|13-19 November 2005|
|Mon, 14 Nov
Stout former Governor Chris Patten leaves town after four days, during which the young and the old, the rich and the poor cheered and layed garlands of egg tarts at his feet, while mobs of screaming schoolgirls flung their panties at him. His welcome was not quite as embarrassingly rapturous as that of his first return visit, when Hong Kong was plumbing new depths of despair by the day under the malevolent incompetence of Tung Chee-hwa. The contrast then was almost too painful to watch. Fei Pang got the open-arms treatment from crowds of adoring and grateful ex-subjects at a time when Tofu-for-Brains, on his rare and awkward attempts at meeting the great unwashed, got cold stares, jeers and turned backs. Humiliating.
Despite vowing to hold his tongue on the Government’s proposed political reforms, Patten slipped in an oblique but powerful comment to stiffen the pro-democrats’ resolve. Functional constituencies, he told the Sunday Morning Post, are incompatible with universal suffrage. It’s a strong point because it highlights the extremely limited scope of the Government’s package, which in practice leaves the current distribution of political power wholly intact. No-one ever got democracy without a fight, Patten could almost be reminding them. Only humans, not ‘sectors’, should have political rights.
Advocates of group rights oppose individual liberty from all sides. In much of the West, they tend to be of a leftist, socialist disposition. In Hong Kong, they are the cartels that style themselves Hong Kong’s ‘business community’ and exercise an almost hypnotic power over the world’s most arrogant, overpaid and mentally straitjacketed civil service.
|These conjoined parasites, together with the giant leech of public housing serfdom, suck us dry, and only one thing can stop them. A new addition to their arsenal is ‘balanced participation’, a phrase that first cropped up in Beijing’s 2004 edict ruling out universal suffrage for 2007-08. No-one knows what the phrase officially means, but it is sitting there, waiting to be dragged into the middle of the road to democracy as another obstruction – and a serious one, being code for keeping the functional constituencies Patten labeled incompatible in yesterday’s paper.
On more serious matters, the Transport Department has issued a weirdly worded ‘solemn statement’ on the Segway, the bizarre American contraption that transports people with perfectly healthy, functioning legs at walking speed. You need a licence to use one in Hong Kong, say the bureaucrats, but we won’t give you one, so yah boo. This is a major story – Government department makes sensible decision, spares Hong Kong public the sight of big-haired blondes with inane grins whirring around the streets on absurd machines. Full details at ten.
|Tue, 15 Nov
There won’t be a dry eye. That’s the consensus on the Mid-Levels Escalator this morning, as Hong Kong’s disenfranchised, tax-paying middle class discuss the wedding of Japan’s 36-year-old Princess Sayako and Yoshiki Kuroda, who is not merely a commoner but a Tokyo local government worker. As a result of marrying so far beneath her station, the delicate and coy Nori, as she is affectionately known, will have to leave the emperor’s palace and move into a shabby little public housing unit. While her husband is off performing his municipal duties, she will no doubt attend to her beloved flower arranging, pausing once in a while to gaze wistfully out of the grimy window at the local trains passing by below, perhaps catching a fleeting glimpse of drunk salarymen passing the time on their 3-hour commute by groping schoolgirls or reading depraved manga comics.
Obviously, we all agree, she is in emotional turmoil after being isolated from the real world all these years in the rarified surroundings of the imperial household. Isn’t this street-cleaner taking advantage of her naivety? There is unspoken concern among us as we glide down towards Central. How can this horny-handed son of toil, while no doubt decent and honest in his rough, soap-deprived, working-class way, treat this precious and innocent chrysanthemum with the respect and sensitivity she deserves, especially in the early days of their union, when she is becoming accustomed to connubial life? Fate, for some reason, has required me to introduce a number of 30-something ladies to the long-overdue pleasures of the bed chamber, and I know that it requires patience, tender consideration and perhaps a few glasses of Bailey’s. Seeing their delight as they discover the wonders bestowed by the sacrifice of their purity is its own reward. As a Taiwanese art gallery assistant once wrote to me in an embarrassing fax that amused Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary so much that she showed it to everyone, “a woman is like a house – the older she is, the faster she catches fire.” Who can restrain a shudder at the thought of this fragile and noble beauty's unsullied womanhood suffering the clumsy, forcible attentions of a brutish city employee?
