Hemlock's Diary
The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat
26 June-2 July 2005

Mon, 27 Jun
The Hong Kong Observatory comes to the rescue!   Late last week, while a fortnight-long occasional heavy shower was flooding much of the Big Lychee and leaving dozens dead in southern China, our highly qualified meteorologists issued a forecast that the downpours would continue without halt up to next Wednesday.  Within hours the skies cleared, granting us a largely dry weekend.  Looking out of my window on the 20th floor of S-Meg Tower, I see patches of sunlight appear across the rain-free hills of Kowloon.  “Is there enough blue in the sky to make a Dutchman a pair of trousers?”  That was my mother’s response when as children we begged to pack a large hamper full of potted tongue, curried fowl, smoked ham, hard-boiled eggs with anchovy and mayonnaise filling, lashings of ginger beer and a woolen Queen Mary Rose tartan rug, and strap it to the back of Ousely the butler and head off into the woods for a picnic.  Usually, the answer was ‘no’.  Our hopes were therefore repeatedly dashed, and gradually but inevitably over the years we grew into bitter and emotionally deformed sociopaths.  How different things would have been with the Hong Kong Observatory!

A headline attracts my attention. 
American multinational proud to have employed quack peddlers of ridiculous superstition when designing business premises.  Presumably, Disney is re-issuing its PR blather about feng shui to prove its cultural sensitivity to the Chinese market after insulting the sons of the dragon by pulling shark’s fin off its proposed menus – a sop to namby-pamby Westerners who get distressed about the feelings of primitive, man-eating aquatic life forms.  After decades of being trashed by Disney, the world’s cultures send their more idiotic manifestations to bite back.  Of course, nothing wrecks feng shui as effectively as government subsidies.  This shallow, synthetic and tawdry theme park, devoid of irony or joy, is surely going to be the Revenge of Tung.
Tue, 28 Jun
Sir Bow-Tie
addresses the people of Hong Kong for the first time as Chief Executive.  Reading between the lines, his comments are a silent cry for help disguised as a basic policy address.  “Look guys,” he whispers, “Beijing is watching.  On one side of me, I’ve got a bunch of rapacious tycoons who see Hong Kong as their private pig trough, and they don’t trust me.  On the other side, I’ve got the old patriotic pro-communist mob who hate everyone – and that’s 90 percent of us – who liked life under the British, especially me.  Then, in front of me, I’ve got the pro-democrats who, under these circumstances, should be natural allies of mine – but they’re too self-indulgent, afraid of responsibility and plain dumb to see that.   I’ll have to throw some freebies out to some of these clowns to keep them happy.  But otherwise I’m going to concentrate on fixing some basic problems Tung left behind.  The universal suffrage thing is off the agenda for now.  However – you’d have voted for me if you could have, right?  Who would you rather have?  Some Shanghainese dimwit who inherited a family business?  Some romantic, party-loyalist, motherland-loving xenophobe?  So be thankful and live with it.  Beijing put me in charge because they realize they screwed up by insisting on taking this city back in ’97 even though they didn’t trust its people and hadn’t a clue how it worked.  Let’s just pretend that 1997 and Tung Chee-hwa never happened, and we’ll get through this.” 

Gliding down the Mid-Levels Escalator, Hong Kong’s industrious and fair-minded middle class ponder this appeal from a native son to his fellow harbour folk over the heads of their tiny-minded legislators.  Our conclusion is that our new prince deserves the benefit of the doubt.  There are
worse places to be – just keep the damn taxes down, Tsang.
Wed, 29 Jun
“What do you mean, you’re not going to the July 1st march?”  Polly the lipstick lesbian is little short of outraged in an early-morning phone call.  She’s busy organizing banners calling for equal rights for gay foreign domestic helpers.  I do sympathize, especially with the Indonesian maids.  They’re chained up, crammed into cargo ships, brought to Hong Kong and auctioned off to their new masters.  The owners offer a reward for bringing them back if they escape – you can keep their 3G mobile phones.  But no – sorry, Polly.  I won’t be on the march.  And I’m not alone.  Odell isn’t going.  No-one at work is going. 

“What did we shout two years ago?”  I ask her.  “‘Tung Chee-hwa stand down’.  What did we shout last year?  ‘Tung Chee-hwa stand down’.  What are we supposed to shout this year?  ‘Thanks and bye-bye’?”  She gives me a list of things to protest about, and adds that it will look terrible if the pro-Beijing march attracts more people.  An interesting point.  “How eloquent it would have been not to have a march this year,” I tell her.  “And how funny it would be if, instead, everyone crashed the pro-Beijing rally wearing T-shirts showing Donald Tsang being knighted by Prince Charles, and had a good time watching the Mainland acrobats.”  Silence.  “Instead, you’ll all be listening to some wretched vicar singing
The Times They Are A-Changing, oblivious to the meaning of the song.”  Click. 

