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Goodbye Hong Kong 

Hello Xianggang 


Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2009 with funding from 

IVIulticultural Canada; University of Toronto Libraries 

Goodbye Hong Kong, Hello Xianggang 
by Nury Vittachi 

Edited by 
Stephanie Mitchell 

Art Directed by 

Andrew Rutherford 

Cover Illustration by 

Robin Whyler 

\ South China Morning Post Book 

Ca«vada-Hong Kong Resource Ct-Ur^ 

I Si»*>nc Cnutm. Ka III* TorcMo. C^i.^, ■ w i;; i .\ i 

All rights reserved. This book is sold subject 
to the condition that it shall not, by way of 
trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired 
out, or otherwise circulated without the 
publisher's prior consent in any form of 
binding or cover other than that in which it 
is published and without a similar condition 
including this condition being imposed on 
the subsequent publisher. This Includes 
electronic versions. The moral right of the 
author has been asserted. 

Goodbye Hong Kong, Hello Xianggang 

© Nury Vittachi, 1997 

A South China Morning Post Book 

Published byO'Donald Publications 

ISBN 962-815-04-6 

Printed in Hong Kong by Midas Printing Ltd 

First Impression, March 1997 

Book One: How to be taken over 

Phase one: Goodbye Hong Kong, Hello Xianggang 
Phase two: What You Need To Know 
Phase three: The History Of Hong Kong 

(1) (An exclusive interview with British historian 
the Rt Hon Terry Sinter-Waffle) 

(2) (An exclusive interview with Ho Chi-kin, 
geomancer and almanac writer) 

Phase four: Guide To The Governors 
Phase five: The Name's Bon. Tsim-see Bon. 
Phase six: Veni. Vidi. Vici. Video. 
Phase seven: What A Good Sport - 

A gentle allegory of Hong Kong politics 

Book Two: Louise Fraud and the immense tailor 
In Hong Kong, wonders never cease 

1. This Caller Is Being Terminated 
(Transcripts of real telephone conversations! 

2. How To Become A Property Tycoon 
(A true story of intrigue and greed) 

3. And The Winner Is... 

(Awards for those who added to the sum of human hilarity) 

4. Louise Fraud And The Immense Tailor 
(Businesses actually operate under these names) 

5. City On A Staircase 

(A vignette of Hong Kong life) 

6. The President's Massage 

(Memorable "misprunts" from around the region) 

7. Your Uncensored Chinese Horoscope 
(Dr Fung reveals all) 

8. The Ultimate "Only In Hong Kong" Stories 
(Believe it) 

9. Our Job Is To Enjoy You 
(Advertising slogans you'll never forget) 

10. Joint Venture 

(Of handcuffs and suffering for one's art) 

11. Someone Actually Said That? 
(Your ears aren't playing tricks) 

12. This Is Your Captain Shrieking 
(A note for busmess travellers) 

13. Play It Again, Ah-Sum 

(A vignette from a rural island) 

14. Moving Experiences 

(How to get around in Hong Kong) 

15. Acne Chan And The Wonderful Basket 
(These names are real, I'm sorry to say) 

16. The Great Tandoori Mystery 
(International cuisine: an appetiser) 

17. All Vegetarians Digested Here 
(A main course) 

18. Hutch Life And Fatal Tights 
(Products you need) 

19. Blocks And blockheads 
(Names of buildings in Hong Kong) 

20. Mean Business 

(Anecdotes from the world of commerce) 

21. The Perfect Crime... Not 
(Dumb criminal stories) 

22. The Truth About Santa Claus 
(Christmas: Made in Asia) 

Book Three: What a wonderful world 

1 . How To Take Jokes Through Immigration 
(A serious look at cross-border humour) 

2. What a Wonderful World 
(Tales from around Asia) 

3. The Long Run 

(A despatch from the Beijing marathon) 

4. Twin Peaks 

(Bra wars come to Asia) 

5. Miracle On Platform Two 
(A visit to Japan) 

6. St Mary's Trucking Service 
(A visit to the Philippines) 

7. The Lion, The Rich, And The War Refugee 
(A visit to Singapore) 

8. Death, Where Is Thy Funnybone? 
(The collector of bizarre deaths) 

9. The Cult Of Benny Hill 

(Devotees of Western, er, culture in Asia) 

10. Kids Make Nutritious Snacks 
(Headlines from around the world) 


Introduction Cocktail parties, long lunches, secrets 
whispered over canapes, anonymous notes passed dur- 
ing formal functions, musings over the trusty 
Remington — with such activities does the gossip 
columnist pass his days, or so it is widely believed. 
Balls. I forgot to mention balls and other gala events. 

Well, that's the myth. The reality is ver/ different. 
Gossip columns only work if they are written by the 
community they serve. The best the desperate columnist 
can do is place himself in positions where you, the read- 
er, can give him material by mouth, by letter, by fax, by 
phone, by e-mail, and (once, in my experience) carved 
on a rock and delivered by a sweating messenger boy. 

If Your Humble Narrator was truly honest, he would 
change the title on his business card to "typist". 

Some columnists who wander into the territory of 

strange items on menus are accused of being politically 
incorrect. But in this book, with its origins in a multi- 
lingual, multi-ethnic community, I have attempted to 
deliver good-natured humour without becoming a lin- 
guistic chauvinist. 

And I have two sets of editors to keep me on the 
straight and narrow: A smaller set is found in my office. 
The larger set gives its views through my postbag. 

So, the main person I have to thank is you. 

Thank you for writing this book. 

Thank you for doing it in record time, with unfailing 

good humour 
And thank you most of all for letting me collect your 
pay packet while you did it. 

Nury Vittachi 

Hong Kong February, 1997 

Phase one: Qoodbye Hong Kong, Hello Xiangang 

7.28 am, June 30, 1997 The first inkling that things 
were going to be distinctly odd was the sight of an 
agitated cluster of people at Mr Fan's double-boiled 
entrails cart, on the pavement where Staunton Street 
crosses the Mid-Levels escalator. "No cha siu bau? 
What do you mean? You can't have run out already!" 
The businessman who spat these words appeared to be 
steaming, as he stood downwind of the vapours from 
Mr Fan's grease pan. The upholstered matron next to 
him expressed her exasperation in a snort and made a 
gazelle-like leap back on to the escalator. 

"Cha siu bau no more," explained Mr Fan. "I cooking 
worteep now, I not getting in any trouble from tomorrow." 

7.45 am I mull over this scene while being escalated 
downwards. Northern fried dumplings instead of 
Cantonese buns? Has it come to this? I began to 
realise that it is not the earth-shattering adjustments 
in the statute books that will cause most changes in 
our lives. It will be the subtle alterations made by 
Hong Kong people ourselves, based on our assump- 
tions that there is a major change in the culture of 
our home town. 

8.35 am Gridlock of a complexity never before seen 
brings Central and Admiralty to a standstill. On both 
sides of Queensway, minibuses face each other nose-to- 
nose like dogs squaring up to a fight. The driver of the 
28A is arguing that we had to start driving on the right 
immediately. The driver of the Sugar Street siuba insist- 
ed that we switch to driving on that side from midnight 
only, after the enthronement of Tung Chee-hwa. A 

minor functionary from the Highways Department is 
trying to interject the official line that Hong Kong traf- 
fic will continue to drive on the left, but this is pooh- 
poohed as ridiculous by both sides. 

9.50 am Abandon the bus and walk towards 
Admiralty. "Amazing," a man strolling near me says to 
nobody in particular. "The day of the handover arrives, 
and immediately Queensway becomes Nanjing Dong 
Lu," he says, naming the road in the centre of 
Shanghai famed for its inch-an-hour traffic. 

11.15 am Enter the subway station at Admiralty. Note 
that tickets are now being sold by branches of the Bank 
of China. I ask for a $100 TravelCard. "That will be $100 
- and 200 Marlboro," says the ticket seller. 

11.30 am The subway entry turnstiles have long 
lines of people in front of them, in a scene reminis- 
cent of the Lowu immigration department. Signs had 
been hung above various blocks of entry points. There 
is no one at the 16 turnstiles roped off under the 
banner "Citizens of the PRC". There are several thou- 
sand people in a long line behind the four turnstiles 
marked "Compatriots". 

1 1 .40 am Queue in front of the two turnstiles 
marked "Barbarians". Ahead of me there is a shortish 
line of Westerners, but the line is moving extremely 
slowly. This is because we are required to have AIDS 
tests before going through, now that Hong Kong/ 
Xianggang's transport systems are linked to Southern 

China's. A fussy American is complaining that the 
ticl<et inspector is using the same syringe for all the 
passengers. "Don't worry, it's still sharp, look," says 
the inspector, jabbing the needle into the sole of his 
shoe to demonstrate. 

Nathan Road, heading for the procession that is 
planned for tomorrow morning. Several tank drivers 
stop to buy leather jackets and flared trousers in 
Mody Road, discovering that the barrels of the tanks 
are good bargaining tools. 

1 pm Arrive at the office. "Jo san," I say to the guard. 
"Ni hao," he replies loudly 

3.45 pm Scan the newspapers. It was long believed 
that this day would be a public relations problem for the 
Chinese authorities. After all, what headline could there 
possibly be for reports marking this historical event except: 
"China takes over: Democratic process abandoned"? 

But the prophets had failed to take self-censorship 
into account. Most popular headline today: "China 
takes over: Democratic process improved". 

9.03 pm The television news reports that a petition 
signed by 3,000 young men of all races has been 
handed in to Government House. It urges British Prime 
Minister Tony Blair to appoint the three Patten daugh- 
ters as permanent British ambassadors in Hong Kong. 

10.30 pm Caught jaywalking on Nathan Road as I try 
to get a good vantage point to see the handover fire- 
works. Officer hands me pen and paper and orders me 
to write a three-page self-critical essay as punishment. 
I slip him $500 and he agrees to write it for me. 

