The mood on the Mid-Levels Escalator this morning is one of unabashed exhilaration, as Hongkongers of all ages glide down the hill to IFC Mall to pay tribute to everyone’s favourite cute and cuddly pickled prehistoric pachyderm. Children, having tossed their Hello Kitty and Mickey Mouse accessories aside, sport ‘I love plucky little Lyuba’ T-shirts and carry carrots and boxes of Meltykiss chocolates for the cheeky but adorable 42,000-year-old baby mammoth.
Inside the shopping centre, they crowd round and squeal with delight as the little she-calf performs such endearing tricks as standing on its hind legs and balancing a beach ball on its trunk. For the adults, however, something is missing. Why, of course – it is Thomas Kwok, co-boss of Sun Hung Kai Properties, joint owner of the sprawling complex.
Some of us would like to ask him about the timing of this public-spirited event with its free admission and educational kids’ worksheets. It seems a bit too quickly organized to be designed to divert our attention from his problems with the Independent Commission Against Corruption. But since when has IFC Mall ever done altruism? We would also, while we’re on the subject, like to know more about being arrested by the ICAC. Do the sleuths do a full body cavity search? Do you get only plain congee to eat? After all, it could happen to anyone.
Others among us would like to pose the long-haired tycoon some questions about his fundamentalist Christianity. As a biblical literalist who gave Hong Kong a life-size replica of Noah’s Ark, he must believe that the entire universe is only 6,000 years old, and the carbon dating of the charming Lyuba therefore flawed. Yet his own mall pronounces her to be from the glacial Pleistocene period.
During her delightful visit to the shores of the Big Lychee, Lyuba is currently our favourite well-preserved relic of ancient times. But after she moves on to the next stage of her world tour – captivating young and old wherever she goes with her wit and charm – Hong Kong will still have former colonial official Sir David Akers-Jones.
I notice with sorrow that the Time Out interview with the Pleistocene bureaucrat reveals him to be one of the lost white tribe of Hong Kong gwailos whose glory days were long ago and who now live in obscure semi-poverty. Many are tucked away on Lamma Island or similar far-flung outcrops, where they pass the remnants of their lives as happily pickled as Lyuba, if not more so. Others, more attuned to the urban lifestyle, are clustered around Lockhart Road; to quote the article:
“I spent all my years in the government knocking other people’s houses down, and yet now my own house is being knocked down.”
The compensation paid by the government, according to Akers-Jones, was not enough to buy a new house, so he has been renting a flat in Wan Chai ever since.
It is tempting to nip over there and catch him shuffling towards the Old China Hand for his early morning liquid refresher, gazing into the gloom while Filipino waitresses chatter away in the corner. But the youngsters – the hope of our future – are cheering as enchanting little Lyuba finishes a song, takes a bow and, grinning with joy at bringing pleasure to so many, launches into a impressive juggling routine. Is there any more beguiling way of declaring the weekend open?