Update From Hemlock

Just above the door in the conference room on the top floor of S-Meg Tower – in the heart of the bustling central business district of Asia’s zippiest international financial hub – is a dark-framed black and white photo of an elderly man. He gazes at the camera stiffly, though with dignity, from the confines of an iron lung. He is the late founder of S-Meg Holdings, who built the conglomerate up from humble origins, before bequeathing it to his number-one son. This morning, I fancy, the old man has a slight sneer as he looks down upon his heir.

The Big Boss has just returned from Beijing, where he attended the annual National People’s Congress/Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference fancy dress party, followed by a mildly discreet visit to his fat Mainland mistress to recover from the ordeal. Even in a good year, the NPC/CPPCC session is a chore Hong Kong tycoons hate; they are dragged away from vital work to sit around in a hotel waiting for mainland delegates to finish their naps, so long, turgid meetings can begin, day after day. The only relief comes from the Hong Kong press corps, who, in exchange for quotes about state leaders’ Delphic remarks, provide fresh gossip from the Big Lychee. And the word from back home this year was nerve-racking.

“I really, really wish I hadn’t given Henry my nomination,” the Big Boss mumbles. He looks at the backlog of junk mail – Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary weeds nothing out – strewn around on the shiny, triangular, good-feng-shui rosewood table. “Joseph Yam and David Li, they just kept calling me. Calling at night, at day, when I was in Singapore, when I was in Los Angeles. I just… couldn’t say no.”

I nod sympathetically. This is a sort of rehearsal of what he will say to CY Leung on March 28 or 29, or whenever the victorious Shandong-Transylvanian finally deigns to receive congratulatory tribute from those who so smugly and brazenly backed Beijing’s hand-picked Henry Tang. If it finally works out that way. If a grinning CY Leung makes the call to the establishment top dogs who hate him, and who were destined and entitled to have Hong Kong run by one of their own, before a last-minute illegal basement full of infidelities and bastard children came flying out of nowhere and turned the world upside down.

The messages are mixed. After 10 years of locking up Nobel-winning essayists, trendy artists and people who complain about poisoned milk, kindly Uncle Wen Jiabao says China needs democracy, freedom and apple pie. His comments on Hong Kong’s next Chief Executive are similarly uncertain. He could mean the most popular candidate will become Chief Executive; but he could be saying that the person who becomes Chief Executive will be the most popular – or we will run you over with a tank. I try to reassure the Big Boss with this cheering thought, but he is not convinced. It seems tantalizingly possible that the 7 million people of Hong Kong will get the casting vote.

The awful truth is that the dynamic, networking, string-pulling, access-enjoying leader of S-Meg Holdings may be in a state of having shoe-shined the wrong guy. It has never happened before, and it is the ultimate nightmare – a trap with no way out. Like waking up and finding yourself in a buried coffin. As he sifts aimlessly through the glossy newsletters and tacky invitations, he wonders aloud how he can avoid whatever vengeance CY as Chief Executive would wreak on him.

“I need to reach out. What about that factory in Indonesia we bought from those Chiu Chow people – the one that makes durian-flavoured cigarettes for children. Surely CY has a nephew who’d like it for a very good price, as a token of my esteem. It’s got the whole market sewn up.”

I try not to look skeptical. “The problem is… CY doesn’t, um…”

“No,” the Big Boss admits. “If he did, we’d know by now.”

CY doesn’t do tokens of esteem. The future looks hellish. Just as Hong Kong’s leading conglomerates wouldn’t last five minutes on a level playing field, so their owners’ status and influence will evaporate if just a hint of inclusion and meritocracy intrude on the existing system of insiders, favouritism and cronyism.

“How will things work?” the tycoon wails. “How will anyone get anything done?”

The strange thing is that S-Meg, and S-Meg’s employees, and S-Meg’s clients would probably be better off in a Hong Kong where we could all spend less on overpriced real estate and other cartelized goods and services, and more on other, even fun, stuff – be it durian-flavoured snacks, health care or whatever. But we have had this conversation before. It’s not about economics. Not even that much about power. It’s about preserving the elite’s self-image as the elite. What are they without that?

The Big Boss takes a sudden interest in a shiny brochure advertising Versailles-style beachfront property in Hainan. His father surveys the scene, as if to say, “I always told you to keep away from politics.”


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28 Responses to Update From Hemlock

  1. Real Tax Payer says:

    Hot off the press :

    “The Communist Party boss of China’s southwestern city of Chongqing, Bo Xilai, has been REMOVED , state news agency Xinhua said on Thursday, following a scandal with a senior aide who took refuge in a US diplomatic mission last month.

    Bo, who had been a high-profile contender for top leadership, has been the subject of much speculation since Vice Mayor Wang Lijun, his longtime police chief, went to ground in the US Consulate in nearby
    Chengdu until he was coaxed out and placed under investigation”

    Can’t wait until that happens to certain local CE- lection contenders, as happened to ole Tung

  2. Real Tax Payer says:

    Give me an honest wolf (WITH TEETH) any day rather than a shoe-shined/ tycoon-fed pig

  3. Tony says:

    The trouble with this analysis is the CY is a crook. Seems like everyone has been hoodwinked. You wanted Jekyll and you will get Hyde.

