Hemlock's Diary
24-30 June 2007
Mon, 25 Jun
The mood on the Mid-Levels Escalator this morning is one of bemusement, if not bewilderment.  Who on earth, everyone is asking, are these people?  Chief Executive Donald Tsang’s
new line up of ministers, that is.  Edward Yau, former Administrative Officer in the Civil Service, is the new Secretary for Environment.  Matthew Cheung, former Administrative Officer in the Civil Service, is Secretary for Labour and Welfare.  Eva Cheng, former Administrative Officer in the Civil Service, is Secretary for Transport and Housing.  Carrie Lam, former Administrative Officer in the Civil Service – straight out of central casting – is Secretary for Development.  We’ve actually heard of her before, but not her Bureau. 

Development is the bundling of infrastructure – Sir Bow-Tie’s chief obsession – with lands and the psychopathic behaviour our bureaucrats refer to as ‘planning’.  Carrie’s job will be to ensure Hong Kong’s people and businesses have as little physical space as possible, to maximize property developers’ profits, to make sure the Government thinks and acts primarily as if it were a real estate company and to shovel billions of dollars of the resulting ‘profits’ at construction firms for unnecessary roads and bridges.  Much of this previously came under Michael Suen, the archetypal AO of the old school, administering on autopilot a system that worked flawlessly for a population cowed into obedience by implicit threats of being condescended to death.  His most memorable comment was, “…amendments to the Central District (Extension) outline zoning plan were gazetted in February 2002 to invite views from the public, and no objection was received … public consultation has been conducted in accordance with statutory procedures,” after Hongkongers woke up one morning, found demolition crews assaulting the old Star Ferry Pier and demanded to know what was going on.  He is moving to the Education Bureau, though with retirement approaching, he will have relatively little time to apply his imagination, creativity and daring to our schools’ problems.
Otherwise, with the exception of a few token non-bureaucrats, the new cabinet represents the younger generation of late colonial AO-turned-politician.  The main difference is that, compared with people like Suen, they are at least partly conscious of what they are doing.  The old school would stumble upon public opinion, stare at it for a few seconds wondering what it was, before plodding onward as if nothing had happened.  Somewhat dull to behold.  The new crowd will lie awake at night worrying about it. One step wrong, and they know they will be hauled up before a Legislative Council committee, strapped to a bench and have the soles of their feet beaten with canes – live on TV.  Much more entertaining.  And there is a lot to go wrong.

Tue, 26 Jun
With a sense of careful timing that suggests he has given full consideration to the sensitivity of certain truculent, thin-skinned users of black hair dye, our favourite former Governor Chris Patten declares that Hong Kong is less democratic than when he left it.  The city awaits a thundering mouth-frothing tantrum from the north, or at least some limp-wristed whining from Constitutional Affairs Secretary Stephen Lam.  We may be disappointed – the current management in Beijing seem to have a finer sense of decorum than their predecessors, though that’s not saying much.  Patten is right in saying we have less representative government than 10 years ago, though again, it’s not saying much…

District Councils  

Legislative Council seats
- Directly elected 

Functional constituency
Functional constituency
  (small/smallish circle)

Of which, corporate voting
- Election Committee          

Governor/Chief Executive


All directly elected

30, first-past-the-post


10 (elected by
District Council

Appointed by democratically
elected UK Government,
embarrassing make-believe
anointment by Queen

20% appointed to boost
pro-Government presence

30, weird proportional
representation system



Appointed by Communist PRC Government, embarrassing
make-believe nomination
and election by 800 Hongkongers
Since the rotund Brit sailed into the sunset, Hong Kong has become one of the few places in the world where non-humans – namely the companies and other corporate bodies that have the franchise for a third of our Legislative Council seats – are allowed to vote.  We have adopted a proportional representation system for direct elections that weakens ties between local communities and representatives and allows losers who get less than 20% of the votes (eg Long Hair and James Tien) to win seats.  To give an idea of how soon it will be before we get back to the 1995-97 level of democracy, the Hong Kong Government in 2005 offered, but then changed its mind, to scrap District Council appointed seats in 2016.  At that rate, Fat Pang will have little trouble repeating his assertion in another 10 years.  Maybe by then the Central People’s Government will once again be led by ultra-touchy types who will give us all a good old-fashioned display of head-banging, hyperventilating histrionics, for which so many of us this week are wallowing in misty-eyed nostalgia.

