8.31 pm Quite a big turnout! We are here this evening in the modestly ornate ballroom of Government House for a state dinner hosted by our dashing Chief Executive Donald Tsang in honour of His Majesty King Letsie III of Lesotho. As well as leading government officials, most of our top tycoons have been invited. I am representing the Big Boss, who – as a result of a sudden problem at S-Meg Holdings – is sadly unable to make it.
8.34 I find myself seated towards the more obscure end of the lengthy banquet table. A fetching lady on my left is called Olivia. Her name card shows her to work at a senior position in Takchosau – ‘virtue and integrity’ – one of Hong Kong’s biggest and most widely respected property development empires. She is representing the conglomerate’s chairman, who sadly cannot make it.
8.35 A bright-eyed young man joins me to my right. He introduces himself as CK. He is a high-flying member of our loyal and dedicated civil service, and is representing one of our top, ministerial-level policy secretaries, who sadly is unable to be here in person this evening. I ask why his boss didn’t send one of her political appointees – the assistant secretary or political assistant. He just giggles rather shyly.
8.36 Who should be seated across the table from me but Damien, the company gwailo at the Cantograb Group? He is representing the managing director, who had an urgent matter to attend to, and is visibly making the most of the Government House wine cellar’s pouilly fume. And… who should be strolling up to sit at his left, dead opposite me, but the delectable administrative officer Winky Ip?
8.37 Winky has greeted the man to her left, a partaker of black hair dye with a little red flag in his lapel. After a cold, brief “ni hao” she turns to Damien. She does not apparently like what she sees. Understandably.
8.40 Things should have started by now – there’s some delay. The king is a long way to the left of us, but looking very fine in his leopard skin robe and cheerfully letting other guests touch his ceremonial knobkerrie.
8.42 Winky evicts CK and sends him to sit next to the mainlander, who is apparently sitting in for a senior director at the Foreign Affairs Ministry, who was called away urgently. I ask why our top officials aren’t sending their political appointees on their behalf, and she groans.
“Well,” she starts, then stares at the table. “Look at that. Why do you think?” I look at the sparkling crystal glass, the shiny bone china and… the gleaming silver cutlery. Ahah.
“Yes,” Winky mutters. “Knives and forks. Even if their table manners were up to it… I mean they’re just not, you know, presentable.”
I idly opine that a particular assistant minister could be considered quite nice-looking.
“Cute?” she snaps back at me. “She’s just a jumped-up Legco assistant! And she’s got hairy arms.”
8.48 Donald Tsang’s wife is announcing something about having to start without her husband, who has sadly been detained by an unforeseen, critical matter.
8.50 King Letsie III rises to say a few words about the close and historic ties between his country and the Big Lychee. Lesotho, he explains, has a pro-business government, with low taxes, a clean bureaucracy, good infrastructure – if not quite at Hong Kong standards (polite laughs all round) – and rule of law.
Damien knocks back his third glass of wine and turns to our end of the table. “Just like Hong Kong!” he whispers. He leans further round to address the blank-faced mainland official. “Because they were both British colonies.”
8.52 As the king sits to applause, the waiters suddenly appear and start serving salad.
“Hem!!” Damien hisses across the table and jabs a thumb in the direction of the royal guest. “Isn’t this the Johnny with 38 wives or something, paid for in cattle?” I tell him he must be thinking of Swaziland. We wouldn’t entertain a mega-polygamist here, surely? What would the Society for Truth and Light say?
8.54 Winky is patiently explaining to Olivia that Lesotho is in Africa. “No, not near Haiti – believe me, Haiti isn’t in Africa.”
8.55 At last! Something to eat!