Hemlock's Diary
10-16 August, 2008
Sun, 10 Aug
As Malcolm X put it, “You been misled! You been had! You been took!”  Not since they promised the city in the mid-1990s that it could decide its own political system from 2007 have China’s leaders sold Hong Kong such a dud.  Curious citizens of the Big Lychee trekking out before dawn to the Olympic equestrian events find the spectacle so mind-numbingly tedious that they fall asleep in their hundreds and then leave early.

As ever, the Hong Kong Government is partly to blame.  The Olympic organizers’ decision to hold the equestrian part of the Games in Hong Kong was a last resort after they ruled out Mainland locations for equine health reasons.  The correct local reaction would have been to take on the burden in the old SARS spirit, with a subdued, stoic sense of
noblesse oblige and some good natured muttering about how cross-border veterinary standards will be up to it one day.  But, of course, our visionary officials don’t have that sort of self-restraint.  They had to explode into orgasms of patriotic rapture, wetting themselves about what a huge honour it was to pick up the tab and to be so generously offered the opportunity to be noticed by the rest of the world.  They had to plaster the city with stickers, radio announcements, posters, T-shirts and palpitating politicians excitedly peddling the message that the greatest display since the Creation was coming our way. 

Not even the inevitable rounding-up of Tibetan flag wavers and the sale of limited-edition Hello Kitty equestrian dolls could alter the fact that, in the immortal words of one perceptive Hongkonger,
“I have to say this is the most boring thing I’ve ever seen in my life.” A bitterly disappointed city is now reeling under the shock of realising that, save for the faint whiff of horse dung in the breeze to give the senses something to notice, dressage is as dull as golf itself.

Mon, 11 Aug
“See you again!”  Since my last visit maybe three or four days ago, the entire staff at the IFC Mall branch of Pacific Coffee have been trained to insert this seemingly innocuous phrase between the “Thank you!” and “Bye-bye!” they recite at every customer to mark the conclusion of each caffeine-related transaction.  Not just the spotty guy serving you at the till, but the Assistant Manager (Pastries) to his left and the operator of the steaming, hissing machine to his right blurt it out in approximate unison.  “With immediate effect,” the circular from Head Office must have announced, “all employees shall exhibit a spontaneous and sincere expression of warmth towards clients by chanting the above-mentioned well-known friendly phrase.  Failure to pronounce said pleasantry in cheerful strict accordance with these instructions shall result in instant dismissal.  Thank you for your attention.  See you again!”  If they’re not careful, they won’t.
TO ATONE for its sins yesterday in quoting the Great Hong Kong public as finding the Olympic equestrian events to be stunningly tedious, the South China Morning Post this morning dredges up one spectator willing to swear that watching a horse trot sideways has been the most moving, profound and life-changing experience of his existence.  But the damage has been done, and citizens may feel entitled to wonder whether the Hong Kong Jockey Club couldn’t have done something more constructive with the HK$1.2 billion it spent on the competition venues. 

That’s a lot of money – just over a third of the extra income Henderson Land enjoyed after former Permanent Secretary for Buildings and Lands Leung Chin-man used his discretionary powers in 2001 to grant the developer extra space at its Grand Promenade project.  Maybe a quarter or so of the profit New World made out of the Hunghom Peninsula deal, also cleared by Leung.  And it’s 400 times the salary New World plans to pay Leung in his new
retirement sinecure with the developer.

SCMP also reports that the Democratic Party is thinking of filing a judicial review of the Leung case, the Civic Party is proposing tougher rules on civil servants’ post-retirement jobs, and the League of Social Democrats is getting straight to the point and lodging a formal complaint with the Independent Commission Against Corruption.  This is mud that sticks, and the pro-Beijing parties are too loyal to the Government to throw any.
Once upon a time, senior Hong Kong officials didn’t move into the private sector after they retired.  They collected their very generous pensions-for-life, and took a one-way trip to the UK, where they lived out their days in a quaint cottage in the country reading books and doing crosswords.  They were expected to sever connections.  Why have things been allowed to change so much?  Why is it now OK for so many former officials – even the Chief Executive’s brother – to take up positions with companies that benefit from Government ties?  How come Justice Pang, who is an old buddy of Leung, is allowed to head up the advisory board on civil servants’ post-retirement employment?  Why are people like Civil Service Minister Denise Yue, and Sir Bow-Tie, finding it so hard to grasp that something isn’t right here?  If they play their cards right for once, the pro-democrats have the potential to be extremely, gloriously irritating to all the right people.  A Pacific Coffee automaton spouting “See you again!” won’t even start to come close.

