Hemlock's Diary
21-27 Jan 2007
Sun, 21 Jan
This week’s Ugliest Painting in a Hollywood Road Art Gallery Award goes to a painfully lurid naif-impressionist rendition of Repulse Bay by one Nigel Hale.  My mother always told me, “If you can’t think of anything nice to say, don’t say anything.”  So I will refrain from stating that my pet chimpanzee could put more aesthetically pleasing daubs onto canvas – especially because this would infringe on matriarchal injunction number two, which was not to tell fibs by, for example, claiming ownership of a primate. 

Of course, the painting could be a satire.  The brightness of the colours could be a protest against the air pollution that leaves our skies and landscapes veiled in a yellowish-grey haze.  The one-dimensional portrayal of the hillsides and buildings could be a comment on the shallowness and blinkered vision of our planners and architects.  And the pedantic reproduction of the shark net around the beach could be a subtle reminder of the need to defend our natural environment against predatory property developers and their loyal retainers in the civil service and Government.  Behold – a work of genius!

Mon, 22 Jan
Morning in the big soft chairs in the famous IFC Mall branch of Pacific Coffee, and the disturbed-looking girl who reads the Bible looks up from what may or may not be the Gospel according to St Mark and peers disapprovingly at wild American friend Odell, who has just blurted out, “that was so
fucking close!”  He sips a puce-coloured sludge from a transparent plastic cup with a domed lid through a black straw over half an inch in diameter and tells me about his exciting weekend.

For the last 10 days, he reminds me, his Thai wife Mee had been visiting her rice-growing, money-cadging, head-shrinking tribe of hunter-gatherers in her jungle homeland.  Odell, if he says so himself, spent the time abstemiously and wholesomely, embarking on all-night drunken rampages around the disco dungeons of Wanchai only two or three times.  The damage was slight.  He kept his apartment off-limits to company, thus avoiding any danger of tell-tale long black hairs lingering on a pillow for Mee to find on her return, and thus possible castration.  His mobile phone vanished one night and on another occasion he awoke to find his credit cards missing but – amazingly – still unused when he cancelled them.  And there was a vaguely recalled attack of irritable gwailo syndrome brought on by a psychopathic taxi driver.  And he was thrown out of a place for attracting a waitress’s attention by pouring a half pint of beer over her head.  Otherwise, everything was fine until yesterday, when he realized his plain gold wedding band was not on his finger.

“I searched top to bottom,” he tells me.  “It’s nowhere at home.  Can’t remember where I was Saturday night, of course.  And she was coming back last night.  If she sees the ring missing, I’m dead meat.  I mean – Jesus, I’m fucking dead.”  The creepy girl looks up from her scriptures – maybe the bit about people with faith the size of a mustard seed – and gives him a hard stare, to which he is oblivious.  So, yesterday afternoon, just hours before the 5pm from Bangkok was to touch down at Chek Lap Kok, Odell embarked on a frantic and panicked tour of gold shops in Central.  They have white gold, they have pink gold, they have combinations.  But a plain, simple
gold gold ring?  There is none to be had.  In desperation, the sound of a Thai Airways 747 starting its descent in the background, he eventually climbs two flights of stairs to a jewellery place manned mainly by Filipinos on Queen’s Road.

“Brilliant!  They’ve got one that looks identical.  And they can engrave the inside while I wait – I even got the date of the wedding right, and it’s the same style of lettering.  And they give me a 50 percent discount for not being a Mainland tourist.”  But there is a problem.  In his relief at finding the exact style he needed, he grabbed the first one he saw, and it is a size too big.  It is so loose, there is a real chance of it slipping off.  But that can be fixed.  He luxuriates in this last-minute release from the prospect of being flayed alive.  I decide to make him miserable again.

“You’re still in mortal danger,” I point out.  He looks suitably worried.  I lean closer to him.  “The original ring is still out there, somewhere.  Possibly in a place frequented by Thais.  Maybe found by one who knows Mee.  And is phoning Mee this very minute.”  His stunned response causes another disruption to the Bible study.  This is not a man who deserves to be smug and happy.

