Hemlock's Diary
6-12 July, 2008
Mon, 7 July
Days after assuring us that lawmaker and former Chief Secretary Anson Chan will be running in September’s Legislative Council election, the
Standard reports the opposite.  Her comments on the radio this morning suggest that a whole eight months of struggling alongside 59 others to be noticed in the Council is enough, and she will have a better chance of getting in everyone’s faces and Serving the Community if she concentrates her energies on her little-known Citizens’ Commission on Constitutional Development.  Although the international press are still avid fans of Dame Conscience, she is fading away, and soon nothing except the grin will be left.  She is destined to roam the streets, wandering up to strangers and saying, “I used to be Acting Governor of this place, you know,” and muttering vague threats to ‘mentor’ people if she doesn’t get a bit more respect.

The big news of the day is the continued presence in town of Vice-President Xi Jinping on what is being billed by Mainland news agencies as an inspection tour.  Roads are being blocked off and hundreds of police stationed along the route wherever the revolutionary hero’s son goes.  Chief Executive Donald Tsang is trailing after him, along with a groveling horde of senior Hong Kong officials, all mindful of the fact that Xi is slated to replace Hu Jintao in 2012, the same year Sir Bow-Tie will also hand over power.  Many of the cops are probably there just to restrain Chief Secretary Henry Tang or Financial Secretary John Tsang in case of any sudden, untoward dropping to their knees to lick the imperial shoes clean with gallons of glistening saliva.

Although the word is that he is not hugely scintillating company, Xi could be worth having a beer or two with.  At the age of 15, when his father was purged, he was banished to the countryside to learn from the peasants.  He later majored in Marxist theory and ideological education.  Singapore’s mouth-frothing tyrant and expert on everything Lee Kuan-yew has likened him to Nelson Mandela.  Not least, he is married to the rather fetching songstress
Peng Liyuan

Visiting Hong Kong’s Olympics venues yesterday, he urged the city to
enhance co-ordination among various government departments and strengthen leadership in times of emergency.  The fact that he feels a need to say this strongly suggests that he thinks our local officials are dimwitted and clueless.  Perceptive man.
Tue, 8 Jul
Only in the intimate pages of this diary, unseen by prying eyes, can I be totally truthful with myself and admit that I have always secretly enjoyed the sight of a nasty child receiving physical chastisement.  There is something deeply satisfying about an arrogant, malicious little brat being enlightened by a brief dose of trauma.  They can never say so in public, but I have little doubt that all right-thinking people feel the same way – that it is no vice to enjoy a mild frisson when witnessing something obviously wrong in the world being put right swiftly and a bit painfully.  So it goes without saying that millions of Hong Kong people join me this morning in struggling to suppress a pleased smile on hearing that visiting Vice-President Xi Jinping chose last night’s high-profile banquet to give our spoiled and irritating Chief Executive Donald Tsang a good spanking.

Sir Bow-Tie has disappointed his elders in Beijing with his mishandled appointment of the new layers of Government official, the Undersecretaries and their HK$130,000-a-month ‘Political Assistant’ photocopier operatives.  It is not that the Chinese Communist Party’s leaders exactly have a deep philosophical aversion to plucking cronies from obscurity and forming them into cadres of loyal running dogs to support an incompetent administration with no popular mandate.  But letting dissenters and troublemakers make the process an object of public mockery is a sign that you are not in control, which is unacceptable.  So the infantile recalcitrant is dragged by the ear into a corner and placed over the knee, the lime green Hello Kitty shorts are pulled down, and the lesson delivered. 

But – just as it doesn’t work with bed-wetters – will a brief and hurtful smack of humiliation make Donald any less hubristic, defensive or out of his depth?  Another needless problem is waiting to undermine him in the form of
health care finance reform.  The Government, having taken the people’s money to hoard and to spend on civil service salaries and handouts to the construction industry, now wants citizens to pay up again for badly needed expansion of health care capacity.  Even the inarticulacy, economic illiteracy and political incompetence of the pro-democracy opposition cannot mask the selfishness and stupidity – and besides, the complaints of some more conscientious pro-Beijing figures speak volumes. 

