Hemlock's Diary
The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat
6-12 February 2005

[email protected]
Sun, 30 Jan
What is it actually like to be poor?  To experience life as it is for our destitute masses, I decide to exist on a minuscule budget for the whole day.  For lunch, I go to Wang Fu in Wellington Street, where I have a bowl of hot and sour soup with noodles for HK$25.  I then spend an hour browsing through the shelves at Collectibles, the second-hand book store in Queen Victoria Street, and come away with moth-eaten copies of The Riddle of the Sands by the intriguing Erskine Childers, Hitler (Vol 1) by Ian Kershaw and Hooking Up by Tom Wolfe, totalling just HK$110.  Watsons Wine has a sale on, so I make a frugal visit and find a bottle of Georges Duboeuf Fleurie � an acceptable but hardly lavish drink � marked down from HK$190 to HK$140.  I then drop into the Soho Bakery for a HK$12 loaf of coarse wholemeal bread, which, with some over-ripe brie, tomatoes, olives and other culinary residue back at Perpetual Opulence Mansions, will suffice for dinner.  Admittedly, I am not betting on the horses, or running up huge bills swapping inanities over a Hello Kitty mobile phone.  But that is, surely, the point.  By focussing on priorities and value, the whole day costs less than HK$300.  It can be done.

Mon, 31 Jan
Red fire anthills are popping up all over Hong Kong, like venomous zits on the face of a teenager before prom night.  Inspired by psychedelic drugs, lateral-thinking civil servants develop plans to deploy herds of plucky, highly trained anteaters to crush the formicarian menace without mercy.  But the head security guard on the Mid-Levels Escalator is skeptical.  How, he asks, will commuters feel as they glide down into Central every morning with these large mammals scurrying around, their slithery three-foot long tongues flicking around people�s ankles?  I agree with him.  We would feel like a senior Beijing official passing through a group of tycoons at the Spring reception at the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office � day after day after day.  My feeling is that we should take pride in the red fire ants� decision to move here.  We should welcome these huddled masses for the example they set, their obvious confidence in Hong Kong�s long-term future and their determination to work hard and not burden our welfare system.   Who can doubt that Solenopsis invicta, from the Latin for �invincible, self-centred wretches�, belongs in this Mother of Exiles � a city of seven million formicating souls for whom there is no reality outside one�s self, one�s mobile phone and one�s MP3 player?  Let the little beasts stay.

A CORRECTIONAL call from shapely and well-meaning but pedantic Administrative Officer Winky Ip.  �That official figure of 300 dollars to cover basic food needs is years out of date,� she informs me.  �It�s higher now.�  I thank her for this interesting information, which supports my belief that the poor don�t know how lucky they are.  �But,� she adds, �it�s per month � not per day.�  A minor detail.  Let them eat self-reliance and community engagement.  �Secondly,� her lecture continues, �we don�t call them anthills.  We refer to them as
RIFA mounds.�  I ask her to convey my heartiest congratulations to our civil service for this dazzling contribution to the English language, then listen to her voice fade away � ��it stands for red imported fire ants�� � as I put the phone down.

