Hemlock's Diary
The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat
10-16 July 2005

Sun, 10 Jul
Late morning, and I am outside wild American friend Odell’s apartment, ringing the doorbell – a device that is under the control of his Thai wife Mee and is today playing
O Little Star of Bethlehem.  He swings the door open and I enter.  Clearly, he has not been out of bed long.  “Your pyjamas look terrible,” I tell him.  “It looks like you slept in them.”  He sits at his PC in the corner of the living room, where he is halfway through a coffee and checking the world news. 

He clicks through the stories.  “It says here,” he announces, “that British Muslims are upset because everyone automatically assumes Muslims set off the London bombs, even though there’s no evidence.”  They have a point.  For all we know it could have been… Jews?  More clicking.  “
Jerusalem Arab confesses to sisters’ ‘honour’ killing.”  Or Buddhists.  “Man cuts feet off ‘promiscuous’ wife.”  Or Quakers.
Mon, 11 Jul
The revenge of Tung Chee-hwa continues, as Hong Kong is saddled, as it were, with the 2008 Olympics equestrian events.  As part of his evil plan to destroy our self-esteem and turn this once-proud city into a whining supplicant, the crop-haired one groveled for the supposed privilege of hosting part of the games as soon as Beijing won its bid.  Yachting, tiddlywinks, horse-jumping – the more ridiculous the sport being begged for, the more pathetic and desperate Hong Kong would appear, much to the satisfaction of tofu-for-brains, such was his spite for this city of imperialists’ running dogs. 

The 2008 Olympic equestrian events is an once-in-a-life-time opportunity for Hong Kong to showcase the world our charisma,” says Secretary for Home Affairs and English Grammar Dr Patrick Ho.  Intriguingly, we will also be lumbered with the Paralympics version of the event, in which blind, mentally handicapped and three-legged horses valiantly but vainly attempt to emulate the exploits of their fitter peers, blundering across the course while onlookers offer exaggerated applause and make embarrassing comments about how the sad spectacle is an inspiration to us all. 

Ever since the age of three, when I came within an inch of a Paralympic status-inducing kick in the head from one, I have thought horses are best tethered to third-world ploughs or sliced and braised with robust sauces.  Failing that, I am happy to see them galloping in circles, encouraging the lower orders to fritter away their pitiful incomes by gambling on races.  If Hong Kong really has to host an Olympic event, it should be the ancient New Territories version of polo, in which members of competing village teams ride water buffalos and chase a pangolin carcass.  Instead, we are to be invaded by thousands of pompous sports officials wearing loud blazers and straw boaters, waving clipboards and stopwatches and spending so much money here – and obviously our civil servants are correct in this forecast, or they wouldn’t be paid so much – that our economy will be propelled into the stratosphere and none of us will ever have to work again for our whole lives. 

On re-reading this, I see I have written a sentence containing the words ‘Patrick Ho’ and ‘charisma’.   I am sure stranger things have happened, though none springs to mind immediately.
BACK AT Perpetual Opulence Mansions, and one of the Filipino elves has an interesting question for me.  She has been in Hong Kong as a domestic helper, accumulating savings, grey hairs and wrinkles, for 25 years.  She is renewing her contract with her official, full-time employer.  Since the last time she did this two years ago, the Hong Kong Government has woken up in a cold sweat having a nightmare that maids might claim the permanent residency that others get more or less automatically after seven years.  When she was issued with a new ID card a few months ago, she was mysteriously given a brand new ID number.  And now she has to fill in a ‘visa/entry permit application form’ that asks, among other things, ‘Have you acquired permanent residence in your country/territory of domicile?’  And it then asks for her length of residence in this domicile.   I puzzle over this.  If she answers ‘yes’, she is declaring the Philippines – which she left a quarter of a century ago – to be her country of domicile, which rules out permanent residency here.  If she declares ‘no’, she is implicitly claiming Hong Kong as her domicile.  She asks me what she should answer.  I write out a short note for her to sign.
Dear Immigration Dept, I freely admit to having brown skin and therefore no right to permanent residency in Hong Kong, despite being in demand among employers, unlike the hundreds of high school dropouts who come over the border from the Mainland every day, who will be on welfare for years to come.
I think that’s the right answer.

