Hemlock's Diary
27 Jan-2 Feb 2008
Mon, 28 Jan
From introducing national security laws, to proposing dreamy hi-tech economic planning, to running for the Legislative Council, Regina Ip’s career over the last few years has sadly been blighted by what the hard-hearted might refer to as miserable failure.  Until today – when Hong Kong’s very own iron butterfly reveals herself in her
South China Morning Post column to have hidden talents as a cinema critic.  Ang Lee’s much-discussed Lust, Caution, she notes, has been a flop in the US, and deservedly so.
The more the masses chatter about a movie, the less likely I am to have seen it.  I am virtually the only person in the world not to have seen Titanic.  I never saw The Sound of Music, though I was taken to see Mary Poppins at a very young age, so didn’t have a totally Julie Andrews-free upbringing.  I once saw a few minutes of Gone With The Wind on video, but it was at a luxury teak mansion in the depths of a rubber plantation near Thailand’s border with Cambodia, and my attention wandered.  On the other hand, I have seen Eraserhead, Peeping Tom, Jackie Brown, Aces Go Places and many others probably more interesting than Titanic.  The point, anyway, is that after years of having her opinion treated as flawed, questionable or plain worthless, Regina is back in the running as someone whose views we can trust, and I will take her word for it on Lust, Caution.
The Big Lychee’s crisis du jour concerns pop music.  On the one hand, stars – including one claiming to have the name Beyonce – are not gracing our city with their presence, performing instead across the Pearl River Delta in Macau, where the casino complexes offer higher fees and bigger venues.  On the other hand, one of these esteemed artistes’ predecessors from the 1970s, Gary Glitter, has announced his intention to come to Hong Kong after being released from a Vietnamese prison where he is serving time on a child sex conviction.  Asia’s World City still has strong attractions, it seems.  Who needs Beyonce (on whom I will defer to Regina’s eagerly awaited judgement) when we can say we have no sex offenders’ register and you can get English food?
Tue, 29 Jan
Elegant chicken congee, the buxom surroundings of the Foreign Correspondents Club, and the company of succulent Administrative Officer Winky Ip – or something like that.  What better way is there to start a slightly confused day?  I kick the morning off with a list.

“So not only do we have rule of law, freedom of speech, a clean bureaucracy…” I lean over to inspect my favourite, and as it turns out, perfectly manicured and pristine, Civil Servant’s fingernails  “…low taxes, world-class infrastructure, a low crime rate, educated workforce and hardly any fierce wild animals.  We can also offer respect for pedophiles’ privacy, plus all the Marmite, Weetabix, spotty dicks and liquorice allsorts you can eat.”

“I’m not entirely sure this Mr Glitter is going to be very welcome here.”  

“Would he qualify under the Amazingly Rich Investor Quality Migrants Admission Scheme, or the Amazingly Rich Talented Quality Migrants Scheme?” 

This is an important question.  The
former is tailored to meet the needs of Indonesian Chinese and other hard-working folk who are willing to help the Hong Kong economy by handing over a briefcase full of cash (no questions asked) and buying a luxury apartment in exchange for a visa in case they need to leave home at short notice.  The latter is aimed at outstanding artists, scientists and Nobel and Olympic prize winners whose presence here would lend the Big Lychee the sort of glamorous, cultured or urbane ambience more often associated with Monte Carlo, Rome or Cambridge, Mass.  In Gary Glitter’s case, either could apply.  He has the sleazy, law-bending, on-the-run Southeast Asian baggage, but is also the composer of memorable music and accompanying libretti – ‘Do you wanna touch? Yeah!/Do you wanna touch? Yeah!/Do you wanna touch me there? Yeah!’

I hum a few bars of one of the maestro’s greatest hits.

“Remember that?” I ask.  Winky goes into a sort of trance.  She is, I can tell, having a flashback to her early teens – pinups of pop stars line the bedroom wall, dayglo hot pants, flared jeans and striped tank tops are strewn all over the floor, and
Do You Wanna Be In My Gang plays at 45 rpm on a little record player.  She snaps out of it with a shudder. 

“No.  He would not be…”  she struggles to recall the official phrase. “...conducive to the public interest.”
Wed, 30 Jan
“The hills are alive…!”  Some funny looks this morning as I burst into song on the Mid-Levels Escalator.  But my fellow commuters would understand if they knew.  I now realize what all the fuss was about.  After several decades, a yawning chasm in my life experience has been filled.  I can finally say that I have seen
The Sound of Musiccourtesy of YouTube.  I will have more respect for the masses’ tastes in future. 

Is it not the epitome of serendipity that my existence becomes complete in this way at the very same time I work out – all on my own, with no help from bespectacled, oily haired techie types – how to convert YouTube soundtracks into MP3 files, by using
flv2mp3?  Every six-year-old probably knows this already, and the squinty, software-writing, digital literati would probably chortle with geekish mirth and wonder what took me so long, or ask, in Klingon, why I am not using a far superior method.  All I know is, it works.
After sitting down at my desk on the top floor of S-Meg Tower for 10 minutes, I resolve to strike a blow for the forces of ordinary, decent people who want technology to serve them, not vice-versa.  I walk out of the gwailo’s lair, towards the reception area near the elevators.  Passing hunter-killer secretary Ms Fang’s desk, I grab a fistful of tissue paper from a Hello Kitty box and head into the mailroom where I find what I am looking for.  Holding the tissue firmly to avoid getting grease, wax or other unpleasant excretions on my fingers, I grasp the spotty IT systems administrator by the ear and drag him back across Private Office into my room, where I position him in front of my PC monitor.  After staring at it for a few seconds, he mumbles something about how my mailbox is full.

