Hemlock's Diary
3-9 September 2006
Mon, 4 Sep
Crybabies don�t win new business,� an American casino operator says in response to Stanley Ho�s complaints that Macau�s gambling scene is too competitive (ie, he no longer has a monopoly).  Steve Wynn�s shiny new brown palace, located a short, feng shui-wrecking distance across from the ageing tycoon�s slum-like Hotel Lisboa, opens in a few days.  Just next door to it, another monstrosity � shaped like an armchair to my architecturally untutored eye � sits ready to open next month.  Ho himself is building an inverted Xmas tree-slab behind his fading flagship.  In the back streets between this downtown area and the Hong Kong ferry terminal, at least half a dozen casinos have opened up in hotels and other buildings in the last year or two, and another will come on-line before long at the Fishermen�s Wharf complex, near the 700-table (and 300-foot buffet) Sands.  Meanwhile, on the reclamation around the old causeway between Taipa and Coloane islands, huge new resorts are springing up.

The distortions are already apparent.  This weekend in the former Portuguese colony I met the owner of a small hotel whose entire family has to help out seven days a week because there are no staff, and the proprietor of a restaurant that nearly failed a week after opening because the chef
suddenly vanished.  Youngsters thinking of college are mocked by classmates eager to get out of the classroom to work as croupiers at around HK$15,000 a month � maybe 30 percent more than Hong Kong university graduates expect for a starting salary.  Under pressure from pro-labour activists whining about the workforce�s usual unskilled, middle-aged leftovers, the Government is trying to keep migrants out, but the forces of economic nature suck them in through the cracks, notably from the Philippines.  It has all the look and feel of a bubble, but the Americans probably know what they are doing � turn the place into the region�s Las Vegas as soon as possible, so by the time Mainland provinces and others try to get into the game, Macau�s concentration of gambling facilities will ensure its permanent lead.

As a consolation, Ho has a road named after him.
ANOTHER ASIAN success story�  An email from a clearly excited Nury Vittachi informs his multitudinous admirers that the greatest comic talent east of Suez is soon to flower into an esteemed literary giant.  Will this towering man of letters-to-be one day � dare I say it � win a Nobel Prize?  I sincerely hope so.  The passionate note will surely attract millions at auction, as an example of the acclaimed writer�s early �spontaneous stream-of-consciousness� period.
Tue, 5 Sep
Unlike everyone else on the planet, I had never heard of Steve Irwin until yesterday evening when I was solemnly informed of his demise by Kevin the Australian barman in the pub in Lan Kwai Fong.  On the TV up in the corner, CNN kept playing a clip of a khaki-clad man apparently feeding a live baby to a crocodile.  If a dog bares its fangs at me it gets a swift kick to the jaw or kidney, depending on its size and my mood.  Otherwise, I leave potentially dangerous animals alone, on the grounds that I have better things to do than having my limbs chewed to shreds.  Maybe I�m missing something here. 

To antipodean men, grappling with a giant reptile that has 80 razor-sharp teeth is a source of relaxation and sensuous pleasure, as of course is stripping down to their underwear and groping each other�s thighs and buttocks on a rugby field.  (Could it be that women Down Under need to take a good hard look at themselves?)  Kevin seemed especially upset that Irwin was dispatched by a stingray.  He would have wanted to be mauled to death on land, apparently.  Meanwhile, in Italy, the grandson of Mussolini is asking for the dictator to be
exhumed in order to establish exactly how he died.  What an amazing coincidence it would be if they found Il Duce was killed by a stingray!

It�s more likely than Hong Kong journalist and lifelong pro-communist patriot Ching Cheong spying for Taiwan, for which he has been sentenced to five years� imprisonment in Beijing.  Details of the 
judgement have emerged.  His crime seems to have been writing articles for the Taiwan think-tank, the Foundation on International and Cross-Strait Studies � the sort of talking shop that hangs out with the excruciatingly tedious European Institute for Asian Studies and the slightly less tiresome Centre for Strategic and International Studies.  If boredom is a threat to national security, they are a potential menace. 

