Absolutely everyone in Hong Kong seemed to be in agreement about one thing this weekend: Development Secretary Paul Chan either should and/or will stand down soon. Evidence of wrongdoing by him is circumstantial and faint, but a major policy initiative concerning one of the city’s most pressing problems has come to symbolize him. Even people who would otherwise demand more affordable housing and couldn’t care less about quaint farmers squatting on public land oppose the plans for new towns in the Northeast New Territories.
Chan’s website is a pain. It slides around as you move your cursor, as if trying to slip away, and when you work out how to access information, the material appears only in bits and pieces. In short, it behaves exactly as he has been doing while under fire in real life. The amazing thing is that he served as a legislator himself and should understand that obfuscation equals the smell of blood equals a feeding frenzy at the hands of opponents and the media.
One lesson – one fated never to be learned, it seems – is that Hong Kong’s leader and his overseers in China’s Liaison Office desperately need to recruit talent from a broader and deeper pool. Chan was (according to widespread tittle-tattle around May-June 2012) originally slated to be Deputy Financial Secretary with a view to succeeding John Tsang at some stage. Maybe he would have shone; maybe not. But it is clear that he has little interest in the Development portfolio.
Maybe Hong Kong needs a rule: no-one owning multiple properties should head up the government’s housing functions. (Ditto for education: no-one sending their kids to ‘elite’ or overseas schools to be in charge. And transport: no private car owner allowed. Etc.) Maybe Beijing could relax the rules to allow Mainlanders or even foreigners to occupy more positions. Maybe we should have a more decentralized system, with more decision-making at district level. But such things imply a more open and inclusive system. As it stands, Beijing and local cronies have their own (different) reasons to prefer a small group of acceptable insiders, however limited their talent, enthusiasm or political skills.
Another lesson from this tragi-drama is for men like Chan who are from humble backgrounds but are exceptionally ambitious: marry a poetess or a musician, rather than the sort of woman and in-laws who get into slum landlordism and farmland speculation – tempting though I am sure it must seem. You don’t have to go into politics to find out the hard way what can happen when there are two above-averagely acquisitive, driven materialists in the family. What percentage of Hong Kong newspapers’ domestic news tells us this? With venality, as with, say, lemonade and with a million other things, you can have too much of a good thing.
Which neatly brings me round to a little weekend project/experiment…
If the traditional, plain old lemon juice/sugar/water summertime concoction is getting a bit boring, try this. The following is good for two 16oz glasses. The interesting part: the ingredients…
Dried mango powder (amchoor) – 1 tsp
Asafoetida (hing) – the merest, teeniest semi-pinch
Cumin (ideally just-roasted; otherwise powdered) – 1 tsp
Fresh ground pepper – half tsp
Chopped fresh mint leaves – a good handful
Finely grated fresh ginger – 3 or 4 tsp
Sugar – 2 tsp
Salt – half tsp
Mix and mash all the ingredients with a little water in a food processor or mortar and pestle. Leave for a few minutes or so to fester. Strain and squeeze all the juice out of the mush. Add cold water and ice to the juice and serve. Remember that sugar and salt can be added – but not taken out – later to taste.
You can also use black salt (sparingly); chopped coriander leaves (I chickened out); ground coriander seeds. You could probably omit the mango powder or cumin, but the ginger and mint are essential, and the devil’s dung – insane as it sounds – actually defines the whole drink. I was skeptical, but it worked.