Hemlock's Diary
The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat

21-27 March 2004

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Mon, 22 Mar
The assassination attempt on President Chen Shui-bian on the eve of Taiwan�s election on Saturday was stage-managed, to tilt the vote in the Democratic Progressive Party�s favour.  Of that, Jenny the girl from Beijing-but-she�s-got-an-American-passport is in no doubt.  Indeed, as we eat our breakfast at the Mandarin Coffee Shop, she nearly convinces me.  "Surely," I point out, "an intelligent woman like Annette Lu wouldn�t go along with something so absurd."  Jenny shakes her head.  "She wasn�t in on it," she says.  "The plan was to injure her but not hit Chen."  If you say so, I think to myself, cutting into my eggs benedict.  My assumption is that a lone nut did it � a Taiwanese Lee Harvey Oswald with bad eyes and a homemade gun, driven mad by drinking his own urine and chewing betel nut.  I�ve never been given to conspiracy theories.  But Jenny likes them.  Hong Kong�s pro-democracy movement is manipulated by Chris Patten, she insists � along with American neo-conservatives, Taiwan splittists, the Catholic Church and the Falun Gong.  "Is there anyone you�ve missed?" I ask, trying to envisage a top-level meeting of this motley alliance.  You can take the girl out of the Communist Party, but�

Tue, 23 Mar
Finish reading Charles Mackay�s 1841 classic
Memoirs of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, with its wonderfully rigorous treatment of the Crusades, witch hunts, financial bubbles and other manias.  The chapter on irrational social and religious strictures on hair and beards is a delight.  How can people sit and stare at soccer or rugby games when there are such stimulating things to read?  Mackay would have been amused by the herd-like behaviour of fans of professional sport � the way they obediently troop off to bars with huge TV screens to watch genetically engineered giants like Yao Ming take it in turns to effortlessly put a ball through a hoop, or stare mindlessly at whining cars speeding endlessly round a race track.  He would have found it hilarious to see how these spectators need an excited commentary to tell them what they are watching.  Switch off the overwrought jabbering of the man behind the microphone, and the dullness and irrelevance of a group of people running after a ball on a field become instantly apparent.  Conversely, get a breathless, high-speed commentator to use his frenzied shrieking to describe footage of paint drying, and the sports fans would presumably sit and stare for hours, riveted by the action � especially if French, English, Australian and Scottish paint were competing to dry first. 

What would Mackay have made of people who see a ball game as more important than the trade negotiations, diplomatic jostling or outright wars that offer threats and opportunities to their livelihoods and investments?  What would he have thought of Hong Kong during SARS a year ago, when mask-wearing spread with such virulence that by mid-April only three or four of us had the presence of mind and detachment to stroll the streets bare-faced?  What would he have to say to the 20 percent of Hongkongers who
today believe recovered SARS patients to be infectious?  And what opinion would he hold of Hong Kong womanhood, who, not content with becoming anorexia-thin, are determined to acquire the pallor of death?  Strolling through IFC Mall, he would gaze in dismay upon outlets like Origins, Clarins, H2O, Clinique, Laneige, Estee Lauder and L�Occitane, named in shallow attempts to conjure up images of purity, sterility, whiteness and non-Asian-ness.  He would mutter in
disbelief at the photo of a cadaverous-toned beauty saying "Come closer to absolute transparency" and the one-ounce jars of �whitening serum� that cost a secretary half a day�s wages.  Pausing, bewildered, outside the inevitable Fancl, he would surely erupt in laughter as I told him that having bought shares in IFC landlord Sun Hung Kai when they were half their current price during the pestilential panic 12 months ago, I am now reaping healthy dividends thanks to the extortionate rents being paid by these ridiculous skin-care scams.  I am all in favour of popular delusions and the madness of crowds.
Wed, 24 Mar
S-Meg Tower starts the day with a shudder as the Big Boss bangs his fist against the table in a fit of rage during the morning meeting.  He is angry, deep down, about having nothing to be angry about.  "There's a new girl in the marketing department called Rasputin!" he shouts, glaring at his nervous senior management team.  "How the hell did that happen?"  Eyebrows raised in contrived concern, we all discreetly look round the conference room for personnel-eating Human Resources supremo Ms Doris Pang.  She is off sick, for the third time in as many weeks.  Obviously, her time at S-Meg Holdings is drawing to a close.  And no wonder � she has lasted since
9 May last year in a post few endure for more than six months.  A company record.   Sensing brownie points up for grabs, I offer to find a more suitable name for the new staff member.  Feeling better, the Big Boss adjourns the daily struggle session and requests my presence at an interview in the adjoining reception room with some visiting government officials from the Caribbean tax haven of Saint Jessica.  We stride in to find four very well-dressed, very portly, very black gentlemen sitting round the low rosewood table, sipping jasmine tea and grappling with silver chopsticks and dim sum.  As we shake hands and exchange greetings and business cards, I can feel one of the Big Boss�s well-intentioned but excruciatingly embarrassing, break-the-ice, blatant falsehoods coming up.  "Well," says the great Chairman and Chief Executive smiling warmly as he sits down on a sofa.  "Do you know my, um� my uncle used to be one of Hong Kong�s best limbo dancers?"

