Hemlock's Diary
18-24 Nov 2007
Sun, 18 Nov
In answer to a perverse need for an almost-unique, or at least strange, experience to start the day, I run the intimidating gauntlet that leads to the Mid-Levels East Constituency ballot box.  Although they are banned from a zone within a hundred metres (or something) of the polling station, campaign workers for the Democratic Alliance for the Blah Blah of Hong Kong are occupying every possible approach to it.  A voter taking the Mid-Levels Escalator from Soho would pass groups of them on Elgin Street, Caine Road, Mosque Junction and on the final stretch on Robinson Road, all with flags, banners and – in some cases – loud recorded messages.  How much does this cost?
After negotiating his way past these activists, with their awkward, not-from-this-neighbourhood grins, the citizen enters the hallway of Raimondi College where a line of eager looking Government officials waits to pounce.  The one at the front intercepts me and requests my ID card.  After inspecting it thoroughly, she hands it back and directs me to “the violet sign – or purple.”  Fearing an influx of colour blind electors, the system then assigns a second minion to escort the (by now, possibly petrified) voter-victim to one of a row of tables under different coloured signs, each with a pair of bureaucrats checking ID and issuing ballot papers.  That done, a third flunky helpfully points the way to one of four voting booths a whole 10 feet away.  A fourth then attempts to guide me to the ballot box, but I distract him by thrusting the clipboard and voting stamp into his face and smartly leaping to one side before the fifth has time to lift her hand and point to the slot before I slip the folded card into it. 

All this time, I have been the only voter among a good two dozen junior civil servants getting overtime for running the District Council election process in this constituency.  No sooner do I leave than a second turns up, with Marxist legislator Long Hair Leung Kwok-hung in hot, protest-prone pursuit.  It is Chief Executive Donald Tsang.  Since it is quite possible our votes cancel each other’s out, we could have arranged by phone to both stay in bed.  Next time, perhaps.  Half an hour later, I find myself having breakfast with Hong Kong’s favourite ‘maverick’ lawmaker in his Che Guevara T-shirt, who has let Sir Bow-Tie go in peace.  It’s amazing that
by mid-afternoon, six hours later, a whole 20 percent of the electorate has actually battled their way through all this weirdness to perform their civic duty.
Mon, 19 Nov
Despite apparently having millions of communist dollars and hundreds of conscripted campaign worker-slaves shipped in from across the harbour to help him conceal his true pro-Beijing affiliation, the oozy Jackie Cheung still only
scraped through by 1,370 to 1,097 votes in the Mid-Levels East Constituency in yesterday’s election.  Astoundingly, after a full week of groveling to passers-by in the neighbourhood, he is standing next to the Mid-Levels Escalator again this morning, marking his victory by bowing to commuters on their way to work.  It is quite possible that by the time I write this some exasperated citizen will have beaten him to death, thus opening the way for the candidate for truth, justice, liberty and botanical facial masks, Morticia Helena Yuen Chan, to take her rightful place on Central and Western District Council.

Down the hill in Chung Wan, the pro-democracy candidate Yuen Bun-keung slaughtered Simon Lee 1,107 to 689, despite the extensive financial and labour resources his opponent received from Beijing’s hidden, black hands.  Lee, who has ‘DAB candidate’ written all over his bespectacled face, obviously saw no point in trying to hide his loyalties and succumbed to the wrath of voters accordingly.
Over his post-Donald-harassing coffee yesterday morning, Long Hair made two interesting points.  First, he considers ‘outing’ a closet pro-Beijing candidate to be bad form.  The idealist believes pro-democrats should positively state their own positions and leave it at that.  Second, much of the DAB’s election-day pampering of old folk may not be effective.  Even though this can consist of a well-organised fun day out with no prior mention of votes or polling stations, participants are often happy to take the freebies but back their favoured candidate regardless.  His own highly patriotic mother, he recalls, merrily availed herself of discount meals and other blandishments offered by democrats, but voted pro-Beijing anyway.

