|22-28 January 2006|
|Sun 22 Jan
Few pastimes are lower, cheaper, more facile and plain pathetic than mocking the appetite the naďve, foreign and ignorant have for gaudy and inauthentic representations of what is to them, through no fault of their own, exotica. But it’s fun. And so I dedicate a little time today to exploring the lobby of Macau’s newly opened Grand Emperor Hotel. This is tycoon Albert Yeung’s latest contribution to gambling-based Macau, which is surely the world’s most lopsided economy apart from little oil sheikdoms. Mainland tourists are mesmerized as they pass through en route to the lavish casino, the tasteful massage facilities, and the gastronomic delights of the HK$80 all-you-can-eat buffet.
|The easy-to-recognize building.|
|Left – one of two carriages outside. Above – close-up of curiosity for heraldry fans.|
|Far left – Louis XIV elevator lobby. Left – tasteful chandelier and phoney painting of all-purpose Baroque Euro-monarch. Below – glass floor tiles displaying understated 1-kilo gold ingots, each modestly garnished with a handful of diamonds. Further below – refined directions to ATM set in modest amounts of marble and more unpretentious gold.|
|Left – rendition of youthful, slim and shapely Queen Elizabeth II look-alike in figure-hugging garb by over-imaginative artist. Right – Buckingham Palace-style guard in bearskin hat (by-product of Mainland bile farm) at door. There are two such guards at any given time. They are reported to speak “Russian or Ukrainian or something” by linguistically adept and trustworthy contacts. Below – the next monstrosity to befall this poor city, courtesy of Stanley Ho.|
|Mon, 23 Jan
The recent suicides of two teachers because – their profession insists – of work-related stress prompts me to ask a simple question. Why didn’t they just get a new job? Although probably not quite as easy or quick in simple mechanical terms, it would have numerous advantages, being more reversible, less traumatic for family, less messy, and less likely to be manipulated by others for political ends. School reforms must be hitting our noble educators hard. After years of reading out material to be learnt by rote and leaving it to parents to ensure it’s done, they are now expected to contribute to training a younger generation that can ask questions, think critically and take the initiative. Faced with demands to teach skills they both lack and abhor, they throw themselves off tall buildings. People able to ask questions, think critically and take the initiative would at least have driven a cab for a few months while getting things sorted out.
|Hong Kong’s suicide rate has gone from 10 per 100,000 people in 1981 to 18.6 last year, with a noticeable surge around the time Tung Chee-hwa started his unbelievably depressing term as Chief Executive. The Philippines, by contrast, has a suicide rate of 2.5 per 100,000. This wouldn’t surprise anyone strolling through Central yesterday, where thousands of off-duty domestic helpers earning a pittance in a foreign land sat on the cold concrete laughing with their friends while sullen, morose Hongkongers traipsed from mall to mall spending their wealth on soulless status symbols to take their minds off all the dreadful in-laws and grandparents they must visit next week for Chinese New Year.|
|Years of life lost due to suicide death as a proportion of total years of life lost due to all causes, Hong Kong, 1981 to 2001. (Yip, Law and Law, HK Medical Journal, Dec 2003)|
|Interestingly, the two places’ murder rates are roughly the reverse, with the excitable Filipinos killing one another at a rate of 16 per 100,000, compared with just 2.5 in the Big Lychee. Another reason for disgruntled teachers to consider a temporary career in public transport before slashing their wrists – not a single Hongkonger appears in the Extremely Moving International Roll of Honour of Taxi Drivers Who Valiantly Fell in the Line of Duty, despite having to carry legions of psychotics suffering from Irritable Gwailo Syndrome from Wanchai to the Mid-Levels on late weekend nights. An unfortunate problem with my idea occurs to me – our teachers’ English standards are probably too low for driving a cab.
IS THERE a shallower legislator than the odious and limacine James Tien? Not so long as the slimy mental dwarf can continue producing such treasures of reason as this…
|“Today, the government is intending to enact a law to totally ban smoking in public places, but what happens if we one day have a chief executive or health minister who likes smoking?”
Today’s China Daily HK edition
|This is the same nematode who has bought millions of dollars’ worth of imported high-performance sports cars and yet warns against the economic menace posed by his fellow citizens who shop across the border in Shenzhen. “[Donald Tsang] says he will rely on and cooperate with us more,” the Liberal Party leader gloats. Forget Marlboro Lights – Sir Bow-Tie will need opium to calm himself with friends like these.|
|Tue, 24 Jan
Oblivious of the need to Focus On The Economy to cleanse our minds of impure thoughts, a motley group of busybodies re-run yesterday’s newspaper ad calling on our dashing Chief Executive to kick some Beijing backside and secure a timetable for universal suffrage. The usual legislators are all there. Long Hair Leung Kwok-hung, the last stained-T-shirted Marxist in captivity. Emily Lau, the mad screeching woman who gives mad screeching women a bad name. The fragrant Audrey Eu, affable Ronnie Tong and mind-numbing Margaret Ng, the lawyers behind the ultra-genteel Article 45 Concern Group. Martin Lee, Yeung Sum and whoever runs the Democratic Party these days – gray, faded and forgettable yesterday’s men.
