Hemlock's Diary
27 May-2 June 2007
Mon, 28 May
Coming soon�  From the people who brought us �gradual and orderly�, �the actual situation�, �interests of different sectors�, �building blocks� and other intriguing challenges to be overcome on the road to universal suffrage � �prior communication� and �entire nominations�.  These new phrases represent a major step forward in the semantics of Hong Kong constitutional reform because there is a strong likelihood that they have substantive meaning.  (Since Beijing�s recent reminder that its power to appoint Hong Kong�s Chief Executive is �substantive�, the word has become de rigeur in political discussion.  Lau Nai-keung, the organic vegetable grower, Buddhist and scourge of pro-democrats,
tosses the word in like a seasoned pro, to indicate respectfully that Beijing is talking in something vaguely resembling plain language for once.)

Thus, although some reading between the lines is still necessary, the message conveyed by these two exciting new slogans is relatively clear.  Under �prior communication� the Hong Kong people will use their skill and judgement to guess who the Central People�s Government has in mind as next Chief Executive.  To help them, they will be able to draw on such substantive clues as how long the President shakes particular individuals� hands and how wide the Premier grins when he meets them.  Their guess will of course be correct. 

Under �entire nominations� the committee in Hong Kong that chooses who can be a candidate in the election will have to be all but unanimous in choosing this person.  This will be easier than it sounds, because membership of the body will quite rightly be restricted to individuals with substantive insight to detect smartass lawyers and others whose superficially impressive capabilities mask unwholesome and dangerous motives.  This group will not only pick the aforementioned winner.  It will also pick a good sport among the pro-Beijing camp who is intensely unattractive and unpopular � and there is no shortage of such people � to be the loser.  On election day, universal suffrage will kick into action, and every male and female permanent resident aged over 18 who is of sound mind and not in prison will be entitled to exercise their inalienable right to cast a vote.  For the winner.  This is the �no nasty surprises� approach to democracy.  Like all superior products, it will deliver guaranteed results.  Sesame Street was brought to you today by the word �substantive�.

SHOULD COWARDS who hide behind anonymity mouth off on the radio alongside respectable members of the gentry like Sir David Akers Jones and Ronald Arculli, who have the guts to admit to being who they are?  No, says veteran journalist Kevin Sinclair, who contacted
this morning�s Backchat programme to say that the wimp with the nom de plume should reveal himself � his great wisdom and immense good sense notwithstanding � and be flogged.  The good folks at Radio Television Hong Kong conceded that they were less than comfortable about it, but felt that the show�s topic � government favouritism to tycoons � warranted an invitation to someone who had just written a highly relevant book.  The two pro-establishment figures gamely went along with the arrangement and didn�t leave the studio before something like the third or fourth plug for the tome.  The secret guest himself muttered butter-wouldn�t-melt-in-his-mouth noises of contrition while silently thanking Marconi for inventing a medium that doesn�t let the audience see whether the speaker is a lying ratbag.  To protect the author�s identity, RTHK electronically enhanced his voice.  And I find myself truly in awe.  They actually made this voice more sexy and youthful than it already is.  I would never believe that it could be done.  The things they can do with modern technology.
Tue, 29 May
The killing of calligrapher
Khalil al-Zahawi in Baghdad takes me back to a dusty Zab el Kabir � a hot, silent afternoon, when most people are asleep.  I am squatting on a rough mat, leaning against a banquette.  Apart from the occasional chicken pecking at the bare earth in the courtyard outside, everything is still.  I have a large book open in my lap, with a sheet of tracing paper placed over one page.  Using a thick old pencil, I go over the inch-high words from right to left and marvel at the rhythmic, curling flow of the script.  In comparison, the Roman alphabet is merely functional, with no aesthetic quality.  Conversely, Chinese writing succeeds as an art form, but is a historical blunder as a means of communication � a hieroglyphic throwback in a digital age.
RTHK kindly pass on a succinct email received after yesterday�s great debate between two pillars of the ancien regime and me�
Dear sir
This English speaking blogger (Hamlock?) speaks the very truths about Hong Kong today.  I can add no more. Thanks
The Circus will perform one of its more solemn annual rituals tomorrow.  Pro-democracy lawmaker Martin Lee will move a motion calling on Beijing (in wording bland enough to pass muster with Legislative Council President Rita Fan) to confess its sins with regard to the 1989 Tiananmen massacre and, while they�re at it, junk one-party rule and go democratic.  The motion will naturally stand as much chance as a cyclist against a tank.  Patriotic members of the Democratic Alliance for the Blah Blah of Hong Kong will vote against, their position on the June 4 incident having been made clear recently by their boss Ma Lik.  Joining them will be our obedient local tycoons � at least one of whom I recall marching in the streets with a million fellow citizens 18 years ago, expressing his horror at the killings in his finely tailored suit. 

