Hemlock's Diary
20-26 August 2006
Sun, 20 Aug
To the pub in Lan Kwai Fong, where I find myself attending a meeting of the Hong Kong Association of Gwailos Married to Southeast Asian Women of Humble Origins.  They are on day two of their weekly beerfest, vehemently voicing opinions irrational, reckless, random and rude. 

They have joined the herd of skeptical minds who think the new security measures at airports in the UK and the US are overblown theatrics, part of a plot by evil Bush and Blair to whip up fear and brainwash the citizenry into accepting tighter curbs on civil liberties.  Since this theory has now reached Hong Kong, it will probably soon join other trendy fads and fade away.  For now though, my drunken companions staunchly believe that the British authorities knew that the locally born Pakistanis and white Muslim converts arrested 10 days ago presented no threat, but pulled them in as part of an elaborate PR scheme.

Could it be, I suggest, that while Western governments and police might be incompetent or prone to panic, the attacks on the Kenya and Tanzania embassies, New York, Washington, Bali, Madrid, London, etc indicate a real danger?  This brings snorts of derision from the Association’s members, delighted to have a chance for once to show Hemlock that they know something he doesn’t.  However, opinion is divided as to why I am such a naïve idiot. 

Some members of the group are convinced that 9/11 was a fabrication.  The twin towers were toppled by bombs in the basement, the hijacked aircraft were just holograms, etc.  The Government knew about it – maybe engineered it.  Sensing that the conversation is about to drag in the Bilderberg Group, Area 51, crop circles and Elvis, other members change tack.  Bush and Blair, they insist, are causing terrorism by their policies towards the Muslim world.  This undermines their argument that there is no danger of attacks on flights, but they are on their seventh or eighth pint of San Miguel today.

Who is being credulous here?  The West’s leaders have turned into crazed enemies of the people who elected them.  Out of nowhere, they muster such strategic and organizational genius that they can contrive and implement policies that force people to fly aircraft into buildings or set off bombs on trains.  Or magically make such attacks appear to happen.  We are cowed and fall for their trick and allow them to roll back our freedoms, condemning us to a reign of fascistic terror, culminating in millions of innocent people being lined up to have their toothpaste confiscated.  I suppose if you are totally determined not to accept a single word that Bush, Blair or the press ever say as true, nothing else makes sense. 
I change the topic to Marmite.  I mention that the late Jack Edwards and his comrades in the prisoner of war camp owed their lives to a supply of the salty yeast extract, which their Japanese captors had thrown out on the assumption it was axel grease.  The Association’s Brits loudly proclaim how much they love it.  Two Australians are adamant that Vegemite is more subtle and fragrant.  Odell screws his face up and asks how on earth people can eat any of this stuff. 

I tell him that unless you ate it before the age of three, you will never be able to touch it.  I can’t remember the last time I had it, but I do recall that it works well spread very thinly on hot toasted wholegrain bread with butter.  Mention of wholegrain arouses the ire of the drunken company of white-bread devotees.  Hemlock casts himself even further beyond the pale.  There is a chance I will not be invited over to join them for a while.  To make sure, I recommend the grown-ups’ spread – Gentlemen’s Relish.
Mon, 21 Aug
As if eating at McDonald’s didn’t carry enough health risks, Democratic Party legislator Albert Ho has his Happy Meal
interrupted by a group of heavy handed types who prefer action to talk.  By the standards of such confrontations in this ‘peaceful and lawful society’, this was mild.  At three-to-one, the ratio of assailants to victim shows considerable fair-mindedness and constraint.  And the choice of baseball bats rather than excrement-smeared meat cleavers as weapons reflects a spirit of true sportsmanship.  This is friendly advice rather than serious hostility, and a tribute to our local enforcers’ proud tradition of moderation and their employers’ chivalry.  Also to their credit, it is generally accepted that Ho is indeed the emissaries’ intended objective, thus avoiding one of those ‘Whoops! Got the wrong man’ embarrassments.
In keeping with custom, the three hired hands leave the scene barely noticed, let alone hindered, by hundreds of bystanders, and secure in the knowledge that they will never encounter any legal inconveniences as a result of this particular day’s work.  The identity of the person who engaged their services will similarly remain forever a mystery.  This will not be the case where the ultimate instigator of the wordless discussion is concerned.  However, the gallant Hong Kong Police will sadly lack the evidence to prove any connection, leaving that individual free to enjoy Jockey Club activities, Chinese National Day cocktail receptions, or whatever his or her highly respectable favoured social pursuits may be.

Tue, 22 Aug
The Falun Gong claims that the assault on Albert Ho was
all about them.  The Chinese Communist Party did it, they say, to divert attention from reports that Mainland officials are harvesting body organs from members of the quasi-Buddhist sect held prisoner.  Ho defended some of Master Li Hong-zhi’s deranged followers when they were prosecuted for obstruction in Hong Kong – with some success.  He also criticized former Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa’s dismal attempts to echo Beijing’s loathing of the group by calling the loons a ‘cult’.  This reflected a commitment to human rights rather than any sympathy for the weirdoes’ beliefs.  But maybe Ho’s lack of connections with the movement is what Epoch Times has in mind.  Maybe everything is a scheme to divert attention from the plight of Falun Gong members in custody in China – the Jihadist plot to blow up aircraft over the Atlantic, the arrest of a suspect in the JonBenet Ramsey murder, and the debate about whether Pluto counts as a planet.  If so, it’s working.

