Hemlock's Diary
18-24 Mar 2007
Mon, 19 Mar
No fewer than three individuals I met separately over the weekend claimed to suffer from nocturnal teeth-grinding.  I suppose there is a lot to grind your teeth about these days.  There certainly was last night at the pub in Lan Kwai Fong, where I stumbled upon a meeting of the Hong Kong Association of Gwailos Married to Southeast Asian Women of Humble Origins.  Wild American friend Odell, in the chair, was regaling his fellow members with the famous story about the time – after consuming an unwise amount of alcohol – he suffered a severe bout of mid-coital nausea and emptied the contents of his stomach onto his unfortunate companion.  “…onions all over her face!” he concluded, to the guffaws of his easily amused friends.

Such a tale calls for a swift change of subject, and this came in the form of a tremendous commotion at the entrance to the bar.  “Rod – where the fuck you been!” shrieked a plump and extremely angry Filipino woman towards the burly, tattooed Brit of that name sitting opposite me.  She breathlessly marched up, as if to assault him.  “Where’s Lilibeth right now?” she screamed.  “Do you know where she is right now?  Your wife!  You fucking stupid idiot!”   With a sheepish grin, Rod introduced his sister-in-law, but she interrupted him.  “I been calling you!  I been looking for you everywhere!  She’s in the hospital!  Having a caesarian!”  At this, everyone fell silent.  All eyes were on Rod.  He mumbled something about how he better have a coffee.

After a weekend packed with such interesting characters, I start the day in need of an antidote.  Where can I find dullness, blandness, grayness?  Fortunately, Hong Kong’s greatest assemblage of bores is never far away.  Where would we be without the
South China Morning Post’s letters page?
Tue, 20 Mar
extremely exciting results of the public consultation on a competition law win everyone’s rapt attention this morning, as the benefits of effective anti-trust legislation in Hong Kong become clear…
#  The supermarket duopoly will be smashed, grocery prices will fall, the quality of produce will rise, and a decent choice of products will become available, such as CDs with exotic tracks like
Be Good to Them Always by The Books.
#  The property cartel will be busted to smithereens, and as they start to compete with each other, developers will produce affordable, spacious homes and experience a sharp drop in profit margins, and other companies will enjoy lower costs, enabling new economic activities to become viable, creating jobs and tax revenue.
#  The construction materials cartel will be eradicated and suppliers will cut the price of cement and rebar, further reducing housing costs and ensuring the Government’s programme to cover Lantau Island with concrete doesn’t involve the taxpayer getting ripped off.
#  Consumers will have a choice of electricity and gas companies and will see their monthly utilities bills plummet, even if they play The Books’
Enjoy Your Worries, You May Never Have Them Again all day.
#  Homeowners will be able to ditch the management services provided by the developer and will no longer be forced to buy the latter’s overpriced telecoms services bundled into the monthly maintenance fee.
#  The Law Society will no longer set bloated fees, so solicitors – unable to charge thousands of dollars for doing some photocopying – will starve to death, much to everyone’s great amusement.
#  Li Ka-shing, the Kwok brothers and Lee Shau-kei will stop colluding in land auctions and apartment pricing and sales schedules and become fervent converts to competition as a means to maximize economic efficiency.
#  The swine importation monopoly will be dismantled, leading to lower prices for pork – and to celebrate, thousands of pigs listening to The Books’
Lemon of Pink on earphones will soar into the air and fly over the harbour and into the sunset.

Wed, 21 Mar
It is, apparently, an unparalleled honour for Hong Kong to be given a pair of panda bears by the Chinese Government to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the handover.  Ocean Park’s head zookeeper Allan Zeman describes the privilege on the radio this morning in almost rapturous terms.  Did I just write ‘given’?  I am wrong.  Donated?  No.  The notoriously celibate and indolent bamboo-chewers are being ‘bestowed’ on us, according to the Lan Kwai Fong landlord.  The ponderous, morose, high-maintenance ursines were hand-picked by Chief Secretary Rafael Hui to
“fulfil their mission of building a happy family in Hong Kong,” the administration having given up on the city’s humans, whose females produce 0.7 babies each – the lowest in the world.
After many months of silence and inaction, my peculiar acquaintance A-Hing, the Mid-Levels Dog Strangler, strikes another blow in the struggle to liberate Hong Kong from barking, excrement-producing canines.  This time he dispatches two labradoodles, a hitherto unknown breed that results from the mating – which might actually be worth watching – of a Labrador with a poodle.  Are the residents around Bowen Road finally getting the message that keeping dirty and loud livestock in the middle of a crowded city is anti-social and selfish?  I note from the report that these two animals were “about to be trained as therapy dogs,” the implication being that, once qualified as psychiatrists or whatever, the mutts would make some sort of contribution to the community.  It won’t fool any right-thinking person, of course, but it is interesting that these creatures’ owners are having such pangs of conscience about the misery they inflict on the rest of us that they feel a need to indulge in public relations.

