Hemlock's Diary
23-29 April 2006
Sun, 23 Apr
As promised, I treat buxom Administrative Officer Winky Ip to a global tour.  We explore mountains of oysters, rolling plains of sushi, oceans of egg-drop soup, vast boulders of roast beef and verdant jungles of salad, all without leaving the Café Too lunch buffet at the Island Shangri-La.  I also show her the rather worrying letter I received yesterday…
Lee, Smith, Chan and Li, Solicitors

Dear Sir/Madam,

We are instructed by our clients, Maxims High-Class Lunchbox Emporia (“the clients”), to request in the strongest possible terms that you immediately desist from libelling them by suggesting that they are responsible for preparing, advertising, selling or having any involvement with the ‘King Size’ bowl of macaroni (“the vile-looking excuse for food”), which we understand is in fact a product of the chain of cake and snack vendors known as ‘Maria’s’.  Failure to comply with this request will leave our clients with no alternative but to take further action. 

I remain your humble and obedient servant,
“I’m not surprised,” the well-formed civil servant replies, nudging a well-knawed lamb rib aside on her plate with her knife and dabbing drool from her lips.  “Your stupid diary is just one mistake after another.  You said that the 23rd day of the third lunar month was on Saturday.  But it wasn’t.  It was last…”  She puts the knife down.  “Well, Thursday or Friday, I think.  Anyway, everyone knows Cheung Chau celebrates the birthday of Tin Hau on a different day.”

She then explains how she was partially responsible for this mysterious anomaly.  As a junior civil servant years ago, she was seconded to the Tourism Authority, and they decided to boost the island’s attraction to visitors by inventing and introducing new ‘traditions’ to enhance its image as a quaint fishing village rich in ancient heritage.  Moving Tin Hau’s birthday for no obvious reason seemed an effortless way to add a little mystique to the island.  “We didn’t have a budget,” she admits. 

I change the subject by asking about her current contribution to serving the community. 

“A review of geographical constituencies’ population size,” she replies.  “In case we need to adjust the boundaries ahead of the next elections.  It’s complicated because Filipino and Indonesian domestic helpers’ numbers have changed.  They can’t vote, of course, but each one counts as three-fifths of a person for purposes of representation in the Legislative Council.”

I look down at our unfinished food.  Chunks of mango float like psychedelic-coloured icebergs atop a globally warmed sea of gravy.  Wasabi sauce attaches itself, against all the laws of culinary nature, to a slice of tomato, itself discarded for lack of flavour.  A chunk of pan-fried tuna submits to a drifting tide of melting sesame ice cream.  An exceptionally ugly woman strolls past, wearing a T-shirt that says ‘Canine University’.  Time to go.
Mon, 24 Apr
I didn’t even realize it was still there.  Mitsukoshi, the last Japanese-owned department store in Hong Kong, is to
pull out.  The name brings back memories of a bygone era – the time before Causeway Bay collapsed under the weight of vehicle emissions and Mainland tourists.  Despite attracting hordes of teenagers, numerous groups of demure Japanese office ladies in lacy socks, and pairs of British soldiers’ plump, flat-vowelled wives, the district was not unpleasant to visit.  And the big Japanese retailers were the main attraction.  Outlets like Sogo, Yaohan and Matsuzakaya put their dowdy local rivals like Wing On and Dragon Seed to shame, not least because of the sprawling basement supermarkets with their eccentric and unique choices of merchandise. 

Polly the lipstick lesbian and I would go straight from work on Saturdays for lunch of a HK$12 bowl of ramen with pork slices and kimchee.  Seriously overpriced, but it was Japanese and trendy.  These were the days when we were poor but happy.  We would explore the huge stores, noting the curious comings and goings of fads.  For a three-month period – possibly around the time Governor Sir Edward Youde died in Beijing (though not because of it) – everyone under 30 wore grey.  There were hundreds of shades to choose from and coordinate.  Then that stopped, and suddenly every middle-aged woman in town started to wear 1950s-style thin, stretchy leggings with elastic stirrup-type hoops going round their feet.  Even the corpulent British army wives managed to squeeze into them.  This last, distasteful, recollection snaps me out of my nostalgic reverie.  The world is probably a better place today, after all.
Tue, 25 Apr
Over organic, low-fat, high-fibre pomegranate and jojoba cappuccino in the IFC Mall branch of Pacific Coffee, I bore wild American friend Odell with more tales from the good old days. 

