Hemlock's Diary
2-8 Dec 2007
Mon, 3 Dec
The Election of the Century comes to its eagerly awaited climax just before 3am with Justice KK Pang’s
announcement that Anson Chan has pummeled Regina Ip into the dirt by 55 to 43 percent.  The 52 percent of voters who turned out included virtually every pro-Beijing supporter in the constituency, their obedience strengthened by the lure of boxes of cha siu fan dangled before them by the massed ranks of Democratic Alliance for the Blah Blah of Hong Kong supporters.  “Personally sampled by our lovely candidate,” they assured their charges.  These disciplined and dutiful, indeed unquestioning, campaign workers could be seen everywhere on the streets yesterday, their dank hair, consumptive pallor and sunken eyes marking them instantly as outsiders bussed over to Hong Kong Island from their fetid housing estates far across the harbour and the mountains. 

The 48 percent of the electorate who abstained, on the other hand, included many people who would, if pressed, have cast their ballot for the pro-democrat.  But it is in the nature of these free-thinking lovers of liberty to do as they please and answer to no-one, and this can include staying in bed on a Sunday, working on their novels or spending quality time with their piano-playing, tri-lingual children.  It was in this spirit that Dame Conscience left the vote-counting early to have her hair done, leaving her opponent to take out her frustration by donning a pair of sharp stiletto heels and dispatching a selection of hamsters and small kittens her aides had brought along in the event of the worst.

Two relatively minor factors served to moderate Ip’s support and bolster Chan’s.  First was Regina’s misfortune in attracting a small group of zealous rabble prone to insulting, even bullying behaviour.  Could they have been inspired by the then-Security Secretary’s declaration five years ago that democracy brought Hitler to power?  To at least a few voters, they bore slightly too much resemblance, for the Big Lychee at least, to the brown-shirted
Sturm Abteilung gangs that terrorized the streets of Germany ahead of the 1933 election.  That was worth a few less votes for Regina and more for Anson.  Second, the irredeemably lame and desperate attempts by the Sing Tao/Standard newspapers and certain pitiable DAB luminaries to smear our very own Goddess of Universal Suffrage with a decade-old mortgage story convinced a few undecideds to tick the box marked Chan, just out of distaste.
The Most Amusing Sight of the Election Award goes to Tsang Yok-sing and other members of the Communist front, for following orders and venting their spleen at one treacherous, British-trained imperialists’ running dog while offering full and glowing support to another.

STANDARD’S sensitivity over the election result leads to a fascinating little example of Hong Kong’s famous self-censorship in action.  Today’s Lily Wong cartoon started off like this…
…yet ended up in the newspaper with something missing…
How long before they start to white out the dialogue?

Tue, 4 Dec
One of Hong Kong people’s many fine qualities is an indefatigability bordering on total, insensible bull-headedness.  One example would be the sidewalk distributors of handbills, tirelessly thrusting advertisements for pointless foot massage or spa services at every moving object.  Every thousand pedestrians striding past without interest only increases their conviction that a horde desperate to get their hands on the leaflets is just around the corner.  Another would be the conservation activist who, after running for election and gaining 16 percent of the number of votes she expected, concludes that the electorate are eager for more…
Dear beloved friends and supporters
My speechless thanks for your love and support, giving me this un-ordinary experience and participation to this historical election.  It has come a bit surprise that my vote is below 10,000
[1,595], out of my expectation. I can find two reasons for the failures: the campaign started at least one month too late and many of my vote have to go to Anson [175,874] due to their hate of Virginia [sic] Yip, which I can understand and accept. I also believe my performance had convinced the polity parties and many public that I am a quality person with vision and mind … I will definitely recover from my position very quickly and re-appear to public very soon … Although I lost in this election, if it is your wish that I should run another election next year, let me know and we will prepare to win. Until then, let we carry on our journey. Please continue to support Loy.

