Hemlock's Diary
9-15 November, 2008
Mon, 10 Nov
If Hong Kong seems that little bit quieter, cleaner and less odorous this morning, there is a heart-warming reason – Lickums the Labrador of Bowen Road has gone to pooch heaven.  I will send an email to my peculiar acquaintance A-Hing, also known as the Mid-Levels Dog Strangler, to congratulate him on yet another victory in the never-ending struggle against the canine menace. 

Legions of amateur sleuths, criminal psychologists, clairvoyants and rabidly ranting anthropomorphic Westerners have pondered the identity of the public-spirited warrior with the carbofuran-laced chicken.  The latest theory is that
“the killer may have an obsessive dislike of dogs who foul footpaths” – unlike the rest of us, who simply adore barking, snapping creatures that leave piles of worm-ridden excrement crawling with flies all over children’s play areas.  A particular sort of self-centric, bubble-dwelling expat even whines in letters to newspapers about the dismal job the police are doing to catch A-Hing, as if a rich white family’s pet is more important than a runaway child, suicidal woman or robbery victim.

One of these deranged lovers of yapping, unhygienic curs has now gone to the length of setting up a
Snitch on A-Hing Website, inviting the public to submit information, suspicions, evidence or theories about the mystery hero.  “All information,” this self-appointed one-man posse grandly tells us, “will be compiled and passed to the Hong Kong police on a regular basis.” 

I will send him my own theory to compile.  And that is that A-Hing the Ripper, the dark angel of dog death, is not in fact a human at all, but a psychopathic golden retriever that was abandoned to the streets for not being
hypoallergenic enough for its owners’ liking and now wreaks its twisted revenge on the pampered, well-fed, insured, acupuncture-treated pets living the life of luxury he was cruelly denied.  And I will stress that I love dogs too.  Preferably stewed...
Tue, 11 Nov
The demographics of Perpetual Opulence Mansions have changed over the years, with some older Chinese moving out and younger folk, including Westerners, replacing them.  But there is more to it than that.  Pressing my ear to my front door a few weeks ago, I could make out a conversation in two languages.  A sweet-tongued girlish tone was asking questions in Mandarin, while a deeper ‘harridan landlady’ voice was answering them in Cantonese.  Apart from the need to fall back on occasional verbs and nouns in English, the exchange seemed to work well, but the Mainland-ette – whoever she was – never moved in to the apartment across the hall, which remained empty.

Around a week ago, workmen moved some boxes, furniture, a TV and a refrigerator into the place.  And yesterday evening, peering through the peephole in my door, I witnessed the arrival of what must be the new residents.  They are a man, a woman and a rather nasty-looking plump kid – the sort given away with new Mercedes saloons.  They carried a few things into the flat and later carried some back out.  I could barely hear their muttering, but the daddy wore a baseball cap and the mother struck me as demure and mouse-like.  From what little I could see they might be Japanese, though when I quietly opened my door and took a surreptitious look, I noticed they hadn’t left their shoes in the hallway, which our Nipponese friends would probably do.

As I leave the building this morning, I bump into Brian the puce tie-wearing investment banker.  I haven’t seen him since summer, when he had just landed a high-flying job in fixed income something-or-other at…

“Good God, you used to work at Lehman Brothers didn’t you?”

“Still do!” he laughs.  “But of course it’s being absorbed into Nomura.  Officially.”

He explains the recent goings-on.  Senior managers from the bankrupt American institution’s Hong Kong operation stormed into their new Japanese masters’ local offices last week like the US Marines landing at Iwo Jima.  Nomura staff had previously assumed that they were on the winning side in the takeover and would be able to use a few humiliated American financiers for bayonet practice.  But it was not to be.  They have, for all practical purposes, been demoted and are now reporting to the supposedly vanquished Lehmans team while idly awaiting their fate.  Some have committed hara-kiri out of shame, while others have run off into the dark, wild recesses of the office storage and air-conditioning rooms, where they plan to fight on in defiance for years to come. 

Then it occurs to me.  That family carried far more things out of the apartment than they brought with them.  They were leaving before they had even finished moving in and are probably throwing themselves off a cliff into the sea as I write.  What’s Japanese for
quel dommage?

Wed, 12 Nov
The main difference between Hong Kong’s former Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa and his successor Donald Tsang is that Tofu-for-Brains was decent and honest enough to publicly acknowledge his shortcomings, while Sir Bow-Tie dedicates every ounce of energy to save his increasingly sorry face and deny he is wrong. 
How to scrap the maids levy while convincing yourself that you’re not. Whoever replaces him in 2012, should Donald make it that far, will have the pleasure of cancelling the policy’s contract and buying it a one-way ticket to Manila.

