Weekend leaves a bad taste in the mouth

The weekend presented its usual range of fun options for those of us eager to experience all that Hong Kong has to offer: march through the streets for an incoherent blend of causes, stay at home and read on-line magazines, or go to the pub. The highly productive among us even managed to squeeze in two of these choices.

Atlantic asked why Hong Kong’s government is pushing Islamic finance, while the Islamist regime in Tunisia is not. The article answers only the second part of the question: the new government in Tunis is realistic enough not to alienate international business with Sharia banking. The writer goes easy on the hypocrisy and deception involved in supposedly Muslim-friendly finance. In order to comply with the Koran’s ban on usury, borrowers and lenders re-style themselves in such a way that a loan can be termed a service or investment and the interest some sort of fee or dividend. Apparently, God is dumb enough to be fooled by it. (Apart from a Muslim friend who gives up beer for Ramadan, my favourite bit of religious duplicity is the eruv, a special zone in which devout Jews may ‘enjoy Shabbat to the full’. Screw scripture, in short.)

So why is Hong Kong keen on Islamic finance?

The protestors yesterday were complaining about Beijing’s interference in the quasi-election and calling for CY Leung to stand down before he even starts his new job as Chief Executive. Other people are less freaked out by the Mainland’s role in the process because it’s the norm, and because on this occasion it backfired horribly and we have ended up with a CE-elect who just might give the city an overdue shake-up. One indicator will be whether he gets sidetracked with silly and frivolous projects like making the Big Lychee Asia’s dynamic, thrusting Islamic banking centre.

The old regime picked up on the Islamic finance fad a good five years after any bank worth its salt had either begun offering such services or decided not to bother. As with other lame attempts to make Hong Kong a ‘hub’ for some or other industry, it was the campaign of a government with no confidence in Hong Kong’s future and desperate for ideas – the smaller the better. Malaysia was pushing Islamic banking, so we should too. Any subsequent activity in the sector was lauded as a great achievement of our visionary bureaucrats. And all hail the HK Islamic Index. At least they didn’t blow billions by giving Muslim banks free land.

It is easy to see why Atlantic preferred the Tunisia-angle of the story. To make myself feel better, I decided on a drink. And in a bar in Happy Valley, as it happens, I found myself facing a tap for something called Somersby. I should have known better. It describes itself as ‘apple cider’, as if there is any other sort. The name is obviously dreamed up by some marketing committee – a feeble play on Somerset, the English county that produces the real thing. The barman asked if I wanted it on ice, for heaven’s sake. But I couldn’t resist seeing how awful it was.

And it is truly revolting. Genuine unrefined farmhouse cider is unavailable in Hong Kong, and is probably not in tune with poplar tastes, which would balk at the dry taste and cloudy appearance, let alone the wasps floating in it. Brands like Bulmers and Strongbow are here. I’ve always treated them with some disdain, but after the first sip of Somersby I was full of forgiveness for them. The overpoweringly sweet and sickly Somersby tastes not so much of fermented apple juice as of Ethyl-2-methylbutyrate.

When God was not writing rules banning Muslims from charging interest or barring Jews from pushing babies round in buggies on Saturdays, he was rolling out a wide and exciting range of fruit. He cleverly calculated that by making them tasty, mammals would eat them and thus spread the seeds around and enable the trees to go forth and multiply with ease (and of course enable a certain serpent to lure Eve into breaking yet another rule, with all the consequences that followed). One of the reasons apples taste the way they do is the presence of Ethyl-2-methylbutyrate.

One of the reasons. Many other compounds contribute to the flavor – indeed, flavours – of the apple. Food scientists reach for containers of Ethyl-2-methylbutyrate when they want a sort of fake, plasticky ‘apple’ flavor for, say, bubble gum. Or alco-pop. Somersby, made by Carlsberg, is an alco-pop that won’t admit it. It was originally aimed at the Scandinavian consumer and marketed with a suitably fake British image involving one Lord Somersby. The slightly surreal website swears that no artificial flavourings are in the stuff. Maybe they have bred a special apple that tastes like a chemical as part of a strategy aimed at seven-year-olds fond of a tipple with a 4.7% alcohol content. CY Leung should order the police to use the stuff as a harsher alternative to pepper spray. The anti-everything protestors would steer well clear of the Liaison Office if they thought trays of this concoction were waiting for them.

