Hemlock's Diary
14-20 October 2007
Sun, 14 Oct
Was our dashing Chief Executive Donald Tsang hungover, stoned, on medication or otherwise temporarily coherence-challenged in his post-Policy Address interview on RTHK Radio 3 on Friday? 
(Entertaining 1 min 45 secs clip courtesy of David Webb.) Or does he believe that when people elect their own leaders they might end up rampaging in the streets, denouncing officials as capitalist roaders, making intellectuals kneel on broken glass reciting self-criticisms, destroying temples and ancient artefacts, and sending teachers off to the countryside to learn from the peasants?  (Or – even more frightening – have the right to draft legislation independently of the government and have a direct vote on it?)  Or was he giving us a rare glimpse of his unique – to put it charitably – understanding of history and opinion of the people.
Radio interviewer (and winner of Understatement of the Month Award) “The cultural revolution wasn’t really an example of extreme democracy was it?”

Donald Tsang “What is it?  People taking power into their own hands.  Now, this is what you mean by democracy if you take it to the full swing.  And, er, in other democracy, even if you have re-elected a person, then you turn – you overturn – the policy.  In California for instance you have initiative number… number… number… what, then you overturn the policy taken by the government.”
As well as having the right to propose and vote on laws independently of the executive and legislature, Californians also have a recall mechanism, which enables the electorate to kick poor leaders out of office in mid-term, and which we can guess would also not appeal greatly to Sir Bow-Tie.  Other states have similar systems.  It all dates from the Progressive Era, circa 1900, when vote-rigging, cartelization and collusion between officials and big business had been ‘taken to the full swing’ – so it’s all obviously of no relevance to Hong Kong.
Mon, 15 Oct
The weather gets cooler, and the
Tin Shui Wai suicide season opens, with a mother throwing her two children and then herself from a 24th floor apartment.  It is a strange system.  We open the door to Mainlanders who cannot afford to live in Hong Kong.  They have little hope of finding work – and to make sure they don’t, we assign them housing units in a town miles away from any jobs.  The apartments are far tinier than the homes they had over the border, yet there are few other places to go, and no money anyway, so they are crammed together most of the time.  We assign spaces in sub-standard schools to the children.  We put the families on welfare, so they have just enough not to starve.  They have no choices to make.  Home, school, income are all decided and provided by a distant bureaucratic process.  Similarly, the town has no self-government – no mayor or locally elected bodies to give people a sense of community responsibility or ownership.  They just sit there, wards of the state.  At least serfs have something to do all day.  Going back isn’t an option, because their townships over the border cancelled their residency status when they emigrated.  The most astounding thing is that some of them do not go nuts and do not kill or mutilate themselves or one another.  Those are the freaks the social workers should study.
MOVE ON.  We must move on.  That’s the word from the great and good, following the moving apology from Donald ‘number number number what’ Tsang for his original, thinking-out-of-the-box insights on democracy and the Cultural Revolution.  I for one will be glad to put all this behind us, and never mention the affair again.

THE WORLD of Lily Wong, the comic strip dropped by the
South China Morning Post years ago for being more expensive to the publisher than funny to the reader, returns as a sponsored feature in, among other outlets, The Standard.  Back in the old days, the cartoon included clichéd and outdated, but nonetheless enjoyably offensive, portrayals of Mainland leaders and characters.  It is now being endorsed by Pacific Coffee, which is owned by the Chevalier group, whose Chairman, Dr CY Chow GBS, is a member of the Chief Executive Election Committee and the Better Hong Kong Foundation and who would possibly frown on a comic that strays onto politics.  Is a corporate-funded Lily Wong destined to be as insipid as the hot, brown water-flavoured liquid sold at Hong Kong’s favourite beverage chain?

Tue, 16 Oct
Amid the uproar over Donald Tsang’s massive face-losing Cultural Revolution PR disaster, few have paid attention to his comments about California’s initiative system, which, unlike his deranged thoughts on the Maoist lunacy in the late 1960s, reveal something of his underlying beliefs.  He views with horror the idea of a mechanism that allows the people to bypass the power structure and introduce their own legislation. 

Under Tung Chee-hwa, Hong Kong’s leadership was so incompetent that there was always an outside chance the Government would accidentally do something clever.  I can’t say I recall it happening, but it was a theoretical possibility.  Today we have Sir Bow-Tie and his dancing bureaucrats, highly skilled at consistently doing the same outdated, self-indulgent things over and over regardless of popular opinion and petrified of the notion that the public might “overturn the policy taken by the government.”  It’s not really an improvement.