|AFTER MANY months’ careful deliberation, the year’s most anxiously awaited list is released – The Big Lychee’s 150 Greatest Bores. Excitedly running my finger down the pages, I get the impression that the brilliant compilers haven’t missed anyone. There’s Chan Yuen-han, droning on about the grassroots who have ‘yet to enjoy the fruits of economic recovery’. There’s Selina Chow, demanding billion-dollar free lunches for the blood-sucking tourism industry. There’s Christine Fang, begging for public funds to make the poor ever-more dependant on the welfare NGOs. There’s Philomen Choi, representing the mysterious people no-one would recognize on the street but who pack out every public advisory body. There’s Christine Loh, to amuse everyone with quaint ideas about making Hong Kong fit for habitation by Homo sapiens. There’s not one, but two token gwailos! Michael Enright, putting thousands to sleep with a Powerpoint presentation on Pearl River Delta integration. And Allen Zeman, charging everyone ridiculous amounts of money for lame food in tacky restaurants in a street full of reversing garbage trucks that haven’t been washed all summer. And here comes Victor Fung, the businessman who appears at so many conferences on aforementioned Pearl River affairs that they have had to clone him. There’s Victor Li, somewhere behind a group of bodyguards. There’s Sir Gordon Wu, representing the deranged property tycoons with a sense of humour. And there’s Peter Woo, from the deranged property tycoons without a sense of humour. Where’s the nematode-in-chief himself, James Tien? Ah, here he is, along with Maria Tam, Martin Lee, Tsang Yok-sing and all the rest. There’s Eden Woon of the General Chamber of Commerce, armed with yet more fascinating comments on That Delta Integration Thing. There’s Professor Richard Wong, who would explain how to apply market forces to public policy to great effect, if anyone would listen. There’s a Bunny Chan – will someone tell him to hop off? And there’s the usual gang of Xiaos and Zhangs and other folk with sinister-sounding Pinyin names, peering suspiciously at everyone else. This is The Best And The Brightest.
To emigrate, weep, or drink?
Wed, 16 Nov
Tossing yesterday’s newspaper in the bin, I see that I missed the national day supplement of a small country in Europe of which we know little and care even less…
|Let me count the ways… They put mayonnaise on French fries, we put it on squid and sweet corn pizza. They have a statue of a little boy having a pee-pee in their Grand Place (Belgian for ‘Grand Place’), we have dozens of real, live little Mainland boys having pee-pees all over Disneyland. They have cherry-flavoured beer, we don’t. And so on.
FLICKING THROUGH the multi-starred biography Philomen Choi and Bunny Chan – Their Lives and Loves, it occurs to me that there is in fact someone missing from the Chief Executive’s exciting Commission on Strategic Development, namely the visionary Chairman of S-Meg Holdings. I know for a fact that the Big Boss, as one of Donald Tsang’s trusted and eager running dogs, was invited to join this deliberately unwieldy advisory body. Could it be that Sir Bow-Tie’s flunkies gently reminded the tycoon that he would be expected to turn up to meetings and devote mental effort to the charade? Yes it could.
And who can blame him for saying no? It ‘represents a broad cross-section of the community’, so there is a distinct lack of variety and earthy depth to the line-up. There are no taxi drivers, housewives, shop assistants, secretaries, public relations floozies or company gwailos. No real people – no-one who has washed his own socks in the last decade. Just like the Committee of the Community Investment and Inclusion Fund – named without irony – where everyone is a Mercedes-conveyed ‘Dr’ or ‘JP’ or both. Maybe the delectable, and now – to my grief – deflowered, Princess Sayako could send her proletarian husband down here to let these public bodies hear the voice of the street.
Why does the Community Investment and Inclusion Fund need a secretariat in Citibank Tower of five staff? I will go round there right now, and each person I see reading a horse racing magazine or knitting baby clothes I will beat to death with a rolled up copy of the Government Efficiency Unit’s 1989 classic We’ll Be Bloated And Overpaid Until The End Of Time.
Thurs, 17 Nov
I awake to RTHK Radio 3’s Hong Kong Today, which as usual mostly consists of in-depth coverage of international soccer, rugby, cricket, basketball, baseball, tiddlywinks, golf and car-racing, interspersed with loud, frantic reports on the US stock market. Specifically, they are relaying seemingly unending commentary about people running around and kicking a ball in an obscure island in the Caribbean. Why don’t they just announce that nothing has happened in Hong Kong in the last 24 hours and play music or recite poetry?
As I am about to drift into sports-numbed somnolence… “We interrupt this extremely lengthy and detailed review of a football game in Trinidad and Tobago to remind listeners that the temperature in Hong Kong is currently 19 degrees.” I leap from my bed. For the first time this season, the mercury has dropped below the magic 20 mark – 68 Fahrenheit. In short, it’s National Earmuff Day. The Mid-Levels Escalator will be a mothball-scented parade of winter fashion, as schoolchildren, office workers and retirees wrap themselves up in gaudy mittens, padded jackets and fur-lined boots.
