Hemlock's Diary
25 Nov-1 Dec 2007
Sun, 25 Nov
Why do I start the day walking in the street frantically trying to stop the legs of my silk pyjamas unrolling below the hems of my shorts?  The answer is that staying in my bedwear until noon is sometimes an important part of my Sunday, but I have to quickly zip out and get a newspaper because some delinquent at the South China Morning Post has neglected to update the website with today’s edition.   Looking on the bright side, this gives me the chance to look at their magazine to see if it has become as interesting as it should have under its new editor Daniel Jeffreys, whose highly creative reporting in previous positions has won the attention of The Guardian, The Financial Times, Village Voice and New York

To my disappointment, the
Post Magazine is the same as ever – fashion, food and furniture.  However, by holding it casually over my thighs, it does help conceal the glossy crimson peeking out of my khaki cotton shorts when a couple I sometimes nod good morning to join me in the elevator back at Perpetual Opulence Mansions.  With one week to go before the Election of the Century, I know they have a question for me.

“Should we toss a coin?”  The man is serious.  I shrug in such a way as to express sympathy but mild disapproval of the idea.  His wife pipes up.  “Or should we just not bother?”  Again, I am lost for words.  Not a day goes by when I am not asked who Hong Kong Island residents should vote for in next Sunday’s exciting Legislative Council by-election.  Twice yesterday on the Mid-Levels Escalator, people offered me their poll cards.  “You decide for me,” they pleaded, “otherwise I’ll just send the amah.” 

So, as a public service, I resolve to spend the next few days undergoing a process of elimination, whittling down the eight candidates until one remains – the individual who deserves to win on the grounds of their declared platform and known qualities.  I start today by weeding out (but, out of consideration for their feelings, not naming) four unknowns who appear to be clueless misfits, uninvited cranks, aimless adventurers or shysters using the hustings to promote their commercial interests.  This leaves four apparently serious contenders.
IT’S STILL not even December, and, to the shock and disgust of all right-thinking people, there are already scumbags out there using Christmas to sell things!

Mon, 26 Nov
The Invasion of the Knee-Length Boots, which started last week, has just about come to its inevitable conclusion, with 93.9% of all secretaries, accounts clerks, assistant marketing managers and HR floozies in Central wrapping their lower legs in delectable, shiny black leather.   A sure sign that winter is nigh.  A few of the more bohemian female members of the workforce are even sporting glossy brown.  I could watch all day, but duty calls.

Two news stories catch my eye for offering the opportunity to contrive an extremely tenuous and tortured link.  In Kuala Lumpur, ethnic Indians try to
march on the British High Commission in support of an impressively ambitious campaign to wring a modest US$4 trillion from the former colonial power on both sides of the Bay of Bengal.  The campaign implies that the descendents of indentured labourers sent to work in Malaysia’s rubber plantations would have been better off today if their landless forebears had stayed in their impoverished Tamil homelands, which is debatable.  In fact, the demonstration is aimed squarely at the Malay-supremacist regime that denies opportunities to its darker or yellower citizens on the grounds that its own indigenous people are too pathetic to make it on a level playing field.  Some 10,000 Indians turned up to this event, leaving over 2 million more to come next time.  The official line is ‘You will probably not get your US$4 trillion’

In Hong Kong, our ethnic Indians are on average richer than the natives.  Our equivalent to Malaysia’s underdogs are the inhabitants of Tin Shui Wai, who also went
on the march yesterday.  No tear gas was fired and no-one got clubbed.  The protestors demand that the Government address their economic disadvantages through means that are bureaucratic and administrative and focus on the redistribution of wealth rather than exploit market forces or supply-side stimuli – and soon.  Our officials are adamant that they tackle the problem with measures that are bureaucratic and administrative and focus on the redistribution of wealth rather than exploit market forces or supply-side stimuli – and medium-term.  As in KL, we have not seen the last of this conflict.

SIX DAYS to go before the Election of the Century, and I see that my shortlist of four ‘serious’ candidates is in fact no such thing.  There are three apparently worthwhile contestants plus one crank everyone has heard of.  To reduce this quartet to a more manageable trio, I shall eject the token wacko – Ho Loy.
Isn’t it cruel to toss this single mother aside?  Fear not.  We might still have one left.  Ho, the heritage hyperactivist convicted of criminal damage after trying to protect the old Star Ferry Pier from the wreckers a year ago, is in danger of over-exposure.  She lost a District Council election just last week, and now she’s back for more.  She has broken the cardinal sin of openly wanting and enjoying attention, rather than feigning reluctance.  And she is compounding the error by relying on the fact that she is averagely photogenic in a crowd of toads. 

We will send her off to find a late-19th Century, colonial, arabesque-gothic sanctuary for distressed water buffalo to rescue from developers.  That leaves three contenders.

