Hemlock's Diary
The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat
8-14 May 2005

Sun, 8 May
I am pleased to see Tony Blair, the bastard son of Margaret Thatcher and George Gallup, winning a third term as UK Prime Minister last Thursday, despite being denounced as a liar by trendy media types, diehard socialists and hand-wringing clerics – all of whom would support Saddam Hussein, insist that the world is flat or declare that one and one equal three rather than side with George Bush.  I can feel for Blair because I too know the pain and anger of being falsely accused of wrongdoing.  ‘
Hemlock a possible cause of mare reproductive loss syndrome’ being a recent, preposterous libel.  I will sympathise even more with him if, instead of walking around with that irritating grin on his face, he follows my example and assumes a disturbingly sinister scowl, which has alarmed detractors into submission for me since early childhood.

Mon, 9 May
Leaving the foyer of Perpetual Opulence Mansions first thing in the morning, I meet Brian the stock analyst coming in with several huge bottles of Watson’s distilled water from 7-Eleven.  He explains in a hungover accent that he has run out and can’t brush his teeth.  I’m in a hurry, but since he is new to Hong Kong I suppose I should give him some advice.  “What comes out of the taps in your apartment?” I ask.  He looks slightly shocked and tells me you can’t drink that.  I spell out the facts sternly.  “I’ve been drinking it since Sir Edward Youde was Governor and San Miguel was 75 cents a can.”   He wonders whether I boil it.  “Of course not,” I reply.  “What are you scared of?  If there are any bugs in it, you’ll build up resistance.  If it’s lead and plutonium, you just run the tap for a few seconds to get rid of any build-up.”  He looks doubtful.  Everyone in the office says they boil it, he mumbles.  “You can’t boil off lead or plutonium can you?” I point out.  “All you do by boiling it is concentrate their levels in the water.  And by buying that stuff,” I add, pointing to the 7-Eleven bags, “all you do is boost profits for Hutchison, which owns Watson’s.”   His eyes light up – a subject close to his heart.  I lean forward and lower my voice as I push the door open.  “I used to own shares in them, but I dumped them because of those stupid 3G telephones.  I wouldn’t be telling you all this otherwise.” 

I do know of what I speak.  I recall a North African well containing a dead sheep.  A Rumanian spring with barely visible little creatures swimming in it.  And, not least, the red-brown and brackish liquid that poured from the faucet in  Laytonville, California.  I survived them all.  So I leave Brian enlightened.  But what is it with these people?  Just drink the tap water.  It’ll toughen you up.  Along with the formaldehyde in the beer, the MSG in the food and the minerals in the air, it makes us indestructible.
Tue, 10 May
On the desk in the gwailo’s lair on the 20th floor of S-Meg Tower, in the rain-drenched heart of Asia’s international financial hub, sit today’s
Financial Times and Asian Wall Street Journal – loyally delivered, as every morning, by one of the three Stanleys in the mailroom.  Flicking through the silken pages, it occurs to me that Asia’s English-language business press is marching from success to ever-greater success.  In what will surely be remembered as one of the finest moments in investigative journalism since Woodward and Bernstein broke Watergate, the FT’s fearsome-sounding Victor Mallet reports that Singapore’s evil and paranoid Confucio-fascist government has brainwashed residents into thinking that Hong Kong has air pollution.   Memories come back of a taxi driver in the Lion City telling me that the plucky little city state had the world’s biggest container port.  The idea of a Hong Kong cabby boring his fares with such vacuous information would be laughable, even though the worthless distinction as the planet’s biggest box-mover was in fact the Big Lychee’s 

Meanwhile, the
AWSJ reports that Elvis Presley, the new CEO of Coca Cola, is to relocate the company’s HQ to the moon.  Traditionalists who enjoyed the old 1923-style format are apparently shocked at the paper’s daring design innovations, such as a new thing called ‘photographs’ – apparently very popular with the young folks – and startling layouts made possible by an amazing new technology known as ‘colour printing’.  But not everything will change.  The obsessive-compulsive full stop at the end of the masthead title will stay.  And the editorial pages will remain a fascinating insight into a parallel universe in which the United Nations is staffed entirely by paedophiles and former HK Democratic Party leader Martin Lee is influential, heroic and interesting.

TRIVIA QUESTION – What is the link between Martin Lee and AWSJ owners Dow Jones?
Wed, 11 May
“Minky Worden.”  Like a number of people with good memories, shapely Administrative Officer Winky Ip knows the answer.  A sort of HK Democratic Party groupie (what a revolting thought), the American lady who worked for Martin Lee as an assistant around the time of the handover is married to senior
Dow Jones man Gordon Crovitz, former editor of the old Far Eastern Economic Review.  Well done.  Winky stirs peanuts into her Foreign Correspondents Club congee and gives me a slightly flirtatious look.  I know that look.  The delectable civil servant’s hormones are putting her in a mood of restlessness and yearning.  “I feel something coming on,” she murmurs to me.  I raise an eyebrow.  Go on. 

