Hemlock's Diary

The ravings of Hong Kong�s most obnoxious expat

13-19 October, 2002
Mon, 14 Oct
Seeking refuge from mad Greenpeace activists and creepy North Korean officials, I hole up in Macau for the long weekend.  The SAR's flag looks like an environmentalist logo, which seems to help keep the eco-freaks away, and the boys from Pyongyang are less in evidence now post-97 Hong Kong lets them in. 

Macau is doing a better job than Hong Kong of keeping its dilapidated, third-world character while simultaneously developing blandly pleasant, civilized facilities.  The vermin-infested Bella Vista Hotel, after being Raffles-ized for a few years, is now the Portuguese Consulate, and the sweating, heaving shed that once served as the ferry terminal has long since given way to a standard bit of transport infrastructure. I dare say the leper colony has gone the way of its inmates' fingers and toes.  But a stroll down any side street reveals plentiful decaying reminders of what fascist Portugal's neglected Chinese outpost must have been like half a century or more ago.  Long-closed, grime-covered fireworks factories, art-deco municipal markets and half-timbered tenements beg to be used as a menacing backdrop for a movie adaptation of a Graham Greene novel.  The modern side comprises largely intelligent restoration of colonial-era buildings, and new arts and leisure developments on reclaimed land, complete with space, trees, pedestrianization, places to sit and other features beyond the comprehension of Hong Kong's revenue-fixated bureaucrats. 

Perhaps the contrast reflects a Latin interest in quality of life, versus Hong Kong's  Anglo-Saxon preoccupation with commerce.  Or maybe it is the realization that Macau has only tourism to depend on.  And it is not all perfect. The Portuguese saw fit to embellish the place with sculptures, logos and other ornaments in that nasty, abstract modern continental European style, and these, sadly, have still not been torn down.

Channel hopping in my hotel room, I can't help noticing a Cathay Pacific commercial, which ends with a shot of a cabin attendant with the most cringe-making, simpering look on her face. After three viewings, you want to slap her. Current print ads in the newspapers feature girls with similar "nice but dim" expressions.  Since most CX staff look utterly normal, it's clear that the ad agency has deliberately picked those who look like helpless bimbos.  The message, perhaps, is that they have to give "Service straight from the heart" because there's no brain for it to come from. 

Tue, 15 Oct
A call from Morris, the greatest living Scotsman in the Hong Kong Police.  He is a boisterous type.  His idea of a good time, if he has no glossy, nude photo of the Rev Dr Ian Paisley to hand, is to stand in a sweaty bar as part of a group of at least 10 others, all wearing rugby shirts, drinking beer and jeering or singing at the top of their voices. It's my idea of hell, and the Indonesian chapter of Al-Qaeda obviously agrees. If he had
been able to go, Morris would have been on the rugby tour that ended when the nightclub district in Bali was bombed on Saturday night, killing nearly 200 people, mainly Western tourists. Now he is phoning everyone he knows to try to find out what has happened to friends who were there. He thinks at least one is dead.  I know none of them. Morris apart, they are not part of my circle � packs of sports-enthusiasts who go on junk trips with their pale, plump women complaining about kids' ear infections and amahs who can't do baked beans on toast properly.  "There will be some good hotel deals in Bali in the coming months," I tell him.  "I might go down and take a look � never been there before. Too bad you're on standby."  "Oh aye, you'll like it now.  No tourists."  A moment's silence.  "So, Christmas in Baghdad?" I ask.  "You bet," he says.  "I'll resign here, if necessary.  It's getting personal."

On the subject of Iraq, why don't these spendthrifts learn that you don't need to hold an
election when there's only one candidate?  Hong Kong doesn't waste public money printing ballots with only one name on them.

Wed, 16 Oct
Nicholas Tse gets 240 hours' community service.  The leniency of Hong Kong courts never ceases to amaze.  Violence, drugs or illegal immigration are punished, but otherwise you can do what you want.  Will the Cantopop star, whose singing is on a par with his driving, spend the next few months putting half-eaten chicken wings and used condoms into black plastic bags on Stanley Beach, or will the prosecutor appeal and get him in the slammer?  Perhaps it makes little difference. The finest service Tse can perform for the community is to keep out of the recording studio.

In the Circus, the single-issue fanatics of the Democratic Party present their very own Policy Address.  Not content with being economically illiterate, they publish it full of typographical errors.  These people are the alternative to fearless and decisive Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa and the poor B-list wretches who pass for a government.  Three choices
: emigrate, drink or weep.
Drink it is.  Lan Kwai Fong has valiant Blue Berets on patrol, the thin blue line between bomb-wielding fundamentalist Muslims and alcoholic gwailos, their overseas-born Chinese catamites and local secretaries in pursuit of Mr Porsche owner. It can't happen here... but that's what they thought in Bali. Lan Kwai Fong is crowded with people and has a constant procession of delivery trucks.  It would be so easy.  However, one thing lacking in Hong Kong is a community of dispossessed, embittered Muslims with no hope for the future, happy to be brainwashed by diabolical clerics into hating Western culture and values and believing that God wants them to exterminate the world's Christians. Our Mohammedans are money-grubbing materialists like the rest of us.
Thurs, 17 Oct
The Big Boss tells me to collect a Taiwanese businessman, one Dr Kuo, from the Grand Hyatt Hotel. As I leave the private office, I notice two messengers wrestling a red carpet out of the lift, and in the basement car park I find that Ms Fang, the hunter-killer secretary, has arranged S-Meg Holding's newest and shiniest Mercedes for transport. It's not like the Big Boss to be nice to the Taiwanese ("arrogant, slimy cheats"), but Dr Kuo is in the market for a large durian-flavour chewing gum factory, and S-Meg happens to have one to hand, acquired just weeks ago and already being passed on at a healthy mark-up. At the Hyatt, I spot the Taipei tycoon and his assistant with ease.  Sixty-something, short, a bit fat.  ("Not our type, darling," fragrant socialite Rosabelle Lam would say.)  His minder is a brute in dark glasses � I give him some badly-needed face by insisting he sit in the back while I go next to the driver.  Some small talk during the 10 minute ride to S-Meg Tower reveals little.  The minder probably chews betel nut, while I suspect Dr Kuo drinks his own urine. Is it any wonder they have to pay people to have diplomatic relations with them?

Fri, 18 Oct
Sir Gordon Wu, the wonderfully undiplomatic infrastructure freak, is pushing his
Hong Kong-Zhuhai bridge. The basic idea is to help Hong Kong entrepreneurs smother the west bank of the Pearl River with toy and electronics factories, the east bank now getting a bit crowded, given all the karaoke bars and sleazy hairdressers.  And, we are told, labour is cheaper on the west side of the Pearl estuary.  It can get cheaper?  Charming, fresh-faced, nimble-fingered girls from Hubei villages clamour to work in Dongguan sweatshops for virtually nothing, unleashing a tidal wave of deflation across the world.  Maybe the workers on the west bank will pay for the privilege of working for kindly Hong Kong or Taiwan factory owners, a role in the development of the workshop of the world being sufficient reward in itself.  Sir Gordon has a grander vision for his bridge. It will be possible, he says, to drive to Hainan in nine hours.  I really can't wait.