Hemlock's Diary
24-30 August, 2008
Mon, 25 Aug
Millions of sensible, orderly, mild-mannered people awaken to find, to their shock, that the long-promised end to the Olympics has not in fact happened.  If anything, the amount of media space occupied by the lavishly tedious and bloated quadrennial seems to be going up.  Will it ever finish, or are we doomed to live for the rest of our lives amid a constant barrage of medal counts, gruesome athletes’ gaping jaws and in-depth reports on beach volleyball?  The
South China Morning Post, in its least convincing ‘We are patriotic Chinese and we really enjoy jumping up and down excitedly about the Motherland’ mode, manages to devote a horrendous 10 out of 16 pages in its main news section to the event, plus tacky wraparound, in addition to the 16-page Beijing 2008 tabloid I have been chucking away every morning for what seems like months.  For how much longer must I vaguely wonder what yngling – too ubiquitous to be a typo – is, where it came from, and what will come of it? 

The only escape is the Legislative Council election on Sunday after next, and in particular Hong Kong Island Constituency’s List 6, a candidate you could almost imagine taking home and introducing to your mother – Myra Sophia Siu Man-wa…
…born in a typical grass-root family in Choi Hung Estate, beneath the Lion’s Rock.  Thanks to God-given qualities and the zeal of Christian teachers in CCC Kei Wa Primary School, in the HK Secondary School Entrance Exam in 1973, the year with the highest number of primary school students, out of some 125,000 children, I ranked 6th and was top among all girls…
Her later life is pretty much what you would expect.  Organizing an anti-Japanese revisionism petition (signed in blood, it goes without saying) for presentation in Beijing.  Helping found the Association for the Advancement of Feminism (in the news recently).  Knowing but keeping a distance from Meeting Point, the 1980s civic group that gave rise to the Democratic and Liberal parties.  Studying law in the UK and being impressed with Princess Diana and Chris Patten.  Knocking down a small part of the Berlin Wall.  Getting into toastmastering, bel canto and hiking, the last of which leads to an accident and hideous injuries that can only be cured by Chinese/holistic/natural voodoo-type techniques.  Working for Legal Aid on cross-border marriage, domestic violence-type cases.  Quitting the Civil Service (in which she was one of the last to be hired on pension-for-life terms) to run for the Legislative Council.  Etc.

Let no voter complain they don’t have a choice.
Tue, 26 Aug
Is there a better way to start the 50th anniversary of the death of Ralph Vaughan Williams than a spirited Hey nonny nonny?  Alternatively, we have the South China Morning Post, which after months of wall-to-wall fawning over the Great Olympic Motherland Glorification Epic suddenly reverts to publishing news about Hong Kong, and specifically the supposed threat to the Big Lychee posed by a decline in the number of unskilled Mainlanders settling here.

There was a time when Antipodean officials proudly upheld a ‘White Australia policy’, aimed at ensuring that Oz remained pure beer-swilling, union-belonging, sheep-shearing Anglo-Celt.  Over time, the advantages of leavening the pasty-faced, barbecue-addicted, melanoma-prone Brit-rejects with a few duskier others, notably Asians, became more apparent, and the mono-racial rule faded away unlamented.
In the Big Lychee, however, we still cling to our longstanding Canto-Hong Kong policy.  A quick trip across the border to Shenzhen reveals a city full of young, educated and energetic folk from every corner of the Celestial Empire – from Xinjiang, Shanghai, Hunan and Shandong.  New York and London, meanwhile, are cities where natives seem to be in the minority, so numerous are the professionals and not-so-professionals from Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa.  But outside the central business areas, Hong Kong is solidly Southern Chinese, give or take the Southeast Asian maids and a few white and South Asian remnants of the British Empire.

India and the Philippines would appear to offer ready sources of youthful, schooled, hard-working, English-speaking, more-than-averagely ingenious people to spice up the dwindling, Confucian-brainwashed, comic-reading demographic catastrophe that passes for our younger generation.  But officials recoil in horror at the idea.  When some Filipino migrant workers took legal action a while ago to claim seven-year permanent residency status, the Immigration Department wetted itself, gave all long-staying maids new ID numbers and invited them to sign an obliquely worded form declaring themselves to be strictly temporary. 

Now the Bauhinia Foundation is to tackle the issue.  The think-tank will probably – with the help of much euphemistic talk of an aging population – urge a continued supply of unskilled labour to keep wages down, in line with the 1950s-mentality of its tycoon sponsors.  This neatly matches our visionary Chief Executive Donald Tsang’s obsession with population growth as a means to justify large-scale expenditure on unnecessary infrastructure, one of only three policies he knows.  It suits the aforementioned captains of industry, with their construction-related interests, too.

