Hemlock's Diary
15-21 Apr 2007
Mon, 16 Apr
The highlight of the weekend was undoubtedly a visit to the Art Museum to see the
‘Not Chinese, Not English’ exhibition of works reflecting on Hong Kong’s mongrel dialect of Cantonese with English loan words.  This is not entirely a backhanded way of saying that it was a dull weekend – the display had its amusing and even thought-provoking features.  But when the most amazing moment in a two-day period comes on seeing the juxtaposition of the words for ‘toast’ and ‘store’ and realizing (even though you were vaguely aware of it all along) that they are same characters in different orders, it may be assumed that it was a less than eventful 48 hours.  The most inspiring thought I had between Friday and now was that if there were a store selling nothing but toast, its name could form a palindrome – which a language that can be read in either direction could use more of.
Tue, 17 Apr
After the South China Morning Post went to press, the total number of people killed in the campus shooting at Virginia Tech ends up at 33, including the perpetrator.  Why don’t these people shoot themselves first?  I have a special interest in this because a Hemlock cousin is being trained as some sort of electronics whiz at that very establishment, and sent me a T-shirt that’s rather too gaudy to wear much.  No word from him, which is probably a good sign.  It’s a 750-to-one chance, statistically.  Or, to put it more bluntly, a 749-in-750 possibility that someone else’s cousin got it.  This is the worst US school shooting so far.  How long will it be before some misunderstood, lone nut with several dozen clips of ammunition in his backpack breaks the three-digit mark?

Back in the land where the students are laid low by nothing worse than bad lunchboxes, proposals for political reform are pouring in from the unusually eager pro-Beijing camp, who seem to be competing with each other to produce
the least democratic formula possible.  It should be clear to everyone by now – apart from the naivest pro-democrats – that ‘universal suffrage’ in Hong Kong is going to mean that everyone has the right to vote for the candidate Beijing has decided to appoint Chief Executive, whereas under the current system, only 800 people can.
Under the exciting Sir David Akers Jones method, a candidate would need a minimum endorsement from each of the Election Committee’s four ‘sectors’, which represent our community so well.  From memory, the sectors are Political (mostly Beijing appointees to rubber stamp Mainland bodies), Business (people whose parents were very rich), Professions (people who do well out of Government contracts, plus a smattering of subversive lawyers) and Humans (members of hitherto unheard-of community organizations hand-picked for their trustworthiness and positive attitude). 

Maria Tam builds on Akers Jones’s proposal by adding that after being nominated by a nice large proportion of this highly representative, random cross-section of society, candidates will also have to be cleared by a given number – but don’t worry, not too big a one – of Hong Kong delegates to the National People’s Congress.  This essentially reduces the whole, 800-strong Election Committee to a few dozen of the grimmest, most humourless and grouchy members of its Political ‘sector’. 

In the last 10 years, we have seen all-elected District Councils replaced by bodies partially stuffed with Government appointees, and broad-based functional constituencies replaced by small-circle ones.  Under either the Akers Jones or Tam proposals, it would probably have been impossible for Alan Leong to get the nomination that enabled him to be ritually slaughtered by Sir Bow-Tie in last month’s ‘election’.  Most people should be able to detect the pattern here.  It is at least gradual and orderly – but given the direction this is going, that’s probably the least we can ask for.
Wed, 18 Apr
Something in the newspapers this morning puts me off my Foreign Correspondents Club breakfast.  As if the pain and suffering following the Virginia Tech shootings weren’t enough, the world must now endure the tiresome, self-righteous and embarrassing ritual of British, Australians and others preaching to the US about gun laws.  Every time a lone nut massacres a dozen people in the UK, the Government there totally bans the type of firearm used – only to find a few years later that the amount of gun crime has doubled.  If there was, say, a one-in-20 chance that a law-abiding citizen would be armed, would London be infested with muggers and burglars the way it is? 

Before I can tear the paper to shreds, perfectly formed Administrative Officer Winky Ip comes to my rescue, sitting across the table from me and looking exquisite – as people should when they are on average paid three times what their counterparts in the private sector get.  “That stupid diary of yours,” she announces, “has become not just rubbish, but really boring!  I mean over the last few months.”  This is the sort of constructive, forthright comment that I appreciate.  If only our civil servants could think as critically and express themselves as bluntly in their daily work, rather than spending all day trying to keep their heads down, shine the right shoes, cause no-one any offence whatsoever, babble nonsense about how dependent we are on Beijing, and never question anything.