Tue, 12 Aug
Now the Olympic Games is finally over for another four years, we can get back to the important things in life, like why Manhattan Garments heir Michael Tien is running for a seat in the Legislative Council.  It has
nothing to do with political ambition, he tells the Standard.  And, indeed, we can tell this is true by carefully reading between the lines of the story…
…all he wants to do is serve the public
… [he] ruled out…having aspirations to become Hong Kong’s chief executive
“…now I need to strive for the interests of the public”
“…I just want to have a platform to serve the public”
“…the central government encourages us to do something for the community”
On his website, he writes that he was baptized as a Christian in 1998.  He was not alone, of course.  That was the year when Hong Kong sank into the long, dark abyss of the slow-motion economic disaster now remembered simply as the Tung Chee-hwa years, and 7 million people faced the stark choice of turning to drink, suicide or religion as a means of escape.  Not everyone reported “It was obvious that an angel was waiting to help me,” however, or was left declaring, “I hope to do more that will serve others and honour God.”

So he wants to devote himself to a life of poverty, humility, littleness, love, simplicity, faith, self-sacrifice and peace.  In this, it goes without saying, he has a great deal in common with another son of a wealthy cloth merchant – the famous 12th-century Umbrian known as Francis.  No doubt we will soon see Michael washing lepers’ limbs and donating his clothes (of which, as boss of the G2000 retail chain, he has a considerable quantity) to the poor.  And won’t the press and younger voters just love it when dozens of tweety-birds and small furry animals flock to him and eat from his hand as he strolls among the grimy housing blocks of Shamshuipo and Yaumatei? 

Could there be any greater contrast between Michael Tien and his brother – the slimy
idiot savant James, with his nematode-like principles, smug demeanour and collections of sports cars and wine?  Far be it for me to call upon the Almighty to interfere in democratic elections, but God must find it sorely tempting to fiddle the results to ensure Michael, not James, gets a seat in Legco in September.  Except, of course, He doesn’t, because God can’t experience temptation.  But if He could, He would surely find the urge hard to resist.  Then again, given the horrendous complexities of our proportional representation electoral process (‘the list voting system operating under the largest remainder formula’), He might prefer not to bother trying. 

So… Michael will just have to get into the ring and fight it out with all the other saintly contenders in Kowloon West – tearing at each other’s hair and gouging each other’s eyes out in their determination to serve the public and not have any ambition for high office.
Wed, 13 Aug
The international news returns to normal after the Great Beijing 2008 Glorious Motherland Gold Medal Coming-Out Orgy, and I find myself overcome by a wave of nostalgia.  While the world was glued to its TV screens leering at scantily clad blonde teenage girls gracefully spreading their legs apart on the parallel bars, something scarcely believable happened – the Cold War started again.  The Russian bear, after lying in a stupor for a couple of decades, licking its paws and hawking up the occasional hairball, has once again risen to its feet and started reassembling its old empire, starting with plucky little

