|The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat
24-30 April 2005
|Sun, 24 Apr
Yesterday afternoon I did something I had never done before – I stood at the head of a protest march against the Chinese Communist Party. Not that I was there for long. I was crossing Queen’s Road in the heart of Central, when the procession came bearing down on me. Who were these 100 or so people waving placards celebrating the departure of a million members from the CCP and decrying the death of 40 million people from famine in the Great Leap Forward? The marchers’ faces were depressing in their anonymity and hopelessness. It could only be the Democratic Party taking a new, ‘get tough’, no-more-Mr-nice-guy approach. But no – there’s an even sadder group of dispossessed and misunderstood souls in Hong Kong. How could I forget the Falun Gong? The only people who can serenely recite “Dafa is harmonizing all sentient beings, and all sentient beings are also harmonizing Dafa” while hacking into Mainland satellite TV.
EARLY EVENING, and I attend a wake at the Foreign Correspondents Club. As with all such vigils at the FCC, there is no shortage of alcohol to inspire the eulogies to the departed friend. However, tonight’s event is in memory not of a person but a magazine – the Far Eastern Economic Review, many of whose staffers and friends have flown in from around the world. Oddly enough, there are few representatives of Dow Jones, the publication’s last owner, who dumbed it down and killed it and earned themselves the venom and spite of the magazine’s old-timers and readers. (Which reminds me – why is Dow Jones such a poor-performing company financially? Because it’s run by journalists.) In fact, the FEER title lives on, in the form of a non-glossy monthly laid out like Foreign Affairs. It is to Foreign Affairs what the dumbed-down Review was to the great organ of the 1980s – a children’s version. “Not even written by journalists,” sneers one former writer for the venerable publication that Lee Kwan-yew saw fit to ban. I mention that the current edition has an article by an editorial page writer at the Asian Wall Street Journal. He gives me a withering look. “I said journalists!” he splutters.
|Mon, 25 Apr
Did anyone we know attend yesterday’s march? Acquaintances, yes – some household names among them – but few actual friends seem to have taken part. The subject is wearying. Reinterpretation of the Basic Law on the Chief Executive’s term of office when his predecessor makes a surprise, premature exit, his eyes rolling in their sockets, foam and gibberish spouting from his lips. It is remarkable that 1,500 people made the effort. Wild American friend Odell was suffering from a surfeit, after consuming beer until 2.00am the previous night, instead of being home by 7.30 for dinner with his long-suffering wife. He spent Sunday hungover and harangued simultaneously – what bliss it is to be single and (relatively) sober. For Polly the lipstick lesbian, it was one demonstration too many, and probably futile. Beijing will declare the wording of the law to mean whatever it wants. She is in quiet despair.
As a politically neutral member of the world’s most dedicated, gifted, trustworthy and wonderful-value-for-money civil service, shapely Administrative Officer Winky Ip doesn’t go on demonstrations. But she seems calmly confident about the future this morning over congee and noodles at a slightly sticky Yuet Yuen Restaurant. “Does the law exist to restrict the abuse of power or facilitate the use of it?” she muses. “It’s a real cultural gap between us and Beijing. They’re not being malicious. They just genuinely don’t get it. And that’s what they think of the protestors here, too.” Winky gives me a serious lecture on why everything will be fine. Reading between the lines, she insists, there’s a conciliatory tone coming out of Beijing. The hints that they’ll revert to the original understanding of five-year terms later on – it’s almost an admission that they’re in the wrong. Forget Tsang Hin-chi’s demented ramblings. Forget Long Hair’s Basic Law-burning. “Beijing wants harmony with mainstream Hong Kong,” she tells me. “It’ll be the number-one priority for the new Governor.”
Some trivia with which I expected to dazzle Winky – that Tsang Hin-chi has an asteroid named after him – never makes it out of my throat. The new what?
Tue, 26 Apr
The Big Boss is in a cantankerous mood in the morning meeting, berating Human Resources Manager Leung Yuk-mei for staffing S-Meg Holdings with thieves. “The bill for toilet paper has gone up by 20 percent in a year!” he exclaims in an exaggerated tone of disbelief. “And staff numbers have gone down 3 percent!” He looks round at his senior management team in a state of open-mouthed shock and amazement. We raise our eyebrows, to indicate that we share his apoplectic reaction to this threat to our corporate finances. “This is company property, and people are stealing it!” Ms Leung repeatedly nods – in fact bows slightly – to confess her culpability. She claims that workforce discipline suffers when the unemployment rate falls. If she had any sense, she would point out that as part of a cost-cutting exercise early last year, this dynamic conglomerate switched from ‘Dear Soft’ brand bathroom tissue, made under licence from a Japanese firm in Shenzhen, to the cheaper ‘Nice Day’ brand, produced by a bankrupt state-owned company in Shandong. It was false economy, as people used more of the new, lower-quality paper. Indeed, instead of ripping it off – so to speak – many of us started to bring our own ‘Kleenex’ or ‘Andrex’ into the office, air-freighted into Asia at great expense.
