Hemlock's Diary
17-23 August, 2008
Mon, 18 August
The mood on the Mid-Levels Escalator this morning is happy and optimistic, as Hong Kong’s industrious middle class digests a broad array of good news.  First is the abrupt departure of former senior lands official Leung Chin-man from his cozy post-retirement sinecure with New World, the developer that just so happened to benefit to the tune of billions from discretionary decisions he made when in office.  No-one is saying out loud that Beijing’s local emissaries, fearful that the scandal would benefit the pro-democrats at the election in three weeks time, have been twisting arms here.  Let’s just say that it is slightly unusual for one of the Big Lychee’s rapacious real estate empires to blather about wanting to
“ease any worries in society,” and even rarer for a Government department to admit that it screwed up and is sorry.  The phrase ‘at gunpoint’ comes to mind.

Second is the announcement that Hong Kong’s GDP actually shrank in the second quarter.  This leads to the exciting prospect of hard times for the tackiest, shallowest, tawdriest, most cynical and most overrated sector in the Mid-Levels economy – the pretentious, cookie-cutter, bad-value restaurants of Greater Soho.  A recent round of rent hikes seems to have prompted a spate of musical chairs in which one group of shabby outlets closes or retreats to cheaper premises and is replaced by starry-eyed newcomers who tear everything out and start from scratch, creating what they dreamily imagine to be unique, innovative and high-class.  And profitable.  The people behind these places seem to have pockets as deep as their egos, so mass closures of lame bistro-concepts staffed by identical ranks of Filipinos and Nepalese may take a while.  Would a 2003 SARS-type recession be too much to hope for?
Thirdly, there is a certain amount of chatter among the neighbourhood’s Westerners as they glide down the ‘electric ladder’ towards Central.  Britain, whose international sports teams are outstanding only for their incompetence, is somehow ranking in third place in the Olympic medals table.  No-one is quite sure how this happened, and – to be honest – not that many care, but it appears to be profoundly upsetting to the district’s Australian residents, many of whom bite their lips and choke back tears at this shocking disturbance of the natural order.  Given the Hemlock clan’s US-UK-Oz reach, I am agnostic about this rivalry.  If it’s any consolation, I tell one distraught Antipodean lady, 99 percent of the population of this planet can’t for the life of them even distinguish Brits from Aussies.  Apparently, it’s not.

Finally – the icing on the cake – we are all unmolested by politicians distributing leaflets.  We have 21 days of canvassing ahead of us, and, as the recent 40th anniversary of the death of Bobby Kennedy reminds us, it is for the most part a sorry, charisma-free, devoid-of-substance gang of losers that will be badgering Hong Kong for its votes.  Their absence alone makes this a morning to savour.
Tue, 19 Aug
In the steaming jungles of Southeast Asia, swarthy, loincloth-clad sons of the fertile Malay soil sharpen their curvy daggers, clean out their blowpipes and polish their head-shrinking equipment.  Across a short stretch of tropical sea lies the object of their desires – the small, vulnerable, irritatingly wealthy and smugly Chinese island of Singapore. 
The crazed experiment started nearly half a century ago by the evil and mad tyrant Lee Kuan Yew and now under the blundering control of his sickly son is visibly nearing its tragic end.  The people’s wealth has been forcefully taken from them and frittered away by the son’s wife’s Temasek investment corporation, living proof that fund managers would do better by letting blindfolded monkeys throw darts at a list of stocks.  The son himself, the famous Baby God, is busy trying to micro-manage the laboratory rats’ lives in an effort to create the perfect citizen – a happy, loyal, hard-working robot for whom permission to dance on bar-tops more than compensates for the Central Provident Fund disappearing down the toilet.

