|11-17 September 2005|
|Sun, 11 Sep
An educational afternoon, learning things I never knew about Hong Kong from the US State Department's Cultural Guide to the Big Lychee, which is given to American diplomats being posted here...
|...an exotic foreign land ... a mass-transit underground railway competes with a fair number of rickshaws on the streets ... its highest point [is] Victoria Peak ... For the time being, Hong Kong retains its own elected chief executive - as well as a 14-member Legislative Council - but the head of state is still considered to be the president of China ... The total population is around 7,400,000 ... you may sometimes be referred to as "foreign devil." It is best not to take offense at this ... it is generally only acceptable for men to wear shorts in public ... There is already a notion among the Hong Kong Chinese that Westerners drink entirely too much, so special care should be taken not to perpetuate this supposition.|
|Having spent all day taking special care not to perpetuate this supposition, I decide to reward myself with some refreshments in the pub in Lan Kwai Fong.|
|Mon, 12 Sep
Seven million people start the day thinking they have glaucoma. Everything they see has a watercolour-style, translucent, milky wash floating over it. “I had my eyes checked just six months ago,” a marketing manager complains to her fellow commuters on the Mid-Levels Escalator. “I can’t be going blind can I, at my age?” The rest of us have the same problem – and the same fear. Can a whole community lose its sight? “It’s like that incredible haze that drifts over the border from the factories during winter,” the marketing woman continues. She tilts her head back and squeezes some eye drops onto her corneas. She blinks and looks around. “Oh I know!” she declares. “It is the haze that drifts over the border from the factories during winter. Just a bit early.” All becomes clear. Figuratively speaking. Our eyes are fine. We all take a deep breath and sigh with relief.
|Tue, 13 Sep
Brian the British stock analyst is in a joyous mood while waiting for a taxi outside Perpetual Opulence Mansions this morning. “Isn’t it wonderful about the ashes?” he asks me with a broad grin. I ask him what he’s talking about. “We won the ashes!” he replies. “First time in 18 years!” Seeing that I am none the wiser, he explains that it was a cricket match, and, despite his claim to have been on the winning team, he did not in fact play. He simply watched on TV as a group of men wearing white stood on a field and occasionally threw a ball so one of them could hit it with a wooden stick, and maybe run around a bit, or not. He seems quite gleeful that it will make Australians unhappy. Maybe he was bitten by one as a child. I congratulate him and tell him it all sounds absolutely riveting.
THE BIG Boss bores the morning meeting with tales of Vice-President Zeng Qinghong’s banquet, which he and hundreds of others – including pan-democrats – attended on Sunday. Zeng, best known for his witty and much-loved old catchphrase ‘Hong Kong is an economic city not a political city’, urged the visionary Chairman of S-Meg Holdings to help push Donald Tsang’s political reform package among the pro-democracy camp. Less cuddly individuals will work on opponents on the pro-Beijing side, notably such Liberal Party nematodes as James Tien. The proposed reforms, giving extra Functional Constituency and Election Committee seats to District Council members, are unpopular all round, “which shows they strike the right balance,” claims the Big Boss. Publicly, the pan-democrats will accept nothing less than full universal suffrage. Privately, they are more open-minded. The Big Boss is leaning on two in particular. “They’re demanding that the Government scrap appointed seats to District Councils,” he tells his management team, “but I’m not in a position to bargain.” I suggest that he tell them their support would cause intense pain to the moronic and repulsive Tien. It would work for me.
The official opening of Disneyland yesterday prompts Hong Kong to debate the costs and benefits of ceding sovereign territory and taxpayers’ dollars to the Mouse…
- They kill stray dogs
- Represents Western cultural (reportedly) imperialism
- Cost billions of public money and land
- Most profits go to Disney
- Will attract millions of non-housetrained Mainland tourists
- Will ‘create jobs’ for members of unskilled lower orders who should be incentivized to live in a more affordable city. (HK$23 billion Government subsidy divided by 5,000 positions = a mere HK$4.6 million per job)
- Encourages infantilism
- Damages Hong Kong’s image as a mature economy, or mature anything
|Rather evenly balanced.
Wed, 14 Sep
I start the morning gently feeling a marble-shaped, slightly painful lump in the inside top of my thigh. My first guess is that it could just be an abscess. But then the word ‘hernia’ comes to mind. This is a job for the Internet. I Google ‘lump thigh hernia’. There are thousands of sites to read. Within five minutes, I am left in no doubt – a hernia it is. Maybe it happened last night when I tried lifting my dividends from HSBC and Petrochina. Middle age sneaks up to me from behind and strikes its vicious first blow, dispatching me to hospital for the first time in my life. But then again… Could it be testicular cancer? Googling, ‘lump thigh cancer’, I spend another five minutes educating myself about this evil scourge and developing the malignant suspicion that it does, beyond doubt, have me in its grip. This is get-a-gun-and-end-it-now serious. To cheer myself up, I consider other possibilities and Google ‘lump thigh bubonic’. Bingo! That’s definitely it, right down the red patch around the swelling. Isn’t the Internet amazing? I shut the computer down, finger the lump again and think. It’s an abscess. It’s got to be. I will do what all sensible, right-thinking people do in these circumstances – ignore it and wait for it to go away.
