Hemlock's Diary
18-24 September 2005
Sun, 18 Sep
The only news of note this Mid-Autumn Festival is that I have been named one of the esteemed ‘personalities that affect our lives in Hong Kong’ and make life wonderful by
Geoexpat.com.  This elevates me to the ranks of Ms Kate Dawson, who makes educationally subnormal men kicking a ball around a field sound interesting and important on RTHK3, and Mr Jim Daws, who…

MEANWHILE, IN Macau the festive lanterns cast their light onto some of the tawdrier aspects of Luso-Chinese standards of governance.  First, a
vote-buying scandal – as much part of the local scenery as African chicken, Russian hookers and North Korean-linked banks.  Then, while we’re on the subject, a run on a North Korean-linked bank.  In order to put these distressing mishaps out of my mind during the holiday, I turn to a paper – packed with familiar names – on Crime, Business and Politics in Asia.

Tue, 20 Sep
Secretary for Home Affairs Patrick Ho
proclaims his confidence that the hosting of Olympic equestrian events in Hong Kong will help popularize sport among our citizens.  I share his belief.  I have never been able to watch a horse trot backwards with its tail wrapped in ribbons without feeling an overwhelming urge to strip down to my shorts, swim across the harbour and run the entire MacLehose Trail.  Having a pound or two to spare, I look forward to it.  If only I could be like Dr Ho, who spends two hours a day on the treadmill, lifting weights and doing chin-ups in the gym, in the company of his healthy and tanned twin brother.
A TRAGIC occurrence – I have some work to do.  The Big Boss has self-importantly gathered the views of some of his fellow outstanding business leaders for presentation to dashing Chief Executive Donald Tsang, who will consider them extremely seriously when he drafts his forthcoming Policy Address.  Would this be the same Policy Address that was sent to Beijing a couple of weeks ago for approval?  Yes, it would.  But no matter – everyone gets a letter from Sir Bowtie thanking them for their valuable input and unique insight.  Except the S-Meg Holdings Chairman’s gwailo running dog, who merely converts the grubby, self-serving pleas for favours into constructive and intelligent-sounding suggestions, doomed as they are to be ignored.  Where shall we start?
The toenail clipper manufacturing sector strongly believes that Hong Kong SAR is in danger of being dragged into irreversible economic decline by the twin burdens of a bloated and overpaid civil service and parasitic cartels of developers and merchants.  We respectfully urge you to take decisive action to tackle this threat in your address next month.
Wed, 21 Sep
Are gwailos becoming a sexy marketing device again?  Back in colonial times, a typical TV commercial showed a big-nosed barbarian in a suit admiring the Fujianese brand of cognac his Chinese companions were pouring him.  Buy this booze, went the subliminal message, and Westerners will think you’re cool.  Then, not long after they made it illegal to thrash ricksaw drivers, the tone changed.  Whitey gleefully signed a deal with a son of the yellow emperor – the sale of an apparently worthless island, if memory serves – only to be outwitted by the cunning oriental, who would go on to make millions by harvesting wood for chopsticks (ads had real plots in those days). 

Now, the blue-eyed, fair-haired symbol of glamour is back.  Today’s
Property Post quotes real estate agents as saying that of the 300 potential buyers who have shown an interest in Henderson Land’s ugly CentreStage development in Hollywood Road-Soho, 40 percent are expatriates.  But another disputes the figure, saying this is just a marketing ploy to boost the project’s image.  Buy one of our apartments, and you can be living next door to a beer-guzzling, soccer-obsessed, amah-bonking Kevin or Brian whose breath stinks of coffee and cheese and who never eats fruit or sends money to his parents.  How exotic.  He will also be in on the next big tonsorial fashion, if the specimen in the print ad is anything to go by.
Thurs, 22 Sep
cheung fun and chow mein at Yuet Yuen restaurant, buxom Administrative Officer Winky Ip rhapsodizes about her new office.  “Fairly modest in size,” she assures me, mindful of my sensitivity about being one of just 17 people in Hong Kong who pay tax.  “No bigger than your place at S-Meg Tower.  But very nice furnishings – classy but functional.”  She takes a sip of jasmine.  “And the view!  That’s the best thing about it.  A full view of Victoria Harbour, from Leiyue Mun all the way to Green Island!”  She seems almost ecstatic.  It pains me to point out that the thing hasn’t been built yet.