  4. Bela Lugosi says:

    “Like waking up and finding yourself in a buried coffin.”

    But some of us like waking up in a coffin.

    Deeferent strokes for deeferent folks.

    I couldn’t help noticing that as Mr Wen was making his quasi Eisenhower Military Industrial Complex valedictory, the government also announced that they can lock people up in secret locations for ever and ever if they feel like it and even ‘legally’.

    It’s good to know progress is being made.

    If only someone would tell that to Charles King Of Cancer Ho as he instructs his free organ The Standard to interpret Wen’s clear plug for Mr Leung as indecision.

  5. Mary Hinge says:

    I agree, RTP. Now, all we need to do is find an honest wolf.

    Be very careful what you wish for. Especially if it has teeth. Leung Chun Ying = Hugely Cunning.

    Me? I’m wishing for a James Tien inspired,* blank-ballotted no-score draw and some fresh candidates. Such would be much to Beijing’s chagrin (‘we thought we had it under control, but …), which would be even more entertaining.

    * ‘James Tien inspired’ – a candidate for oxymoron of the month?

  6. Burrito Chan says:

    The last time I was in Jakarta, I managed to pick up some durian flavoured condoms. Used on a young (or even not-so-young) lady of the appropriate nationality, they work an absolute treat. Unfortunately, explaining to the missus the source of the downstairs niff can be a bit tricky.

  7. PropertyDeveloper says:

    A very fine piece: in green, which as far as I remember, means that Hemlock is speaking in his own voice, not in wild Odell’s.

    But steady on, old chap. The sibylline pre-announcement has finally arrived (WDH can now exhale), its very tardiness a sure sign of great turbulence in the depths. And it implicitly supports CY, which is a revolutionary step in itself, the first time the emperor has changed his mind in the 9,000 years of the continuous peace and the social harmony. If Monday is the red-letter day for the Big Boss to be put out of his misery, that means the remaining shock horror stories must come out very soon.

    The seven million subjects can just indicate a preference between a savant idiot and an idiot savant, between Tweedledum and Tweedeledee, between someone who was stupid enough to present a target and someone who sneaked silently away into the rural dusk, fangs glistening. Hobson’s choice indeed.

    Interesting to see Tax Payer’s forays into darkest HK reported in yesterday’s Lai See. You must have been very well-dressed to be honoured with being called a “citizen”, rather than a number of other epithets that might spring to mind. Reminds me of Hemlock recently being called a “local”: what is the world coming to?

  8. PropertyDeveloper says:

    @ Bela: the indefinite detention applies to “very, very, very serious corruption cases” but not to “very, very serious ones” (my own translation), so you can set your heart at ease.

  9. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ Alan Freeman et al ( sorry for the bad pun) )

    Time to get ready for the Sevens…..

    This re-work of Neil Diamond still needs more polishing, but here’s my first attempt.

    All improvements welcome


    Where it began, I can’t begin to know when
    But then I know it’s growing strong
    Oh, wasn’t the spring, whooo
    And spring became the summer
    Who’d believe you’d come along

    Hands, touching hands, reaching out
    Grasping me, giving you
    Oh, sweet Collusion
    Being ripped off never seemed so good
    I’ve been inclined to believe it never would

    And now I look at my bank statement
    And it don’t seem so full
    You take it all – it goes to you
    And when I save
    What I save runs off my shoulder
    How can I save when paying you?

    Oh, one, touching one, reaching out
    Bleeding me, filling you
    Oh, sweet Collusion
    Good times never seemed so bad
    Oh I’ve been inclined to believe it never had

  10. maugrim says:

    All of you, stop right there this instant. Ok, I can tolerate the wolf, maybe even the pig, but as soon as anyone who begins a sentence with ‘James Tien says’ with any pretence of sanity, that is going way too far. Think about what you are saying, just think, James Tien and rational thought? James Tien and community minded logic? Just what has this ‘election’ done to us, won’t anyone stop this madness? Snap out of it before its too late. Stop drinklng the tap water, there’s obviously some Liberal Party funded ‘kool aid’ thats been added. Don’t say you weren’t warned. Love, Uncle Maugrim.

  11. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ Uncle Maugrim

    Stick to Newcastle Brown ( or Guinness)

    (and don’t join mensa)


  12. PropertyDeveloper says:

    How about “bloating” for “filling”, “graft oh so fine” for “Collusion”, and replacing the first two “save”s with “work” and “earn”? If these ideas don’t work, I think you still need -ine at the end of the 8th line.

  13. Alan Freeman says:

    @ Real Tax Payer

    Way to go, pop picker!!!


    Fluff XXXX

  14. Semolina Woggle says:

    There is something about RTP that is starting to scare me. It’s almost like my mum – everything she thinks she verbally articulates. Everything RTP thinks he posts. Here.

  15. Stephen says:

    @ Tony,

    CY Leung is many things, and will certainly not introduce meaningful democratic reforms to Hong Kong, but a crook. How? Thus far all the Establishment and Hank Horse have been able to dig up is

    His team went to NT dinner and a triad showed up ?

