Hemlock's Diary
4-10 December 2005
Sun, 4 Dec
Yet another pro-democracy march, attracting
63,000 and diverting 82 buses or 250,000, according to taste.  Has anything changed as a result?  Hong Kong people remain too immature for universal suffrage or are running out of patience and about to chuck Donald Tsang into the Tung Chee-hwa Retirement Home, according to taste.  However, former Chief Secretary Anson Chan turns up, and the leading pro-democratic personalities have springs in their step, and slightly wicked smiles on their faces.  To be continued…
Mon, 5 Dec
After a hard day running around panicking with rolls of barrier tape and screwing up the traffic arrangements, our valiant police report a mere
63,000 marchers at yesterday’s rally.  High enough to make casino king Stanley Ho eat his hat, jump in the harbour, set up a Macau branch of Gamblers Anonymous, or whatever he pledged to do if the turnout was over 50,000.  But low enough to sound absurd, thus increasing the credibility of the organizers’ claim of a quarter of a million, which would otherwise have a dash of fantasy about it, even if you count people waving from trams and sidewalks and dogs proudly sporting little black ribbons on their collars.  The 250,000 total will hereby stick, despite grumblings to the contrary of frustrated, joyless, pro-Beijing pedants.  The Times of London carves it into the historical record, and adds a generous estimate of the turnout in 2003 to boot.  RTHK and the South China Morning Post coyly refer to ‘tens of thousands’.  Why not ‘many, many hundreds’ or ‘immeasurable dozens’?  “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision” – certainly more than would have been the case if Dr Stanley Ho and Sir Gordon Wu had kept their mouths shut for a change.
Tue, 6 Dec
Strolling down the Mid-Levels Escalator over Hollywood Road, I encounter a familiar sight – a group of tourists pausing to watch local residents en route to work passing their wallets and handbags over the MTR’s Fare Saver machine, thus entitling them to a discount on their train journey.  The apparently American family of four – father, mother, pimply teenage son and brace-toothed teenage daughter – are clearly puzzled, as well they might be, coming from a land where people still pay for their groceries by cheque and have never seen anything like an Octopus Card except in science fiction movies.  Does the machine collect payments?   Do they need to pay for using this magnificent escalator, with its hanging baskets of fresh flowers and exquisitely tasteful posters advertising the Hong Kong Tourism Board’s latest exciting shopping festival?  Will they get into trouble if they walk past the device without using it? 

A young man in overalls comes bounding up.  He stretches his arm out to the machine and twists his wrist so his watch faces the magic Senso-Pad.  The second the machine beeps, he runs back in the direction he came from.  The family members clutch their maps and water bottles and glance at each other with that nervous look people have when they don’t know what’s going on.   I decide to sooth their fears.  “Don’t worry,” I tell them, “you don’t have to use this thing.  It’s an electronic supervision system for monitoring violent criminals who are out on parole, so they can become law-abiding and productive members of society.  MTR – murderers, thieves, rapists.”  The look of relief on their faces is a joy to behold.
IN VICTORIAN times, people would take the family to the local lunatic asylum for a fun day out watching the inmates.  In the modern era we have the South China Morning Post’s letters page, which allows us to view the ranting and mouth-frothing of the mentally deranged from the comfort of our offices and homes.
Unfair to men
Thanks for your article about the policy of Australian and New Zealand airlines headlined “Men banned from sitting with children” (November 30).  It is, of course, no surprise: the so-called “women's rights”mafia has, after all, been pressing for a long time to separate all men from all children. It is part of the planned dissolution of the family as a social institution. That it is also extremely damaging does not concern these femi-supremacists very much.
J. BOOST, Sai Kung
Apart from paedophiles who can’t wait half an hour before the plane lands in Phnom Penh, I can’t think of any man who would not be delighted with the airlines’ policy of seating them away from unaccompanied minors on a flight.  The writer is obviously not aware that the whole paedophile scare is in fact a cunning ploy by the male sex to help them avoid contact with children as much as possible.  Perhaps one day, the truth will leak out and women will realize they have been tricked and the vast majority of men are actually decent and safe.  But until then, keep them guessing!  Or maybe he actually likes being around kids.  More proof that letter writers to the SCMP are insane.

Wed, 7 Dec
Breakfast at the Foreign Correspondents Club with shapely Administrative Officer Winky Ip, who describes the dark and despondent mood in Central Government Office as dashing Chief Executive Donald Tsang starts to take on the unmistakable form of a physically handicapped aquatic avian.  “Donald is extremely upset with Ronnie Tong.  At first Ronnie was going to support this political reform package – now he’s gone back on his word.  Slimy, as you’d say.”  I dribble a manly quantity of chili sauce onto my noodles.  “And Beijing’s hit the roof over Anson Chan turning up at the march. 
What do you think you’re doing!?  What the hell is she up to? That sort of thing.”  I roll my eyes.  If it weren’t for international opinion, I say, they’d have Anson under house arrest, Zhou Ziyang-style.  “They’d pull the plug on the reform package to deny the democrats the pleasure, that’s for sure,” the voluptuous civil servant replies.