Will it be?  More and more eyebrows are being raised about our visionary leader’s dream of erecting a block-size, 60-storey monument to mighty, executive-led government on the Tamar site in Admiralty.  The bananas and gwailo busybodies at Civic Express have dug deep into barely penetrable official documents and uncovered
the most psychopathic urban planning devised in Hong Kong for – well, months, at least.  Who wants a green open space for public enjoyment on the harbourfront when you can have a mass of palatial skyscrapers for civil servants and tacky shopping malls for Mainland tourists intersected by 12-lane freeways?   The snappily named Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress (Same Thing, Surely?) of Hong Kong is so inspired by the opportunity to make life difficult for Sir Bowtie that it has produced a real ‘policy’ like grown-ups do.  Decentralize public-sector offices, they say.  Winky impatiently waves all this aside.  “Big mouths – posturing,” she snaps.  “The consultation on all this was done ages ago.  It’s going ahead.”  Is she going to say what I think she’s going to say?  “We need to create jobs.”

That does it.  I lean across the table, grab her jacket lapel and hold an open jar of chilli sauce to her neck.  One move, and the cream Giorgio Armani number gets it – the full, eight-ounce load of indelible, bright red, oily piquancy.  “Jobs?” I hiss.  “We don’t need jobs!  You could end unemployment tomorrow by stopping all the unskilled Mainlanders coming in.”  Winky takes a deep breath.  “Do you know what I think?”  I demand.  “I think the Government uses immigration to keep unemployment up.  That way, it can use ‘create jobs’ as an excuse to reclaim land and sell it for huge amounts to developers, thus raising the billions of dollars it needs to keep itself bloated, overpaid and up to its ears in pensions and allowances!”  Winky bites her lip and pushes me away.  She is in shock.  I sit back and collect myself.  “In other words,” I go on, “the people of Hong Kong can’t have parks or harbourfronts, because the civil servants have stuffed them in their pockets.”

Winky stares down at her half-eaten noodles, speechless.  Have I revealed an awful truth to her?  Have I shattered her illusions?  As she reaches for her bag to leave, I see a glint in her eye.  No – this isn’t news to her at all.  It is the civil service’s best kept secret, and I have stumbled upon it – blurted it out in public.  Now, she must have me killed.

Fri, 23 Sep
Anyone flicking through the
South China Morning Post while waiting for the working week to ooze to a graceful end would conclude that Hong Kong is currently going through an extended dull patch.  The Government announces milder-than-expected cuts to staff benefits.  Civil service morale – there’s a phrase that makes me reach for my gun.  Our dedicated public servants are nobly sacrificing their Tiffin Allowance, Air Conditioning Allowance and Home Leave Shuffleboard Equipment Allowance, saving the taxpayer a grand total of HK$450,000 over the next 20 years. 

A good trivia question – In which city in the People’s Republic of China do local officials divert the most public funds to sending their own offspring to British boarding schools?  A pompous, smug and fat (sounding) union leader on RTHK3 this morning claimed that the Overseas Education Allowance benefits us all because when the brats come back home they bring mind-broadening international experience with them.  In other words, they are not the drooling, unquestioning, Cantocentric cretins churned out by the schools our civil servants run for everyone else.  This argument brought simpering murmurs of agreement from the interviewer, which was when I shot the radio.  I had only bought it yesterday.  I smashed the last one to pieces with an eight-pound lead figurine on Wednesday, when National People’s Congress delegate Peter Wong claimed that Hong Kong has no less universal suffrage than the US, which, he insisted, also has indirect elections.  Was he referring to the Electoral College?  Probably.  The RTHK3 presenters simply hummed their consent.  Maybe they were struck dumb by the sheer inanity of the argument. 

Before the
SCMP hits the bottom of the bin, I pick up the Hong Kong Standard and find that there is more going on in Hong Kong than the Quarry Bay sleuth-reporters realize.  Justice Michael Hartmann asks whether there is any difference between the Immigration Department’s exclusion of people on the grounds that they are Falun Gong bores, and excluding them because they are (like the judge himself) Jewish?  Government Counsel Daniel Fung’s arguments lack a certain something.  Perhaps he thinks he is being interviewed by RTHK.

It’s all in the
Standard.  Hello Kitty is threatening to sue a theatre group for intellectual property infringement – quite right too.  How could anyone be so despicable as to steal images of everyone’s favourite cartoon cat?  Permanent Secretary of Planning and Lands Rita Lau opposes delaying work on harbourfront reclamation and development on the grounds that to do so would… delay the work.  It is an honour to have my salary plundered to pay for this woman’s kids’ education.  According to a leak, Sir Bowtie plans a colonial-style Executive Council with no policy secretaries cluttering the place up, and what appears to be a diluted role for pro-Beijing elements – and no seat for the reptilian James Tien.  I run my finger down the list of names – foreign passport holder, foreign passport holder, foreign passport holder...  It goes beyond predictable.  The week dribbles to halt with a Donald dream team parody.