Hemlock's Diary
The ravings of Hong Kong's most obnoxious expat
1-7 May 2005

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Sun, 1 May
A lazy day.  Browsing the Internet, I collect some wise words from the highly quotable celebrity chef and former heroin addict, Anthony Bourdain � the Lou Reed of cuisine � who has just
passed through the Big Lychee�
I�m just as happy with an irradiated carrot, so long as it tastes good. Organic food is grown in shit by hippies.

My naked contempt for vegetarians, sauce-on-siders, the �lactose-intolerant� and the cooking of the Ewok-like Emeril Lagasse is not going to get me my own show on the Food Network.

A vegetable is a beautiful thing, actually, if it�s cuddled up to a piece of meat, quite frankly. A potato cooked in duck fat is a gorgeous thing.

I have a lot of Mexican guys who work for me, so we have plenty of Mexi-rap and pop.  But, you know, I don�t want to hear any Justin Timberlake or Kylie in my kitchen, okay?  I will fire you so fast.

Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans, are a persistant irritant to any chef worth a damn. To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living.

Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food.

If they bring me the plate of steaming puppy heads, I�m eating them.

Have you ever tried the durian fruit?  It�s unbelievably smelly. It smells like Satan�s rectum.
I quite enjoy the consistency of durian � a greasy version of avocado � though the flavour is less compelling.  Words like �Satan� and �rectum� being unthinkable in Victorian times, a 19th Century Hong Kong Governor described the odour as a blend of �carrion and custard�
Mon, 2 May
Is there any alcohol left in Saigon�s Rex Hotel, after dozens of Vietnam War news veterans reunited there last week to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the fall of the city?  According to one rumour, they ran out on the second day.  The local media decline to say, possibly because it could raise questions about how sober photographer Hu Van Es was when he
assured them life in the place has become �much, much better� since the communists took over.  Then again, given the previous regime�s standards of governance, maybe he is right.  The Foreign Correspondents Club stalwart has long had a problem trying to explain to people that his famous picture of a helicopter evacuating refugees shows the roof of an apartment block, not the US embassy.  The solution is simple � rename the building �The US embassy�.  The wonders of lateral thinking.
Tue, 3 May
There is much mirth on the Mid-Levels Escalator this morning.  The clean-living and industrious middle-class residents of northern Hong Kong Island contemplate with glee the
chaotic traffic situation faced by the benighted folk who drive into town from Kowloon and even remoter regions.  Not just faced by � caused by.  After the privately-owned Eastern Harbour Crossing raised its tolls yesterday, thousands of vehicles have started to use the underpriced and already-overcrowded Cross-Harbour Tunnel, owned by the Government.  I explain to my fellow commuters that the situation is similar to that of public hospitals, whose unrealistically low charges pull business away from private providers.  The latter, unable to compete on price, push their charges up even more to grab what they can.  The answer would be obvious to a dim 15-year-old who has done a year of high school economics � but unfortunately, the Government doesn�t include any dim 15-year-olds.  �Raise the tolls on the Cross-Harbour Tunnel,� I declare, �so it is the most expensive rather than the cheapest option.�  This suggestion is met with nods of agreement.

The problem, I tell everyone, will be over in 10 minutes.  Price-sensitive expats will abandon their silly Hondas and Volvos and start using the planet�s best mass transit system.  Locals who gain big face by driving around in huge Mercedes and SUVs with nasty fat children in the back will weigh up the costs and benefits of the different tunnels and act accordingly.  The less successful self-employed operators of taxis and trucks will fall by the wayside and move back to their family pig farms in the darkest reaches of Guangdong.  The other 90 percent of the population will carry on riding the MTR and busses, oblivious to it all, singing along merrily to the on-board TV programmes.  �And,� I conclude as the Escalator gently delivers us into the central business district, �we, the disenfranchised bourgeoisie � the people with the intelligence to live in decent neighbourhoods near our workplaces, rather than miles away in festering tenements and tasteless villas � will continue to glide up and down the hill on this marvel of the transport world, while solving all the city�s problems effortlessly.�  And that�s
before breakfast.

Wed, 4 May
A good couple of decades after the death of environmentalism, Greenpeace founder
Bob Hunter passes away.  Silent Spring was published in 1962 and written by someone born in 1907.  (How many more people have died of malaria since the ban on DDT boosted mosquito numbers?  Never mind.)  By the time the Cuyahoga River last caught fire in 1969, it was already being cleaned up, with fish returning for the first time in decades.  Greenpeace was formed just as the bandwagon was slowing down in the early 1970s.  Thanks to impressive publicity stunts, it became the darling of the vegetarian-Tibet-organic-pacifist- whales-feminist-alternative scene of the 70s and 80s, attracting millions in donations.  Hunter had left the organization by the time of its finest moment, in 1985, when the mighty and heroic French secret service saw fit to blow up the Rainbow Warrior.

In 1995 Greenpeace falsely claimed that Shell was going to sink the Brent Spar oil rig in the North Sea without draining it of pollutants.  A gullible press publicized this lie, leading to a consumer boycott that cost the company � a core holding for many retirees � millions.  The activists mumbled an apology.  In 1999 Canada refused the group charitable status on the grounds that its activities served �no public interest�.  Since then, Greenpeace has petrified Europeans by suggesting that genetically modified foods endanger their health.  Seven thousand years ago, when the Incas first started cultivating crops, a cob of corn was an inch long.  With no valiant environmentalists to stop them, greedy Incan corporatist biotech interests subjected the plant to selective and cross-breeding, leaving us with the unnatural foot-long monsters we now eat.  Today�s technology can produce
food of higher nutritious value in greater abundance with less pesticide and fertilizer � much to the benefit of the Third World.  But Greenpeace fights it, putting its militant anti-capitalist, anti-�imperialist� and anti-science agenda first.