His articles supposedly contained national secrets, though as Mainland correspondent for a Singapore newspaper, he should not have had access to genuinely sensitive classified material � if he did, someone else�s head should roll.  The chances are that at worst, in his innocence, he let slip something harmless but not officially released, which embarrassed someone high up, which in turn necessitated a ritual trial and condemnation on trumped-up charges.  His wife is soliciting letters of support for her husband to the communist leadership from his longstanding friends in the pro-Beijing camp.  Calculating that their masters will not be dangling from a hook anytime soon, they are rebuffing her.  Some suggest his treatment is her fault for not keeping quiet.  In Australia, men are brave to the point of stupidity.  In Hong Kong, that�s how cowardly they get.
Wed, 6 Sep
Steve Wynn celebrates the opening of his first Macau resort by bad-mouthing the rival Sands as (in essence) cheap and shabby.  Given that the Sands looks like something out of Star Trek, how would he rank the nicotine-stained, spittle-flecked, chewing gum-lined, prostitute-infested Lisboa Casino?  Presumably, it doesn�t register.  The seedy pile�s owner, Stanley Ho, seems oblivious to the snub and is deludedly crowing about the impact that one player wiping the floor with him might have on the other.
Across the Pearl River Delta, safely protected from the distressing effects of new blood, Hong Kong rejoices at the news that the Government is appointing 66-year old former legislator Ronald Arculli GBS, CVO, OBE, JP to the Consultative Committee on the Core Arts and Cultural Facilities of the West Kowloon Cultural District.  This follows Ron�s other Government appointments, at one time or another, to the Executive Council, Judicial Service Commission, Independent Commission Against Corruption Advisory Committee, Council for Academic Accreditation, Air Transport Licensing Authority, Town Planning Board, Court of the University of Hong Kong,  Board of Governors of Lingnan College, Health and Medical Development Advisory Committee, Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing and the Hong Kong Mortgage Corporation, not to mention non-official bodies that decide public policy, like the Real Estate Developers Association and the Jockey Club.  It is one of Hong Kong�s great tragedies that 99.998% of its 7 million population are too mentally feeble to take part in public affairs, so the same 10 dozen people have to occupy all the seats in every one of our official committees, boards and councils.  Where would we be without citizens like Ron?
As if to prove the point, the Government also announces that another member of this elite, jack-booted property tycoon and Chief Executive-wannabe �Dr� Peter Woo GBS, JP, has been given an extra year as head of the Trade Development Council, despite hitting the six-year limit on occupying positions at the top of pointless, space-wasting, public-sector organizations that have long outlived their original purpose and now aggrandize themselves by competing unfairly with commercial enterprises.  The word is that this, plus running Wharf Holdings and sitting on the usual array of public and academic committees, will keep him occupied during Donald Tsang�s re-appointment campaign early next year.  Woo�s unseemly fascination with high political office has long struck all right-minded people as unhealthy and disturbing.  From jokingly challenging Tung Chee-hwa for the top job before the handover, to hiring PR floozies Hill & Knowlton, to getting ghost-written Neanderthal opinion pieces in the newspapers, to sniffing around, and possibly funding, Regina Ip�s new think-tank � it all sends a shudder down the spine.  If Sir Bow-Tie wanted to do us all a favour he would declare this sinister, power-hungry, Shanghainese ship owner�s son-in-law the TDC�s Fuhrer for Life.
Thurs, 7 Sep
On the top floor of S-Meg Tower, in the heart of Asia�s leading international business centre, Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary confers gravely with a visibly worried she-Epsilon delivering some internal mail.  They are soon joined by a couple of other clerical staff, drawn by the air of concern.  Elsewhere in the building, the word is spreading fast.  The ghost of Banny the accounting assistant has been seen again in the main stairwell between the 15th and 16th floors.  She was wearing black.  Like last time.

On that occasion, the brave Company Gwailo nobly offered to go down and sort the spirit out.  He demanded the banana in Ms Fang�s packed lunch on the grounds that this was an essential element in the exorcism ritual.  He ate it as he walked all the way down the stairs, which noticeably lacked any visitors from the afterlife.  Then he took the elevator back up.  It was the easiest free banana I ever had.  Problem solved, I announced. Banny the banshee banished.

Now, the phantom junior bean-counter has returned.  Messengers will refuse to take the stairs, items of stationery will mysteriously move around workstations overnight, and employees will complain of an invisible presence brushing against them as they sit at their desks.  Before long, every oddity or misfortune in every cubicle will be attributed to the ghoul. 