5.30 pm News comes through on the police wire- 
link of an unusual traffic arrest. Three men had been 
arrested by off-duty PLA troops who saw them driving 
down Upper Albert Road in broad daylight in a black 
car with no number plate, either on the front or the 
back. "Even in the most lawless parts of China, people 
have number plates on their cars," said Captain Liao, 
who apprehended the three men. One was a chauf- 
feur, one was a foreigner with big ears, who gave his 
name as Mr P. of Wales, and the other was described 
as a Mr C. Patten. 

8.30 pm I go to Kowloon-side to see what is going 
on there. A long line of tanks is rumbling slowly up 

Midnight Sneak into a line-up of Chinese officials at 
the Convention Centre island to watch the lowering 
of the Union Jack and the raising of the Chinese flag. 
The man next to me, a pleasant official from the 
north, asks me whether I want to change some US 
dollars into renminbi. I decline. He doesn't seem to 
mind. After a while, he comments: "It's nice to be in 
Hong Kong. I'm really looking forward to waking up 
and sinking my teeth into a nice, soft cha siu bau." 

Phase two: What you need to know 

It is vital to remember that we have to adjust much 
more than logos and insignias now we are living in 
Xianggang. Our culture, our lifestyles and even our very 
psyches have to undergo a top-to-bottom makeover. 
Out go British and other Western influences. In comes 
the influence of Mother China. For those unsure where 
to start, here are some tips. 

The gracious Hong Kong hostess's menu for Sunday lunch: 
Before: Roast mad cow, potatoes, and Yorkshire pudding. 
After: Peking duck and double-boiled cold cuts of 
jellied expat. 

Choice of prominently placed coffee table book: 
Before: Sex by Madonna. 
After: Glorious Photographic Record of the 
Achievements of Deng Xiaoping. 

Best pick-up line: 

Before: "I'll buy you a diamond ring, my friend..." 

After: "I've got these cadre friends in Shanghai who 

are looking for a Hong Kong pied a terre 

just like your flat..." 

Top-rated television comedy: 
Before: r/7e Wee*; /n /.egco. 
After: The Weel< in the Provisional Legislature. 

Most nerve-jangling horror film: 
Before: Natural Born Killers. 
After: (see above, The Week in the Provisional 

Shopping bag to be seen carrying: 
Before: Giordano. 
After: Friendship Store. 

Recommended brand of suit: 

Before: Sam the Tailor. 

After: PLA jacket over Armani slacks. 

Top-selling pop record: 
Before: Beatles Anthology. 
After: When I Grow Up I Want to be a Peasant 
(an actual song from the mainland). 

Favoured contraceptive: 
Before: Durex extra sensitive. 
After: Any outfit purchased from a fashion 
boutique in Wuhan. 

Best name-dropping line: 

Before: "I had that Martin Lee in the back of my 

taxi once." 
After: "I had that Martin Lee in the back of my 

taxi once, and threw him into a ditch." 

Most popular fast food: 

Before: Big Mac. 

After: Shandong fried scorpions. 

Most sought-after brand of eye-glasses: 

Before: Ray-ban Aviator 

After: Thick black rims. The Li Peng look. 

Most prominent public service announcement: 
Before: No hawking (selling things). 
After: No hawking (spitting). 

IVIost sought after invitation card: 

Before: Private dinner party with Chris and Lavender 

at Government House, Saturday night, 

carriages at midnight. 
After: Friends of Xinhua Annual Rave-Up 

(Monday morning, 10 am to 10.30 am, 

"Bring your own water"). 

Conveyance most likely to impress your friends: 

Before: Gold Rolls-Royce. 

After: Gold Flying Pigeon bicycle. 

Source of gutteral growling sounds: 

Before: Stray dogs in New Territories villages, 

guarding paths and rooftops. 
After: Large numbers of people tr/ing to learn 


Men in skirts prominent at festivities: 
Before: Royal Hong Kong Police Force 

Bagpipe Band. 
After: David Tang. 

It is clear that Hong Kong's RTHK needs bringing into 
line in the new era. Here are some proposed changes: 

Before: Ralph Pixton's Open Line. 
After: Comrade Pixton's Open Door. 

Before: Teen Time. 

After: Patriotic Clianting Hour for Adolescents. 

Before: All the Way With Ray. 

After: The Socialist Way is The Best Way For 

Mature Party Members To Stay Young 

With Comrade Cordeiro. 

Most fashionable handbag: 
Before: Prada backpack. 
After: PU\ satchel. 

How to refer to expats: 

Before: Gwailo ("foreign devils," in Cantonese). 

After: Laowai {"old foreigners," in Mandarin). 

Quote of the year: Chris Hilton, speaking on RTHK 
about South Africa: "I can't see how such an extremely 
small minority government could have had such a 
stranglehold on such a large population for so long." 

Can you believe that this was said, without a trace 
of irony, by a man paid by the British Hong Kong 

Phase three: The History of Hong Kong 

(1) An interview with British historian the Rt Hon 
Terry Sinter-Waffle 

SW: I'm awf ly glad to have the opportunity to set the 
record straight. It is often not realised that there was 
literally nothing here when the British arrived in 1841. 
No island, even. 

Lai See: No island? 

SW: Not a speck. The British engineers had a bally great 
reclamation job waiting for them before they could even 
find somewhere to put the Union flag. Once the island 
was in place, it was a matter of building Hong Kong. This 
they did with the usual British resolve. No slacking at all 
- except for a cooked breakfast, elevenses, lunch, tiffin, 
dinner, supper, and three tea breaks a day 

LS: What was the local involvement? 

you, Snickton, can carrying on with the reclamation 
work. Do a few more islands, you know, some big ones, 
some small ones. I'll organise one of the world's biggest 
financial centres in this middle bit.' And so the Brits set 
to work, not realising that they were building something 
that would eventually be called an Economic Miracle." 

LS: Are you saying the Chinese played no part in it at all? 

SW: Of course I'm not saying that. They were involved 
in the sense that they got in the way a lot. Jardine, 
Tippett and Gotobed complained that their work was 
greatly inconvenienced by the fact that lots of Chinese 
people were doing unhelpful things such as eating and 
sleeping and living on the new British soil. But we were 
nothing if not fair-minded. We let them be and did net 
disturb them, as long as they didn't do anything outra- 
geous, such as entering our clubs and ordering gin 
pahits, or the like. 

SW: None at that stage, really. I can summarise what 
happened by quoting you a portion of a speech by 
Captain John Elliott. This appears in my novel Dragon!, a 
dramatisation of the founding of Hong Kong. Ahem. 
"Elliot scanned the island they had created and his stri- 
dent voice boomed out from between his stiff upper lip, 
and the tender, plump lower lip that drove women 
insane: 'Jardine,' he opined. 'I want you to go and build 
some huge skyscrapers over there, while Dibbs and 
Gotobed nip down the coast a bit and build a container 
port. Tippett, I want you to build a big mountain just 
about here - we'll call it the Peak or something. And 

I S: When did the social intercourse really start 
between the British and the local population? 

SW: I never touched her. I have said this repeatedly. 

LS: If you built Hong Kong when you arrived, what 
happened during the next 150 years? 

SW: That's when we got rich. After a while, everyone 
lived in large apartments, with servants, on the Peak. It 
was a good life. Free air tickets for home leave once a 
year, good bars, nice restaurants. 

LS: But not everyone lived like that, surely? 

SW: Well everyone I knevu did. 

LS: But surely there has always been problems with 
overcrowding and housing in Hong Kong? What about 
the high property prices? 

SW: It's a damnable lie. I've seen it in the newspapers, 
but it's rubbish. You get a comfortable mansion flat 
with your job. You pay bugger-all for it. 

LS: But local people don't get these perks. 

SW: Really? 

LS: And they weren't allowed into your clubs for 

SW: Another damnable lie. We've had a large number 
of Asians in my club since it started. 

LS: Are they full members? 

SW: Of course not. They're waiting staff. 

LS: How do you feel about the handover, and the final 
departure of you and your ilk? 

SW: Well, to be honest, it's a tragedy. The place will go 
to pot. I mean, what will they do without us? They love 
us. I closed down my Hong Kong subsidiary last week. 

and the staff took down the company name plate, and 
danced on It, making whooping noises. Apparently this is 
a local custom to express deep sorrow and regret. 

(2) An exclusive interview with Ho Chl-kin, 
geomancer and almanac writer 

HC: Hong Kong was a simple fishing village for cen- 
turies, and would have stayed that way indefinitely, 
except for the dramatic events of 1841. 

Lai See: The landing of the British? 

HC: No. Was that in 1841, too? No, I am talking of 
course about the decision of Ah-Kin, third nephew of 
the Chans of Sheung Wan. 

LS: What decision was this? 

HC: Ah-Kin was quietly eating his instant noodles, deep 
in thought, when his eyes suddenly lit up. "I've got an 
idea," he said. "I'm fed up of living in a fishing village. 
Let's turn this into one of the richest cities in the world 
instead." At first, the idea was not greeted with much 
enthusiasm. Certainly, Ah-kin's family who enjoyed the 
quiet life, were against it. His father pointed out that 
they would have to dig a second cess pit If they become 
a big city. But the Idea was picked up by Ah-Kln's uncle, 
Chew Sum-fat. "Richest city in the world? I like it. Let's 
try it." So they tried it. 

LS: Just like that? 

HC: Oh, they didn't do it overnight, of course. 

LS: How long did it take? 

HC: Nearly two weeks. 

LS: What role did the British play? 

HC: The first real interaction with the British was about 
50 years later, in the 1890s. 

LS: But surely they were there long before that? 

HC: An early report says that some red-faced lunatics 
in silly clothes and feathered hats were marching up 
and down in one area, but we ignored them. By the 
1890s, the British had become rather an irritation, so 
we decided to humour them. One wanted to be called 
Governor, one wanted to be called Colonial Secretary 
and so on. We told them they could call each other 
whatever they wanted and play their dressing up 
games, as long as they did not get in the way of what 
we were doing. One liked to wear feathers. 

LS: Did they obey? 

