Hemlock's Diary
The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat
29 May-4 June 2005

Monday, 30 May
An augury appeared over the chateau yesterday evening, in the form of a lammergeier, or bearded vulture.  Apparently, there are only six breeding pairs in this whole region.  If it was headed towards Brussels in search of carrion, it will be rewarded.  The simple but good people of Clochmerle-la-Merdaille voted a decisive 'non' to the European Union's ridiculous 'constitution' yesterday, and across France the result was 55 to 45 percent against. My modest contribution to this outcome consisted of standing outside the polling station and warning citizens of the dangers of free flows of trade and investment.  Not my normal opinion, but such economic illiteracy seems to go down well among the peasantry here.  George Will's
criticism in the Washington Post would probably have encouraged a 'yes' vote...
The proposed constitution has 448 articles -- 441 more than the U.S. Constitution. It is a jumble of pieties, giving canonical status to sentiments such as "the physical and moral integrity of sportsmen and sportswomen" should be protected. It establishes, among many other rights, a right to "social and housing assistance" sufficient for a "decent existence." Presumably, supranational courts and bureaucracies will define and enforce those rights, as well as the right of children to "express their views fully." And it stipulates that "preventive action should be taken" to protect the environment.
In a little over 24 hours, I will be back in Hong Kong.  With each item I chuck into my travel bag, I consign a part of this visionary, utopian European dream - this piece of sublime mysticism and nonsense - to history.  There is no such thing as a European economy.  There is no such thing as a European foreign policy.  There is no such thing as a European social model.  There is no such thing as a counterweight to the USA.  There is no such place as Europe.  It is a geographical expression and no more.  In the case of this particular village, it is also the source of exceptionally good sheep's milk cheese - a sample of which I will buy en route to the airport.

Wed, 1 June
After a week in France of duck, rabbit, trout, venison and wild boar, all smothered in reduced, butter-laden sauces, the subtle lightness of Foreign Correspondents Club congee comes as a bit of a shock to the slightly jet-lagged system.  As my taste buds readjust to Cantonese levels of flavour, shapely Administrative Officer Winky Ip updates me on how Hong Kong has fared in my absence.  It’s been noisy, she reports.  Animal lovers squealing because Disneyland will be serving shark’s fin.  Human rights activists shrieking at Beijing for arresting local journalist Ching Cheong for espionage.  Patients screaming in agony as doctors kill them with wrongly labeled medicine.  But it has all been drowned out by the sound of frenzied shoe-shining, as sour-faced pro-Beijing figures hold their noses and push their way through jostling ranks of drooling tycoons to endorse Sir Donald Tsang as the Chief Executive from heaven.

“The patriots are being wonderfully obedient,” she tells me.  “You’d never think they had spent the last eight years denouncing Donald as a British running dog.”  Yes, what a sight – all the old anti-colonial dinosaurs standing in line to publicly drop to their knees and lick the boots of the treacherous bow-tied one.  If the Chinese Communist Party told them to kowtow to a fly-infested pile of poodle droppings on the sidewalk, they would be down on all fours, grimly rubbing their dutiful foreheads into it.  “And obviously the business community aren’t going to let us down,” continues Winky.  “The phone’s been ringing off the hook with offers of help – they all want to be in on the campaign.”  She leans forward and lowers her voice.  “Your man at S-Meg Holdings has been a real pain.  Constantly calling.  ‘I’m an old friend of Donald’s, I’m sure he wants to appoint me as an advisor’.  Doesn’t he have any self-respect?”  I burst out laughing.  Winky has spent all her life in the public sector, where honest, brazen audacity is shunned in favour of duplicitous, understated memos in brown envelopes.  By the standards of Hong Kong plutocrats, the Big Boss is a paragon of self-effacing decorum.  His is a bowl of thin, plain
juk compared with the heavily seasoned, overpowering affrontery some of his peers dish up.  Which is why, as I understand it, Sir Bow-Tie is in fact taking up his offer.
Thurs, 2 Jun
For the second day in a row, the
South China Morning Post’s front page carries a photo of Sir Bow-Tie tending plants outside his house.  For some reason, this brings to mind Jerzy Kosinsky’s novel Being There, in which the dim-witted Chauncey Gardiner rises to become presidential material simply by spouting inanities about growing trees and flowers.  But there is no comparison.  In Kosinsky’s story, the public reads genius and profundity into moronic comments.  In Hong Kong, people fail to read between the lines, and interpret wise words as worthless.  Officials’ statements on journalist Ching Cheong – the chicken killed to scare the media monkeys away from the late Zhao Ziyang – are a good example.  Critics of the Hong Kong Government’s inaction to protect him aren’t paying attention.
“I immediately informed the Security Bureau to follow the standing procedures” (Donald Tsang) actually means “You know as well as I do that we can do or say nothing publicly to help this man, and what little we can do you will never know about.”   

