This was to be the week of chaos on the buses – the End Time of Hong Kong’s transport network, when striking drivers would leave millions of commuters stranded miles from the office, and the streets would be either totally deserted or jammed solid, according to taste. Instead the industrial action fizzles out, partly because the difference between the labour side’s pay demand and the management’s offer is too tiny to bother with, and partly because “Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains” never caught on here, where the existence of rival pro-Beijing and pro-democracy umbrella unions strengthens employers’ hands.
Those of us expecting a great excuse not to go to work for several days are therefore bitterly disappointed. Or at least we would be if we had ever though there was a realistic prospect of labour militancy bringing the Big Lychee to its knees, as envisioned by semi-messianic proletarian spokesmen and an excitable media. The only time within living memory for most of us when daily life seized up in this city was SARS, the 2003 pestilence inflicted on us by official cover-ups on the Mainland, which drove the hordes of tourists away for a couple of months of glorious, peaceful, uncrowded bliss.
Otherwise, it is one disappointment after another. One of the hugest anticlimaxes of recent years officially came to an end just yesterday when we were informed that “The world is no longer in phase six of the pandemic alert.” That was WHO Director-General Margaret Chan, formerly Hong Kong’s Secretary for Health, now Serving the Community on a global scale by ruling over a sprawling bureaucracy that issues dire warnings of swine flu plague that are ignored by most right-thinking governments. Our own leaders, possibly seeing the Chan-led WHO as a sort of extension of Hong Kong’s (or at least the Civil Service’s) ‘soft power’ onto the world stage, took the international organization seriously up to phase four or five or so. But even our own Centre for Health Protection gave up flogging this dead(ish) virus last May. (That said, you can be sure they are still beavering away collecting reams of statistics on the barely noticeable disease, and will be for decades to come. Sorry, no data on the damage caused to people’s lungs by air pollution, because it’s sort of icky, but would you like a non-communicable diseases watch?)
I may not have been totally awake while brushing my teeth this morning, but I could have sworn that I heard radical medic Dr Lo Wing-lok mischievously suggesting on the radio that the whole swine flu scare was little more than a way to induce authorities around the world into enriching pharmaceutical companies by buying vast quantities of H1N1 vaccine. A scandal? More like a wacky conspiracy theory, surely. The very notion that a former Hong Kong senior civil servant would get herself a post-retirement position in which she could collude with big business at the expense of the public is unthinkably shocking. It was obviously my doziness, or the station’s appalling AM reception. I had to wipe a mouthful of frothy Colgate off the bathroom mirror, so ridiculous was the idea.