Tue, 27 Nov
Breathlessly gripping his cup of steaming hot, brown, water-flavoured liquid, wild American friend Odell sits outside the IFC Mall branch of Pacific Coffee and leers at the passing receptionists, paralegals and media relations officers.  “Wow – have you noticed how all these girls have suddenly started wearing boots!” 

I roll up my copy of the
Financial Times and give him a good slap across the face.  “You’re uncivilized,” I tell him.  “Immature.  They’re women, not objects.  Struggling up the greasy pole towards the glass ceiling.  I’m more concerned about the world economy, personally.”

He starts to tell me about Brian, the manager of the venerable Wanchai pub The Gwailo’s Demise.  Anticipating thousands of additional customers over the weekend from the Kitty Hawk battle group, the bar had ordered 100 cases of Budweiser, 50 cases of Power Master malt liquor, four dozen two-litre bottles of chocolate soda and 10 bushels of Baco-Bits.  They also dug out the 20 cartons of Twinkies still left from a vast supply originally ordered in 1967.  They were all ready to rake in the dollars – at the rate of five Hong Kong per greenback – as they always do when the US Navy hits town.  Then, for no apparent reason, right at the last minute, the Chinese Government denied the fleet entry to what is generally considered the American sailors’ favourite port of call in the region.  Even weirder, after the ships turned away, the word came from Beijing that they would after all be allowed to drop anchor here, for ‘humanitarian’ reasons.  Too late.

“Commie rats!” Odell concludes.  “Turning our boys away at Thanksgiving.  Their families were here!  What the fuck are they playing at?”

He ponders the possible explanations, echoing the Western commentators who have used their imaginations to the full to divine what the wily, inscrutable Celestials are plotting.  Whatever it is, it is a carefully thought-out step in a much bigger and more elaborate, finely crafted strategy.  Maybe it was in retaliation for President George W Bush’s meeting with the Dalai Lama.  Maybe it’s because the People’s Liberation Army was conducting sensitive military exercises nearby.  Maybe it’s a warning to uphold ‘One China’ and refrain from giving moral support to Taiwanese splittists.  Or part of
a sinister scheme involving toys glued together with a date-rape drug

I am not convinced.  What is happening here?  Beijing reverses a longstanding policy without warning, for no clear reason, to everyone’s surprise.  Then, equally suddenly, and equally mysteriously, they backtrack.  This has happened before, I tell my shallow, lecherous ex-Mormon friend.  The Great 2004 Patriotism Debate in Hong Kong.  The recent on again-off again ‘through train’ for Mainlanders wanting to invest in the Hong Kong market.  “Whenever that happens,” I explain, “It’s because of a power struggle going on up there.  They don’t have a grand plan.  They’re making it up as they go along – clueless and bickering.” 

Or maybe that’s what they
want us to think.  In which case, they deserve an Oscar as well as global hegemony.

FIVE DAYS to go before the Election of the Century, and the agonizing question
du jour is – which of the remaining three candidates do we turf out?  There is no room for sentiment or emotion here.  There comes a stage when a much-loved item of clothing or piece of furniture is faded and beyond repair, and we have no choice but to leave it out with a note asking the Filipino elves to dispose of it.  It may end up as a highly prized possession in a straw hut on a sugar plantation back home, or donated to one of the local elderly women who, in order to eat, peddle such scrap for a few bucks to local recycling merchants.  We don’t miss the article in question as much as we thought – in fact we soon forget it was ever there.  And, for the purposes of this exercise, this is to be the tragic fate of Anson Chan.  She embraced the pro-democracy cause far too late in the day to be remotely convincing.  As with Ho Loy’s attention-seeking, there is nothing wrong with opportunism in itself but you mustn’t appear to be doing it.  With Dame Conscience, it’s transparent – she doesn’t even seem aware of the need to hide it.
Her passionless, platitudinous, off-the-shelf platform says it all.  “Whatever will look sort of ‘pro-democracy’ and get votes,” she snapped to an aide, “chuck it in.”  Two left.

Wed, 28 Nov
Four days to go before the Election of the Century, and I have only two possible candidates left to pronounce fittest for office.  One must be discarded, but which?  As it happens, one of the pair joins the previous two rejects in having made an obvious
faux pas.  As with Ho Loy’s attention-seeking and Anson Chan’s opportunism, there is nothing wrong with wanting power – how dull would the world be with no megalomaniacs?  But, again, you mustn’t make it too obvious.  Openly drooling with lust for high office is not cool.  It is even less acceptable in someone who has shown themselves to be not wholly up to the job.  Making a mountain in both substance and style out of what could have been a medium-sized hillock, then arrogantly trying to force it on everyone else until the whole mess blows up in your face and costs the boss his job does not look good on your track record.  What is more, the author of The Great Article 23 Catastrophe shows little sign of sincere remorse, suggesting that she still doesn’t Get It.  So it is our sad duty to fix the broomhead firmly to the handle and sweep Regina Ip off the field of contenders who might deserve to win the election.
Her platform reads, “I’m true to myself.”  That, I suspect, is the problem.  So we are left with a lucky winner!
Thurs, 29 Nov
Hong Kong’s noble Audit Commission investigates the publicly funded waste of space known as the Tourism Board and, to no-one’s great surprise, finds it to be inhabited by undisciplined, self-indulgent,
extravagant wastrels gleefully chucking our hard-earned cash down the toilet.  But the true scandal of this mollycoddled little empire – the Liberal Party at play – goes beyond above-market salaries, lavish medical coverage for its boss, unauthorized business trips and alcohol bills that the USS Kitty Hawk’s entire crew would find hard to run up were they allowed ashore.