One reason – so far – he can delude himself and everyone else outside of Tin Shui Wai that all is more or less well is that the stock market is making us all effortlessly richer, the ultimate diversionary godsend for a Big Lychee ruler with problems.  It seems only a few days ago I was musing on the possibility that Petrochina would be the first stock I have ever owned to rise 1,000 percent.  Then I went off to grab a beer from the fridge, and when I come back I find it has shot through that barrier – rising some 13 percent yesterday alone.
Priced at 22 times 2007 forecast earnings, this is getting silly.  The problem is, there are people out there who are comparing 22 with 32, 42 or 62.  They are not just Mainland housewives but supposedly respectable, if egotistical, institutional asset managers drooling over annualized profit growth.  When Petrochina started to account for too much of the Hemlock Fund at a bit under HK$12 around a year ago, I sold a good chunk of it, putting half into Sinopec and CNOOC  (since up roughly 100 and 50 percent respectively) and putting the rest into the Hemlock Safe and Boring Long-Term Portfolio – Standard Chartered, to be precise.  I am still a bit over-exposed to these energy stocks, but then I have oil prices, RMB revaluation, China’s growing market and that ‘wall of money’ to ease my mind, don’t I?  Plus some more beers in the fridge.

Wed, 17 Oct
Japanese businessmen having an orgy with hundreds of local prostitutes in Zhuhai.  A Microsoft Word Chinese thesaurus that offers ‘bandit’ as an alternative to ‘communist’.  The Vatican’s canonization of Catholics martyred during the Boxer Rebellion.  Taiwan’s naming of 14 March as Anti-Aggression Day.  The suggestion that Taiwan’s high education standards date from Japanese colonial rule.  The film
Gate of Heavenly Peace.  What do these things have in common?  All are guaranteed to hurt the feelings of the Chinese people faster than a Japanese Prime Minister can drop a wreath to the ground at the Yasukuni Shrine.  Now it’s George W Bush’s turn to push the button that has 1.3 billion people reaching through a cascade of righteous tears for the Kleenex, using one of the most tried and trusted methods – a meeting with the saintly and trendy Tibetan media star, the Dalai Lama.

If I were the US President I would make a public announcement to Beijing saying – “I apologize deeply for interfering with your internal affairs by having a personal meeting in my own country with someone.  Here’s my diary – please feel free to rearrange my schedule for the remainder of my term in office.”
And my advice to the Glorious Motherland’s leadership would be to grow up and be big boys rather than let everyone else laugh at them for being cry-babies.  “You’ll never get a man on the moon if you let people hurt your feelings like that all the time,” my mother would say, while patting them on the head and giving them a half-burnt flapjack to make them feel better.  They should be grateful that Uighurs, Mongolians, Manchus and all their other happy, smiling barbarian subjects don’t have charismatic, Hollywood-feted, peace-loving celebrities roaming the world bemoaning the oppression and persecution of their people.  The nearest to it would be Hong Kong’s very own Martin Lee.  This brings a whole new dimension to the meaning of the word ‘near’.
Thurs, 18 Oct
I was somewhere around the Princes Building on the edge of Statue Square when the drugs began to take hold... 

Slowly at first, then more noticeably, everything starts to become brighter.  Within a few minutes colours – especially in the yellow-red part of the spectrum – take on a life of their own.  Neon displays, traffic lights and vehicles’ indicators are so intense and throbbing that everything else seems grey and distant in contrast.  Meanwhile, detail melts away until my vision is hopelessly blurred.  The people passing around me are just a crowd of hazy blobs, some with glaring fuzzes of orange or puce clothing leaping out at me.  A head of black hair with gold earrings blocks my path and waves something glossy in my direction.  Is it Regina Ip thrusting a brochure at me on the assumption that a picture of her alongside Sir David Akers Jones will so fill me with awe that I will feel compelled to vote for her?  I will never know.

I make my way indoors, pass under some dazzling ceiling fluorescence and find the elevator.  Inside, an indistinct figure with brilliant crimson lipstick is clasping a matching phone to its head.  A teenage girl with that sort of classless but down-market English accent.

“Buy a what?  Uh…  OK, mum.  Yes, mum.  Yeah, OK.  Bye mum.”

Her shorter companion – something in a screaming vermilion mini-skirt – speaks pure, gum-chewing Californian.

“What’s she want?”

“She wants me to buy a chicken.”

“Your mom wants you to buy a chicken?”


“Like… where do we get a chicken?”

“I dunno.”

I step out, wander along gloomy corridors lined with occasional squares of frosted radiance at either side and enter what seems to be the right office.  The vague outline of a grey-haired man approaches.  He holds his face close up to mine for a few seconds, says “fine,” and waves me into a dark chamber.  I sit on a large chair surrounded by shiny metal equipment with dials and buttons.  He straps giant, hi-tech, black goggles over the top of his head, switches off all the lights and shines coloured beams into my belladonna-dilated eyes.  Earlier, before I had taken my hallucinatory stroll outside, he had been pushing a bulbous probe up against my orbs, zapping them with gamma rays and making me recite letters of diminishing size from a chart on the far wall, down to the point where it’s like sexing fruit flies at 10 yards.

The lights go back on.  The upshot – my eyes are fine.  “But you need reading glasses – I’ll write a prescription.”

He might as well tell me I have weeks to live.  This can’t be happening to me.  “You mean… I’m getting… ol…”  The word doesn’t come out.

“I call it getting wiser!” declares the bright white grin.