Wed, 27 Jun
Some creepy Falun Gong member from Taiwan is denied entry to Hong Kong.  Barriers have mysteriously appeared along overhead walkways next to main highways.  And the usually delectable Administrative Officer Winky Ip is looking frazzled.  For a change, we are having the special HK$40 ‘early bird’ breakfast at Life Café on Peel Street.  Organic egg, organic spinach, organic tables and chairs, organic waitresses. 

“Apart from salt,” I ask the buxom bureaucrat, “is there anything we eat that’s not organic?”  She is too flustered to think about it.  The reason I have dragged her here is because the deal includes zatar – a Middle Eastern spread laced with sumac and alone worth the cost of the meal.  But Winky has other things on her mind.  President Hu Jintao is coming to town.

“No, I’m not going to be his bodyguard, actually,” she replies when I ask.  “I’m being dumped with other people’s work.  Yesterday I had to sit in on a meeting at the Education and Manpower Bureau.  It was a mission representing parents of children who are exceptionally gifted.  You wouldn’t believe how many exceptionally gifted kids there are!  You’d have thought that ‘exceptional’ means there are hardly any – but there seem to be thousands of them.”

“Like at Lake Woebegone,” I remind her.  “Where all the children are above average.”

Winky looks at me pityingly for a few seconds.  “No, not just above average, like in Lake whatever.  These are five-year-olds who can do calculus in Putonghua while playing Chopin.  They’re in the top 0.1 percentile.  According to these ghastly parents.  Ghastly bloody mothers!  Selfish!  Complaining because there aren’t enough facilities for their little geniuses.” 

“Funny how you never get parents of exceptionally dull, ungifted kids demanding special treatment,” I point out. 

To take our minds off her woes, I show Winky my copy of the Sotheby’s catalogue for the exciting auction on Friday of
An Important Private Collection of Reunification Art.  I’m thinking of bidding for Sovereignty Is Not Negotiable by Lin Yong Kang – a moving oil depicting ‘chain-smoking Communist dwarf’ Deng Xiaoping’s historic meeting with Margaret Thatcher (estimated at HK$800,000-1 million).  Or should I try for Hao Xiang’s heroic Portrait of the Crop-Haired One, priced at HK$500,000-600,000?  Zhang Wei’s Morning of Hong Kong (HK$150,000-200,000), complete with McDonald’s logo?  Or Chen Zhenxin’s recent contribution to this genre Hu Jintao Meets with Donald Tsang Yam-Kuen (HK$600,000-800,000)?  Mao meeting Edward Heath I can do without.  I suggest to Winky that she tries for Hong Kong Garrison by Miao Zaixin and Li Xiang – hunky looking men that would look good on her bedroom wall for just HK$400,000-600,000.  But she prefers a sculpture – Guo Xue’s A Big Calendar in metal and wood, permanently set at July 1, 1997, a snip at a mere HK$300,000-400,000. 

“For art at Sotheby’s, these are quite cheap,” she says.  I think about it for a few seconds and lean towards her.

“Winky.  There’s a reason for that.”
Thurs, 28 Jun
According to the Hong Kong Tourism Board, there is no such thing as a ‘rainy season’ in the Big Lychee.  In their publicly subsidized, hallucinogenic drug-induced fantasy world, we have 12 months of sunshine, low humidity, balmy breezes and clear skies.  Not a single spore of mould takes root on a bathroom wall.  Not a single drop of hour-old rainwater spurts from beneath a loose paving stone up your leg when you step on it.  Friendly, smiling rickshaw pullers fan themselves gently while waiting on the corner of Antiques Street and Herbal Medicine Street.  Gracious hostesses in elegant puce cheongsams welcome foreign visitors warmly to the Traditional Outdoor Themed Dining Area.  Lion dancers and drummers perform on every day of every moon beneath the gaudy, concrete Chinese Gateway erected in 1999 to lend ambience to the 7-Eleven, the Maxim’s takeaway and the wrinkled Nepalese street cleaners lurking near the Temporary Public Refuse Collection Point.  There is no perspiration, no clamminess, no itching between the legs.  Never any drainage problems, craters appearing overnight in the road, or landslips. 

