Hemlock's Diary
5-11 August 2007
Mon, 6 Aug
With just days to go before the start of the annual filial piety tour, and no Big Boss to interrupt my day, I take the opportunity to give the gwailo’s lair in S-Meg Tower its yearly clean-up.  Do I still need the rough sketch of a combined ATM-urinal that allows a gentlemen in a hurry to empty his bladder and fill his wallet simultaneously?  Patent pending.  A multitasking idea ahead of its time and ultimately doomed by a hygiene issue arising from the fact that no-one – apart from the grubbiest Neanderthal – could possibly contemplate handling cash after attending to those other needs without washing the hands first.  So into the bin it goes.  And it is followed by the invitation to become Chairman of the
British Sandwich Association.  I know people who would have it framed, but those of us accustomed to being showered with honours have to draw the line somewhere.

And then there is my secret dossier on Hong Kong Democratic Party ex-boss Martin Lee’s mysterious American female assistants, who used to cluster around him back in the 1990s, when he and his cause were glamorous.  It is hard to convince the younger generation of politically aware Hongkongers that the Democratic Party wasn’t always an embarrassing little crew of unsightly bores ranting obsessively at their own navels.  It is difficult to believe, but the party had a dazzling charisma about it that attracted a little Peace Corps of young women with a missionary zeal to spread the word of universal suffrage among their little yellow brethren across the ocean.

There was Minky Worden, now at Human Rights Watch – a New York-based group dedicated to hurting the feelings of all the Chinese people by referring to the glorious motherland as
‘China and Tibet’.  And there was Ellen Bork, who now works for the Project for the New American Century – a think tank connected with US Vice-President Dick Cheny and dedicated to realizing the Land of Liberty’s manifest destiny to establish a worldwide empire of God and apple pie.  With former factotum-groupies like this, is it any wonder Beijing’s paranoid consumers of black hair-dye see the Hong Kong Democratic Party as a front for evil imperialist forces determined to topple the dictatorship of the proletariat and crush the Sons of the Dragon under the barbarian yoke? 

In fact, Human Rights Watch is as often criticized for being anti-Western as being anti-Communist.  Beijing probably has no more to fear from it than it does from the British Sandwich Association.  And, given the current success of its ambition for US global rule, the Project for the New American Century looks as feasible a plan as the ATM-urinal.  Maybe someone should let China’s leaders know.
Tue, 7 Aug
I am awakened by a newsreader announcing the name ‘Debbie Reynolds’ on my trusty bedside radio.  Whatever happened to the singer and actress who was such a big hit among my parents’ generation?  It seems she has embarked on a second career as the UK’s
Chief Veterinary Officer and is back in the headlines battling the latest outbreak of foot and mouth disease among cattle.  Although the ailment poses no danger of any sort to humans, the British treat it as a disaster second only to a direct hit by a 10-mile wide comet.  Will my forthcoming trip to the West of England be marked – like a previous one – by the aroma of scorched mutton covering an entire county as the authorities burn every beast in sight?  Perhaps this time the mood will be a little less doom laden, the local livestock owners comforted by the knowledge that the massive cull is being organized by the star who performed Tammy all those years ago.
IS RELIEF from the tedium that is August in sight, courtesy of an outbreak of our own region’s version of foot and mouth – the great Asian Values debate?  In yesterday’s South China Morning Post, former Security Secretary Regina Ip entered the spirit of the month by regurgitating various over-chewed but still indigestible arguments against universal suffrage, notably the concern that people who don’t pay tax can’t be trusted to vote.  Are property qualifications for voters, which were phased out in the US by the mid-19th Century and in the UK by the dawn of the 20th, found anywhere in the world today?  It is a tribute to our establishment’s commitment to maintaining and preserving our cultural heritage that this reasoning still exists in Hong Kong.

Jake van der Kamp responds to Regina today with a little parable (barely marred by the even tinier typo in the first line)…
This brings us to one of the major differences between Western and Oriental thought.  When Moses came down from the mountain, he passed on the word that there is only one God, and – the crucial bit – all men are equal in His eyes.  This principle provides the foundation of the modern Western world’s legal and political systems.  But in Asia, the idea that people are created equal is absurd.  Who can seriously believe that our ruling elite – intellectual titans like Liberal Party boss James Tien or Singapore’s drooling geriatric genius and Expert on Everything Lee Kuan-yew – are on the same level as feebleminded and morally inferior castes like bricklayers?  Regina has a nightmarish vision of these horny handed sons of toil being let loose in the corridors of power, getting their greasy hair, dusty clothes and sweaty paws all over her Stanford MA thesis.  If that doesn’t give us all the heebie-jeebies, what does?
Wed, 8 Aug
When it gets too exciting staring out of the window of the gwailo’s lair, watching the plastic bags, sheets of newspaper, scraps of soiled tissue and clouds of dandruff swirl in the eddies between the high-rise towers of Asia’s international financial centre, there is always the
soothing Savantas website to turn to.  Regina Ip’s self-described think tank hit the ground running a year ago, pushing the Iron Butterfly’s very own Stanford masters thesis on Hong Kong’s need for democracy as its first piece of research.