“In Wellington Street – what would now be prime, street-level retail space – there was a blood collection centre.  In exchange for lying down with a needle in your arm for 15 minutes, they would give you a choice of orange juice or a can of beer.  Have you ever had a can of San Mig when you’re minus a pint of blood?  At 10 in the morning?  Amazing.”  The ex-Mormon nods appreciatively.  “Nowadays they give you beef wrapped in pitta bread – the donor kebab.” 

Odell has one, predictable, question – “Were the nurses cute?” 

I sip my drink and think about it.  They seemed middle-aged to me at the time.  But…  The awful truth dawns.  They were younger than I am now.  Needing to banish thoughts of mortality from my mind, I reach for the newspaper in search of reports of misgovernance and official ineptitude – I don’t know why, but it never fails.
Could the Hong Kong Government have achieved a new superlative – the flimsiest band-aid in the history of poverty reduction policy?  A HK$2.7 million scheme to subsidize travel to work for more than 1,500 low earners attracts a grand total of five takers.  It would be more cost-effective for the civil servants administering the scheme to personally pick them up in their BMWs and SUVs and drive them into town.  Our visionary leaders could transfer ownership of public housing units to their tenants, liberating the lower orders from the welfare serfdom that keeps them penniless and trapped in remote districts.  They could negotiate a deal with the Mainland to enable the unemployable to move to more affordable surroundings over the border.  They could stimulate job-creation by breaking up cartels, deregulating land use and letting more entrepreneurial talent enter the city.   But no, they apply their bureaucratic genius to pulling off the impossible – devising a welfare programme that’s even more pointless and ridiculous than the previous one.  It’s an honour to pay tax to these people.

Tomorrow, the Legislative Council will debate a
motion from workers’ rights maniac Lee Cheuk-yan calling for a universal retirement system.  What the proposal doesn’t mention is that our grassroots lobby’s preferred method for funding such a scheme is to divert half the contents of 3 million workers’ Mandatory Provident Fund accounts into it.  Government policymaking suddenly seems rational and pragmatic.

So...  What to do with the unemployed?  An elegant way to reduce their numbers while enabling them to make a positive contribution to society presents itself, as luck would have it, in the other motion to be debated tomorrow in the Circus…
Wed, 26 Apr
Who would want to tap Hong Kong legislators’ phones?  Who would want to
listen in to Marxist activist Leung Kwok-hung arranging his busy, and very public, schedule of street demonstrations?  Who could bring themselves to monitor Emily Lau’s high-decibel ranting?  Who would possibly have any interest in eavesdropping on the Democratic Party’s hand-wringing elder statesman Martin Lee droning on and on?  Even Ma Lik believes he has been bugged since becoming boss of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (Honorary Patron: Sir Donald Tsang).

Our neurotic Government, with its tragic anxiety disorder about winning Legislative Council votes, might be tempted.  But it has privileged access to the Big Lychee’s all-digital telecoms network and certainly doesn’t need to use the methods apparently detected by Long Hair’s ‘Bug Smasher’ gizmo.  Mainland agents, eager to please their paranoid masters with evidence that tiny groups of incompetent Hongkongers are plotting to bring down the entire Communist Party apparatus, are another possibility.  And then there’s our very own rambunctious press, not known for their qualms about invasion of people’s privacy.

Or could it be that our lawmakers are bugging each other?  Of all the politicians quoted in today’s
South China Morning Post, only James Tien, slimy idiot savant and leader of the Liberal Party, reports smugly that his office has been swept and pronounced clean.  Could his reptilian clique somehow be responsible?  But it still doesn’t add up.  You don’t intercept someone’s calls unless you take them seriously.  Not even the Liberals are that stupid.

Thurs, 27 Apr
I wake to the sound of familiar voices emanating from my bedside radio.  RTHK is responding to the Government Auditor’s allegation of
self-indulgent waste of public resources by devoting most of the morning news programme to reports on itself.  QED or what?  