After giving Ms Leung a furious tongue lashing for everyone’s amusement, our visionary Chairman and Chief Executive insists that I accompany him on a courtesy visit to an obscure Government department that wants to be noticed by influential members of the business community. As Parker the chauffeur expertly steers the huge Mercedes through the streets of Central, I watch the reaction of passing pedestrians as they glance in to see who we are. They shrug off the sight of yet another famous billionaire tycoon, but show mild interest in the gwailo sitting beside him in the ‘number-two’ seat behind the driver. As we pull up to our destination, I notice that the car park outside the building is overflowing with white Toyota saloons with bored-looking minions polishing the ‘Asia’s World City’ decals and ‘AM’ licence plates. After being checked in by the team of smiling receptionists, we stroll down a long corridor, avoiding three women painstakingly mopping the sparkling linoleum. The elevator attendant greets us and takes up to the 13th floor. Two friendly flunkies escort us down another long corridor with more mop-wielding cleaners, past a typing pool full of women knitting or looking at their mobile phones, and then past a conference room in which three people are napping or reading horse racing magazines. At the end, we pass a secretary and her assistant and enter a thickly carpeted office. A smart-looking, middle aged gwailo rises from his desk and greets the Big Boss warmly by name. “Welcome to the Government Efficiency Unit,” he declares.
Wed, 27 Apr
Sesame Street today was brought to you by the word ‘dob’, a verb – I dob, thou dobbeth, he dobs. My first impression on encountering this unusual phrase while keeping abreast of Shenzhen’s latest rewards for police informants is that it is some sort of spelling mistake. But whoever edited the article is adamant that ‘dobbing in’ is acceptable English, meaning to snitch, betray, tell on, impugn, rat, grass and so on. On Googling it, I find it is used by Australians, many of whose English
|ancestors were of course dispatched to Van Diemen’s Land after being ‘dobbed in’ for sheep-stealing. It is heartening to see modern-day antipodeans making an honest living and enriching our vocabulary by introducing their obscure and mysterious vernacular into the Mainland’s English-language press.
ON THE subject of criminality, it occurs to me that everyone is doing Dr the Hon Tsang Hin-chi GBM an injustice by suggesting that he is somehow unqualified to tell us that protesting against Beijing’s forthcoming interpretation of the Basic Law will be illegal. As someone who has maintained a spotless record ever since being convicted twice for possession of goods with falsified trade documents in the 1970s, he can surely claim to know the difference between lawfulness and villainy. People should show this sweet-natured and tolerant old gentleman a bit more respect.
|Thurs, 28 April
“In your mind, don’t call it an ‘interpretation’ – call it an amendment,” advises Mr Chiu the lawyer to his fellow passengers on the Mid-Levels Escalator this morning. “Then it makes more sense.” Some of us nod. Others shrug. People are numbed to the transfiguration of blatant falsehoods into profound truths and the proclamation of logic-shredding fallacies as wondrous, shining revelation. The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress has decreed that certain provisions of the Basic Law ‘make it clear’ that Tung Chee-hwa’s successor will serve the remainder of his term, even though it is embarrassingly obvious that they do no such thing. It proves the Central Government’s determination to work in strict accordance with the Basic Law and will boost democracy in Hong Kong. The Airbus A380, which made its maiden flight yesterday, will offer passengers unprecedented comfort and space. The Golden Bauhinia Statue next to the Conference and Exhibition Centre is a work of exquisite taste and artistry. Land in central England at GBP2,000 an acre is a sure-fire investment. Men who drive around in loud yellow sports cars with a pouting Canto-princess at their side are cool. Kenny G’s latest CD is superb. Paola Dindo can communicate with all willing animals regardless of their language. And I am Marie of Roumania.
Fri, 29 Apr
Passing Yuet Yuen restaurant, looking forward to having breakfast alone in my office, I hear an irritated rap on the window. It is curvaceous Administrative Officer Winky Ip, beckoning me to join her. I enter and see she is wearing a baggy ‘HK Civil Service Kicks Butt’ T-shirt – she is obviously using up one of her 93 days’ accumulated leave. But rather than being in a holiday mood, she is angry. Before I have a chance to sit, she grabs me by the throat and pins me against the wall. “Now get this, Marie of Roumania!” she hisses into my face. With her free hand, she pulls out a copy of the Basic Law and thrusts it before my eyes. She has highlighted part of Annex I…
|7. If there is a need to amend the method for selecting the Chief Executives for the terms subsequent to the year 2007, such amendments must be made with the endorsement of a two-thirds majority of all the members of the Legislative Council and the consent of the Chief Executive, and they shall be reported to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress for approval.|
|“Wouldn’t you agree,” she suggests menacingly, “that this shows Beijing has, all along since the early 1990s, been working on the assumption that there would be a CE election in 2007?” As she tightens her grip on my carotid artery, I nod as best I can and grunt my fullest assent. A jab to her solar plexus could free me, but I sense she isn’t wearing a bra. I would end up blindly poking at her pendulous buxomness, which would further infuriate her and lead to my almost certain death. But what a way to go. As I fight suffocation, she produces a copy of Wednesday’s Basic Law interpretation. Everything is getting dark, but I can just make out an underlined passage…|
|…and that after 2007, the above-mentioned method for selecting the Chief Executive could be amended, and should the office of the Chief Executive then become vacant, the term of office for the new Chief Executive shall be determined with the amended method for the selection of the Chief Executive.|
|“And wouldn’t you also say,” she spits at me, “that this makes it plain that the interpretation only covers the period up to 2007, and if we want to change the whole system after that time, we can?” With my eyes about to burst and my tongue hanging out, I manage a submissive nod. She unhands me immediately with a slight smile. “Thank you,” she says. As I gasp for breath, she sits down, collects herself and looks up at me. “So,” she grins, making herself comfortable, “what congee do you want – chicken or fish?”
FINISHING SOME lunchtime light reading matter, I declare the three-day weekend open.