All my love, x x x …
Maybe someone can convince her to try karaoke instead.  Or, if she really wanted to be useful, she could teach Financial Secretary John Tsang some basic economics.  She can’t know any less than he does.  Tsang – scarily seen by namesake Donald as a possible successor as Chief Executive – tells the Legislative Council Panel on Financial Affairs that he will tackle inflation through Government expenditure on infrastructure.  The 10 projects are supposed to ‘create’ 250,000 jobs.  At the same meeting he presents lawmakers with a report stating that unemployment…
…edged down further to 4.1% in the third quarter, the lowest since mid-1998. As labour market conditions tightened, wages and earnings picked up somewhat in June 2007 over a year earlier. Job vacancies continued to surge.
The number of jobless is less than 150,000.  Deliberately creating a shortfall of some 100,000 workers is a novel way to reduce inflation, and he will deserve a Nobel Prize if it works.  He could argue (and sort of does if we read his comments with a sufficiently charitable looseness) that infrastructure can boost productivity and therefore ease inflationary pressure from labour costs.  However, many of the planned bridges and container terminals concerned will create no net economic return, being surplus to our requirements – thus having the opposite effect of creating waste. 

Perhaps tacitly admitting his comments up to now are economically illiterate, Tsang says he might try to ease inflationary pressure through postponing hikes in Government fees like property rates.  But as anyone knows, this just delays the eventual boost to the consumer price index. 

The correct answer to legislators’ questions about what he will do about looming inflation is, “Nothing – we have a currency peg, so we just live with it.”  Point enough cameras, lights and microphones at her, and I’m sure Ho Loy could say it with no problem.  With relish, indeed.
Wed, 5 Dec
For several weeks – probably much longer – tensions have been building.  I probably missed the signs at first.  They would have involved inscrutable mutterings and dark looks, but mostly an air of seething resentment, concentrated in the pantry at the far end of the top floor of S-Meg Tower.  The best part of a month ago, two of the three Stanleys from the mailroom entered the gwailo’s lair to casually but solemnly mention a problem concerning washing up.  Then, making a cup of my favourite Japanese toasted rice tea one afternoon, I noticed Mephist, the latest assistant to Ms Fang the Hunter Killer Secretary, stacking some saucers next to the sink.  “This is not part of my job!” she hissed.

Ms Fang was the first person to tell me to my face that we needed an amah.  Ever since the retirement of A-Ha, the all-purpose slave who opened the office in the morning, nobody had been in charge of the little room with the tea, coffee, water cooler and first aid box.  Attempts to enlist Mr Hui, the odd job man and token Muslim with exemption from the company’s ban on beards, came to nothing.  “We must get someone,” she insisted. 

Last week, I had a visit from Ms Doris Pang, the jackbooted Human Resources Manager.  By this time her pantry duties rosta was causing noticeable disharmony in the Private Office of S-Meg Holdings.  Chinaware was flying, eyes were being scratched out and humiliated Epsilons were bludgeoning each other to death with scrubbing brushes as they squabbled over who was to perform the lowest of lowly, face-diminishing tasks.  A-Ha had been seriously underemployed, the Regina Ip-supporting Obergruppenfuehrer told me.  For someone clutching a rhinoceros whip she seemed slightly defensive, as if she imagined I actually cared about this storm in a teacup – or teacups.  “All A-Ha’s other chores have been distributed among the junior staff with no trouble,” she told me. 

It is all outside the Company Gwailo’s official areas of responsibility, which are best viewed with a powerful microscope.  Sensing that I was expected to help, I suggested to Ms Pang that everyone – her, me, executive directors, secretaries, messengers, the lot (not Him, of course) – take it in turns to wash up.  It would take 10 minutes a month per person.  Obviously, I was not being serious.  My aim in proposing such horrifyingly, dangerously egalitarian madness was simply to make the HR Nazi go away with her tiresome problems and leave me alone.  Which she did.

Then, yesterday, kindly old Deputy Managing Director Mr Chan had a word with me in his office.  He reminded me that Ms Pang reports to him.  In other words, he cannot contradict anything she says or does.  But an amah wouldn’t cost much, he said.  Some middle-aged Mainland woman fresh off the train from the pig farms would be five thousand a month.  All it would take is one word from the Big Boss.  So I gave him a knowing nod.   Who dares ask?

This morning, after the daily meeting, our visionary Chairman is hurriedly handing me things to look at in case they are important.  One is a Government paper on environmental hygiene.  “We really need to hurry up and get a replacement for A-Ha,” I tell him.  “The pantry – well, we’re going to end up with a health problem.” 

“Yes, well tell Ms Pang to get on with it,” he snaps as he walks off.  Company Gwailo – hero of the 20th floor.

