|The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat
20-26 March 2005
|Sun, 20 Mar
Afternoon in one of Wanchai’s famed disco dungeons in the company of wild American friend Odell and his Thai wife Mee, who, for some reason, does not allow him to enter these raucous basements full of nubile off-duty Southeast Asian domestic helpers without a chaperone – namely, her. As we sit ourselves at the bar, I sense something familiar about the frantically paced, booming electronic dance music. It dawns on me that it is – or at least was in the distant past – Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber. Turning in his grave, no doubt. My eyes adjust to the gloom, and I survey the U-shaped bar. On our right is a row of drunk, chain-smoking Indonesian hermaphrodites in spiked ginger hair, menacing dark glasses, garish T-shirts and baggy jeans. To our left sit a group of relatively demur Filipinas with long black manes and too much jewellery, eyeing Odell and me with interest. With Hong Kong’s entire population of predatory white males at the stadium watching the rugby sevens, we are the only representatives of Western civilization in the place.
A relatively fair-skinned girl beckons me over good-naturedly and we chat. She is from Manila. “I am one eighth German and one eighth Spanish,” she declares proudly. “Do you want to dance?” she asks. I regretfully tell her my doctor has advised me against it. “What about your friend?” she ventures. I explain that his wife would probably not look favourably on the idea. “Where is his wife?” she demands, looking over in Odell’s direction. I point out Mee, who is regarding the Indonesians with mild disbelief. “What!” says the Euro-quadroon with a look of amused disgust. “That… That… That Negro?”
Back at my seat, Odell tells me about a money-making opportunity. “I’ve been talking to these guys,” he tells me, making sure his better half doesn’t hear. “They’re making a porn movie and they want me to appear in it.” I sip my beer. “They say it’s all oral sex and anal sex.” I nod patiently. “I guess it’s tongue-in-cheek.” I look at my watch. Two pints, then we retreat before hordes of boisterous, inebriated rugby fans descend.
Mon, 21 Mar
Early morning, and the elevator stops on the 12th floor of Perpetual Opulence Mansions. Brian the British stock analyst crawls in on his hands and knees. His puce tie, twisted to one side, matches the colour of his face. I try to help him to his feet. “Washn’t the Shevens bloody brilliant?” he blurts out as he leans against me. “We ended up in Lan Kwai Fong… Pints of black velvet... Ha!” To my relief, we get to the ground floor without a sudden attack of motion sickness. After the Nepalese security guard helps me get him out of the door, the fresh air seems to perk him up a bit. “Should take the day off sick,” he mutters. “But got a regional ashet… asset allocation committee… conference call…” We wave down a taxi, and he slides awkwardly onto the rear seat, looking traumatized and disoriented. Remembering how extremely sorry he felt for me on Saturday when I said I didn’t have a ticket for the rugby, I try to muster some sympathy for him in return – but some hidden force mysteriously diverts it in the direction of investors in his company’s mutual funds.
Tue, 22 Mar
Breakfast with luscious – and, today, subdued – Administrative Officer Winky Ip at the exclusive Yuet Yuen restaurant, purveyors of fine noodles and congee in exquisite Formica surroundings since 1984. I flick through the newspapers. Non-story of the day – Financial Secretary Henry Tang won’t run for Chief Executive in July. Why should he, since Beijing has already decided who to install? Meanwhile, the epic term-of-office charade slowly unfolds, as pro-Beijing dinosaurs spit out threats of Basic Law interpretation should any treacherous wretch have the audacity to prompt Hong Kong courts to challenge the will of the Central People’s Government. Out of seven million people, there’s bound to be a treacherous wretch. Maybe two.
As part of the team planning to prepare public opinion for this eventuality, Winky is having a slight crisis of conscience. “Looks like reinterpretation of the Basic Law is a done deal,” she says, trying to sound relaxed and positive. “The community will have to understand – the only alternative is potential chaos.” But first, I suspect, she needs to understand it herself. I gently point out other alternatives. The Government could simply obey the law as written. Or the part of the Basic Law that Beijing won’t obey could be amended. She rolls her eyes and tells me I’m not being funny.