In Hong Kong, the city where trendy fads crawl to die, Greenpeace activists dress up in gas masks, protective suits and thick gloves, march into supermarkets, and emerge holding a packet of crackers in tongs � displaying it to dim-witted TV reporters as if it�s a lump of plutonium.  How many of these people are evil, and how many cretins?  Judging by their looks, I would say the ratio is probably ten to one.  Bob Hunter was neither, but the world would surely be a better place if he had been a PR executive for Monsanto.
TODAY�S VERDANT theme continues as my eyes behold a distinctive colour.  Its official name is �duck vomit green�.  For decades, the Hong Kong Government has chosen this drab olive tone for summer police uniforms, plastic chopsticks in junior civil servants� canteens, the interior walls of correctional institutions, and that most loathsome item in the armoury of state oppression � the tax envelope.  The thing is difficult to open.  Some minion in the Inland Revenue Department, salivating at the prospect of getting his grubby, rapacious paws on my hard-earned wealth, obviously licked the flap with special relish and sealed it with a determined press.  With only 17 of us actually paying salaries tax in the Big Lychee � each supporting more than 10,000 grasping bureaucrats � such personal attention is predictable, indeed inescapable.  Inside, along with an impertinent request for personal financial information, I find a table outlining the extent of this legalized theft for particular fiscal years..
2002-03     15.0%
2003-04     15.5%
2004-05     16.0%
Do I detect a pattern here? 

Thurs, 5 May
�So by the year 2171,� I explain to wild American friend Odell outside the IFC Mall branch of Pacific Coffee, �we will be paying 99 percent of our salaries to the Government.�  The former Mormon sips his durian, chocolate and oregano yogurt and shrugs.  He�s not earning enough money to worry about paying the full rate, he points out.  But maybe that�s going to change.

�You�re into cultural imperialism, aren�t you?� he asks me.  You bet.  �Well,� he announces, �I�ve been auditioning for a job as an enforcer of Western values on Mainland tourists at the new Disneyland.  And I�ve got it!�  I give him a hearty handshake.  I heard about
this recently.  I�d have applied for the position myself if I was poor.  As it is, I�m being drowned in a sea of dividends from ASM Pacific, HSBC, Giordano � and Swire and Petrochina on the way.

Odell shows me his Disney business card.  Chief Guest Behavior Management Artist.  He can�t hide his enthusiasm.  �I�ll have a tall blonde girl as an assistant and these seven midgets with beards.  The rules for visitors are simple.  If they spit, they have to get on their hands and knees and wipe it up.  If they smoke, they have to kneel on broken glass wearing a dunce�s cap.  And if they push or shove or cut into a line � and it�s just hard-wired into some of these guys � they get a taste of the electric cattle prod and have to write a self-confession.�  I�m impressed, but not totally surprised.  Disney runs a tight ship.  Look how methodically Mickey and Donald ate Western civilization.  And now � who�s next?  �Exactly,� agrees Odell. �That�s the motto on our T-shirts � �Don�t fuck with The Mouse�.  In simplified characters.�
BROWSING THE web in my office, I stumble across Hong Kong�s newest blog.  It�s a quidnunc.  A purveyor of mild gossip.  Produced by the new-look Far Eastern Economic Review, it takes the title of a longstanding feature in the old magazine � Traveller�s Tales.  (Now this American outpost has unburdened itself of Brits, Aussies, Indians, etc, shouldn�t it spell �Traveller� with one �l�, or does the Dow Jones style book demand two?)  It contains disappointingly little that will excite lawyers, distress ladies, upset children or panic horses.  It doesn�t even have pictures yet, though I am assured that a cartoon will soon be gracing the masthead.  The good news is that it has nothing in common with the embarrassingly bad column that Nury Vitttachi spitefully inflicted on the old FEER.

A meeting with a
FEER reporter maybe five or six years ago comes to mind.  He had come to interview the Big Boss, and I was seeing him out of S-Meg Tower.  In the elevator, I submitted my humble opinion that Traveller�s Tales was an excruciatingly awful waste of space and an insult to readers who were over 10 years old and had an IQ above 75.  The reporter winced and then drew a deep breath.  �I know,� he confided in me.  �But�� He looked at me with a bewildered look on his face, silently pleading for understanding.  ��Some people like it.�  We stared at each other in baffled silence for a few moments.  It was one of those tragic days when the human race goes down another notch in my esteem.

Fri, 6 May
The news is grim this morning.  �
Hong Kong to collapse and disappear into obscurity as inhabitants take English less seriously than hunter-gatherers in Southeast Asian jungles�.  According to a survey of such scientific integrity that it provides figures to two decimal places, a pitiful 50.79 percent of Hongkongers sometimes read English books or newspapers, versus 55.84 percent of Shakespeare-loving Thais.  Even more shocking, only 61.2 percent of us in the fragrant harbour consider English to be important in education, business and employment, against 91.7 percent in the land of smiles.  Looking through the report, I become curious.  Where in Thailand did the researchers go to conduct this highly objective and academic inquiry?  None of the overweight, middle-aged farangs guzzling beer in Patpong girly bars ever read anything, apart from the numbers on the dancers� bikinis � so they obviously didn�t go there.   Perhaps they asked folk in the Bangkok slums.  I�m sure 91.729403 percent of them would reply �if we spoke English as well as people in Hong Kong, we wouldn�t be poor�.

And then what exactly is the Wall Street Institute, the important-sounding organization behind the study?  I would shudder to think that they are just a pretentiously named language school, using the results of a meaningless opinion poll to create a non-news story to drum up business.  The sort of place that hires English teachers with white faces but
no relevant qualifications.  Surely not.  Otherwise, why would the South China Morning Post give them two whole columns on page three today?