Hemlock's Diary
31 August-6 September, 2008
Mon, 1 Sep
A cruise terminal will be a money-loser, therefore the Hong Kong taxpayer
must buy one for HK$2 billion.  Does this sum include the opportunity cost of the land?  Presumably not, since the figure comes from one of our senior officials, who live in blissful ignorance of such a concept.  The package includes an exciting road network.  With this subsidy from our hard-working citizenry, the cruise companies – which make most of their profit by keeping their clients on board their floating hotels, gambling, shopping and buying cocktails – can presumably be ensured nice low docking fees.  And we will get yet another tacky shopping mall, even more state-owned than those run by the MTR.  And yet more tour buses clogging the streets.  Voila – a hub is born.

Who will stand up and denounce this transfer of wealth from the population to the parasitic tourism industry, not satisfied even after getting such free lunches as a nationalized Disneyland?  Not the Democratic Party, whose sad and sorry leaders leer at us with their disturbing grimaces from election posters around town.  In Hong Kong Island Constituency, martyr of democracy Martin Lee is standing down from the Legislative Council but, as the party’s nearest thing to an iconic, swingin’ sex symbol and ultra-cool hero, he is wheeled out to push the name of Yeung Sum, of whom some passers-by have heard.  Yeung is second on the list, however, and it is more than likely that only the number-one, the unknown Kam Nai-wai, will win a seat.  After 15 years or so of forlornly insisting that the Communist leaders of a one-party state grant universal suffrage to 7 million of their subjects, the party is faded, irrelevant and a big yawn.
In early 2006, after being denounced by Chief Executive Donald Tsang for always opposing his administration’s laughably bad policies, the Democrats cravenly decided to adopt a more ‘constructive’ persona.  Looking through the Government’s agenda to find something they could openly and loudly praise, they spotted grandiose public works white-elephant scams designed to funnel the people’s wealth to vested interests in construction, engineering and real estate.  To their economically illiterate little minds it seemed perfect, so their platform now pledges the embarrassing coterie of losers…
“To support infrastructural projects such as the Hongkong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hongkong Express Link, Terminal No. 10…”
With friends like this, who needs the Liberal Party to shovel tax dollars to their friends?
Tue, 2 Sep
The closest race in Sunday’s Legco election on HK Island is for the title of Winner of the Fewest Votes.  League of Social Democrats candidate Tsang Kin-shing – the Bull to his friends – hasn’t a chance here, as his high profile as agitator and illegal radio broadcaster is gaining him well over 1 percent support in the opinion polls.  But two other solo candidates are neck-and-neck in this thrilling, nail-biting clash, each struggling to get half a percent.  One is the delectable-in-a-schoolmarmish-way Myra Sophia Siu Man-wa of blood-signed petition fame.  Her rival for the coveted bottom spot is former Democratic Party member and stalwart of local and regional councils since back in the 1990s, Joseph Lai Chi-keong.  His platform can be summed up as ‘nice things for everyone’, with no apologies for the lack of detail on how to accomplish it.  His
website starts off with a grim, apostolic reminder of how un-nice things are today, and why...
But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come.  For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.
2 Timothy 3: 1-4
But is this dire outlook really applicable to today’s Hong Kong?  Just within the last 24 hours I have experienced a small but perceptible sense that things are getting better.  The Big Lychee seems just that little bit calmer, a just-noticeable bit quieter, more relaxed and less raucous.  It seems very slightly but genuinely cleaner and more hygienic.  And better-smelling.  What can it be? 