Tue, 12 Jul
The revenge of Tung Chee-hwa still continues, as Hong Kong prepares for environmental disaster after the opening in September of the world’s first state-owned Disneyland – an evil scheme depriving me and the city’s 17 other taxpayers of HK$22 billion, plus 180 hectares of land worth countless billions more.  This project was one of the first manifestations of our previous Chief Executive’s deranged obsession with tourism.   A tragic madness, probably caused by a tiny electrochemical neurological imbalance, that led the fat fool to insist that Hong Kong must have more Mainland tourists, and more, and more and yet more.  But which will suffocate us first – the crush of these millions of ruddy-faced, gawping peasants, or the fallout from Disneyland’s nightly display of fireworks?  According to the
latest reports, the Mouse’s crepuscular pyrotechnics will spew out tons of scalding ash and poisonous fumes, which will soon smother the harmless, if not strictly essential, settlement of Peng Chau.  Within weeks, the picturesque island and its cheerful villagers will be buried under tons of material and totally forgotten, until archaeologists unearth the site in many centuries’ time.  The only good news is that the same fate awaits Discovery Bay.
Disco Bay urbs reperta
Wed, 13 Jul
The mood in the morning meeting on the 20th floor of S-Meg Tower is one of gloating joy.  The Big Boss exudes undisguised, radiant glee.  “Most unfortunate,” he says through a big drooling smirk, “all this about Donald Trump suing Henry Cheng and Vincent Lo for half a billion dollars – US dollars.”   He grins and gently adjusts the ceramic three-legged toad on the table before him so it faces north perfectly, for optimum, profit-attracting,
feng shui effect.  “I mean it’s not just the money,” he tells us with a ‘well-it-is-mostly’ look on his face, “but the reputation.  Donald Trump telling the world you’re a thieving, cheating idiot!”  The corporate titan chuckles out loud.  It’s good to see him happy.

On the surface, it looks as if the two Hong Kong tycoons of New World and Shui On fame had agreed behind fellow-investor Trump’s back to sell an Upper West Side property to the Carlyle Group for barely half its market value.  There is also a whiff of tax-dodging in the air.  I remind our Chairman that the Carlyle Group has George Bush Snr on its board and managed investments for the Bin Laden family.  The great man thinks for a while.  “Henry Cheng has a French passport,” he declares.  S-Meg Holdings’ senior management team nod knowingly at the profound implications of this shocking revelation.  Where do the Trilateral Commission, crop circles and Area 51 come into it?  Through a narrow crack in the window blinds, I see an unmarked black helicopter hovering over the harbour.

If I were as rich as Donald Trump, I would pay someone to do whatever was necessary to fix my hair so it no longer looked so alarmingly unreal.  Indeed, even if I were impoverished, it would be the first thing I’d do.

Thurs, 14 Jul
“Wah – whore lit ah?”  Old Mrs Ng greets me with a smile as I drag my sweat-drenched body through the door into the luxuriant air conditioning of Yuet Yuen Restaurant, purveyors of fine congee and noodles to the gentry.  The wizened proprietor waves me towards a table.  A well-proportioned woman is leaning over it with her back to me, positioning an expensive-looking handbag on a chair.  I can’t help noticing that her elegant, tailor-made trouser suit is revealing a trace of visible panty line as I slide past her and sit down. 
Honi soit qui mal y pense.   Her bag-arranging done, shapely Administrative Officer Winky Ip sits down opposite me as Mrs Ng confirms that her youngest regular customers – indeed, the only ones of working age – will order what she thinks they’ll order.  “Same usual, ah?” 

Winky seems to be taking yesterday’s
tragic news bravely.  “You have my deepest sympathy,” I tell her, as I pour jasmine into her cup. “Everyone in the office was in tears when we heard the Court of Final Appeal had ruled the civil servants’ pay cut was constitutional.  Like most people in the private sector, we’ll be arranging a collection.  How are you going to manage?”  Winky raises her eyebrows and gives me a smile that says something like ‘do you think you’re being funny?’  I lean forward.

