Hemlock's Diary
1-7 Apr 2007
Mon, 2 Apr
The mood on the Mid-Levels Escalator this morning is one of almost uncontainable excitement, as Hong Kong’s loyal and patriotic citizens glide into the final three months before the 10th anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to the glorious motherland.  The South China Morning Post starts the celebrations with the first in a 90-day series of double-page features, including Whatever happened to that Tung fellow? Followed by SARS – what was all the fuss about? and From Cyberport to Krispy Kreme – birth of a new metropolis.  And an exclusive interview in which a very grumpy old man who uses a lot of black hair dye says, “Any more trouble from you lot in the next 10 years and we give you back to the British.”
To symbolize our continued enjoyment of free speech, we will have a photo of Long Hair and his angry grassroots activists demanding that the Government grant public housing tenants eternal life.  To recognize our officials’ unwavering commitment to cleaning up the environment, we will get the unexpurgated text of Donald Tsang’s classic speech, Hong Kong – city of air that’s almost as pure as the South Pole’s, though not quite.  And the paper will pay tribute to our highly professional and dedicated civil service by featuring the front cover of a document – which I saw with my own eyes in an Administrative Officer’s apartment this weekend – called The Report of the Standing Committee on Company Law Reform on the Recommendations of a Consultancy Report of the Review of the Hong Kong Companies Ordinance.  (“That title’s nowhere near long enough,” I said, “it needs adjectives – like, ‘disturbing’, ‘indefatigable’ and ‘throbbing’.”  At which point Winky ‘I know what an adjective is’ Ip showed me the door.)  All this and dolphin carcasses, excrement-covered meat cleavers, panic buying of face masks, public consultation exercises that finish before anyone hears about them, endless conferences on Threats and Opportunities and Cooperation and Marginalization and Partnership in the Pan Pearl River Delta, and a plate of civet cat in black bean sauce on the side.  Three months of action-packed nostalgia await.

Tue, 3 Apr
The Legislative Council’s Financial Affairs Panel reels in shock on learning that banks do not locate branches in places where people have no money.  Tin Shui Wai North, with a population of 72,000, has a grand total of
two HSBC ATMs and three incompatible Jetco ones.  The ‘four shuns’ area in Kwun Tong has one bank branch per 45,000 residents, while Wanchai has one per 1,400.  Next week, they will investigate why impoverished public housing estates have no Armani outlets or Rolls-Royce dealerships.

What is more,
we are told, the HK$50 annual charge for an ATM card is more than some of these people can bear.  Furthermore, many of them are elderly, and therefore totally incapable of using any sort of electronic equipment, and they would lose their card or forget their PIN number anyway.  True, they can withdraw cash from supermarkets, but they don’t know about that system, and then you have that charge problem again.  So these disadvantaged folk have to trudge for miles and miles to get to the nearest manned bank branch, where they hand over their passbooks, expect the teller to fill in the forms for them (because they can’t do that either) and collect the HK$7.50 they will be living on that day.

Years of mollycoddling by patronizing, empire-building bureaucrats have reduced poorer public housing tenants to incapable, child-like wards of the state, helplessly waiting to be spoonfed.  The rest of the community subsidizes their accommodation and their health care, and now commercial banks are expected to perform the role of welfare agency or charity by (probably, in effect) transferring wealth from their Wanchai customers through higher charges at some stage to pay for uneconomic facilities for the whining supplicants with their begging bowls up in the New Territories.  In the interests of ‘social harmony’, the Government will twist a few arms and mutter something about corporate social responsibility.  So much easier than sorting out the causes of problems.  The next band-aid will be a minimum wage.  Why move to a place you can afford to live in when you get all this, plus legal off-course betting, nice clean fences next to roads to hang laundry on, and lots of cardboard?

Not in a good mood today.
Wed, 4 Apr
A bowl of chicken congee, with some peanuts stirred in.  A plateful of fried noodles with bean sprouts and a generous dab of chili sauce.  A little basket of prawn dumplings, and some soy to dip them in.  A cup of steaming plain black coffee with no sugar.  A glass of the Hong Kong Water Supplies Department’s finest H
2O.  What else do I need to make my breakfast complete?  Why, of course, full details about the damage inflicted on Stanley Ho’s rectum wall and everything I could possibly want to know about the constipation that led to it, courtesy of his ever-informative third and fourth wives.  Rather than feeding prurient media appetites, these two ladies should be serving their ageing husband barley-laden stews, fresh fruit salad and plenty of greens at least several times a week to keep him regular.  Another in a long, long list that would reach to the moon and back of reasons not to marry.

The Secretary for Constitutional Affairs, the weasel-like Stephen Lam, effectively invites the population of Hong Kong to shove universal suffrage up into the snug confines of their own rectum walls in his
latest move to string the city along for decades and decades without actually implementing any real political reform.  Not that Lam himself has any influence over this – he is a glorified delivery boy bearing a message that cannot be spoken.  Up to 10 years ago, we were told by Beijing officials that Hong Kong would be free to make its own constitutional arrangements as it wished from 2007.  Then, in 2004, Beijing changed its mind and said there could be no meaningful change at that time.  So everyone started thinking along the lines of 2012.  Now we are being told nothing’s going to happen then either. Yes, this is a pattern, and if the glorious motherland’s leadership was honest enough to spell out that this is just the start, we could at least disband Lam’s pointless department and save a bit of money.  Maybe buy Stanley Ho some Ex-Lax.

A five-day weekend approaches, owing to one of those mysterious confluences of Buddhist-Taoist and Christian festivals that prove that there is a God and He wants Hong Kong to be happy.  I may be in Shenzhen for a few days.  Or I will have the time to contemplate a question that is now nagging me incessantly – just how, exactly, do the Thais treat constipation?

Thurs, 5 April
Yum cha with Polly the lipstick lesbian, her lifelong companion Alice B, wild American friend Odell, his Thai wife Mee and some people I’d never met before – Alice B’s sister Salami, her British husband Terrence and their two kids, aged six and nine.  The death of Nina Wang-pronounced-Wong at 69 has everyone talking, or at least asking the question, “Who’s getting her US$4 billion fortune and did she leave me anything?” 

The seating arrangements leaving me with little choice, I have a conversation with Terrence, who is able to enlighten me about the exact procedure poor Stanley Ho was undergoing in the Land of Smiles to relieve his blockage.  “Oh, that’d be the old Thai constipation spoons,” he assures me.  He pulls out a glossy brochure and gives me a long spiel about his fascinating job as regional distribution manager for colonic irrigation products.  “Here they are,” he points to a picture, “HJ brand – they come in different sizes to fit the majority of people in different stages of treatment.  You warm them up to body temperature first to ensure puckering is reduced to a minimum.  Only the finest grade of surgical steel is used!  Can I interest you, perhaps?  Swear by them, myself.”

The other strange thing about Terrence is that he and his half-Asian boy and girl have moved their bowls, chopsticks and tea to one side and are calmly watching the rest of us shovel away the curried squid, pork buns and fried turnip cake.  I ask him if they want anything.  “Good lord, no,” he replies with a grin, turning to the kids.  “We don’t eat Chinese food do we, chaps?”  Nooooo, comes the reply. 

“Mother-in-law was a bit funny about it at first,” Terrence goes on, “but the old dragon knows the score now.”  He pauses for a few seconds.  “Still won’t buy any of our spoons, though.”