It will all be swept under the carpet until after the September elections, but once that’s out of the way, the little bureaucrat with the big ego will have to choose between doing a U-turn or trying to ram it through.  Still smarting from last night’s thrashing, he will probably chicken out.  But if he doesn’t, and if it all blows up in his face, we can expect another inspection tour from another Northern, grim-faced user of black hair dye, and once again – to our guilty delight – Mr Hand will take a short, sharp trip to Botty Land.
Wed, 9 Jul
Members of the legal fraternity in the world’s freest economy – and their many millions of admiring friends – reel in horror on hearing that a plaintiff and lawyer agreed on a ‘no-win, no fee’ arrangement.  Fortunately, solicitor Winnie Ho and her jobless client, who successfully sued the driver who left her son in a coma, now face possible spells in prison, during which they can reflect on the enormity of their crime.

Do they have any idea what sort of place Hong Kong would become if people could hire lawyers to file civil actions on a contingency fee basis?  Hard-working drivers with pedestrians tangled up in their vehicle axles, already inconvenienced by a grasping Government fining them HK$1,200 and putting three demerit points on their licence, would face financial ruin.  The courts would be clogged up with all sorts of people hobbling in off the street who felt entitled to a trifling million dollars or so after stupidly walking into or falling off something.  Class action lawsuits would threaten our noblest tycoons and corporations – the bedrock of our economic development – with the rapacious attentions of resentful, hate-filled, parasitic, ant-like consumers and small investors.
But all this fades into insignificance next to the most horrible and unthinkable outcome of abandoning our cherished laws against champerty – solicitors and barristers, those dedicated and fearless defenders of our rights and freedoms, would have to compete with one another.  Their incomes would plummet.  They would sell their children.  They would become malnourished.  They would end up scrawny and homeless, with hardly a stitch on their backs, dragging their few pitiful possessions around the streets, their bedraggled hair falling out, and clearly not eating for weeks on end…
Thurs, 10 Jul
Commuters on the Mid-Levels Escalator are intercepted this morning by Hong Kong University psychology students conducting a survey as part of a PhD thesis.  Which of the contortionists in the famous Shelley Street yoga advertisement, they ask, is giving your children the worst nightmares?  I tell the interviewers that my six year old son often wakes up at 3am screaming in terror because he is dreaming that Dr Babu – the one with no legs and the sadistic ‘pedophile cannibal’ grin – is hiding under the bed waiting to chop him up into little pieces.  Apparently, this is the most common answer.  The researchers tell me that some of the neighbourhood’s impressionable and sensitive young folk have looked at the yoga cult’s website and been highly disturbed by Eva, who appears to have detached one of her own legs in order to bludgeon a victim to death with it.
But who cares about keeping little kids with overactive imaginations awake in fear at night when you can make money out of the cunning brilliance of the yoga fad?  All of a sudden, legions of mostly Indian experts in bizarre and barely pronounceable schools, sects and philosophies of yoga have burst onto the scene.  Where did they come from?  What were they doing before?  How did they get visas?  What will they do when the mania disappears and the herd of unnaturally lithe expat housewives slithers on to the next craze?  And what on earth was Pilates?  Meanwhile, there is money to be made by giving the gullible masses the impression that they need a yoga for every time of day and stage of life.  Even post-natal – as if pregnancy and childbirth didn’t stretch your body to hell already.  Even – and how my mouth waters at the thought of the cash to be made by combining a quasi-mystical fitness fad with the greatest mental disorder of our age – golf yoga.  Pure genius.

In Hong Kong’s halls of power, the great fetish is hubs.  Our officials suffered an appalling outbreak of hubs during the dark, suicidal, but strangely fascinating days of Tung Chee-hwa around the turn of the century.  The tourism hub and high-tech hub obsessions proved particularly expensive and embarrassing, diverting billions of dollars of public assets into the Disney and Cyberport fiscal cesspits.  Relative calm and sanity followed, until the hyperactive John Tsang became Financial Secretary and declared himself the all-knowing micro-manager of the city’s economy, urging and ordering the private and not-so-private sectors to wrestle market forces to the ground and create in the Big Lychee a shining hub on a hill – an Islamic finance hub, a wine hub, a Chinese fund through-train hub, a Kazakhstan IPO hub and an oil trading hub.  And now… the long-awaited cruise ship hub.