It would be nice to think that we have seen the last of this psephological mania for a while, but no.  The Hong Kong Island Legislative Council by-election is just two weeks away – an epic clash of titans, or at least pushy, ex-colonial civil servants determined to find ways to Serve The Community whether the latter likes it or not.  It is unlikely that Regina Ip and Anson Chan will personally be pestering innocent Mid-Levels residents on a daily basis as this is an island-wide race, but there will be no shortage of activity, be it embarrassing, tiresome or puerile.  Looking at the disproportionate amount of resources pro-Beijing elements committed to their District Council hopefuls, it is clear that someone up there in the Mainland is taking silly little Hong Kong elections Way Too Seriously
Tue, 20 Nov
For low tax, consultants Mercer advise in
a new report, head for the United Arab Emirates, Russia or Hong Kong.  It is a tantalizing choice to have to make.  The sun, sand and sea of plucky little Dubai, where dusky temptresses’ doe eyes peer seductively from the slits of their niqab.  Crisp, vodka-fuelled winter evenings spent ice-skating in Moscow in the brawny arms of a blonde, buxom, big-boned Olga or Tanya.  Or the struggle on the crowded, polluted streets of the Big Lychee, dodging the flailing arms of scrawny, sour-faced, off-duty cosmetics salesgirls as they slap their dandruff-racked boyfriends to their knees as punishment for insufficient funds.

Should someone have told Mercer that in one of these three fiscal paradises there resides a gentleman with the name of Li Ka-shing, who, with a small group of acquaintances, the full complicity of the local Government and the apparent wholehearted approval of the national leadership, corners the market in most essential goods and services and depletes the people’s disposable income almost as effectively as Denmark’s Internal Revenue Department? 

Still, to put things in perspective, we can point out that the UAE, beneath the air-conditioned veneer and overseas workforce, is still at heart a society of goat herdsmen and pomegranate traders.  And Russia’s rulers, building on centuries of feudalism and despotism, even now run their land with a subtlety and care that owe much to Peter the Great’s methods of household management.

As if we need further reminders of Hong Kong’s superiority, the
South China Morning Post is currently publishing a succession of letters piling unrestrained praise upon our fair city in a style that verges on Singaporean.  The writers’ identities all sound oddly normal – ‘Peter Thompson’ today – which suggests the authors are in Government, too timid or unimaginative to think up more believable names.  But what do you expect for such low tax?
Wed, 21 Nov
I start the day overwhelmed by a flood of emails from helpful – at least, well-intentioned – folk who insist that
South China Morning Post letter writer ‘Peter Thompson’ is a real, live person.  He is, according to source…
#  a former magazine publisher
#  a former senior partner at a leading law firm (plus Hong Kong/Fanling Golf Club bigwig)
#  a former oboe player with the Hong Kong Phil
#  owner of a laser hair removal centre for men, or
#  a struggling new age veterinarian chiropodist. 

The fact that there are probably dozens of Peter Thompsons in circulation lends weight, in my nasty, shallow and suspicious little mind, to the theory that the toadying missive to the editor is the concoction of a Civil Service propaganda officer with a deficient imagination.  Still... perhaps one of the above-listed individuals – or one of the millions of other people blessed with the same name – did indeed scribble the fawning note in a moment of weakness.  If so, we can safely say that if he didn’t exist, the Government would have to invent him.  And how many among us can put our hands on our hearts and say that about ourselves?
THE LONG-AWAITED smear campaign against born-again pro-democrat and former Chief Secretary Anson Chan gets off to a disappointing, almost imbecilic, start in Sing Tao and its sister English free paper the Standard.  Alex Tsui – a senior Independent Commission Against Corruption official fired by the Government in 1993 for having friends with less than wholesome connections – loudly demands an investigation into a mortgage his nemesis’s family obtained back in those happier and less stressful times.  The staunchly anti-democrat Standard adds that legions of highly intelligent people, in the form of a senior lecturer at the venerable City University, may or may not be frothing at the mouth with indignation over this monumental scandal.  The child-like ‘Mary Ma’ (who definitely doesn’t exist) wades in with what I would probably find to be the usual soporific staleness on the subject if I could bring myself to read her editorial.

The idea, presumably, is to outrage the good electors of Hong Kong Island so much that they get out of their beds on Sunday, 2 December and vote for Dame Conscience’s opponent Regina Ip in the Legislative Council by-election.  Are
Sing Tao serious?  How can the Big Lychee claim to be Asia’s World City when one of its leading press groups can’t even organize a simple, plain, everyday character-assassination that does the job?
Thurs, 22 Nov
One of life’s minor mysteries is finally solved, thanks to the Government’s reply to an inquiry from a Legislative Council member.  Why, I have (very) occasionally wondered, is the name and address on my water bill in English but the bill itself in Chinese? 