Looking back and reading between the lines, it is safe to guess what happened next.  Someone took the feisty widow aside and politely suggested that if she wanted a seat at the political establishment table again, she should cut the vaguely pro-democracy crap and get on the team, coming up with reasons why universal suffrage would be difficult, dangerous, inappropriate, risky, a pain, far more complicated than you think, just not worth the bother, or all of the above.  To ease the way, a donor – probably Wharf/Wheelock’s half-Prussian boss Peter Woo – stepped forward with his cheque book in his hand and a delusional dream of holding high office or manipulating one who does gleaming in his monocled eye. 

As well as re-hashing
the Duke of Wellington’s enlightened thoughts on political reform from 1832, Regina has set Savantas to work pushing its Big Idea – an unbelievably ill-advised proposal for Hong Kong to embrace technology-oriented economic planning of the sort that wasted taxpayers’ wealth so effectively from France to Singapore in the 1970s and 80s.  It is not a coincidence that Savantas is largely staffed by Stanford science graduates.

But the anti-democracy agenda is never far from the surface, hence
a recent paper by Vincent the Smiling Intern containing ‘research’ on how American parties nominate their presidential candidates.  By presenting copious detail on primaries, caucuses and national conventions, the author bombards the reader with layer upon layer of indirect elections.  The message is – “Look, the oh-so democratic USA’s system of nominating chief executive candidates is a tangle of delegate-selection and committees rather than one-man, one-vote!”  Being masters of subtlety as well as arts and sciences, the Savantas team leaves the perceptive citizens of the Big Lychee to draw their own conclusion.

The report ends with an afterthought on the difficulties third party presidential candidates face in getting on the ballot in the general election.  Turning the page, the reader expects this to serve as the introduction to the whole point of the document, In Which It Is Proved Beyond Any Doubt That The US Electoral College System Is Almost Identical In Practice And Effect To Hong Kong’s Election Committee Structure.  To my dismay, it’s not there.  Grinning Vincent’s next research project, perhaps.
Thurs, 9 Aug
The pro-democracy camp’s biggest potential vote winner in the 2007-08 District and Legislative Council elections vanishes overnight.  It would have been simple and effective – hand out campaign literature quoting the candid thoughts of Ma Lik on the June 4 Beijing massacre, then sit back and let voters do the rest.  The plan now lies in shreds, following
the death of the 55-year-old leader of the Democratic Alliance for the Blah Blah of Hong Kong of colon cancer.
“Why,” the boyish-looking patriot effectively asked a group of reporters last May, “should we let gwailos interpret our history and tell us thousands were killed in Tiananmen Square?  Why do they say tanks minced bodies?  Have they tried mincing meat with tanks?  Try it with pigs and find out!  Hong Kong people are too immature to have universal suffrage if they believe there was a massacre.”  It was an all-too rare display of how genuine patriots – the sort that pre-date 1997 – really think.

Handled well – which is to say as unscrupulously as possible – the exploitation of such utterances could have brought out the anti-DAB vote on a similar scale to the 2003 District elections slaughter, when Hongkongers took the opportunity to avenge the pro-Beijing party’s support for Tung Chee-hwa and Regina Ip’s Article 23 security bill.  Now, the pro-democrats will have to rely on their good looks, immeasurable charisma and solid grasp of economics and policy.
For at least a couple of years, Ma had been treated at a reputable (by Mainland standards) but hardly world-famous Guangzhou hospital, ending up a few weeks ago in a coma and on life support.  Why didn’t he get treatment in Hong Kong, where the quality of medical services would certainly be no worse and possibly far better?  My theory is that, whatever price he would have to pay, he couldn’t bring himself to be looked after in a place with such a colonial name as Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth or Prince of Wales.  It would be in keeping with the irrational, quasi-racist sentiment that underlies pro-communists’ love of the motherland, and it’s too good a story not to start a rumour about.

