Hemlock's Diary
3-9 June 2007
Mon, 4 Jun
Yesterday’s spin in the Volkswagen Passet took Jenny the girl from Beijing-but-she’s-got-an-American-passport and me from Shenzhen to Zhuhai – effectively from the Hong Kong border, up the east bank of the Pearl River estuary and down the west one to Macau.  One of my first trips on the Mainland was from the then-sleepy, then-Portuguese enclave up to Foshan, southwest of Guangzhou – probably about three-quarters the distance of yesterday’s journey.  It took at least three hours and went through villages where pigs snoozed in the middle of the dilapidated road.  Not long after, I recall a train ride from Hong Kong to Guangzhou taking a similar time. 

Time taken yesterday – 90 minutes.  My brilliantly incisive decision not to bring a carsick-prone dog probably helped.  My navigation skills also came in handy.  Neither Jenny nor the highly capable driver have the remotest idea about the geography of the region, leaving me looking like a genius by compensating for poor road signs by insisting that by keeping the estuary to our left at all times we would get there.  But another reason is that the whole mass of manufacturing sprawl, banana plantations and burgeoning exurbia is now smothered with expressways.  Also, the lowest link across the river, Humen Bridge, is surprisingly far downstream, at least to those of us who rarely venture into deepest, darkest Deltaland.  It is probably just over halfway between Hong Kong and Guangzhou.  So far south that you can’t help wondering what the point is of the proposed multibillion dollar fixed link between Zhuhai and the Big Lychee.  Not that it makes sense to drive this route anyway, when a ferry can zip over in an hour at most.  It was a case of ‘Have car, should travel somewhere for the heck of it’.

XINHUA GETS the week off to an auspicious start with an impressive bit of multi-tasking, declaring pride in Hong Kong’s liberties, highlighting Communist hypocrisy and pleading for better English all in one headline –
Press freedom in Hong Kong has improves since 1997.  Freedom of speech has its pros and cons.  On the one hand, we can say what we want.  On the other hand, we have to listen to Emily Lau screeching that we can’t.  No doubt the news agency will give us a full account of this evening’s annual candle light vigil in honour of the Beijing massacre victims.
Tue, 5 Jun
The Big Boss is on his travels to a distant and exotic land, shoe-shining officials installed by the regime that kicked out the government whose people he previously put so much effort into shoe-shining.  This leaves the inmates of S-Meg Tower free to do as they choose.  Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary is cooing insincerely over assistant accounting floozy Bolonia Cheung’s pre-wedding photographs.  They are soft-focus shots showing the young lady and her beau posing in their nuptial finery before Grecian columns, extravagant bouquets of flowers and the Eiffel Tower.  Number-one son is looking for me, in search of advice on how to word a letter for his father to sign, groveling to one of Hong Kong’s senior officials in the hope of gaining the boy an appointment to some toothless, not to say purely symbolic, advisory body.  This is on daddy’s orders, our Chairman being somewhat peeved after the first-born of what he considers to be a lower-ranking member of the Big Lychee’s famous elite was awarded a similar but slightly less coveted position

The Company Gwailo is flicking through the newspapers and finding that ‘rendition’, ‘size zero’ and ‘pro-ana’ are among the
fun new words to appear in the latest Collins English Dictionary.   ‘Rendition’ refers to the shadowy transfer of terrorist suspects around the world.  If Collins were more thorough, they would also mention its meaning here – extradition between Hong Kong and Mainland China, but we can’t call it that because it sounds like we’re two different countries.  As it is, 10 years after the handover, there is still no arrangement to send fugitives back across the...  That’s another local word Collins has missed.  ‘Boundary’ – the border between Hong Kong and Mainland China, but we can’t call it that because it sounds like we’re two different countries.

As an example of ‘size zero’, we are presented with a model called Luisel Ramos, who apparently died last year after trying to sustain herself on nothing but Diet Coke and lettuce – in other words, water, flavouring and fibre, with no protein, starch or fats and virtually no minerals or vitamins.  This leads us to ‘pro-ana’, which describes the belief that anorexia is a lifestyle decision rather than a condition.  Slightly sceptical that such a belief exists, I turn to Google.  After several decades on this planet, I sometimes feel that I have accurately gauged just how weird it is.  Then something even stranger comes along. 
Instructions on how to induce vomiting – where were you when I was having to look at Bolonia’s photos?
Wed, 6 Jun
The last time I saw Lydia Dunn up close was in the elevator in Swire House.  Late 1980s?  She might have been visiting OMELCO – the secretariat for appointed legislators and Executive Council members housed in the building.  None of this election business in those days.  Or she might have been heading for the boardroom – with its picture of the Queen on the wall – of the great and ancient Swine Group itself, being a director of the company that brought us Cathay Pacific, Taikoo Shing and much else.  I can safely say she was definitely not on her way to The Jockey for a pint of beer and a plate of fish and chips, because that was just one floor up, and you’d simply take the stairs. 

Impertinent young whippersnappers of that era would occasionally find themselves wondering what Hong Kong’s leading female public figure looked like under her elegantly but very generously applied foundation, lipstick, face powder and other make-up.  It was one of those sacred mysteries that kept the populace in awe and sustained colonial rule.  Now, all those years later, the mask has been stripped away, and the now-Baroness can be revealed as an early middle-aged housewife with a slightly raffish hairdo in homage to a wild youth.  By my calculation, therefore, she would have been a mere 18 when we last crossed paths.  And with such clout in business and politics!  No wonder they had to cover her up.

