Hemlock's Diary
19-25 April, 2009
Mon, 20 Apr
Never in the field of Hong Kong public affairs did so many people with ‘GBS, JP’ after their names gather under such a grand-sounding banner and produce so little.  And that’s saying quite a lot.  A glance through the 66 non-official
members of the Commission on Strategic Development, from Akers-Jones to Shek to Tien to Zeman to Zhou reveals perhaps three people who might be expected to have something original to say, including a (the?) token pro-democrat.  Otherwise, it is a list of toadying property tycoons, Mainland-based manufacturers, groveling financiers, trustworthy academics, mantra-chanting pro-Beijing politicians and inert ex-civil servants. 

Formed in 2005, the Commission is now largely forgotten, lost in the mist of boards, panels, councils and task forces to which much the same group of people have been appointed to pontificate over much the same issues to similarly hard-to-spot effect.  Which of these bodies proposed that Hong Kong do more to attract talent, encourage creative industries or integrate with the Pearl River Delta?  Which did not?  To attempt to unravel them all would be pointless, verging on injurious to mental health.  Our dashing Chief Executive, Donald Tsang, is a compulsive announcer of and nominator to official assemblages, presumably to reassure himself that his power to do so is undiminished – or maybe because, in his more malevolent moods, he believes it causes deep resentment, anguish and regret among those enemies whose names pointedly never appear.

Still, a reminder of the Commission’s existence was thrust into our faces over the weekend when millions of Hong Kong people turned with eager anticipation to the op-ed pages of Saturday’s
South China Morning Post to peruse the latest diatribe by Lau Nai-keung.  This patriotic grower of organic produce and supporter of traditional Chinese spiritual notions of harmony distinguishes himself among the anodyne columnists of the SCMP’s back pages by being filled not with hot air, stale complaints or vacuous hopes, but pure, undiluted and barely disguised hatred – hatred for white people and the city that accommodates them. 

This weekend, he spouted his venom in the direction of white people’s financial institutions and the Big Lychee that allows itself to be ravaged by them and thus endangers the security of the nation…
Lau is hardly the first person to confuse Singapore’s taxpayer-subsidized attempts to raise its ranking among the world’s hubs with signs of success.  The Lion City is at heart a slick PR machine for its hereditary ruling family.  Nor is he is alone in interpreting Premier Wen Jiabao’s recent remarks about Shanghai being transformed by edict into another New York as something other than meaningless blather designed to mollify the people and officials of China’s corrupt Potemkin financial centre.  The Mainland’s self-proclaimed business pinnacle is a clunky, Communist-inspired version of Lee Kuan Yew’s corporatist – to put it politely – vision.

The contention that Beijing is nervous about barbarian influence over Hong Kong’s financial markets is not unfounded.  Our Government’s acquisition of what is essentially a controlling stake in the city’s stock exchange probably reflects the Communist regime’s paranoia about external forces and the instinctive need to control.  The recent airy talk about the Renminbi being made convertible neglects this obsession.

The demented, mouth-frothing Lau we all love comes to the fore with his portrayal of Hong Kong as a city that is being sucked dry by foreign banks, with its local leaders’ apparent approval, leading the Central People’s Government to wash its hands of the place and decree its replacement by Shanghai, where evil whites will not be welcome and only pure, yellow-skinned personnel will staff the financial services industry.  Mainly.  Unless the nasty Gwailo banks give more room for local and national players.  Like HSBC deserting us before the handover and now needing us to come to its rescue.  They need us more than we need them.  So there.  And the last globules of vitriol dribble from his lips.

Even allowing for the possibility that Lau’s organic products are of hallucinogenic rather than nutritious value, there is real, serious hate here.  Did a white person bite him when he was a kid?  Whatever the reason, such a willingness to offend is never normally encountered in our shoe-shining, consensus-adoring, under-the-carpet-sweeping society, and certainly not in the Commission on Strategic Development, with its
Secretariat toiling loyally all day, or in the limp pages of the SCMP.  A breath of fresh air – what an irony it is that someone who should probably be trussed up in a straitjacket and tossed into a padded cell is helping in a small way to keep the rest of us sane!
Tue, 21 Apr
Global Times proudly reports the launching of itself – a new state-owned Mainland newspaper aimed at the millions of people throughout China who feel a burning desire to read about North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s inspection of a hydroelectricity station, the PRC’s magnificent achievements in intellectual property protection and similar excitements, many of them a relaxing day after the stories appeared elsewhere.  In the language of Shakespeare.  And without, of course, all the Sinophobic bias you get at CNN and the BBC.

