Hemlock's Diary
9-15 Mar, 2008
Mon, 10 Mar
It must be at least three months since Shenzhen Mayor Xu Zongheng declared the need for Hong Kong to get off its big fat backside and do a better job of cooperation, integration, partnership, cooperation, mutual benefits, planning and cooperation.  So we are overdue, and the National People’s Congress provides the perfect forum for him to repeat, for the hundredth time, this
plea to bring the two cities closer.  And, as with the previous 99 times, he mentions the mystical land of Hetao – or the ‘heavily polluted Lok Ma Chau Loop’, as Hongkongers call it.  Never before in the history of inter-metropolitan relations has an inaccessible square kilometre of 4.5 million cubic metres of toxic mud played such a vital and central role in a proposal for collaboration.   

Ever since the straightening of the river left this Shenzhen-owned plot on the Hong Kong side of the border, officials up there have had a hankering to do something with it.  They can own a bit of Hong Kong right next to their own city.  No currency controls, no Communist Party disciplinary committee, full banking privacy, massive mark-ups on real estate development – all it needs is a road link, a VIP drop-off area and billions of dollars in clean-up costs.  If the funding for the proposed cross-Pearl River Delta bridge is any guide, the Mainland side would generously pay for the VIP lounge, and the taxpayers of the Big Lychee would cough up the rest.

Eyeing potential for big handouts or the opportunity to proclaim visionary concepts, the usual array of leeches, parasites, vested interests, trade associations and politicians have offered their own ideas for a trade expo zone with special immigration and customs arrangements, dreamy sounding technology research clusters, or some subsidy-sucking scheme for high-end manufacturing.  But these are sideshows to detract attention from the heart of the project – a legal money-laundering, property development playground for Shenzhen bigwigs. 

So far, the Hong Kong Government has done an admirable job of
humouring the Mayor and his cronies, sidestepping the issue but following the all-important rule of always appearing highly respectful towards officials over the ‘boundary’, however malicious, venal or obtuse they may be.  Dashing Chief Executive Donald Tsang’s friends in the Bauhinia Foundation think-tank even published a Mainland-drafted document describing the environmental non-starter as ‘the epitome of the future Hong Kong-Shenzhen metropolis’…
With rumours circulating of a forthcoming transfer to Qingdao, Mayor Xu may be increasingly impatient to get his counterparts in the Big Lychee to stop making vague promises to study and consider the idea and start making commitments.  The sleaziness, let alone technical impracticability, of the scam is probably too great for our local leaders to swallow.  But the project’s huge engineering and infrastructural challenges – requiring billions and billions of dollars to be spent on clean-ups, concrete, roads and bridges – must be hugely tempting to Sir Bow-Tie.  The immovable object of Hetao’s unfeasibility and imprudence faces the irresistible force of Donald’s urge to chuck our wealth down the giant infrastructure toilet.  Common sense would say it won’t happen, but common sense took a one-way trip out of here years back.
Tue, 11 Mar
Blood sample labelling mix-ups, institutional influenza-like illnesses, children discharged as healthy dying…  And our old friend,
flesh-eating disease.  (I can’t resist, but do not recommend, a look.)  If our Government were fiendishly clever, many would see the current epidemic of medical mishaps as part of a no-nonsense public relations plan designed to encourage popular support for the compulsory health insurance schemes to be proposed in a few days time.  As expectations management goes, it would be a masterstroke – manipulation of public opinion by means so cynical that even the most hardened and world-weary among us would have to be impressed. 