My own gift – sorry, ‘bestowal’ – to the people of the Big Lychee today has been to update writer
Nury Vittachi’s Wikipedia entry, which I considered to be insufficiently adulatory.  After a few minutes’ tapping away, he is now described in the glowing terms that are undoubtedly his due.  The wonderful thing about this on-line store of knowledge is that if anyone feels accuracy and truth demand an even more flattering account of the Feng Shui Detective author and literary festival founder, they are free to enhance this accolade!
Thurs, 22 Mar
In New York, they have Mayor Bloomberg and Senator Schumer’s
report on financial services competitiveness, commissioned from McKinsey’s, which describes in impressive detail the ways in which the city is in danger of losing its pre-eminent position to the other global hub, London.  The post 9-11 visa regime drives talent away, Sarbanes-Oxley drives business away, and the threat of litigation and the onerous regulatory structure make life even more difficult.  Hong Kong gets a few mentions, not least for having the capacity to host mega-deals that would once have been New York’s.  (Most jaw-dropping quote in this connection – “…a single large IPO such as the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China’s (ICBC) can generate as much as [US]$500 million in underwriting fees alone.”) 

Across the Atlantic, London sponsors a
global financial centres index, which naturally shows the City ahead of its rival by a typically British, classy and understated narrow margin.  As with Bloomberg’s document, the idea is to scare politicians – in this case it’s the corporate tax levels and the transport infrastructure that pose the threat.  Though not in the same league as the top two, Hong Kong comfortably takes third place and gets a pat on the head for being a theoretical contender to join them.  Shanghai comes in 24th, just ahead of Dubai.

Meanwhile in the Big Lychee, we have
Mainland academics warning us that we are going to be overtaken by Shenzhen and Guangdong.  For example, we might lose our conference and exhibition business to these crime-ridden, corrupt, totally non-English-speaking cities.  As causes for concern go, this surely ranks with the very real possibility that vacationers will stay away in their droves if the unlikable Liberal Party boss James Tien becomes Chairman of the Hong Kong Tourism Board.  Given that our weakest spot as a financial services centre is quality of life, a sharp decline in the number of conventioneers and vacationers polluting and crowding the streets sounds ideal.
Fri, 23 Mar
“Let’s get it over, let’s sort it out.”  Chief Executive Donald ‘Iron Will’ Tsang promises the total extermination of all Hong Kong’s political problems in the next five years, through his proposed
Final Solution.  First, there will be a mysterious fire at the Legislative Council building, for which Longhair will be found responsible.  Then there will be a series of massed rallies – like today’s in Wanchai, only with more neo-classical architecture, creepy lighting and ranks of children in Road Safety Patrol uniforms.  Sir Bow-Tie will declare Anschluss with Macau.  Then will come the gradual and orderly elimination of the vermin responsible for all our woes.  At first, the pro-democrats will be issued different coloured ID cards.  Then their typewriters will be confiscated.  Then they will be banned from the professions, before being packed onto MTR trains and carried off into the night.

At his invitation-only press briefing a couple of days ago, Donald repeated his usual insistence on consensus, not wrecking the economy and all the other obstacles that come to his usually unimaginative mind when the conversation turns to democracy.  But he also dropped a heavy clue as to where his green paper and eventual proposal will lead.  Even in the USA, he said, the president is elected by an electoral college.  This point has been made in the past, notably by members of the Democratic Alliance for the Blah Blah of Hong Kong.  These people are not known for their in-depth understanding of Western political systems, and it is more than likely that they see the US Electoral College as the equivalent of our very own Election Committee, whose hand-picked members will go all the way out to the airport exhibition centre on Sunday to cast their ballots for Donald, as desired by Beijing.
They are almost certainly unaware that although it involves ritualized use of electors and polls, the US Electoral College does not, for all practical purposes, exist.  It is simply an arithmetical exercise that consolidates each state’s popular votes into a smaller number of points, in proportion to the state’s population.  No shoe-shining, no ‘sectors’, no corporate votes.  In most states, it’s a winner-takes-all arrangement.  Despite its clunkyness and occasional questionable fairness in very close races, it is as democratic as you can get short of a pure direct poll.  Transferred to Hong Kong, the system might give each geographic constituency 10, 12 or 15 points depending on size.  The winning candidate for Chief Executive in each constituency would get all that district’s points.  Assuming the sort of results seen in past Legislative Council elections, pro-democrats would win by a landslide. 

If there is one thing I cannot resist, it’s starting the weekend in the forefront of foreseeable tedious and pedantic wrangling.