Hemlock's Diary
27 Apr-3 May, 2008
Sun, 27 April
It is a cliché uttered by many people returning to Hong Kong after a trip to the land of their birth that after going days or weeks without seeing the city mentioned in the overseas media, you realize how small and irrelevant the Big Lychee really is out there in the big wide world.  This occurs to me as I peruse one last edition of the
Stonegallows District Herald before leaving for Heathrow and a 12-hour flight home.

One big story is that renowned thespian Johnny Depp
is not moving into the neighbourhood.  Another is that popular singer Robbie Williams isn’t, either.  Freak, isolated events, or tip of the iceberg?  Would mega-stars be able to find houses in the region anyway?  Domesticated rodents are facing a critical shortage of accommodation, and, with no local equivalent of A-Hing, the Mid-Levels Dog Poisoner to keep matters under control, homeless canines are causing alarm.  All this, plus the sole item of industrial eqipment in the county has gone berserk, mutilating workers’ bodily extremities.  It’s all too much – the sleepy insignificance of East Asia beckons.
Mon, 28 Apr
Tibet was essentially colonized by China and therefore has the right under international law and UN resolutions to self-determination; the recent independence of Kosovo strengthens the case.  Thus opines lawyer Paul Harris, working on the theoretical assumption that international law and UN resolutions are worth the paper they are written on.  His article would have prompted a yawn or two and a few mutterings of ‘so what?’ and otherwise gone unnoticed had the editorial board of the Law Society’s Hong Kong Lawyer gone ahead and published it.  After commissioning the piece, however, they read it and apparently got a touch of the jitters, realizing that even a dispassionate, near-dull analysis of the issue would go down like a cup of cold sick among China’s grim officials and their local friends. 

The Central People’s Government has had to put up with enough tedious blather about rule of law from the Big Lychee’s barbarian-influenced jurists on things like right of abode and the Chief Executive’s term of office.  Now this malignant alien pedantry is being used to undermine the very unity of the motherland.  Maybe Paul Harris doesn’t care if Beijing’s local representatives strike him off the invitation list to the National Day cocktail reception, but some of his colleagues in the legal sector have political ambitions, Mainland business connections and a good, old-fashioned, quiet easy life to think about.

So the essay is rescued from obscurity, with far more people hearing about it, and some actually wanting to read it – which they can, courtesy of the David
Webb-site, after which they can ask themselves whether what holds for Tibet doesn’t also apply to Xinjiang, Manchuria, Inner Mongolia and all those funny tribes down in the jungle near Burma and Vietnam.  Authorities’ clumsy attempts to suppress the material win it more attention.  Just like Gillian Chung’s genitalia, only less graphic.
Tue, 29 April
The scene in the IFC Mall branch of Pacific Coffee this morning would challenge Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot.  Around a third of the customers, positioned randomly around the premises, are slumped unconscious on the floor or in their chairs, surrounded by spilt drinks and remnants of half-digested bagels.  Wild American friend Odell is certainly baffled.  Could the bread have been laced with arsenic by a disgruntled employee?  No, I tell him – other people are chewing away on the same doughy products. Then it must have been aliens from outer space, reasons the ex-Mormon.  Taking a quick look at several of the victims, I detect a pattern.  All of them are gripping page 13 of the
South China Morning Post in their cold, clammy hands... 
“It is obvious what has happened here,” I announce.  “The moment their eyes alighted on the top of the page and saw that name – Tofu-for-Brains – everyone went ‘Yikes!’ and threw their cups in the air and spat out their breakfast.  Then, when they started to read his vacuous and bland words, their eyes grew heavy, and they fell asleep out of boredom.  Elementary.”
Only something as exceptionally mind-numbing as the crop-haired one’s thoughts on Tibet could have this effect, so inured have we become to tedium in recent weeks as we count down to the arrival of the Symbolic Olympic Torch.  Despite millions being spent on posters, banners, websites, fun activities for all the family, trial runs, trial road closures, extra police, amphetamines for immigration officials and much else, the mass enthusiasm that was supposed to sweep Hong Kong before Friday’s torch relay has failed to erupt as planned.  According to the timelines and flow charts drawn up by large committees of dedicated and hard-working civil servants, the population should have started jumping up and down in barely concealed excitement by 09.00 hours yesterday.  As of noon tomorrow, we are meant to be squealing in delight in anticipation of the Sacred Flame’s arrival.  And on the big day itself, the official schedule calls for all 7 million of us to dress in red and roll around on the ground in orgasmic rapture chanting pro-Games slogans as we Light the Passion and Share the Dream of the Journey of Harmony.  But for some reason, it’s not happening.  Our highly paid bureaucrats, given the simple task of planning and implementing a buzz, have failed.

