Hemlock's Diary
1-7 July 2007
Mon, 2 July
I have to stay home and iron the cat that afternoon.  It’ll rain.  I might bump into Anson Chan.  The turnout is smaller every year and it’s getting embarrassing.  The police are making everyone walk the entire route in a two-foot wide lane and allowing only 30 minutes to get to Central.  My reasons for not going to yesterday’s pro-democracy march made little impression on Polly the lipstick lesbian, who was press-ganging people into attending.  Even diarrhea – the ultimate refuge of a scoundrel determined to shirk – failed to move her.  As it happened, a genuine excuse presented itself in the form of two members of the Hong Kong Association of Gwailos Married to Southeast Asian Women of Humble Origins, Terry and Sam.  I bumped into them in Admiralty, and they told me they were going to see one of their number, Rod, who has fallen upon hard times.  I would normally claim the need to go on a demo or a bad case of diarrhea, but what they told me about Rod’s circumstances was sufficiently appalling to leave me with no choice.  This I had to see.

In a grotty area of North Point – and that’s grotty indeed – we tried phoning to make sure he was in.  The line was dead.  “Has been for weeks,” according to Sam.  After buying some basic groceries like milk and bread at a 7-Eleven, we pushed open a rusty door leading into the barely lit and mouldy smelling interior of a soot-stained tenement.  We climbed one flight of stairs, then another, then another, passing burnt-out joss sticks, doorbells hanging from wire and boxes of garbage.  By the time we got to the sixth floor we were dripping and sticky. 

Rod’s Filipino girlfriend Lilibeth answered the door, looking like she hadn’t slept or eaten for days.  She nodded us into a small room with one small window.  The scene was as bad as it sounded.  With no air conditioning or ventilation, the place was stifling, with an unavoidable and unpleasant blend of bitter and sweet aromas filling the air.  A single 60-watt bulb hanging from the flaking ceiling added a yellowish tinge to the gloom.  The bare tiled floor was strewn with old beer cans, cigarette packs, lighters, laundry, half-empty lunch boxes and a few creased, blackened strips of tinfoil.  There was nowhere to sit.  On the bed in the corner lay Rod, flat out on his back, dead to the world, thin and wrinkled.  He had been asleep since yesterday, Lilibeth said.  No, she didn’t expect him to wake soon.  She squatted on a mattress across the room and fanned their four-month-old baby, which seemed oblivious to the heat and the
shabu fumes – and everything.  As we awkwardly withdrew, I picked up and pocketed an unpaid electricity bill.  Ten years ago, Rod was a trusted and well-paid assistant to a Scottish builder, fixing up expatriates’ apartments and living in artisanal comfort on Lamma.  But as we are always being reminded, the gap between rich and poor has widened since the handover.
Tue, 3 July
An early morning stroll round Chater Square takes me past the Legislative Council building, where a glamorous Legco assistant gives me a friendly wave.  It is Edam – a former marketing floozy at S-Meg Holdings who now works for a lawmaker who is, not coincidentally, a friend of the Big Boss.  I ask her about the stack of papers she is clutching, and she gives me a sneak preview of a motion that will be introduced next week by the former head of the Democratic Alliance for the Blah Blah of Hong Kong.  She wonders what it means.  I read through it carefully…
I read it through again, very deliberately.  “This calls for a rigorous syntactic analysis,” I tell Edam.  After thinking for a few seconds, I lift the sheet up and examine it word by word, line by line for a third time, and to hell with the fact that I am moving my lips as I go.  Weed out a tautology.  Charitably ignore a basic non-sequitur.  Disregard the verbiage.  “What he’s saying,” I triumphantly announce, “is that the Government should set up something called a ‘cooperation mechanism’, and um…”  Edam looks at me doubtfully.  “And, whatever it is, it must be permanent and authoritative.  And it must cover more areas and levels than… than… something!”  I give the young aide a reassuring grin.  I am on top of the situation.  “And it will undertake anything important – but not unimportant, OK? – to do with cooperative development.”

I hand the paper back to her and glance at my watch.  “So now all you need to do is find out what ‘cooperative development’ is!”  And off I go, good deed for the day done.