UNLIKE OUR beleaguered pro-democrats, Sir Bow-Tie understands symbolism.  Into the colonial governors’ mansion he will go.  And
down will come the funereal black railings that the crop-haired one had erected around Central Government Offices to keep the revolting sans-culottes at bay.
One of Rafael Hui's friends added that the new chief secretary resents the iron bars because they bring bad feng shui.
This is such an obvious and deliberate dig at Tofu-for-Brains’ original reason not to live in Government House that it’s cruel.  Savage.  Below the belt.  Uncalled for.  Ungentlemanly.  Unworthy of mature adults.  Brilliantly funny.

Thurs, 30 Jun
The Big Boss is out, attending his first meeting with the new Chief Executive since Beijing officially handed Sir Bow-Tie his letter of appointment (suitable for framing) last week.  Some very easy-on-the-ears
Respighi plays on my office PC.  Number-One Son, with his goofy grin and total lack of awareness of unfashionable music, has just dropped by in search of sympathy.  His father is punishing him – basically for being a disappointing little twerp.  “Last week” he laments, “he made me attend the Pacific Basin Economic Council international general meeting at the conference and exhibition centre.  I had to listen to Sir John Bond of HSBC give a keynote speech on Managing Corporate Social Responsibilities.”  Poor bastard.  Hong Kong’s tycoons lace their nepotism with brutality.  Obviously, they need to toughen up their offspring, to compensate for the lack of brain cells.  But there are limits.

THE DAY’S burning question...  What should I do with my CNOOC stock?  It has risen 62 percent since I bought it, but then it’s barely 3 percent of my Hong Kong portfolio.  By contrast, my Petrochina shares are up 300 percent, from $1.46 to $5.85.  They account for 15 percent of my local equities – and the fact that I am knee-deep in dividends.  CNOOC wants to buy Unocal, and the Beijing-owned parent has obtained low-cost financing, courtesy of the Chinese taxpayer, to trump rival bidder Chevron.  That’s not an even fight.  But who’s subsidizing whom?  Who wins and who loses? 

From Chevron’s point of view, it’s not fair.  But assuming CNOOC’s bid passes muster with regulatory and legal authorities, that’s too bad.  Chevron has ‘lost’ one potential opportunity but still has its money and the possibilities it offers.  Unocal’s owners are clear winners, getting a juicy price for their asset.  We CNOOC owners gain an overpriced acquisition at subsidized financing costs – let’s say it nets out.  So does that leave the Chinese taxpayer as the main possible loser?  Or are the sneaky commie hordes the ultimate winners? 
Keep devil-worshiping, child-molesting, chain-smoking dwarfs out of American boardrooms, intones the voice of rugged, self-reliant, freedom-loving reason.  

Is Beijing being clever in spending public money on securing long-term, overseas sources of essential commodities – copper in Chile, coal in Australia, oil in especially odious bits of Africa and so on?  Does it contribute to long-term national security or simply the leaders’ sense of autarkic, centrally planned well-being?   Wouldn’t it make more sense to invest the funds in the domestic economy today, in order to create the wealth to buy raw materials at their global market prices in decades ahead?   Like countries not run by paranoid cliques do. 

So, I am stuck with this conundrum – will ultimate control by a paranoid clique make CNOOC a more or less profitable investment in the long run?  Paranoid cliques make bad decisions.  But bad decisions have unintended beneficiaries.
Fri, 1 Jul
The police herding system in the park
At mid-afternoon, I pass by Victoria Park en route to air conditioning and beer in Wanchai.  The marchers are far fewer in number than last year and a fraction of the 2003 turnout, but they have the same knowing look in their eyes.  We brought down Tung, remember?  Meanwhile, in the absence of anything better to complain about, here’s a hundred or so lame causes we’d like to bring to your attention.  An inordinate number of the protesters this year are foreign domestic helpers – Filipinos, Indonesians, Thais, Nepalese, Sri Lankans, swaying in ethnic costume, banging drums, shouting for a pay rise, and dangling shrunken heads on strings to highlight their importance to the Hong Kong economy.  Someone went to great lengths to invite them all.  And here’s a group of people in wheelchairs.  And here are some grey-haired seniors.  And a load of anti-WTO, anti-globalization types have turned up.  And so on.  But these are the reserves.  The half-million and more from 2003 – the folk with better things to do – are still out there, somewhere, hoping Sir Bow-Tie will spare them the need to take to the streets again.

Was it really
eight years ago?
Long Hair holds forth outside Sogo department store
An innocent kid brutally dragged off to the patriotic rally by pro-Beijing parents