|The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat
15-21 May 2005
|Sun, 15 May
To honour the Lord Buddha’s birthday, I spend a long-overdue few minutes updating my karma-enhancing classic and highly popular opus Why Singapore is Pathetic, following some recent events in the Lion City. Since the island state is opening up these days, I am sure the URL is no longer blocked down there – or are people still reading it by tracking down Google’s cached version? If so, I thank the authorities there for neatly proving my point… Pathetic.
Will we, won’t we? Or can we, can’t we? My old friend Richard Billingham sends me this interesting link that seems to sum up the sorry ambivalent state to which the Confucio-fascist regime condemns its fine people. They deserve better. My advice to them is simple – come to Hong Kong.
Mon, 16 May
Late afternoon, and a memory of the 1992 Republican Party convention is of great help. I am in the pub in Lan Kwai Fong inspecting the bandage plastered to wild American friend Odell’s scalp. “I remember falling backwards,” he tells me. I ask where. “Well, in Wanchai, I guess… I don’t think it was really late.” His long-suffering Thai wife Mee, sitting across the table, angrily bangs her glass of Baileys down and pulls out her mobile phone. After playing with it for a few seconds, she holds it to my ear. A female robot announces ‘Message. Received. At. Three. Twenty. Seven’. A brief silence. Then a background of street static, and Odell’s voice. “Shmo wuhr heff uzz comofforitabish shwow! Ha! Uh…Shmo shummupum… [crashing noise]” It sounds more like Mandarin than English.
“No, I don’t know what I was saying either,” the ex-Mormon admits. This is his third late-night Wanchai head wound in as many months. Two months ago, he got a black eye from a Mancunian he falsely accused of theft in one of the neighbourhood’s notorious disco dungeons. A month ago he had stitches in the head after being mugged by a pair of Nepalese outside a similar establishment. His sullen spouse points a finger at him. Why can’t he be like Hemlock and just go to bed? He bows his head down to hear the verdict. She spells it out. He is never going to Wanchai again. Ever. Contrite and ashamed, he nods slowly, and raises his hands together in the time-honoured Southeast Asian gesture of submission. I know he means it with all his heart, but I also know this is an alcohol-soluble promise. Biting my tongue isn’t enough – the only way I can keep from choking in disbelief is to mentally change the subject. Thus it is that I recall the tiresome Ted Kennedy giving a speech during the 1992 election campaign in which he repeated the punch line ‘Where was George?’ to protest President Bush’s supposed inaction. The next day, GOP convention delegates turned up wearing T-shirts bearing the slogan ‘At home, sober, with his wife’.
|Tue, 17 May
Ma Lik, two-syllabled chairman of the less snappily styled Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, proposes to smother the Big Lychee in national flags, to promote pride in the motherland. Mindful of the possibilities for S-Meg Holdings’ under-used bunting factory in Dongguan, the Big Boss starts the morning meeting by voicing his support for such a fine, patriotic idea. “But I must say,” he confides to his loyal senior management team, “this is news to me, all this stuff about what the stars on the flag mean.” He asks for a show of hands. Out of nearly 20 people in the conference room, only two knew that the yellow stars on the red background symbolized the Communist Party and the four social classes. One was S-Meg’s Mainland fixer Freddy Mao, who had to learn this sort of thing as a youngster, along with Russian language, rifle drill and quotations from his Great Helmsman namesake. The other is the Company Gwailo, who is paid to know obscure things. Several others had thought the big star represented the Han ethnic majority, and the smaller ones stood for the loyal Tibetans, Uighurs, Manchurians and other minorities, happily frolicking in the country’s mountains, deserts and tundras. One or two simply thought ‘what stars?’
There is a potential for profit here. Before 1997, the British flag flew everywhere – schools, prisons, fire stations, clinics, museums and civl service warrens. Today, the sovereign’s banner hangs only from the Legislative Council, the Central Government Offices and the disused Government House, laboriously positioned higher than Hong Kong’s own bauhinia standard. All other public buildings fly the latter alone, in shocking defiance of Article 10 of the Basic Law, which states – “Apart from displaying the national flag … Hong Kong … may also use a regional flag…” That’s a market for tens of thousands of flags, each with a hefty mark-up to reflect the high quality of workmanship our Government and taxpayers would no doubt expect and demand.