Fortunately, a stirring ‘sponsored feature’ in today’s paper will arouse our long overdue fervor.  It gives full, Gillian Chung-style, close-up details of the Torch’s route through 19 cities on five continents, including Mount Qomolongma, “also known as Mount Everest.”  It gives us the gripping background to the design of the burning baton  (representing a scroll of paper, “one of the four great Chinese inventions”) and the “rich symbolism” of the Relay’s very own burning phoenix logo.  It even has photos of an exotic and buxom Western woman provocatively astride a horse. 

Who is responsible for this riveting ad?  Not patriotic businessmen, for they would plaster their faces and company names all over the place.  Not some nationalistic civic group from the more Third World recesses of Kowloon, as it wouldn’t occur to them to do anything in English, and they certainly wouldn’t deign to have a tubby gwaipo sullying the racial purity of their publicity campaign.  So could it be the Government?  Yes it could.

Printing, gunpowder…  What’s the fourth?  Jet propulsion?  Double-entry book-keeping?  Baco-bits?

I owe the lady an apology –
she’s pregnant.
Wed, 30 Apr
Breakfast at the Foreign Correspondents Club with delectable Administrative Officer Winky Ip, who has been seconded to the Government’s emergency Olympic Enthusiasm Task Force, with orders to make the entire city
excited about the Torch Relay by the end of tomorrow.  She has a quota of 5,000 red badges to hand out.

“You’re wrong!” she snaps at me when I give her the benefit of my opinion.  “They are not ‘stinking’, and you definitely do need some.  Here…”  And she gives me a hundred of the things to hand out at S-Meg Holdings.  Property developer
Sun Hung Kai, she adds approvingly, is taking it seriously.  Not only will its entire workforce wear red clothes and broad, patriotic grins on Friday, but it is urging every resident of every apartment the company has ever built do likewise.  The Education Bureau is strong-arming school principals into wrapping their kids up in the national colour and getting them out on the streets to chant slogans as property tycoons and politicians stumble past with the burning stick.  We can only wonder at the amount of compulsory joyousness being enforced in Mainland-owned companies and pro-Beijing organizations.
The private sector, Winky insists, is playing a big part via the Committee for Welcoming the Torch headed by Trade Development Council boss Jack So.  “When the plane lands with the flame on board, the Committee will stand by the runway and wave.  Then, after it has been lifted out of its first class seat and carried down the steps, Mr So and his colleagues will approach it, drop to their knees and say, ‘Hello Torch, and welcome to Hong Kong.’  It will be very meaningful and symbolic, and broadcast live on TV.”

Winky puts her chopsticks down for a few seconds and looks around the main bar of the FCC.  “This is where that American actress is going to speak on Friday, while the Relay is in progress, isn’t it?”  Indeed – Mia Farrow is due to contribute to Hong Kong’s Olympic festivities by indulging in biased, CNN-style ranting about Beijing’s genocide-hardware-for-oil deals with Sudan.  “That is, if we let her into Hong Kong.  She’s a security risk.  I hear she was once caught on film about to stab a baby.”
Thurs, 1 May
This holiday morning starts with an email from tireless Administrative Officer Winky Ip sent from her office at 10.15 yesterday evening.  Taxpayers’ resources are being employed in an exceedingly unoriginal and heavy handed way to broadcast the subliminal message, “Look at me and how hard I work – I’m still at my desk at this hour, while slovenly mortals like you are out drinking beer or reading in bed.”  This flimsy device needs a cover, which happens to be…
RE: Permission needed to link to Govt websites on yr stupid diary