“Oh really!” I reply.  “I would never have guessed.  All I know is that you have sent me hundreds of emails overnight telling me my mailbox is full.  Maybe if you send me another five hundred or so, the message might sink in.”  This prompts a well-intentioned, if slightly Neanderthal, nod.  “Now,” I continue, “what could be causing my mailbox to be full?”  Before he can battle through the irony and rhetorical questions and come up with an answer, I share with him the full benefit of my opinion. 

“In Perpetual Opulence Mansions, if the security guard sees my mailbox is getting full, he will mention it to me.  He might store my new mail in his desk for a while, if it really got crammed, before he could alert me to the problem.  He would not put messages into the box telling me that it was full, and then go on stuffing more and more into it all night until the thing is bursting at the seams.  Maybe it’s a Nepalese thing, I don’t know.  No – I don’t think I would do it either, now I think about it.”  I get a mumble about how I need to delete some of my emails. 

“Excellent idea!” I tell him.  “I knew there was something I would have to do after receiving several thousand emails telling me, in effect, that I had received several thousand emails.  Well done!”

In despair, I give up trying to get my essential point across and send him away happy, with a friendly slap on the back.  And I start deleting junk from my mailbox.  And then I find a series of emails received late yesterday afternoon with gargantuan multi-megabyte zipped files attached – soundofmusic1, soundofmusic2, soundofmusic3 and soundofmusic4.
Thurs, 31 Jan
After 15 years’ marriage, James To’s wife Cherry is leaving him for a taxi driver.  For most women, this would be a step down in the world. Cabbies are lucky to earn in a day what many middle-class types get in an hour.  And that can be wiped out by one ticket from a callous traffic cop.  Furthermore, there is the ever-present danger of picking up a passenger like my wild American friend Odell and facing the triple threat of back-seat vomit, garbled directions apparently in an extinct Eskimo dialect and a brutal burst of Irritable Gwailo Syndrome.  So we imagine that Cherry, at best, may be going through some sudden, Lady Chatterley-style urge for a bit of ‘rough’, as women entering middle age seem to have (oblivious, in my experience, to the bruises and sprains they leave in their wake).

But then we remember – James To is a Democratic Party legislator.  There was a time when children, on being asked what they wanted to do when they grew up, would proudly announce that their dream was to win a seat in the Legislative Council as one of Martin Lee’s band of valiant, liberty-or-death, righteous chosen ones.  But over the years, the attraction of this calling has declined, to the extent that doing the night shift at 7-Eleven, day-trading covered warrants or foraging for wild berries would all seem more glamorous, not to say worthwhile.  So for Cherry, a taxi driver must be
quite a catch.
I AM not sure how to make money out of it, but I have perfected a guaranteed way to provoke someone into lengthy peals of deep laughter so loud that they can be heard for miles around.  First take one resident of Macau.  Second, tell them how uncanny it is that, in a city smaller than Shatin, a crook like Public Works Secretary Ao Man-long can take US$100 million in bribes without his immediate superior, Chief Executive Edmund Ho, knowing anything about it.  Third, stand back and plug ears.

Fri, 1 Feb
The Big Lychee managed a grand total of
18 homicides in 2007, making yet another mockery of its claims to be a world-class city.  New York, with around the same 7 million population, thinks it is noteworthy to have just under 500 murders in the same period, while similarly sized London is late reporting its statistics because the person who compiles them was stabbed to death by a drunk 12-year-old. 

A mid-morning break in the Mandarin Coffee Shop with Morris, the greatest living Scotsman in the Hong Kong Police, proves most enlightening.  Having eradicated violent crime, give or take the occasional child defenestration in distant public housing estates, Hong Kong now faces an important choice about law enforcement.  “One thing we could do,” he tells me, “is to cut the size of the force.  Oh aye, we’re so overmanned you wouldn’t believe.  Then I guess, pass the savings back to the taxpayer.”  So loudly do we roll on the floor with laughter at this deranged idea that a waitress has to come and tell us off.  After we recover ourselves, Morris explains what will really be happening.  From now on, it seems, the valiant boys and girls in blue will try to stamp out activities that are not so much criminal as slightly eyebrow-raising. 

The cops’ problem is made all the more critical by the fact that Mainlanders are no longer highly suspicious and undesirable menaces to society but the greatly valued lifeblood of our extremely important tourism industry.  So millions of people who could be stopped for an ID check must now be allowed to pass unmolested, leaving Morris’s men frustrated and even more underemployed.  They stop and search South Asian males under the Swarthiness (Miscellaneous Provisions) Ordinance, “but there’s jus’ nae enough to go roond.”

This is why Hong Kong’s finest so
successfully defended the city from the unbelievably dangerous T-shirt threat with their mass raid last year on the GOD chain of clothing stores.  And now, they are bravely battling to wipe out the greatest remaining hazard to civilization and decency – inadequate spotty Photoshop geeks spreading fake porn photos of Canto-bim celebrities on the Internet.  What dread peril, I ask Morris, will our heroic constabulary wage war against next?  He looks out of the window over Statue Square for a few seconds, then briefly glances at the menu on our table before leaning towards me.

“Between you and me,” he says, “Filipino maids gathering in groups of more than two.  Taxi drivers picking their noses in public.  And cucumber sandwiches.”
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