If other pointless semi-public-sector institutions, like the Trade Development Council and the Productivity Council, were shut down today, no-one would notice.  The ‘TB’, however, is not merely useless – it is a malicious organization actively dedicated to making the Big Lychee into a nastier, pricier, dirtier and more crowded place for its long-suffering residents.  Every tour bus spewing out exhaust fumes and clogging up the streets is, to the floozies of the Tourism Board, a sign of success.  Every store selling functional goods and services to local people that is shut down and replaced by yet another outlet for skin-whitening cream prompts them to dance with joy at the excellence of their work.  Their ideal city comprises a nationalized Disneyland, a lethal cable car system, fake junks in the harbour, ugly purple signposts pointing the way to previously unheard-of ‘Antiques’ or ‘Dried Seafood’ Streets, an oh-so desperately needed cruise terminal and sprawling concrete ‘attractions’ from Stanley waterfront to the hills of Lantau.  Can anything save us from this malevolent, let alone profligate, cabal?  Perhaps...
THREE DAYS to go before the Election of the Century, and the only candidate fit to take the seat in Legco stands before us.  All we know about this individual is what appears in the campaign literature.  It could be that a history of drug-dealing, burglaries, Satanism, trafficking in fake Burberry apparel and stock price manipulation is being hidden from us.  But being charitable, let us assume that this is not the case.
Cecilia Ling Wai-wan’s platform mentions a free market, limited Government intervention in the economy, (admittedly vague) improvements to the business environment, less welfare dependency, no minimum wage and better care for the elderly poor.  Duplicitous members of the Liberal Party have on occasions been known to proclaim their love of such high-minded principles, even though they are in fact devoted to the protection of cartels, the preservation of market distortions, the suppression of competition, the grabbing of state-funded free lunches and total disdain for the well-being of their fellow human beings.  But since the Liberals are supporting Regina, we shall take Cecilia at her word and judge her to be the only candidate with an actual philosophy and an understanding of economics.  Our only hope for a lawmaker who demands a rigorous cost-benefit analysis of the mass-tourism influx!

Ming Pao opinion poll three weeks ago gave her an approval rating of 0.43% – the lowest of the eight contenders.
Fri, 30 Nov
Gliding down the Mid-Levels Escalator this morning, members of Hong Kong’s hardworking middle class find their gentle commute rudely disrupted by a commotion some way ahead of them.  “Alright, alright!” someone screams.  “I’ll vote for you, you old hag – just leave me alone!”  We strain our necks to see what, and where, the trouble is.  And, more to the point – who.  Someone whispers that they spy a finely coiffeured bouffant bobbing up and down in the crowd beyond, so it must be Anson Chan doing her overbearing granny act on some hapless innocent elector.  Someone else says no, they think they saw a flash of jet-black luxuriance apparently headbutting some ballot-wielding citizen into submission as only Regina Ip knows how.  Like James Bond tied to a conveyor belt with a circular saw at the end, we are trundling towards our doom.  And... Regina it is, bowing to each specimen of bourgeois perfection as it passes.  She avoids making eye contact, much to the relief of those of us who have met her before and dread being recognized.  Imagine the looks from my fellow commuters!  I would leap from the overhead walkway into the path of a 10-ton truck in humiliation.

Regina is a former bossy civil servant who wants to prove to Beijing that the citizens of Hong Kong like her – at least in the same, anyone-but-Tung, sort of way they like Chief Executive Donald Tsang.  So they really ought to give her the job in 2012.  Anson is a former bossy civil servant who wants to prove to Beijing that the citizens of Hong Kong really,
really like her – and not just in the same, anyone-but-Tung, sort of way they like Chief Executive Donald Tsang.  So she should get the job.  The latter is being distinctly more naively hopeful than the former in this, but she knows that the idea of Sir Bow-Tie being CE was just as laughable once, and what is there to lose?  Donald, meanwhile, is pushing his favourite sidekick, former more-fawning-than-bossy civil servant John Tsang as his replacement.  Whatever happens, the message seems to be – mere mortals not trained by the British as bureaucrats need not apply.  This is called being masters of our own house.  I shudder to think what the alternative might be.
THE USS Kitty Hawk confusion is becoming so complex that I need a graphic representation of the saga to get my head around it.  I think this makes it all much clearer…
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