Hemlock's Diary
15-21 July 2007
Mon, 16 July
American journalist Loretta Tofani asks the redoubtable
NTSCMP to carry her account of how “nearly everyone [in Hong Kong] – whether in an official position or not – can be expected to participate in the Big Brother system of spying and repression.”  After researching Mainland factories’ working conditions (no details given), she describes checking into not one but two budget hotels (apparently up at the shabbier end of Nathan Road) where the staff were seemingly engaged in a campaign against her, involving eavesdropping, monitoring, mockery and interference.  It is a gripping tale of disturbing overheard phone calls, evil maids cackling with delight at the plight of the valiant foreign sleuth, and a mysterious man in a suit who wanders around holding a black object that just might be a bugging device.  It doesn’t sound like the Big Lychee we all know and love.

It is no secret that the hordes of investigative reporters snooping around Mainland sweatshops in recent years arouse the ire of factory owners and/or local government officials.  Some Mainland pressmen have been murdered for being too nosey.  It is not beyond the realms of possibility that such officials would actually follow their quarry to Hong Kong, if only as an excuse to do some shopping.  Nor, perhaps, is it impossible that the staff of our cheap guest houses all speak Mandarin among one another, as Ms Tofani implies.  But the idea that these hostels are all linked into a secret network of factory owners and Mainland officials battling prying media requires a certain leap of the imagination.  It could be that Ms Tofani uncovered something Very Big Indeed during her investigations (and she won a Pulitzer Prize for it once) and isn’t mentioning it.  In which case, she might really have Chinese security agents barging into our low-end hotels trying to intercept her calls – though you would think they would be less ham-fisted about it.
But… By her own admission, Ms Tofani has been considered paranoid, if in jest, by her husband.  Her interpreter, one Yuki, appears from the article to have been unfazed by any sinister goings-on.  Innocent remarks in Cantonese can sound hostile, even threatening, to untutored and unaccustomed ears.  And it has been very, very hot recently hasn’t it?  We’re all liable to get a bit frazzled from time to time.  Ms Tofani should, I suspect, treat herself to a better quality hotel and have a nice rest.

Her piece, which ends with a lament for the death of Hong Kong’s liberties, has appeared in the
Philadelphia Enquirer and the Salt Lake Tribune so far, prompting our ever-eager bureaucrats at the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in New York to issue the standard statement about press freedom that they use whenever Emily Lau rants on the subject.  Anything to draw more attention to the story.  Well done – this is what we pay our taxes for.  My instinct tells me the story will fade rapidly away, but the James Bond fan in me would like to be proved wrong.

Tue, 17 July
Any day now, we are going to wake up and find that the Hong Kong population overwhelmingly comprises senile, drooling, bedridden, wrinkled geriatrics, incapable of feeding or washing themselves, and emanating the foulest imaginable odours accordingly.  And there will be only seven males for every 10 females, requiring a return to concubinism.  And an influx of Mainlanders will push our population up to 8.57 million, so it’s back to the shanty towns.  If – the Census and Statistics Department adds –
present trends continue.  

Would this be the same Census and Statistics Department whose exaggerated population forecasts in the past have given our bureaucrats the excuse they need to waste billions of dollars a year on unnecessary and ugly infrastructure? The same one that in 1999 increased the estimated number of Hongkongers’ bastard Mainland offspring by a factor of 25 so the Government could claim the Court of Final Appeal’s ruling on right of abode would result in 1.7 million human locusts swooping onto our fair city and stripping it clean? 

Aside from confirming the wisdom of building gargantuan bridges to places no-one goes to, this latest bit of demographic straight-line extrapolation voodoo is presumably supposed to convince us that we are headed for Ageing Population Crisis Doom, and our only hope for survival is the Health Care Finance Reform Miracle Cure.  Any opposition politician with half a brain could do a simple calculation suggesting that if we raise the retirement age by a few years and divert some spending from pointless highway projects to hospitals, these terrible problems disappear.  But do we have any opposition politicians with that much in their crania?  

And whatever happened to cross-border integration?  If present trends continue…  The soothsayer within me predicts that by 2036, most of us will have relocated to other – by then healthier and more democratic – parts of the Pearl River Delta to get away from Hong Kong’s ravenous cartels and psychopathic town planning.  All that will be left here will be a private hospital full of demented ex-civil servants and property tycoons dribbling congee down their bibs and wetting their beds.
Wed, 18 July
The mood on the Mid-Levels Escalator this morning is slightly nervous about what the children might see, on the one hand, and about giving offence to minorities on the other.  As it happens, the Court of Final Appeal’s
decision to legalize homosexual sodomy in public – and at the same time remind us that there is no law against it for heteros – does not seem to have made much difference to people’s behaviour in practice.  Everyone has jobs to go to.

To play safe, maybe RTHK should start the morning off by playing songs by Lust Control, one of the best fundamentalist Christian punk rock bands in history.  Their work covered such topics as the theory of evolution, which they detested, and virginity, which they venerated. 
The Big M, in which the devout boys energetically denounce the evils of onanism, would surely put commuters in a healthy and pure frame of mind. 