HC: They did, generally. Over the years, we gradually 
civilised them. We taught them to eat proper food, like 
rice and noodles. Before that, they had been subsisting 
on disgusting tubes of minced cow-lip called 'sausages'. 

LS: But didn't the British run Hong Kong? 

HC: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. 

LS: The famous British historian Terry Sinter-Waffle 
believes they played a major role in the growth of the 
territory, which was a British Crown Colony for more 
than a century and a half. 

HC: Yes, you're all comedians, you foreigners. There 
was one British chap - the one with the feathers - 
who asked if we minded if they referred to Hong Kong 
as 'a colony'. Ah-Kin's son replied that they could call 
it anything they liked, as long as they kept to their 

LS: Their enclosure? 

HC: We made them all live on top of the mountain, 
where it was damp, unhealthy, and awkward to get to. 
We told them they would like it up there, because it 
was like England. 

LS: So the British weren't really in control? 

HC: Ha ha ha ha ha. You're joking, right? It is plainly 
obvious that a handful of Brits couldn't run Hong Kong. 
I mean, think about it. They couldn't even speak the 
language. We set up this thing called the Civil Service, 
the main activity of which was to distract the British, 
keep them occupied, prevent them from harming them- 
selves, that sort of thing. 

LS: So you're saying the civil service never actually 
administered the territory? 

HC: No. The territory was actually run from the back 
bar of a Chinese club in Yau Ma Tei. 

LS: How do you feel about the departure of the British, 
and the end of the era? 

HC: They're going, are they? 

LS: I mean the handover to Chinese sovereignty on 
July 1. Arranged by Margaret Thatcher and Deng 
Xiaoping in 1984. 

HC: Oh yes, that. Well, to be straight with you, that idea 
actually came from my cousin Ah-Peng. We were in the 
back bar in the spring of 1984, and he said he rather 
fancied knocking down Government House and redevel- 
oping it into a complex of karaoke bars. It's so nicely 
located. The businessmen in the bar that night thought 
this was a good idea, so they made a few calls, and the 
next thing you know, the Joint Declaration was arranged. 

LS: What will be the main change when the British 
leave and the Communist Party of China takes over? 

HC: An increase in capitalism. 

LS: Are you sorry to see the British go? 

HC: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. 

Phase four: Guide to the Governors 

One bright January morning in 1841, the people of 
Tai-ki Shan, an island off the coast of China, noticed a 
group of barbarians had landed. The intruders were 
wearing layers of thick woollen clothes in the tropical 
heat. They had bizarre growths of facial hair which they 
had fashioned into ridiculous shapes. They spoke in a 
strange language of monotones. When off duty, they 
would peel off their clothes and deliberately burn their 
skin lobster pink as a form of recreation. 

There was only one possible explanation: They were 
dangerously mad. 

On the other side of the planet, the British Foreign 
Secretary was having exactly the same thoughts about 
the same group of people. He had received a letter from 
China expedition leader Charles Elliot saying that the 
natives of China were intelligent and friendly and should 
be treated with the sort of respect given to humans. 

The British Government recalled him, concerned 
about his mental state. 

To replace him, they sent... 

Sir Henry Pottinger, 1841-1844: Sir Henry was told to 
think of Tai-ki Shan, also known as Heung Gong (and 
mispronounced by the British as Hong Kong) as a tem- 
porary army post, and nothing more. The local populace 
made a practical demonstration of their feelings about 
their new leader by burgling Government House. 

Sir John Davis, 1844-1848: Small, balding Sir John made 
unpopularity an art form. He annoyed the expatriates 
even more than the locals. He complained: "It is much 

easier to govern the 20,000 Chinese inhabitants of this 
colony than the few hundred English." In a bid for popu- 
larity, he had a horse-racing cup, the Davis Trophy, named 
after him. Not a single horse was entered for the race. 

Sir Samuel Bonham, 1848-1854: Sir Samuel was a 
cheery soul who turned up in a funny hat with white 
feathers springing from the top. This became standard 
uniform for governors of Hong Kong. He claimed to 
have made a remarkable discovery. "The study of 
Chinese addles the brain," he warned expatriates. 

Sir John Bowring, 1854-1859: When Sir John took 
over, the people of Hong Kong decided they had had 
enough. An innovative group decided to poison the 
ghastly white spongy stuff called bread that barbarians 
lived on. Unfortunately none of the foreigners died. 

Sir Hercules Robinson, 1859-1865: During his reign, a 
woman called Jane Baxter attempted to integrate Hong 
Kong's two ethnic groups by teaching local girls English. 
After graduation, the girls "integrated" with the 
Europeans by becoming their mistresses. 

Sir Richard MacDonnell, 1866-1872: Sir Richard 
installed sewers. Local people used them to get into the 
houses of the rich expatriates on Queen's Road and 
burgle them. Cows and milkmaids were imported from 
England to establish a dairy in Hong Kong. The first 
farm was set up in Garden Road because it was thought 
that the Garden Road area, away from the water, was 
likely to remain rural indefinitely 

Sir Arthur Kennedy, 1872-1877: Sir Arthur, in a 
moment of rashness, invited a person of Chinese race to 
a social function at Government House for the first 
time. Expatriates were amazed to see how similar the 
"Chinaman" was to a human being. 

Sir John Pope Hennessy, 1877-1882: Sir John had 
noticed something. Every time his pretty young 
Eurasian wife Kitty declined to go on his junk trips, so 
did his lawyer friend Thomas Hailyar. On one such 
occasion, Sir John abandoned the junk, and rushed to 
his house on the Peak. He found his wife and Hailyar 
alone in her boudoir reading a pornographic picture 
book together, or so Hennessy claimed. In fact it was a 
catalogue of Italian art, making Sir John the spiritual 
father of the Philistines on Hong Kong's present-day 
Obscene Articles Tribunal. 

Sir George Bowen, 1884-1885: Sir George's wife 
Diamentina opened the Ladies Recreation Club in 1884. 
Organisers said it would be open to "English, Germans, 
Americans and Portuguese so that all classes are repre- 
sented, except Chinese who do not take exercise". 

Sir William Robinson, 1891-1898: Sir William decided 
that his main job was to make sure the Chinese did 
not bother the Europeans. He said: "My constant 
thought has been how best to keep the Chinese to 
themselves and preserve the European and American 
community from the injury and inconvenience of 
intermixture with them." 

Sir Henry Blake, 1898-1903: To halt the bubonic 
plague, Sir Henry offered two Hong Kong cents for 
every rat handed in. A suspiciously large number of rats 
— 45,000 — were delivered. The scheme was halted 
when he discovered that the British administration had 
been tricked into paying hard cash to buy mainland 
China's rat population. 

Sir Matthew Nathan, 1904-1907: Sir Matthew built a 
long, wide road into the paddy fields of Kowloon, 
claiming that it would be important one day. His critics 
thought it was a pointless exercise, since it was in the 
middle of nowhere. They nicknamed it "Nathan's Folly". 
It is now called Nathan Road and is one of the biggest 
shopping areas in the world. 

Sir George Des Voeux, 1887-1891 : Des Voeux decided 
to meet the real people of the colony A four-mile 
queue of Hong Kong locals lined up to see him. After 
several hundred passed him. Sir George became anxious 
about how long it was taking, claimed he had an 
unbreakable lunch date and left the scene. He returned 
an hour later to find his subjects still shuffling by the 
spot where he was supposed to have been standing. 

Lord Lugard, 1908-1912: Lord Frederick Lugard had an 
astonishing notion: colonies should only be held until 
the inhabitants could govern themselves. But he made 
no progress in turning his high principles into reality, 
being caught up with other pressing problems. His 
house on The Peak was so damp the air was turning all 
his cigars into "little bits of sponge". Democracy became 
a secondary issue. 

Sir Henry May, 1912-1918: The first motor car was 
imported by an American dentist. The Governor, too, 
soon acquired one. Unfortunately, there were hardly 
any roads to drive them on. The only scenic bits of 
Hong Kong island, such as Deep Water Bay and Repulse 
Bay, could only be reached by sea, so he couldn't get 
his car there. 

Sir Reginald Stubbs, 1919-1925: During Sir Reginald's 
reign, Dr Sun Yat-sen visited the colony and was highly 
impressed by what he saw. The Chinese leader said: "I 
began to wonder how it was that foreigners, that 
Englishmen, could do such things... with the barren rock 
of Hong Kong within 70 or 80 years, while China, in 
4,000 years, had no place like Hong Kong." 

Sir Cecil Clementi, 1925-1930: Penelope, the 
Governor's wife, was a notorious prude. She read all the 
books bought for the Helena May library. On finding 
any reference to a kiss or a cuddle, the book was 
removed. The government bought some land from two 
local businessmen, to build an airstrip. They named it 
Hong Kong Airport, assuming that the names Kai and 
Tak would quickly be forgotten. 

Sir William Peel, 1930-1935: Hong Kong was becom- 
ing increasingly rich, but also immoral. London forced 
Sir William to close down the European and local 
Chinese brothels. The operators went underground, 
and cases of venereal disease soared. Britain was 
upset when China flooded the market in Hong Kong 
with opium. 

Sir Andrew Caldecott, 1935-1937: Sir Andrew sug- 
gested jobs be localised, and vacancies should only be 
filled by expatriates if they could not be filled in Hong 
Kong. The idea was considered bizarre. 

Sir Geoffrey Northcote, 1937-1941 : Japan invaded the 
territory. Hong Kong's most powerful guns, unfortunate- 
ly were pointing the wrong way 

Sir Mark Young, 1941-1947: It was a time of intrigue. 
Ms Takemura, a massage girl, specialised in entertaining 
military men — and extracting their secrets. She 
passed them on to an innocent-looking language stu- 
dent, who was really Colonel Suzuki, head of Japanese 
intelligence in the territory. Wyndham Street, which 
was known at the time as "Little Japan", was renamed 
"Spy Alley". At the height of the hostilities, the Japanese 
occupied a bar called the Swatow Club. The natural 
British assertiveness was still an advantage. A young 
man called Murray MacLehose was dying for a drink. He 
marched into the Swatow Club, demanded a gin and 
tonic, which he paid for with his signature, and strolled 
out, unmolested. 