Tue, 23 Jan
The mood on the Mid-Levels Escalator this morning is one of mild surprise as word goes round that in a part of the Big Lychee no-one has ever heard of called Shiu Wing, there is a steel mill.  Perhaps it was put there as part of the peculiar movement, popular among the patriotic pro-Beijing crowd, to incorporate our economy into the glorious motherland’s Five-Year Plans.  After all, how can we express our love for the party and the country by raising steel production 10 percent if we don’t have a steelworks?  For this reason, we will also need wheat, millet and cotton fields, tractor factories and coal mines.

The steel mill has come to our attention because of a plan to put an aviation fuel depot next to it.  Environmental activists are upset because if the 1,000C heat in the steel mill’s furnaces were somehow to come into contact with the huge quantities of fuel, there would be an almighty conflagration engulfing most of Tuen Mun, and this would be
Very Bad for dolphins.  It is not that the Indo-Pacific Humpbacks are especially dependent on Tuen Mun, but bits of the place would leak, ooze or cascade onto the creatures’ habitat.  Assuming they are not sufficiently alert or resourceful to swim away, this could wipe them all out.

Previous attempts to encourage the pink dolphins to live elsewhere have failed.  No less than nine square kilometers of land reclamation for the airport at CLK involved the dumping of billions of cubic hectograms of special, made-in-Hong Kong barren rock right on top of their home.  To no avail.  The threats of a gas terminal in the Soko Islands, a related pipeline running along their favourite patch of seabed and the construction of the giant bridge linking Lantau to exotic Zhuhai apparently leave them utterly unperturbed.  The more we rearrange their home, the more they swim around sporting their irritatingly cheeky grins.

They probably realize that they have public opinion on their side.  People feel sorry for these creatures, partly because nature gave them a jaw construction that leads anthropomorphic humans to conclude that they are in a constant state of ecstasy.  Also, several companies now offer tours so people can sail out to sea and pat the animals on the head.  The tour companies have even taught the beasts to greet the visitors with a few simple words in Cantonese and English, thus further captivating the hearts of their human admirers. 

I think I once read that the dolphins’ main problem is that they cannot live in as much of the ocean as they would like.  It is to do with water salinity, which is why they stick to the river delta.  They take great exception if there is too much salt or if there is not enough – rather like some of their fellow mammals on shore. 

As I cross over Queen’s Road, I wonder why I am even pondering this matter.  This is Tuen Mun we are talking about!  A place of which we know little and care even less.  I need to get a grip.
Wed, 24 Jan
How will I manage to sleep tonight, knowing that tomorrow’s
South China Morning Post will be carrying an exclusive interview with Donald Tsang, ‘the man and the candidate’.  The mouth-frothing cause du jour is Sir Bow-Tie’s outrageous use of a Government car and bodyguard to visit his Chief Executive re-election campaign headquarters – and during working hours.  This is supposedly in violation of the principle that participants in an election may not use public resources for campaigning purposes.  But I can’t say I feel the fires of righteous indignation burning deep within myself any more than when Donald takes the car and burly ex-cop with him to the dentist.  By attacking Tsang for this in full-blown rabid-and-ravenous mode, the pro-democrats are just bolstering their reputation for constantly looking for something – anything – to criticize and oppose. 

