Hemlock's Diary
19-25 March 2006
Sun, 19 Mar
Reports of the death on 3 March of Ivor Cutler, the Spike Milligan-on-Valium poet, have only just reached Hong Kong.  His eccentric, bohemian work was never meant to catch on anywhere, least of all here.  As he said in one of his verses…
I'll leave you with this thought.
No, I won't. It would not be fair.
In the local news, the integration of the Big Lychee with the glorious motherland proceeds along its fascinating, if unpredictable, path.  In the years leading up to the departure of our British rulers, one of the greatest fears was that after 1997 the People’s Liberation Army would become involved in crime.  Such apprehensions have finally proved well founded, with Tsuen Wan Magistrates’ Court fining 27-year-old soldier Zhang Qinggang HK$1,000 for stealing a Mickey Mouse key ring at Disneyland.  He should have asked me – I have dozens of the things breeding in a jar, forced on me over the years by San Miguel and Carlsberg promotion girls in Wanchai.  The pasty-faced, working-class psychopaths the UK military based here to defend us were, of course, valued patrons of that bar district in colonial days, and, between brawls in the street, must also have received many such gifts.  Which is presumably why Her Majesty’s gallant fighting men never ended up in our courts for this particular form of theft.

I flick through the
China Daily to see what anti-democracy, anti-Taiwan diatribes it has for us.  For some reason it is quoting – almost admiringly – anti-communist Jimmy Lai’s publications’ dismissal of actress Zhang Ziyi as a Mainland peasant who squats on the ground and can’t speak English.  The relatively pro-Beijing Sing Tao, it adds, considers the pride of Chinese thespianism as being “so flat-chested it was scary.”  No doubt the grim propaganda sheet has an ideologically flawless explanation for the Big Lychee’s disloyalty...
Hong Kong was a British colony for more than 150 years … is much more cosmopolitan than mainland cities, and the population is better educated …
Who – especially with the vicious felons of the PLA breathing down our necks – would dare disagree?

Mon, 20 Mar
Most self-styled political parties in the Fragrant Harbour claim to seek the ‘middle class’ as their power base.  The Democratic Alliance for the Ponderous Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong and the Democratic Party both try hard to reconcile their pro-working class, welfarist wings with the need to attract support from the educated, tax-paying, property-owning wealth creators who keep the city running.  The Liberal Party hallucinates about representing the bourgeoisie, probably imagining that attracting voters is as easy as gaining market share when you inherited a cartel from daddy.  But this is one area where consumers have some sort of choice, because it is easy to start a party.  Like
the curious People’s Party.  Founded a year ago to represent some sort of white-collar, patriotic social grouping, it seems to have vanished from sight since the fall of Tung Chee-hwa, who would have driven people to anything and so was their only hope.  Even the Alliance (aka the Breakfast Group) of legislators representing such small-circle functional constituencies as engineering and real estate, have been pressed by elements in Beijing to start up a formal organization to attract the middle class.  But as with the Liberals, they have no hope of winning a following among hard-working executives and professionals who have no interest in seeing these functional constituency leeches demand, and get, free lunches from the rest of the community in the form of fat Government contracts for unnecessary infrastructure projects. 

Into this crowded field comes the
Gung Man Dong, Civic Party, the flowering of the pro-democracy Article 45 Concern Group, which budded from the group of lawyers who led the campaign against the Article 23 national security laws in 2002-03.  It is a toss up between them and a mutant of the microscopic sub-life form known as Coronaviridae for the title of Slayer of Tofu-for-Brains. 

On Saturday, our devious Chief Executive Donald Tsang dragged virtually his entire cabinet to the opening of DAB ex-boss Tsang Yok-shing’s new ward office – such a ludicrously over-generous expression of support that it borders on being sarcastic.  Yok-sing is smart enough to know the score, but many of the patriots who feel snubbed by Sir Bow-Tie’s fondness for colonial-era bureaucrats and (middle class) democrats are shallow enough to take such exaggerated shoe-shining as a mark of respect.  Conversely, Government officials steered well clear of the Civic Party’s debut yesterday.  Which of the two groups do officials take more seriously?

