Update from Hemlock

On the top floor of S-Meg Tower, deep in the heart of the central business district of Asia’s most throbbing and pulsating international financial hub, a spotty, greasy-haired youngish man in unfashionable spectacles struggles to type on a computer keyboard while having a 15-inch, wooden-handled, World War II Japanese ‘last ditch’ bayonet pressed tightly against his throat. It is a six-monthly ritual, and he knows that if he obeys every command his life will be spared.

“Put it back to the old password,” his calm but weary assailant tells him. “The old one was fine. No-one knew what it was, and I can remember it. If you make me change to a new one, I will have to write it on a bit of paper and stick it on the wall, which defeats the whole point – and kill you.”

Task completed, the scrofulous systems administrator stumbles from the Company Gwailo’s lair just as Ms Fang the Hunter-Killer Secretary comes pouting through the door. “He wants to see you,” she announces.

Seated at the triangular feng-shui table in the conference room, the Chairman of S-Meg Holdings is wiping drool from his mouth while flicking through a glossy magazine. Not just any magazine, but the latest edition of Every Big Boy’s List of Obscenely Rich People in Hong Kong. Without looking up, he barks for Ms Fang, who is next to him in a flash.

“Tell Mr Huang I want to send a hand-written letter in, you know, that old poetry, to congratulate Li Ka-shing for, um, coming top again.” The older he gets, the more compulsively the Big Boss needs to shoe-shine.

Peering over the great man’s shoulder, I notice that the head of Cheung Kong and Hutchison might not exactly appreciate glowing respects in classical verse or any other style. “It says here that his wealth last year declined from 24 billion to 22,” I point out. “US dollars, of course.”

Miffed, the Big Boss turns the page. His part-envious, part-admiring eyes alight on Cheng Yu-tung, 86-year-old head of the New World empire. He licks the saliva from his lips as he reads out a sentence declaring Cheng’s worth to have risen from US$9 billion to US$15 billion in 2011. He looks up in triumph. “Haven’t seen him for a while. I think a friendly note to recognize his achievement.”

Of course, Cheng – purveyor of fine bus and ferry services to Hong Kong’s teeming masses – did not really enjoy a massive boost to his pile last year. He floated the venerable Chow Tai Fook chain of jewelry stores (whose founder’s daughter I would have married had it been me), thus converting a private holding into a publicly listed one that the Forbes radar picks up.

The Big Boss is perfectly aware of this. Though he is not in the same league as the Big Lychee’s Top Ten Plutocrats, his wealth is also divided into the visible and the invisible. It is a matter of great frustration. List assets on the stock market, and you have to let the whole world know all about your personal finances. Keep them secretly tucked away in your own private vehicles, and no-one will ever know how disgustingly rich you are, never deeply hate and resent you for it, and never be tormented by burning jealousy – all those things that define success and make life worth living.

The octogenarian Mr Huang shuffles in carrying his ink and brushes.

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9 Responses to Update from Hemlock

  1. Real Tax Payer says:

    Did anyone else see the pic of Lau Wong- FAT that was posted last night on SCMP -on line just after his election victory ?

    Looking much older and much uglier than his previous statutory / library pics

    Leopards cannot change their spots and FAT Wong looks more and more like the real person he is

    Oh I am starting to hate so much that goes on behind the scenes in the big Lychee. But I still love the place despite J ” Electricity” Lau, Li the Ka Shing and that awful Henderson guy ( forget his name : Lee something something of 39 Conduit Road shame )

  2. Groot Oore says:

    What never ceases to amaze me is that even though the government is regularly lashed by the media over its blatant collusion with developers (see Holland in the SCMP today), it ignores all criticism and plunges ahead with pointless and costly infrastructure projects.

    It seems incredible that given the public’s mounting distaste of the grasping developers, anyone with an iota of sense would have realised that the public would not swallow the rationale given for reclamation at the 25 coastal sites.

    Or maybe the long-suffering Mrs Oore is right and the government cares what the people think only if it does not threaten the pouring of concrete. So damn thick skinned (the government as well).

  3. Joe Blow says:

    RTP, have you ever thought of starting your own blog ?

  4. Wag says:

    Lady Bracknell: As a matter of form, Mr. Li, I had better ask you if Miss Peony Frou-Frou has any little fortune?

    Ka Shing: Oh! about a hundred and thirty billion dollars in Hong Kong monopolies and property investments. That is all. Goodbye, Lady Bracknell, you sad old bytch.

    Lady Bracknell: [Sitting down again.] A moment, Mr. Li A hundred and thirty billion dollars! And in Hong Kong monopolies and cartels! Miss Peony Frou-Frou seems to me a most attractive young lady, now that I look at her.

    Ka Shing: Does that mean that my son gets to shag her?

    Lady Bracknell: Just as long as she doesn’t have to live in one of your rabbit hutch high-rise slums.

    Ka Shing: You’re on, Brackers. Put it there.

  5. stanley gibbons says:


    I take it your job description does not entail a requirement for a large dollop of circumspection?

  6. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ Groot Oore : AMEN and AMEN -my thoughts exactly

    @ Joe Blow : NO …. Hemmers is miles ahead of me intellectually ( and soft-ware – wise)
    I just try to contribute additional stuff where I feel I can do so responsibly ( like the recent Alex Lo op-ed, and sometimes Tom Holland and Jake )

    @ Stanley Gibbons : sorry – not quite sure what you mean (honestly) . My job has almost nothing to do with HK : my (employer’s ) company sells environmentally helpful ( anti-pollution) equipment to China – and to the whole world where we have a market niche. We only ever did clean, honest business even though our few competitors broke almost every Chinese law (like smuggling stuff in to evade VAT) . Nothing to hide . Zilch !

    But it’s like the gold old westerns of our childhood : Finally the good guys win. So good clean business finally wins over the dirty, nasty stuff ( and with luck the nasty guys go to jail – or the firing squad)

    Me … I intend to retire to China eventually. So of course I keep my nose very clean.

  7. Groot Oore says:

    @ RTP : Alex Lo has become a worthy rival to Tom and Jake. His take today, for instance, on local doctors putting themselves first was on the money.

  8. sen says:

    @RTP you studiously aviod any reference or cornish pastry to Michael Chugani- you know the fellow with a chip on every other shoulder. I would have thought you would prefer 3 aces in your SCMP hand rather then two. Tell me is it because is American?

  9. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ Sen

    I am also a fan of Michael Chugani when he gets it right, which is about one time in three theses days

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