|The other signatories hint at the depth and breadth of what could be a formidable movement if roused. “United front this!” they almost seem to challenge the Central People’s Government. There’s Joseph Zen, the somewhat mad screeching Catholic bishop, top of the pro-Government and anti-democratic crowds’ hate-list for his high-profile denunciation of last year’s political reform package. Helping him herd our half-million-strong educated, middle-class Christian flock behind the cause are Father Louis Ha, editor of the Holy Romans’ pro-democracy local newspaper, and top Methodist Ralph Lee. There’s Jimmy Lai, founder of mass-circulation Apple Daily and Next, in which politically correct companies do not advertise. Assuming there’s no overlap with the Jesus crowd, he’s good for half a million sex-stars-and-democracy fans. Allen Lee, National People’s Congress Deputy – thus, theoretically, part of the pro-Beijing camp – and founder member of the Liberal Party until it was erased of any conscience, principle and backbone, represents the closet democrats in the business community. And of course Anson Chan, former colonial running dog Chief Secretary, and thus former boss of Sir Bow-Tie, whose widespread popularity among the majority of Big Lychee residents is at least partly due to who and what she is not, but is nonetheless the stuff of paranoid Beijing nightmares. Can plucky Donald Tsang successfully convince the people of Hong Kong to Focus On The Economy and thwart this British-Vatican-American-Taiwanese plot to plunge Hong Kong into chaos and subvert the entire PRC?
Wed, 25 Jan
The mood on the Mid-levels Escalator this morning is one of frenzied excitement, as Hong Kong’s wholesome, industrious, disenfranchised taxpayers chatter about our Chief Executive’s pre-New Year housecleaning. A civil service veteran incapable of original thought has been moved from Civil Service Secretary to Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology. Another civil service veteran incapable of original thought has been moved from Permanent Secretary for Commerce and Industry to Civil Service Secretary. Meanwhile, a civil service veteran incapable of original thought except about hairstyles who used to be the Secretary for Commerce, Industry and Technology has been moved to Director of the Chief Executive's Office. It doesn’t get much more exhilarating than this.
Strolling through Central, I have the pleasure of bumping into shapely Administrative Officer Winky Ip, whose capacity for original thought is fast-waning as she makes her own way up the bureaucratic ladder. “The cabinet reshuffle was challenging,” she tells me. “The pool of available talent is smaller than people realize.” She shows me a photo of the happy looking reshuffled. The average height of Hong Kong people has increased significantly in the last five decades, but our senior officials seem to be getting shorter as the post Tung Chee-hwa administration reverts to a haven for civil servants.
|“It’s because we’re all local success stories,” Winky explains. “Unlike these six-foot tall tycoons like Henry Tang, we were born into humble families. We were malnourished in the womb and are physically stunted. But our mothers always put fish heads in the congee, so we got all the Omega-3 oils we needed for brain development, so we are all intellectually brilliant and went to Hong Kong University. Unlike Henry Tang.” And I thought it was because Sir-Bow Tie hates taller people. You learn something new every day.|
|Thurs, 26 Jan
…And some days, I learn no fewer than four new things. An email from a kind and clever person informs me that the Buckingham Palace-style guardsmen manning the door at Macau’s extremely elegant Grand Emperor Hotel are Romanian – which explains why they both had ‘Vlad’ on their name badges. This casts serious doubt on the credibility of the friends of Jenny the girl from Beijing-but-she’s-got-an-American-passport, who judged their language to be Slavic. Another kind and clever person reminds me that there is, after all, some overlap between the democrats who love Jesus and the democrats who love photos of corpses in mangled cars and blurred peeks of actresses’ nipples, in the form of Jimmy Lai, who became a Catholic several years ago. In the words of St. Francis of Assisi – “If God can work through me, he can work through anyone.”
|The third thing I learn this morning, flicking through various news sources, is that China is now the fourth largest economy in the world, while the fourth is that it is the fifth – or is it the other way round? Whether the Mainland’s amateurishly measured output has surpassed that of the UK as well as France is irrelevant. The fact is that on a per-capita basis, the glorious motherland up the road is still a giant nest of amputee beggars, five-year-old pickpockets, traders of babies, AIDS orphans without schools, uninsured accident victims dumped outside hospitals to die, and government officials falling over one another to stuff their pockets with what little wealth their subjects have. It takes more than a tacky TV tower lit up in purple and green.|
|TYCOON LEE Shau-kee’s favourite fellow Henderson Investment shareholder David Webb presents me with a telling juxtaposition…|
|“We shall always remember Sir John for the pioneering and dominant role he played in the birth of the legend of Hong Kong as the freest market economy in the world.”