“OK,” I say.  ”Seriously.  If my remuneration was 200 percent more than my counterparts elsewhere, do you know what I’d do?”  The bureaucrat belle listens intently.  “I’d keep my mouth shut.  And if my pay was cut by six percent, following a period of 15 percent deflation, leaving me with a nine percent rise in real terms, you know what I’d do?.  Winky sighs.  “I’d keep my mouth shut.”  Two bowls of chicken
juk appear on the table.  “And let’s say my employer was questioning my outdated allowances – an allowance to hire a little black boy in a loincloth to fan me with banana leaves, an allowance for shuffleboard equipment for my annual cruise home, an allowance for gold-plated tiffin boxes – you know what I’d do?”  Winky leans back, folds her arms and looks away.  “I’d keep my mouth shut.”  I take a sip of tea.  “On the other hand,” I go on, “if I wanted the rest of the population – people paid far less than me – to hate me and wonder how anyone could be such a selfish, arrogant, out-of-touch, parasitical, spoilt, bed-wetting waste of space, I’d go to the press, the TV, the courts and blub out loud about how badly I was being treated.” 

Winky nods.  She knows I’m right.  She is about to say something, but I interrupt.  “Finally,” I tell her.  “If I wanted a big steaming bowl of rice porridge all over my immaculately coiffeured hair and clothes, do you know what I’d do?”  Winky tries to suppress a grin.  “I’d choose this exact moment to start blathering on about morale.”
‘CHOP THEM up and feed them to the pigs’.  Back in S-Meg Tower, the Big Boss, as a valued and insightful advisor to our dashing Chief Executive Donald Tsang, is asking his loyal factotum to write short policy papers, which he can offer to Sir Bow-Tie, who will presumably ignore them.  The first one proposes the outsourcing of thousands of civil service back-office jobs to the Mainland.  The Chairman of S-Meg Holdings wants the paper to suggest measures to deal with the resulting redundant public-sector employees.  Consider it done. 

A phone call from a distinctly non-outsourceable Winky, who is reading the newspapers’ coverage of the civil servants pay cut story.  “They’re saying this will spare the Government a 9.6 billion dollar payout,” she says.  “They don’t know half of it.  Literally!”  Tell me more.  “Well, if the court had ordered that our pay cut be returned to us,” she explains, “employees of subvented organizations – schools, hospitals, welfare agencies and so on – would have demanded the same.  That 9.6 billion dollars would be more like 22 billion.”  Sharp intake of air conditioning.  Our next policy paper will discuss the need for Hong Kong to increase imports of pigs.

Fri, 15 Jul
Holy P/E ratios Batman, Swire B shares hit $13.85 yesterday!  Up 166 percent from the $5.2 I paid for them, courtesy of panic selling during the SARS outbreak by buffoons who couldn’t think ahead more than a few months, when Cathay Pacific and Pacific Place would be full again.  ASM Pacific has nearly reached $40, up some 200 percent from the $13 I bought them for during the dotcom crash from people who couldn’t tell a fly-by-night dotcom from a real company cornering the world market in chip-making equipment.  Giordano is at $5.5, up 80 percent from the $3 I paid during the aforementioned outbreak of shop-emptying pestilence.  Toronto-based Manulife is just below $400, compared with the average $250 I bought it at steadily over recent years as a dull, safe wealth creator.  Then there’s HSBC, still a good 25 percent ahead of the average $100 at which I’ve so far accumulated it.  

Over cups of hot, brown water-flavoured liquid at the IFC branch of Pacific Coffee, I try explaining all of this to ex-Mormon friend Odell.  His investment strategy is two-fold.  First, get caught philandering by your Thai wife, so you have to buy her off with property – which isn’t even in your name – in some Southeast Asian jungle to house her family of blowpipe-wielding hunter-gatherers.  Second, assuming there is anything left, put lump sums into mutual funds run by fee-gobbling charlatans like Jardine Fleming, who lure suckers with glowing accounts of amazing but unrepeatable past performances that result when their dart-throwing chimpanzee accidentally picks some winning stocks. 

So at my urging, he is going to save his pennies and invest in some HSBC from time to time.  “Buy it and forget about it for 20 years,” I tell him.  “Note also,” I stress, “that all these companies I’ve got are very professionally managed.  The people running them aren’t dim-witted brats who inherited them from daddy.”  An exception here would be Petrochina, which is run by yellow-toothed cadres with stubble and black dyed hair who were handed the thing by the Chinese Communist Party.  It’s up 320 percent from $1.45 to $6.15. 

THE REVENGE of Tung Chee-hwa continues to continue, as armies of
giant, man-eating insects devour an entire Disneyland hotel in minutes.  Only a couple more months before the place opens.  I can see the mid-September headlines – ‘Lepers among hundreds killed in Disneyland fire stampede.  Killer bees, suicide bombers hamper rescue efforts.’