|25-31 December 2005|
|Apartment-sitting for a couple of days in Macau with Jenny the girl from Beijing-but-she’s-got-an-American-passport, enjoying, among other things, Portuguese Yuletide cake. My first impression is that Christmas here is sponsored by Hello Kitty. After closer examination, however, I determine that it is in fact the other way round.
We sample one of several local Burmese restaurants. Why are there so many more of them here than in the Big Lychee, with 14 times the population? We are at a loss to come up with any explanation other than sleaze. With a far smaller and less diverse economy, the former Portuguese enclave has long been reduced to the laundering of a tawdrier class of money than clean and morally upstanding Hong Kong could possibly consider touching. Shifting the proceeds of the Golden Triangle’s drug production gives you an appetite.
On a totally unrelated note, we are pleased to see that Albert Yeung’s Emperor Casino, a poker chip’s throw from the Hotel Lisboa, is approaching completion. Over steaming bowls of Rangoon-style pumpkin soup, mischievous friends tell us that this new, wholesome tourist facility has been tragically delayed by the outbreak of a couple of mysterious blazes, which the valiant local fire services took an extraordinarily long time tackling – even by the sleepy standards of Luso-Cantonese civil defence. They also report that the creepy North Koreans of Zokwang Trading Company who have long infested this picturesque little town have decamped to neighbouring Zhuhai since the US accused Banco Delta Asia of fronting Pyongyang’s counterfeit US$100 bills operations in the region.
It’s a small world. The Emperor Group owned a casino in North Korea too. But it had to shut down a year ago after Beijing banned its officials from gambling away filched public funds there. What happens if or when China clamps down on crooked bureaucrats visiting Macau? Or simply legalizes gambling across the border? Showering in her friends’ luxury flat this morning, Jenny and I ponder this question. Many say that the city’s economy will go down the drain. But judging from the way the local water – so brackish in the dry season it makes your skin itch – struggles to enter the city’s antiquated sewerage system, that’s one place it won’t go.
|Tue, 27 Dec
Back to Hong Kong, through the Immigration Department’s new, speedy E-Channel, the magic self-service admittance system, which allows travellers to enter the Big Lychee without the tiresome necessity of facing a human being. Put your HK ID card into a slot and the doors flip open and let you through. Put your thumb on the little screen inside and the second turnstile opens up and off you go. Everyone using this space-age device strolls out with a big grin on their face that says ‘cool’.
I make it to Lan Kwai Fong in time to join wild American friend Odell for a meeting of the Hong Kong Association of Gwailos Married to Southeast Asian Women of Humble Origins. Being single and happy and therefore not welcome, I can’t miss it. The main item on the agenda today is how to cheat on your Filipino or Thai ex-maid wife without her finding out. It is important that she doesn’t find out, members agree, because it distresses her after all the devotion she shows cooking, cleaning and lovingly cutting your toenails. Plus she smashes everything up. But the discussion soon drifts off onto the subject of how to lure young ladies into carnal dalliances when the spouse isn’t looking.
Jack, a Brit aged 50-something, puts down his pint of beer and tells us about physique, displaying his tattoos and swearing that women find them irresistible. John, a bit younger but greying, reckons it’s all to do with money and flashes his wallet, saying that the sight of three 500-dollar bills does the trick. Dave stubs out his cigarette and proclaims that flattery does the trick – “I say ‘allo darlin, you don’t sweat much for a fat girl’ and they collapse in me arms.” Needless to say, I fall to the floor and roll around in hysterics at this man’s dazzlingly original wit.
All eyes turn to Odell for his contribution to the communal pool of beaver-hunting advice. “Power,” he states simply. He pulls a pink press clipping from his pocket. “I show them this Financial Times report, and tell them I’m a good friend of this guy, and – zip!!! – their panties are off, chucked over their shoulders in the blink of an eye. Never fails.”
Eyes glance up at me in envy, even hatred. I hastily scatter enough money on the table to buy these poor wretches another round of drinks and retreat to the safety of Perpetual Opulence Mansions, my curiosity about Hong Kong’s male Anglo underclass satisfied for another few months.