Meanwhile, on planet Earth, the rational, no-nonsense, task-oriented Hong Kong Observatory spells out the truth,
boldly naming the period for what it is, and generously defining it as having a six-month span.  But not everyone listens.  Thus, this morning, I spy a bedraggled family of Westerners by the side of Hollywood Road.  Even if they were not struggling with a sodden map, they would have been instantly recognizable as tourists from a cold country.  Who else would wear plastic raincoats in this climate – it must be like walking around in a portable sauna.  At my suggestion, they accompany me to seek shelter in a coffee shop. 

They are slightly taken aback at the trendy brushed steel, fruit basket, avocado chicken wraps with sour cream and free broadband.  In a distinctive but fathomable accent from one of the more remote and lesser-known parts of non-southern Britain, they ask for tea with milk.  I amaze them by guessing correctly that they are passing through on a trip to Australia to visit relatives.  Every British couple with kids touching down here is visiting siblings or aunts down under.  How else would airlines make a profit, were it not for good traditional Anglo-Saxon values of filial warmth, closeness and devotion?

I shock them even more by declaring that Tony Blair, who resigned yesterday as Prime Minister, was beyond doubt the second greatest British leader of our times.  You don’t live in Britain, they protest.  A dreadful man – a liar.  The wife eyes me suspiciously and asks me which PM I think puts the grinning, saintly Blair in second place.  She nods knowingly and mouths the words ‘Margaret Thatcher’ along with me.  “That woman!” she splutters, adding something about communities torn apart and coal mines.  I look at my watch.

“Good grief,” I declare.  “Must dash.  Got to see my friend Lulu, the Wanchai bar girl with a heart of gold, bound feet and an unfortunate weakness for opium.”  As I leave, I can’t help wondering – is it a coincidence that a people who like their siblings so much they live on opposite sides of the planet can elect leaders three times in a row and despise them?

Fri, 29 Jun
The morning starts with a jolt, when I read that Hong Kong Monetary Authority boss Joseph Yam is advocating that we merge our local public revenue and expenditure with those of the Mainland.  But then I remember that I am looking at the Government’s news website – a potpourri of falsehoods, errors and mendacity.  Yam seems to be repeating his frequent call for free lunches over the border for our local financial sector.  Or, “…we should guard against a situation where the two financial systems of our country might adopt too competitive a stance towards each other.”  I’m surprised that our headline-writing civil servants don’t know what ‘fiscal’ means.  No, actually, I’m not – why did I write that?
One sector that remains intensely competitive is the patriotic Reunification 10th anniversary art scene, featuring the happy, smiling faces of post-1997 Hong Kong’s noble and visionary leaders, as rendered by the Mainland’s finest creative talent, painting by numbers from official photos.  I now find myself torn.  Do I attend the Sotheby’s auction this evening and, exercising self-discipline, bid up to my maximum limit of HK$750,000 for Hao Xiang’s Portrait of Tofu-for-Brains?  Or do I attend the Influential People Marking the 10th Anniversary of the Handover Papercutting Arts Exhibition by Lu Xue?
Her possibly unhealthy interest in something called Danish culture notwithstanding, Ms Lu is clearly gifted to be able to describe the facial characteristics of the Big Lychee’s eminent personages with paper and a sharp knife.  Four characters in the ad for her show are immediately recognizable – Donald Tsang, WHO Director Margaret Chan, Tung Che-hwa (despite Mafioso-style black shirt and greased-back hair) and former Justice Secretary and admirer of the Basic Law’s infinite flexibility Elsie Leung.  That leaves the two at lower left.  The Olympian must be San-San – destined to be the city’s only winner of a gold medal for eternity.  As for the elderly gentleman...  Sir Run Run Shaw, the 271-year-old movie mogul, comes to mind.  Or is it supposed to be Li Ka-shing?  Alternatively, it could be one of those Mainland officials whose menacing demeanour and malevolent utterances about Hong Kong’s place in the grand scheme of things give so many of our children nightmares.  Wu Bangguo doesn’t look like that.  Nor does Zeng Qinghong.  But one of that lot.

Some people sneer at Chinese paper cutting.  They dismiss it as artless and almost irritating – on a par with French mime or Indonesian puppet theatre.  They claim that acrobats balancing spinning plates on their noses stimulate greater and deeper reflection on the human condition.  I’m one of them.  So Sotheby’s it is!