Wed, 4 July
Of all the oozing, slimy life forms found clinging to certain lumps of granite sticking out of the South China Sea, few specimens are more odious than the aspiring public figure wanting a social superior to put in a good word for him so he will be made a Justice of the Peace.  Apart, of course, from the establishment wannabe’s father, pulling strings, shining shoes and getting in people’s faces so his precious offspring can have the letters ‘JP’ after his name, like so many extremely important members of our glamorous elite.  I am amazed they don’t hand out a radiator badge for JPs to stick on the front of their Mercedes, next to the Jockey Club, HK Medical Association or Legislative Council emblems.  A little thing that takes the maid just a minute to polish first thing every morning – but such big face! 
The latest list of names to be granted this peculiar quasi-honour includes the usual array of Esthers, Rebeccas, Lawrences and Edgars of whom we have never heard.  Upright citizens dedicated to serving the community, whether it likes it or not.  And there is a smattering of the more or less famous, including Tsang Tak-sing – Yok-sing’s brother.  He was imprisoned in the late 1960s for supporting a violent, anti-colonial communist uprising in Hong Kong and subsequently banished from polite society, not that he would have wanted anything to do with capitalist exploiters and imperialist oppressors.  Now he is a member of Donald Tsang’s cabinet, and one of few who is not linked with either the bureaucracy or its property cartel master.  Reporting to a man who received a knighthood, it is only fitting that this prominent Chinese patriot assumes a title dating back to feudal times, like the mid-14th Century.  Not the Ming Dynasty, but Plantagenet Edward III’s England.  I would hate to see the look on his face if someone has forgotten to update the oath of office since 1997.
Thurs, 5 July
Unlike some, I am relaxed about the recent frequent insistence of President Hu Jintao and other luminaries of the Central People’s Government that ‘one country’ overrides ‘two systems’, or is a prerequisite for them, or is in some other way immensely admirable and important and generally cool.  If we put ourselves in their shoes, it is easy to understand their trepidation about Hong Kong’s continued separation from the Mainland.
How did the President feel, for example, on reading that Hong Kong beat China at cricket?   Under Deng Xiaoping’s original formula for reunification, the Big Lychee could continue with its decadent, bourgeois horse racing.  The communists would gradually break the city in culturally after 1997 by sending People’s Liberation Army dance troupes and ethnic minority folk singers.  Cricket simply wasn’t part of the deal.  And what did the glorious motherland’s leaders think on learning that Hong Kong throws law abiding citizens in jail for eating dog meat?  Nowhere else in China would they dare infringe on the freedom of the individual so callously.  And, as the President may have noticed if he had to break a HK$100 bill at one of our 7-Elevens while he was here last week, we are still – 10 years after the handover – using coins with the Queen’s head on them.
And making people Justices of the Peace.  Ever-inquisitive corporate governance advocate David Webb has perused the Government’s list of JPs and found that Mrs Blanche Eve de Vere Booten, appointed in December 1947, is still a holder of this ancient office despite having died over a quarter of a century ago.  While officials are grappling with the question of whether departed JPs have prisons to visit in the afterworld, perhaps they could also explain how former Security Secretary Regina Ip – very much a JP back in the 1990s and early 2000s – gets to be appointed again in this year’s list.  Can you fling in your badge in a huff when abandoning government for Stanford, and then get it back if you promise to be a good girl?  Or was she ceremoniously stripped of the title in disgrace, like Captain Dreyfus, and now rehabilitated?  If Mrs Booten’s case is anything to go by, it’s not that easy to dump the JP tag.  Maybe Regina has two now.  All we know is, these problems are unheard of over the border in the rest of this ‘one country’

THE GREAT double-JP conundrum is resolved, as it transpires that as an official, Regina was an ‘official’ JP, and as a non-official, she is now a ‘non-official’ JP.  And that’s official.

Fri, 6 July
New World Development has no idea whatsoever who has ordered
acts of vandalism against its premises, and finds it totally unthinkable that the incidents have anything to do with the company’s business.  The ramming of a car into the company’s headquarters in Central and then into a nearby five-star hotel it runs, and the paint attacks on no fewer than 16 of its mobile phone outlets are a mystery, and the fact that New World is associated with them all is pure coincidence.  If I were their public relations floozy, I would bolster this claim in the admirably concise press release by pointing out that none of the group’s buses and ferries have been damaged (while keeping my fingers crossed that no smartass asks whether anyone would notice the difference).
New World’s big boss, Dato’ Dr Cheng Yu Tung, has a longstanding interest in Stanley Ho’s STDM casino operator, as does Stanley’s sister Winnie, two of whose lawyers – involved in a case she is bringing against her brother – have been victims of triad-type assaults, notably Democratic Party legislator Albert Ho around a year ago.  Another stakeholder of the gambling empire was of course Henry Fok, the late kingmaker behind Tung Chee-hwa’s appointment as Hong Kong’s first Chief Executive.  The kindly Cheng also takes a close interest in the career of movie starlet Michelle Ye, which introduces the possibility of ties with prominent individuals in our highly respected entertainment industry. 

To even think about joining dots in all this would be insidious and indefensible.  I am relieved to find that RTHK Radio 3’s news this morning dwells mainly on the Australian Defence Minister’s slip of the tongue about being in Iraq because of oil.  The
South China Morning Post meanwhile devotes much of its front page to a fatal explosion at a karaoke bar in Tianshifu, a city in Laioning Province that occupies Hongkongers’ thoughts greatly, at least when they can tear themselves away from pondering Canberra’s defense policy.  As for New World’s run of bad luck, the Big Lychee is united as never before in expressing righteous outrage.  This is a challenge to law and order.  This is a challenge to the community.  This is a challenge to the police.  This is a challenge to the authority of the Government.  This is a challenge to the values we hold dear.  Is there anything I’ve missed?