They were also, of course, dead against glossy magazines full of colour photos designed to arouse carnal passions.  Typically, such publications portray curvaceous young women posing in provocative angles in the nude.  But as our Court of Final Appeal would no doubt approve, some cater to very different tastes.  Hong Kong’s
The Peak, for example, gives hours of intense pleasure – we presume – to those left in a state of raw physical desire by the sight of slightly overweight, middle aged-men pouting suggestively in suits.

According to its website, at least, this pinstripe porn has “a very strong base of faithful readers who look forward to receiving every new issue … predominantly male (73%) … 30 to 49 years (67%) ... 43% earning in excess of US$200,000 per annum … nearly all professionals in senior management positions.”  And I am indeed greatly indebted to a member of a highly regarded law practice in town for alerting me to what must be the
most shocking centrefold in this genre of smut – Liberal Party leader James Tien laying bare his charms for breathless admirers.  Not something we would want our children or servants to see. 

Most people, myself included, find intelligence a turn-on.  But of course we must respect the minority that leans the other way.
Thurs, 19 July
Another leisurely morning for the Company Gwailo in his office on the top floor of S-Meg Tower, as he impatiently counts down to the end of the week.  Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary appears at the door with two very presentable but slightly nervous looking young ladies who are introduced to me as Prada and Canary.  “Interns,” she snaps.  “Obviously they’re no use to us here, so they’ll be sent to Marketing and Accounts.”  I smile, welcome them on board, and suggest that we put them to work teaching certain individuals some manners.
As they leave, I resort to one of my favourite monotony breakers – Googling for recipes to see what I find.  As a gourmand who regards half a bulb per person as about right, I feel compelled to give this week’s Why Bother? Award for the stupidest garlic-to-diner ratio to a recipe for spaghetti that calls for two cloves of the stinking rose in a dish that serves eight people.  This is verging on homeopathy. 

A quick glance at my emails reveals an invasion of pedants into my in-box.  The Court of Final Appeal did not ‘legalize’ homosexual sodomy, which is already banned under all-purpose public decency laws.  And Lust Control were not a ‘punk’ band, you dummy – the musical style of that song is Thrash/Speed Metal Punk.

Now to my main task of the morning… to finish the other good book on sale at IFC Mall Dymocks (and no doubt elsewhere),
Asian Godfathers – Money and Power in Hong Kong and South-East Asia by Joe Studwell.  It is a searing critique of the region’s dismal political leadership, presenting its inefficient and unfair economic systems as the main evidence – and using the hypocrisy, corruption and staggering wealth and power of its tycoons as colourful exhibits.  A bit of the index entry for Li Ka-shing provides a flavour of the content.  I note with satisfaction that the book gives Big Bosses’ gwailo running dogs long-overdue recognition for their talented contributions and selfless dedication to the Asian economic miracle.  A slice of the acknowledgements section gives an idea of how far down the barrel of muck the author has reached in his tireless search for what Oscar Wilde would have called ‘details’.  In short, it is serious economics and politics generously laced with dirt.  And if that’s not a good enough combination, we also get Coco and Wency, the gorgeous cover interns.  A full review will follow.
Fri, 20 July
By the standards of Joe Studwell’s book, the plight of Dr Hon Sir David Li Kwok-po, GBM, GBS, JP, legislator, Executive Council member, director of 56 companies and much else, is trivial.  The Bank of East Asia boss may be subject to legal action taken by US authorities who suspect him of being a party to insider trading of shares in Dow Jones, on whose board he sits.  A major yawn in Godfatherdom.  However, a curious quote in the South China Morning Post (on whose board he sits) leaps out at me.  It is a bit of anti-American, anti-Japanese, give-back-Diaoyutai, remember Nanking, patriotic paranoia worthy of a grubby member of the Democratic Alliance for the Blah Blah of Hong Kong.  And ridiculous.  Yet the order of the three paragraphs seems to suggest the words are in fact those of a Hong Kong Government official.

Does our visionary leadership really imagine that the US wants Japan to displace the Big Lychee as Asia’s leading international financial centre, presumably as part of Washington’s plot to surround the glorious motherland with military and other might, all the better to keep the 20,000 year-old continuous civilization’s poisonous fish, dog food and toy trains at bay?  One explanation comes to mind – someone let Gary Chan answer the phone.  Plucked from the obscurity of Shatin District Council in early 2006, this DAB loyalist was given the Ever So Important post of Special Assistant to the Chief Executive right in Donald Tsang’s office, where he sits just a few doors down from Information Coordinator Andy Ho.  The idea was to give Big Face to the Democratic Alliance for the Beijingment Etc, and mollify them over the appointment of the more senior Ho – a vaguely pro-democracy former columnist of the SCMP, who wouldn’t have said anything this dumb. 

While an anxious world ponders this possibility, I suddenly have a ‘Eureka!’ moment, in which the true reason for the Government’s obsession with building a vast new headquarters on the Tamar site becomes clear.  They need the extra space to store
David Li’s resume.

(The 56 companies figure comes from the depths of an Australian – very Australian – business column that also refers to David Li as
a one-legged footballer.  So it must be true.)

I hereby declare this weekend open.