The mood on the Mid-Levels Escalator this morning is one of unbounded optimism, after Chief Executive CY Leung pledges at a Foreign Correspondents Club talk to deliver cheaper housing, bigger homes and clean air – the latter within a year. In his second term, he will arrange for us all to have eternal life.
There comes a point, however, where promises get too ambitious, and skepticism is called for. Gliding towards Central alongside me, Mr Chan the regional distribution manager has spotted it.
“The environment people are proposing to go ahead and charge Hong Kong families roughly HK$40 a month to dispose of household waste in compulsory, pre-paid, plastic bags,” he reads out from the paper. “It won’t work.”
Mrs Lee the private banker begs to differ. “The bags are a lovely Hello Kitty pink,” she gushes. “They will look beautiful piled up on the streets waiting for the truck to come.”
Mr Chan corrects her. “People here will use them, but what about other neighbourhoods?” He nods in the direction of Kowloon. “Old people there stand in a line for hours for a free sample, and the young will go a mile out of their way to save one dollar on a lunchbox.”
I tell them I’m with Mr Chan. Compulsive penny-pinchers will spare no effort in hiding their garbage in dark corners of Wellcome – or maybe using counterfeit pink bags – to save their HK$40 a month.
“It’s almost pathological,” I add, which reminds me of exciting news.
“I’m very proud – and I think all of Hong Kong should be proud – that I’ve managed to convince the American Psychiatric Association to put a famous local disease into the next edition of its famous diagnostic manual, DSM-5.” My two fellow commuters listen with interest. “Yes – they’re finally going to include Irritable Gwailo Syndrome. For some reason, the bores have seen fit to rename it Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder. But it’s the same thing: severe recurrent temper tantrums.”
I go on to explain that ideally the Association would recognize another mental health problem that afflicts certain Westerners in Hong Kong, namely Taxi Rip-off Panic Paranoia. Closely linked to formication, the feeling that ants are crawling beneath the skin, it happens when said innocent abroad becomes overwhelmed with the illusion that a commercial service provider – such as a cab driver – is somehow cheating him, usually over trifling sums of money. When an attack happens, it often triggers IGS/DMDD.
“Sadly,” I inform my companions, “the American psychiatrists say they won’t include it in their manual because it’s not treatable.”
As with the Kowloon poor stuffing illicit bags of trash after dark behind trees and beneath parked vehicles, irate and confused expats will be freaking out over perceived fraud long after 2,000-square-foot ‘CY Homes’ are available for HK$1,000 a month, and the nitrous oxide and suspended particulates are history.