But it is not to be! Gliding gently down the hill on the planet’s most amazing piece of public transport infrastructure, I am surrounded by short-sleeved shirts, exposed fingers and bare female leg. I put it down to the returnees – the refugees who fled to Canada to escape the communist threat facing us in the 1990s, and then fled back to shake off the shackles of Ottawa’s barbaric tax regime. Deprived of their wealth in the Great White North, they became accustomed to trudging through the snow dressed only in rags. Now, observing their resilience, the rest of us have redefined our definition of ‘chilly’. And all because of confiscatory taxes on the other side of the world!
The discussion among commuters is Chief Secretary Rafael Hui’s enigmatic ramblings on universal suffrage to Wanchai District Council on Tuesday…
|“Universal suffrage affects the distribution of wealth and interest. We need supporting measures before it can be in place … I know this view is controversial but I don't mind saying it here … Hong Kong's tax base is very narrow. If we hastily implement universal suffrage without supporting measures, the middle class will die for sure or will all move somewhere else … I know many in Hong Kong miss the days of British rule”|
|“I think he needs to get more sleep,” says Mrs Chan the marketing manager, to widespread nods of agreement. I remind my fellow commuters that Rafael has our interests at heart. I explain that he is warning that if we have democracy, the lower orders will elect Long Hair as Chief Executive, and he will push tax rates up to 95 percent to punish evil capitalists and help the downtrodden masses, and that will force everyone to go back to Vancouver. “Exactly,” replies Mrs Chan. “He needs to get more sleep.”
In the office, I check the latest news. Rioting has broken out in Port of Spain, after local station Trinidad and Tobago Sports broadcast nothing but Hong Kong news all morning.
Fri, 18 Nov
As dawn breaks over Central, I order two cups of hot, brown water-flavoured liquid at the IFC Mall branch of Pacific Coffee – with an extra shot of espresso for wild American friend Odell. He is hungover after spending the entire night in the Old China Hand, the derelict pub for derelict people in darkest Wanchai. He had nowhere else to go, he claims, after his Thai wife Mee found he was subscribing to an on-line swingers’ dating service called Sluts-R-Us.com and ejected him from their apartment. As he recites his woes, I peruse an altogether more wholesome website – Quamnet, where financial writer Cathay Holcombe is musing that this would be as good a time as any for Hong Kong to ditch its peg to the US dollar.
|In favour of what? The problem with just floating the Hong Kong dollar is that someone has to run monetary policy. Who would want interventionist, micro-managing local officials with tycoon buddies to get their grubby little paws on interest rates? A peg to a basket of currencies would dampen the asset inflation-deflation gyrations of the US dollar link. But we’d miss that old dependable 7.8 – how tedious to have to keep checking the latest exchange rate. I ask Odell what he thinks. He mutters how he’d read something about linking to the Renminbi. The non-convertible currency of a semi-centrally planned economy with a bankrupt financial system and heaven knows what economic, social, environmental and other cataclysms building up under the surface? I think not.
As I flick through the advice for investors, my ex-Mormon friend points out Ms Holcombe’s picture on the screen. “She looks just like the woman who sneaks in here every morning, reads the Financial Times, then leaves without buying anything.” He then taps something into the PC. “OK,” he says, “I’ve got a month left on Sluts-R-Us – you might as well have my password.” He logs on to the site and explains it all. Click on the picture of another member and their details come up. ‘Mature couple seeking well-hung black guys in Quarry Bay for threesomes’, etc. “You send an on-line ‘wink’ to someone you like the look of, or just email them,” he explains. “You hook up, and… whatever.” I look through page after sordid page of members, many of them displaying little photos of their unclothed nether regions. The lowest, most desperate and unappealing humans of reproductive age in the city must be here – sort of a virtual Old China Hand. I suddenly remember where I am and look around. The creepy looking girl who reads the Bible in Chinese is in the corner, mentally undressing me as usual. Otherwise, I am unobserved. I hurriedly exit the debauched site. I will investigate it later.
LUNCHTIME, AND Private Office on the top floor of S-Meg Tower is quiet. The Big Boss is out for the day. The three Stanleys from the mailroom are gathered in a far corner, hunched over a table and napping. Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary is preening herself at her desk. It is the perfect moment to open the door of the gwailo’s lair, unplug the headphones from my PC and play something loud that colleagues have never heard before but will probably enjoy immensely.
And I start my investigation into Sluts-R-Us.com. You can be anyone you want on this site, and I certainly don’t want to be Odell. I have deleted his details (‘gawky looking guy lying about his height, will rut anything’) and put in my own, more thoughtful ones, stressing wealth, brains, taste and so on. Needless to say, I also delete the crude and distasteful photograph of his knees that he has uploaded. Most Hong Kong women looking at men’s profiles on this website will not be acquainted with Western male icons, so it should be safe for me to portray myself using a picture of a classic and highly desirable type – the people’s hero, the tortured intellectual, the physical paragon, the sensitive and spiritual. One of them. And wait for the emails begging to meet me to roll in.