“Forget all this short-term stuff,” I tell Winky.  I explain the outline of What Will Really Happen In Due Course, as related to me by Somebody Very Well Connected.  “Beijing is looking for someone it can trust to run Hong Kong as China’s stable, luxury haven for the rich – think Switzerland or Monte Carlo.  The tycoons are just a self-serving clique, with no broader support.  The DAB is history, and anyway their base is the poor, who don’t figure in this.  The civil service is looking less attractive (present company excepted).  Who’s left?”  Winky patiently sips her jasmine tea.  “Now we have the Article 45 Group openly saying it will aim to form a government.”

Winky splutters.  “Beijing hates those people – hates them.”  I hold up my hand to indicate to the buxom bureaucrat that I haven’t finished.
“No-one knows what Beijing thinks,” I remind her.  “All we know is they have power struggles, which reformers eventually win more of than the dinosaurs.  After Donald ‘lame’ Duck waddles off, what other options do they have?  The upper middle class is the only way to go.”  Winky looks around her in disbelief.   “Now,” I continue.  “Ronnie Tong is very unhappy that Anson Chan has suddenly butted her way into this, right?”  Winky shrugs.  ”So look at the dynamics.  Beijing doesn’t think much of Donald.  Donald hates Ronnie.  Beijing hates Anson.  Ronnie hates Anson.  If my enemy’s enemy is my friend, Beijing likes Ronnie!”

Winky laughs.  “Whoever told you this is on drugs,” she snorts.  I lean closer.  Here comes the clincher.

“What if Ronnie Tong owes Beijing a really big favour?" I whsiper.  “What if they helped him solve a very sensitive, personal and potentially embarrassing problem in the past – the sort we don’t discuss over breakfast?  You know how that always helps them ‘trust’ people.”  Winky shakes her head and mutters how I probably dreamt this.  “Ronnie will be 62 in 2012,” I conclude.  “A good age.  And
you said ‘slimy’, not me.”
Thurs, 8 Dec
The Big Boss insists on my presence at an interview with an overseas journalist on the inevitable subject of the Big Lychee’s fight for democracy.  After going through the Government’s Line-to-Take one more time, we enter the conference room at the top of S-Meg Tower and greet the power-dressing female correspondent.  An epsilon in a smart butler’s outfit delivers tea and dim sum.  Then the mighty captain of industry exchanges pleasantries with the woman and asks after his old friend, the grasping proprietor of her news organization.  She is an experienced professional – the sort that makes our visionary Chairman nervous – and she gets down to business. 
“S-Meg Holdings has interests in construction materials supply, commercial property, wholesale and other heavily cartelized industries,” she states with a smile. “Like some other family-run conglomerates in Hong Kong, you benefit economically from Government spending on infrastructure, the high land price policy, the lack of competition laws and so on.”  The Big Boss looks defensive.  “You have a vested interest in resisting a more democratic political structure, don’t you?”

To his credit, the tycoon doesn’t bother denying the obvious.  “Not as much as some of them!” he laughs, reeling off the names of world-famous-in-Hong Kong plutocrats.  “No, I’m all in favour of universal suffrage,” he assures the lady from the press, who’s scribbling in a notebook.  “Lots of my friends are in the pro-democratic camp,” he adds.  Much name-dropping about old friendships and godchildren – the list seems to impress the journo.  “But,” he goes on, adopting the slightly pained expression of someone reluctantly facing an unavoidable truth, “the problem is the Basic Law says progress must be ‘gradual and orderly’.  And in accord with the ‘actual situation’.  And we must ensure ‘balanced participation’.  And we need to groom political talent.  And we must develop a mature political party system.  And we need to make sure that there will be no economic or social disruption.  And then we need a roadmap.  And, um, building blocks.  And…”

Despite the monthly injections of human placenta extract up in Shenzhen, the Big Boss’s memory starts to fail him.  But the reporter has stopped scribbling anyway – she’s already jotted this down from half a dozen other moguls and officials.  She looks up.  “Let me think… consensus?” she suggests. 

