|9-15 October 2005|
|Mon, 10 Oct
The Double Tenth – the anniversary of the 1911 Wuchang uprising, which led to the toppling of the Qing dynasty and the establishment of the Republic of China, which eventually became the middle kingdom’s first democratic state, albeit long after being confined to the island of Taiwan. The Hong Kong Government celebrates by asking its people for views on the planned museum of Sun Yat-sen, whose ideas inspired the revolt.
The first time I visited a Sun Yat-sen museum was in his birthplace, Zhongshan, south of Guangzhou. It would have been the mid-1980s. The streets were full of brightly but cheaply clad folk on bicycles, all slowing down to inspect the then-exotic sight of a light-skinned, round-eyed foreigner. The night market served up stewed dog. The dusty museum contained paintings of scenes from Sun’s childhood – as a mere child, apparently, he valiantly protested to his parents against the binding of his sister’s feet. There was also the globe he used when studying in Hawaii in the 1880s. I dated it to the mid-to-late 1960s. Then there are the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Halls in Guangzhou and Taipei. The former, a big, dusty, round theatre in a park. The latter a bit more up-market, with its brilliantly pointless changing-of-the-guard ceremony every hour. Macau, as befits a small and obscure backwater, satisfies itself with a quaint and crumbling Sun Yat-sen Memorial House. There is a gap in the market for a facility that conveys the unvarnished truth about the man and his place in history rather than indulging in tedious point scoring among various Kuomintang, Communist and other factions. Otherwise, my main advice to the Government would be, “That’s enough Sun yat-sen, thanks.”
TOMORROW, AMAZINGLY, is the Double Ninth. In an act of unspeakable inconsideration, presumptuousness and plain cruelty, the Big Boss has given me several tasks to perform and tight deadlines in which to complete them. It seems quite possible that while the rest of the city is celebrating the Chung Yeung festival by happily setting fire to the tinder-dry countryside, the Company Gwailo will be slaving away in an un-air-conditioned S-Meg Tower.
Trivia quiz question… In which year did Hong Kong have two annual policy addresses? Answer on Wednesday. Former Chief Secretary Anson conscience-of-the-Big-Lychee Chan chooses this moment to proclaim two facts that are already well-known but which bear repeating – Tung Chee-hwa’s ‘accountability system’ is a joke, and Secretary for Constitutional Affairs Stephen Lam is a paid liar.
Tue, 11 Oct
Hong Kong's notorious, decades-old culture of brutal labour exploitation is exemplified by the scene this morning on the dark, deserted 20th floor of S-Meg Tower, where the air conditioning has been switched off for the public holiday. While everyone else enjoys a day off, I slave away at my desk in the gwailo’s lair, sweat dripping from my brow onto the computer keyboard. The first of my many onerous and unreasonable duties today is to flick through the McKinsey-Better Hong Kong Foundation report, Unemployment in the Big Lychee, Myths and Realities, in case there is anything the Big Boss should know.
I write a quick memo to our dynamic Chairman, mentioning that, in a flash of dazzling insight, the report points out the reality that an immigration policy that pulls in unskilled people and keeps out the talented might not be ideal. Otherwise it is the usual myths, thinly disguised pleas for state subsidies to keep port-related sunset industries on this side of the border. Why did McKinsey not suggest measures to boost cross-border labour mobility – for example, by giving Hong Kong’s unemployable residents financial incentives to live in a more affordable part of the Pearl River Delta? Either the Better Hong Kong Foundation told them not to mention it, in which case they have no integrity, or it didn’t occur to them, in which case they are stupid. I can see the Big Boss nodding with agreement.
A call from wild American friend Odell, demanding to know why I’m working. He informs me that I will be missing a gathering later today of the Hong Kong Association of Gwailos Married to Southeast Asian Women of Humble Origins. I ask him whose company I will have the misfortune to go without.
|“Jack's coming. He’s the one who avoids you because he owes you a hundred bucks.” Does he? Yes, I vaguely remember slipping one of these people a bit of cash so he could buy a round of drinks. So for a hundred Hong Kong dollars, a burly, tattooed working-class Englishman will keep away from me for the rest of my life. Talk about value for money! “There’s Dave. He's the one who won't talk to you because of what you said about the way he holds cutlery.” I feel a twinge of remorse. He holds a knife as if it's a pen and uses it to put food – ketchup-drenched, of course – into his mouth. I'd pay thousands not to have to watch that again, but I shouldn’t have let the word ‘peasant’ pass my lips. “John. He’s the one who thinks you look down on him because he’s only interested in the sports section of the newspaper.” Which John is too penniless to buy, so he asks to borrow it from more economically secure people who – not by coincidence, I suspect – have thrown the sport section in the bin. “And Doug. He thinks you’re gay because you didn’t show any interest in his Filipino girlfriend’s cousin.” The lady with vermillion lipstick, a stud in her tongue and rainbow-coloured platform boots. Well, let’s say any interest on my part would be purely anthropological.