The answer becomes clear when I read
the news this morning that 10 dogs died in a fire early yesterday.  The long-overdue dispatch of the canines to their happy hunting grounds in the sky appears to have been deliberate, which raises the intriguing question of whether my public-spirited friend A-Hing the Mid-Levels Dog Strangler was involved.  His standard modus operandi is to leave chicken laced with carbofuran crystals on mutt-infested Bowen Road, but a larger-scale solution to the yapping menace would certainly appeal to him.
That said, yesterday’s mass termination of barking beasts also claimed 21 cats, and I know for a fact that A-Hing does not consider our feline friends to present a serious hazard to the community.  (In this he is actually wrong.  I am reliably informed that just a couple of months ago the British manager of the excruciatingly seedy Wanchai bar the Old China Hand was viciously bitten by a half-wild puss that burst into the premises early one day, and not only spent days in hospital having painful injections into the brain but had to have several important limbs amputated.)

In percentage terms, yesterday’s sudden decline in the city’s canine population is probably on a par with Joseph Lai’s share of the vote.  But – with all respect to Joseph – no right-thinking person can be in any doubt which is the finer achievement as a contribution to society’s well-being.
Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king?  Let me go over, I pray thee, and take off his head.
2 Samuel 16, 9
Wed, 3 Sep
Although the world’s greatest psephological minds are preoccupied with the battle for bottom place in the HK Island Constituency in Sunday’s election, it is not the only struggle going on.  Two pro-democracy soloists are vying for the sixth seat that will be up for grabs if the polls are roughly right and two Civic Party candidates and one each from the Democrats, DAB and Broomhead-ites fulfill their lifelong ambitions to become members of the 2008-12 Legco.
The first is Cyd Ho.  For her election leaflet picture the photographer captured her doing her famous ‘excited hamster’ impression, while her website portrays her as the indefatigable campaigner for support, sympathy and mollycoddling for poor oppressed public housing tenants, and other causes the Island’s self-reliant, middle-class property owners care so deeply about.  She is one of the few candidates I have not yet seen canvassing on the Mid-Levels Escalator.  Maybe it is too far up the hill to drag all the transparency, fairness, equality, justice, openness, and empowerment of the disadvantaged she takes with her everywhere.
Second is Lo Wing-lok, the doctor who for a while joined the League of Social Democrats and who modestly acknowledges his “unique ability, his courage and his ingenuity” in his handouts, while reminding us that he was the genius who first proposed killing every single chicken in the city when avian flu threatened to wipe us all out in late 1997.  He has dined out on this story rather a lot – but then who wouldn’t?  It’s certainly more interesting than US Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s daily reminiscences of long, sweaty years as a POW in Hanoi, revolving, as it does, around millions of birds suddenly being stuffed squawking into plastic bags and then being gassed.  Eschewing Cyd’s trendy blather, Dr Lo just gets to the point
The Hong Kong Government, with the blessing of the Central Government, colludes with big businesses in the name of ‘maintaining stability and prosperity’ to rip-off the people for the benefit of the [gigantic real estate developers].
The sort of straightforward, no-need-to-be-embarrassed, talk you would expect from Vice President of the Hong Kong Toilet Association.

Thurs, 4 Sep
Gliding down the Mid-Levels Escalator this morning, I overhear an amusing conversation between two housewives.  Times are hard, one of them says.  Inflation is eating into the family budget.  Would it make sense to save money by switching from a Filipino to an Indonesian maid, or would it be false economy? 

There are unquantifiable factors here, like the relative propensity of particular domestic servants to defenestrate babies or entice husbands into impure thoughts and deeds, but most Hong Kong employers of helpers are aware of the basic pros and cons…

- HK$3,500 pm
- Helps kids with English homework
- Cool about pork
- Steals shampoo
- Looks on in disgust when you clip fingernails while watching TV
- Will sue you if you are nasty

- HK$2,500 pm
- Makes your English seem really good
- Prays to Allah after touching pork
- Not sure what shampoo is
- Retrieves nail clippings for casting spells on you. 
- Will take possession of you by putting menstrual blood in the soup if you are nasty
But here in the Mid-Levels, there is one other difference – having an Indonesian maid is low-class.  People in public housing estates do it.  Hiring a Javanese girl as a spare, to look after ageing parents, is acceptable, but to have a non-Filipino domestic helper is like having a non-Mercedes car, wearing a non-designer label watch or sending the children to a non-famous school.  You just don’t.