The magnate’s brain jolts back into life and he nods vigorously.  “Oh of course, that goes without saying!” he blurts out.  “We’ve got to get seven million people to agree on something extremely complex.”  He gives the journalist a helpless shrug.  “And that could take a while,” he admits with a sigh.  “Unfortunately.”
SO THAT’S what they call them…  A knock at the door of the gwailo’s lair.  One of the three Stanleys from the mailroom nervously approaches.  Taking care to avert his gaze, he reverently places a sheet of paper in my in-tray, and retreats backwards, his head bowed.  I take a look.  “Please be reminded…”  It’s a memo from Hong Kong’s worst Human Resources Department informing S-Meg Holdings desk meat of the cruel and unusual punishments that will be inflicted on female staff caught wearing trousers except when the temperature drops below a lucky 8 degrees Celsius.  “…Thank you for your attention.”  I screw it up and toss it away, only to find the letters page of Monday’s South China Morning Post staring up at me forlornly from the bottom of the rubbish bin, where it has finally been found a use in the service of humanity as a lining.  A missive from noted philosopher and wit Nuri Vittachi alerts the world to a new word that describes the political stance of people like my very own employer who desperately want universal suffrage just as soon as we can sort out a couple of little details – ‘delaymocrats’.  (Out of curiosity, I run this new contribution to our language through Google and get only one, solitary return.  Do I get a prize?) 

Sesame Street today was brought to you by the word ‘delaymorcrat’.
Fri, 9 Dec
A quiet morning in S-Meg Tower, the Big Boss having dashed off last night to exotic Southeast Asia, where hundreds of happy, smiling natives lounge peacefully beneath their mango trees while a dozen third-generation Chinese immigrants crawl past in bullet-proof, darkened-glass Mercedes and BMWs, weighed down by 80 percent of the local stock market by capitalization.  In the reception area of Private Office, Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary appears to be peering at a text message on a mobile phone that has a ‘cute furry rodent’ cover.  Not her style, at all.  On closer examination, I find she is in fact giving a rectal examination to a hamster.  That’s a relief – I’d hate her to start acting strange.  Safely ensconced in the gwailo’s lair, I flick through the news.
The Mainland coalmine disaster du jour claims 74.  On a brighter note, the Indian train crash seems to have been cancelled this week.  Harold Pinter, collecting his Nobel prize, blathers on about the removal of Saddam Hussein as an American crime, at a length and density unbecoming of the man who wrote the screenplay of The Go-Between

The malevolent, grinning ghost of Tung Chee-hwa hovers over Wanchai, watching with glee as millions of dollars of Hong Kong taxpayers’ money is poured down the toilet as the city prepares to host the World Trade Organization ministerial conference.  To help us recover from SARS.  Intent on denying Third World farmers the right to make a living, French officials insist on forcing all Europeans to buy the overpriced, subsidized food produced by their own noble peasantry – a scam that, last time I checked, was costing each British family some 700 pounds a year.  Meanwhile, hairy, anti-globalization economic illiterates from Italy and Germany will fight against the evils of free trade alongside Korean farmers who insist on forcing their fellow citizens to buy their overpriced, subsidized rice.  Such hypocrisy calls for a good tear-gassing across the board, the only exception being the masses at the
We Love the Big Lychee, We Love Economics 101 demonstration on Sunday. 

A phone call from Morris, the Hong Kong Police force’s greatest living Scotsman.  All leave has been cancelled ahead of the WTO extravaganza, and his men will be working 12-hours shifts.  “Och, man, the lads’ll be up to their ears in Disciplined Services Overtime Allowances!”  I thank him for reminding me that I have a tax bill due at the end of the month.  What about the tear gas?  Does he have enough to handle all the anarchists?  “Oh aye,” he replies, “but actually it’s not for use against the protestors.  We’ll be using it on the lads if they turn and run at the first sign of a petrol bomb.  It’s the only way we can get them to stand their ground.  We haven’t had a riot here for decades – the lads are soft as shite these days!”

On the universal suffrage front, two possibilities are emerging.  Number one – Chief Executive Sir Bow-Tie, steeped in colonial civil service aloofness and arrogance, and imbued with Holy Roman-style divine grace, has undergone some sort of Assumption into another reality.  Number two – he is deliberately trying to inflame public opinion as a way of putting pressure on Beijing.  No other explanation exists for his rumoured
Serious and Sincere Improvement to the political reform package, namely the phasing out of appointed District Council members in three stages.  Under such a timetable, following District elections in late 2007, 2011 and 2015, we would ‘move forward’ to the level of local democracy we had under the Brits in 1997 by the term beginning on 1 January 2020.  At this rate, the tectonic plate on which Hong Kong rests will have drifted to the South Pole by the time they phase out functional constituencies, and the Sun will have run out of hydrogen by the time we get an elected Chief Executive. 

A small, ginger mammal scurries into my office and darts behind a filing cabinet, where it squeaks.  Before rolling up my
South China Morning Post to flush it out, I read one last story.  Former Secretary for the Environment Lily Yam, who was on Sunday’s march, opines that increasing functional constituencies makes universal suffrage more distant and waxes enigmatic about a role in the unfounded, speculative Anson in ’07 campaign.  Are the current and ex-bureaucrats all in this together?  Or are his former colleagues out to skewer Donald Tsang? – in which case he should worry.  There is no known cure for retired civil servants’ lust to ‘serve the community’.