Hemlock's Diary
10-16 June 2007
Mon, 11 Jun
With just three weeks to go before the 10th anniversary of the handover, the Hong Kong air is thick with the cloying aroma of
historical revisionism.  The 1998 stock market intervention was a valiant and ultimately victorious struggle over evil speculators who stamp small furry animals to death for fun.  There were no panic-stricken officials out of their depth making hasty and reckless decisions, here.  Oh no.  Buying 10 percent stakes in all the city’s leading companies was an act of authentic genius, bestowing even greater fortune on the community thanks to our lucky number 7.8.  And anyway, it was an incursion.

How did our currency, the plucky little Hong Kong Dollar, come to be pegged to the greenback at 7.8 to 1?  Memories fade.  Most of the people who were alive in 1983 have passed away, emigrated or – in most cases – lapsed into dementia.  The history books record that the people of the Big Lychee expressed their feelings of joy at the prospect of being reunited with the motherland by trying desperately to get rid of their own store of value, sending it down from HK$4.55 at end-1982 to the point where people were buying US Dollars for HK$10 apiece.  Wise men stabilized the situation by instituting a currency board.  Their original plan had been to fix the link at… well, let’s say HK$8.  One of them – my hazy mind thinks it was Financial Secretary John Bremridge – decreed that it would be HK$7.8, on the grounds that the more precise figure looked like it had been arrived at scientifically, rather than plucked out of thin air. 

Given that we are run today by people who are even more clueless, the peg is the one thing in this town that is dependable and predictable.  A
Bloomberg article advocates scrapping it.  That means letting Sir Bow-Tie and his friends have a monetary policy of their very own to play with.  Any right-thinking person would sooner give children hand grenades.
Tue, 12 Jun
It’s gloves-off time in the fight against the Great Mainland Tourist Menace.  Hong Kong’s bad air and poisoned food have failed to deter the hordes from crowding us out of our own sidewalks and shops, not least because it’s so bad where they come from that they admire our low pollution and untainted produce.  Locking them inside retail outlets and forcing them to buy overpriced fake goods has had only a marginal effect.  So the Big Lychee now sends the following message to visitors from over the border… 

“Set foot on the Ngong Ping 360 cable car and there is a chance that you will end up
plunging to your doom, screaming in terror as the metal box crashes into the ground and tumbles down through the picturesque Lantau hillside all the way to the airport, where, battered and crushed, it will collide with a Boeing 747 coming in to land, causing one of those disasters where no-one’s remains are ever found.  Even if that doesn’t happen, you will end up in an unpopulated phony themed village rejoicing in the quaint and enticing name of The Themed Village.”  

To emphasize the point, the Government wisely chooses this time to ramp up the poisoned food angle by announcing that
0.8 percent of Hong Kong’s food contains extra large portions of pesticide, preservatives and veterinary drug residues, seasoned with the delicious banned pig steroid Clenbuterol and, on the side, a generous dollop of pathogens that can cause what civil servants delicately call gastrointestinal discomfort.  If all this doesn’t convince China’s nouveaux riches to descend on Singapore or Bangkok or somewhere, what will?  We’ll just have to start picking them off on the streets with sniper rifles.

THE GUEST model in the gratuitous advertisement for the Good Book reminds me of someone.  Who is the odd one out among Sir Bow-Tie, a Japanese office lady and Richard Nixon?  The answer is Donald – he doesn’t make a V-sign when being photographed.  In other respects, however, our dashing Chief Executive has an uncanny array of characteristics in common with the brooding late President…
- Humble background and chip on shoulder about social superiors
- Lust for power to avenge perceived slights in early career
- Took impossible-to-lose second election far too seriously
- Dutiful, quiet wife
- Antagonism towards Democratic Party
- Determination to ram spending plans through legislature
- Delusions about winning trust of China’s leaders
- Sometimes weak in televised debates
- Sinister re-election campaign team members
- Hated by students for ordering brutal and mindless physical destruction of Asian city
- Narcissist-paranoid personality type
- Pet dog and/or koi carp called Checkers
Wed, 13 Jun
“So after tumbling down the mountain, with the piercing screams of the horrified Mainland tourists echoing through the valleys, the gondola ends up on the airport runway.  Then a jumbo jet touches down right on top of it, setting off a giant explosion heard as far away as Shenzhen.  Shards of red-hot pulverized cable car and fake Italian jewellery fly into the air and come raining down on the sea, slicing through and horribly mutilating hundreds of innocent pink dolphins frolicking in the waves.”  It is the IFC Mall branch of Pacific Coffee, and wild American friend Odell is so captivated by my account of the Great Ngong Ping 360 Disaster that he isn’t even bothering to sip his avocado and organic hemp cappuccino.  He missed the event because he was being held against his will by desperate peasants in a remote Thai village deep in the jungle somewhere near the Cambodian border.  Only after extorting large amounts of money from him did the head-shrinking savages lay down their blowpipes and poison darts and let him go, and he made it back to Hong Kong yesterday.  “So how are Mee’s family?” I ask – ever keen to hear the full, gory details about the hidden pitfalls of marriage.

“Usual stuff,” he mutters.  “Had to pay for granddad’s knee operation, someone’s new roof, a moped, some brat’s school fees.”  He shakes his head.  “We spend more on them than on ourselves, sometimes.  I wish they would just, you know, vanish.  Oh, and they all want to come here sometime to visit the giant Buddha.”  He suddenly looks up.  A brilliant and evil thought has suddenly come to him.  “Hey – when’s that cable car gonna open again?”