Wed, 28 Dec
Flicking through the papers in the soothing luxury of my office in S-Meg Tower, it occurs to me that South China Morning Post holiday season stand-in editor Phil LePage must be getting nervous. With another five days to go before coverage of current affairs is resumed, he is surely fast running out of rehashed material from the previous 12 months. His error was starting the excruciating week-long series of double-page spreads looking back at the Asian tsunami too early. Having squeezed every last column inch out of destitute Sri Lankans, orphaned Indonesians, vanished tourists and garbage-strewn beaches, he must now resort to equally mind-numbing reviews of 2005’s other horrors, before the year is even out. Alerted by some mysterious sixth sense that a deluge of media tedium was approaching, most readers fled inland – or to Bali, at least – over a week ago, leaving just a few brave souls like myself to face this barrage of stale news.
|But wait! A report on a contemporary event sits awkwardly among the clichéd retrospectives written a month ago before everyone went off to the airport. Our dashing Chief Executive Donald Tsang successfully completes his vassal’s tributary visit to Beijing, where he has his grinning photo taken next to a slightly bored-looking President Hu Jintao, who lavishes him with praise so embarrassingly condescending and vacuous that it would irritate a three year old being potty trained. Although they have seen worse, the Central People’s Government leaders carefully calibrate Sir Bow-Tie’s reception to remind him that there is room for improvement. Macau Chief Executive Edmund Ho gets to stand a full four inches closer to the emperor and receives an extra big pat on the head for running a happy and harmonious little Special Administrative Region with no pro-democracy marches. Obviously, in Beijing’s eyes, repairing the eight years’ damage inflicted by Tung Chee-hwa on a leading international financial and trading centre is no more important or challenging than giving a quick makeover to a decrepit few acres of Portuguese-run backwater. Will 2006 be the year Donald asks himself, “Why am I bothering?”|
|Thurs, 29 Dec
Like a stern Victorian parent forcing an onanistic child into an ice cold bath to be followed by prayer and flogging, Beijing implores the people of Hong Kong to rid themselves of impure thoughts about political reform by ‘focusing on the economy’. However, unlike our great-great-grandparents, who eradicated self-abuse through mortification of the flesh across an entire empire for breakfast, the Central People’s Government seems at a loss to know how to rescue the Big Lychee from its frenzied fantasizing about the evil, fleshly filth that is democracy. Self-flagellation, perhaps? Maoist-style struggle sessions? Or – is Donald a member? – an Opus Dei-style barbed wire chain worn around the thigh?
Understanding that our nation’s leaders know what is best for us, I resolve to sit in the lotus position, close my eyes, breath deeply and banish all lust, temptation and thoughts from my mind and concentrate in silence for the rest of the day on gross domestic product.
|Fri, 30 Dec
Democracy rolls into action, as the pro-Beijing media invite Hong Kong people to vote for the city’s 10 most significant events in 2005. Did RTHK take part in this bizarreness last year? Their involvement means that this childish but patriotic poll is an everyone-except-Apple-Daily affair, the Standard presumably being represented by Sing Tao.
Which will I choose as the Big Lychee’s most memorable moment of the last 12 months? ‘Two Shenzhou VI Heroes Visiting Hong Kong’? ‘New Bus-Fare Adjustment Mechanism Proposal’? ‘Hong Kong Won Host for the Olympic Equestrian Events’? The organizers have also seen fit to include Sir Bow-Tie’s ‘election’, the appointment of Wong Yan-lun as young and trendy Secretary for Justice and – option number 13 – ‘The Opposition Vetoed the Constitutional Reform Proposal’. In vain, however, I search for ‘Tofu-for-Brains Tossed Aside in Deference to Citizens’ Objections to being Ruled by an Idiot’.
|STANDING IN the doorway of the gwailo’s lair on the top floor of S-Meg Tower, I survey Private Office for the last time in 2005. Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary glances disapprovingly in my direction. She is dealing with a visitor – a pony-tailed woman in her 20s in a pink fluffy jacket, a Hello Kitty T-shirt, yellow calf-length pants and dark, chunky platform shoes. Carrying a black leather briefcase. Ambitious delivery girl or hopelessly under-achieving lawyer? Behind me, on my PC’s iTunes program, a Long Ryders’ mandolin performance, specially chosen to annoy Ms Fang, draws to a close. Looking forward to the extra time in bed we will all enjoy over the holiday, I declare the weekend begun and the most recent in a long line of the planet’s increasingly indistinguishable 365-day rotations – for all practical purposes – over.|