Hemlock's Diary
The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat
3-9 July 2005

Sun, 3 Jul
While having dinner in the Foreign Correspondents Club yesterday, I wondered whether the air-conditioning wasn’t sounding a bit loud.  Within a minute, one of the telepathic waitresses was leaning over my bowl of laksa and advising me that the room would be closed Sunday for air-con maintenance.  Seconds later, at the next table, an electronic tone briefly emanated from a member’s bag.  She pulled out her Blackberry and read an email.  “Oh…” she told her companion.  “It’s the FCC.  The Main Bar will be closed tomorrow for air-conditioner maintenance.”   Reading others’ thoughts is impressive – sending mass-emails from your mind is amazing.  Only the FCC could find such a waitress
Another cosmic moment comes today as I open The Spectator and digest a three-page article by Roger Scruton on Sartre.  Not only do I read the whole thing, but I actually enjoy it – which sets off that brief but nagging thought I have around once a year that if they could see me now, some people, somewhere, might consider that there is something missing from my life.  The notion would normally vanish with the flick of a wrist, but I turn the page to find that the gods of page layout are conspiring with my inner demons.  ‘A Japanese woman to share your life’ says an ad.  The next thing I know, a mysterious force is compelling me to consult the Destina agency’s website…
Japanese women are world-renowned for their gentle, caring natures and their beauty. Our carefully selected members embody these characteristics, and have an empathy with western culture.
But – if I receive the subliminal message in the photographs correctly – will do groceries.  It gets more interesting...
Men from countries such as Britain, the USA and Australia are viewed as being more sensitive, and less rigid in their views, than the traditional Japanese male.
Can their own men be so appalling that these women would prefer going to the supermarket to buy Baco-Bits® and beer for some Anglo?  Obviously, only they can judge. 

A vision comes to mind of Stonegallows Hall, thousands of miles away, and the memories of war it houses.  Never, in 60 years, have my parents allowed a single item made by Sony, Nikon, Panasonic, Hitachi, Mitsubishi, Toshiba, Toyota, Honda or the like onto the property – emergency medical equipment excepted.  I try to imagine standing at the front door, presenting an office lady and Beatrix Potter fan, in a loud hat, pastel dress and lace socks, grinning and offering a box of sashimi to the new in-laws. 

That’s the something-missing-from-life feeling dispensed with for another 12 months.
Mon, 4 Jul
When a man is tired of IFC Mall he is tired of life.  What other shopping centre in the Big Lychee has no fewer than 57 outlets offering skin-whitening lotions?  So much choice – and that’s just for people who want to walk around looking as if they have died from the neck up.  No doubt someone will soon be selling skin-darkening preparation, for pasty faced Caucasians to rub all over their hands, feet, arms, legs and torsos to achieve this intriguing effect.  And now, as if this retail complex did not cater to every imaginable taste, we have a bakery and a cheese shop for people who don’t want bread and don’t want cheese.

In the Monty Python sketch, a shop keeper was shot dead for having no cheese in stock.  What fate awaits the owner of IFC Mall’s fromagerie, which has a display of tempting produce in a glass case, but a sign on the counter flatly stating that it is not for sale?  “I was in Dymocks on the second floor just now, skimming through
The Great Hong Kong Sex Novel by Dr George Adams, and I suddenly came over all peckish.”  Hunger can drive people to extremes.  It can only be a matter of time before an ‘esurient’, lactose-tolerant passer-by, denied access to a piece of tantalizing brie, suddenly snaps, runs off to the hardware department in Lane Crawford and returns with a blowtorch, a pair of pliers and a chainsaw to wreak his terrible revenge on the stubborn proprietor of this unique little emporium.  Meanwhile, what a senseless waste of cheese.
STROLLING ALONG Lower Albert Road after lunch, I see a long line of middle-aged men and women outside Central Government Office.  They are queuing up for something – but what can it be?  It’s not methadone.  They are all smartly dressed, adequately fed and healthy.  Many would appear to be of the utmost insignificance, but a few familiar faces are there.  Some inveterate shoe-shiners, some second-tier public figures, a few folk who have done well in business and the professions.  Friday was the eighth anniversary of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.  Today marks the 229th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.  Time for some real history – this year is the 644th anniversary of an English act that established an impressive job title for Edward III’s peace officers.  Did that Plantagenet king ever imagine that six and half centuries later, in a city in the tropical south of distant, mysterious Tartary, the local potentate would distribute symbolic appointments to this same office among the groveling, the easily pleased and the worthy-but-unexciting as a way of saying, “Thank you for being You” – a sort of Hallmark card from the Government?  Obviously he did not, since Hallmark cards still hadn’t been invented.  But he would have understood the importance of a pat on the head for the well-behaved – a Jimcrack Prize.