Thurs, 6 Dec
Since I don’t do standing in lines, and the IFC Mall branch of Pacific Methadone has a cluster of desperate supplicants around the counter waiting for their caffeine fix, I start the morning in Starbucks downstairs near the airline check-in desks.  And who do I bump into other than my old friend Percy Ratbone of the venerable Swine Group?
“Bitches!”  He tosses his briefcase down on a spare chair and shares with me a mango muffin and his opinion of his conglomerate’s subsidiary Cathay Pacific Airways’ cabin crew.  In the grand scheme of desirable, fashionable and acceptable womanhood, the CX hostesses have retained their position in Hong Kong society as an up-market version of the Filipino domestic helper.  You can get away with introducing one as your partner at a respectable function – though the niece of a Politburo member would win hands down, with a high-flying, shapely investment banker coming a decent second.  But Percy is singularly unimpressed with the girls today.  “Fucking bitches!”
In a city where few employers offer serious health care coverage, most people would be more than happy with Cathay’s medical plan.  Most companies offer HK$50 towards a doctor’s consultation fee or HK$1,000 for major surgery, but the Big Lychee’s favourite airline lavishes its staff with Swedish-style mollycoddling, right down to some limp-wristed, namby-pamby extra special protection where sickness causes families financial hardship.  I can’t believe I own shares in Tai Koo, the great and ancient hong.  As Percy explains, however, the cabin attendants have a long tradition of imagining the entire company is run for their benefit. 

“So they’re threatening to strike over Christmas.  So passengers are cancelling bookings.  I mean – Jesus!”  He shows me
a letter.  “The chaps sent this to that mad screaming creature who runs their wretched union.  It’ll go straight over their fucking heads, obviously.” 

I hand him back the plaintive appeal to reason.  “A simple solution,” I tell him.  “Sit them down and tell them if they don’t see sense you’ll inform all the relevant tax authorities of the huge cash allowances you pay them when they stay outside Hong Kong overnight.  I guarantee instant obedience.”
As he goes away with an evil look in his eye, I pick up the newspaper.  Before she has even had a chance to warm her seat in the chamber, newly elected Legislative Council member Anson Chan is treated to a special welcome from renowned statesman Tsang Tak-sing, the Secretary for Home Affairs.  I hope she is flattered.  Dame Conscience, spits the bespectacled minister, is a ‘sudden democrat’. 

Having been co-opted into a power structure of ‘sudden patriot’ colonial bureaucrats and monopolistic tycoons, he is probably halfway qualified to make the point.  Indeed, he has become the running dog of the same interests who once commanded Anson’s loyalty.  The difference is that she has since gained the support of the majority of voters at a free election, while Tsang was appointed to be his namesake Donald’s token leftist.  His last brush with a high opinion poll rating would probably have been in the late 1960s, when his imprisonment – for supporting Communist terrorists who were murdering Hong Kong people – would have won heavy public approval.  The idea of a 72-year-old Anson running in a rigged Chief Executive election in 2012 against a less popular, Beijing-backed dolt seems a bit fanciful, but obviously someone, somewhere is already having sleepless nights about it.
Fri, 7 Dec
Former Chief Executive and all-purpose walking disaster Tung Chee-hwa becomes Dr the Honourable Tofu-For-Brains at Chinese University’s degree conferment ceremony upon being made a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa (Latin for ‘not really’).  In his acceptance speech, the crop-haired one urges the audience of new graduates to follow the examples of the glorious motherland’s famed rocket scientists, hybrid rice inventors, Gobi desert oil extractors and Tibetan dairy cattle geniuses.  “Because of a period of colonial rule for 156 years, those of us from Hong Kong are somewhat detached from the development of the nation,” intones the Shanghai-born son of a shipping tycoon who fled the Communists liberators for the British-oppressed colony so many years ago.  A grand total of around 20 Chinese U students protest. 

Will he insist on being called ‘Dr’ Tung?  In a city that reveres fake designer bags and pirated DVDs, the great and good flaunt their phony degrees with unabashed pride.  But in this case it is unlikely.  CH is a modest man (and not, as Churchill might have pointed out, without firm grounds to be).  He will also no doubt listen to wise hints that using such a title is tacky, and people will laugh at you behind your back.  Some of our more vain captains of industry cannot help themselves and act as if they held real doctorates regardless, but Tung, for all his faults, has never been one for appearances, let alone fooling himself about them.

When granting an honourary degree,
Wikipedia tells us, “the university often derives benefits by association with the person in question.”  They say the on-line encyclopedia is inaccurate and untrustworthy – and here’s the proof.
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