    His company provided some real estate advise to a bidder in the West Kowloon debacle. He was a judge and favouring the bid, without knowing who the bidder was. The end result is the firm didn’t win as these things are always ‘awarded’ to Foster.

  16. Walter De Havilland says:

    @PD. I’m not so sure I can exhale, in any case life will never be the same again. The people have tasted blood in this election and I suspect they like the taste … just when I thought Hong Kong was becoming boring it jumps up and bites you.

    @SW. RTP’s stream of consciousness is a welcome diversion from government ‘lines to take’ and the spoon fed the local media.

  17. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ PD

    Sorry – I’m not Laisee’s “deep throat” But I after reading yesterday’s most amusing Laisee I actually did pay a visit to the ET campaign office because it’s close to mine to check out the story, and it was very much as Laisee reported . Cold , stark and bare. And they did not let me in although I was wearing a suit and tie

    So much for Henery Tang – man of the people

    I have not yet checked out CY’s office, but I guess it will be pretty much as described : scruffy and full of buzz. Might do that today.

    Back to much more important matters:

    I like your changes , especially the ” Graft oh so fine” , and it also scans much better . And yes, the last 2 lines need a lot more work. My present attempt is very lame

    ( come on Alan – surely you can chip in ?)

  18. PropertyDeveloper says:

    “Oh, axxx-lick and shoeshine”? “seemed” -> “felt”? “ripped” -> “jxxxed”/”sxxxed”?

  19. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ PD

    I like the ‘shoe shine’ . Need to work that in somewhere

    Give it a go yourself … but remember :

    a) the original song had ‘ seem’ not ‘seemed’ and that seemed ( sorry-la) to me somehow crucial to the original / cannot change

    b) there are children present so we need to be decent if we sing this at the Sevens

    PS : I take it you are a GOOD tycoon / PD , and not REDA’s 5th columnist on this site 🙂

  20. Hendrick says:

    …………….some years back I was working in Johannesburg and trotted along to the local branch of MENSA pencil in hand ready for a test. To my great surprise it turned out to be a gay club.

  21. Chopped Onions says:

    Oh god! Get a room you two

  22. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ Semolina Woggle

    No I don’t write everything I think . When you join mensa they drill a small hole at the back of your brain and drain out all the excess IQ until you have just enough left to fill out a blank electoral voting form

    In my case they left more than they intended so I can still ( just ) sign my name


  23. Cardboard Miranda says:


    I am forming the impression that this Mensa brain drilling and draining business might also include a cranium-cavity top-up comprising pig-shit and soggy smarties.

  24. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ ALL

    Sorry to hog the limelight today : I decided to work at home

    The only problem is that our dear Amah thinks I’ve gone crazy because I keep laughing so much every time I log on to the Big Lychee

  25. PropertyDeveloper says:

    And sorry about the obscene lapse — it just seemed to fit (oops!).

    I keep reading echoes of Hemlock, the latest in a circular from one of the democratic parties, but also in the SCMP — unless of course he himself is picking up verbal tics and unusual interpretations from them.

    @ RTP: yes I’ve been a 3/4-time PD for 8 or 9 years, but in a very small and independent way, and when not indulging in another gainful activity. Thanks for the offer, but I think I’ll leave the creative poetic work to you and your alter ego.

  26. Real Tax Payer says:


    OK … you are not a REDA mole . That’s good to know

    And just for the record, I am REAL TAX PAYER ( a few HK$ hundred thousand per year – that really hurts because I don’t dodge a cent* )

    * unlike enery with his Bermuda ( BVI ? ) listed properties

    And OK : I will work on the anti-tycoon version of “Sweet Caroline” over this weekend, taking into account all suggestions in the meantime

  27. Walter De Havilland says:

    @RTP. Keep it coming my friend. You have nothing to apologise for.

    Just seen that eunuch LAM, our delightful rat-like CS, may be out of a job soon. That will gladden my heart and cause some cheer in the De Havilland household. I once met him and within minutes I had an overwhelming urge to take a cricket bat to his head. Mrs DH suggested that would not be wise, whilst I could not find a cricket bat at hand.

  28. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ WDH

    Thanks for the endorsement, my friend-in-thinking

    Today was especial cos I just took the whole day off and let it roll just for once .

    Our Amah still cannot understand why I kept breaking into laughter every hour or so

    Thanks to hemlock ( in green) . Today , for me, was also just “one of those days”

    But more seriously ( for those still following , which is surely few) :

    We are at pivotal point in HK’s future CE Elections.

    I think that BJ never expected this degree of mud-racking (although I suspect BJ tipped off re ET’s basement cellar – I mean how long could that go UNdetected if he is elected ?! )

    How we ( I mean HK) handle this will probably affect the whole future of China re democracy, and also the whole Taiwan question.

    There are much bigger stakes than ‘wolf vs pig’

    I am deadly serious


    rtp is just a single tiny voice in the wilderness

    Doubtless BJ has already decided who will win on 25 MARCH

    But I do hope that rtp has voiced an opinion that will eventually better 1/4 of mankind

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