EXCELLENT NEWS on the tourism front – Hong Kong’s filthy air is causing many visitors to
fall sick and vow never to return.  By my calculations, if we can keep smog at current levels for another five years, we will eradicate the tourism menace once and for all – not just the groups of gap-toothed shoppers clogging up our streets and sidewalks, but the skin-whitening emporia, tacky goldsmiths, wretched designer-label fashion boutiques and pretentious hotels.  An ill wind!  It’s well worth a few respiratory problems.

Tue, 21 Mar
Today is National Beat-an-Insurance-Intermediary-to-Death Day.  I am reminded of this after my leisurely morning’s perusal of the Internet is interrupted not once, but twice, by calls from strangers.  Both of them sound young.  Fresh off the boat.  British.  Not apparently to the manor born, as JP Donleavy would put it, but doing an admirable job of masking their lower middle-class origins, thanks no doubt to assiduous study at the Southern Essex School of Elocution.  They both adopt the same tone of wearied over-friendliness that shouts out ‘salesman’. 

“Oh hello Mr Hemlock this is Nigel Buggerwit from Garbledsomething International Financial Services and I’d like to arrange a meeting with you sometime if it’s possible to discuss ways we could help you blah blah blah…”

As he babbles away about tax planning for when I ‘go back’ to a country I have no intention of ever living in, I have one of those Are-Jehovah’s-Witnesses-Edible? moments.  I could lure this lump of living, breathing tedium to a secret, soundproof cellar with chains on the wall, a pair of pliers and a blowtorch.  “You still have six fingernails left,” I would be saying before long.  “So for the fifth time – where did you get my name and number?” 

I manage to get a word in.  “Listen,” I explain.  “I bought Petrochina at less than a dollar fifty.  The annual dividends are equivalent to well over 15 percent of my initial purchase price – another year or so and the shares will have paid for themselves.  Meanwhile, the price is nudging eight bucks.”  Respectful silence.  “Until the day I seek guidance on how to be a complete pain in the backside to people I’ve never met, I don’t think I need your advice.” 

The second caller, from a different company, gets the curter, less ambiguous version.  But I can’t bring myself to dispense with these pests with a simple, four-letter word, slam of the phone.  I actually feel a pang of sympathy for the wretches.  Is this a portent of senility?  Or maybe the result of having watched
Glengarry Glen Ross once too often?  You must be desperate to do a job like that.  Like a hooker in a Wanchai nightclub who lets men who must be, by definition, unattractive to women, hold and enter them, to feed her kids.  Or the spiky-haired 20-something real estate agents in suits who mob passers-by when a new development goes on sale in the hope of suckering one of them into 20 years of servitude to Li Ka-shing.  Or the kids in Africa or the Philippines who pick their way through maggot-infested garbage dumps.  Or the Burmese miners who work for a twice-daily hit from an army-supplied, communal heroin drip.  When the next of these annoyances calls and asks if I have any questions, I will have to reply, “Yes, Nigel – where did it all go wrong?”
Wed, 22 Mar
As I expected, I have been invited to
join the Civic Party.  It’s not hard to see why.  I am good-looking.  I am well off.  I am a policy wonk with an understanding of basic economics.  I don’t feel a need to collapse into hysterics and wet myself every time Beijing jails a journalist or blogger.  I can express concern about the disadvantaged with a straight face.  Most of all, I know how to hold both chopsticks and a knife and fork correctly.  This last point is crucial.  At least 99 percent of Hong Kong people use either Western or Asian cutlery incorrectly, and a large proportion somehow manage to get both wrong – wielding a knife as if it were a pen, and gripping chopsticks halfway down or even closer to the food, like children.  The Civic Party is for the Beautiful People. 

There are good reasons to join.  The new group will surpass the Democratic Party in terms of professionalism, acceptability and popularity.  It would be amusing to play a part in hastening its demise, assuming Martin Lee and his gang don’t tear themselves apart first.  Long paranoid about communist infiltrators, they are currently undergoing a
purge.  It is one of the great ironies of Hong Kong democracy that the Central People’s Government is alone among all human institutions, individuals and other life forms on this planet in imagining that our political parties are forces of consequence. 

