Hemlock's Diary
4-10 Mar 2007
Mon, 5 Mar
In 490 BC, a Greek soldier called Pheidippides ran just over 26 miles from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens, to deliver news of the Persian army’s defeat.  The air, so far as we know, was clean, mild and dry.  Nonetheless, it was more than his cardiovascular and respiratory systems could take, and no sooner had he announced the triumph than he collapsed and died. 

Two and a half millennia later, people still don’t seem to have taken on board the young warrior’s other, unspoken message that, if you have alternative means of communication or transport, such unhealthy exertions are stupid.  This is especially the case when you insist on recreating his epic jog on the hard concrete streets of a city where the air is noxious, hot and humid.  The amazing thing about the Hong Kong marathon – which
claimed several dozen victims yesterday – is that so many people emerge from the ordeal with little immediate damage done.  At least no-one died this year for a change.  As with golf, which can cause excruciatingly painful spinal problems, the accumulative skeletal effects are a different matter.  And, as with the Sport of Bores, the rest of us can only look on in mild amusement and ask participants, “What on earth possesses you to do this?” 

God gave us telephones and the MTR so we didn’t have to run around.  And He gave us things like mood-enhancing beverages, DVDs and the Internet so we could put the time saved to enjoyable use.  “Beer,” said Benjamin Franklin (if I recall correctly) “is proof that God loves us and wishes us to be happy.”  The faces on people being loaded into ambulances yesterday are evidence that the Almighty did not intend us to inflict unnecessary and harmful hardship upon ourselves.  How much more productive, for example, to sip a cool San Miguel while exercising the brain by trying to understand the circular diagrams that Chief Executive Donald Tsang uses as an aid to thinking.  Courtesy of the National People’s Congress’s local website, I finally found one of these flow charts yesterday that
makes sense.  A real revelation.  As for the runners, perhaps next year they should try self-flagellation instead.  It would take far less time, Africans and others wouldn’t have to fly all the way here to do it, and we wouldn’t have to divert all the traffic from our streets.  They could still go into the office the next day and impress everyone for lengthy periods of time by describing the grueling torment they endured.  “For 20 minutes yesterday I took part in the Standard Chartered ‘flaying skin off your back with a steel-barbed leather whip’ race.  Tough at the time, but afterwards you feel really good.  Great sense of achievement.  Of course the Kenyans came first as usual.”  Listeners might even be genuinely interested.  And it’s much better for the knees.

Tue, 6 Mar
What makes Donald Tsang and me different from everyone else in Hong Kong?  The answer is that we are the only people in the Big Lychee who have not yet produced some sort of roadmap for political reform.  Nor do we need to.  Already, there is something for everyone…

#  The mainstream wild radical militant proposal, offered by Long Hair, the League of Social Democrats, Emily Lau and similar, extremely hard-to-please types.  This calls for total universal suffrage right this minute, plus the overthrow of the Chinese Communist Party.

#  The mainstream rich lawyers’ proposal, courtesy of the Civic and Democratic Parties.  This calls for universal suffrage in 2012, with an Election Committee chucking nominations at anyone who wants one, complete with the abolition of functional constituencies and of Beijing’s right to screen the Chief Executive’s choice of ministers.  This package is ‘too liberal’ according to James Tien, who as Liberal Party boss obviously knows what he is talking about.

#  The mainstream, gradual and orderly pro-Beijing plan in light of the current situation, put forward by the Democratic Alliance for the Blah Blah of Hong Kong, the Liberal Party, the six families who run the property cartel, the construction sector and the tourism industry.  Under this scheme, the Election Committee will be enlarged to have 10 percent more patriotic representatives of various sectors, who are mature enough to nominate whoever they are told to nominate, and everyone will be totally free to vote for that candidate or stay at home and play with building blocks, as they wish.  The existing balance of interests in the legislature, being perfect, will remain.  However – tragically – no progress towards this ultimate goal can be made until there is full consensus on it from every man, woman and child in Hong Kong. 

And as of yesterday…
The mainstream extremely sensible ex-condescending civil servants’ plan, produced by Anson Chan and her core group, the Core Group (Lily Yam, Allen Lee, Christine Loh et al).  This involves a more representative Election Committee, direct election of the Chief Executive in 2012 and simultaneous consolidation and phasing out of functional constituencies from 2008 to 2016.  It has obviously been designed to be difficult for the pro-Beijing forces of darkness to disagree with, although if Chris Patten’s top running dog said the world is round the patriots would froth at the mouth with indignation and rage, demanding a reinterpretation by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress.  Also, it raises the issue of changes for the 2008 Legislative Council elections, which were ruled out by Sir Bow-Tie in a tremendous and vindictive huff after the pro-democrats voted down his ‘step sideways’ reform in late 2005, and he would lose face by going back on that, and that would make him stamp his feet like a big cry baby, so it’s not going to happen.  So there.