It gets worse. She leans forward and lowers her voice. “There’s a feeling that a third interpretation will help make the procedure seem more ‘normal’. So when it happens the fourth time and a fifth time, people will just accept…” I bang my chopstick against her bowl and cut in. What fourth time? She winces slightly. “There’s a court case… A certain, um, class of people are claiming permanent residency.” I whip out my ID card and point to the wording saying I have right of abode. “Don’t be silly,” she snaps. “It doesn’t affect gwailos.” Maybe they’re saving that for the fifth time.
|Wed, 23 Mar
Where do they come from, all those semi-funny emails like ’20 differences between women and beer’ that a certain type of person likes to inflict on hundreds of contacts? I find myself asking the question as I read ‘Ten things you and your family should know about James Tien’, which has turned up in my inbox. Nodding in agreement with the list, it occurs to me that I have read it before somewhere. Still – where do all the others come from?
Another email is from cousin John Quincy Hemlock in deepest, darkest Appalachia. America’s school shooting season has opened, he laments. Nine people killed in and around a high school in Red Lake, Minnesota by a 15 year old who, as usual, then killed himself. Also as usual, he was a ‘misfit’. Looking through the media coverage, I see a nation wringing its hands in helplessness at the inevitably of it all and its inability to put a gun in a case and lock it. But no-one wants to face the fact that misfits are compulsory in rural high schools in the US. The Hemlocks’ Monongahela hamlet aside, these are neighbourhoods of losers that all-but enforce a strict hierarchy onto their teenage students. At the top are the jocks on the football team. They have huge biceps and acne on their necks from taking steroids. Beside them are the beautiful girls on the cheerleaders’ squad. Beauty in these parts meaning vast amounts of blond hair, perfect white teeth and big breasts. Next down are the wannabe jocks and cheerleaders who struggle hard to be accepted by the elite and whose parents will sue the school board if it helps. Then there are the academic types, grudgingly respected despite their strange ideas about evolution. They will go to college and not come back. Then there are eccentrics – geeks or budding craftsmen – tolerated for their usefulness. And on the fifth day, God made some kids that weren’t good at sport and weren’t very bright. Fat girls and ugly boys, who everyone looks down on. Shunned, they wear black, listen to songs sung by men in mascara, haunt deathly regions of the Internet and loathe everyone back. And sometimes they snap, in little communities where anyone with the brains to know how a gun cabinet works left for the city long ago. It’s just nature, small-town-style.
|Thurs, 24 Mar
The Big Boss is in an excellent mood in the morning meeting. S-Meg Holdings’ 2004 results, to be announced next week, show a 50 percent increase in profit attributable to shareholders. This year, for a change, there will be no whining about low dividends from sour aunts and grasping cousins scattered around the world. And he can look fund managers in the eye, after all the groveling and pleading to invest in this dynamic conglomerate. Most important of all, he cheers up his long-suffering, much-abused senior management team by announcing hefty bonuses for everyone. Our illustrious Chairman’s late father, the company’s founder, would have been proud. I look up at his silver-framed, black and white photograph, hanging at a feng shui-ordained angle over the conference room door. The old man watches over us to this day, his elderly face glowing with entrepreneurial vision from the confines of his iron lung. As if this weren’t enough, the Big Boss started shoe-shining our future Chief Executive-elect Donald Tsang a full week before Hong Kong’s mightiest tycoon, Li Ka-shing. One of the first on the bandwagon. These things matter. The Big Boss is discreetly contemplating a bigger role in politics. At his age, it’s probably his last chance. As we file out of the room, I explain I will be out of the office this afternoon conducting some research relating to the tourism industry. He nods approval. He doesn’t ask, but I know he’d agree it’s important. How cold is the beer in various Lan Kwai Fong establishments? Someone has to investigate. I will therefore declare the long Easter weekend underway shortly after lunch.