Hong Kong awakens to find itself up to its knees in public consultations. It’s a comforting feeling, in a way – a reminder that normal political life goes on amid all the lunacy and bizarreness. The last anti-corruption boss was claiming expenses for vast amounts of booze, the Catholic former Chief Executive tried to do some intensely tiresome-sounding deal to get an audience with the Pope, and the palm trees on something we’ve never heard of called the Magic Road have mysteriously died. Among all this idiocy, we still have worthy ideas, bound to irritate someone, that are being formally proposed so we can have an informed debate to enable the community to come to a consensus on why nothing can or will happen.
First up is maximum working hours, which is sort of like the minimum wage only different. The challenge is to find a way to stop exploitative employers from forcing low-paid workers to do 60-hour weeks, while not affecting the rights of high-paid bankers and their interns, and of course of brown people from overseas who work as maids, to work 70-hour weeks.
Second is household waste disposal charges, which is such a good and obvious idea that your inner cynic feels slightly bad about mentioning out loud his feeling that it’ll never happen. It works in Taipei (apparently, they snitch on each other). Will it work in a city where drivers park illegally everywhere, unauthorized structures sprout from every building and highly respected officials fiddle their housing allowances to pay mortgages?
And then we have compulsory jack-booted Nazi drug-testing. This sounds like something out of an old Ronald Reagan election platform, until we remember that this is that other side of Hong Kong, where we must delete ‘world city’ and insert ‘Asian values’ and Christian do-gooders agonize endlessly about young people hanging around computer games arcades, officials pester Young Night Drifters, parents oppose equal rights for sexual minorities because it might ‘cause embarrassment’, and we’re not sure whether herding poor dark-skinned kids into inferior schools is OK or not.
The details are here. Basically, it only applies if you act funny or if your eyes have that tell-tale glazed dilated look that extremely alert, highly trained cops will detect with unerring accuracy as they watch you coming off the Lamma ferry. Or maybe if you wear dark glasses, or have one of those stupid-looking pointy beards and/or wear a sort of big hipster-style woolly sock on your head. The highly trained law-enforcement personnel will pull you over and send you off to have a urine test, nodding determinedly at your screeches of “You must be taking the piss.” If the result is positive, you will be lovingly counseled by deeply sympathetic and understanding professionals who are such self-righteous creeps that you will abandon any vice in order not to have to meet them again. This system is called RESCUE, which they say means ‘Reasonable and Early Screening for Caring and Universal Engagement’ – the most mind-blowing acronym I’ve encountered for a long while. (It’s that ‘Reasonable’; Orwell couldn’t have thought that up.)
But… The four members of the Drugs Freak-Out Commission sort of give the game away. Principal Assistant Secretary for Security Mandy Wong can barely contain her giggling, and her colleagues are all putting on stupid faces in their attempts to look serious. “Don’t worry,” they seem to be saying, “this is just to please the God-Tells-Us-to-Worry-About-Youth brigade. You know it’ll get nowhere.” This is just the sort of initiative our more awkward, hard-to-please legislators take delight in stomping to death.
Which is perhaps a pity, because there are some pretty wacked-out-looking people prowling around. Booze-on-expenses for graft-busters, bent Italian senators fixing audiences with the Pope, and mass-tree death out on Magic Road – this stuff doesn’t happen unless someone’s on a steady stream of hallucinogens. A case in point: what is Stock Exchange boss Charles Li Xiaojia on? Mushrooms? If you get off on St John’s Book of Revelation and Coleridge’s Xanadu, you’ll just love the warped, psychedelic allegory in his dream about Mr Disclosure and Mrs Practical following the Alibaba non-listing trauma. Maybe it’s Majoun. A case for Reasonable and Early Screening, if ever I saw one.
RIP Anthony Lawrence, who, at 101, was the oldest person I know. One of his witticisms: “When you get to my age, your friends have all disappeared, you can’t hear what people are saying, and you have no interest in women. And there are many other advantages.”