Hemlock's Diary
17-23 September 2006
Sun, 17 Sep
To Macau for
yum cha at the new Wynn Resort. The Wing Lei restaurant, at the back of the complex, is impossible to get into without a reservation, and they call back a day before to ask customers to reconfirm, warning that they will release the table if you are 10 minutes late. The décor is bold-coloured Sino-futurist, with loud carpets - a feature of the whole place, along with garish ceilings and lights. The dim sum in this outlet is experimental nouveau avant-garde of the sort that is old hat in Hong Kong but a great novelty here, hence the local Luso-Chinese elite's insistence on all trying it out at the same time. Staff I talk to have been poached from the Hyatt, the Westin and the Big Lychee Disneyland, among others. 

Across the hallway is the 100,000 square foot casino. The Sands is space-age and Star Trek. This place straddles Louis XIV and antebellum South. Its 200 tables and hundreds of slot machines are more spread out than the in the Sands but attract the same fat, moon-faced, chain-smoking Mainlander peasants with their mysterious wads of cash. Shuttle busses deliver them every 10 minutes direct from the border with Zhuhai and the ferry terminal to the casino's rear entrance, where Nepalese security guards from Hong Kong shepherd them through the door and the metal detectors. In the middle of the vast gambling hall, a close-cropped, white-haired, well-built white man in his mid-50s or so, wearing a smart grey suit, stands erect and scowling before a central depository of plastic chips and money. His eyes never leave the action going on at the tables in front of him. In particular, he seems to have his eyes on the dealers. He is one of those people who, if says he is ex-special forces, you believe him. I don't say, 'Hi'.

In a high-rise a few blocks away, the city's gaming industry vocational school is working overtime. To meet demand, the duration of the basic training course for croupiers has been shortened. The idea of hiring foreigners is politically taboo though small-town locals are anyway considered more trustworthy than people whose backgrounds are hard to check, and who might have somewhere to run away to if they give in to temptation and dip their hands in the till.

At the front, the Wynn has designer label shops aplenty. Tiffany, Piaget, Armani and Prada, the latter offering a yellow leather suitcase with warts. Farther along is the Signature Shop, full of T-Shirts, golf balls, chocolate bars, pillowcases and other Wynn branded goods. This is also where you get your razors, toothbrushes and condoms. Macau police, uniformed and lightly armed, are much in evidence at the main entrance and inside the shopping mall itself - within the main building - a municipal courtesy I have never seen extended to Stanley Ho's premises.  Outside, facing Mr Ho's Hotel Lisboa, an elaborate fountain dances in time with
The Blue Danube.

Unlike Hong Kong, Macau is moving forward. Exactly where it's going, I shudder to think.
Mon, 18 Sep
Originally intended to guard innocent citizens from merchants that lie and cheat, the Consumer Council unfortunately spends much of its time these days protecting the Hong Kong people from their own stupidity.  For example, strolling along Queens Road this golden autumn morning, I find myself almost overwhelmed by the urge to have someone put a lit candle in my ear. But I don't succumb to this impulse. Some deep instinct within myself begs me to reconsider. Candles are intended to aid sight and have no obvious connection with our auditory organs, do they? And melted wax burns. So the strange craving passes. For the less disciplined among us, however, the Consumer Council remains vigilant in warning of the hazards of placing burning objects into sensitive and useful parts of the body, while implicitly advising practitioners of holistic wellness
into which orifice they can put their candles.

I am tempted to ask the Council what they make of Frederick Stander's certification in Aura-Chakra Balancing, Tuina Acupressure, Crystal Therapy and Reflex Zone Therapy and his groundbreaking work in sonic vibrational healing. What sort of reaction would I get if I staggered into the Council's offices with wild eyes and a slight frothing at the mouth, and asked what damages I could claim because
the Depossession Therapy didn't work?  What action would they take against Paola Dindo the animal whisperer, who, much to our relief, has finally agreed to offer her services as an animal communicator to the public at large, if I took my pet duck to her for a consultation, and the creature declared her to be a quack?

But I have better things to do.  Tonight, I fly west, to a land where, the last I checked, you are not allowed to take toothpaste on board aircraft. It is unlikely that much will be worth recording, and even if there is I will update this diary sporadically.  The good news is that the authorities are now permitting travellers to take reading material into the cabin. ; How could I survive a long-haul flight without my copy of
Every Big Boy?s Book of Airplane Disasters to while away the time?
Tue, 19 Sep
Mid-morning, and after a few hours' drive west the bus from the airport pulls into the small big city. I get a taxi to take me out to Stonegallows Hall - a meandering journey through downtown degradation, vibrant inner suburbs, leafy outer banlieus, science park and mall-splattered exurbia and, finally, quiet country lanes knee-deep in falling leaves and horse manure. In the regenerated inner city neighbourhood we pass a silver-coloured police SUV with CITY CENTRE TEAM on the side. A cop in body armour, festooned with matt black electronic and other gadgetry, stands behind yellow 'crime scene' barrier tape. The taxi driver says someone was shot dead there the night before.  But the main problem, he tells me, is the traffic. After 20 years, he wants a change. Are there any jobs going in Hong Kong?

You can tell you're not in Hong Kong any more when you see... 
- Three tattoo/body piercing shops in a quarter-mile strip of main street. 
- Flabby, early middle-aged, peroxide-blonde mothers (apparently customers of aforementioned self-mutilation emporia) passing bags of candy and burgers through the railings of a high school where the canteen now serves only salads, fish, vegetables and low-fat yoghurt.
- A weird new species of tree that has invaded and is thriving in all types of surroundings. It is significantly taller than most native varieties, with a straight vertical trunk. The branches are all at the very top, evenly spaced and sticking out just a few feet, dead horizontally. They then point sharply upwards, perpendicular. The entire body is covered with leaves of an identical, non-autumnal hue. It looks even more out of place than would a mobile phone mast.
- A police car flashing a message through a display panel in its rear window - GET OFF PHONE NOW.
- A headline about seven-year-olds worrying about their appearance. They are using laxatives to keep themselves thin. 

Eventually, I am dropped off outside the family seat. If I were a member of the Narikot tribe in Nepal, the local women would come out and wash my feet and then drink the water to welcome me back. In Russia, I would be greeted with an offering of bread and salt. Here, before I can even drop my bags by the front door, I am presented with a modem, two ADSL filters and a length of cabling. After a year's absence, I have come at just the right time to get the broadband connection up and running. It'll take half an hour.

Fri, 22 Sep

...or so. The good news is that
ntscmp.com is available here. The bad news is that all the latest reports on the Hong Kong Liberal Party's slimy, toad-like leader James Tien also download loud and clear.  A day in bed to get over jetlag is in order.

Sat, 23 Sep
If I write a glowing review of a book in return for a free copy, what sort of person does that make me?  Still, I really did lie back and enjoy
Whispers and Moans by Yeeshang Yang.