One organization that would dearly love to divert everyone’s attention to something else right now is the Hong Kong Police.  Members of pro-democracy parties have long complained of threatening phone calls, intimidating mail, vandalism against office premises and mutilation of election posters.  While no doubt doing everything by the book, the boys in blue have never quite succeeded in giving the impression that they pursue the miscreants in such cases with maximum determination and enthusiasm.  So there is a nagging suspicion that perpetrators of low-level political violence have come to believe that they enjoy the same sort of semi-immunity from the law as speeding minibus drivers, welders who spray passers-by with white-hot sparks, and pompous, podgy, nouveau-riche peasants who park SUVs on sidewalks.  A suspicion not entirely alleviated by defensive-sounding, hastily put-together and overly strenuous
assurances that we take this sort of thing so amazingly seriously you wouldn’t believe it.

Wed, 23 Aug
Mozilla Firefox keels over, stone dead, leaving me with no choice but to fire up Bill Gates’s Internet Explorer, which, at the first attempt, also collapses with a whimper into an inert heap on the ground.  After shutting down every other program, a second download succeeds.  At a browser-busting 96 pages, the Hong Kong Democratic Foundation’s survey of possible institutional reforms leading to universal suffrage must have made a serious thump when it landed on Secretary for Constitutional Affairs Stephen Lam’s desk last week. 

The Hong Kong We Want is written by Sonny Lo and gets polite endorsements from Sir David Akers-Jones, Regina Ip and Christine Loh.  While careful to couch everything in Beijing-friendly terms, the author bases the work on the assumption that political reform is essential to long-term economic success.  “A decade later, China and its southern regions will develop economically and technologically in such a rapid way that the HKSAR will find it increasingly difficult to maintain its competitive edge.”

It lays out options for reform in all areas of Hong Kong’s political structure.  More than a few of them – such as allowing the Chief Executive to be a member of a political party and re-establishing a mid-tier assembly to oversee municipal affairs – are simply reversals of Tung Chee-hwa’s fumbling.  Others are big questions that are usually obscured by wrangling over the meaningless issues Lam insists on dragging into the debate.  A parliamentary system or a presidential one?  A primary election for CE candidates or a full free-for-all?  A unicameral or bicameral assembly?  How can civil servants be made less arrogant?  How can political parties become more professional?

Pondering this last question, I find myself considering another.  Should the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong save everyone time and paper by using a straightforward abbreviation of its English name – DAFT BAP?  Who is to say?  All I know is that the small bread rolls known in Scotland as
baps are malleable, largely full of air, offer little to chew on, are not very popular, tend to get stale easily, are easy to poke holes in, and are oddly satisfying to kick around. Other than that, I simply have no idea.
Thurs, 24 Aug
Stanley Ho, longtime holder of Macau’s old casino monopoly and medium-ranking player in Hong Kong’s property cartel, feels the need to
vigorously deny any involvement in Sunday’s attack on Albert Ho.  The plump pro-democracy Ho represents Winnie, the estranged sister of the octogenarian, multiple-wived Macanese Ho, in a court case in which the female Ho accuses her brother of squeezing her out of the family fortune. 

This is a classic example of nasty suspicious minds in the media drawing scurrilous conclusions from purely circumstantial evidence.  It is true that Stanley Ho is up to his ears in an exceptionally
sleazy industry infested by money launderers, loan sharks, corrupt officials and triads who leave beaten, stabbed and shot bodies lying around from time to time.  (And let’s not go into inexplicable fires in rivals’ premises that cause serious damage because the fire department mysteriously takes half an hour to turn up.)  And it is true that, like many of our other visionary and talented tycoons, he is unaccustomed to operating on the sort of level playing field found in a court of law, where outcomes can reflect the merit of competing parties’ cases rather than wealth, connections, rigged process and other forms of might.  It is also true that several of Winnie’s other lawyers in the case have previously received threats and/or been assaulted.
So what?  Meanwhile, poor Dr Ho, hard-working member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, devoted father of 17 (approx) and selfless patron of tango dancing and Girl Guides, is facing almost unbearable pressure as Steve Wynn and other newcomers set up new gambling operations in Macau – unfairly luring punters away by offering clean and modern facilities free of spittle, chewing gum and gross Mainland hookers.  What kind of lowlife, reptilian newspaper reporters pick on a defenseless old man this way?
Fri, 25 Aug
A tidal wave of foam floods Hong Kong, as self-righteous moralists and bores prone to hair-trigger outrage
froth at the mouth about blurred photographs of a dim-looking young lady adjusting her bra.  The Canto-bim in question is Gillian Chung of Twins, an ensemble renowned for its contribution to contemporary Asian arts and culture.  The pictures were taken with a hidden camera and appeared in Easy Finder, a magazine devoted to the joys of youth and run by Jimmy Lai, scourge of the communists.  He is receiving stern legal letters from that monument to all that is highbrow and honourable, the Emperor Group, which represents Twins and is run by Albert Yeung, whose other wholesome business interests have included a casino in North Korea (near one owned by Stanley Ho) and a bank in Cambodia.  And who was acquitted of criminal intimidation in 1995 when all five prosecution witnesses suffered sudden, simultaneous amnesia.  To the extent that even the victim could not recall being held prisoner and threatened with having his leg broken.

How do we reconcile freedom of the press, the dignity of women, the right to privacy, market forces and the needs of Hong Kong’s acne-ridden voyeuristic and onanist multitudes?  With the weekend approaching, I find it hard to care. 
I’m already very careful, I always take my precautions like wearing nipple tape and an extra pair of underpants.   These people all need each other.  And they all deserve each other.
Albert Yeung graciously meets PRC VP Zeng Qinghong.  It was Yeung’s casino-hotel in Macau that suffered an inexplicable fire that caused serious damage because the fire department mysteriously took half an hour etc, etc…