And Hong Kong’s best hope of countering this idiocy?
Behold, the highly charismatic, thrusting, no-nonsense List 3 of the Island Constituency.  In some ways, it is amazing that the HK Democratic Party is still turning up for elections.  The last time I can remember them appearing to be vaguely relevant would have been 1994, or so.  (Emphasis here on ‘appearing’.)  The brand name still attracts a few voters, however, so number-one in their line up – Kam Nai-wei (a Scorpio) – should actually win a seat. 

policy platform is the predictable wish-list and mish-mash of daydreams, good intentions, confusion, simple-mindedness and economic illiteracy.  Universal suffrage martyr and darling of the Western media Martin Lee bows out this year, as presumably will former Chairman Yeung Sum (Sagittarius).   Rising star Kevin Tsui (Cancer, single) would be advised to put the 2008 poll down to experience and abandon the depressing, moribund crew.  Lie low for a while and join the Civic Party.  Or, if he’s serious, change his name, have plastic surgery and sign up to the Democratic Alliance for the Blah Blah of Hong Kong and be done with it.  After consulting his horoscope, of course.
Wed, 27 Aug
When Donald Tsang was made Chief Executive in 2005, he was hailed as a cuddly but energetic, 4ft 11in ball of fun, raring to pull Hong Kong out of its misery singing and dancing into a new era of high-quality governance, unbridled prosperity for all and non-stop partying.  After eight years of Tung Chee-hwa, of course, the people of the Big Lychee would have joyously welcomed the appointment of a week-old bowl of congee going green around the edges.  But people saw Donald as an especially inspired choice by the grim-faced black hair-dye brigade up in Beijing.  He was a local boy made good and a reminder of those optimistic and happy times under colonial rule.  Most of all, the local pro-communist patriots had a fit, all but bursting into tears at this act of betrayal by their masters in Zhongnanhai, before obediently swallowing their humiliation and lining up to kiss the feet of the former British running dog-turned city boss.
But Hong Kong people awaken this morning to the news – not that it’s actually news to them – that they now think Sir Bow-Tie is a sniveling, arrogant, bumbling pest who is out of his depth, deaf to common sense, clueless and beholden to evil, grasping vested interests.  Can a Bring Back Tofu-for-Brains Campaign be far off?  What a pity it’s too late for the old man to register as a candidate in the Legco election.  It would be the ultimate protest vote – every tick in the box for the crop-haired one would be a slap in the face to the smug simpleton who thinks brilliance at pen-pushing translates into leadership ability, political skill and policy-making flair.
Aficionados of governance so dismal it is entertaining will have seen all this coming from early on in Donald’s reign.  His miscalculation in late 2005 that pro-democratic legislators would support a political reform package devoid of any actual reform lost him face, as did the bratty, foot-stamping tantrum that ensued as he went off in a huff to be friends with the pro-Beijing camp and them only.  When activist Christine Loh had the audacity to suggest that there might be an alternative to filling in the harbour and running a six-lane freeway along the new coastline, he haughtily announced that he would only talk to her if she agreed with him. 

For those of us who take sadistic but understandable pleasure in watching a contemptuous, self-important amateur who has power handed him on a plate and then falls flat on his face, these were good signs.  The Government’s recent screw-ups over political appointees, the levy on maids and the New World-Leung Chin-man horror add to the gleeful anticipation.  Economic harder times could well be on the way, and the potential for panic, missteps and blunder is on the rise.  Pull up a chair and enjoy.  Barring accidents, he’s here until 2012.
Thurs, 28 Aug
Sitting in the calm and dusty surroundings of Yuet Yuen Restaurant in a quiet side street on the edge of Central, I am struck by a bizarre juxtaposition in today’s
Standard.  Exercising its inalienable right as a free newspaper to be as tacky as it damn well wants, the whole of the front page is taken up by an ad for the property cartel’s latest ‘prestigious living’ scam – Le Bleu Deux.  The photo shows a female model standing provocatively under a small wind-thrown pine leaning at a dangerous angle.  Then I turn the page.  The headline ‘Woman crushed by saved tree’ leaps out at me. 

So mesmerized am I by this near-cosmic before-and-after effect that I fail to notice the arrival of fragrant Administrative Officer Winky Ip until, with maximum prejudice, she flings her Tanner Krolle handbag onto the seat opposite me and sits herself angrily next to it.