I look at the miniature refrigerator on the filing cabinet. It has mineral water, ginger beer and a can of San Miguel. There is a fan waiting to be unplugged and moved from the desk of Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary. A life of forced toil in the sweatshop isn’t so bad after all.
|Someone well brought up|
|Wed, 12 Oct
In a scene reminiscent of Charles Whitman at the top of the University of Texas Tower, a deranged laid-off Disneyland employee climbs to the summit of the Space Mountain, creating such confusion that the South China Morning Post identifies him as a Mr Man, while the Standard maintains he is one Gavin Quertin. According to labour activists (whose number the Company Gwailo at S-Meg Holdings could use today) members of the Magic Kingdom’s regal household have to work 14-hour, six-day weeks, get just a handful of rice every night, must sleep standing up with their eyes open, and can go to the toilet only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. How much lower would my tax bill be if other Hong Kong Government employees were on similarly efficient, no-frills packages?
HIDDEN AWAY in a dark corner of Sir Bow-Tie’s Policy Address – more evidence that Beijing’s hatred for Hong Kong knows no bounds.
|Thurs, 13 Oct
The Big Boss, in his capacity as highly valued advisor to dashing Chief Executive Sir Bow-Tie, briefs the morning meeting on yesterday’s extremely exciting Policy Address. He holds up a Government-issued sheet stamped ‘SECRET’ and headed ‘Line-to-Take’.
“Umm, basically,” he starts, adjusting his spectacles, “the administration will enhance communication with all sectors, reach out to various sectors, step up cooperation with appropriate sectors, and expand membership of the hundreds of advisory committees (which are taken really seriously) to include different sectors. Then we will have Harmony.” He looks up to ensure that his senior management team are suitably impressed.
“Umm,” he continues, squinting at the crib sheet, “we are part of the glorious motherland and are so proud to be of the same blood!” This prompts a few glances in the direction of the Company Gwailo, who pretends not to notice. Like the Taiwanese and Japanese ‘honorary whites’ in Apartheid-era South Africa, Anglo-Saxons in Hong Kong today enjoy quasi-Son-of-the-Dragon status.
“Ah – they think Hemlock is right!” The self-important tycoon looks up at me. “We need to open the door to talented immigrants from overseas, so we will set up a quota and a points system. But we need to downplay this because it’s a slap in the face for all the unemployable victims of our rote-learning education system, and they might get upset, and that’s not good for Harmony.
‘various sectors’ 6
|“Similarly,” the great man reads out, “we are grudgingly starting to agree with the many intelligent people who have told us that price fixing, bid rigging and market sharing hurt small businesses, job creation and economic growth, so we will think about some sort of c-o-m-p-e-t-i-t-i-o-n law. But we’ve also got to downplay that in case it upsets certain sectors. On the subject of which…” S-Meg Holdings’ farsighted Chairman turns the sheet over.
“The administration is thrilled to announce very loudly that it will transfer staggering amounts of public wealth to the property cartel and the construction materials cartel, who will build monstrous vanity projects like the Donald Tsang Mega Government Tower in Tamar and the CulturePort luxury residential complex at West Kowloon. This is to be referred to as job-creation.” The Big Boss runs his finger down the page and shrugs. “Then there’s some stuff about poverty and all that,” he concludes. He looks up at us all again. We nod our heads solemnly and try to look privileged to work for such a mighty pillar of the post-Tung establishment.
ON THE subject of the bons mots of Margaret Thatcher, 80 today…
|“Consensus? Consensus is the negation of leadership!”|
|Fri, 14 Oct
Amid the usual throng of eager, keen-eyed commuters pouring out of buses and trains into gleaming office towers as the working day begins, something is missing on the streets of the central business district of Asia’s leading international financial hub. There is no South China Morning Post. Like Edgar Allan Poe, I am cursed by this condition called hyper-perception. Nothing escapes my attention. The woman with a button missing from her blouse, the policeman carrying his revolver on the left, the Hello Kitty cushion on the back seat of a Mercedes – I am bombarded with unnecessary detail. But most people’s senses operate on a need-to-know basis. Unless it’s important to them, they look and hear without seeing or listening. So today we have the opportunity to answer a compelling question. If the most important English-language newspaper in the Orient failed to appear, would anyone notice? The answer seems to be ‘no’.
EUROPEANS INVENTED pasta. The truth has finally been unearthed by a group of Chinese archaeologists, who published a paper in Nature about the discovery of 4,000-year-old noodles made of millet. As good scientists, they don’t actually speculate on the ethnicity of the late-Neolithic gastronomes who abandoned their steaming meal all those years ago. The Western press, seeing that the find was made in Qinghai Province, are announcing to the world that this proves that the Chinese were responsible for devising this clever method of preparing grain flour, and thus spaghetti is simply an import from Tartary. The Mainland press, on the other hand, are very quiet about it all. China Daily carries a straight AP report, while People’s Daily and Xinhua find the whole thing too humiliating to the glorious motherland to even mention. They know, even if their barbarian colleagues don’t, that the region – later part of Tibet, and uninhabited by Han before the 20th Century – was full of gwailos 4,000 years ago. The best they can hope for is that ‘the-Chinese-invented-noodles’ idea becomes accepted by unquestioning dolts worldwide, like the myth that you can see the Great Wall from space. As an old and good friend of China, I will naturally keep silent on the matter.