But wait!  Does the latest news offer some hope that the mutant-obedient city-state will indeed flourish under the visionary 1,000-year Lee dynasty?  Lee Junior announces an exciting bit of fine-tuning to human existence in the Lion City – the YouTube-For-YourWomb Project.  In return for being allowed to make movies on political subjects
“but with some safeguards … I think some things should still be off limits,” the plucky little nation’s economic production units will be required to breed more purposefully and not “miss the best ideal age for child bearing.”
Maybe it will work.  But across the narrow straits, under the swaying palm trees, the region’s native Muslim inhabitants sit up in their hammocks, adjust their sarongs, chew their goat satay, pick at their teeth with their keris and look across the water to the gleaming skyscrapers just waiting to be ransacked, the corruption-free civil service all but asking to be despoiled, and the pristine streets and sidewalks absolutely begging to have piles of garbage and chewed gum strewn all over them just for the hell of it.  OK, they shrug in their earthy Bahasa, make a video to ‘to let off steam a little bit more, but safely’ and get pregnant.  There’s no rush.
Wed, 20 Aug
Hong Kong is abuzz this morning with the word about next week’s
visit to the city by the most physically attractive and scantily clad dozen or so of China’s 629 Beijing 2008 Olympics gold medal winners.  As they parade through our shopping malls, we will wave flags, cheer and throw flowers and items of intimate apparel with our phone numbers scrawled on them in their paths.  They will then pose for photo opportunities with members of the patriotic Democratic Alliance for the Blah Blah of Hong Kong.  Impressed with the sheer quantity of reflected glory these politicians have been given to bask in, we will all rush out and vote for them on Sunday, 7 September. 

As it happens, residents of Perpetual Opulence Mansions are this very moment opening their mail boxes to find their polling cards, the usual map showing the polling station and a fat brochure featuring the 24 candidates running under 10 party lists who are chasing the six seats available in Hong Kong Island constituency.  In a fit of hubris – or let’s be charitable and say good-humoured, self-mocking audacity – the DAB, List 5, has put up no fewer than six hopefuls.

Top of the list, and therefore pretty much guaranteed a seat, is Tsang Yok-shing, who is an undeniable nice guy.  Who can fail to like a lifelong stalwart supporter of the Communist Party whose wife saw fit to procure a Canadian passport ahead of the handover in 1997, like so many middle-class Hongkongers who were petrified about the British leaving?  Second is Choy So-yuk, the Fujianese with a soft spot for heritage and environmental matters who all but broke down in tears in distress when Beijing chose the evil colonial running dog Donald Tsang rather than one of her fellow loyalists to replace Tung Chee-hwa as Chief Executive.  It would be a pity if she failed to get back into the Legislative Council, but that’s what happens when your principles are dictated to you over the phone every week, and you obediently refrain from criticizing the Government regardless of how arrogant, stupid, accident-prone and reviled it becomes.

But then – here come the Glorious Motherland’s under-age, steroid-stuffed, gold-bedecked athlete-hostage-slaves to the rescue!
Thurs, 21 Aug
Within a minute of switching on my office PC this morning, emails from far and wide ooze out of my inbox, forming a murky puddle on my desk before dribbling over the edge and dripping onto the floor.  One is a shameless appeal for attention from the latest issue of Not the South China Morning Post magazine, which includes Allan Zeman on Me and My Chopsticks among much else no doubt rude, reckless, rabid and ribald. 

Another is from the Appalachian branch of the Hemlock clan, who are pondering the possibility that Barack Obama will choose fellow Senator Joseph Biden as his running mate.  Does America really need a Vice-President who once
plagiarized tiresome and futile British ex-Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock?  My answer is yes – it shows great inventiveness compared with John McCain, whose derivative and unimaginative character apparently leaves him, like millions of high school students, incapable of plagiarizing anything more original than Wikipedia

Thirdly, the ever-alert artist formerly known as Walnut provides proof that Starbucks has joined the ongoing, 11-year-old patriotic campaign to convince us that our only hope for continued existence is the increasingly close and firm grip of the benevolent Glorious Motherland.  Specifically, by rubbing the Big Lychee’s lack of Olympic success in its customers’ noses, the coffee retailing empire is contributing to next week’s pre-election political brainwashing through Mainland gold medalists. 