Sir Alexander Grantham, 1947-1957: The challenges 
of being a governor could not be exaggerated, said Sir 

Alexander. "In a Crown Colony, the Governor is next to 
the Almighty The position... is not an easy one." 

Sir Robert Black, 1958-1964: Under Sir Robert, the 
teamwork between Hong Kong people and the British 
worked so well that London decided to stop overseeing 

the finances of Hong Kong, giving the colony a touch of 
financial independence. The place started to become 
reasonably wealthy 

Sir David Trench, 1964-1971: Pro-communists m the 
Chinese population started rioting in Hong Kong. As 
police approached, the rioters took ketchup-stained 
handkerchiefs out of their pockets, wiped them on their 
faces and started writhing on the ground. Sir David was 
not fooled. 

Lord MacLehose of Beoch, 1971-1982: Sir Murray the 
gin-and-tonic consumer mentioned in the section con- 
cerning Sir Mark Young above, had risen to the top job. 
He finally realised that British uniforms and suits were 
ridiculously hot in Hong Kong, and turned up for work 
in a safari suit throughout the summer. The Hong Kong 
Club refused to relax its rule that diners wear British- 
style suits and ties. 

Sir Edward Youde, 1982-1986: During Sir Edward's 
tenure, polls in Hong Kong clearly revealed that the 
people of the colony wanted to stay part of Britain. 
China and Britain met and agreed to make the territory 
part of China. The residents became even richer. 

Lord Wilson of Tillyorn, 1987-1992: Sir David told the 
British that if they were respectful and deferential to 
China, problems such as the need for democratic elec- 
tions and the new airport could be easily solved. Events 
appeared to prove Sir David wrong. The colony's inhabi- 
tants became richer than the people of the UK. 

Christopher Patten, 1992-1997: Chris Patten took 
the job of colonial governor but did not hide the fact 
that he hated colonialism. He refused to wear Sir 
Samuel Bonham's feathered hat, literally and metaphor- 
ically and to take the knighthood that usually went 
with the job. After public consultations. Patten decided 
that Hong Kong people were intelligent and friendly 
and should be given full British passports. Both China 
and Britain were shocked and horrified at this. 

But Captain Charles Elliot, who landed in Tai-ki Shan in 
1841, would have applauded loudly 

Phase six: The Name's Bon. Tsim-See Bon. 

IThe northwestern flight approach to Hong Kong's 
Kai Tak airport is notoriously difficult. It is even 
more difficult when attempted without an aircraft. 
This thought ran briefly through the mind of the dapper 
British gentleman who was falling from the heavens 
somewhere above Lok Fu. The rush of air around him as 
he fell from the sky threatened to dishevel his outfit, so 
he took a moment to tug the cuffs of his Jermyn Street 
shirt out the correct amount from the sleeves of his 

Good thing he had been flung out of the Cathay 
Pacific Airways 747-400 while it was flying over an 
area that he knew. 

Now, descending at an acceleration rate of 32 feet 
per second, he saw what he was looking for: a forest of 
bamboo clothes-drying poles sticking out horizontally 
from windows of municipal blocks in Kowloon City 

He knew that a bamboo pole's combination of flexi- 
bility and resilience could arrest his descent without 
harming him. He angled his fall towards a likely-looking 

Seconds later, his feet slipped through the opening 
at the neck of a red and gold cheong-sam hanging on a 
pole and he felt the bamboo bend into a U-shape as it 
caught his weight. 

The whipcrack sound of the bamboo snapping back 
into a straight line drew the attention of a stunning 
young Chinese woman wearing nothing but a bath 
towel, the original owner of the cheong-sam he was 
now wearing. 

"Sorry to drop in unannounced like this," he said to 
the girl at the window. "The name's Bon. Tsim-see Bon." 

2 Half an hour later, James Bond was being 
briefed by M in their latest field operations 
hideaway: an underground chamber cunningly 
carved into the rock under 387, Queen's Road East, 
home of Xinhua, the New China News Agency 

He apologised for being late. "I had to do a ski jump 
off the Cultural Centre. Then I got involved in a car 
chase during which I had to commandeer a tram and 
ride it through the Pacific Place shopping mall." 

"Try and keep your mind on the job at hand, James," 
said the irascible M, walking slowly around the table. "I 
want you to solve a mystery There are reports of huge 
bubbles coming from the water off Repulse Bay" 

Bond wrinkled his brow. "It can't be the mainlanders 
up to tricks. The handover is tonight, and they get this 
place lock, stock, and barrel anyway" 

"True. It probably isn't the Chinese. We intercepted 
some of their intelligence reports, and they think it's us, 
with some fiendish plan to retain sovereignty after 

"But we wouldn't want that, would we?" 

"Certainly not. The place is full of foreigners. But we 
need the handover to go smoothly. Find out what's 
going on and stop it. You've got eight hours, Double-0 

Bond stopped briefly in the outer office to flirt with 
Ms Moneypenny, and receive a summons for sexual 
harrassment from the Hong Kong Equal Opportunities 

3 Click. Bond cocked his Walther PPK. There was 
someone in the bathroom of his suite at the 
Peninsula. He edged sideways into the room. A 
beautiful blonde wearing a small towel stepped out of 
his shower. 

"Hi," she said. "I'm your assistant. My name's Hilary 
Boddington. People call me Hilly Body for short." 

"Why do my assistants always have puerile, sexist 
names?" he asked. 

"The writers are pathetic immature males trapped in 
adolescence, rather like you, James," she purred. 

"Brains AND beauty," he breathed, appreciatively "Do 
we grapple now or later?" 

"Later," she said. "I've located a secret underground 
lair beneath some Cable TV road works in Pokfulam 
which will lead us to all the answers. I feel sure there is 
a massive complex run by a secret army and an eccen- 
tric leader down there." 

"How can you be so sure?" 

"I've seen all the Bond films and they all have the 
same plot." 

4 Hilly Body's words proved to be miraculously cor- 
rect. But that was because she was a double 
agent. Soon, Bond was in a secret underground 
complex, but captive in the arms of paramilitary troops. 

"It's madness. It could never work." The words burst 
from the British agent's mouth as he listened to the 
crazy scheme dreamed up by the Secret Hong Kong 
Independence Movement. "You can't steal an entire 
island. It would be a massive feat of engineering just to 
move it." 

"Oh, but Hong Kong is famed for huge feats of engi- 
neering," said their leader, a tough woman in a black 
leather jumpsuit called Emily Lau. "And we've had 13 
years to work on this, remember, ever since the British 
sold us down the river in 1984." 

Ms Lau, who was fondling a fluffy white cat, walked 
around the master control room. Pointing to a large per- 
spex map, she explained to Bond how it was going to 

"We spent several years cutting Hong Kong island 
free from its foundations, and building new, lightweight 
artificial bedrock. Underneath this, we have a series of 
air-filled pontoons. At six o'clock this evening, we set off 
the explosions that will break Hong Kong island free 
from its final moorings. By midnight, the whole island 
will have sailed out of Chinese territorial waters, on our 
way to our new home." 

"Which is?" 

"Canada. The Hong Kong-built Vancouver Expo site is 
actually an underwater docking station designed to link 
up with this island." 

"But you would need huge engines located in Central 

to push the island out to sea. It would be impossible to 
hide those." 

"The Central reclamation." 

"Of course," said Bond, genuinely impressed. "But 
you would have to have huge amounts of equipment 
and all the dredgers in the world to achieve all this." 

"We ordered them. We pretended they were for a 
new airport. Now take him away and lock him up." 

Suddenly, Bond pressed a button on his Rolex and 
the watch sent out swift-acting nerve gas, which 
stunned his captors long enough for him to escape. 

He heard the beseeching, choked words of Emily Lau 
as he escaped through a ventilation unit. "James! Please 
don't wreck our plans." 

Bond suddenly stopped and looked through the 
glass window at the computer bay. He recognised one 
of the operatives working it. "It's her," he said, 
straightening his tie. 

5 At six pm, Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng, 
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Hong Kong 
Governor Chris Patten climbed on to a boat on 
Kowloon side, heading for the handover centre at the 
Tamar Basin on Hong Kong island. 

At six-fifteen pm, Mr Patten asked the skipper why 
they had not arrived. The man was sweating. "I can't 
understand it, sir. It's almost as if Hong Kong island was 
moving away from us." 

The Governor realised that the Hong Kong skyline 
seemed no nearer than it had been a quarter of an hour 
ago. He spun around to see they were miles away from 
the Kowloon mainland. Something odd was going on. 

A message crackled on the airwaves of the ship's PA 
system. "This is Commander Bond. I have a message for 
Mr Blair." 

The mirror reflector on top of Hong Kong Bank was 
flashing a message at them. A soldier handed Tony Blair 
some binoculars and he focused on the scene. "Good 
God," he said. 

He saw James Bond standing on top of the bank 
with Emily Lau on one side, and a beautiful young 
Chinese woman in a red and gold cheong-sam on the 

The agent's voice came through the intercom. "Could 
you tell M that I am going to be non-operational for a 
few hours? I appear to have contracted a serious case 
of yellow fever." 

The island picked up speed and headed swiftly 
towards the horizon. 

Phase seven: Veni, Vidi, Vici, Video 

They come. They see. They conquer. They make a 
documentary. Or, as the Romans would say: 
Veni. Vidi. Vici. Video. 

I'm talking about foreign television crews. They step 
out of Kai Tak, they learn all there is to know about 
Hong Kong in a few weeks, and then they go and 
inform the world. 

The tenth (or the 1 2th or the 1 5th) example of this 
species was in town the other day to pick Your Humble 
Narrator's brain. The conversation I had with her fol- 
lowed a pattern which has become depressingly familiar. 

Earnest Television Producer: I want to make it exciting, 
get a bit of drama into it. I'm thinking of focusing on the 
brain drain, stock market problems, companies moving to 
Singapore and all that. So how big is this brain drain? 

