In the slightly dusty, faded Formica splendour that is Yuet Yuen Restaurant on the seedy edge of Central, Administrative Officer Winky Ip – no younger than she ever was, but voluptuous always – wraps a tissue round her finger and prods the grimy jar of chili sauce across the table to me, then examines the oil-smudged napkin for a brief second before discarding it.
“So,” I ask her, “what are you urging the public to do these days?”
She gives her congee a stir and puts on her best look of mock-exasperation. “Where do I begin?” she declares. “This is a job that just never finishes!”
And, she complains, it is a thankless task. There was a time, she recalls, when Hong Kong’s population was innocent and pure and eager for guidance from caring and wise civil servants.
“But today they just don’t pay attention. We held a Sustainable Green Quality Lifestyle Family Fun Day last weekend, and only a few old people turned up. And they were just after free cookies. I’m still looking for an Anti-Nose-Picking Campaign Ambassador – we’ve tried Jackie Chan, Bobo Chen, you name it, but they’re not interested. And now we’ve got to whip up SAR-wide enthusiasm for the…” She pauses and looks away for a few seconds while rummaging through the filing cabinet of her mind. “…the Fourth All-China Games! It’s the first time Hong Kong will send a formal delegation. It’ll be in Hefei, which is in, um… Didn’t you see all the reports about the Flag Presentation Ceremony yesterday?”
She gushes about the event, at which Home Affairs Secretary Tsang Tak-sing and sports supremo Timothy Fok posed in their gleaming white Team Hong Kong blazers alongside our valiant young athletes.
I have to admit that I was too busy celebrating the 10th anniversary of World Intellectual Property Day.
“Well,” she explains, “the first thing we have to do now is choose a cartoon-style mascot, and a special slogan. Then we’ll have a theme song, performed by all our favourite local stars. Then we’ll print 20,000 huge plastic banners and hang them up on railings everywhere. Then we’ll start the hundred days countdown, and large numbers of schoolchildren will wave flags by the road as the sacred All-China Games flame comes through town.”
I hold my hand up to calm the excitable bureaucrat down and ask an important question.
“Is it an inestimable privilege for Hong Kong to be invited to take part?”
Winky freezes. There is a look of alarm in her eyes. “I… I’m not sure,” she eventually says. “I’ll have to check.”