But will it actually work?  With so many lists of so many candidates fighting for so few seats, any surge of support for one grouping could easily have unintended consequences – for example, spreading the vote so thinly that the other camp wins seats by default.  List 1 in the HK Island constituency is an interesting example.  Three not especially gruesome-looking individuals who
…we are the grassroots elements of the Liberal Party. We are not upper class representatives. We came from the working class just like you. We go to work everyday only to pay our bills and afford a living. We have to worry about paying down the mortgage of our small apartments and transportation expenses to get to work. We feel the same pain as you do. Unlike those high and mighty lawyers, doctors and retired former senior civil servants who can afford to buy Gucci's and live in 2,000 sq ft houses.
No word of the cartel owners’ scions like Liberal Party James Tien, who live in 10,000 sq ft mansions.  The Liberal Party was not supposed to run any candidates on the Island, but bickering among the pro-establishment camp outweighed the efforts of Beijing’s local agents to fix things behind the scenes. 

By stressing their ‘working class just like you’ origins, Alice Lam and Co are not going to win votes from the many of us on the Island born with centuries’ worth of landed gentry in our genes.  But such language could appeal to our modest-sized population of younger or independent-minded DAB supporters.  As Liberals, List 1 could also attract support from people thinking of voting for forceful former Security Secretary Regina Ip but whose instincts lean towards business and the private sector rather than arrogant bureaucracy.  Again, the numbers aren’t big, but if this vaguely normal-looking trio work hard and succeed, they could ensure that the DAB and Regina’s lists each get one seat only – though they have no chance of winning one themselves.

Conversely, the heavily spilt pro-democrats, with five lists, could just as easily undermine one another and pave the way for an over-representation of the pro-Beijing groups. 

What a pity they can’t
all lose.
Fri, 22 Aug
What exactly is Regina Ip for?  The third pro-Beijing list in Hong Kong Island comprises the ex-Security Secretary, who will win a seat, plus three sidekicks, one of whom (Louis the dermatologist) has maybe a 2 percent chance of joining her in the Legislative Council.  The idea of spreading other members of her Savantas think-tank around other constituencies didn’t seem to occur to them. 
The DAB is the local, public embodiment of the Communist Party, and likes to think it will one day play a major role in running Hong Kong, to which end it is broadening its support base beyond old-style grass-root patriots to include the overseas-educated, middle class and even ethnic minorities.  The Liberals are an aimless and unprincipled mob of slimy vested commercial interests looking for free lunches at everyone else’s expense, and who don’t mind letting a bunch of self-styled small potatoes run under their banner on the Island.  But List 9 has no obvious raison d’etre, other than the obvious one of providing a platform for old Broomhead to remind us all she exists and considers herself potential Chief Executive material.

No-one seriously expects any parties or candidates in Hong Kong to have any policy proposals.  With no hope of forming an administration, it could be argued that they don’t need any.  However, the real reason is that parties suffer from the same economic illiteracy and lack of imagination and critical thinking that leaves our senior Government officials peddling the same tired old infrastructure/high land price/interventionist cluelessness year after year.  No-one even demands the return of the death penalty.

In the interests of efficiency, Regina is using the same platform she used in last year’s unsuccessful by-election race against Anson Chan (though if it were me I would
delete ‘2007’ and insert ‘2008’.)  The key theme for Regina and her little group of followers is state-planned broadening of the economic base through the expenditure of guess-whose money on harebrained tech clusters, science parks and other European 1960s-style starry-eyed space-age dirigisme.  Essentially – pick the economic activity you are least capable of performing well and subsidize it like crazy.

“Promote technology collaboration with Mainland China through construction of integrated technology parks on the boundary and in the Lok Ma Chau Loop area!  Aux armes citoyens!.”
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