SPICE TRADER: Actually, there's a net inflow of brains, 
estimated at about 100,000 a year. 

ETP: Oh. Okay, scrub that one. Haven't all the compa- 
nies in Hong Kong fled from the local stock market and 
gone to Bermuda? 

ST: Not really The Hong Kong stock market now has a 
record 554 companies, and is growing by about 50 a year. 

ETP: Bother. Aren't people taking all their money out to 
send overseas? 

ST: Hmm, I'm afraid not. Hong Kong was the best per- 
forming market in Asia last year. One company rose 
1,111 per cent. 

ETP: Bugger. Hasn't everyone moved offices to 
Singapore? That's true, isn't it? 

ST: No. Hong Kong's got more regional corporate head- 
quarters than all other major Asian cities combined. 

[She starts nibbling at her cuticle as she crosses out 
lines in her notebook.] 

ETP: I'm sure I've read that everyone's getting passports 
and moving to Vancouver and so on. That's definitely 
true, right? 

ST: It's true — for just under one per cent of the pop- 
ulation a year 

ETP: Awwww, shoot. Maybe I'll concentrate on politics 
instead. So which party is left and which party is right? 

ST: We don't have those. 

ETP: But you must have a left-of-centre party and a 
right-of-centre party. Everybody does. Look, don't you 
have a party of the people, popular with the man on 
the street, grassroots support and all that stuff? 

ST: Yes. The Democrats. 

ETP: Right, so on the left in Hong Kong you have the 
Democrats, the Socialists, the Communists and so on. 

ST: No. The Democrats are diametrically opposed to the 

ETP: Wait. You're saying the grassroots party is at odds 
with the socialists? 

ETP: Wasn't there a crash in the value of apartments 
after the Tiananmen Square thing? 

ST: Loathe each other. 

ST: Sorry. Residential prices have quadrupled since U 

ETP: Okay, so who are the right-wingers, the conserva- 
tives, the party of big business? 

ST: Er. The Liberal Party, I suppose. 

ETP: So what's going to happen to the Liberal Party and 
the pro-business types? They must be in danger of being 
completely obliterated when the Communists take over. 

[She starts to look desperate.] 

ETP: My little semi in Balham has gone down 30 per 

cent since I bought it in 88. 

ST: Sorry to hear it. 

ETP: Me too. 

[A nervous vibration appears in one of her legs.] 

ST: Er. No. The Liberal Party members think on the same 
lines as the mainlanders. They're very close, and getting 
closer every day. 

ETP: Wait wait wait wait WAIT You're saying that the 
right-wingers, the conservatives, the business party, are 
in cahoots with the incoming Communists? 

ST: I wouldn't say 'in cahoots', but you've got the 
general idea. 

ETP: Look. Tell me what you think about this idea. 
Instead of doing an overview of the Hong Kong scene, I'll 
just make it more of a human interest story. I'll just focus 
on, like, one person who has been fighting for democracy 
for years, and how his dreams have been torn to shreds 
by the end of the through train and all that. You know, 
the little guy battling against the odds, against the 
authorities, demanding power for the people. 

ST: Good idea. 

[She writes that down very slowly indeed. A little worry 
grid appears on her forehead.] 

ETP: There's got to be some disaster happening. You're 
not, by any chance, having a property slump here in the 
run up to the takeover? 

ST: Nope. Priciest retail space in the world. 

[She starts poking around in her transparent designer 

ETP: I know just the person to focus on. I've got just 
an old newspaper cutting somewhere about this 
democracy campaigner. Been battling for democracy for 
donkey's years. Here it is. Elsie Elliot Tu. 

Phase eight: What a good sport 

A gentle allegory of Hong Kong politics 

1 There was a soft, rather wimpish knock at the 
door, as if an agoraphobic sheep was feeling the 
need to go indoors. 
"Ye-es?" said Brown, looking up from the sports pages 
of the South China Morning Post. 

A small, nondescript man opened the door and 
shuffled into the room. "Very sorry to disturb you, Mr 
Brown," he said, bowing slightly. "But am I right in 
thinking you organise rugby games in Hong Kong?" 

"Well, I'm one of the people who does that particu- 
lar task, yes," said Brown, folding his newspaper and 
gesturing at the newcomer to sit down. 

"Thank you," said the slightly built newcomer, lower- 
ing himself gently into the metal-framed chair as if he 
weighed something, which he seemed not to. "My name 
is Lee. I work for the Legislative Council. I will come 
straight to the point," he said, and then contradicted 
himself by hesitating. 

"Please do," said Brown, becoming intrigued. 

Lee leaned forward conspiratorially "We have 
noticed that the best event in Hong Kong for getting 
international interest is the annual rugby tournaments. 
People here fight over tickets, and tens of thousands of 
people fly in especially for the games." 

"Very true. So what's your point?" 

"Well, it's like this. The political scene in Hong Kong 
is going through a difficult patch what with the 
handover to China. Everyone's a bit nervous and most 
people are feeling low. We think that if someone like 
you managed to integrate rugby and Hong Kong politics 
in some way - well, there might be a resurgence of 
interest in Legco." 

"Fascinating idea," said Brown, putting the tips of 
his fingers together. "And what's in it for us?" 

"We guarantee to pass bills renewing leases for all 
rugby grounds and rugby clubs in Hong Kong until the 
year 2047." 

"My God. Would you really do that?" 

"That is the offer on the table." 

Visions swam through Brown's mind. He could see 
the headlines: "Brown single-handedly preserves rug- 
ger", "Salvation of Hong Kong rugby all down to 
Brown", "Brown knighted for services to sport". 

"You have yourself a deal, Mr Lee." 

2 It proved easier said than done. Brown spent 
weeks getting to know members of the political 
community and the business world, and it took 
much coaxing to organise them into teams of ten for 
training sessions. Some had never heard of rugby, and 
were deeply suspicious. The move was denounced in the 
To Gung Boo newspaper as "a British plot". 

But others welcomed the change from routine and 
looked forwards to their weekends on the fields with 
Brown and his team. 

"Call me Pete," health-conscious tycoon Peter Woo 
of Wharf said one Saturday, kicking a ball expertly 
through the cross-bars. "And what's your first name, Mr 

"Good lord," replied Brown. "Do you know I have 
absolutely no idea? Haven't been called anything except 
Brown since I was a nipper at school." 

3 At last, the great day dawned. But from the 
moment the whistle blew, it became evident that 
this was going to be the most extraordinary rugby 
series in history. 

The sports reporter from the South China Morning Post 
made the following notes about the individual matches. 

Round 1 : The Democrats versus the Liberal Party. 
The Liberals found themselves in grave trouble when 
they changed their mind about which way they were 
playing half-way through the match. This resulted in 
them scoring 23 tries against themselves, in addition 
to the 30 scored against them. 

Round 2: The Hong Kong Stockbrokers Association 
versus the Democrats. 

The game proceeded well until two members of the 
business team were sent off for taking bets from 
spectators about the outcome. As they left the field, 
Democrats' leader Martin Lee made an announce- 
ment through a portable loudhailer. "We declare 
ourselves the winners, by a simple democratic 
majority," he said. 

Round 3: The Independents versus the Democrats. 
The match had to be stopped when the referee gave 
Independents' captain Emily Lau a third verbal warning 
for talking too loudly She then brought out a copy of 
the Bill of Rights from her handbag and beat him to a 
pulp with it. 

Round 4: The Provisional Legislature candidates versus 
the Independents. 

The match had to be suspended before the full-time 
whistle went, because the PL candidates insisted that 

a Selection Committee sinould choose the most suit- 
able winner on the basis of patriotic loyalty to China. 

Round 5: The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment 
of Hong Kong versus the Provisional Legislature. 
The match was disrupted from the fourth minute. 
This was when DAB captain Tsang Yok-sing grabbed 
the ball and immediately got out his mobile phone. 
"Hold on for a minute," he said. "I have to make an 
IDD call to Beijing to see if it is all right for me to 
score a try, and which goal I should aim for." 

Round 6: The British Joint Liaison Group versus the 
Provisional Legislature. 

The British team refused to play when they discov- 
ered that they were offered the same conditions as 
other players, instead of expatriate terms. "We want 
a four-bedroom dressing room each, maid's quarters, 
and a free cruise home," said a spokesman. 

Round 7: The Hong Kong Civil Service versus the 
Provisional Legislature. 

The government team got a lot of press coverage dur- 
ing the run up to the games, but only three out of ten 
turned up on the day "Four have emigrated to 
Vancouver and the other three are in Brisbane," said 
the team captain. 

Round 8: The Hong Kong Federation of Business People 
versus the Provisional Legislature. 
The entire series of games came to a dramatic halt, 
after the business federation offered to buy the 
opposing team's half of the field, so they they could 
redevelop the pitch into a multi-purpose develop- 
ment featuring a hotel, service apartments and a 
retail complex. 

4 Brown and Lee were sitting in the restaurant of 
the Legislative Council, musing over their recent 
joint venture. 
"Well, Lee old buddy it certainly created a lot of inter- 
est in politics and rugby and made the two of us 
bloody famous in Hong Kong," said Brown. 

"It worked exactly as I hoped it would," replied Lee. 

Brown sipped his G and T thoughtfully as he looked 
sideways at his companion. 

"What do we call this place now?" 


He tried to repeat it but only managed to spit a large 
portion of his drink on to his lap. "Bally hard to say." 

"British people cannot pronounce it." 

"You seem to be right," said Brown. "But you know, I 
wish you had told me that this was your secret plan to 
spend time with all the bigwigs and get yourself chosen 
as Head of the Hong Kong Civil Service." 

"Never mind," said Lee. "It worked, which is all that 
matters. By the way I hear you are going to get a 
knighthood, like Sir Chris." 

"Really? Well, they can't call me Sir Brown. I'd better 
find out what my first name is. I'm sure I must have 
had one once." 

