Hemlock's Diary
8-14 March, 2009
Mon, 9 March
The Great 2009 Wisdom Tooth Massacre continues, with the agonizing pain gradually giving way to a throbbing ache, and my masticatory abilities improving to the point where I can manage semi-solid food.  This meant liberation over the weekend from a three-day diet of congee – subject to the availability of ingredients, given that I was too idle at the time to go out to the shops.  Inventiveness came to the fore with the impromptu creation of what I hereby name Whatever’s Lying Around Curry Tuna Hash… 
Finely chop a few shallots and cloves of garlic and lightly fry them for a few minutes with a few good spoonfuls of curry powder, adding a drained can of tuna and a small handful of peas found in a little bag at the back of the freezer.  Meanwhile, boil up and drain some carrot and potato, add salt, pepper and a generous hunk of butter and roughly mash them.  Mix (or ‘fold’, I should say) the fried tuna etc into the mash and eat (or ‘serve’).
It’s so good I will make it again, and indeed probably patent it. 

At least, I thought it was extremely clever, until I ventured out and found myself inspecting the Whiskey Priest, the laboriously Irish-themed bit of Allen Zeman’s Lan Kwai Fong bar empire, where I noticed they are offering wagyu beef with baked beans.  For a mere HK$98.  Plus (this is a classy joint) 10%.  Such an inspired pairing would never have occurred to me, and I am heartbroken first at having the limitations of my culinary imagination so rudely exposed, and second for still not being able to chew well enough to be able to sample the delights of the richly marbled Japanese meat with the sugary Heinz legumes lovingly smeared all over it.

This inevitably raises the question of what sort of policies we could expect if new Chinese citizen Zeman ever takes over as Chief Executive of Hong Kong.  The complete intellectual inertia of our current leadership is sadly starting to become noticed by the
international press.  Why, they are asking, at a time when the world’s economy seems to be collapsing all around us, is the Big Lychee’s Government merrily carrying on with its traditional policy diet of bread and water, as if little had happened, sitting on a trillion bucks in reserves, squandering wealth on pointless infrastructure schemes and keeping big chunks of land off the market to try to keep property as unaffordable as possible?  Whatever the political equivalent of wagyu beef and baked beans is, it could only be an improvement.
Tue, 10 Mar
What if they gave an Expo and nobody came?  Next year, mighty Shanghai, the city that’s going to take over from Hong Kong, will host this Victorian-era solution to the lack of TV and the Internet – a grand exhibition of other nations’ technical and commercial achievements.  But foreign countries aren’t taking it seriously and
might not even build pavilions.  The amount of face the municipality could lose is so great that, if it was all put together in one pile, it would be taller than their famous and highly tasteful TV Tower. 

Peeved at seeing the nation’s capital get the 2008 Olympics, China’s commercial hub
vied for the right to hold the Expo against such world-class metropolises as Yeosu (Korea), Queretaro (Mexico) and Wroclaw (heard of it, at least).  The announcement of the winner came at the end of 2002, just as Hong Kong was approaching the darkest days of the Tung Chee-hwa administration, with record suicide rates, SARS and Article 23.  Even though it was nothing to do with them, the Big Lychee’s more impressionable and despondent citizens saw it as yet another piece of evidence that the city was shriveling into Yeosu-style obscurity – a view encouraged by Shanghai officials’ smug assurances that this was not so.  This fuelled the crop-haired one’s obsession with attracting such money-wasting disasters as the WTO riot-gathering in late 2005 and next December’s wearisome micro-Olympic East Asia Games.  So the folk hurling themselves off rooftops had a point.
The Shanghai authorities, apparently under the illusion that Expo is as big a hype-tedium-fest as the Games, have come up with the inevitable countdown, a tacky logo with a deep meaning and of course a slogan.  Valiant defenders of sacred flames will no doubt be trundling on wheelchairs through the world’s leading cities before long.  Organizers insist that a mere collapse of international finance and trade won’t make any difference, and even invite us to believe that the event will help save the planet from economic collapse.

The Americans, however, are sounding particularly
uninterested, even a tad distracted.  It doesn’t help that lurking in the background is a suspiciously foreign-sounding body known as the Bureau International des Expositions – which conjures up images of cliquey, self-important Europeans with funny Continental aristocratic titles and silly accents jetting around in haughty expectation of groveling luxury.  There is even talk of Shanghai stumping up the cash to enable the under-sponsored US display to be built.
417 Days to go!!!
Right-thinking Honkongers will see a badly needed source of amusement – our arrogant, jumped-up Yangtze River Delta cousins falling flat on their chubby faces in their incessant and desperate efforts to be a new New York.  But our own officials spy an ideal opportunity for a major session of hardcore partnership, integration and cooperation.  Around a year ago, when no-one was looking, the great and good, in the form of Allen Zeman and friends, decided that the Big Lychee would contribute The Pavilion of Infinite Doom.  I am not sure which exciting feature I like better – the Ocean Park panda bears who have been trained to promote wagyu beef with baked beans in three languages, or the HK Tourism Board’s ‘Please send a million more beggars dressed as monks per week’ campaign.  Our tax dollars at work.
Wed, 11 Mar
“That awful, ghastly American friend of yours better not turn up.”  Delectable Administrative Officer Winky Ip looks sniffily around the IFC Mall branch of Pacific Coffee.  It is not the caffeine divan itself that she treats with disdain – in fact she admits that it’s “rather nice here isn’t it?”  But she has never exactly hit it off with the wild Odell on the rare occasions their paths have met. 