I know why I get a Chinese-language bill.  Some years ago bilingual demands for payment were replaced with monolingual ones, to free up space on the document for official instructions on beating SARS, advice on cleaning behind one’s ears, and orders to jump up and down in delirious joy over the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  The default option was Chinese, and I have more important things to do than exercising my right to insist on a quarterly invoice in the Roman alphabet.  In the long run, they will switch to the latter anyway, when the Middle Kingdom finally accepts the need to abandon its exotic but impractical hieroglyphs in favour of the efficient, stripped-down set of phonetic characters used by sensible global citizens elsewhere.  In the meantime, it makes little difference.  The Filipino elves see to it that the bill is paid – or perhaps it goes through Autopay.  I do know that at times, despite my assiduously hygienic washing and showering habits, my apartment at Perpetual Opulence Mansions has consumed too little water to warrant any charge.
Anyway, the less-than amazing answer to this great puzzle is that the Water Supplies Department’s computer system, like many others, can’t do Chinese addresses.  Can anything be more mundane?  Stunningly, one thing can – our dashing Chief Executive’s annual duty trip to Beijing to report to the Son of Heaven on his management of the Empire’s far-flung, barbarian-infested, tax-avoiding, rebellious Fragrant Harbour.  According to his propagandists, Donald Tsang’s visit is a non-stop celebration of vacuity.  Sir Bow-Tie is grooming young professionals, examining whether Hong Kong can have a Beijing-style Creative Zone, cooperating to help Guangzhou and Qingdao become international metropolitan cities, basking in praise for holding successful Olympic equestrian trials and dropping to his knees to humbly request the loan of a second batch of national treasures for display in the Big Lychee, because we really, really liked the first lot – they were so cool.

He is also raising the issue of the much-vaunted ‘through-train’, on which a wall of Mainland money would trundle into Hong Kong’s market, push up share prices, make the semi-nationalized stock exchange even richer, and generally recreate the awe-inspiring splendour and self-confidence that mysteriously vanished from Hong Kong after the handover in 1997.  After whipping up much excitement about this prospect, our visionary leaders went into reverse as it dawned on the more alert among them that the Mainland has capital controls, while their counterparts in Beijing descended into territorial squabbling over the issue.  Our genius officials engineered a bubble. Then they burst it.  Visiting the tributary state of Uzbekistan, Premier Wen Jiabao
explained that this was to ensure the stability of the Hong Kong stock market.  What would they have done if they had wanted to destabilize it?  At least the spotty IT guys at the Water Supplies Department know their limitations.
Fri, 23 Nov
Hell hath no fury like a Hongkonger who gets a small windfall from The System while someone else receives a bigger one.  The injustice burns within them, generating enough heated indignation to attract our city’s highly professional and economically literate politicians, eager to fan the flames and bring the seething masses to boiling point.

When the Mid-Levels Escalator first opened, parents of children who climbed up the hill to school in the morning protested that the new conveyance operated only downhill at that time of the day.  It was unfair, they wailed, as if the benefit to commuters descending towards Central placed some sort of additional burden on their precious offspring, who had been merrily overcoming the forces of gravity unaided
en route to their classes on Caine and Robinson Roads for years.  It is our local version of Singapore’s infamous Kiasu ethos, an infantile resentment of others’ fortune or success – to which the Fujianese are rumoured to have a genetic predisposition – thinly disguised as a relatively respectable ambition to outdo the next man.

Thus the Mass Transit Railway’s announcement that
it will lower fares following its merger with the Kowloon Canton Steam Traction Corporation prompts moans of intense anguish, as the beneficiaries discover that some users will receive greater price reductions than others.  Over half the passengers will pay five percent less, but – owing to the MTR’s monumental and wanton iniquity – a lucky 130,000 will enjoy double that level of savings.  Legislator Fernando Cheung recoils at the savagery of it all, bitterly lamenting dashed hopes of an above-10 percent discount across the board.  Fellow lawmaker Leung Yiu-chung, after conducting a thorough cost-benefit analysis, righteously demands an 8 to 12 percent fare cut for all.  The Hemlock Party, if it existed, would choose this moment to trump them all – rail travel to be free, and the MTR to provide all passengers with foot massages, dental coverage and eternal life.
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