But the Big Boss does not seem convinced it will happen. Like the PRC flag, the Union Jack was bursting with ideological symbolism – but of Christianity rather than Communism. And the pattern looked like the character for ‘rice’, which didn’t hurt. The real problem, which no-one wants to mention in the morning meeting, is that most Hong Kong people came here to get away from the PRC flag. Even the DAB knows, deep down, if you want Hong Kong to love the flag, the flag has to represent something loveable. The bunting factory looks likely to have spare capacity for some time to come.
|Wed, 18 May
A slow day in S-Meg Tower, with the Big Boss ensconced in an influence-peddling session with the slimy and odious Bong-Bong Queveco, who has nipped up to Hong Kong from Manila in his Gulfstream with murky propositions to lead our decent and honest tycoons astray. Let us hope the horrible Hokkien doesn’t dangle too much temptation in front of our easily mesmerized Chairman. Every man has his price. How much, I wonder, are they paying former Independent Commission Against Corruption boss Tony Kwok to take on the Sisyphean task of eradicating corruption in the Philippines? To labour the classical allusions, it would take the might of Hercules, who diverted a river to wash out the Augean stables, even to begin cleaning up the sewer that passes for government in the Republika ng Pilipinas. In Western society, where it’s all about Me Me Me and everyone hates their friends and family, it is immoral to benefit our nearest and dearest at the expense of society at large. In the Malay-Hispanic-Sino-American mélange to our south, where folk are so guileless and sentimental that they genuinely care for each other, it is immoral not to. Does our former sleuth Mr Kwok realize this? He should investigate President Gloria Arroyo’s husband Mike – of alleged money-laundering, skimming-money-off-contracts, hanging-out-with-drug-barons fame – and see how far he gets.
|Thurs, 19 May
I recall my schooldays when, given a blank map, I could put a name to all 50 states in America and every country on the planet. That was before the USSR broke up and the Central Asian ‘Stans’ gained independence. Now we are expected to remember the differences between the Kazakhs, Turkmen, Tajikis, Kyrgs and Uzbeks – peoples we thought had gone the way of the Mongol Empire, the Khanate of the Golden Horde and mounted warriors who lived off the blood and fermented milk of their mares. Using stirrups, they became expert archers in the saddle and conquered an empire that stretched from Indo-China and Korea to the Indus and the Danube. Now the Land of Magog is back in the news, and Hong Kong, like the rest of the world, struggles to take an interest. In Uzbekistan an American-supported tyrant’s misrule has prompted the rise of subversive and extremist militants who hate the West. Where have we heard this story before? In Cuba, with Batista and Castro’s communists? In South Vietnam, with Ngo Dinh Diem and the Viet Cong? In Nicaragua, with Somoza and the Sandinistas? Those who do not learn the lessons of history…
The blank map is harder to fill in now, but it is more intriguing. What could possibly account for the weird interlocking boundaries of Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan? Could the deformed fingers of territory reflect natural features, like valleys and mountain ranges, through which the various tribes spread centuries ago? Or were the borders contrived by mischievous Soviet colonizers eager to divide ethnic groups among jurisdictions, the better to rule them? It is a fascinating subject to look into. Or at least it would be. But an early lunch beckons.
|Fri, 20 May
Gliding down the Mid-Levels Escalator this morning, I am approached by Ms Yeh, the local boss of a major photographic supplies company. Could I do her a favour and proof read a press release she has to send out urgently? No problem, I tell her, taking the sheet of paper marked ‘Draft’. I glance over it. The spelling, punctuation and grammar seem fine, but I have one suggestion…
Delete ‘…to gouge huge amounts of money out of gullible Mainlanders desperate to placate their spoilt, screaming kids in the middle of a tacky, overpriced theme park built with Hong Kong public wealth to profit a culture-trashing foreign conglomerate.’ Insert ‘…to extend our relationship with The Walt Disney Company in this strategically important region.’
Handing the press statement back to Ms Yeh with a smile, it occurs to me that Disney Land is going to be The Revenge of Tung. Hong Kong’s unemployment figures are dropping towards the full employment level. Our rate of visitor arrivals is approaching the point at which immigration checkpoints and hotels are operating at full capacity. The flow of Mainland tourists through our shopping districts is so distorting the retail market that landlords are driving out vendors of useful goods to local people and installing street after street of quasi-clinical shops selling skin-whitening potions. Just as the pressure of overcrowded streets and rising rents reaches its limit, The Mouse will open for business. Across the border, a hundred million sibling-less brats, 115 boys for every 100 girls, will shout at their parents, stamp their feet and threaten self-mutilation unless they go. Within days, this additional throng will descend on the Fragrant Harbour. They will push and shove their way through the multitudes to see the works of Hans Christian Andersen, Lewis Carroll and Rudyard Kipling debased and mutilated beyond all recognition. They will clamber over each other to witness the transmogrification of Winnie the Pooh into something even more insipid than the original. They will hurl each other’s offspring aside so they can stand their precious little emperor next to each and every one of the 1,652 putrid characters for a photo, secure in the knowledge that there’s plenty of film. And, as old Tofu-for-Brains looks on, cackling with glee, the Big Lychee will burst into little pieces, spraying the Pearl River Delta and the South China Sea with a million globules of ice cream, body parts of cartoon dwarfs and shreds of Kodak packaging.