You think you live in Hong Kong. But really, you live in 
the Twilight Zone. To remind yourself, all you have to d 
is pick up the telephone. 

It is common for Hong Kong employees to resign by 
telephone. This conversation took place at a nev*/spa- 
per in Kow/loon. 

Editor: Is it the money? If it is just the money, I am sure 

that we can come to some arrangement. 

Ex-employee: It's too late for that now. 

Boss: It's not too late. I can arrange that right now. 

Ex-employee: It is too late. I've already gone through 


This is a genuine Hong Kong phone conversation: 

Caller: Can I please speak to the managing director? 

Receptionist: Hello? 

Caller: Can I please speak to the managing director? 

Receptionist: How to spell? 

Caller: Can I PLEASE speak to the managing director? 

Receptionist: What is your name? 

Caller: Mr Hunt. 

Receptionist: Mr Hunt is not in. 


So is this: 

Mrs Hui: Hello. I'm Mr Hui's wife. I know he is out of the 
office right now, but can you ask him to return my call 

as soon as he comes back? 
Secretary: Please hold on. 
[Two minutes pass.] 
Secretary: I am sorry, Mr Hui is out. 
Mrs Hui: I know he is out. I just want to leave a message 
for him. Please ask him to return my call as soon as pos- 
sible. I'm his wife. 
Secretary: Hold on. 
[Two minutes pass.] 

Secretary: Okay I will pass the message to Mr Hui. What 
is your name? 

Mrs Hui: I am Mr Hui's wife. 
Secretary: But what is your name? 

Maneesha Kumar, a STAR TV copywriter, phoned a 

contact at a Hong Kong advertising agency in Taikoo 


Reception: He's gone away on a trip. 

Maneesha: Oh. Where's he gone? 

Reception: Er, the rest room. 

Ahrenkiel Liner Service has a staff member called 
Hans Heer. 

"The confusion that exists when he answers the phone 

has to be heard to be believed," said his boss Peter Nash. 

Caller: Hans Heer please. 

Heer: Hello, Heer. 

Caller: Hans Heer please. 

Heer: Heer here! 

Caller: !! 

Natalie Foong of Conduit Road, Hong Kong island, 
wanted to give some clothes away. She phoned 
Oxfam Hong Kong. 

Oxfam: We have two outlets In Hong Kong but we 
have stopped accepting donations in one because there 
are already too many clothes. The other outlet is still 
open but only for designer labels. 
Natalie: What do you mean by designer labels? 
Oxfam: Put it this way we do not consider something 
like Benetton a designer label. 
Natalie: Then what do you really mean? 
Oxfam: The things they sell at Joyce we would consid- 

Natalie: What about a brand like MCM? 
Oxfam: No, the tai-tais [ladies who lunch] told us 
MCM is last on the list. So, no, we would not consider 
that a designer label. 
Natalie: What about Yves Saint Laurent? 
Oxfam: Not really but maybe. Why don't you bring 
them here so that we can check on the condition? 

It was a dull Sunday afternoon. 
A woman in Hong Kong (wife of a regular contributor) 
decided she wanted to see a film. She called the num- 
ber for the UA Queensway cinema's automated 
Ticketmaster service. 

The computer-generated voice asked for her charge 
card number. 

"Okay" she said. "Four, nine, six, six..." she began. 
"Please enter your card number," the voice interrupted. 
She tried it louder and more slowly: "FOUR. NINE. SIX. 

"Please enter your card number," it said again. 

She tried speaking more quickly 


"Please enter your card number." 

It then occurred to her that this may be a Cantonese 

speaking computer. 

"Sel, gau, lohk, lohk, ling, se/... " 

At this point, the computer hung up on her. 

What to do? 

The thought struck her that maybe the computer required 

her husband's card, so she repeated the entire exercise 

with that — and again failed on every round. We may 

chuckle at her, but she has a point. It doesn't say "punch 

in" the numbers of your credit card number, does it? 

Margaret Mudd phoned the Hong Kong office of 
Bank of Tokyo. 

"Yes," said the receptionist. "What is your name?" 

"Who wants to know?" asked Margaret. 

"Well, Mrs Whowantstoknow, if you would ring 862..." 

Mike Kardel phoned the Au Trou Normand restau- 
rant in Kowloon. 

Kardel: My name is Kardel. I have a table booked at 
your restaurant for this evening which I would like to 
cancel and book for the same time tomorrow instead. 
Staff: Ah, yes. Kardel. 7.30. Cancel and book tomorrow. 
Kardel: Yes. 
Staff: Your name, please? 

There's a English-language environmental poster in 
subway stations throughout Hong Kong carrying the slo- 
gan: "If we really want a green and friendly city, nature 
needs a hand." Tony Giles phoned the number given. 
The response: "Aieeeyaa! Gwai lo lei ga... Dim gaau?" 
[Yikes, a foreigner, what should we do?] 
It's not only nature that needs a little help. 

Diane Coogias originally worked in Hong Kong for a 
company named Failure Analysis Associates. The normal 
phone greeting was: "Good morning, Failure." 
This is the first time I have heard a standard phone 
greeting which is positively insulting, if not actually 

Trish Harwood of Ludgate Asia was on the phone to 
Singapore. She used standard alphabet speak 

(C for Charlie and so on) to spell her name. 

"T-Tom, R-Robert, l-lndia, S-Sugar..." she started. 

The Singapore operator repeated it back to her — but 

with one correction. 

"T-Tom, R-Robert, l-lndia, S-Singapore..." 

Why am I not surprised? 

Phone conversation between Marc Nield and Far 
East Jetfoils in Hong Kong. 

Nield: I have reserved six tickets for 6 pm on March 7. I 
want to cancel three of them. 

Jetfoils: You must cancel all six and make a new book- 
ing for the three you want to keep. 
Nield: Okay fine. (Gives details of original booking, and 
receptionist cancels it.) 

Jetfoils: What new reservations would you like to 

Nield: Three tickets for 6 pm on March 7. 
Jetfoils: Sorry. 6 pm on March 7 is fully booked. 

Chapter 2: How to become a property tycoon 

A True Story of Intrigue and Greed in Ten Acts 

Act I TInere was a knock at tlie door. It was a young 
woman with a pen and a clipboard. She wanted to 
know if we were interested in selling our flat. 

Then she mentioned the price she had in mind. 

After picking my chin up off the floor and re-attach- 
ing it to my mandible, I told her that I would move the 
family and all belongings to a bench in the playground 
down the street within forty minutes. 

Act II We do not live in what is generally described as a 
"exclusive and sought-after residence". We live in a 
Hong Kong block so humble that when we bring guests 
home, they think we are taking a short cut through a 
derelict tenement. 

It is 30 years old, which is ancient by the standards 
of this city. No bank will give a mortgage on a property 
so old. Our lift is so primitive that you have to open the 
elevator door by hand. Many visitors just stand there 
waiting for something to happen. We measure the intel- 
ligence of visitors by calculating how long they wait. A 
financial analyst holds the record at three minutes. 

Our neighbours are so traditional that at the appro- 
priate Chinese festival times, they light bonfires — in 
the upstairs corridors, and that's not a joke. 

The lobby of the building features a traditional type 
of air-conditioner known as the open door policy and is 
manned by a classic Hong Kong security guard: an 
elderly man who speaks fluent Grunt. 

The pipes in the flat above us are so damaged that 
they moan and belch almost, but not quite, as loudly as 
the people who live in it. 

The walls are so thin I felt like crying one day and 
discovered that a neighbour was peeling onions. 

Notwithstanding the bonfires in the corridors, there 
appears to be unbreakable glass in all the fire alarms. 

Act III But did the young woman at the door hand over 
the cash? No. She moved on to ring the bell of the next 
flat, explaining that she would have to get agreement 
from all flat-owners in the building before trundling my 
personal wheelbarrow-full of money around. 

Act IV Consulting people in the property business here, 
I made an amazing discovery. 

When a Communist power takes over a free, liberal 
society, there are certain subtle societal adjustments 
that can be expected: the collapse of the property mar- 
ket, scenes of panic at exit points, and so on. 

But this is Hong Kong. So the opposite happens. 

I am writing this within a stone's throw of the han- 
dover date, and property prices have suddenly started to 
zoom UP. The only chaos at the airport is with people 
trying to cram IN to the territory. 

Developers with briefcases of cash are sniffing 
around old buildings throughout the territory. They have 
found what used to be called the Philosopher's Stone: 
the rock that could be transformed into gold. Only, the 
Hong Kong version is better. It turns thin air into the 
most valuable real estate in the world. 

Ingredients: Champagne, ink, clipboard, telephone. 


1. Buy a small building with some empty air above it. 

2. Knock it down. 

3. Replace with a tall building. 

4. Collect HK$100 million in profit. 

5. Drink champagne, buy Ferrari, etc. 

The crumbly block of 23 small apartments in which I 
live on Caine Road, Central, is worth, say, US$8.7 mil- 
lion. Once you have said the magic words "plot ratio", 
you can replace it with a 29-storey tower containing 
84 flats, which would be valued on the open market at 
about US$32 million. 

The difference is US$23 million. This is not ALL pure 
profit, of course. You have to deduct the cost of the 
pen and clipboard. 

Act V There was another knock on the door. It was 
another developer. We turned him away, explaining 
that his offer was less than offered by his earlier rival. 

But one of my neighbours, a lawyer who owned two 
flats, responded differently. He agreed to sell at the 
lower price, if the buyer stumped up the money for his 
two flats immediately. He reasoned that cash in the 
hand is better than promises of untold wealth. The 
door-stepping developer, a young man, searched his 
soul and wallet, and discovered that deep down, he 
was a speculator. 

By buying the flats, and reselling them to his rival, 
he could make HK$2 million almost immediately, just 
for a bit of paperwork. He pulled out a sales agreement. 
The lawyer packed his bags and left. The would-be 
buyer suddenly joined the ranks of us would-be sellers. 

