Hemlock's Diary
20-26 November 2005
Sun, 20 Nov
To Macau to see Jenny the girl from Beijing-but-she’s-got-an-American-passport.  At the ferry terminal at the Shun Tak Centre at 8am, I find lots of empty visitors’ immigration desks, but only two reserved for Hong Kong residents, with long lines.  Yet another reminder that Mainland tourists are more important than locals these days.  (Hong Kong permanent ID card holders may use the visitors’ desks, and not vice-versa, but many of my fellow travellers don’t know this, hence their queues.)  After the one-hour jetfoil ride and once past Macau immigration – working at its usual Portuguese-inspired efficiency – Jenny meets me and we are off to
yum cha.  Then coffee at an outdoor café.  Then a stroll to the apartment she is looking after for friends.  It is eight minutes’ walk north of the ferry terminal – a duplex, 1,000-square-feet with a huge veranda, maybe 20 years old.  It rents for HK$4,000 a month.  In Hong Kong, in an equally central neighbourhood, it would cost five times as much or more. 

We start to watch Kubrick’s
Eyes Wide Shut.  Two-thirds of the way through, we give up on the luscious photography.  This is a boring movie.  Dr Strangelove, Lolita, 2001, Clockwork Orange, Barry Lyndon, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket…  Jenny hasn’t seen most of this, but I have.  And we look at each other and think, ‘now what?’  An hour later, naked in bed, we are dozing, and we are roused by the sound of a giant swarm of wasps echoing through the streets.  It’s the Macau Grand Prix – cars racing round the closed-off roads of the town.  This explains all the bulky European men on the ferry this morning, dressed in nylon jackets with corporate sponsors’ logos.  Poor old Macau.  It has prostituted itself to Mainlanders gambling and bloated Euro-trash strutting around imagining that driving silly, whining cars at breakneck speed through a small city contributes to human existence.  We sit up, pull the bedsheets around ourselves and flick through the apartment’s owners’ big coffee table books on Renaissance art.  The buzzing outside dies down.  We have a shower.  Time for Jenny to go back to Shenzhen, and for me to go back to the Big Lychee.  Same again next weekend?  She has promised these people she’ll be here.  We can zip around the Pearl River Delta by high-speed ferry and avoid tiresome friends for HK$300 return.  Why not?
Mon, 21 Nov
Thanks to a childhood spent watching
Kelly’s Heroes and The Great Escape and listening to parents’ wartime tales, Teutonic images spark unfortunate associations in my mind.  I cannot hear the language of Goethe spoken without seeing Gestapo torture chambers and Auschwitz gas chambers.  So it is hardly surprising that the Bundeswehr torchlight parade in Hanover for outgoing Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder leaps off the page as I flick through the news this morning.  Perhaps my overactive imagination is also to blame.   And I am reading Victor Klemperer’s I Shall Bear Witness at the moment, which doesn’t help.  I positively know they didn’t round off the evening with a Kristallnacht or a quick annexation of the Sudetenland, and I have absolutely no doubt that dressing up in uniforms with lots of shiny leather and standing in rows holding flaming beacons aloft is a perfectly healthy and wholesome activity for continental Europeans of Nordic stock who enjoy a bit of outdoor ceremonial.  This is obviously my deep-rooted problem, not theirs.  They didn’t even burn any books.
Tue, 22 Nov
Hong Kong rejoices with dancing on the streets and a public holiday, as the Guinness Records people declare the city’s nightly sound and light display to be
the world’s stupidest-looking waste of electricity.   Today’s newspapers quote an ecstatic Tourism Commissioner – “The Symphony of Lights pisses all over the aurora borealis, which is far more boring than it looks in the photos, and anyway is eerily silent.”  She has a point.  Do I detect another record for the Big Lychee here?  The least eerie city in the world.  We have no shortage of gruesomeness – headless bodies, barbecue fork skewerings, butcherings with
excrement-covered meat cleavers and the famous Hello Kitty murder, immortalized by the globe’s tackiest low-budget film industry.  But we are devoid of eeriness.  It will go well with our other claims to greatness.  The longest continuous outdoor series of covered escalators and moving walkways, which transports the planet’s wealthiest and best-educated community without the vote to and from the Mid-Levels.  The largest per-capita consumption of oranges, to which we owe our second-highest life expectancy and most regular bowel movements.   The largest number of Rolls-Royce cars per mile of highway, which are driven safely but fail to provide their owners with any happiness at all, hence our crowning glory – the only place on Earth with more suicides than road deaths.
Wed, 23 Nov
On the kitchen table in Perpetual Opulence Mansions, blatant evidence that the Filipino elves are not devoting themselves wholeheartedly to the domestic chores they are paid a handsome hourly wage to perform.  I suppose what disappoints me most is that they can actually bring themselves to spend time on the absurd Sudoku game, despite my warning a few days ago that, since a computer could do the puzzle in a second, it is unworthy of a thinking person’s attention – unlike, say, the
Times crossword.  Personally, I would find ironing more intellectually stimulating. 