Tue, 5 Jul
A tiny black dot against the blue morning sky appears to grow larger and larger as it falls to earth, gaining in speed at a rate of 32 feet per second squared and, for all I know, approaching terminal velocity by the time it flashes past the Mid-Levels Escalator and hits the sidewalk with a short, dull thud, leaving a crumpled mass of pyjama-clad limbs lying still in a shroud of swirling dust.  Commuters gliding past the towering apartment blocks down towards Central look away and try to ignore the distant screams as distraught heads of household dispatch their loved ones with meat cleavers.  For those of us who bought our homes and paid off our loans many years ago – who guarantee our long-term security through honest, patient and carefully considered accumulation of wealth-creating assets – the
50 basis point rise in local banks’ lending rates is barely deserving of the merest shrug.  Just another notch in the economic cycle.  But for the pitiful rabble who drool in the hope of miraculously effortless and quick gains from the trading of concrete boxes and make themselves indentured slaves of property tycoons and usurers, it is a different matter.  Glancing back at the lifeless figure on the ground, a dazzling title for a PhD thesis strikes me – ‘The role of variable-rate mortgages in maintaining Hong Kong’s position as the only major city in the world with more suicides than road deaths’.
Wed, 6 Jul
An unpleasant case of Irritable Gwailo Syndrome ruins the usually congenial atmosphere in the IFC Mall branch of Pacific Coffee this morning as wild American friend Odell ignores the Government’s
Incredibly Hot Weather (You Can Fry Noodles on the Pavement) Warning and gets flustered.  “No, I don’t want some stinking vanilla banana latte!” he snaps at the boyish-looking waitress who has the impertinence to guess what he might want.  “And I don’t want some stupid fresh loganberry and ginseng crush!” he yells, banging the counter with his fist as sweat flies off his forehead.  “I just want…”  The serving staff stand motionless in shock, hanging on his every word.  “Just gimme a fucking Coke!” he screams.  “Why can’t you people just sell fucking Coke!”  I gently lead him away to a big comfortable chair in the corner and press my ice-cold apricot, cinnamon and jojoba smoothie against his fevered brow.  A petrified minion deposits a cola in a McDonald’s paper cup on the table.  I apologetically mutter something to her about the stress he’s under.  Financial problems.

Which is true.  Odell has even bought a million Petrochina put warrants – KC-PETCH@EP0509, stock code 4711 – which have traded at a penny each since the recent upturn in the company’s share price.  If the oil price plunges suddenly and Petrochina’s shares drop, he reckons, these things could zoom up to 10 cents or more – a 1,000 percent return.  “That’s desperate,” I advise him, and he nods.  After a few minutes, he calms down and even goes back to the counter to say sorry to the employees, but they vanish into the storage room as he approaches. 

Feeling better, he confides in me that unimaginable wealth is just around the corner.  “I’ve bought a hundred cases of Kwiki® skin-darkening cream from
Hugh Janus, the local distributor,” he tells me.  “The way I see it,” he explains, “the white girls in Hong Kong will see the local chicks with their faces a distinctly paler tone than the rest of their bodies, and they’ll want to copy them.”  It didn’t happen with Hello Kitty mobile phones, or puce lipstick, or pouting and foot-stamping, but I try not to look too dubious.  “Also,” he assures me, “this stuff will go down well with Asian women who have acquired the pale face effect through the use of skin-whitening, but who need to revert to single-tone body colour for an important job interview or social function – I mean, some people are pretty creeped out by that ‘papery skin’, ‘cadaverous head’ look.”  I ponder his words for a few moments.  He’s onto something.  Issue a Hot Business Idea Warning.
Thurs, 7 Jull
A quiet morning in my office at S-Meg Tower.  An email from Hong Kong’s second most obnoxious expat Ben advises me that Elmer the pet turtle has inexplicably doubled in size in the last 10 days and is now knocking furniture over and provoking complaints from the neighbours.  Ex-Mormon friend Odell calls to complain that Kwiki® skin-darkening lotion goes runny when warm.  But it’s selling well.  “The white girls are lapping it up,” he claims, “especially my added value service – I’ve got a grant from the Government to hire a couple of blind guys to um… you know – rub it in everywhere.”