A quick adjustment to hospitals’ standard operating procedures for a few days is all it would take.  A kid comes in with meningitis?  Tell him he’s fine and he can go back to school and give all his classmates a big hug.  A kid comes in with flu?  Ditto.  A woman comes in with serious mineral deficiency?  Give a huge potassium supplement to someone else.  Meanwhile, unleash a bit of necrotizing fasciitis to stalk the wards.  Next thing, the whole population are begging to have 5 percent of their salaries deducted for their exciting mandatory personal health coverage plan.
But – and this is both disappointing but comforting – the idea that the leaders of Hong Kong have a fraction of the skills needed to conceive, create and execute this level of public communications programme is a touch fanciful.  The truth is they are bumbling incompetents who are just making it up as they go along.  As for our hospitals… 

The good news is that one public service remains as professional as ever.
The body of a newborn girl was found in a plastic bag.  It was Sunday.  It was at the Connaught Road-Peddar Street junction.  And if that doesn’t tell our valiant sleuths all they need to know...
Sherlock Homes wouldn’t have lasted five minutes here.
Wed, 12 Mar
The mood on the Mid-Levels Escalator this morning is one of barely containable exhilaration about the fact that Mainland actor Hu Jun has been
granted the right to live here among us in the Big Lychee under the visionary Quality Migrant Scheme.  Female commuters, in particular, are beside themselves with delight – Hu apparently being short for Hunk.  Having had one or two complaints that the highly artistic and profound montages now gracing the heads of these diary pages feature far more women than men, I resolve to find an appropriate picture of the movie star presenting his fine physique for the world to admire.

To those of us less easily impressed with the Mainland thespian form, there is something slightly odd about Hu’s appearance.  After some discussion, we establish that he is of Manchu origin.  This means that in terms of DNA he is more closely related to Mongolians, Koreans or Japanese than to the Cantonese, who are genetically far more similar to the Filipinos and Thais.  It also means he is descended from the hordes who overthrew the Ming dynasty in the 17th Century and enslaved and crippled the country to the extent that the barbarians could move in to sell opium and convert old apartments around Caine Road into studios, where they lurk to this day.  These fascinating tidbits raise the question of what the Quality Migrant Scheme is actually for.  Obviously, it is intended to augment the usual intake of Mainlanders we get daily under the Battered Wives Family Reunion Migrant Scheme – but with what, and to what purpose?
The original plan was to target people with high-class, designer-label credentials like Olympic medals and Nobel prizes.  Their presence, our policymakers calculated, would bestow upon Hong Kong an ambience of exclusivity and taste, like chandeliers and marble do in the foyers of 48-storey blocks of 500-square-foot apartments.  In return, the Big Lychee – which once offered sanctuary to the likes of Jose Rizal, Sun Yat-sen and Ho Chi Minh – would give the Mainland’s semi-famous, product-endorsing musicians and sport stars refuge from the PRC revenue man and one-child enforcement agent. A win-win if ever I saw one.
Thurs, 13 Mar
Yesterday’s heroes – for some – are tumbling in the US.  Former Vice-Presidential candidate (failed) Geraldine Ferraro stands down from Hilary Clinton’s campaign for the Democratic nomination after an angry outburst in which she said that Barack Obama was where he was in the race only because he was black.  What she didn’t say is that she is supporting Hilary only because the latter is a woman. 

A few decades ago, back in the days of pimples, embarrassing clothes and avocado bathroom fittings, I would sometimes leaf through
Ms magazine.  While to my mind it lacked some of the attractions of Cosmo, which was also lying around the house, it had the occasional interesting article on politics and even self-defence.  Its core readership at that time are getting on a bit now, but they never gave up hope that they would live to see a woman in the White House.  And now the younger electorate, for whom feminism is in the past and the gender of the President of little remark, are going to ruin it all by skipping that historic landmark and going straight for the big one.
Meanwhile, New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, slayer as State Attorney-General of crooked investment funds, resigns after it is revealed that he had spent US$80,000 over the years on hookers, via an up-market call-girl ring.  There are three main reasons a man might pay a woman to have sex with him.  Number one is that it is not just to have sex with him, but to go away afterwards.  Number two, as Ms made very clear all those years ago, is that it gives inadequate males a sense of power over another person.  For men accustomed to power anyway, the thrill requires a higher price-tag – like that dangling from the US$1,000-per-hour bims favoured by Spitzer.  Reason number three is simply that the man in question is so grotesque and loathsome in appearance and/or manner that women not on the verge of starvation or drug withdrawal symptoms lose all their natural urges in his presence.
Which leads me rather neatly closer to home, to Lockhart Road, where the Curse of Wanchai strikes again.  One Pierre Ingrassia – a Swiss kick-boxer – is found dead after checking into a sort-of hotel called Villa Victoria for three hours.  Unusually, there is no mention of sleazy female company or drugs, so there could be a perfectly innocent explanation.  For example, he booked a room alone for a nap and suffered a tragic allergic reaction to some hand-crafted chocolate.  But the truth could be nastier.  No-one would wish unpleasant death upon people purely because they are kick-boxers, teenage Bruce Lee fans, Shaolin Monks, karate-choppers of bricks, holy men who walk on hot coals, bungee jumpers, white water rafters or skiers.  But let’s say (and this might all be the fault of Ms again) there’s no law against sitting down quietly and reading a book. 