Sadly, the organ has nothing to say on Hong Kong’s big story today – the disgraceful
impertinence of a court of law towards the son of our most esteemed and gifted businessman.  The case seems straightforward enough.  Richard, Li Ka-shing’s second boy, saw the stock price of his amazing space-age/tech/dotcom/Internet/whizzbang company PCCW fall by 98% over the years, much to the concern of penniless grannies and other little people who were left wondering what had happened to their investment.  To help them out, Richard and his fellow major shareholder are offering to spend US$1.9 billion of their own to buy the small potatoes’ holdings at a very generous premium.  Following which, the big pair would quite rightly reward themselves with a special dividend from the company totaling US$2.3 billion.
Some of the minority shareholders, being elderly and easily confused, failed to see what a magnificent opportunity this was to unburden themselves of a badly performing asset that they had – through their own free choice – unwisely acquired.  To ensure that enough shareholders would vote in favour of the deal, someone thoughtfully arranged to increase their numbers by parceling out small numbers of shares to agents of an insurance company Richard once owned.  It should be noted here that this is perfectly legal in Hong Kong.  We can also add incidentally that Richard is a committed supporter of the democratic process

All right-thinking citizens of the Big Lychee are shocked at the comments coming from the judges, who seem to think it is their duty in life to take sides on behalf of an assortment of the senile and destitute against one of our most promising young captains of industry.  All we need to hear from them is whether the boy Richard and his colleagues broke the law – not their personal opinion on whether some old grandpa has been treated fairly.  Their job is justice, not fairness.

If fairness had a role to play where would we end up?  What is so offensive about this outburst from the (two-thirds non-Chinese) bench is that it completely disregards the very foundations of post-1997 Hong Kong’s business, and indeed political, environment. 

We will never know – can never know – exactly why Li Ka-shing and certain other prominent people are permitted to operate a property cartel that by extension controls much of our domestic economy.  Clearly, their great wealth made them important in the eyes of Beijing back in the days before the handover, so we could say that their riches brought them political privileges from the future sovereign power eager to win their support.  But it is also now true to say that the favour they enjoy among local and national leaderships delivers them opportunities to acquire more wealth.  A virtuous, or something, circle.

The point is that an unwritten and unspoken arrangement appears to exist that guarantees that these particular families receive certain advantages denied the rest of the population.  For example, two companies – one owned by Richard’s father – are legally permitted to bar new entrants from the supermarket business and rig prices between themselves.  In 2000, the Hong Kong Government legally handed Richard an extremely valuable plot of land on which to build luxury apartments from which he would make a very handsome profit.  Although this was done under the guise of a space-age/tech/dotcom/Internet/whizzbang project called Cyberport, no-one with an ounce of brains was fooled.  Under the secret terms of the new order, the people of the Big Lychee owed Richard a certain number of billions of dollars.  The advantages continue with every public infrastructure project, as the cartel members own an extensive network of construction and materials companies.  Given the environmental damage and waste, it would benefit us all if the Government simply transferred cash from the reserves into the families’ bank accounts and skipped all the concrete-laying, but this might be a tad unseemly.

Hong Kong wasn’t ‘fair’ before 1997 and it was not intended to be afterwards.  It is run for the benefit of certain people, all perfectly legally, as the judges are no doubt going to have to concede.  Maybe there will be a full report in tomorrow’s
Global Times.
Wed, 22 Apr
report yesterday said that China’s exciting new newspaper, the Global Times, is expected to lose RMB20 million in its first year.  Flicking through the thing this morning, I find it hard not to notice what appears to be its major source of advertising revenues – a set of on-line dating/mail-order bride sites.
There is a generic, all-purpose site called AsianEuro, represented by what appears to be a sweet-looking Filipina with a flower in her hair and a dash of mestizo about her.  This is presumably aimed at the Western, male, middle-aged, overweight, insecure lecher who cannot tell Asians apart and can’t handle anything too exotic-looking.  There is a Muslim one, featuring a suitably dusky dame complete with headscarf, the cutest chin and, if I am not mistaken, more than a hint of lust in her eyes.  The model advertising the Russian site also appears (plentifully) in the Ukrainian version, presumably owing to dual nationality.  This is the stereotype blonde/buxom/toothy babe that obsesses the sort of adolescent boys who also fantasize about martial arts.  She is unashamedly aimed at the less refined end of the Western, male, middle-aged, gross, repulsive letch market, with the none-too subtle invitation to ‘Find your Russian Beauty Today’ .
The sites offering women from Asian Third-World countries use the same slogan, suggesting that the target audience primarily appreciates the female physical form and is open-minded about such details as potential partners’ personalities, values, education, credit history and so on.  The photos, however, suggest that ladies in our region come in distinct flavours.  The Vietnamese girl – well turned out for a country with a per capita GDP of US$2,500 – looks not merely demure, submissive, undemanding and obedient but unnervingly fragile and vulnerable, which may be to more men’s tastes that we realize.  The Filipina, on the other hand, looks like the real, early middle-age, putting-kids-through-school thing, right down to the stretch marks, for which there may well be a demand among the more practical-minded, level-headed segment of the Western, male, aging, fat, smelly, lecherous misfit market.  The Thai, meanwhile, looks like she can handle life with confidence and ease, never more cheerful than when trimming her husband’s toenails or laughingly teasing him while washing the vomit off his shirt when he stumbles in at 2am.
Beyond the more poverty-stricken parts of Asia, these websites put less emphasis on finding disgusting reject loser gwailos a beauty and more on wholesome, ‘international dating’.