Which leads us to the main reason to join
Ronny Tong, Alan Leong, the fragrant Gladys Eu, Margaret Ng, Gladys Li, and the token non-lawyers.  Their faction is the rising star of Hong Kong’s political firmament.  The next generation of leadership in Beijing will have seen what happens when Hong Kong’s tycoons get too close to the power structure.  They will have seen how inept Sir Bow-Tie’s rule by colonial-era civil servants proved to be, not least in failing to get their own and the tycoons’ snouts out of the trough.  They will have seen how the coarse, greasy-haired, proletarian-tinged patriots and loyalists of the DAB come back whimpering for more every time their shoe-shining is rewarded with the usual kick in the teeth.  And this new generation will be looking around and wondering, “There must be someone we can trust to run that place.”
Thurs, 23 Mar
Under orders from political commissar Stephen Lam, Hong Kong cadres are to attend
‘struggle sessions’, at which they will denounce comrades with insufficient understanding of the Central People’s Government’s 11th Five-Year Plan.   Colonial running dogs who once supported positive non-interventionism will kneel on broken glass and criticize themselves for not understanding the benefits of socialist-style central economic planning.
Meanwhile, for the second day running, the South China Morning Post carries disturbing news about a Mainland city mayor not mentioning the Big Lychee in his annual state-of-the-city address.  Yesterday, it was Shenzhen’s boss who gave little or no attention to Hong Kong when announcing plans to turn his sprawling suburb of factories and massage parlours into a centre for logistics, technology and other buzz-words.  Today it’s the turn of Guangzhou, which – rushing headlong into the 1880s – is developing a vast complex of steelworks, factories and deepwater port terminals in its Nansha swamp.  How do you get a deepwater port that far up the Pearl River estuary?  The mayor isn’t telling.  All we know is that by omitting any mention of Hong Kong in his speech, he is hammering yet another nail into our coffin. 

SCMP is not alone in pushing this view.  We used to be a confident city, optimistic about the future and not giving a damn what some bouffant-styled apparachik over the border said, or didn’t say, about us.  Now, stripped of pride and hope by Tung Chee-hwa, we beg Beijing pitifully for trade privileges and tourists and believe that we are doomed if Shanghai opens a Disneyland.  This isn’t just a post-property bubble hangover, or an over-reaction to our hinterland’s rapid rise from impoverished squalor.  It’s a sort of self-flagellation to atone for making the motherland look bad all those years by thriving under the British and enjoying it.  To prove our patriotism, we must now believe that we are worthless and dependant on the benevolence of the Mainland for our future survival.  Success without Beijing’s help would be arrogance.  Indeed, worse – assertiveness is disrespect is disloyalty is subversion.  Can the SCMP, Stephen Lam and the other forces of darkness be allowed to succeed in this campaign to crush our old spirit?   It’s another reason to join the Civic Party.
Fri, 24 Mar
When not encouraging civil servants to familiarize themselves with communist-style economic planning, Constitutional Affairs Secretary Stephen Lam frets that democratic development in Hong Kong could damage our capitalist system.  His discussion document on the issue surpasses even his normally embarrassing levels of vacuity, but somewhere under the
endless drivel about ‘sectors’, his concern seems to be that universal suffrage might lead to the abolition of our existing welfare state.  The current structure redistributes wealth from those who earn it into the pockets of civil servants, industries with their own seats in the legislature and the property cartel and its owners’ other rent-seeking monopolies.  Hence, we spend more on pointless infrastructure projects than on health care.  Let Hong Kong people elect their own government, this weasel of a bureaucrat seems to be saying, and voters will rob such dole recipients as the construction industry of their free lunches.  Can it be…  Yes – it’s yet another reason to join the Civic Party.

ANOTHER WEEK dribbles to an end with the latest issue of
Prospect Magazine carrying a gripping story about the joys of producing a listings magazine in Shanghai, the city that’s going to take over from Hong Kong.  I will email Mike Rowse – the only civil servant in Hong Kong with the spine to badmouth aspiring rival business centres – and advise him to put a copy of this article in the information packs his InvestHK promotion agency hands out.  He will have to beat investors away with rolled up copies of the Commission for Strategic Development’s Committee on Governance and Political Development’s meeting papers. 

And on a final note of joy, Petrochina finally hits $8.  Its total dividend for 2005 has just been announced at RMB0.338 – about a 22% yield on my entry price of $1.46.  Those who can, do.  Those who can’t, become financial advisors.