“We should not interfere with the law enforcement and judicial process in the Mainland” (Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee) really means “Like it or not, our sovereign power is a despotic dictatorship over which decent and civilized Hong Kong people have no influence whatsoever – be thankful they leave us alone on this side of the border.”

“I urge Hong Kong citizens to strictly abide by [Mainland] law when they are in the Mainland” (Acting Chief Executive Henry Tang) in fact means “There is zero due process or rule of law once you set foot north of Lo Wu.  If you think you can act there like you can in Hong Kong, you’re nuts – they can do anything they want to you.”

Why do people need everything spelt out to them?

LIKE A pair of clogs kicking a piece of Edam cheese into a pulp...  Like the storm-driven blades of a windmill shredding bouquets of poppies...  Like a torrent of water from a burst dyke sweeping a herd of Frisian cattle to their doom…  The plucky little Netherlands picks up where France left off and delivers the
death blow to the European Union’s bizarre ‘constitution’, by a margin of 62 to 38 percent.  It is hard not to feel a pang of sympathy for the utopian Euro-visionaries as they try to get their heads around the shocking truth that people prefer democracy to being governed by arrogant foreigners trying to start up a country no-one else wants.  Were I to encounter one walking along Queen’s Rd later today, I would be tempted to give them a hug to cheer them up – such must be their pain and incomprehension at seeing their megalomaniac dream in tatters.   Then I would look them in the eye, and say in my best Dutch – “wij kaan run arr oon kaantry danks, nau faak ooff.”
Fri, 3 Jun
Gliding down the Mid-Levels Escalator this morning, Hong Kong’s hard-working, tax-paying middle class eagerly debates the differences between the democratic systems of European countries and Hong Kong.  “So let’s get this straight,” Mr Chiu the lawyer asks me.  “In France and Holland they vote first, then the next day they find out the result?”   I assure him that this is exactly how they do it.  He shakes his head doubtfully.  “I prefer our system.  Announce the result first, then have the election.  That way, everyone knows who to support.” 

“Yes – no sudden surprises,” adds Ms Yoshida the executive secretary.  Eager to regale her fellow commuters with a tale from home, she tells us how distributors of movies in Japan always release a synopsis containing not only the outline of each film’s plot, but the ending.  “So even before we buy the ticket and walk into the cinema, we know exactly what will happen,” she explains.  “I’ve never understood why people in other countries don’t demand this.” 

She has a point.  All we know is how this plot begins.  Humble local boy who struggled to the top and became loyal colonial lickspittle Sir Bow-Tie amazes the world by winning the trust of his former masters’ deadly foes in Beijing and becoming Chief Executive Donald
he-showed-his-composure-and- a-high-level-of-self-confidence Tsang of the Hong Kong SAR.  Within days, the sun starts shining more brightly, the birds are singing more sweetly, and – the ultimate mark of respect – native English speakers at RTHK3 consolidate their dozen different pronunciations of the name Tsang to just two or three.  But what lies around the corner?  Ms Yoshida believes she knows.  “Everything will be wonderful,” she assures us. “Donald Tsang has type AB blood.” 

Could therebe  any better start to the weekend?
LIVE FROM Queen’s Road Central at 3pm – Spiderman puts in a guest appearance and hoists a reminder of the 1989 Beijing massacre over the big TV screen at the bottom of D’Aguillar Street.  The emergency services respond by cutting off the traffic and turning this congested part of Hong Kong’s central business district into a pedestrianized zone, complete with giant air cushion.  Passers-by and police exchange jokes while the Tiananmen protestor claims his 15 minutes of glory.  Why no picture of Zhou Ziyang?  Who knows?  The important thing is – can we just have more June 4 protests on a daily basis, please?  It’s not often Central is a pleasure to walk around.