“Well I hope these bloody environmental people are bloody well pleased with themselves!”  She glares at me as if it – whatever ‘it’ is – is all my fault.  “A tragic loss of life!  Just because these extremists won’t see sense and let the Government chop down these old trees.”  All becomes clear.  Our dynamic bureaucrats have long been alert to the homicidal arboreal menace in our midst, but trendy greenies and heritage activists have thwarted attempts to eradicate the threat in recent years.
As we wait for our congee, I assure Winky that I am with her all the way on this one.  Malodorous, slimy, disorganized things, trees.  Branches sprouting out of them haphazardly, leaves falling off and clogging up the drains.  And that revolting grayish-green stuff they’re covered with.  Indeed, apart from the one we nail Jehovah’s Witnesses to by the ears, the Mid-Levels has got rid of them all.  Winky starts to feel better and starts tapping into a calculator. 

“I’ve got it!” she announces.  “It would only take a budget of around 1.5 billion dollars!”  She explains that the Leisure and Cultural Services Department manages some 700,000 trees.  Each one will need a unique serial number, which will be posted on a clearly visible 2ft-by-2ft fluorescent yellow and puce sign.  Every single item of oversized vegetation will also have a separate, bigger and harder-to-miss notice carrying the message ‘Danger!  Tree!  Do not stand close, especially during high winds!’ in traditional and simplified Chinese and English. 

“And then,” she adds breathlessly with a slight squirm, her faced flushed in the manner of many early-middle-aged women when aroused, “there’s all the cartoon posters and radio and TV announcements!”

Fri, 29 Aug
Sitting in the gwailo’s lair on the top floor of S-Meg Tower, in the heart of Asia’s premier financial centre and wine hub, I mull over the message I have just seen scrolling across the computer monitor on the desk of Rainbow, the able and alert assistant to Ms Fang, the pouting and obstreperous hunter-killer secretary.  It refers to standing by God and being strong – something from Corinthians.  And in a way it inspires me.  Does she look up a different quotation in the Bible every day and type it in to the screensaver program on her PC?  Does she peruse the holy book ahead of time and punch out whole batches of divine wisdom, which then appear randomly every time she leaves her work station for more than 10 minutes?  Or – as I suspect – is there a website out there transmitting the word of God automatically?

Some 13 years after I first got my hands on an Internet connection – cadged from a spotty corporate IT staffer gullible enough to believe I needed it for work purposes – I am still in awe of the wonders of the Web.  Hong Kong now has an
on-line, second-hand English-language bookstore, for example.  With, it must be said, a rather limited inventory, unless you like romantic fiction like Silver Master by Jayne Castle…
Fleeing a lurid scandal, matchmaker Celinda Ingram arrived in Cadence City desperate for a new start.  Known for her strong para-resonator abilities, she is able to match up clients by reading their psi waves.  It’s this talent that sets her body tingling when security specialist Davis Oakes shows up at her office.

A formidable psychic himself, Davis is trying to track down a powerful relic that Celinda supposedly bought as a toy for her pet dust bunny.  Trying to wrest the ruby red object from the suspicious duo nearly drains Davis of the energy he’ll need to keep his growing desire for Celinda in check – and to keep her safe from those who will do anything to possess the relic.
Well, romantic fiction on hallucinogenic drugs.

If the Biblical quotations are being downloaded from afar at the speed of light via thousands of miles of optical fibre, could it be that Rainbow’s PC is now displaying a different sacred motivational thought?  Curious to find out, I step out into the expanse of Private Office and wander over in the direction of the Big Boss’s office.  Halfway there, I realize I am being observed.  More than a dozen pairs of eyes are lined up against the wood-paneled wall staring at me.  Young men and women, freshly groomed and sporting brand-new off-the-peg business wear are watching – some in amazement, some in puzzlement and one or two with the wide involuntary grins that many Hong Kong people display when they are in a state of utter, petrified fear.

The ghostly apparition is in shirt sleeves, with a disrespectfully loose tie.  It carries no briefcase or other sign of being outside its natural corporate environment.  It slouched out of an office over there as if it owned the place.  It must live here, amid the antique statue of the Buddha placed at an angle for feng-shui reasons, the teacups with lids, the gargantuan painting of mist swirling through the mountains, and the born-again Christian clerical staff. 

I give them one of my Hard Stares and they avert their gazes.  They are the new batch of management trainees, nervously waiting to be officially received to the S-Meg family by the Chairman himself.  It will be the last time for many years they set foot up here or see the great man up close.  To get to Rainbow’s PC I must get closer and let them watch me examine the monitor, absorb some blather about not eating shellfish from Deuteronomy or whatever, then stroll away again.  In short, look like a complete idiot.  Adopting my extremely cool ‘I was going in this direction all along’ look, I nonchalantly shift course towards the stairwell and the sanctuary of the men’s room.  He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.  (Psalms 51)
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