Shivering, I enter the cozy Yuet Yuen restaurant to find shapely Administrative Officer Winky Ip waiting for me in the alcove just at the door. I sit down and peel off my furry Tibeto-Norwegian cap, my mothball-scented, 12-foot pashmina yellow scarf, and my shiny, puffy Shenzhen ripoff nylon ski jacket.
“It’s an intense winter monsoon,” the highly informed civil servant tells me. “The Number Three Mild Weather Warning was lifted at midnight, and the government issued a Blue Low Temperature Alert. Members of the public are reminded to wear appropriate attire, if they can remember where they put it last February.” Outside the window, the Eskimo sartorial disaster streams past.
Noodles arrive, and I congratulate the brilliant bureaucrat and her colleagues on successfully bringing Hong Kong through another week, unscathed by the natural and man-made horrors that afflict the rest of the planet. “Well,” she replies, “I must say I think we’ve done a good job of getting the earthquake threat down about as far it you can get it.”
“And,” I add, “getting the Philippine government to agree on cash compensation for those who lost loved ones in the Manila bus hijacking tragedy.”
Winky looks slightly uncomfortable and lowers her voice. “I’m not sure it really will be in cash,” she says. “That country doesn’t have any. I think they’re going to hand out vouchers. The victims’ families will be able to redeem them for a domestic helper for ten years. It’s actually quite a good deal, but, you know – some people would rather have the money.”
I can’t resist asking her a question on everyone’s lips. “When will our leaders admit that the Asian Games 2023 idea stinks, and everyone hates it and it isn’t going to happen?”
Winky puts her cup of sow mei onto the Formica tabletop with a splash. “It doesn’t ‘stink’! It will lead to a better lifestyle and benefit our next generation!” She reels off a list of dazzling reasons why we must hold the quasi-Olympics extravaganza.
Overseas athletes, she says, will almost certainly warn that they might not attend because of the air pollution; therefore the Hong Kong authorities will take firm action on the problem. “We’re going to halve levels of life-threatening noxious emissions for a continuous two-month period in the second half of 2023.”
Then, she goes on, the whole city will become hugely enthusiastic about sport and exercise, resulting in significant boosts to physical well-being. “We’ve calculated,” she tells me, “that this will increase Hong Kong people’s life expectancy by three to five years, raise primary school students’ IQs by an average of 12 points, raise teenagers’ exam results by around 10%, make men’s penises two inches longer, and give all women the same effects as extract of Milky Lotion® Andean Chamomile Hydrating Essence and Neck Serum – simultaneously slimming and toning and leaving them with skin that is pale, smooth and flawless.”
I am still not convinced. She leans forward and angrily wags a chopstick in my face. “The games will also significantly increase community cohesion!”
I roll my eyes and give Winky my best look of world-weary cynicism. After a few seconds, she drags her Jimmy Choo Rikki bag over, pulls out a small, finely carved wooden box and sets it down before me. She gently opens the lid to reveal a slightly yellowish, resinous-looking powder. “This,” she declares solemnly, “is community cohesion.” She licks a fingertip and lifts a small trace of the substance to her tongue. “Try it,” she urges.
I go ahead. I was expecting something like asfoetida, but instead the stuff has a sweet, lemony flavour. It also gives me a strangely warming sensation. “Wow,” is all I can say at first. “You know, it makes me feel like being extra nice to old people and encouraging them to look after their teeth.”
Winky nods approvingly. “You don’t need to tell me,” she replies. “What does it make you think about – oh, let’s say, railways?”
“There’s no doubt,” I tell her. “We really need a HK$69 billion-plus-plus high-speed rail line from West Kowloon to Shenzhen. Also – may I say – I hope the government will ignore claims that it is embarrassing Hong Kong overseas by using superstition as an excuse to give bribes to scumbags, and carry on handing money over in feng shui compensation for many years to come. As a taxpayer, I feel privileged to contribute to traditional local culture in this way.”
Winky blinks and looks slightly surprised. She takes the box of community cohesion back.
“One last thing,” she says, turning very serious. “If for any reason Hong Kong does not get the 2023 Asian Games, there could be severe repercussions for our society.” I listen carefully. “Without the Asian Games, Hong Kong’s tourists receipts will be lower than would otherwise be the case, and Ocean Park will have no choice but to buy our two much loved, cute and friendly panda bears nasty inferior Vietnamese bamboo to eat rather than the vitamin-rich but more-expensive Thai fragrant bamboo they currently enjoy.”
“Oh my God,” I blurt out, “You mean Flopsy and Mopsy…”
“Yes.” Winky looks me straight in the eye. “We’re announcing it next week. Unless we hold the Asian Games, Flopsy and Mopsy will suffer slow, agonizing deaths through malnutrition. Think about it.”