I will be in Shenzhen to view some of the effects of the stability and prosperity the Mainland has enjoyed since that time � specifically the brand new Volkswagen that Jenny the girl from Beijing-but-she�s-got-an-American-passport has just bought.  We will, apparently, take it for a thoroughly decadent, bourgeois spin to the beach.

Wed, 30 May
The Mainland launch of the Good Book took place yesterday evening at a Shenzhen branch of Little Sheep.  The place is similar to the Macau and Hong Kong outlets, except they have donkey � marked down to just RMB15.  Not bad.  Tastes similar to horse, maybe a bit sweeter.  And sheep penis, which I thought would be gilding the gastronomic lily.  If the bill comes to over RMB50 a head, you have been greedy and ordered too much.
My expectations of zipping along in a lime green Beetle with the roof down and Born To Be Wild blaring from the music system are dashed today, as it transpires that Jenny the girl from Beijing-but-she�s-got-an-American-passport is the proud owner of a sparkling new VW Passat.  There are thousands on the Shenzhen streets, presumably churned out by some joint venture somewhere.  Just as she has a maid to look after her vast dog, so she has also hired a driver for the car.  The four of us, plus the obese canine, head east out of the city to go to the seaside.
On the way, we pass romantic Yantian port.  It costs US$300 less to ship a container from here than from Hong Kong�s Kwai Chung terminal.  In due course, much of Hong Kong�s port activity will migrate north, leaving the Big Lychee with less crowded streets, fewer metal boxes strewn all over the New Territories, cleaner air and a huge amount of freed-up waterfront space.  This is of course a Very Bad Thing Indeed, and our Government � after sitting back for years and allowing a cartel to add to the facilities� high costs � is desperately trying to keep this nasty 20th Century industry going.  Otherwise we will be �marginalized� and �left behind� by the fume-spewing trucks making their final trip across the border.

Then we hit the beach.  Except we don�t, because this is a People�s Republic of China privatized beach that you pay to enter, and a sign by the turnstiles makes it clear that animals are not allowed in.  My suggestion that we leave the beast alone for a while by the side of a busy highway is not taken up.  So it�s back into the People�s Car, and off we go to a public stretch of golden sand further along.  The dog leaps into the water and swims away in the approximate direction of the Philippines, dragging the maid behind, as the driver rolls up his trousers and wades in to retrieve the pair.

Meanwhile, I get my once-every-five-years reminder of why I hate beaches.  The sun burns my skin.  The glare dazzles my eyes.  The sand gets in between my toes.  I will try one again in 2012 to make sure nothing has changed.  To the upwardly mobile people of the Pearl River Delta, however, going to the coast and wandering around in a swimsuit and tacky inflatable tube is an irresistible novelty.  Even on a weekday, busloads of them have come from Guangzhou and beyond.
After the long and tiring journey of at least 30 miles and the exhausting 20 minutes plodding and paddling at the ocean�s edge, we repair to the three-room suite that Jenny has booked in a not-totally grotesque looking hotel.  The dog gets the veranda, with a huge bathtub of icy water to splash in.  The humans take showers, enjoy the air conditioning and sample the room service.  Then, in less than two hours, we are back on the road, heading back to Shenzhen. 

