Hemlock's Diary
16-22 Dec 2007
Mon, 17 Dec
The ‘Hong Kong stock exchange internationalization’ story du jour appears in the
South China Morning Post and is noteworthy mainly for including the phrase ‘Outer Mongolia’.  It must be decades since anyone used this name in English, and it is good to see it making a comeback, with its connotations of Chinese sovereignty over the unending, rolling grasslands and their hardy, smiling, yurt-dwelling yak herdsmen.

A few pages away, and the
South Tartary’s columnist Kitty Poon addresses the fading significance of the Liberal Party.  She believes that the party is by nature pro-business, and thus in favour of free markets, competition and small government.  In reality, it has always been pro-businesses – demanding official favours, state handouts and protection from competition for its own members’ industries, and to hell with everyone else.

Attempts to gain public support have been embarrassingly populist, not to say opportunistic and even infantile.  In pulling the plug on the Article 23 laws in 2003, the party’s leader James Tien accidentally became a people’s hero, but that was a one-off.  His typical approach is to make lame calls for a casino, demand a levy on foreign maids and, recently, voice instant opposition to HSBC’s hike in minimum ATM withdrawals.  If he were a children’s paddling pool, the water would barely come half way up a toddler’s toes.  This grubby little group is a moral and intellectual void, with not an atom of principle or substance, and its departure would remove a vacuum, not create one.  As Winston Churchill so memorably put it, “an empty taxi drew up outside the Legislative Council and James Tien got out.”
Tue, 18 Dec  
The mood on the Mid-Levels Escalator this morning is one of nervous confusion, as the word gets around about an armed robbery this time yesterday at the Cochrane Street branch of Starbucks.  This sort of thing doesn’t happen in Central.  The details of the perpetrator are, according to our two leading English-language newspapers…
               Standard           South China Morning Post
Ethnicity     South Asian              Filipino
Height        5ft 6ins                 1.67 metres
Wore          dark jacket,bluejeans    black clothes
Stole (HK$)   42,000                   41,000
Given the conflicting information they must have been given, the police dogs called to the scene can be forgiven for failing to find the culprit.  They deserve an extra big bone each, just to help them get over the bewilderment.

As we glide down the ‘electric ladder’ past the crime scene towards Queens Road, my fellow commuters discuss various theories about what happened.  Mrs Chan, a marketing manager, maintains that the perpetrator must be a Filipino, “because Christmas is coming, and they need the money to send to their families.”  Mr Wong the banker is inclined to think it was a Nepalese, “because they’re always doing that sort of thing.”  Struggling to come up with a suitably nasty, mean-spirited, churlish and unfounded suspicion of my own, I declare that it was probably an inside job, the robber in fact being an accomplice of the two staff members opening the store.  “Always happens when you give teenage shop assistants the keys,” I point out.  Especially Starbucks employees, with their shifty eyes, cruel mouths and generally untrustworthy demeanour – totally different from the Pacific Coffee workforce.  Mrs Chan pulls out her mobile phone and announces that she is calling her daughter’s Italian tutor to find out how tall 1.67 metres is.
Wed, 19 Dec
The revenge of Tung continues.  One of the relatively minor disasters dating from our first Chief Executive’s memorable time in office swings dangerously in the breeze as it clunks and clangs its way back into the public eye.  Ngong Ping 360 is to re-open on 31 December, neatly allowing its operators to say in future that it was closed for a while in 2007 rather than for a period in 2007-2008, which would sound worse.  As with all safety-related product recalls and venue closures, the management must now put the past behind it, and hope the public forgets about the time one of the cable car system’s gondolas plunged to the ground.  As part of the re-branding exercise the attraction will henceforth be called the Lantau Death Ride, with the slogan ‘We All Have to Go Sometime’.  The fact that the Government has chosen hapless Commerce and Economic Development Secretary Fred Ma to be the official guinea pig passenger tells us all we need to know about the advisability of setting foot on the thing.

