constable each month, that has just been dropped on my desk?  Could it be the entire Constitutional Affairs Bureau, with its highly impressive achievements in the field of roadmaps, building blocks and the need for consensus before we can move forward?  Could it be
Mr Steve James’s latest classics – God Bless Ye Mainland Tourists and What’s On English Hong Kong TV This Christmas?  The answer to the last question would have been ‘Yes’, had the RTHK3 DJ not been pipped at the post by the Information Services Department’s Safe Use of Aerosol Products publicity campaign.  Still, better luck next year.
Thurs, 21 Dec
The loss of a family member provokes kindness from the least expected quarters.  Rather than burden me with disturbing accounts of terrible things happening around the world, Radio Television Hong Kong this morning fills much of its news programme with lengthy lists of results of soccer games in Spain.  Then Germany.  Then France.  The newsreader reciting the names of unpronounceable and unheard-of teams and players goes on, and on, and on.  This can only be for my benefit – there can’t be more than a handful of Europeans in the Big Lychee who want to hear such unremittingly tedious detail about men back home wearing coloured clothes running up and down a field and kicking a ball.  

Difficulties in getting a flight home at this time of the year had the Big Boss scuttling off yesterday to call his Filipino-Chinese pal Bong-Bong Queveco to see if his Gulfstream is available.  (Like every aircraft, it is booked – it will be taking the tycoon’s mistress’s kids to Singapore so they can go to McDonald’s for a Christmas treat.)  I have to assure our visionary Chairman that attendance at the funeral, while preferable, is not absolutely essential.  Ms Doris Pang, the Belsen-trained Human Resources Manager, insists on asking me whether I am able to work as usual.  Yes, I say – I’m not the one who has passed away.   Of course, I do not share her and our colleagues’ superstitious belief that the departed will find ways to take revenge on survivors who fail to display sufficiently distraught grief.

At breakfast this morning, well-formed Administrative Office Winky Ip is more attuned to the rational Anglo-Saxon stiff upper lip.  After a decorous appraisal of the situation, we move on.  Some gossip, I suggest.  She thinks about it.  “Well, you know the construction industry is going to mount an anti-green, anti-conservation offensive – marches in the street against the ‘anti-development’ activists?”  I don’t, but I nod anyway.  “Well, the Chief Executive is thinking of getting solidly on their side.  There’s a good chance that his re-election platform will be very big on employment and job-creation – and of course that means more Government infrastructure projects, more demolition, and so on.”

In other words, Sir Bow-Tie sees ‘jobs for poor starving unemployed construction workers’ as the perfect excuse for more big-budget white elephants aimed at shoveling taxpayers’ money into the pockets of the construction and engineering companies and our highly public-spirited construction materials cartel. 

“There’s an opportunity for Alan Leong and the pan-democrats,” I tell Winky.  “It’s easy to poke holes in the job creation argument.  The average cost of each job created at the Government HQ at Tamar will be two million dollars.  It’s obvious who this will really benefit.  If the pan-democrats got their act together, they could turn this into a real middle class-versus-vested interests battle.  ‘Down with corporate welfare’ – that sort of thing.”

Winky bursts out laughing.  “If the pan-democrats got their act together!” she chortles.  “That’s a good one.”
FLICKING THROUGH the South China Morning Post, I take a quick look at Civic Exchange think tank boss Christine Loh’s column.  She mentions the old paranoid Beijing idea that foreign forces operating in Hong Kong are trying to destabilize the city and undermine the glorious motherland’s ascent as a modern power.  Then she gets more specific, but not to the extent that she actually names names.  Which in some ways is a pity, because the person she is thinking about here is one Christine Loh, who is regarded as untouchable by our officials precisely because of what they see as her overseas connections and backing.  So leprous are her organization’s policy analyses – above and beyond the fact that they come from outside the Civil Service and are good – that the Government regards any Civic Exchange proposal as automatically unacceptable.  Logically, if she really wanted to do Hong Kong a big favour, she would churn out reports recommending more air pollution, more roads and more unnecessary infrastructure projects.
Fri, 22 Dec
With the office still and silent, I spend a quiet morning at home, tidying up a few things.  And what do I find but some Foreign Exchange Certificates?  Like having the newspaper ironed every morning, counting on fingers to work out that 17.00 means 5pm, or owning fish knives and runcible spoons, this proves that someone is above a certain age.  Young folk today would probably have no idea what an FEC is.  Tell them that at one time it was, for all practical purposes, a Hong Kong dollar, and you could exchange it for two Renminbi worth of goods in Guangzhou, and they wouldn’t believe it.  Every member of the iPod generation knows that a Renminbi is worth the same as a Hong Kong dollar, and before long will be worth more.
And that’s not all!  I also find my long-lost hoard of Regina Ip portraits.  They are all exquisitely framed and each bears a discreet title reflecting the multi-faceted character of this complex former Government official – ‘Steadfast’, ‘Unrepentant’, ‘Coquetteish’, ‘Dangerous’, etc.  They are probably worth a lot of money, and will make an excellent gift to the Gallery of the Magnificent Mane at the Tung Chee-hwa Museum of Post-Colonial Hong Kong History.  On permanent loan from the Hemlock Collection.