Act VI A residents' meeting was called. Rarely seen 
owners crept out from their corners. Most were ordi- 
nary, working class Cantonese folk. This writer sat next 
to a grey-robed Buddhist priest of indeterminate sex, 
forming a shaven-headed subset in the corner. 

Conversation was loud, excited, in Cantonese — 
and much too fast for the two foreigners (myself and a 
German import-export man) to keep up with. 

The developer-turned-owner, looking out of place in 
his stiff suit and tie, sat uncomfortably among other 
attendees, most of whom were elderly people who have 
lived in the flats since it was built. 

Suddenly, one man stood up. "Mei sek faon,"<ne 
said, informing us that he had not eaten his rice. He 
moved out of the room as awkwardly as a week-old 
corpse or a man who has eaten too much All-Bran. 
An old lady sitting nearby looked baffled: "How can 
he not have eaten yet? This meeting was planned 
many days ago." 

But the others shook their heads. They knew exactly 
what had happened. This owner had caught Last Man 
Syndrome. He had decided to be the last to sell, in the 
hope that he could negotiate a better deal. 

The actual outcome was that the contract was torn 
up. One person missing meant the sales agreements for 
all of us were instantly invalidated. The developer 
packed her briefcase and left. 

We retired back through our respective doors. 

But you should have seen the face of the smart 
young speculator, who had just spent a fortune on two 
Jurassic era flats he didn't want. Welcome to the 
neighbourhood, fella. 

Act Vll I consulted an old businessman who had owned 
properties in Hong Kong for many decades. 

"Don't get your hopes up," he said. "Whether it's a 
small low-rise block of a handful of flats, or a huge 
complex of 1,000 flats, there is always one person who 
refuses to sell, and then the whole scheme is scup- 

The most celebrated case of Last Man Syndrome 
concerned a man who lived some five years ago in a 
grubby block in the part of Causeway Bay which now 
features glossy shopping malls such as the Caroline 

Finding himself the last owner in a building about to 
be redeveloped, this man forced the horrified developer 
to pay HK$11 million for worthless, derelict premises 
which no self-respecting rat would occupy. In one fell 
swoop, a slum-dweller became a US dollar millionaire. 

Act VIII What does one do at a point like this? 
Traditionally, one hires triads to rough up difficult 
neighbours so that they move out. 

But this is not for me. I like my neighbours. And 
besides, there was nothing listed under triads in the 
phone book. I already looked. 

Act IX More meetings were held. How could the Last 
Man, nicknamed Mr Greedy, be persuaded to change his 
mind? Weapons? Bribery? We opted for the second of 
these, as being possibly less illegal. 

Plan one: Collect a small Mr Greedy Tax from all the 

other residents. Offer him tens of thousands of dollars 
in cash up front. 

We suggested it. The Last Man was unmoved. He 
didn't want a small payoff. Six figures or nothing, he 

Plan Two: We suggested the developer talk to him. 
She could negotiate a special "stubbornness surcharge" 
from her backers for him. 

It worked! The resulting good news spread quickly 
through our seven-storey block like burst pipe damage: 
Mr Greedy had agreed to sign at a meeting later in the 
month, and the sale was going to go through. 

Act X Rich. Rich. We were rich beyond our wildest 
dreams. Well, some reasonably pleasant dreams, any- 
way. What was about to happen really did seem to be 
the Hong Kong Dream come true. Twenty-three families 
were about to turn a derelict block of flats into a 
mountain of cash, without the indignity of having to do 
a single honest day's work for it. 

Your Humble Narrator and his wife went flat-hunt- 
ing and selected a nice residence on Braemar HilL 

Then came the day to sign away the old flats and 
collect the first tranche of cash. 

I hurried to the meeting, held in a resident's front 
room, and was pleased to see that it had attracted most 
other inmates, including Mr Greedy from the fourth 
floor and the grey-clad monk from the first floor. But 
no one was smiling. 

"D/'moo/7.?/Mi;f/e/is/.^ Everything okay? Anything the 

Developer Number One broke the bad news. The 
youthful Developer Number Two, who was not present, 
had launched a cunning scheme to snatch the profits 
from this deal from right under her nose. 

The young man had lifted the price of his pair of 
tiny, old, almost worthless flats to a mind-boggling 
US$1 million each, or HK$16 million for the two. 
Developer Number One was therefore withdrawing. The 
sale was off. Our dreams popped like the bubbles in the 
drool of the 70-year-old from the second floor rear ten- 

The implications were immediately clear to all resi- 
dents. With two developers deadlocked over profits 
from the deal, no sale was going to be signed tonight 
or at any time in the foreseeable future. 

We shuffled out of the room in silence and gloom 
returned to the decrepit block in Caine Road. 

That night, the wailing of the pipes was drowned 
out by the wailing of residents. This time, onions were 
not required. 

Chapters: And the winner 

Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together 
for the following companies in Hong Kong and the region, 
which desen/e special recognition for adding to the sum 
of human happiness — in most cases, unintentionally. 

Most Baffling Public Announcement: The tape loop at 
Quarry Bay subway station in Hong Kong which repeat- 
edly said: "Beware of your personal belongings." 
Why? Are they going to bite us? 

The above announcement must have been heard by 
the manager of Fanling station, who gets a prize for 
Strangest Train Station Notice: "Beware of platform 
announcements." (Spotter: Ian Bolton.) 

The Best Voicemail System: Urbtix of Hong Kong. 
Phone them, and the recorded voice makes a helpful 
suggestion: "If you are in a hurry, please call later" 

Best Warning Against Shoplifters can be seen at 
Fetish Fashions of Lyndhurst Terrace, Central, Hong 
Kong: "Shoplifters will be bound and gagged and have 
hot wax poured up their bottoms." 

Worst Business Name in Hong Kong? Sadly, the Self- 

Serving Leather Co of Causeway Bay has closed down. 

The company called Turns Out All Right Co has gone 

into liquidation. 

No, I think this year's winner is Avarice Ltd. 

Runner up: Pillage Ltd. 

(For more business names, see the following chapter) 

Least Appetising Dish of this year is that listed on the 
menu at the Liu Hua Hotel, in Guangzhou, China. 
"Dehydrated Pig: 28 yuan." 

There were some good runners up. The Metropole Hotel 
in Kowloon has a menu featuring "Broiled Salmon Leg". 

Most Mysterious Dish of the Year is the one served at 
the Food Street Restaurant in Guangzhou: "Roast suck- 
ling pigeon" (Spotter: Ian Hart.) 

Perhaps a special award for Most Intelligent 
Classification System should go to the telephone direc- 
tories of Hong Kong Telecom. The Hong Kong Jockey 
Club, the territon/'s biggest business, appears in the 
phone book as one tiny line in miniscule print. To find 
it, you have to look under T for "The". 

Prize for Most Fanciful Packaging goes to Lucullus, 
which sold cookies stamped with the words: "Best 
Before: February 31st." (Spotter: Henry Parsont.) 

Least Useful Sign in Hong Kong is the one on road 
machinery in Kwai Chung which reads: "Drivers of vehi- 
cles which collide with this pylon should beware." 

^.t!!**?-'"*"'* '^""« Resource C;?.fr? 

Best Church Advertisement is the one placed every 
Saturday in the South China Morning Post by Free 
Believers in Christ Fellowship International of Hong 
Kong. It offers friendly advice for a variety of gruesome 
horrors of modern family life. The church's advertise- 
ment says: "Counselling for family problems, demonic 
oppression, possession, vices, drug addiction, terminated 
domestic workers." 

The runner-up for the Most Worrying Sign in Hong 
Kong: There's a notice on a toilet door at the Mass 
Transit Railway Corporation headquarters in Kowloon 
Bay which says: "Beware of Man Behind the Door." 
(Spotter: Michael Wood.) 

First prize in the Most Worrying Sign category goes to 
the women's toilet of the same office, which has the 
same sign. 

The Best Financial Company Name in China? There's a 
new financial firm in Shaanxi province called The Risky 
Investment Co. 

Dumb Statement of the Year goes to Channel KTVs 
Singapore-based chairman, Chong Huai Seng, who said 
karaoke was "as Asian as apple pie". Worst Public Relations 
Decision of the year goes to the same company who took 
that statement and widely distributed it on press releases. 

Bravest Restaurant Advertisement of the Year is the one 
for the Sheraton Hotel's Bukhara restaurant, nominated by 
reader M. Mendelsohn of Hong Kong. Below a picture of a 
toilet roll are the words: "Some Indian food burns you 
twice. On the way in and the way out. To avoid this sensa- 
tion, try our mild, north Indian buffet lunch for HK$88." 

Best Classified Ad of the Year was placed by Leung 
Sun-fat in Hong Kong newspapers: "This serve to con- 
firm my regret for any inconvenience caused to Mr Mar 
Hong-chin and/or Sun Sun Motor Company, due to my 
inadvertence to issue legal proceedings (High Court 
Action No. AB206 of 1995) against them." 
(Spotter: Simon Clennell.) 

And in Hong Kong? The official receiver recently 
wound up a company called Solong Investment. 

Weirdest Invitation in Hong Kong: "Welcome to the 
first Hermes leather exhibition. Stand in awe beside the 
giant-size Kelly bag." 

Feeblest Sales Slogan is the sticker on a clock sold by 
Sony Radio of Queen Victoria Street which said: "Non- 
radioactive". Now there's a thing. 

The Hong Kong Immigration Department wins an 
Airhead Award for Extreme Pettiness. Andrew Taylor 
applied for a new passport. Immigration officials reject- 

ed his application, because the photos were attached by 
a staple, which meant there were tiny holes in each one. 
On the other hand, maybe they are right, Andrew. They 
seem to be the ones with holes in their brains, not you. 

Second Most Idiotic Advertising Slogan: The one 
designed to attract buyers to Beijing International 
Friendship Garden, which makes this grand promise: 
"Residents live here without any fear of attacks from 

Most Off the Wall Sign was that spotted at the 
General Post Office in Central Hong Kong by reader Ian 
Johnston: "Beware of your head." 
You may laugh, but some of us need constant reminding. 