The Hong Kong and Chinese ads both show the dorky-guy-with-nice-girl couples that make people-watching such splendid fun in this part of the world.  And the reason can only be that the service is aimed at local women as much as men.  Spoilt, mollycoddled, hand-held and spoon-fed to ruination by doting grandmothers, Chinese boys mature into pitiful, incapable and awkward specimens of semi-manhood – more or less (I would hate to be accused of over-generalizing).  The girls, left to their own devices as worthless to the family line, learn copious life skills and flourish into gutsy, self-assured, go-getters who trawl the Internet for acceptable mates.  With limited success, in these cases.  The Korean is the unthreatening, simpering bim type, much prized by inadequate Asian males.  And, leaving the best to last, we have… the Japanese woman from Hell.  She would drag you round Disneyland.  She would redecorate the home with Beatrix Potter wallpaper.  She would manage your finances.  She would book trips to weird places without checking with you.  She would blame your blood type for everything.  She would wear little yellow lace-trimmed socks.  Has one single, desperate, lonely man ever clicked that ad?

Thurs, 23 Apr
The heavens shudder as Hong Kong’s independent judiciary declares that a leading billionaire’s son
may not rig a shareholders’ vote in order to screw minority investors.  On the face of it, such a perversion of the natural order cannot stand.  Maybe the case will go to the Court of Final Appeal and thence to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress for one of their famous interpretations.  Something like – “When the framers wrote Article 25, which says that all are equal before the law, their obvious and clear original intent was to exempt children of patriotic cartel owners from any sort of interference or oversight by troublesome foreigners in wigs.” 

Thankfully, the world is not totally collapsing into chaos.  The much-cherished right of Mainland goat milk powder manufacturers to freedom of expression remains as strong as ever, judging by an ad on page 9 in
today’s Standard...
Is it just me, or does the phrase ‘goats are a bioorganic sodium animal, while cows are a calcium animal’ conjure up the same combination of illogic and slight menace as ‘Hong Kong is an economic city not a political city’? 

Otherwise, I cannot help but admire
this ad.  It is the first time for ages I have seen references to ‘the Ming dynasty’, ‘medium chain triglycerides’, ‘menstrual cycle’, ‘whitening complexion’, ‘belching’ and ‘Gandhi’ all appear in one piece of writing.  And the cynicism is so clever.  One member of the Appalachian branch of the Hemlock clan does in fact own a goat farm – selling the creatures to local Muslims for slaughter – and so, unlike most people who see this publicity material, I have actually visited one.  And I know that the animals do not do things that are beautiful to watch.  Perhaps on BBC wildlife documentaries they engage in entrancing, dance-like mating rituals or gracefully climb trees, but in real life they do nothing more aesthetically pleasing than chew plastic bags with a disconcerting sort of sideways grinding motion of the jaws.  Ripple brand’s entire Unique Selling Proposition, as the practitioners of marketing voodoo call it, thus collapses. 

But in a world where a (no doubt ‘Goaty’ Taste) judge can freely ask “What’s the difference between giving people shares to vote and giving people money to vote?” companies that call HK$259 for two cans of milk powder a Special Offer are a breath of sanity.  So I will keep it to myself.
Fri, 24 Apr
The day gets off to a wonderful start in a private room at the Mandarin, where I officiate at a hastily arranged grand breakfast meeting of the South China Association of Millionaire Pranksters (SCAMPs).  The occasion is to honour the admission of our latest member, Alkin Kwong.  Alkin qualified for membership of our august society by pulling off what must be one of the funniest stunts we have witnessed so far this year.

Pretending to be the VP of an organization called the HK Institute of Real Estate Administrators, he approached the
South China Morning Post’s Property section with an offer to pen a worthy-sounding column on the ideal location of immigration facilities on the Hong Kong-Zhuhai bridge. 

No-one can blame the
SCMP for accepting a proposal of free, space-filling blather extolling the wonders of the bloated white elephant project.  But what a shock to see that they actually ran the article last Wednesday, apparently not noticing that it was too ludicrous an example of Verbo-Prolix-Pseudo-Pompo-‘Goaty Taste’-Flatulence Syndrome to possibly be true. 

The column was a masterpiece of vacuousness that required real skill and talent to create, and puts the drafters of the Chief Executive’s Policy Address to shame.  Alkin included the word ‘synergise’ three times – that’s once every 250 words – and even managed to use ‘holistically’ twice.  To cap it all, the little genius got my favourite phrase, ‘heart-warming’, in there too!

What can we say, except “Well done Alkin!” who was accompanied – holistically and exponentially – at the swearing-in ceremony by his proud wife Kirginia, and their delightfully synergistic children, Kictor, Makis and Kicky.
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