Perhaps part of the problem is that Ngong Ping 360 is run by the MTR, whose engineers are accustomed to dealing with trains speeding securely on rails through tunnels below the ground.  “Gravity is our friend,” they think to themselves, unaware – especially since the installation of anti-suicide barriers on platforms – that this remarkable force of nature can be a two-edged sword.
Flicking through the South China Morning Post, I am delighted to see a new, fresh columnist to spice up page 2 of the City section, namely one Tim Hamlett.  I am sure he will go far.  Who is he replacing?  Have the SCMP’s editors had the eventual good taste to grab one of the bores who write interminably about animals by the scruff of the neck, put them in a little cage and take them on a one-way trip to the vet?  Or could it be Kevin Sinclair?  His Venerable Kiwi Cantankerousness is making no secret of what he believes to be his imminent passing, after having battled cancer on several occasions over the years.  Perhaps he still has time to replace Fred Ma as our city’s cable car test pilot – could there be a better way for a much-loved fan of both our tourism industry and beautiful scenery to depart?
Thurs, 20 Dec
On a scale of zero (watching paint dry) to 10 (listening to it dry), Hong Kong’s Great 2007 Constitutional Reform Debate is comfortably scoring a commendable 3, thanks to the heroic efforts of our mellifluous-tongued, forensically-blessed legislators.  Indeed, were it not for the pro-democrats’ predictable and tired threat to
call the masses out onto the streets, the connoisseur of tedium might even consider awarding a rating of 2.  And even a warning of protests, that vacuous last resort of the opposition when bleating fails, contains a hint of something interesting in it.  The morning radio quotes one member of the Democratic Party as saying that continued delay to universal suffrage could lead to popular action of the sort that brought down the Berlin Wall.

It’s hard to believe that leading pro-democrats are unaware of Beijing’s extreme sensitivity about the downfall of communism in Eastern Europe and the subsequent ‘colour’ revolutions in former Soviet states.  What am I saying?  Actually, it’s quite easy to believe.  Either way, to the Central People’s Government, a mere mention of the fate of Moscow’s old empire since the late 1980s is tantamount to fighting words.

And there is no shortage of bone-dry tinder to spark the flames of rebellion.  Right under the noses of the pro-democrats as they waffle and splutter at their fellow Legislative Council members, the Government indulges in its usual robotic, self-indulgent, cronyistic dim-wittedness.  Officials rule out dipping into our HK$1 trillion of reserves to pay for a Happy Valley MTR station on grounds of cost – because as we all know, gridlocked streets and air pollution have no economic impact.  And they drop yet more hints that they would put more public money into the world’s smallest, most unpopular, and only nationalized Disneyland.  Mickey Mouse drools with malicious glee as the Revenge of Tung is visited upon the people of the Big Lychee again and again.  Oblivious to it all, the noble fighters for universal suffrage maintain their usual barrage of blather, challenging our amused leaders with nothing more dangerous than the actuarial likelihood of ever having a vote.  To make the forces of evil even more secure, The System keeps the rabble distracted with that 21st Century opiate, YouTube.  The uprising has to wait a while…
Fri, 21 Dec
On the Mid-Levels Escalator, on the sidewalk of Queen’s Road and in the entrance lobby of S-Meg Tower, there are noticeably fewer representatives of various sectors to have to squeeze between, elbow aside or delicately brush against.  The disco version of Silent Night in the uncrowded elevator reminds me why – it is that tiresome time of the year again.  But the brighter side to Christmas is that many representatives of various sectors remove themselves from Hong Kong, leaving a bit more space for the rest of us.  I myself will be entering into the Yuletide spirit in my own way by spending part of the festive season in Shenzhen, where 25 December is just another working day.  The city of Shanghainese, Fujianese, Henanese, Shandongese, Beijingese and anything-but-Cantonese carries on oblivious to the fact that the Barbarian-influenced region just over the border is celebrating a 2,000 year-old virgin birth by getting drunk and dressing its shop staff in red hats.
The tower whose overhead walkways link the Landmark and the Entertainment Building has sadly never been given a name, so everyone calls it the Marks and Spencer Building, in honour of the British department store on the ground floor.  What it lacks in appellation, however, it makes up for in interior décor.  Currently, the public area hosts a giant plastic Bambi.  Beneath the oversized ruminant is a plaque that I presume mentions the work’s title, the responsible artist and other greatly desirable information.  To read it, I kneel on the foot-high wooden base surrounding the exquisite sculpture and lean forward, placing my head just below the glass-fibre belly but – and I make sure of this – keeping my centre of gravity safely to my rear.  At this point, a security guard rushes towards me shouting, “Sir!  Sir!  Dangerous!”  When I dispute this, he starts tittering nervously, as many of the Big Lychee’s residents always have done when faced with some sort of calamity.  As it happens, the creator of the masterpiece remains a mystery, as does the reason for his modesty.

In the gwailo’s lair, I flick through the pages of the
South China Morning Post and find that the fascinating Urban Jungle column is still appearing…
The casual reader, glancing over tales of chemotherapy, depression, digestive problems and other ailments, would imagine this to be a weekly account of someone caring for an elderly, and apparently fast-fading, relative.  The sort of human interest material enjoyed by people who can’t handle actual news.  But then, zipping through the medical misfortunes, the eye spots a reference to a decision – not made without much agonizing, to be sure – to put the poor grandmother to death.  And then it dawns on the initially bemused, now alarmed consumer of journalistic output, what the column is actually about – a hamster.
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