Hemlock's Diary
4-10 Nov 2007
Mon, 5 Nov
Protect innocent, law-abiding citizens from such scum as pickpockets, triads and property cartels.  Clean the sewers every six months.  That’s all they need to do, and they’ve only mastered the second bit.  But no, not even all the Rohypnol in Wanchai will cure the Hong Kong Government of its hyperactive meddling in matters beyond its remit, even if we assume the
Standard’s exclusive about additional taxpayers’ subsidies for Disney is a joke.

After badgering Beijing for yet another favour in the form of privileged access to Mainland portfolio capital, our administration is left looking helpless as Premier Wen Jiabao announces, in effect, that
it won’t happen.  Since truly free flows of Chinese funds into the Hong Kong stock market are not possible without making the Renminbi a fully convertible currency – a decade or more away in all likelihood – this should come as little surprise.  But people see what they want to see, especially when it has the blessing and authority of such eminent figures as the Financial Secretary and the Monetary Authority boss behind it, and the result has been an officially sanctioned bubble.
Not content with playing with investors’ minds and artificially pushing up share prices, the Big Lychee’s Government is also telling banks how to run their affairs.  “Being Donald Tsang,” our dashing Chief Executive tells a gathering of our senior lenders, “I know far better than all of you about how to manage your businesses, and I have decided that you must all get into something I heard about a few weeks ago called Islamic finance.”  Many of the institutions represented in his audience have been in this market for years through their Middle East, London or other branches, and if they could make money doing it out of the Fragrant Harbour they would.  It’s not difficult.  You arrange loans and interest, but call the loans something else and call the interest something else.  Why some Muslims imagine this fools God I have no idea – but maybe the Almighty is too distracted with an incessant stream of instructions from Donald Tsang.
Tue, 6 Nov
“After I’ve finished searching your bags for Rohypnol,” I tell the Filipino elves as they report for duty, “you can wrap Winky’s Christmas present.”  It is never too early to get tiresome yuletide chores out of the way, and this one leapt off the bookstore shelf and into my face screaming “buy me now!”  For the high-flying civil servant who has everything – a history of Administrative Officers.

The cover of
Governing Hong Kong by Steve Tsang shows one Sir Ronald Holmes.  Did he find the silly dress uniform uncomfortable on the day he had his photo taken?  Or had eaten something that didn’t agree with him?  As if that’s not alluring enough, there’s the dust jacket blurb
Steve Tsang argues that [Hong Kong’s] current prosperity is a direct by-product of the British administrators who ran the place as a colony before the handover in 1997.

The British administration of Hong Kong uniquely derived its practices from the best traditions of Imperial Chinese government and its philosophical, Confucian basis.
And it was in the non-fiction section!  A quick flick-through yields some interesting snippets.  Some things never change…
Some things do…
After being forcibly put in the charge of a buffoonish second-generation tycoon for a few years after the handover, Hong Kong is now under the control of the spawn of these imperial, paternalistic gifted amateurs – our grey, self-serving, unimaginative bureaucrats.  People skilled enough to prevent reform but nowhere near talented enough to lead it.

Maybe it was oysters.

Wed, 7 Nov
“Well deal with it!”  The Big Boss looks with scorn upon Number-One Son.  He is savouring the first-day performance of his Alibaba shares, and doesn’t need his dense offspring in his face.  “Ask Hemlock what to do!”  The grinning scion plods over to me as the rest of S-Meg Holdings’ executives drift out of the morning meeting.   He passes me a letter addressed to him in his capacity as a member of the Wildlife Control Advisory Board. 

As the future heir to the family company and his father’s slot in the hierarchy of Hong Kong’s plutocratic establishment, the simple-minded fruit of our Chairman’s loins is being groomed.  It is a well-trodden route.  Another two or three seats on committees to provide face and a record of public service, Young Person of the Year Award, naming (helped by some groveling from his dad) as a Justice of the Peace, a photographed handshake in the Great Hall of the People with a moderately senior user of black hair dye, a Silver Bauhinia Star, a seat on a grand commission tasked with solving every problem existing in Hong Kong – another ‘elite’ is born.
The letter is from a member of the public living in some remote and obscure place no-one has ever heard of in the New Territories.  The writer, using English, is a strong believer in piling emphasis upon emphasis through the use of underlined, bold and upper-case words and phrases.  “People who do that are usually insane,” I advise the up-and-coming Government loyalist.  The letter complains in impassioned detail about the fate of stray dogs in this far-flung neighbourhood.  Men in uniforms trap them in nets, drag them by their hind legs and throw them in the back of a pickup truck with no blankets or water.  The look of sadness and bewilderment in their beautiful eyes (apparently) is enough to make you cry.

“Oh God,” I say as I turn the letter over to check the sender’s name, “it must be a…”
I point to it.  Number-One Son looks and says, “a gwaipo.”  He blinks a bit.  “My father says I should write back and be polite.”
“Are you mad?  He didn’t know it’s from a deranged, anthropomorphic, expat housewife on a mission to save every slobbering, barking, defecating canine in Asia.  Rabid and dangerous!  At the next meeting of the Advisory Board, you give the officials her address and tell them to give the animal catchers a rifle that fires hypodermic darts and send them back to this little village to finish the job properly.”