“An easy-to-understand public warning system.”  Of course!  Last Monday’s storm led to
traffic chaos.  As always when an act of God disrupts their lives, the good citizens of Hong Kong lash out at the Government for being inept and unprepared.  Being too lame to point out that no administration on the planet can foresee and forestall every fury of Mother Nature, our visionary officials will declare that it shall not happen again.  We already have Number 3 typhoon signals, Number 8 typhoon signals, amber rainstorm warnings, black rainstorm warnings, cold weather warnings, hot weather warnings, Number 4 severe drizzle alerts, an air pollution reading of 80-this and 90-that, yellow fire warnings, red fire warnings, shark warning flags on the beach, and TV ads reminding us not to stand beneath steep hillsides that shudder.  Is it safe to go out?  That’s all we really need to know, but I keep that to myself.  Winky’s bureaucratic juices are flowing.

“I think we need to combine colours and numerical indicators,” she explains.  “So if the weather’s bad but the traffic is OK, it’ll be a Number 2 purple warning.  But if the weather’s OK but the traffic is bad, it’ll be a Number 9 yellow warning.  No – amber, I mean.”  A humble and unworthy tax payer, I nod in profound agreement.
Thurs, 12 May
The Big Boss expresses amazement in the morning meeting that any printer in Hong Kong is still willing to take business from the Falun Gong – or
was until today.  With a few, rare exceptions, nobody takes these deranged mystics seriously apart from Beijing officials, but that’s all it takes.  He recalls the time an innocent-sounding group approached S-Meg Holdings’ minor printing subsidiary for a job several years ago.  “Luckily, Mr Tong told them to get lost!” he reminds us, referring to the manager who refused a request to produce 10,000 copies of Eliminating Evil Is Doing Fa-Rectification.  I am surprised the sect still bothers with paper publishing.  For all their primitive belief in chi gong life-force baloney, Master Li Hongzhi’s followers can be techie geeks, hacking into Mainland satellite TV broadcasts with insulting ease, and spreading lurid tales of communist persecution in a multitude of languages through the on-line Epoch Times.  If it’s any consolation to them as they do their breathing exercises, ‘practitioners’ are freer in the Big Lychee than in Singapore – but then, who isn’t?

What our visionary Chairman neglects to mention is that he – along with several other of Hong Kong’s well-known tycoons and Government officials – was receptive to the Falun Dafa when prominent Beijing businessmen and Party members first started proselytizing here in 1998.  He took their books and tapes with warm thanks, and he promised to spread the word about these life-enhancing techniques among his local peers.  It wasn’t like the Big Boss to take an interest in the divine or the metaphysical.  But of course that wasn’t what he was doing.  It is a measure of how successfully the Falun Gong had infiltrated the top levels of China’s establishment that accepting the cult’s advances seemed an act of politically astute shoe-shining – just as shunning them is today.  But that embarrassing little post-handover fad has faded from our minds, like the echo dying away after a paranoid shriek of ‘Hong Kong cannot become a base for subversion’.
Fri, 13 May
Hong Kong Mensa, the club for high-IQ freaks of nature, has asked me to set a new test paper for prospective members, to augment the traditional, which-comes-next?, pattern-detecting exam, with its tiresome shapes and series of numbers.  The idea is to enhance the quality of the organization’s membership by making it easier for the offspring of our city’s highly successful and farsighted business leaders to join.  I believe I have got off to a good start…
Pure Guesswork Test

1.   About which of the occasions listed below has the following statement been written?  
‘The organizers have invited Financial Secretary Henry Tang to officiate at the opening ceremony, adding to the event's prestige.’

a)  Lectures on the emergence of China in the world economy by three Nobel Prize-winning economists

b)  The opening of a new, state-of-the-art lecture hall at Lingnan University’s Department of Advanced Media Studies

c)  The conclave of cardinals in the Vatican City’s Sistine Chapel to elect the new Pope

d)  A charitable fund-raising ball to celebrate the unveiling of a new range of Jaeger LeCoultre haute horlogerie – timekeepers that are as original as they are timeless, reflections of the perpetually renewing miracles of life

Tick ONE only.
Who can fail to notice that merely inviting the great man adds to the event’s prestige?  I presume he won’t actually turn up – the classiness would be so overwhelming that people would faint in the aisles, requiring smelling salts and brandy to revive them.  And I might be there myself.