It can be 100 percent guaranteed that the lady trundling down the hill, if she actually lives on Hong Kong Island and not in Shatin or somewhere, will not be voting for the Civic Party in the election on Sunday.  The owner of the gleaming office block at the bottom of the escalator, 100 Queens Rd Central, might, judging from the campaign posters neatly displayed around the bottom of the building. 

Most landlords and other members of the tycoon caste are petrified of offending Beijing or its local friends and would never be seen endorsing even the classiest pro-democrats, so this is noteworthy.  Leasing agent for the development when it opened was property firm DTZ, which is linked with half-Romanian Executive Council member CY Leung, who wouldn’t mind being Chief Executive one day.  Something for the conspiracy theorists to ponder – a more rational explanation would be Audrey and Tania buttering up the Nepalese security guards.

List 8 (it has to be) comprises these two fragrant barristers and – to spice things up with a dash of exotica – an accountant.  In any other campaign, an aide would say, “Hey let’s put a bus driver, or at least a teacher, in the unwinnable third place on the ticket to broaden our appeal.”  But no.  Indeed, many citizens intending to vote for the Civic Party are shooed away from the polling station after the group’s workers take one glance at their jewellery.  Sensible CP voters – like me – will of course just send the amah.  Filipino, obviously.
Fri, 5 Sep
Hong Kong’s eager voters look over the garish, over-designed and strangely similar-looking candidates’ leaflets one last time before making a final choice on who to go for – if not shopping, drinking or in bed – in Sunday’s election.  To prioritize the wannabe politicians by the integrity of their policy platforms would be like ranking smelly socks for aesthetic appeal.  With no chance of forming an administration or even influencing the executive appointed by Beijing, Hong Kong can only elect an opposition.  The choice is two-fold – opposition that opposes sparingly, and opposition that opposes a lot, but for stupid reasons.  The truth is that the Legco election’s outcome will have no visible impact on how Hong Kong is run.  The city’s voters are like little children who, wanting to be involved while daddy fixes the car, are given a tool to hold and a subsequent pat on the head for being so helpful.  Even voters who decide to pick candidates on the basis of potential entertainment value will look at the assorted personalities on offer and sigh in despair.
The Appalachian branch of the Hemlock clan are doing the same, though for the opposite reason.  An oasis of Obama supporters in a desert of inbred zither-players who handle snakes at church and shoot abandoned refrigerators for intellectual diversion, the relatives are staring in horror at the apparition on the TV – a braying, in-your-face woman heading their way to rub their noses in the dirt.  Not since Joanne Lumley was suddenly offered the role of Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous has there been such an inspired bit of last-minute casting as the choice of Sarah Palin as Republican Vice Presidential candidate. 
Comparisons to Maggie Thatcher make limited sense.  The UK’s second-greatest Prime Minister had ideological substance – based on free markets – while the Alaskan Governor spouts inane shibboleths about abortion and guns.  These topics whip certain Americans into a frenzy, even though no-one with any intelligence seriously imagines that either D&Cs or S&Ws can or will be banned.  Thatcher was pro-life, but she had more important, achievable, things to do.  Palin, beneath the ranting and the lip-gloss, doesn’t seem to.  So it’s a bit of an insult to Maggie.  Unless, perhaps, Palin can emulate the British former leader’s proficiency at winning elections. 

Common sense says that a mouthy harridan with a soft spot for creationism is going to blow it.  During any eight-week period, she is almost certain to say something that is unacceptably infantile, obnoxious or ignorant to decent, mainstream America, especially with cameras and microphones trained on her the whole time.  This is what I tell my stateside cousins, who I have no doubt will look around at the banjo-strumming, grits-slobbering retards who surround them and feel totally reassured.
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