Did he practice on cuckoo clocks?
Fri, 14 March
Strolling into the gwailo’s lair on the top floor of S-Meg Tower this morning, what do I find sitting malevolently on my desk but the Government’s consultation document on
health care financing, complete with fetching photos of the sort of overweight kid they give away with every brand new Mercedes?  The glossy cover suggests mendacity.  The cheerful design hints at outrageous claims based on false assumptions.  The sickly colours reek of a scam to screw the middle class while leaving bureaucrats’ and tycoons’ pockets mysteriously stuffed. 

The proposal (Chairman of Working Group – Ronald Arculli) can be summarized in a few sentences.  Because of the ageing population, we must spend more on health care.  Since the Government doesn’t have the money, the better off should pay more.  There are six options, five of which have been carefully devised to have something unacceptable about them.

The ageing population is to some extent a non-issue.  People are living longer because they are healthier.  The ratio of workers to retirees is a function of retirement age.  Make people who need public services in old age work longer beforehand, and the problem goes away.  But the real outrage is the claim that the extra funds needed for health care cannot come from existing levels of Government revenues, even after abolishing tax on wine, subsidizing everyone’s electricity bill and other fiscal bizarreness. 

The Hong Kong Government, with no defence budget to pay for, spends 2.8 percent of GDP on health, versus 6-7 percent in other rich economies.  Even allowing for the (misleading) low level of Hong Kong’s tax and public spending levels, there is a gap.  The gap is budget surpluses and pointless infrastructure spending, which average out at around HK$50 billion each per year in the medium-term forecast (2009-13).  Public health care spending will be below HK$40 billion a year.  It could be doubled at no charge to anyone.  If there is someone who is not an economically illiterate cretin among the Government’s critics in the Legislative Council, this is their golden opportunity to stand up and make their mark. 

While waiting for that to happen, what better way to pass the time than to read the gushing description of the
latest public facility brought to us by the Jockey Club (Chairman when planned – Ronald Arculli).  Flicking through it, I get a tantalizing glimpse of the world as seen through the eyes of victims of one of our most disturbing mental illnesses – golf.  “The safe shot,” a victim rants about Hole 5, “is to take an extra cub over the water as the bailout area on this hole is behind the green.  From there a relatively easy chip will offer a par opportunity.”  Turning breathlessly to the subject of Hole 11, he declares “This 416 yard downhill par 4 provides plenty of drama.”  Is it any wonder that many right-minded people, myself included, have signed a living will authorizing our next of kin to shoot us if we ever succumb to this tragic derangement and are found walking around the countryside in pink woolen sweaters and white shoes hitting a little ball with a stick? 

Some people believe that in a densely populated city where the average family is expected to live in a 400-square-foot apartment, there are better things to do with land than build a 6,640-yard golf course.  They are being selfish.  Golfers are 32.7 times more likely than normal people to be struck by lightning.  Encouraging them to don their plus fours and stand on a hilltop waving a highly conductive number-five iron in the air as the cummulo nimbus flickers angrily overhead is an act of mercy.
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