HK Govt statement
|Legend … A romanticized or popularized myth of modern times.
|The passing on 21 January of Sir John Cowperthwaite (b 1916, Financial Secretary, 1961-71) attracts less attention than it should. He coined the phrase ‘positive non-interventionism’. He rejected requests for better economic statistics on the grounds that people would use them. He scrapped protectionist tariffs to kill off producers that couldn’t survive without robbing consumers. He tirelessly turned down pleas from industrialists for encouragement, assistance, support and other euphemisms for subsidies.
As Leo Goodstadt points out in Uneasy Partners: The Conflict Between Public Interest and Private Profit in Hong Kong, laissez faire was officials’ last line of defence against the business interests that, left to their own devices, would have plundered the Fragrant Harbour’s people as surely as parasitical cadres do in Mainland villages today. It is no coincidence that ‘laissez faire’ finally faded away after 1997, to be replaced by the blatant lie ‘small government, big market’, and the more accurate ‘market leads and government facilitates’ – which essentially means ‘tycoons ask and government gives’.
Thus Tung Chee-hwa, urged on by advisors who thought they could embarrass their laid-back colonial forebears through superior economic micro-management, delivered a hundred interventionist horrors onto Hong Kong, to the point where many of our citizens today actually expect it. Few quibble with the choice (let alone existence) of the Government’s four economic pillars, though one of them, logistics, is a sunset industry headed for the Mainland, and another, tourism, probably distorts and burdens as much of the economy as it helps. Few query the underlying intentions in Cyberport, Disneyland and the science park or the Chinese medicine hubs, tourism hubs, cruise hubs, technology hubs and other state-decreed visions. Few bat an eyelid when, four decades after Cowperthwaite waved them away, textile manufacturers win concessions from our ridiculous officials to help ‘develop’ their Third World industry again on this side of the border.
|“…we might indeed be right to be apprehensive lest the availability of such figures might lead, by a reversal of cause and effect, to policies designed to have a direct effect on the economy.”|
|Are our officials in bed with the tycoons? Or are they just stupid and gullible? At the very least, from what I recall of an interview I read a few years ago, they are lazy. Asked what it was like implementing a policy of ‘doing nothing’, Cowperthwaite replied – “hard work.”|
|Fri, 27 Jan
What is the most beautiful and arousing aroma in the world? Is it the fragrance of freshly cut lawn, taking us back to summers of childhood bliss? Is it the steamy, reassuring bouquet of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, rising from the cup in the morning? Or… is it the whiff of newly printed cash? The answer is in no doubt in S-Meg Tower this morning, as staff of the dynamic conglomerate ravage the red packets handed out by the company to retrieve their lucky money, and the pungent, almost sexual scent of crisp, clean One Hundred Hong Kong Dollar notes permeates the corridors and offices. Five Hundreds smell even better.
Just one day to go, and the Year of the Rooster-because-we-blush-when-we-say-‘cock’ will utter its last H1N5-tormented clucks, and the Year of the Dog will pad into view, spraying public property with its urine, urgently jamming its odious, wet snout between the legs of every sizeable mammal it encounters, and dripping stringy saliva from its engorged, fetid tongue.
Most members of S-Meg’s managerial caste are packing their bags, ready to fly off to Bangkok, Bali or Vancouver – any place where they can enjoy the coming break miles away from tedious relatives expecting ritual visits. The untouchables – the three Stanleys in the mailroom, the office slaves in the China Office and the desk meat of the Accounts Department – are preparing to spend 40 percent of their new wealth on tackily wrapped cheap chocolates before streaming across the border to their ancestral villages to pay their respects to their pig-rearing clansmen.
Spitting on the grave of Sir John Cowperthwaite, it goes without saying, our Government busies itself ahead of the holiday by producing masses of data on the impact of laisee on Hong Kong’s monetary base.
And, as it happens, I will be joining our lower orders and spending the next week in the Mainland, where it is impossible to read or update this Diary, owing to the Middle Kingdom rulers’ tyrannical and feudal fear of people sending and receiving electronic blips down copper wires. I could simply leave the week unrecorded, or fill the blank page on my return. There is a third alternative – namely to entrust the journal to someone else. But I don’t know anyone both willing and capable of the task.
Then there is a fourth option, and that is to give the job to an incompetent buffoon who will almost certainly wreak widespread literary damage on this never-ending saga of the Big, declining Lychee, and prompt distress, despair, disgust or derision among millions.
Thus it is that, if all goes to plan, wild American friend Odell will write next week’s entries.
This isn’t going to be pretty.