|The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat
27 March-2 April 2005
|Sun, 27 Mar
Early afternoon, and wild American friend Odell drags me into Triple O’s in Exchange Square for some White Spot fast food. “They serve beer,” he promises. This turns out to be so. The brew’s cold and disguises the taste of the ‘BC Burger’ – a vile concoction of beef, bacon, a vaguely cheese-type substance and gummy mayonnaise. In all fairness, I can just about put it in my mouth. It is fitter for human consumption than the muck served at McDonald’s – which isn’t saying much. It’s not actually ‘fast’ fast food. You place your order, pay, sit down and wait for well over five minutes before a smiling Filipino girl with a metal stud under her mouth brings the meal.
Odell reads the newspaper and asks an attention-grabbing question. What does it feel like to be dragged from a taxi and chopped with excrement-coated meat cleavers, resulting in 15 hours of surgery to reattach fingers and stitch up other wounds? This doesn’t help the burger. Not good, I reply. I saw a report on this yesterday. The triads responsible got the wrong man. “Mistaken identity,” muses my ex-Mormon friend. “That sucks.” All these gwailos look the same in the dark, I remind him. Still, this is a story that will run. Gwailo One with dubious older Chinese girlfriend has an altercation with Gwailo Two at a party after the Rugby Sevens. Gets ejected. Humiliation city. Big loss of face. Someone calls the toughs and gives them an unfortunately vague description of the target. Gwailo One turned himself in. The lady is in custody. Not a match made in heaven, presumably.
Odell puts his paper down. He looks terrible. I ask why. No shit-stained choppers, but he was a victim of violence last night, he admits. He explains how he went out yesterday evening with a couple of friends. By midnight, the hour at which his brain turns into a pumpkin, they had gone home. Somehow he ended up in Wanchai, in a disco dungeon, eventually stumbling out at around 4.00. “Well, the police report says 5.30,” he tells me. “I got out and suddenly I get whacked on the back of my head. Couple of Nepalese guys trying to mug me. So I’m bleeding all over the ground. They ran off – they didn’t get my wallet, but I lost my phone. I had two stitches put in at the hospital.” He bends his head down so I can take a look. The hospital deserves credit for a very nice job, but he can’t remember which one it was. When he got back home at around 6.30, he adds, his heartless Thai wife Mee added insult to injury by making him soak his blooded clothes in the sink before letting him pass out in peace.
Tuesday, 29 May
Early morning, and Brian the British stock analyst, now in his second month in the Big Lychee, joins me in the elevator in Perpetual Opulence Mansions. Straightening his puce tie in the mirror, he asks me in a serious tone what I think of local women. I can’t help grinning. “They’re like women everywhere,” I reply. “Looking for a rich man to burden with personal problems, shopping addiction and babies – or ‘share their life with’, as they say.” He tells me about the ‘smashing’ looking secretary in his office and how he might ask her out. But he’s nervous. As we stroll out onto the street and he starts looking for a taxi, he tells me about his boss, the chief fund manager.
“Kieron and his wife moved here from the UK five years ago,” he tells me. “He’s in his mid-forties, three lovely kids. Anyway, a year ago, he started having an affair with a 20-something girl in the office. Last month his wife told him to choose. So two weeks ago, he packed his bags and moved out. Now her lawyers are after his property in London and Perth.” The expat marriage break-up du jour. Brian lets a cab pass and looks at me with a slightly pained expression. “Then, um… last week,” he goes on, “his nine-year-old daughter tried to slash her wrists.” I nod slowly.
“Well,” I say as a red Toyota ‘for hire’ draws up and Brian opens the door, “this Kieron – he came here for the 16 percent salary tax, right? He’s still got that.”
|Wed, 30 Mar
Gliding down a deserted Mid-Levels Escalator at an early hour, I flick through the news. Our bow-tied Acting (Convincingly) Chief Executive Donald Tsang has had a meeting with the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office’s Liao Hui in Shenzhen and reported to him solemnly that Hong Kong remains stable. Peering over the handrail of the world’s most wondrous urban transport system, I survey the scene. A police van turned on its side smoulders in the middle of Hollywood Road. Broken glass litters the sidewalk outside looted shops on Lyndhurst Terrace. The naked and bloody bodies of pretentious art gallery owners dangle from lampposts on Wellington Street. Charred pages from the Basic Law, a whiff of tear gas and the distant shouts of a rampaging mob waft over the morning breeze. Is Sir Bowtie going to fall into the same trap as his esteemed predecessor Tung Chee-hwa, and blithely tell the Central Government what it wants to hear at every opportunity? For every Beijing official who doesn’t read the local newspapers, there’s a thousand patriots itching to snitch on colonial running dog Tsang the next time the emperor’s courtiers humour them with an audience.