And no, barely amusing tongue-in-cheek videos do not make up for the unspeakable vileness of this beverage.

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24 Responses to Weekend leaves a bad taste in the mouth

  1. Bela Lugosi says:


    PART 1

    RULE: A vampire cannot enter a place where he has not been invited.

    EVIDENCE: Dracula says “Enter freely and of your own free will” to Jonathan Harker as he enters Castle Dracula for the first time.  Dracula is being more than hospitable. He is inviting Jonathan to more than a business dealing. Jonathan’s entering of his own free will, albeit naively, demonstrates that many vampire victims willingly submit to the power of the vampire.  They become tantalized or hypnotized, suggesting the seductive manipulations that cause the victim to willingly expose his/her throat.  Arthur Holmwood is temporarily hypnotized by Lucy’s invitations to “kiss” her until Van Helsing pulls him away, much to Lucy’s displeasure. Mina Harker is also hypnotized by Dracula’s spell as he opens a vein in his chest to allow her to drink. A vampire cannot enter a place where he has not been invited, hence Dracula’s using Renfield as an opportunity to get into the asylum that is housing Mina for safety. 

    COMMENTARY: Expect CY to take up many invitations in the coming weeks as he captivates the populace with his presence. Older and more superstitious elements in the primitive areas of his domain, sensing the coming of the Night, may erect barriers or even actual barricades to obstruct his progress.

    PS: “I saw… Count Dracula… with the red light of triumph in his eyes, and with a smile that Judas in hell might be proud of.” Jonathan Harker’s Journal, Dracula, Chapter 4.

  2. Dr No says:

    What next Hemlock, will you be growing a beard and joining CAMRA?

  3. Adrian says:

    1. Pear cider?
    2. Although it sounds like a copout, the eruv is still quite strict:
    “The following activities are never permitted on Shabbos:

    Athletic activities e.g. bicycle riding, tennis, swimming, skating, ball playing
    Watering the lawn, gardening, picking flowers and fruits, etc.
    Playing with water, playing in a sprinkler, playing in a sandpit
    Putting rubbish out for collection, mailing letters
    Bringing gifts to hosts on Shabbos or Yom Tov
    Even within the Eruv there are a number of common articles which, because they are classified as Muktzah, may not be carried or handled on Shabbos at home. Following is a partial catalogue of Muktzah items.

    Any item whose main use is prohibited on the Shabbos, e.g. hammer, writing implement, wallet, purse, notepad, etc.
    Any item which is neither food nor a utensil that has a practical use on the Shabbos, e.g. money, animal, stone, credit card, etc.
    Any item so valuable that one expends extra care for its safety, e.g. passport, cheque, expensive painting, merchandise set aside for sale, etc.
    Any item attached to its source of growth at the onset of Shabbos but which fell from its source of growth during Shabbos, e.g. fruit which fell from a tree.
    Any item which cannot be used on Shabbos or whose intended use is for after Shabbos, e.g. car key or office key.
    An umbrella may not be carried even if opened before Shabbos or Yom Tov.
    Gardening equipment, tools, athletic equipment.”

  4. PropertyDeveloper says:

    1. Perry?

  5. Real Tax Payer says:

    Well I too had a relaxing weekend, and enjoyed a re-run of ” You don’t mess with the Zohan” on channel TV.

    There’s a distinct resemblance between the arabic guy with dark glasses doing kung fu in the Somersby video and the Phantom in the Zohan film

    Incidentally, if you have never seen the Zohan film it’s well worth it both for the pretty nubile girls on the beach scene at the beginning, and for the “message” at the end.

  6. Secular Humanist says:

    As justified as complaints about the crapulence of HK’s governance may be, at least our society isn’t fundamentally organised around religious nuttery.

  7. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ Secular Humanist & BL

    True …. unless you consider vampires as part of “religion” in the bigger sense

    (BTW : I loved the howling wolf banner, black on yellow, in yesterday’s storm-in-a-teacup mini-demo yesterday )

    @ Adrian : I never realized that the eruv was so strict, but then again I never realized that rational people could take the sabbath ( sorry : “shabbath” ) till I started corresponding with a guy in Israel about mutual collecting hobby sort of thing . He is completely rational 6 days of the week, but then goes nutters on the shabbath.
    And on the next day = our sunday , he regails me with a total account of what he did ( or rather did not do) the day before.