I assume you have sought and received permission to link to non-recommended Government pages from that stupid website, in line with official Link Policy.
Which deserves, and gets, the reply…
Dearest Winky,
I’m insulted you should even ask!  Obviously, I emailed them and said, “Please can I link to the page paid for with taxpayers’ money showing the photos of the pregnant white woman on a horse, because many people I know are really into that sort of thing?” and they replied just six working days later (in line with their Department Performance Targets, bless them) saying “Sure, feel free, in fact we’ve had the same request from many people who share such tastes in these matters.”
The odd thing is that the list of Recommended Sites Serfs Are Graciously Permitted To Link To Without Grovelling To Their Masters is not itself a Recommended Site Etc, and anyone linking to it is therefore in flagrant violation of the edict.  Mercifully, “after some 30 days of relay, the sacred flame of 2008 Beijing Olympic Games eventually arrived in Hong Kong, back to the motherland,” and our guardians of law and order are too busy laying out roadside barriers, deporting Danish and Canadian human rights bores and making other preparations for tomorrow’s Wear Red And Watch Tycoons Run With A Burning Stick Day.  A midnight knock on the door seems unlikely.

Fri, 2 May
On the top floor of S-Meg Tower, in the heart of Asia’s leading international financial centre, the Company Gwailo finds out too late that he could have come into the office today in laid back casual garb – on condition it was red.  The notice board in the pantry bears a hastily circulated memo from Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary to senior managers’ lowlier personal assistants…
Dear all lovely ladies,
Please be informed that as per the Human Resources announcement (attached) you and all colleagues may ‘dress down’ on Friday 2 May in red casual attire to congratulate the Olympic Torch.  Thank you for your attention.
There then follows a lengthier missive from Nazi-trained HR Manager Ms Doris Pang, stressing – between the lines – that this is an exceptional concession and in no way implies any relaxation of the corporate dress code, which bans trousers for women and facial hair for men and requires all male staff to sport the puce, lime green and brown company tie on Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays.  Interestingly, the wearing of red-casual is described as ‘voluntary’ – not a word that springs naturally from the lips of Ms Pang’s disciplinarian and punishment-oriented department.  The overall tone suggests distaste for today’s clothing option and some resentment at being required to allow it.

A quick stroll around shows that S-Meg Holdings has remained largely untouched by the Government-ordained enthusiasm for the Olympic flame relay.  The three Stanleys in the mail room are no more dressed down than usual.  A few floors below, the Mays, Winnies and Ronalds of the Accounts Department are mostly sporting the usual beancounting apparel, apart from a couple of junior desk slaves in crimson T-shirts.  Only the Mainland Affairs Office, with all its scarlet-clad Xiaos, Dengs and Huangs, seems to have entered into the patriotic spirit of the extremely exciting event, which as we all know is all about sport, not politics. 

At the morning meeting on Wednesday, the Big Boss mentioned that Hong Kong’s senior officials were embarrassed and frustrated at their citizens’ nonchalance about the Olympics – so unlike the Mainland, where every city takes pride in its clock counting down to 08-08-08, and where the atmosphere is buzzing with national pride.   Over the border, it’s a real thrill, but down here we can’t even do our local leaders a small favour by at least pretending to get worked up.  If S-Meg were a school, the Education Bureau would have ordered us to abandon all efforts to impart literacy and numeracy and focus solely on
the distribution of ‘Go China’ stickers and the chanting of embarrassing slogans.  But bureaucrats tasked with the implementation of Games and Torch frenzy seem to have shied away from berating the corporate sector. 

Today, our visionary Chairman’s management team eagerly await his grand entrance to the daily gathering.  Will he or won’t he?  The last time anyone can remember seeing the Big Boss in casual wear was some five years ago at a wretchedly tedious outdoor celebration designed to convince the world that SARS, Tung Chee-hwa and a 60-month bout of deflation were lovely, lovely, lovely.   It was not a pretty sight.  Feeling bare without a tie, he clutched the collar of his grotesque Hawaiian shirt and nervously rubbed the legs of his brand-new black denim jeans.  He looked helpless, lost and distressed.  The man eats in a suit, sleeps in a suit, showers in a suit.  A slight sigh of dismay greets him as, predictably, he strolls in in one.  A similar sartorial tragedy is the one thing that would have made today memorable.
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