Morning in Perpetual Opulence Mansions, and the two Filipino elves let themselves in and report for duty. They are always on the lookout for additional sources of income. With the help of home-made black French maids’ costumes, they do waitressing on the Peak dinner party circuit (HK$500 a night each plus unimaginable reclaimed leftovers). An evening per week with a simple fishing line off Lantau yields at least two hundred small squid for delivery to a restaurant at 20% off the market price. And now, they excitedly explain, they have done a deal for yet another ‘part-time’.
It arises from the mystery of the old Marine Police HQ. Property giant Cheung Kong paid for what the government estimated to be 4,300 sq m of space to wreck the unique heritage site, yet later found it had taken possession of 5,600. To weary old cynics it seemed perfectly clear: a civil servant’s error in paperwork had miraculously translated into immense benefits to a property developer. For what – only the 218th time since 1978? Now it transpires that no actual mistake was made. The 4,300 sq m figure was just an estimate and not related to the sum paid by the developer. To avoid confusion in the future, the government will simply not bother producing estimates when selling historic buildings off to grasping tycoons.
The elves, however, have other ideas. “We think this makes the government look really stupid,” says the elder one. “So we’ve found a solution – and our charges will be very reasonable.” Their plan, which they demonstrate on the kitchen floor, involves what they say is an old Filipino system taught to most schoolchildren at an early age. One of them pulls a tape measure out along one short wall of the oblong room and reads out the length. She then repeats the process with a longer wall. “Now,” the younger elf demonstrates with a calculator, “we multiply the two lengths, and… there we have the answer.” She shows me the exact area, down to the nearest square centimetre. They have already signed a contract with Secretary for Development Carrie Lam and expect to get their first job soon.
“That’s all very well,” I tell them, “But first we need to get these Christmas presents wrapped.” I point to a pile of intensely desirable items on the kitchen table. “Just as we need to get the bathroom cleaned, and those shirts ironed, and a lightbulb changed in the living room, and so on.” I take one last look at the treasures that Santa will be giving my nearest and dearest this festive season. They are not just exceptional – they are pretty much unique.
For wild American friend Odell: a DVD. A little known Korean contribution to the cinematic arts: Teenage Hooker Became a Killing Machine. It was either that or the whale meditation CD, or a steamy 90-minute session with Jane. The latter was especially tempting: it is in fact a synchronization of Lady Kwan Yin’s Magnified Healing, Egyptian Goddess Sekhmet’s Sekhem, Lord Pleiades’ Life-force Matrix Energy, touch and sound therapy – 360-degree healing that helps to clear away blockages that may stem from karmic issues. And let’s not forget the channeled messages from Ascended Masters and Archangels. Not what he would have been expecting. The karmic issues, and there are many, will have to wait for next year.
For delectable Administrative Officer Winky Ip: a rare mood-altering beverage (or it will be if Massachusetts catches up with it). German chocolate flavour Whipped Lightening canned alcoholic foamy cream. The makers limply suggest squirting it on a silly cocktail. It will certainly jazz up the nasty Maxim’s sponge cakes served up at civil service Christmas parties next week. But I think we all know what this stuff is really for, and that is what makes this present absolutely unique: it comes with the recipient’s choice of Executive Council member to lick it off her body. And – this is the clincher which took some organizing – late at night on the Star Ferry! I can’t wait to see the look on her face. For the Big Boss, the man who has everything: an exceedingly rare honour. Forget the outdated old OBEs and MBEs cadged off the British. Drop the silly and barely credible Legions d’Honneur begged from the Luxembourg honorary consul. Puff your chest up and thrust that puce and lime green ribbon in the faces of all your friends and rivals at the highest levels of Hong Kong’s business elite, even Duke Dr Raymond Li of Constantinople, and say: “We’ve all got a Gold Bauhinia Star, sonny, but I’m a Companion of the Most Admirable Order of the Diregunbhorn!” Only one person on the planet – indeed, on the entire Internet – has one (it’s obviously lonely being a companion), and that’s a crappy Fourth Class version. If this doesn’t get me a pay rise, nothing will. (Actually, it’s a typo: the medal is as common as a Po Leung Kuk charity sticker on Saturday, only infinitely more tawdry. But he’ll never know.)
For all the senior management at Cathay Pacific: something they desperately, deep down, want more than anything in the world. No, not a cure for premature graying, but an answer to the question of why they all suffer from it. Is it something in the tea? Is there a sudden shock at some stage in their career that leaves their hair white (like learning how much more they could have earned at Jardines)? Is it the pressure, the grind, the trauma, or a side-effect of some parasite they pick up when stationed in some unspeakable tropical outpost? Is it a policy laid down by ashen-headed elders in the Swire family to dismiss anyone who still rejoices in pigmented hirsuteness by their mid-40s? This would be a present for all of us, but sadly I don’t have it.
For members of the Hemlock clan scattered around four continents: a quintessentially Hong Kong gift that brings together all the dynamism and charm of our exotic East-meets-West home. It’s a lovely picture of Lan Kwai Fong supremo Allan Zeman ravaging an apparently appreciative legislator Regina Ip, in a highly tasteful frame. Perfect addition to office or home. Plays Baby I’ve Got News For You by Big Boy Pete. (Batteries not included.)
For the most intelligent and handsome person I know, viz myself: a classic film: Medium Cool, directed by Haskell Wexler. Undemanding plot in which a Chicago TV news cameraman confronts ethical issues, including some weak acting and a rather low budget. The big deal is that Wexler wrote the screenplay and started shooting in the lead-up to the Democratic National Convention in 1968. He wrote a riot (which was widely expected) into the script, and used the actual cop-driven street violence when it happened as a set. Thus the actors move from a work of fiction into a piece of documentary journalism while staying in character. To a Frank Zappa soundtrack. Click to see the opening credits, complete with (the main reason to click) instrumental Emotions by Love.
“Oh,” I add before I leave for a leisurely few hours in the office, “and we need to go down to the supermarket and get cumin, olive oil and toothpaste and the other things on the list on the fridge.”