    As my mother used to say : If God did not intend us to have foreskins, why are we born with them ?

  8. Joe Blow says:

    did he ‘regail’ by email ?

  9. pcrghlll says:

    As a west country boy, I can recommend the ciders in The Globe (not to mention the surprisingly good food). Going to a bar in Happy Valley is asking for trouble.

  10. Iffy says:

    Bela – some friends of mine would love to know if it is safe to blend Korean ginseng and garlic supplements – please advise.

  11. Stephen says:

    One thing not to do on the weekend is watch the Michael Chugani show on ATV. This week he managed to let Allen Semen spout crap for 20 minutes which, if he had done his homework, he could have shown were contradictory to both his previous actions and comments reported in the media.

    Dr. Semen now believes in Universal Suffrage and also believes CY’s (who he has been chums with for years!) success is dependent on who he selects for Exco – read him.

    So I got myself all ‘het up’ on what was supposed to be a quiet weekend after last weekend’s rugby / booze up.

  12. Iffy says:

    pcrghlll – I can heartily second that, and the range of non-ciders is great too. It’s the only place in HK I can find Little Creatures pale ale.

  13. maugrim says:

    Seriously, for anyone who loves some decent scrumpy, on tap in Happy Valley just doesn’t do it. Local beer here has formaldehyde so nothing surprises me. Im surprised talk about the Kwoks has subsided. Theories are interesting, a brother kidnapped, other brothers dont pay the ransom. possible revenge, investigators knowing where to look, the possibility that the new CE asked the incumbent what was going on , hence action. Who needs Hollywood?

  14. Hendrick says:

    Hendrick rejected lazy religious rituals and spent weekend concluding the painting our vastly overpriced apartment. We may complain about the meagre size of HK property, but have you tried painting one ? Not cider, but Duvel is the perfect mid and end of day restorative for an emulsion splattered brush and roller man.

  15. Bela Lugosi says:


    Most things are safe for humans to consume, given the autonomous vomit reflex.

    I think your mixture is thus safe.

  16. TheGlobe says:

    Thanks pcrghlll and Iffy we do have cloudy dry cider, but minus the wasps.

  17. Old Timer says:

    Ice in cider is fairly traditional, as referenced in Withnail & I: “Two large gins and two pints of cider; ice in the cider.”

  18. Real Tax Payer says:

    Just remember the golden rule:

    “Beer on cider make a good rider

    Cider on beer make ‘ee feel queer”

  19. Old Timer says:

    Talking of Zeman, I saw him at Ocean Park dressed up as Fagin from Oliver Twist the other day; or thought I did, till I discovered he was in fact supposed to be a Chinese God of Something-or-other, promoting some Tang Dynasty Dodgem Cars or whatever. Scary stuff.

  20. PCC says:


    A small but significant correction: they did pay the HK$600MM ransom, but only after rejecting Broken Tooth’s original demand of $1 billion. Their initial response was something along the lines of, “$1 billion? Are you crazy? You can have him!”

  21. Incredulous says:

    Not talking of Semen – why does anyone bother? Who exactly is he? Do the locals even know who he is? He’s a jumped-up nobody who fancies he’s a local because he bought a Chinese passport. Nobody actually listens to him or gives a fuck what he thinks. I just hope locals don’t think he represents the opinions of the gweilos. He’s an embarrassment.

  22. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    The cider industry has received a big boost in Australia in recent years as many state governments applied extra social taxes to alcopops, but not ciders. Maybe the Australian brewers are trying to spread this affectation.

    Going back to Sydney and discovering cider everywhere is a little disconcerting, not unlike discovering there are shops that now sell nothing but cupcakes. Clearly testosterone levels have plummeted since I left.

  23. Joe Blow says:

    the platinum rule:

    wine after beer gives good cheer
    beer after wine is not so fine

    by the way, cider is to Europeans what rye whiskey is to Americans: it’s for sissies.

    good beers available in HK (sometimes): Jever, Leffe, Hop Duvel….

  24. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    Joe Blow – I learned it as:
    “Beer and grass, you’re on your arse
    Grass and beer, you’re in the clear”

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