Who should I see coming out of the Tribal Car Pet Cave on Hollywood Road this morning but elegant Administrative Officer Winky Ip? Why, I wonder, would she be frequenting the famous purveyors of exotic domesticated animals for trendy and glamorous people to keep in their luxury vehicles? Has she, perhaps, bought a Lexus and is thinking of enhancing it with a tame lion cub in a diamond collar to recline on the dashboard? Or could she be looking for a cute lemur to squat next to the Hello Kitty tissue box on the rear shelf of a new Mercedes and wave to children in passing school busses? Or has she become the proud owner of a truck-size people carrier and now wants to augment this ultimate success symbol among Hong Kong’s public-sector elite with a giant boa constrictor to slink around the seven passenger seats and flick the window contemptuously with its tongue as sweating pedestrians peer through the dark glass of the illegally parked palace to see who is keeping the engine running?
“Actually,” she snaps, “I was seeing the tailor upstairs about some alterations.” She is clutching a file and is clearly in a state of distress. I persuade her to join me for breakfast and a quick look through the newspapers, but no sooner have we settled into our favourite alcove at Yuet Yuen Restaurant and ordered their finest congee than her phone goes.
“Yes – the lost tree registration patrol!” she blurts out to the caller. “Yes I know it’s a disaster! Yes this is a secure line! Yes of course the press mustn’t learn about this at all! Or the unions!” She suddenly looks around, notices that curious faces have turned in her direction and runs out into the street for relative privacy.
It seems the agitated conversation will go on for some time, so I discreetly peruse the Top Secret, ‘Destroy After Reading’ pale yellow file from the old Environment, Transport and Works Bureau.
It was a job-creation scheme that went terribly wrong. Some years ago, to provide employment opportunities and foster the development of a more harmonious society, the government recruited several hundred long-term jobless on non-permanent contract terms to register and label every publicly owned tree in Hong Kong. All went well until a group of about a dozen mostly Nepalese workers set off into a remote, thickly wooded valley in Shing Mun Country Park. They never came back.
Search parties found that the trail of tagged trees extended nearly a kilometer into the thick jungle and mysteriously stopped, with no trace of anyone. The possibility that the workers were eaten by a tiger is officially ruled out. When the movie is made, they will be abducted by extraterrestrials in a giant UFO emitting a pink-purple glow and an eerie hum. Personally, I would like to think that they have seceded from the Big Lychee and founded an independent Hindu kingdom deep in the woods, and are living off cardamom-scented dhal and venerating a living goddess. The main suspicion, however, is that they defected en masse to illegal but better-paying recycling yards. That, at least, will be the Line to Take.
Winky storms back in as I nonchalantly take a sip of tea. “No, of course not!” she splutters down the phone as she grabs the file from the exact spot on the table where she left it. “It’s with me – absolutely no-one has seen it!”