AN IDLE afternoon, perusing some favourite websites.  The
Joy of Soup has a good-looking recipe for a celery and stilton concoction.  Over at Quamnet, a member of Hong Kong�s middle class confesses to leeching off her fellow taxpayers, even accepting a free helicopter trip from the Government.  But what has happened to NTSCMP?  I make some discreet enquiries via a friend of a friend and learn that, after being savaged by red fire ants, the janitor�s wife�s brother-in-law was hospitalized, and his credit card expired.  Normal service will be resumed soon, I am assured.  I know seven million Hongkongers join me in my sigh of relief.
Tue, 1 Feb
Hong Kong�s second most obnoxious expat Ben emails me touching photos of the New Territories� first anteater patrol.  With its sleek aerodynamic contours, elegant three-toned fur, handsome face, intelligent eyes and cheeky grin, the creature attracted a great deal of admiration from local villagers, he tells me.  And then, within minutes of commencing its appointed insect-killing rounds, the Mongkok-Sai Kung minibus came around the corner, the driver exercising his usual determination to deliver his passengers to their destination extremely promptly.  The badly wounded animal was retrieved by Mr Cheung, proprietor of the nearby Fragrant Joy restaurant, who sadly had to humanely destroy it.  �Mr Cheung is very keen on recycling,� Ben adds.
Wed, 2 Feb
To my dismay, I bump into Desperately Dull Desmond and his mouse of a wife in IFC Mall.  He is still working for the same British-owned conglomerate, getting an absurd expatriate package for taking his local underlings� work and handing it to his own boss, claiming the credit if it is well-received, blaming the staff if it isn�t.  He drones on about how they�re off to British Columbia for two weeks of skiing and golf.  It sounds almost as mind-numbing as sitting on a beach.  �We went to Borneo for Christmas,� he goes on.  �Sounded good � 60 million-year-old rainforests, the TV commercial said.�  The mouse nods obediently.  �But a bit disappointing,� Desmond explains.  �I expected a few rainforests, each being 60 million years old.  But actually there are 60 of the things, and each one is just a million years old.�  In a frantic attempt to change the subject, I enquire after their two sons � maybe the brats have descended into drug addiction, suicide attempts, leprosy, or something.  �The boys are doing well!� Desmond declares, his wife looking up at him adoringly and murmuring agreement.  �Simon�s been made captain of the under-15s rugby team, and David�s made it onto the Hong Kong under-13s cricket squad.�   So he�s still beating them when they don�t come first in everything.  Excellent.  Just another couple of years and they�ll be OD�ing on smack in some Chungking Mansions hovel, while Desmond and mouse hold one of their excruciating Peak dinner parties.

Thurs, 3 Feb
The Vatican tells us not to be concerned about frail, 84-year-old Pope John Paul II�s admission to hospital with serious flu.  Nonetheless, I cannot help but worry about the reception awaiting the Polish pontiff when he goes, as
widely expected, to meet his maker.  �So what did you do with your life?� the big bearded one will ask.  And the Holy Father will explain how he told petrified little boys that their reproductive organs would fall off if they played with them.  He advised children that, if they woke at night with agonizing toothache, they should not ask their parents for an aspirin but simply lie still and consider how Jesus suffered on the cross. And he ordered millions of Third World people not to use condoms, condemning them to having too many children to feed and spreading Aids and hepatitis.  And God will roll His eyes, put His cigar down, move His glass of champagne to one side and lean forward and say, �You remind me of that ghastly Albanian hag.�  And He�ll push the button marked �NO�, and the floor beneath his Holiness will open up, and he will plunge into the infernal abyss.  So, yes, I am concerned.
Fri, 4 Feb
�Three years today?  I can�t believe you�ve been doing
that stupid diary for so long.�  Voluptuous Administrative Officer Winky Ip looks at me in amazement.  �It was silly at first,� she says.  �Then it got halfway interesting for a while, then it began to get more and more boring, and it�s been going downhill ever since.�  I stir peanuts into my Foreign Correspondents Club juk � surely the ne plus ultra of congee � and pretend to miss the point entirely.

�And there�s still two more years of the old fat fool to go!� I say, picking up the newspaper to check the latest episode of How I Trashed Asia�s Greatest City by Tung Chee-hwa.  Alex Ho, the Democratic Party candidate mysteriously imprisoned without trial in the Mainland at just the right time to damage his colleagues� election prospects,
speaks out.  The woman in his hotel room was not a hooker but� a karaoke lounge DJ.  Couldn�t she have been a librarian?  An orphanage director?  A professor of econometrics?

�Why on earth has Tung dragged
Cyberport back under the spotlight?� I ask Winky.  She takes a deep breath and sighs, her bureaucratic buxomness heaving within her Giorgio Armani jacket.  She tries to rationalize the crop-haired one�s thinking.  He�s desperate to banish suspicions of government-business collusion.  He�s afraid we�re heading towards the Great Anti-Tycoon Backlash of 2005.  �Which would be the Great Boost to Donald Tsang as Next Chief Executive,� I add.  She nods, a trace of a smirk spreading across her face.  So he�s implicitly accepting that there might be grounds for suspicion � he thinks his sincerity will impress his detractors and calm them down.  �Like dangling chunks of meat in a pool of piranhas will calm them down!� I laugh.  Yes, she agrees.  Except� These are really stupid, dim-witted, karaoke lounge DJ-befriending piranhas.


1