Thurs, 25 Mar
Technology, on its remorseless march, stomps through Perpetual Opulence Mansions at the rate of 100 zillion megabips as I become the last person in Hong Kong to sign up for broadband.  My habit of not having what I don't need bemuses infantile gadget freaks.  They are unnerved by my ability to go three minutes without taking a little plastic box from my pocket and staring at the screen, oblivious to the world.  They are perplexed by the way I store people�s details in a small address book � a little swatch of paper, with no keypad, colour display or batteries.  So they will be relieved to see me abandon my trusty old dial-up internet connection.  I had little choice.  After upgrading my PC and finding out the hard way that Dell ships modem-less desktops as standard these days, it would have been perverse, not to say pretentious, to plug a 56k box into the system.  To my delight, I had to strangle only one PCCW staff member to death at the shop on Des Voeux Road yesterday before everything was up and working.  Such a change from past dealings with them, when I invariably had no choice but to leave trails of mutilated phone company employees in my wake.  I will email Richard Li to congratulate him on improving customer service so much. 

My first on-line task is to download any security patches that have become necessary in the weeks since a fresh copy of Windows XP was loaded onto the new PC.  It is measure of Bill Gates� incompetence that the Microsoft website recommends no fewer than a dozen.  They install in minutes.  Very impressive.  I will soon be wondering how I managed without broadband � but not out loud in the presence of tiresome geek acquaintances.
Fri, 26 Mar
With a drunken roar, Albion�s seed ejaculates itself onto the placid streets of the Big Lychee.  From Anglo-Gaelic infestations around the Mediterranean, the Gulf, Southern Africa, Southeast Asia and the Antipodes they come, beer-gorged bellies bulging beneath rugby shirts and baggy shorts, for the weekend of boisterous, alcoholic infantilism known as the Sevens.  The southern English are absent � too shy, or maybe busy pruning their rose bushes.  It is their northern, Scottish, Welsh and Irish vassals who have arrived here, along with their mongrel, extra-Y-chromosome progeny from Australia and New Zealand and other dregs of the anglosphere, scraped from forgotten corners of North America, the Algarve and the Rhodesian diaspora.  The sun still never sets on this, the most loathsome of global tribes.  And the horrible truth is that the loud, red-faced rugby fans are drawn from the more decent, presentable and civilized strata of the race.  What unspeakable specimens of barbarism have they have left at home?  It would be tempting to retreat to Kowloon for a weekend of calm and relaxation surrounded by the latest batch of 100,000 Mainland tourists to come squatting, smoking and spitting their way from goldsmith to restaurant to herbal medicine store.  But I think I will simply barricade myself into Perpetual Opulence Mansions � crawl under the bed for 48 hours with a shotgun, a few bottles of Chateau de Beaucastel and Steve Tsang�s
Modern History of Hong Kong.  They�ll soon go away again.