Only minutes away from home, disaster strikes as the mutt � suffering from surfeits of excitement, yummy sea water and ice cream � succumbs to motion discomfort.  After enjoying much gentle reassurance and sympathetic patting, the cur is dropped off outside the apartment complex, where it proceeds to pull the maid in a northern direction � possibly towards the airport.  The driver, Jenny and I then rush the chariot to the Volkswagen Dog Vomit Removal Centre, where a squad of highly trained specialists employ a high-tech Pooch Puke Processor that leaves the interior spotless.  This service is free for the life of the car.  The rent for a space in Jenny�s condo�s underground car park is RMB120 a month.  For donkey-eating car owners with nauseous pets, Shenzhen is an affordable heaven.
Thurs, 31 May
Has anything happened during my 24-hour absence?  Entering the gwailo�s lair on the top floor of S-Meg Tower this morning, I notice one change � the Revised Concept Plan for Lantau has mysteriously appeared on my desk.  A casual flick-through reveals a tribute to the bold visionaries who inhabit our planning bureaucracy and to the generosity and public spirit of our logistics and tourism industries, who have clearly taken great trouble to ensure our officials receive all the advice and encouragement they could possibly need.

The essential problem is that we have a big island, Lantau, and 95% of it is just a load of mountains, trees, bushes and beaches sitting there doing nothing.  The solution is an exciting selection of hubs and nodes.  Some will help the Big Lychee fight back against Shenzhen�s evil Yantian Port in the battle over who has the most trucks and containers passing through.  Others will help us attract yet more hordes of Mainlanders to clog up the streets and boost our economically essential skin-whitening products retail industry.

Owing to all the synergies, perhaps, it is hard to tell which of the proposals are the most original and life-enhancing.  The cross-boundary transport hub.  The Lantau Logistics Park (and its �possible extension�).  The Lower Cheung Sha Beach spa and resort development.  The �Face Lift� for Mui Wo.   The South Coast Beachfront Enhancement.  A golf course.  And then there is Enhancing the Countryside Recreational Potential of Rural Lantau. 

Time to enhance my shareholding in Cheung Kong Infrastructure, whole owner of Green Island Cement!
Fri, 1 Jun
Part of the highly civilized discussion on RTHK�s
Backchat last Monday touched on the way Hong Kong�s system of land allocation just so happens to give self-serving officials huge amounts of revenue to spend on their favourite projects � schemes that serendipitously also funnel funds to such industries as construction and often involve the granting of privileged opportunities to acquire wealth to a cartel of family owned property companies.  Just a day or two later, the Government issued its Revised Concept Plan for Lantau. 

In today�s
Standard, commentator Stephen Brown ties land revenues, secretive planning and Lantau together, presenting a neat example of the way Hong Kong�s public wealth is being hijacked by narrow vested interests, not least the bureaucrats themselves.  He points out that the bundle of projects associated with the Lantau plan potentially make for greater public opposition than West Kowloon, Central reclamation, etc, etc put together.  Perhaps this is the whole idea � swamp public opinion with so many money-wasting, environmentally destructive proposals at once that the bulk of them will get through.  More likely though, when the size and emptiness of Lantau finally dawned on them, the bureaucrats� lust for gargantuan plans simply went into uncontrollable overdrive.

How seriously can our officials take their unnecessary infrastructure projects?  How about giving them
a role in the celebrations for the 10th anniversary of the handover?

THE WORKING day starts with an email from the spotty
[email protected] referring to a missive that his fascistic firewall has intercepted en route to me from a certain wild American friend�
This email has violated the PROFANITY.
and Quarantine entire message has been taken on 5/31/2007 10:47:30 PM.
Message details:
Sender:[email protected];
Subject:Totally Bizar!
What could it be?  Maybe a link to an already-seen YouTube clip showing a member of the Society of Truth and Light performing an unnatural act on a goat.  Or a list of 20 unfunny and illogical reasons why beer is better than women.  Or some definitive and irrefutable photographic evidence of extraterrestrial life visiting Earth, courtesy of Photoshop.  The ex-Mormon likes to keep his contacts well supplied with such e-trivia.  But never before has anything�
violated the PROFANITY.
It must be better than average.