She has ventured all this way down the hill from Central Government Offices at short notice to put me straight about the
2009 East Asian Games.  At least, that’s what she claims.  I suspect she also wants to impress me with her new hair style, which is so radically trimmed I hardly recognize her when she walks in.  And, like me, she is itching to take advantage of the outlet’s latest promotional offer – a two-for-one deal on the new wagyu beef, baked beans and jojoba cappuccino.

“We worked damn hard to get the EAG here in Hong Kong!” she starts, before backtracking.  “Well, the only rival bidder was Taipei, which was obviously vetoed by China.  But we’ve been pulling out all the stops since 2004 to make this a success.”  She regales me with the full gory details about committees, task forces and what, reading between the lines, sound like hellish days and nights incarcerated in conference rooms with the Big Lychee’s portly Olympics boss Timothy Fok, Home Affairs Secretary Tsang Tak-shing, his chief bureaucrat Carrie Yau and an unending stream of Leisure and Cultural Services Department zombies.

“And now everything’s set for the biggest and best EAG ever!  Teams are coming from Japan, North Korea, South Korea, Mongolia…”  Winky recites a list of Imperial China’s tributary states.  “…and Taiwa… I mean Chinese Taipei.  Oh and Guam.  We have mascots Dony and Ami – Ami is the one with eyelashes.  We have an official countdown clock designed by Mr Alan Chan!  We’ve got the slogan ‘Be the Legend’, thought up by a member of the public who won thirty thousand dollars!”  I try to interrupt to tell her how sexy she looks when her nostrils are flaring and her finger wagging, but she is in full flow.  “There’s a terrific theme song called
You are the Legend by the renowned composer, Mr Peter Kam!  And there will be new events like dragon boat racing and dance sport!” 

Before I can ask what the hell dance sport is, her mood changes slightly and she leans forward to let me in on a little secret.

“The only remaining challenge is getting the community to join in and, um… be part of the legend.” 

I see.  The fight against public apathy.  It was always going to be a tough job, getting Hong Kong people interested in diving, table tennis, diving, wushu, diving and other sports you can’t gamble on, where Mainland China will probably end up with 98% of the medals, give or take a couple of bronzes for plucky little Guam, the heart of East Asia.  But now fears of joblessness are rising, and share prices are shrinking so much that you can only see them with the same electron microscope they use to detect Chief Executive Donald Tsang’s political leadership skills.  Not a great time to spend millions of dollars on contrived jumping up and down with big grins as part of infantile publicity campaigns to whip up orgasmic, city-wide enthusiasm for Dony and Ami.  I nod sympathetically.  A familiar-looking ex-Mormon comes into the shop.  He walks over, takes a brief glance down at Winky from behind and looks at me in relief…

“Oh, thank God – I thought it was that stupid, stuck-up civil servant bitch.”
Thurs, 12 Mar
How better to start the day than to bring the Great 2009 Wisdom Tooth Extraction Mutilation Horror to a conclusion with a visit to Dr Amy KK Au-Yeung BDS DPDS to have the stitches removed?  The gentle and humane dentist pats my knee and caresses my brow as I tell her about the savage treatment I received a week ago at the hands of Dr Ken – specifically the administration at the beginning of the procedure of four elephant-size injections into the gum without the slightest dab of surface anaesthetic.  “There, there,” she reassures me. “What a horrible brute.  But it’s all over now.”  The problem, she explains, is that Dr Ken is an oral surgeon, and is therefore accustomed to bloodily hacking and chopping away while his victims are completely unconscious. 

With the utmost care, she snips the sutures out from the back of my mouth and gazes lovingly at the still slightly swollen gap.  “Oh, that looks so much better without that impacted monstrosity poking through,” she purrs.  “Thank heavens I’ll never have to see that eyesore again!”  Even though she is the only person on the planet who ever has cause or opportunity to view this extremely secluded part of my anatomy, this makes it all worthwhile.