Twenty floors below me on the street, hundreds of gap-toothed, oily palmed minibus drivers wave copies of John Stuart Mill’s
On Liberty in protest against the tyranny of the majority that deprives them of their inalienable right as free, sovereign individuals to run red traffic lights and remove inattentive, sluggish and weak-sighted pedestrians from the gene pool as nature intended.  The champion of this oppressed minority’s cause is redoubtable legislator Miriam Lau, the policymaking genius behind the Liberal Party’s stand against extension of mass transit railways on the grounds that bus drivers might lose their jobs.  I open my desk drawer and finger an envelope addressed to her.  I pull out the Hallmark card that reads ‘With my deepest sympathy’ on the cover and wonder when I will have the opportunity to send it.  I open it to read my message.  “I was grief-stricken to hear about the tragic death of [insert name of her loved one] while crossing the road yesterday,” I have written, “you ridiculous and cretinous hag.”  I pick up my pen and add an afterthought – “PS  Why not ban buses?  Think of all the work it would create for rickshaw pullers.”

Despite the warm inner glow this gives me, I am in a subdued mood.  Like everyone in Hong Kong, I face a three-month period of emptiness.  It will seem longer.  The weeks will drag on.  Nearly a quarter of a year will pass, while we hunger for the intellectual stimulation, emotional fulfillment and sense of pride we enjoy when we behold these selfless servants of the people who protect our lives and liberties against executive despotism.  The Circus is starting its summer recess.  But not before one last lawmaker proves his worth as a representative of the citizenry with the ultimate flourish of statesmanship.  I bow to the Honourable Cheung Hok-ming of the Democratic and Snappily Titled Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of the Big Lychee for
imploring our Government to bring its force to bear upon Disneyland to grant free admission to everyone born in the same year as Mickey Mouse.  I am not worthy to pay the taxes that contribute to this man’s monthly expenses allowance.
Fri, 8 Jul
As was the case after the 9-11 attacks, the office slaves of S-Meg Holdings have little or no interest in, or even awareness of, the news from London.  They chatter and laugh in the lobby of S-Meg Tower under the watchful eye of the Pakistani security guard while they wait for the next empty elevator.  Not counting the one nearest the entrance.  That one is held open by an epsilon in a dark blue uniform and reserved for the Big Boss, who is returning from a dull breakfast meeting with the loyal Company Gwailo in tow.  A quiet hum of reverence and awe descends over the desk meat as we stride into the lift.  As the doors start to close, I glance up at a few junior accountants or secretaries.  They avert their gaze.  I know what they are thinking.  What does the fair-haired, blue-eyed running dog do all day, up there on the 20th floor? 

To the accompaniment of a Jefferson Airplane CD, I sit back in my office chair, sip a coffee, admire the harbour view and catch up on world events.  Britain has had an interesting week.  Ahead of the G8 Meeting in Gleneagles, the economic illiterates of the anti-globalization, anti-capitalism movement went on their usual rampage in Adam Smith’s Edinburgh.  “We’re too stupid to understand the theory of comparative advantage,” they chanted, “and it makes us mad as hell.”  The next day, at a
meeting of international leadership’s second-ranking has-beens, Jacques Chirac was overheard bad-mouthing the UK’s cuisine, notably Scotland’s greatest delicacy.  If the absurd French President had actually tried haggis, he would know that it is no more than a sausage – devised by people who didn’t want to waste any part of a sheep, but would draw the line at putting snails into their mouths.  The following day, disaster struck the British capital when it, instead of Paris, was condemned to host the tiresome, money-wasting burden that is the 2012 Olympic Games.   London officials hurriedly began drafting an announcement…
As one of the world’s two most important centres of financial, political and other earthly power, we have better things to do than accommodate a gathering of physical mutants and freaks from all lands to run round in circles, throw objects across a field and jump into pools of water.  However, we understand that the holding of such an event would satisfy some of our obscure but self-important European friends’ delusions of grandeur and need for attention.  So we have no hesitation in offering these games to our neighbours in the so-called City of Light.  (Why do they call it that?  Or is that Rome?)
Then yesterday, bombs went off on London’s public transport system – probably improving the visual appearance of the Underground stations, but killing dozens and injuring hundreds of people.   It is a measure of how demented the Jihadists are that they have taken this long to have a go at the Little Satan.  As a self-declared Al-Qaeda group puts it, “Rejoice for it is time to take revenge from the British Zionist Crusader Government,” none of whom seem to have been riding on the Tube.  What are the chances of these atavistic psychopaths hitting Hong Kong?  If terrorists are attracted by parks, we have nothing to fear.