Wed, 7 Mar
“…As Government's package of proposals on 2007-08 elections did not receive the required two-thirds majority support of all Legco Members, the position of the HKSAR Government is that, the existing electoral arrangements will continue to apply to the 2007 Chief Executive election and the 2008 Legco election…”

Anonymous Government spokesman yesterday afternoon rejecting Anson Chan and her Swingin’ Core Group’s proposal to start changing the political structure in 2008
In other words, as predicted by perceptive and gifted seers, Sir Bow-Tie would lose face and stamp his feet like a big cry baby if he had to break the vow he made out of spite to keep the existing voting method for 2008.  In theory, there is still time to introduce reforms for next year’s election, a good 18 months away.  Instead, Hong Kong must preserve a system that packs the legislature with vested interests and denies the Government a dependable power base.  This is supposed to ‘punish’ the pro-democrats for vetoing the cosmetic rearrangements in his 2005 package.  If Donald were a four-year-old, he would be breaking his toys.  If he were a teenage girl, he would be cutting his arms and legs lightly with a paper cutter.  But he’s Chief Executive, so we get this.
Thurs, 8 Mar
I was going to write about certain serving senior members of the Hong Kong Civil Service, but out of respect for South Korea, which is drafting
a law against the abuse of robots, I will stick to the subject of their predecessors.

As their not hugely exciting but arguably clever proposal suggests, Anson Chan and her six-strong
Core Group are a little nest of reformist probity, sobriety and prudence, and as such cannot be neatly pigeonholed into the standard pro-democratic box – though Beijing will obviously classify them as part of the untrustworthy fringe of disloyal outsiders who form 80 percent of its local subjects.  The esteemed ‘Conscience of the Big Lychee’ herself never displayed overwhelming enthusiasm for a more democratic system when she was a colonial running dog in Government.  Nor, so far as I can recall, did her fellow member of the Handbag Gang, Lily Yam, though she was probably never called upon to do so.  Allen Lee, founder of the Liberal Party, is a sad reminder that the sprawling wilderness between the pro-democracy camp and the pro-Beijing united front is a lonely and friendless place.  You do not bridge this divide – you become a hermit in it.  Christine Loh, policy wonkette, is a genuine, if non-sectarian, democrat and an outcast to Hong Kong officials for being a smart ass and hanging out with foreigners.  Johannes Chan is one of those highly regarded people you’ve heard of but wouldn’t recognise.  Which is more than we can say about Chandran Nair – not the semi-famous Singapore poet, but an unknown recommended by Anson’s yoga teacher whose biography suggests he brings an organic, New Age ethos to counterbalance the Core Groups’ hardened technocrats.

And then we have Elizabeth Bosher, another former civil servant.  Could this, by any chance, be the same Elizabeth Bosher who, as Deputy Secretary for Constitutional Affairs under limp-wristed Governor David Wilson in the late 1980s, would have been up to her ears in the breathtakingly blatant and shameful rigging of a public consultation on political reform?  Yes it could.  That exercise manipulated presentation of public opinion by forcing citizens wanting to express approval for democracy to choose between one of two similar options – thus dividing the majority view into two.  And then, for good measure, officials falsified the counting of responses.  First they took all the pre-printed, individually and voluntarily signed pro-democracy submissions and put them in a big pile, burnt them and counted the whole lot as one submission.  Then they took all the pre-printed anti-democracy submissions signed by Mainland companies’ petrified employees, mounted them in gold-lined glass cases and paraded them through the streets before counting each and every one as a separate response.  As a result, a community that clearly wanted democracy now was told it was far too undecided to enable any reform to take place.  This was, of course, at the behest of China.  Fans of Anson’s proposals will no doubt be encouraged that there is at least one Core Group member Beijing might trust
Fri, 9 Mar
Wild American friend Odell and I start the morning sprawling across the luxurious sofas at the newly reopened IFC Mall Branch of Pacific Coffee, sipping our chamomile and organic beeswax lattes.  “I can’t see any difference, really,” the ex-Mormon remarks.  “A few extra sofas and that’s it.”  He looks around some more.  “Oh, and they’ve replaced the steps with a ramp – to cater for people in wheelchairs, huh?  That’s really dumb.  You never see people in wheelchairs drinking coffee.  I guess that’s because, you know, it makes you want to pee, and that’s like a major hassle for them, right?”   I tell him Pacific Coffee are probably aiming more at the mothers-pushing-babies-around and travelers-towing-suitcases markets. 

Then it occurs to me.  You don’t notice it at first, but they’ve actually increased seating capacity, and quite significantly.  As with every other part of Hong Kong’s core urban area, the caffeine outlet is increasing its population density.  When the shop’s busy, it will be too crowded to sprawl.  Did they ask loyal customers about it?  No – we would have hated the idea.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s Chief Town Planning Psychopath assures everyone that the plans for two new towers for the area between here and the harbour are fine because everyone is laid back about cramming yet more skyscrapers into the area right on the waterfront.  Time to pose Odell a taxing question to test his intelligence.

“Which of the following,” I ask, “is the odd one out?  Central Reclamation.  The harbourfront freeway.  The demolition of Star Ferry Pier.  The conversion of the old Marine Police HQ into a treeless concrete shopping mall.  The proposed demolition of part of the old Sham Shui Po Police HQ to make way for a trans-Kowloon highway.  The shopping mall for tourists where Star Ferry used to be.  That massive luxury residential development they want to cover part of Sai Kung with.  The demolition of Peel Street wet market and its old shops to make way for offices and hotels with a Disneyfied ‘old shops’ theme.  And the renovation of IFC Mall Pacific Coffee.”  He scratches his head – the only low-density thing around here – and admits defeat.

“It’s the renovation of Pacific Coffee,” I tell him.  “Because, in all the other cases, ‘The plan had gone through proper consultations without much opposition from the public’.”