Meanwhile the financial tsunami is swept aside by a tidal wave of emails complaining that the term ‘hara-kiri’ is offensive, no less, to Japanese, and the sensitive internationalists of the 21st Century prefer to use the phrase ‘seppuku’.  Both appear to mean kneeling down, writing a quick poem and disembowelling yourself with a sword because you have failed miserably in some way – possibly by clinging on ridiculously to an unpopular and pointless tax on employers of foreign domestic helpers.  It has taken me several decades to say ‘Inuit’ instead of ‘Eskimo’, and Mumbayanesites will forever have to put up with me calling their city ‘Bombay’.  But I will do my best.  I would hate to upset people who believe the Land of the Rising Sun should be proud of its
valiant role in defending Asia from American aggression during World War II.

Thurs, 13 Nov
Euphemism of the Week Award goes to
The Economist, which concocts the expression ‘love of a special deal and boundless optimism’ as a polite alternative to ‘stupidity’. 

Meanwhile, the judges are agonizing over who will win the Most Mirth-Inducing Failure of the Financial Tsunami title.  As well as the accumulator-investing tycoons mentioned in
The Economist’s article, candidates in this extremely crowded field include Krispy Kreme Donuts (which shut its last two Hong Kong branches yesterday), Las Vegas Sands’ plans for 20,000 hotel rooms and five casinos in Macau (hit by lack of credit) and hundreds of Pearl River Delta sweatshop owners who spent years never plowing profits into upgrading their operations and are now whining for Government handouts. 

Then there is the Victim the Righteous Would Most Like to See Award.  Leading contender here is Joseph Yam, highly paid boss of the bank-regulating HK Monetary Authority, who is widely touted as the Government’s scapegoat-sacrifice if a public beheading becomes necessary to placate angry investors in Lehman minibonds.  More deserving winners would be the Big Lychee’s parasitic tourism industry, or our gravity defying property market, which has so far escaped with no more than a 10-20% correction in prices.  Many right-thinking people would rub their hands with delight to see the departure of the city’s sprawling Armani, Bulgari, Gucci and other barely frequented purveyors of luxury tat, or at least the demise of the pretentious, poky and overpriced restaurants of Soho.  The Donald Tsang State Law and Order Restoration Committee walks away with the Too Much to Hope For Prize, as well as the Greatest Love of Special Deals and Boundless Optimism Award.

Fri, 14 Nov
Hong Kong’s Chief Secretary Henry Tang
proposes that Shenzhen pull a few strings to help out the Big Lychee’s scrawnier companies operating over the border.  Mass spontaneous misery and anguish broke out among the small and medium enterprises a few weeks ago when Chief Executive Donald Tsang neglected to mention them in his otherwise perfect Policy Address.  Since then, the Government has been loudly worshipping SMEs at every opportunity, barracking banks for having the nerve to require collateral from them, lauding their immense importance to the economy as job creators and generally squealing with delight at what charismatic, resourceful little mammals the mill owners are.  And let’s throw some taxpayers’ money down the toilet to prove we mean it. 

The fact remains that, other than convince American consumers and their banks to revert to their old credit card maxing-out habits, there is little anyone can do for the Hong Kong-owned sweatshops that transformed the Pearl River Delta into the late 20th Century’s workshop of the world.  He who lives by plastic extrusion…

While dropping in on Mayor Xu, Henry signs a
momentous-sounding series of agreements designed to assure the Mainlanders of Hong Kong’s great sincerity and dedication to being one of the family.  Attention is drawn to the fact that the ever-mystifying Lok Ma Chau Loop will be examined under something called “co-study and co-development” principles.  It obviously means something extremely important, though probably different, to each side. 

We will enjoy education exchange and co-operation, in the form of “regular meetings to strengthen communication, explore together the future roadmap and develop initiatives for further co-operation.”  And we will be enhancing cooperation efforts in promoting cleaner production, through “awareness promotion activities,” complete with “implementation plans and … a working group to take forward the work.”

As if this isn’t excitement enough, there will be further enhancement of cultural co-operation, courtesy of “closer cooperation and communication … under the Greater Pearl River Delta cultural cooperation framework to work out cultural exchange and cooperation programmes through discussion.”  And – I struggle to restrain myself as I read – a vow to “Enhance exchange and cooperation on sharing of cultural information.”  To crown the whole thing, someone will be busy “enhancing the co-operation between Hong Kong and Shenzhen in tourism promotion and stepping up communication.”

The word ‘co-operation’ appears 23 times (including seven without a hyphen) in the 600-word document, yet ‘partnership’ doesn’t appear once.  Off the top of my head, I would say the difference between the two concepts is that the latter implies the presence of trust, which the former does not.  But maybe I’m just being nasty and suspicious.