She is part of a group of British dignitaries who are slightly peeved not to have been invited to any of the 10th anniversary events.  Some are having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that in the Big Lychee the UK is just another foreign country now – albeit the one where Sir Bow-Tie and our other bureaucrat born-again patriots still own property and educate their kids.  Indeed, in a desk drawer somewhere, Donald Tsang should still have a slip of paper with a number on it, entitling him and his family to pass through UK immigration no questions asked, in case they feel a need to flee post-1997 communist tyranny. 

If the British really want to be involved in the joyous celebration of 10 years of unification with the motherland, they can always get their local Amazon.com operation to hurry up and list a certain book on the subject
like their American counterparts have already done, even if slapping a picture of the cover onto the page is taking a while.  It would make a wonderful gift for former officials.
Thurs, 7 Jun
Time for Hong Kong’s semi-annual dose of gratuitous creepiness from Beijing’s black hair-dye brigade.  The responsibility on this occasion falls upon Wu Bangguo, who, with all the wit and charm we expect from the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, says nothing new but still manages to upset some of our more sensitive and easily alarmed souls.  If a one-party state under a Communist Party permitted a city to have irremovable independent ultimate powers, that would be news.  It would virtually break the laws of nature.   What Wu is saying is no more shocking than ‘two and two are four’, but with such menace as to deliberately provoke
an outbreak of mouth-frothing and hand-flapping among the likes of Martin Lee and Margaret Ng.  Like their subjects who buy a goat to toss into the lions’ enclosure in Mainland zoos, China’s leaders obviously derive some genuine entertainment pleasure from this, though it is lost on Hongkongers.
On the subject of separation of powers, what is the division of labour between the Hong Kong Government’s Central Policy Unit and the quasi-official Bauhinia Foundation?  Once the domain of worthy if dry wonkdom, the CPU since 1997 has transformed itself into a source of weak justifications for already-decided executive actions, interspersed with politically correct blather about integration, cooperation and partnership with the Mainland (with special emphasis on Yunnan).  The only thing it ever seems to put any effort into is ensuring the most dismal possible drafting of the Chief Executive’s annual Policy Address.  The Bauhinia Foundation, on the other hand, seems to be positioning itself as the Government’s floater of trial balloons.  

Problem – the Government accumulates far more revenue than it needs, but the bureaucrats and certain upstanding members of the business community want a lot of it spent on pointless infrastructure projects, leaving too few resources for boring and frivolous extravagances like health care.  Solution – increase taxes, but call them ‘medical savings accounts’ instead so the suckers out there don’t notice what’s really happening.  Are they that dumb?  Let the ever-so independent Bauhinia Foundation
raise the idea, so no politicians lose face if the public think it stinks.  With the Democratic Party and the Democratic Alliance for the Blah Blah of Hong Kong both stupid enough to fall for the ‘speed up infrastructure projects to create jobs’ line, it might work.
Fri, 8 Jun
Although they don’t come in huge spurts the way they did in the past, a steady dribble of unsolicited emails continues to offer desirable things.  The important word here is ‘desirable’.  We would all like life-enhancing medicines, sure-fire stock investments or 10 percent of a Nigerian crook’s wealth.  What would be the point of a spammer trying to sell something no-one could possibly want?  Which is why I am intrigued by the missive from one Dallas Ray trying to lure me with the prospect of more bodily fluids.  My brain starts whirring.  Dallas equals Texas equals cattle equals artificial insemination.  Maybe that’s the market he is after.  But no – on opening the message I find he is totally convinced there are men out there who want greater quantities of sheet-staining, pregnancy-causing, damp patch-making goo.  Less would be useful.
TUNG CHEE-Hwa reveals in a 10th anniversary interview that he considered cutting the Hong Kong currency loose from its peg to the US Dollar at the end of 2002.  The Government at that time, determined to find and wet itself about every crisis it could devise, real or not, was facing the Great Structural Budget Deficit Catastrophe.  How would devaluation have helped?  Maybe Tofu-for-Brains couldn’t tell the difference between a budget deficit and a trade deficit.  Or perhaps it was a cunning plan to divert everyone’s attention from the Horrendous Structural Budget Deficit Doom by slashing their purchasing power overnight.  It would have worked on me.  Or perhaps it was inspired by (correct) suspicions that there was in fact no structural budget deficit at all, and they would have to find something else to traumatize the population with.  But then the crop-haired one was already working on that by painstakingly introducing the Article 23 National Security law in such a way as to make it look and sound as terrifying as possible, as the Good Book mentions

Speaking of which, Amazon in the USA now has a picture of the tome
on its site, as well as a review at the bottom by a kind reader who has spared me having to agonize over writing my own, as desperate authors are shamefully rumoured to do.  Meanwhile, their cousins over the sea at Amazon in the UK have stirred into action.  So everything is set for the grand international launch next week – a mass emailing from Dallas Ray entitled Reading This Book Will Boost Your Emissions By Gallons Per Day.