Back in the gwailo’s lair on the top floor of S-Meg Tower, an amazing shock awaits – ‘Mary Ma’, the pseudonymous pro-Beijing voice of Sing Tao media group’s
Standard, has written a column that makes sense.  Why, she asks, has Macau recently been turning away so many Hong Kong visitors with connections to the pro-democracy camp?  Her information is that it concerns the appointment later this year of a new Chief Executive in the tight-knit little den of corruption and seediness.  Beijing has reminded the local authorities to be careful, and the barring of a wide range of Hong Kong’s legislators, activists and even academics and a South China Morning Post photographer is the overzealous result.  The alternative and not totally convincing explanation is that, having just passed its Article 23 security law, and heedless of its need for a tourist-friendly image, Macau is engaging in a systematic, large-scale and highly professional, competent and effective clampdown that will leave it more Mainland than the Mainland.

Following an uproar, it seems that the Macau Government must now backtrack.  Our pro-democrats could help here by keeping a low profile, so the luckless leadership across the Pearl River Delta don’t lose too much face as they relax the policy and implicitly admit to being simple-minded dimwits.  But that would be boring.  Thus some 40 or so of the Big Lychee’s most prominent members of the opposition are planning to take the ferry to the former Portuguese colony on Sunday, complete with an entourage of reporters.  To admit them all would be far too humiliating a climb-down.  But fortunately – from Macau’s point of view – at least a few of the day-trippers have been on the immigration blacklist for ages, so they will be able to deny entry to Long Hair and any other subversive rabble-rousers, while waving through the rest and giving the impression that nothing has changed and the world is carrying on as usual.  The Hong Kong authorities, keen to widen the split between moderate and hard line dissenters (and mindful of the need to spell things out to their rather slow counterparts across the water), will no doubt urge this course of action.

Or – the nightmare scenario for Hong Kong officials trying desperately to look capable of protecting their citizens’ rights while enjoying warm and fraternal relations with their Macau compatriots – the whole lot get turned away out of spite.  The odds of that happening are probably the same as getting dealt an ace and a king all day at a Hotel Lisboa blackjack table, but it would liven up a dull Sunday.  And, as Mary Ma puts it with uncharacteristic insight, this is Macau we are talking about.
Fri, 13 Mar
In the aftermath of the Great 2009 Passion of the Wisdom Tooth Trauma, I am left with a souvenir – a mandibular third molar, plus the stumpy roots from which it has been neatly sawn away.  After having them stuffed, mounted on a small plinth and encased in a Swarovski crystal glass box, I will put them up for auction on eBay, with the proceeds to go to
Hong Kong Dog Rescue’s rehabilitation project, under which unruly and delinquent canines are brought in from the street, given anger management classes and taught basic life skills, such as social interaction, table manners, finding a job, etc.  The problem is that the blood-crazed psychopath oral surgeon Dr Ken also removed a piece of my jaw during his frenzied orgy of gore-spilling and bone-crunching.  But he didn’t give it back to me.  I can only conclude that he has kept it in order to get at my DNA and produce multiple clones of me, with which he will take over the world.
On a brighter note, I have noticed the first indication that the global economic downturn – millions laid off, exports plummeting, banks collapsing – might actually be having a long overdue positive effect on the lower Mid-Levels, namely the financial ruin of the district’s over-priced, over-rated dining houses.  Favourite food writer Yummy Chow grades these places according to pretentious and cynical use of themes, overcrowding, tastelessness (in both senses) and sheer bad value for money.  The competition is stiff, with such cookie-cutter establishments as Cecconi’s and Soho Spice in Elgin Street cutting every corner imaginable to squeeze a profit out of gullible passers-by with no clue about Italian or Thai cuisine.  But the place most deserving of her coveted Worst Restaurant in Soho Award is an outlet that sells HK$280 hamburgers.

My heart leaps this morning when I see that the gastronomic institution in question, Duke’s Burger on Staunton Street, appears to have closed down.  On closer inspection, I note that it is in fact undergoing full renovation, presumably to enhance its
haute bohemian sophistication, with or without the Baccarat Zenith 24-clear crystal chandelier.  A sign draped outside what is now a bare concrete shell promises a ‘new look, new menu, more choices’, which to my admittedly inexperienced eye means ‘failed business model, owners getting desperate’ or maybe ‘under new ownership, sucker thinks higher volumes will cover the rent’. 

May this be the first of many.  And may subsequent victims of dried-up cash flow, death by vampire landlord, or outbreaks of common sense among consumers go the whole way and shut for good.  And, after the last grasping street-level property holder has been strangled with the entrails of the last concept-peddling, accountant-driven restaurant chain manager, we can go back to the noodles, lunchboxes, Whatever’s Lying Around Curry Tuna Hash and wagyu beef with baked beans the neighbourhood used to know and love.  Then, it’ll be the turn of the Lan Kwai Fong wine bars and the Central designer-label emporia to die, rot, turn into fertilizer and nourish the first green shoots of economic recovery.  I am in such a good mood, I declare this weekend open.
Available from


Dymocks, IFC Mall
& other HK Dymocks
some, probably, maybe)

Hong Kong & worldwide
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