“There is a reason for that,” I tell the buxom bureaucrat.  “I’ve been busy working on something else.  It’ll be ready in a few weeks.”  I pass her over
a few sample pages from How I Trashed Asia’s Greatest City by Tung Chee-hwa

A look of horror comes over her face.  “Oh my God, no…  He’s written a book.”   She listens as I explain that it’s a history of Hong Kong since 1997 – a damning account of how our once-dazzling and confident city has descended into a mire of poor governance, self-doubt and strife.  “It’ll never sell!” Winky declares.  “It’ll be a pack of lies – some arrogant Westerner trying to make out that China can’t handle a free society.  No-one will read that stuff!  I bet it doesn’t sell a single copy!”

This may, of course, be right.  But there are time-honoured ways of boosting sales of publications.  It all comes back to guns.
Thurs, 19 Apr
The spiteful and never-ending Revenge of Tung Chee-hwa continues to be visited upon the innocent taxpayers of Hong Kong.  Seven years after the crop-haired one (who couldn’t operate a toaster) decreed the Applied Science and Technology Research Institute into being, Government auditors uncover what all right-minded people forecast at the time – typical public-sector waste, self-indulgence and general parasitism and wastage of space.  To quote from the
…pay bands for its staff at Levels One to Five were 5% to 40% above market level.

…entertainment expenses incurred exceeded the annual budget by 32% … cost-per-head [entertainment] spending limits were exceeded…

…staff  … had not obtained prior approval for their overseas duty visits … staff concerned travelled by
business class instead of economy class…

Fung shui consultancy fees. … it is uncommon to use public funds for such a purpose.  ASTRI is a publicly-funded organisation performing applied science and technology research.

…despite the fact that ASTRI was maintaining a high level of cash and bank balance for the years 2003-04 to 2005-06, the annual interest income ASTRI received was low.

…administration cost, at 45% of the total cost, was high…

… no information had been reported to the LegCo CI Panel on the number of jobs created, income, joint-ventures or start-ups created from the application of ASTRI’s technologies…
The Audit Commission seems to be making a point of including a Tofu-for-Brains horror story in each of its thrice-yearly reports these days, just as they have a curious compulsion to keep going back to Radio Television Hong Kong to make sure they didn’t miss any misuse of tea bags in the pantry.  I look forward to their reports on Cyberport and Disneyland some time.

If there were any justice, the perpetrators of the ASTRI mess would be stripped, strapped down and have “I chuck your tax dollars down the toilet” etched into their flesh.  The peculiar apparatus used for this purpose would, of course, be painted red and carefully aligned from north to south so as not to disturb the wealth-creating flow of energy in the area, to maximize everyone’s chances of winning lots of money on the horses, and to help number-two daughter find a husband.
Fri, 20 Apr
The rules for an outsider claiming
a deceased person’s fortune that everyone assumed would stay with the family are simple – get in there quickly with tons of pure, undiluted assertiveness and a lawyer and stick to your guns totally.  Tony Chan Chun Chuen, a feng-shui master and all-purpose mystic to many of Hong Kong’s leading tycoons (nice work if you can get it), announces that he is ‘honoured’ that Nina Wang has left him her entire estate in a 2006 will.  And who wouldn’t be?  A 2002 will, on the other hand, leaves the riches to her charitable trust, which she apparently intended to establish a Nobel-type award.

There are three possibilities.  The ‘Svengali’ scenario, in which a confused dying woman is misled into leaving her wealth to a manipulative interloper.  If this is the case, lawyers will make extremely large amounts of money out of the lengthy and embarrassingly messy forthcoming legal tussle.  Then there is the ‘revenge’ scenario, in which a malevolent dying woman gets her own back on everyone else by leaving everything to the only person she actually likes.  If this is the case, lawyers will make extremely large amounts of money out of the lengthy and embarrassingly messy forthcoming legal tussle.  Or there is the ‘logical but unlikely, knowing her’ scenario, in which a clear-headed dying woman added an extension to her earlier will providing for some of her wealth to be left to a more recent friend.  If this is the case, lawyers will make extremely large amounts of money out of the lengthy and embarrassingly messy forthcoming legal tussle. 

Her privately held company Chinachem’s assets might have co-owners and could in theory have to be offset against debt, so it is not totally beyond the realms of possibility that there is less wealth there than some people think.  It could be that there won’t even be enough to pay the legal bills – in which case, so much for one all-seeing fortune teller’s reputation.