In fact, there is no reason to believe that Banny died.  She apparently just left the company suddenly.  With ex-colleagues like Ms Fang, who peddled a rumour that she had gone to Shenzhen for an abortion, she can be forgiven for not keeping in touch.
Noblesse oblige...  I announce my intention to investigate.  After the luxurious carpeted and wood-paneled surroundings of Private Office, going down the stairwell is a bit like stepping into another world.  With weak lighting and no air-conditioning, it is gloomy and clammy.  Footsteps echo off the grimy tiles.  The only splash of colour is from the little plastic trays of bright orange rat pellets.  As I get to the haunted landing, it occurs to me that apparitions are not fooled by the practice of omitting unlucky floor numbers.  This spot is in fact an inauspicious 14 levels up.

Down in the corner, on the bare concrete, below a little window offering a dingy rear view of another office block just a few feet away, lie a couple of very thin cigarette butts, with a trace of dark lipstick on them.  Here, for anyone who wants one, is a rational explanation.  Slutty girls who smoke tend to wear black.  Banny probably wasn�t the first of that type to work here, and she wasn�t the last.  We must have hired another recently.  She sneaks out here for a Menthol Slim and stares out the window, leaving her back turned to other staff passing through the doors on the floors above and below.  To them, the glimpsed silent figure can only mean� [
cue the screeching, Hitchcockian violins]  �Banny is back from the beyond!
Fri, 8 Sep
The bearded Australian, whose business card declares him to be a Corporate Communication Counsel, drops in to my office on his six-monthly visit to see if we have any brochures that need to be written, which we probably don�t.  I wouldn�t know � our marketing people always wave him away in the direction of his fellow gwailo.  Eager to be of service to us, one of his most valued clients, he puts it to me that S-Meg Holdings is in dire need of a Verbal Brand Driver.  After I have dragged him by his feet out of the door and down past the reception area, and heaved him into the elevator, I am struck by how sad it is that some people occupy their minds with such things.  The only people similarly tragic, I can�t help thinking, would be golfers.  And the only people more depressingly benighted than golfers are people who pay money to watch others play golf. 

I never realized that such individuals existed until wild American friend Odell looked up at the TV in the pub in Lan Kwai Fong a while back.  A crowd of serious-looking men in coloured T-shirts and caps stood next to some trees, avidly watching another man hit a little ball with a stick.  He remarked that someone he knew had flown to Malaysia or somewhere to spend an entire weekend doing this.  Not actually playing golf � just watching other people do it.  The ticket to the golf course cost US$100 for both days.

Yet there is one life form even more pitiable than the miserable wretches who will hand over wealth in exchange for the right to view a drab man with poor dress sense plod around a field trying to hit a ball into a hole.  And that is � the Hong Kong, English-language advertising copywriter working on some tacky, overpriced consumer goods account.  Like the forsaken and pathetic specimen responsible for making me want to be seen wearing the astoundingly ugly Zenith Defy Xtreme or Defy Classic�
�Racy bodywork houses a new generation of El Primero chronographs � setting new standards in the universe of sport-chic timepieces � Muscular chassis with alveolar structure, high-performance engines strengthened by anti-shock bridges in Zenithium Z+.  A unique combination of innovative materials for a dynamic lifestyle.�
Buy one and you too will be able to hang out with the sweaty, greasy-haired, unshaven, cruel-eyed, criminally inclined, repressed homosexual Latino in a black shirt.  And his friends.   

Rummaging through the murky depths of Western male post-adolescent fantasies and psychoses, what do we find?  A Harley Davidson motorbike.  Chinese swords, staffs, chained cudgels and other kung fu weaponry, as seen in Bruce Lee films.  Paris Hilton � surely the least sexually desirable woman of reproductive age I have ever seen.  And what�s this � yes, a quote by Friedrich Nietzsche. 

I would sooner gouge my own eyes out than run the risk of opening the newspaper and thinking, �that was my work.�  The only consolation for the sorry copywriter must be that there is always someone worse off than yourself.  Can the human race produce anything more heartbreaking than the person who looks at this ad and decides to buy one?