MORE THINGS we never knew about Hong Kong, courtesy of Vice President Zeng Qinghong. The new Disneyland is a potent example of the confidence overseas investors have in Hong Kong. How true. There’s nothing that puts a spring in the step of overseas investors quite like saying to them – “we’ll give you most of the cash, land and infrastructure for the project and you keep the profit.” I can’t imagine how confident that makes them – confident that the partner is a deranged sucker. And the relationship between the Fragrant Harbour and the Mainland is like that of the bone and the tendon. It used to be lips and teeth. Given the environmental quality ‘issues’, perhaps it should be thigh and pus-filled abscess. The latest form of cross-border pollution, according to wild American friend Odell, Disneyland’s Chief Guest Behaviour Management Artist, is pee-pee, deposited by little boys who feel free to use any place in the theme park for a tinkle. They probably think ‘you can do it when you’re in Guangdong, you can do it when urine Disneyland’. And why not? I think everyone should be pissing on the Mouse.
Thurs, 15 Sep
Disney is promising us a second theme park, even as the Mainland pee-pee situation at the first one gets worse. According to wild American friend Odell, the Chief Guest Behaviour Management Artist’s lot is not a happy one. “All the squatting, smoking and spitting – we can handle that,” he assures me over a lingzhi and jojoba latte at the IFC Mall branch of Pacific Coffee. “It’s the other stuff. We’ve had several babies die because of milk formula made of talcum powder and chalk dust. There’s a gang trafficking women. And yesterday a hundred people were killed in a coal mine explosion in the bowels of the Snow White Grotto.” But is the thing making money? He nods and mumbles something about harvesting organs for transplant.
ON THE 20th floor of S-Meg Tower, Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary is on the prowl, looking sadistically for innocent people to give mooncakes to. I am therefore hiding several floors below, kicking a feng shui mat away from a door and along the corridor, thus clearing the way for evil forces to flow into the Accounts Department where they belong. Or are they flowing towards my thigh? While I have resolved to disregard the lump there, the feeling isn’t mutual. The growth clamours for my attention, throbbing with pain and extending red, tentacle-like welts an inch or more out from itself, in the direction of my knee. I have called Dr Barnabas Wu MB, ChB FRCP (Edin). The quack will see me after lunch tomorrow afternoon. According to my latest Google search, some disgusting, creeping invertebrate has laid eggs under my skin. S-Meg executive fleeing mooncakes perishes alone and unloved after giant worms burst from his lower torso. Full details at ten.
|Fri, 16 Sep
The Department of Health announces that Hong Kong people are bloated, blubbery tubs of lard who should get off their fat backsides and stop cramming their faces full of grease, sugar and starch. Perpetrators of a vicious plot to spread obesity are everywhere. On the top floor of S-Meg Tower, I find that the gwailo’s lair has been desecrated. A mooncake has appeared from nowhere on my desk, along with the Government’s latest update on how much lovely, glittering wealth the Big Lychee is churning out. Can there be a more exquisite juxtaposition, given the way our GDP is expanding as fast as our girths? Obviously there can be, but it’s early. So prosperous was this city in the first six months of 2005 that our rulers could decree the formulation of expensive Moon Cake Equations, lovingly prefaced by a devoted civil servant on hallucinogenic drugs. “Nothing,” she mused, “could be more enjoyable than viewing the silvery moon and tasting seasonal foods in the cool breeze with friends and relatives.” Not true, if you think about it. How much more enjoyable would it be without the relatives? And probably the friends, too. And we can surely dispense with the silvery moon, which is of purely cosmetic value. Thus, rejoicing in the pleasure of my own company, with sun streaming through the window, I unwrap the pastry – one of the new-style, lightweight ones with only 6,800 calories – and prepare to violate the principles of healthy eating.
|IN DR Barnabas Wu MB, ChB FRCP (Edin)’s consultation room, I sit on the couch with my trousers down and one leg spread aside. While I admire the one potted plant – of four in the place – that is still alive, this upstanding member of the local healing profession examines the monstrous excrescence. “Hmmm… Well that’s exactly where you’d expect an abscess,” he says. “And it looks exactly like an abscess.” He touches and squeezes it carefully with his latex-gloved fingers. “And it feels exactly like an abscess.” He moves his face closer than I would like it to be and sniffs. “And, yes, it smells exactly like an abscess.” He eyes it almost covetously and licks his lips. I hurriedly shift myself away.
“OK,” I say, “we’ve established that it’s an abscess. So you’re just going to lance it and off I go, right?” Obviously not. That would be nowhere near expensive enough. Dr Wu murmurs something about antibiotics and pulls a Pharmacopeia from his desk. He flicks through it and starts running his finger down the column of prices, like the Big Boss does with wine menus when he’s trying to impress oenophiles. After finding the least affordable remedies, he snaps the book shut and sends me off to another room, where I am soon joined by the plump British-born Chinese sister carrying a huge syringe on a tray.
“Highprixin, one gram,” she announces in her Scottish accent. “This will have to be in your bum”. I turn, slide my pants down and she thrusts the cold needle into the flesh at the very top of the buttock, just below the hip. I can sense the liquid forcing its way into the muscle. Then she hands me some pills. “Two a day for 10 days, and strictly no alcohol throughout that time – doctor’s orders.”
In the reception area, while accountants add up a vast bill, I call wild American friend Odell. He is online. I ask him to Google ‘highprixin alcohol’. Are there any warnings about mixing the two? He taps away. A few seconds’ pause. “No – it actually says ‘no side effects’ on the maker’s site,” he tells me. I look at the bag of pills and ask him to check Bigcostacin. More tapping. Another pause. “Oh yeah,” he replies. “It says ‘effects of alcohol are enhanced by this medicine’. Cool!” Ignoring his pleas for me to get him some, I put the phone down. A pint of chilled anesthetic beckons.