We in Hong Kong Island will now have a by-election.  The
South China Morning Post reports that Cyd Ho will run.  If the pro-democracy camp, in an uncharacteristic fit of common sense, unites behind her, that would make for a three-way race with Regina Ip as an independent and some scowling, shabby, aging and forgettable nonentity for the DAB.  An extra seat for the pan-democrats, in short.  The DAB candidates are always a delight to behold canvassing commuters coming down the Mid-Levels Escalator in the morning, holding their leaflets out limply and gazing in disbelief at the horrifying procession of barbarians and bananas passing before them.  We don’t actually say, “Do you really think we’d vote for the likes of you, you silly little man?” because we’re too well-bred and polite.  It goes without saying, anyway.  Or… will the DAB wise up and let one of their young, American-accented whiz kids run? 
Fri, 10 Aug
At first sight, it is a classic example of Donald Tsang onanism.  The Bauhinia Foundation’s
report on somehow fusing Hong Kong and Shenzhen into one mega-city has our dashing Chief Executive’s favourite simplistic and fantasy-driven fixations – a big population as an end in itself, a high-ranking urban GDP (ditto) and large amounts of our cash being frittered away on white elephant infrastructure projects (to create a ‘Hong Kong-Shenzhen One-hour Metropolitan Life Circle’, as it happens).

On closer inspection, however, it becomes apparent that what we have here is not simply Sir Bow-Tie pleasuring himself to pass the time.  The intention is to arouse, stimulate and ultimately satisfy the grim-faced ones on the other side of the border.  Mainland officials around the Pearl River Delta have long lusted after the Big Lychee’s attractive features.  They find the opportunities to create, accumulate and stash wealth here quite a turn-on, and the mere thought of our Government’s gargantuan reserves has them panting with hormone-charged urgency.
Much of the report re-hashes old Shenzhen desires, notably the bizarre obsession with the Lok Ma Chau Loop (‘Hetao’ in the Mainland-accented document), an expanse of toxic mud that ended up on the Hong Kong side of the border after the river was diverted.  To Shenzhen’s cadres, this is a bit of their real estate, but miraculously in a place with no capital controls, party discipline committees, firing squads or other hindrances.  As elsewhere in the report, this section repeats almost word for word what they and their local friends have long proposed, going into suspicious detail about the composition of the location’s management board and facilities, such as access for Shenzhen vehicles to drop off and pick up VIPs.  No word though on who will pay the billions required to clean up the dump.

Although the translated executive summary has been rendered in native-standard English, the Putonghua provenance of many of the ideas is unmistakable, with headings like…
Achieving relatively satisfactory conditions for the flow of key resources is fundamental to building a Hong Kong-Shenzhen Metropolis
…and standard bureaucrat babble like…
The two cities should therefore have regard to the overall situation and properly resolve the resulting problems in order to reach a win-win situation.
At times the Bauhinia Foundation apparently just let someone in the Shenzhen Mayor’s office sit down and write it himself…
Hong Kong needs to adjust its way of thinking as appropriate, and properly handle and interpret the limits between “maintaining the integrity of laws and regulations” and “flexible operation of laws and regulations”. “The integrity of laws and regulations” needs to be maintained, but not insisted on rigidly and in a non-negotiable manner. What most deserves preservation in Hong Kong is Hong Kong’s adaptability.
Or maybe Donald’s little think tank genuinely believes Hong Kong should be less strict about the integrity of rule of law. 

The full document is in
Chinese only, and the version in simplified characters is the only one that really matters.  Everyone else can safely ignore the thing (though it offers, probably unwittingly, an interesting reminder of the drawbacks of the border – there is much to be said for tearing it down).  But the question remains – what exactly does Donald expect in return for this blatant and apparently pointless exercise in pandering to Shenzhen’s apparatchiks?

I have several weeks away from Hong Kong to ponder this riddle – though I probably won’t.  The first stop will be the Appalachian branch of the Hemlock clan.  Before I set off on my last trip there, my good friend Miss Lillian Court asked me in all seriousness whether I would be carrying a gun.  She is Brooklyn-born and has roamed Paraguay, Greenland, the Taliban-run bit of Pakistan and Hong Kong on assignment for
National Geographic, so what would she know?  In fact, everyone imagines the place to be full of heavily armed retards playing banjos.  This is completely untrue – well, apart from Rose of Sharon (pronounced ‘Rosasharn’) Yokum a few doors down from the Hemlocks.  And she wields a dulcimer.  The fact is that the mountainous and rather unproductive region was originally settled by the same northern European stock who put down roots in such unexciting locales as Iowa.  They’re such wussies they don’t even have the death penalty.  In the popular mind, however, it is inhabited by the inbred, rabid, Scotch-Irish psychopaths that make the area from North Carolina across to Arkansas such a delight.  Let’s hope the word doesn’t get out.
More recommended holiday reading.