With the public becoming increasingly aware that of the fact that ‘hub’ equals ‘massive handout to tycoons’, the Government is trying hard not to be too blatant, to the extent that the two bids to run a cruise terminal have been rejected.  One was for a shopping mall pretending to be a cruise terminal, while the other was for luxury apartments pretending to be a hotel next to a cruise terminal.  “Waaay too obvious, guys,” Commerce and Economic Development Secretary Fred Ma had to tell Sun Hung Kai and Cheung Kong property developers, “c’mon, I’m trying to stuff taxpayers’ money into your pockets here, help me out a bit, huh?”  But the canny hub fetishists are now taking the ‘do it in the open and no-one will notice’ route and simply offering a mere
HK$2 billion cash to the lucky winner, assuming (pretty safely) the absence from the next Legislative Council of anyone who understands concepts like ‘return on investment’ or ‘cost-benefit analysis’.
Yoga… hubs… and then there is women’s fashion.  Many years ago, back in the days when we were all poorer but happier, we woke up one morning to find that 85% of women in Hong Kong were suddenly wearing late-50s-style stretchy pants with elastic loops around the feet.  A few months later, the strange garments vanished, driven out by an invasion of shoulder pads.  Then, for a winter or two, every middle-aged housewife with two pennies to rub together squeezed herself into rather provocative shiny leather trousers.  In more recent times, large proportions of the female population have succumbed to jeans with ugly white streaks down the front, while others have mysteriously taken to walking around with a hand hanging limply but prominently downwards or with a nasty little grinning dog under their arms.  And the latest vogue, specially for the rainy season, comes in purple, brown, Burberry tartan, stripes, stars, landscape scenes and a million other colours and designs including – modeled in the S-Meg Tower elevator this morning by none other than Miss Fang the hunter-killer secretary – pink spots.  The garish PVC Wellington boots.  Where did they come from?  How did they get visas?  Where will they go afterwards?
Fri, 11 Jul
Why – assuming we are in a place with gravity – do we say things are ‘hanging
downwards’?  In what other direction can things hang?  Another question that occurs to me this morning is why the Democratic Alliance for the Blah Blah of Hong Kong is proposing an array of ‘anti-inflation’ measures, all of which essentially involve increases in Government expenditure and which are, therefore, inflationary?  Not that I particularly mind.  Many of the suggestions involve across-the-board outlays like using public funds to knock even more off everyone’s monthly electricity bill.  Since inflation at current levels causes serious pain only to those on low incomes, there is an element here of the poor subsidizing the better off.  Suits me fine!  I will remember this when the DAB candidates come to my door during the Legco election campaign asking for my vote.

Except they won’t.  They will take one look at me, blink, pull back the leaflet they were about to offer me, splutter something unintelligible, and scuttle away.  And we all know why…

It has been more tedious than Princess Diana, more yawn-inducing than the plight of the Palestinians, more mind-numbing than the Olympics and more eye-glazing than the threat of global warming.  I have tried hard to take an interest in Hong Kong’s
newly passed Race Discrimination Bill – an unprecedented bit of lawmaking for the city, and for all I know unique in Asia.  But I have failed.  The lengthy and immensely detailed complaints by a little group of extremely well-spoken Indians about the bill’s shortcomings have had me dozing off within seconds.  The same goes for the whining of numerous Filipino migrant workers’ groups for whom life in the Big Lychee is so bad you wonder why they don’t relocate to a Tokyo hostess bar, a Saudi household of slave drivers or a UN-contracted trucking company in Iraq.  Or one-day-a-month-off Singapore.  Or the farm back in Cebu.

Hong Kong has never had lynchings.  There is no Chinese version of the Ku Klux Klan.  No Cantonese skinheads roam the streets beating up ethnic minorities.  No-one even runs for election promising to kick out the Pakistanis, Nepalese or Whites.  Hong Kong racism is simply the unselfconscious, deep-rooted knowledge that foreigners are foreign.  They smell because they eat cheese, they smell because they eat spicy food, they smell because they drink too much.  They are lazy, they don’t give money to their parents, they make jokes about dying, they have bowel problems because they don’t eat fruit. 
“The Dejian mind-body intervention may be more suitable for Chinese people than Western methods as it is based on Chinese culture,” said professor Agnes Chan Sui-yin of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. They are argumentative and open, they adopt babies from different races, they are good at coming up with weird ideas, some of them are so smart they can use chopsticks really well.

Compare this with the Japanese, who are not
Homo sapiens with roots going back to Africa, but a separate life form created by a deity and who cannot eat rice imported from overseas because their digestive systems are different.  Or the Koreans, descended from extra-terrestrials (probably) and whose first thoughts on hearing that Seung Hui Cho had shot dead 32 people at Virgina Tech was ‘how are the Korean students in the US doing?’, and whose first thoughts whenever anyone mentions mad cow disease in North American beef is ‘how are the Korean students in the US doing?’  When they try to introduce a law against racial discrimination in Tokyo and Seoul, that will be interesting.
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