On the top floor of S-Meg Tower, in the heart of Asia’s vibrant and throbbing financial services (and wine) hub, the Big Boss wraps up the morning meeting with a stern reminder that he expects all his senior management team to attend the ‘S-Meg Family Xmas Lunch Buffet Activity’ at noon right here in the big conference rooms. This is the second year that the Human Resources Department has held the S-MFXLBA.
It was the brainchild of young Purina Chau, the Assistant HR Manager who came to us after two years of absorbing dangerously radical ideas about employee relations in some trendy Western company like IKEA or Pret a Manger. Most of her suggestions, like modernizing the Staff Punishment Procedures Manual so painstakingly and lovingly compiled by her boss Doris Pang (ex-Correctional Services Dept and NKVD), were laughed out. Ditto her proposals to permit facial hair on males or trousers on women. But the Big Boss actually liked the idea of hosting a number of ‘colleagues’ from other ranks and departments – not just Alphas and Betas but Gammas, Deltas and even a few token Epsilons. Hong Kong officials, like the rest of the community, have been going off tycoons in recent years, and the word is out that bestowers of medals and honours will look favourably on up-to-date, touchy-feely employment practices and good corporate citizenship.
Thus it is that soon after noon a line of nervous, freshly spruced-up clerical functionaries, section heads and middle managers will form along one side of private office in preparation for the relaxed informal gathering at which they will be in the presence – for the first time in most cases – of our visionary Chairman and MD. After they troop into the meeting room, they will politely help themselves to a paper plate, chopsticks and a range of Maxims chicken, dumplings and noodles and Coke. They will steal discreet glances at the Big Boss and Number-One Son sitting on a sofa in the far corner being served soup in a silver bowl by the company chef. They will more brazenly gawp at the Company Gwailo casually sitting nearby him, nibbling a spring roll.
Ms Pang will look on disapprovingly, fingering the knuckle duster through her jacket pocket, worried that this fraternization among ranks will lead to disrespect and ill-discipline. In fact, the guests will automatically arrange themselves by stratum, the Epsilons sitting and whispering on a row of foldable stools nearest the door, Gammas nearer the middle on nicer chairs, dining off a coffee table. Only senior secretaries will straddle the lines between castes, and then sparingly and among fellow females no more than one rank higher or lower. There will be no speech. At a prearranged time, Deputy MD Mr Chan will tell a couple of department heads to lead their underlings out, and they will silently return to the lower floors or their offices outside Central.
Purina will find it all frustrating. “Not even a lucky draw,” she will sigh. Last year, I assured her that the lower-ranks feel awkward enough simply being in the same room as the Big Boss. If he approached them and spoke they would collapse in a stuttering heap of fear. She nodded and said they are meek enough even with her. She pointed to a spotty new hire, aged 18, who files things in accounts. “He brought his mother along to the job interview. She had to sit in. When I asked a question he looked at her and she replied for him.” Ms Pang likes them like that, she added. “They will be obedient.”
Out in Private Office, Ms Fang the Hunter-Killer Secretary is arranging Yuletide cards sent to the Big Boss by Hong Kong’s leading plutocrats, bureaucrats and toadies. One strikes my eye…
It shows that evocative Christmas scene, the Last Supper. And of course, Leonardo’s depiction of pre-crucifixion buns not being good enough, it has been altered. Among the goodies on the table, near a clay pot, are what can only be shark’s fins. These season’s greetings are so culturally and environmentally insensitive that I have absolutely no choice while the vicious PA’s back is turned but to steal the thing for my scrapbook of horrors.
On opening it, my heart leaps with joy. Who would have the poverty of taste to send out such a thing? It is from an art gallery called Kwai Fung Hin – based in Core Central rather than seedy old Hollywood Road, and apparently selling Western stuff to over-moneyed Chinese as much as vice-versa. Founded by an ex-banker, the company has “promoted cultural interflow between China and foreign countries.” I stealthily retreat from Ms Fang’s desk with my pilfered little treasure of cultural interflow. What a delightful start to the holiday!