What else is going on? Muttering ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’, a senior Kuomintang delegation visits the Mainland for the first time since 1949. Given the Chinese Communist Party bandits’ origins within the KMT, the two sides have much in common to discuss. The ditching of Leninist principles. Dictatorship. Corruption. Massacres. The co-option of business and gangsters. Being on the losing side of history...
|Thurs, 31 Mar
As I write, the Big Boss is crossing the southern ocean to a dark corner of the Overseas Chinese empire on a voyage of shoe-shining, string-pulling, influence-peddling and grubby asset-trading. All is calm on the 20th floor of S-Meg Tower, and the Company Gwailo is free to contemplate the compelling questions of the day at his leisure.
|First, What if there had been no Lee Kuan Yew? After recently reading Anthony Oei’s hagiographic tome – found in a dusty corner of a second hand store – I found myself none the wiser. But judging from his remarks yesterday in Hong Kong, non-Singaporeans would have endured fewer demented ramblings over the years if the Lion City’s ‘Minister Mentor’ and expert on everything had been just another ranting and frothing taxi driver, as nature surely intended.|
|“In Hong Kong, where people are out on the street, you want a street fighter [to be the Chief Executive]. Then you can avoid confrontations … [Tung Chee-hwa] was too nice a man; not sufficiently young and nimble. He wasn't a street fighter.”|
|Poor Harry. It must be frustrating to insist that the only way of running a Chinese community is to lock up anyone who speaks their mind, and then be proved wrong by an incompetent buffoon like Tung.
Second, who let Mainland legal experts get their hands on hallucinatory drugs again? The deeper they delve into the hidden meanings of the Basic Law, the more tangled they get in twists of logic and fissures in truth. Still it is a privilege to be entertained by the sight of our own Hong Kong officials trying to follow and emulate, if not actually anticipate, them. Off the long, straight road they march, blundering into a morass of idiocies and lies that choke reason and confound belief, straight-faced and adamant that this is the correct, skillfully planned path.
And third, is this short salute to the long-forgotten Negro Space Program worth watching? At last, a simple answer. Yes. An on-line TV documentary in the spirit of tributes to the ‘buffalo soldiers’ of the Civil War and pioneering black baseball players – a life-affirming and educational little film.
Fri, 1 Apr
With the possible exception of Prince Charles, has anyone ever become so famous for doing so little as Terri Schiavo? Fifteen years after her heart stopped beating, she became a celebrity. Now, 13 days after her feeding tube was removed, she has (according to taste) finally been allowed to die, been executed without due process, or been murdered by her adulterous husband.
|“Every tear shed for Terri Schiavo has been collected and saved by Almighty God. That’s right. God is keeping track of ALL the tears shed for Terri Schiavo. I saw Terri’s mother crying on TV. God did, too. God actually makes decisions about our lives based on those tears… Terri Schiavo has an attorney pleading her case in the Throne Room of God.”
“I remember as a child that on Good Friday, when we read the Passion, thinking, ‘How could they do this to Jesus?’ Of course, I didn’t understand that if Jesus had been allowed to go free … there would have been no Christianity. When I look at the Schiavo case, I can now answer my childish question. Jesus and Terri had to die because the law said they had to, and that was enough for most people to do nothing.”
“Terri Schiavo is dying for our sins.”
James Atticus Bowden
|IS THIS how it feels to have your feeding tube pulled out? No sooner have I sat down at my desk for a light morning’s toil in the office than a feeling of foreboding overwhelms me. It’s probably not life-threatening, but… After several days of sore gums, bleeding when I brush my teeth, and completely ineffective gargling with salt water, I have no choice but to lift up the phone and call Dr Amy KK Au-Yeung BDS DPDS to ask for an appointment. If it’s a check-up, her receptionist tells me, come next week. But if it’s urgent, she’s free in half an hour. Let’s do it, I say, quoting Gary Gilmore’s last words.
I tell Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary that I’ll be back in 30 minutes at the most. A ten-minute stroll from S-Meg Tower later, I am lying on my back on the seat in the high-tech but evil-smelling surroundings of the dental chamber, a bright light shining into my face, and Dr Au-Yeung pressing herself against me as she peers into my mouth. Come on woman, just hand over the antibiotics and let me out of here. But no – she pokes around my incisors with a spike. “Hmmm,” she murmurs. Suddenly, without warning, she pins me down by the shoulders and her assistant deftly manacles my hands at my sides and tightens four strong nylon straps across my legs, waist and chest. “Clean-up!” she announces, stuffing buds of surface anaesthetic under my upper and lower lips and loading up her special coward-size syringe. After numbing everything from my nose to my neck, she brutally subjects me to subgingival curettage – medical jargon for ‘extremely unpleasant scraping under the gums as punishment for not flossing five times a day as I have previously instructed you’.
Hours of jaw-shuddering abrasion and scouring later, I am unshackled. As her assistant mops the blood up off the floor, Dr Au-Yeung hands me a bottle of antiseptic mouthwash. “This is very powerful,” she tells me. “Don’t use it for more than three days, or it will discolour your teeth and do really strange things to your taste buds.” Despite apparently not having a mouth, I manage to grunt. She passes me a bag of pills. “If the wash doesn’t work, use these antibiotics. But if you drink alcohol within a month of taking these,” she stresses, wagging her finger, “you will die instantly.”