It would be different if this were a real election campaign, in which all Hong Kong voters were free to nominate and cast a vote for the candidate of their choice.  But it’s not.  It’s just a charade.  The winner was decided at least months ago by the true Election Committee – a couple of dozen heavy consumers of black hair dye in Beijing.  An election for the bulk of members of the 800-strong make-believe Election Committee here was confined largely to people who will behave as Beijing requires.  The unexpectedly large turnout by pro-democrats in the restricted number of seats in which they can take part left them with a bit over 15 percent of the Committee’s total votes.  That’s just enough to nominate an alternative candidate, which wasn’t part of the plan, but doesn’t make any difference to the pre-ordained outcome.  The entire ‘election’ is simply a bit of play-acting to formalize a decision the Politburo made some time ago.  Which is why Donald was entitled to use the Government car – the trip to the ‘campaign office’ was just another official duty.
Thurs, 25 Jan
Local organizations should not invite Taiwan officials to comment on Hong Kong's democratic development, Secretary for Constitutional Affairs Stephen Lam Sui-lung said Wednesday, adding that such comments were not welcome.
The HK Standard
…unlike Stephen Lam, whose always longed-for presence never fails to arouse warm feelings of joy and admiration in all who are blessed with the pleasure and the privilege of his company.  Like the Falun Gong, Taiwan politicians put the Big Lychee Special Administrative Region Government in a painfully impossible position.  If our officials fully adhere to the principles of freedom of religion and speech, they openly contradict Central People’s Government policy, and there is no shortage of patriotic, pro-Beijing sneaks to complain to the Imperial Court if that happens.  So they have to finesse it.  Thus, overseas Falun Gong members are occasionally turned away at the airport, while other members of the cult – officially considered a dire threat to national security in the mainland – sit on our pavements and do their breathing exercises.  In the case of Taiwan officials, there is legally nothing Lam can do to stop a Hongkonger from asking them to comment on local politics, yet to allow it to happen is a blatant challenge to one of the holiest tenets of the Chinese Communist Party’s creed.  Square that one.
Thus, the hapless bureaucrat is reduced to squirming and saying, in effect, “Do anything you want, but Please don’t get Taipei involved.  You know why.  It won’t help anyone.  And anyway, these guys drink their own urine and beat each other up in their parliament.”  Then, when no-one’s looking, he drops to his knees and prays that Beijing will think it all sounded suitably similar to the pitiful whining about ‘interfering in our internal affairs’ they come out with at every opportunity.  Lam’s is a tough job at times like this, and that’s why we all greet him with open arms and broad smiles every time we see him.

Donald Tsang’s eagerly awaited exclusive
SCMP interview is so packed with original and interesting thoughts that we’ve never heard anywhere before that I wouldn’t know where to start.  On the issue of political reform, however, I can’t help noticing that he utters the dreaded ‘c’ word.  How tragic it is that he has never heard the immortal words of Margaret Thatcher…
“Consensus is an absence of leadership.”
Fri, 26 Jan
Flicking through my well-worn Edgar Allan Poe compendium this morning, I become aware of a lower middle-class Englishman droning on about the Hong Kong Institute of Education on the radio.  He is one Paul Morris, whose tenure as President of the teacher training college has been
ended by its ruling council.  Unless HKIEd can style itself a university, he says, it will undergo rapid decay and collapse in a heap of rubble, like the House of Usher but involving an entire campus.  And if it is absorbed by Chinese University, he also warns, it will descend into putrefaction and ferment, withering away – I am reading between the lines here – like the unfortunates at the Masque of the Red Death, at which “one by one dropped the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died each in the despairing posture of his fall.”  On the other hand, he tells us, if the place remains independent and gets to call itself a university, everything will be wonderful, and there will be love, peace, universal brotherhood and sunshine throughout the world. 

My only interest is that of a taxpayer who has to pay for this institution.  I have no doubt it does a perfectly reasonable job of producing dedicated professionals who teach the way Hong Kong expects – that is, they tell the students which pages of the textbook they must memorize this week, and then rely on the parents to ensure that the kids do it.  But I have to wonder whether Mr Morris might be exaggerating slightly when he warns of dire repercussions if the powers that be do not treat his school exactly the way he desires.  This looks like a high-level version of the tragic malaise known as Angry Expat Academic Syndrome, in which self-absorbed, western university staff turn friction between themselves and (usually) a superior into a bloody me-against-the-world feud that results in officials, politicians and members of various public bodies all being sent a 100-page dossier evidencing persecution and torment in a variety of typefaces, augmented by yellow highlighter.  I know because the Big Boss has received a few, and I have dutifully perused them, wondering in disbelief how the complainant’s poor colleagues have endured this sociopathic, diseased mind scowling and plotting in the senior common room for so long.  In the private sector, such misfits are simply (and gently) disposed of so everyone else can get on with their work, but in academia they are able to embed themselves and fester.

My prediction is that in a few years’ time, HKIEd will have been renamed the Shatin Polytechnic Rejects’ Annex, and its motto will be “Not a university but owned by one’.  Otherwise it will be identical to what it is today.  As for its former president – Nevermore!