Thurs, 14 Jun
For the first time in a decade, or at least since the outbreak of civet cat pestilence in 2003, the world’s press are paying attention to the Big Lychee, and the Government Public Relations Floozies Department are arranging positive media interviews for visiting journalists and locally based foreign correspondents.  The voluble Chairman of S-Meg Holdings is inevitably on the list – he is a Friend of Donald, and he can be trusted to say the right thing. 

Provided we know what the right thing is.  One British reporter with a reputation for crawling and boot-licking in the hallowed presence of Hong Kong tycoons has sent a list of questions he might ask when he drops by next week.  And one of them requires a position on the subject of Beijing’s economic assistance to Hong Kong since the handover.  “What,” the Big Boss asks me, “is the ‘line to take’ on that?”

I consider.  During the darkest days of the Tung Chee-hwa regime, when the only growth was in unemployment, bankruptcies and suicides, the Government pestered Beijing for some sort of economic privileges.  A piece of some Mainland action Hongkongers could be given special access to.  Such unseemly begging from the nation’s richest city initially drew a slightly frosty response.  But after the Great Anti-Tung Uprising on 1 July 2003, the Central People’s Government saw some advantages to handing out a few symbolic free lunches.

First, it would portray the Crop-Haired One as an essential procurer of life-saving aid for the city.  Lynch him, and we starve.  Second, it showed the Glorious Motherland as tender and loving, always ready to bestow blessings on her children – provided they show gratitude and obedience.  Carry on yapping about democracy, and she might change her mind.  Although clad in fancy wrapping, the widely touted ‘economic gifts’ were limited.  CEPA, a free-trade agreement, reduced tariffs on goods Hong Kong doesn’t make.  The decision to allow more Chinese to visit Hong Kong as tourists would have happened anyway, being part of a bigger trend to let the Mainland middle class infest destinations from Singapore to Rome. 

At first, it was the done thing to loudly proclaim how important Beijing’s assistance had been – specifically, in helping us to recover from the SARS outbreak their treacherously secretive officials foisted on us.  Over time, as the economy recovered, this was played down a bit.  Now, loud public CEPA-worship is largely confined to hardcore patriots and quasi-Government bureaucracies that push ‘integration’, ‘partnership’, and other Pan-Pearl River Delta blather.  Bureaucrats and tycoons need only join in when members of the black hair dye brigade are in earshot.  Otherwise, they just have to mention the Central People’s Government’s greatly appreciated support.  But the toadying reporter on his way next week is skeptical, points out the Big Boss.  He is basically asking whether CEPA wasn’t worthless.  He can’t agree with that. 

Indeed not.  “You can say Beijing’s assistance helped certain niche sectors,” I tell him.  “And it was good for morale.”  The Big Boss snorts.  He hasn’t forgotten the day his managers presented him with the best new market sector they could find for the company from CEPA. He was thinking of a billion-dollar deal.

“Ice cream and other edible ice, whether or not containing cocoa,” they announced.
Fri, 15 Jun
Breakfast at the Foreign Correspondents Club with shapely Administrative Officer Winky Ip, who is proudly contributing to the Government’s campaign to dress down and save air conditioning by sporting a special Civil Service commemorative T-shirt emblazoned with the slogan ‘Ten years with no Brits in charge, and the sewerage system still works – SO THERE!’ with a little ‘Serving the community with pride’ logo underneath.  

I show her the
HK Standard’s announcement of an ‘Ex-convict picked as next secretary for home affairs’.  A headline worthy of a tabloid.  Tsang Tak-sing was jailed in the late 1960s for handing out patriotic, anti-colonial, leftist literature.  It was a time of bombings, and the British authorities didn’t discriminate greatly between terrorists and non-violent demonstrators – they just rounded them all up and chucked them in the slammer.  Some never got a job again.  Tsang, like his older brother Yok-sing of the Democratic Alliance for the Blah Blah of Hong Kong, is a mild-mannered, intellectual sort, not known for physical brutality.  Winky is not impressed.

“This is going too far,” she murmurs.  “I mean, they have to rehabilitate these people.  I don’t get too upset when they give them honours – though you should hear my father shouting at them when they’re on TV.  But putting them in charge of a department?”  She looks quite distraught.  “Beijing’s tightening its grip.  Home Affairs… civic education, human rights, promotion of the Basic Law, youth development.  That’s the way it’s going.  They’re not bothering with people our age, you know – but they’re gradually increasing the propaganda aimed at kids.  It’s very long-term, very low-key.  Astronauts, anthems, sports stars, flags.”  She stirs her congee glumly.

Under an unwritten rule governing our relationship, I have to disagree with everything she says. 

“I think it’s a great appointment, good for Hong Kong!” I tell her.  She stares at me in shock.  “It’s not a question of what he is,” I go on, “it’s what he isn’t.”  I pause for dramatic effect.  “We have a Government run by bureaucrats and tycoons.  And they run it in the interests of bureaucrats and tycoons.  This guy isn’t a bureaucrat.  And he isn’t a tycoon.  He hates bureaucrats and tycoons.”  Winky’s shock has turned to sullenness.  “I say ‘more please’.  It’ll be worth some pro-motherland BS if it helps to break the grip of the civil servants and the cartels.”  Time for the red rag to a bull.  “Yes – this is Beijing interfering in the composition of our Government!  Correct!  They should’ve done it 10 years ago!”