It takes me a full hour to recover from my shock at the very idea of journalists being sloppy with expenses claims – by which time I am on the Mid-Levels Escalator, gliding down into Central and joining in the excited chatter of Hong Kong’s honest, hard-working and disenfranchised middle class.
There is a sense of celebration in the air among all right-thinking beautiful people.  In the never-ending struggle between good and evil, the dark forces of reaction, nepotism and oligarchy suffer unambiguous defeat at the hands of progress, enlightenment and cosmopolitanism.  .Investor rights activist and reformist David Webb, along with Civic Exchange boss Christine Loh, win a sweeping victory in the HK Exchanges and Clearing shareholders’ election of directors   Two of the losers come from the world of greasy fingered brokers, who imagine the market is their personal property and investors’ role in life is to serve and feed them.  The other is the son of Macau casino mogul Stanley Ho, representing the tycoons who see the stock exchange as a guarantor of their right to list dud companies and treat minority investors’ assets as their own.

Thanks to Government appointments to the board, the opaque grey ranks of bureaucracy, compromise and conformity join the fray, in the form of Moses Cheng and Ronald Arculli.  The latter is also
rumoured to be the next chairman of the HK Tourism Board, to replace the svelte Selina Chow.  Like her, Arculli is a member of the Liberal Party, which vigorously defends the interests of producers of goods and services against those of the consumer at every turn.  Can anyone be better qualified to attract more and more millions of visitors to Asia’s famous Rip-Off City?
Fri, 28 Apr
To bring a bit of cheer, sweetness and jollity into our lives, Beijing’s friendly Basic Law guardians and legal experts retell their favourite story,
Why Hong Kong Can’t Have Universal Suffrage, with more feeling than ever. 

We last heard from Wang Zhenmin of Tsinghua Law School a bit over a year ago, after Tung Chee-hwa stepped down.  Under the Basic Law, he announced, the crop-haired one’s successor would be eligible to serve the remainder of the current term, plus two full terms.  Pro-Beijing elements in Hong Kong had a fit at the thought of 12 years of Donald Tsang.  Under the Basic Eel, Wang then declared, Sir Bow-Tie could have the rest of Tofu-for-Brain’s term, plus only one full term. 

So his six reasons why we can’t have universal suffrage could transmute into more reasons, fewer reasons, different reasons or simply vanish down a hole, following a white rabbit with a watch in its waistcoat pocket. 

The first one,
No community consensus, reflects the failure of pro-democrats to support the political reform bill of last December.  By rejecting a law that would have delivered no real political reform whatever, you have shown yourself deserving of no real political reform whatever.

The second,
Too soon for redistribution of economic power, suggests that there will come a time when certain individuals or groups will have to share opportunities to create or accumulate wealth – but not yet.  Such a Saint-Augustine-meets-Karl-Marx notion would imply recognition of a need for change and an acceptance that politics and economics are inseparable.  So it must mean something else, but who knows what?  They don’t have these problems at Stock Exchange elections. 

Reason three,
Article 23 legislation has not been passed, is not a bad point on the surface, as the Basic Eel does require national security laws.  But it raises the possibility of another Catch 22 – pass draconian laws that undermine democracy, or you can’t have democracy.  Smart people, these Tsinghua men.

Reason the fourth,
No law governing political parties, is yet another hurdle we had lying around, and we apologize for the fact that it’s boring.

Number Five,
Equal participation in politics not yet achieved, sounds absurd to anyone who imagines ‘equal participation in politics’ to be another way of saying ‘universal suffrage’.  But in a parallel universe where sectors rather than humans have votes, anything is possible.  Wang’s sidekick, ageing Basic Eel drafter Xu Chongde, reminds us that “universal suffrage is just one kind of democracy.”  It’s hard to see where this is leading, but it’s obvious where it’s not going.

The sixth reason,
Not enough patriotic education, is more punishment for people who fled Communist Party rule for life under imperialist barbarians.  You must submit to our will before we let you make your own decisions.

Given the slithery nature of the Basic Eel, especially in Professor Wang’s politically tied hands, it could all mean something totally different after the long weekend.  Does any democracy have as many three-day breaks as we do?