I have never felt comfortable about the end of the Cold War.  There was something unnatural about the freedom-loving democracies of the West and the sinister, malevolent, despotic Slavs not training hundreds of nuclear weapons across the Iron Curtain, each threatening the other with instant annihilation.  It didn’t feel right.  I was brought up in a time when you knew where you were.  We had 37 ice cream flavours, curvaceous cars in dozens of colours and 50 brands of toaster, while they stood in line for an hour to buy bread and waited two years for a TV that blew up.  We spent 5 percent of GDP on defence, they spent 20 percent.  In the glory days of the Reagan-Thatcher era, exponential increases in microprocessor power enabled the West to effortlessly build ever more superior weaponry, forcing the Soviets to double defence expenditure in a desperate attempt to keep up before the whole communist system collapsed.  It was brilliant, and we all miss it terribly.
The fact is, the West needs a sprawling gloom of semi-Asiatic superstition, feudalism and atavism to stand up to.  We need Peter the Great breaking all his son’s bones, mad Rasputin trying to cure hemophiliac royals, Stalin airbrushing enemies out of historic photos, SMERSH plotting to kill James Bond, and the embalmed Brezhnev being wheeled out to wave at the Red Army every May Day.  It makes our own flaws seem irrelevant.  China is no substitute.  They’ve got their act together far too much, and deep down they are rather like us – pragmatic, cheerful and resourceful.  We need an enemy that is miserable and cruel – a place with Third-World life expectancy, soldiers who drown their sorrows in tank fuel and prisons full of TB.  And now, thanks to Vladimir Putin, they’re back.  Happy days again!
Thurs, 14 Aug
Some might see an interest in little girls as a harmless pleasure, an aesthetic appreciation of the cuteness that inspired the Rev Charles Dodgson to pen Alice in Wonderland.  Some more level-headed types, mindful of these children’s venomous and pitiless nature, may see it as a type of anthropomorphism.  Others will just call the police. 

At the Olympics, a detailed inspection of and overall preoccupation with lithe, prepubescent female bodies seems to be considered natural, healthy and necessary.  China’s officials chose the better-looking brat to lip-synch
Ode to the Motherland at the opening ceremony on the grounds that the relative ugliness of the sweeter-voiced kid would harm the national interest.  Lest anyone wonder how pony-tailed tots can have even an iota’s worth of bearing on the standing of a sovereign state in the realm of international affairs, we need only glance at any front page in Greater China this morning and see six impossible things before breakfast – half a dozen more-or-less teens lauded as the nation’s great saviours.  If the gold-winning gymnasts were 13, any responsible parent would be starting to have mild concerns about their development.  As it is, we are invited to believe they are almost or actually 16.  If the Chinese are lying, they are cheats, but if they are telling the truth, they are child abusers.

But what sort of pedantic, party-pooping malcontent wants to
go there?  Good taste requires everyone to look the other way as soon as the gallivanting, stretching, vaulting and ‘jumping mounts’ are over.  We can relax now.  This is about as perverse as the Olympics gets.  The rest of it largely concerns consenting adults, with barely a whiff of pedophiliac nationalism to be found.  No-one has ever caught themselves having impure thoughts about weightlifters, Yao Ming, or those wide-mouthed women who ride horses.  It’s all wholesome bribery and doping from here on.
Fri, 15 Aug
What is putting us off our breakfast these days?  Thoughts of
psittacophagy – the eating of parrots – used to flutter through my mind whenever I was faced with the vibrant yellow, green and red of eggs benedict.   And the sight of a sausage on my plate invariably prompted memories of the Victorian method for dealing with worms in small children, whereby a small cube of raw pork was tied to a string and inserted up the little one’s rear end at bed-time, and pulled out the following morning crawling with wriggling invertebrates.  Thank heavens for congee.
Then, just a few days ago, I found my morning meal ruined by an extremely ugly photograph of an American Olympic swimmer called Phelps, who has suddenly hit the headlines for flailing his arms around in the water while dressed in creepy looking head and eye gear and apparently keeping his mouth stretched open like a basking shark.  He is probably a charming and sensitive individual who helps senior citizens cross the street and bursts into tears at the sight of small furry animals going hungry during winter, but the picture was unpleasant to behold, and you can only wonder what possessed the cameraman or news editor to use it. 

In a perfect world, this alarming image would be shut from our consciousness as a mistake and a bad memory, like the treatments for infants struck by intestinal parasites in the 19th Century.  But, almost inevitably, this repellant and demented posture has now become
de rigeur among desperate media folk gripped with the patriotic me-too-ism of the times.  Thus the South China Morning Post today requires its readers to gaze upon one Liu Zige, to convince us all that the glorious motherland too can produce this bizarre bit of athletic symbolism – the half-submerged, plastic-wrapped head with the gaping oral cavity that prompts the nudging away of a million bowls of corn flakes.  Can anyone now doubt China has truly stood up and taken its place among the leading nations of the world?
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