My first task for the day is to visit the Vietnamese Consulate to volunteer to be a member of Gary Glitter’s firing squad.  After evading punishment for ravaging teenagers’ ears all those years ago, he is now accused of
paying a 12-year-old girl for sex, which counts as statutory rape in the land of pho and ao dai.  He epitomizes an era that must rank as one of the most lamentable and artless nadirs in the history of popular culture, so it comes as little surprise to find that I am not alone in wanting to dispatch the entertainer beneath the swaying palm trees of sunny Vung Tau. 

One of the thousands of would-be executioners standing in line for an application form approaches me.  “He should have kept his Dong to himself, shouldn’t he?”  Needless to say, I roll around on the ground for 20 full minutes with tears of mirth streaming from my eyes at this hilarious and utterly unforeseeable witticism.
The Vietnamese Consulate this morning
Thurs, 24 Nov
A slow morning in the office, and I find myself daydreaming...  I am in charge of a large country where thousands of children whose parents have died of AIDS lack the funds to attend elementary school.  Meanwhile, my government has several billion dollars lying around and nothing in particular to do with it.  As a decisive and visionary leader, I order the nation’s experts to replicate a 45-year-old foreign series of manned space flights.  Imagine the glow of nationalist pride in the hearts of the ragged orphans as they admire the front-page photos of our glorious astronauts and wonder what the headlines say! 

Then I receive word that in a distant southern city inhabited by uncouth, ungrateful, foreign-influenced, money-obsessed, tax-dodging lowlifes, the citizens are again making impertinent demands to elect their own mayor.  I ask my advisors whether we can win the eternal loyalty, obedience and adulation of these irritating and untrustworthy compatriots by generously arranging a visit by our heroic astronauts.  Would my counselors not agree that this would inspire the spoilt rabble down there to forget politics and love the motherland and its wise and selfless leadership?  Apart from a muffled “up to a point” at the back, they drop to their knees as one and loudly reply, “absolutely!”
However, I have a made a mistake in my calculations.  I have neglected to bear in mind that the authorities in this far-flung realm lack competence and self-doubt in equal and vast measures.  And so it is that our highly trained and valiant spacemen are subjected to the sort of embarrassing, infantile rituals in which the city’s public servants take such inexplicable delight – dinner with ‘various sectors’, a visit to the Tourism Board’s WinterFest, a taste of the vibrant lifestyle of Asia's world city, a look at Santa's Town (complete with 35-metre-high Christmas tree lavishly decorated with dazzling lights, garlands and ornaments), a spin around the enchanting Music Village of miniature houses, an opportunity to talk to unbearably eager ‘young professionals’, a seminar at a place some idiot called Queen Elizabeth Stadium and the inevitable, depressing meeting with disabled athletes.  And I scratch my head and wonder whether our dissatisfied subjects down there have a point.
Fri, 25 Nov
I wake to the sound of Malayo-Polynesian chatter accompanied by what seems to be a children’s performance of
Jingle Bells somewhere deep in the bowels of my apartment.  This isn’t right.  It’s Friday morning.  I should be hearing the reassuring hiss of clothes being pressed for the week ahead.  I throw back my Egyptian cotton sheets, leap into my Hello Kitty slippers, adjust my silk pajamas to ensure decency in the presence of mature Catholic ladies, and stroll from my room down the hall through the kitchen to the utilities room.  The two Filipino elves are sitting, rocking to the ridiculous disco beat of Bong Bong Lopez and His Choir of Grinning Brats Mutilate Your Favorite Xmas Tunes.  One is reading aloud from a Filipino newspaper – “National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales doubted that people power could gather any steam before December 25. Filipinos wanted to enjoy their Christmas, he said.”  Oblivious to my presence, the other elf nods and sips some sugar-laden concoction from a little box.  I clear my throat.

“Gosh!” I exclaim, pointing at the ironing board.  “What’s this?”  The dusky domestics look up at me in surprise.  “Why – it’s an iron!”  The pair exchange guilty glances.  “And what’s this?”  I hold up the iron’s lead.  “Why it’s the iron’s plug.  Maybe it should go into the power socket.”  I lean over the basket of clean laundry on the table and attempt to insert the plug into the outlet.  “But – Oh!  What’s this?”  I stare at my little audience with the greatest look of stunned bewilderment I can muster at this time of the morning.  “It can’t go in because it seems someone has accidentally plugged in another electrical device.  I wonder what we can do about that?”  I look around again.  A certain amount of eye-rolling is in progress.  I yank the plug out, instantly silencing Bong Bong Lopez and His Tinny Synthesizer-Drum Machine Ensemble and stirring the duo into action.  It has been like this since mid-October.
THE EASIEST HK$25,000 to come my way recently flops gracefully into my lap at the click of a computer screen, when I sell my allocation of shares from the Link REIT IPO at $11.7 one hour or so after it starts trading.  An instant 15 percent or so profit, simply for having a bit over a million tied up for a few days.  Why can’t we just do that every day?  To celebrate, I enhance Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary’s lunchtime nap by opening the door of the gwailo’s lair and playing a song that’s another song backwards, loud.  It’s only beer money.  But then again, it would buy half a board lot of HSBC shares.  Or maybe it would cover the cost of a chin augmentation, courtesy of the esteemed Dr Woffles ‘Hamlet’ Wu of Singapore.  Which to choose?  That is the question.  Beer it is.  Peace follows any decision – even a wrong one.