Thurs, 8 Nov
Wild American friend Odell and I were privileged to visit Molly Bloom’s Authentic Irish Pub in Lan Kwai Fong yesterday evening, to inspect the many traditional Hibernian delights on offer, such as Budweiser, nachos, televised baseball and entertaining Hong Kong Chinese staff.  At one point we watched a newly hired, plump waitress in her early 20s struggling with a plastic bottle of glass cleaner in order to polish the mirrors that line the wall.  She squeezed the trigger but nothing came out.  After much fiddling with the nozzle, she ejected a squirt of foam, then awkwardly wiped the surface in small circles with a paper tissue, pausing frequently to remove obstacles on the shelf below.  She had obviously never done anything like it in her life.  The entertainment continued when she was given the job of cleaning up some spilled beer on the floor.  She laid a tissue out on the little puddle and padded it down with her shoe, then picked it up by a dry corner, leaving most of the liquid behind.  A more experienced colleague arrived with a mop.

One of Odell’s low-life friends, John-with-tattoos, was also looking on.  “Incredible.  I bet her family has a maid, and she’s never cleaned anything.  Also…”  He lowered his voice a bit.  “…like all the staff here, she doesn’t smile and keeps vanishing whenever you want anything.  I mean, why don’t they hire Filipinos?”  Why, he asked in essence, do they employ sullen, miserable Hongkongers who find it humiliating to serve customers when for the same price – probably less – you can get eager, friendly Manilans or Cebuanos who actually seem to have fun?

And this morning, the answer strikes me.  The pub is one of the chain of plastic cookie-cutter themed establishments run by the LKF Group.  And that’s run by Allan Zeman – who is also a fully signed up member of the Hong Kong Federation of Government Toady Billionaires.  He serves on the usual array of committees and boards.  To quote a
Government Appointments
In addition to his many business interests, Allan contributes much of his time to public service in Hong Kong. Allan has been appointed by the Hong Kong government as a member of the Tourism Strategy Group (TSG) for the Hong Kong Tourism Commission, the International Events Fund (IEF) Steering Committee for the Hong Kong Tourism Board, the Cultural and Heritage Commission (CHC) and the U.R.A. (Urban Renewal Authority). Also he is appointed as a member of the Services Promotion Strategy Group (SPSG) chaired by the Financial Secretary. Allan is also on the Board of HK Arts Festival and HK Community Chest. 

The Chief Executive has appointed Allan as a JP (Justice of the Peace) on 1st July, 2001.
Does Allan JP make some of his managers hire locals so he can tell senior officials behind closed doors that he has a policy of helping the community, providing jobs (for real non-swarthy Hongkongers, that is) and thus deserves a pat on the head?  With a near-monopoly of bars in the area, he has little fear of dissatisfied but drunken customers going elsewhere.  As I write to the great man to offer my services as a HK$10,000-an-hour trainer of inept pub waitresses in the performance of simple domestic chores, I can’t think of a more rational explanation.
Fri, 9 Nov
A ripple of exhilaration reverberates from the lofty towers of Conduit Road, through Perpetual Opulence Mansions and down to, but not including, Hollywood Road, as the voters of Mid-Levels East Constituency receive their polling cards for the exciting District Council Elections to be held on 18 November.  Were we residents of the grimy, rat-infested area of Chung Wan further downhill, we would have these two specimens to choose between…
But this is the wholesome, industrious and cosmopolitan neighbourhood that hosts Soho, the synagogue, the mosque, the Robinson Road Wellcome supermarket and numerous other famous landmarks.  As befits a district of beautiful people, our candidates are altogether easier on the eyes…
These things are relative.  Helena Chan Suk-yee, or Morticia to her friends, is an Independent Democrat – a 51-year-old lawyer supported by legislators Kwok Ka-ki, Martin Lee and Audrey Eu, plus many local cosmetics retailers.  She describes herself as a pioneer in something called ‘community mediation’ and aims to promote ‘family harmony, reaching out to schools, families, elderly and children’.  I’m not certain what it all is, but I am fairly sure I don’t hold with it.  This ‘reaching out’ business makes my skin crawl.

Her opponent is a 40-year-old Independent called Jackie Cheung (not to be confused with the Cantopop star Jacky, whose rapid hiring and firing of domestic helpers at one stage led Philippine Airlines to offer special two-day-one-night packages on the Manila-Hong Kong route).  Also a lawyer, Jackie is more interested in practical things like transport and traffic.  While sensible, this will not endear him to the area’s nouveaux-riches, who regard driving their fat child 300 yards down narrow streets to piano lessons in an eight-seater, luxury minibus as their God-given right.
A bit of rummaging around on his website, however, reveals a far murkier, more sinister side to the deceptively clean-cut and alert-looking would-be District Council member.  Are we supposed to vote for a man who consorts with a former Ta Kung Pao editor who, having once served 18 months in prison for backing a violent communist attempt to overthrow the Government, is now on a mission to force everyone’s children to salute the red flag every morning and take the Olympics and pointless moon shots seriously?
There is a third choice.  It is not impossible that on Sunday week the good citizens of Mid-Levels West will develop a sudden fondness for sleeping in late and lazing around at home in their pyjamas all day.