An award for Best Point-of-Sale Merchandising goes 
to the cigarette lighter shop in Cameron Road, Kowloon, 
which has a sign next to the display of lighters saying: 
"Please do not try them as they are dangerous." 

The award for the Least Enterprising Organisation of 
the Year goes to the Hong Kong Kite Association. They 
invited reporters to a kite flying demonstration and 
then cancelled it because the weather forecast said it 
was going to be windy 

An award called Turning the Tables goes to the 170 
lawyers who lined up voluntarily at a medical centre in 
Swire House to give their blood to the public. Makes a 

A second Honesty Award goes to the garment firm in 
Western which chooses to market its designs under the 
name Puking Fashions. 

For their brave refusal to pander to the present trend 
for healthy low-calorie foods, I give an Honesty Award 
to the Lam Soon company, for the cooking oil they mar- 
ket under the name "Fat Brand". 

A special award for Most Idiotic Advertising Slogan 
goes to the Hong Kong distributor of K Shoes. Their slo- 
gan: "K Shoes. Designed to fit like a glove." 

Bargain of the Year was to be found at Florist's 
Collection of Wan Chai, which offered to sell Stephanie 
Mitchell a "new born baby with flowers" for HK$280. 

And finally, the Product of the Decade: The sunglasses 
sold by Canaan Optical of Central Hong Kong. Ron 
McMillan of Glenealy bought a pair and was given 
some advice on how to look after them: "Keep them out 
of direct sunlight." 

Chapter 4: Louise Fraud and the immense tailor 

Make sure your business has a memorable name - 
that's what marketing specialists say. If you are remem- 
bered, you will get business. I don't know if this also 
applies to the Hung Fat Brassiere Company, which had 
trouble enticing women to buy bras with "Hung Fat" on 
the label. Or the firm mentioned in the Hong Kong 
Government Gazette caWed Moronicus Ltd. 

But maybe having a very silly name can be a smart 
sales move. BUM Equipment, a Los Angeles company 
with a deliberately wacky name, did well until 1995, 
when it collapsed. (When I heard the news, I wished I 
was still working as a headline writer. Just think of the 
possibilities: Bum Whacked by Heavy Losses. Bottom 
Drops Out of Bum. Bum Goes Through the Floor. 
Wrathful Shareholders Fall On Bum. Etc., etc.) 
Other company names from the files: 

dangerous-looking holes dug at the Sheung Wan end of 

Queen's Road were surrounded with signs saying 


The holes were dug by Welcome Engineering Co, whose 

sign-makers clearly did not think too hard. 

An interestingly named financial company opened an 
office on the sixth floor of New World Tower: The 
Bookook Securities Co. 

I'm sure this is a fine, upstanding, law-abiding compa- 
ny. The trouble is, I can't think of any way of pronounc- 
ing the name except Book Cook. 
It could have been worse. Bookook could have been an 
accountancy firm. 

A company opened up in the Western district called 
Puking Fashions. It was a subsidiary of a company 
memorably named Puking International. (Spotter: 
Bernard Long.) 

A company named in the Supreme Court writs was 
called Chinglish Investment Co. 
Bet you didn't know you could buy shares in a lan- 
guage. (Spotter: John Budge.) 

Normally, unexpected holes in the pavement are sur- 
rounded by warning signs saying: "Do Not Enter." But 

Genuine Hong Kong company names, found by 

Jean Bunton: 

Man Hop Scaffolding Co. 

Lee Kee Refrigerating Meat Co. 

Fat Fat Fast Food. 

Tai On Towel Factory. 

Wong Kee Construction Co. 

King Kong a Co. 

Man On Wine Ft Drug Store. 

Hang On Transportation Co. 

Hop On Bicycle Shop. 

Wing King Optical Co. 

King Kee Seafood. 

Chun Kee Noodle Factory. 

Sing On Meat Co. 

Hang On Bags Factory. 

Man on Wooden Case Co. 

Man on Rubber Tyre Co. 

Sing Song Piano Co. 

Lee Kee Enamelware. 

Jean tells me that there used to be a company in the 

China Resources Building called Sin King Enterprises Co, 

but it's gone now. Clearly it sank. 

Most fun company to work for: Sin Full Development Co. 

On a religious note, there is one firm listed as 

Heavenly People Depot. 

A little more controversially, there are four Heap Gay 


Incidentally, the Sin Do company is followed in the new 
1997 phone book by the Sin Dun company. 

A legal dispute was filed in the courts of Hong Kong 
between one Shirley Lam and a company called Konew 
Finance. So how does one pronounce Konew, anyway? 

Other gems in the 1997 Hong Kong 
telephone book, listed under 'F': 
Fat Boy Vegetable. 
Fat Free Advertising. 
Fat Kau Fastfood. 
Fata Models Centre. 
Fat Man Co. 
Father Dn/ Clean Co. 

Useful sounding genuine company in Hong Kong for 
anyone wanting to send round the boys: Henchman 

Why do people in this region like to call their buildings 
after other places? I mean, if a tourist from Iowa finds 
himself in the Swissotel Beijing Hong Kong Macau 
Centre (a real name), there is no way he is going to be 
able to work out what country he is in. 
This particular Beijing establishment should take a 
leaf out of the book of their dim sum chef, who 
carries a short, clear, appropriate name: 
Mr Cheung Yumyum. 

Name of a firm in the Hong Kong technology sector: 
Mercenary Computer Consulting. 

Paddy Murphy tells me that there is a company in 
Wong Chuk Hang called Winkle Design and Decoration 
Co. "It's true what they say — you can buy any service 
in Hong Kong," he said. 

Seen parked outside Pacific Place was a van embla- 
zoned with the words "Christian Pest Control". Yes, the 
atheists are starting to play hardball. 

Another example of a Hong Kong business with a label 
instead of a name: There's a local travel agency called 
Local Travel Agency. (Spotter: Phil Hewitt.) 

One of the dirtiest lorries I have ever seen passed my 
taxi on the Eastern Corridor. The name on the back was 
almost obscured by filth, but I could just make it out: 
"Wai Tat Cleaning Co." 

There is now a company on Wellington Street called 
Mitty Alterations, I hear from Jeff Heselwood. Walter 
Mitty, of course, was a James Thurber fictional charac- 
ter whose name has become synonymous with things 
which are imaginary. I can imagine the conversations in 
the shop. 

"Here is your dress, madam." 
"But you haven't altered it in any way." 
"It is a Mitty Alteration, madam." 
"Oh, all right." 

The French boutique Agnes Trouble has been publishing 
trademark announcements saying it will cause trouble 
for any Hong Kong firm which tries to copy its products. 
What a great name. I am reminded of the Hong Kong 
label sold in Stanley Market which on first glance looks 
like Louis Feraud. A closer examination reveals the 
name to be Louise Fraud. 

Retailers set up a parade of stalls in Discover/ Bay 
plaza to mark the Dragon Boat festival and make a few 
bucks. One stall was named "WEE WEE". Yes, another 
Hong Kong business that is going to have trouble in the 
international marketplace. 

Wharf Holdings spokesman Nick Thompson chanced 
upon a disposable cigarette lighter in Park'N Shop. The 

brand name: "Forever." 

Shop 233, Silvercord Centre, is occupied by The 
Immense Tailor. 

There is a hotel in Kowloon, which, for legal reasons, 
carries the name: The Omni The Hong Kong Hotel. 
True story: United Airlines pilot James Lunte climbed 
into a taxi at Kai Tak. 

Captain Lunte: Please take me to The Omni The 

Hong Kong Hotel. 

Driver: There is no Omni Hotel in Hong Kong. 

Lunte: I know. Please take me to The Omni The 
Hong Kong Hotel in Kowloon. 
Driver: Cannot do. Hong Kong and Kowloon are not 
the same place. 

Lunte: I know! Please take me to The Omni The Hong 
Kong Hotel, located in Kowloon, next to the Star Fern/ 
terminal. Drive me to the Hong Kong Hotel in Kowloon. 

Driver: Cannot do. Hong Kong and Kowloon are not 
the same place. 

Lunte: I know! Please take me to The Omni The 

Hong Kong Hotel, located in Kowloon, next to the 

Star Ferry terminal. 

Driver; Hong Kong hotels cannot be in Kowloon 

because Hong Kong and Kowloon are not the same 


done anything at all." 

Staff member: "Yes, sir. We lived up to our name and 

gave you a completely imaginary design." 

A Hong Kong company called the Worldwide Watch Co 
faced a "petition for winding up" in the Supreme Court. 
(Spotter: Kim Manchester.) 

Lunte: Please just take me to the Star Ferry terminal 
in Kowloon. 

Driver: If you want to go to Hong Kong I can take 
you better than the Star Ferry. 

Lunte: Please take me to the Star Ferry terminal in 

Euan Barty told me that the excellent Spice Island 
restaurant in Wellington Street is serving beer brewed 
by "Inertia Industries" of Haryana, India. "Since the 
manufacturers got off their backsides long enough to 
produce a palatable ale, I can only assume the inertia is 
what happens to the drinkers after a while," he said. 

Captain Lunte was then dropped at the Star Ferry, 
where a young man helped him carry his six large suit- 
cases the 300 metres to the hotel at an extortionate 
rate. At least he got there in the end. One wonders if 
some guests never do. 

Mitty-ism is contagious, it seems. Travelling down 
Chatham Road North in Kowloon, I noticed that a com- 
pany called "Imaginary Design" has opened for busi- 
ness. One can just imagine a typical conversation in 
their offices. 

Angry customer: "I paid you tens of thousands of 
dollars to reconfigure my premises and you haven't 

On the same street as Taipei's "Unconscious 
Restaurant" there is a sign for the "Shopping Shop", I 
hear from Bob Piccus. This is titled thus so that cus- 
tomers know that they can shop for things in it, as 
opposed to other shops, where they can, er, well, ah . . . 

Anyway Robert commented: "All in all, it's good to 
know that Taipei has not lost its touch in terms of dec- 
orative descriptive signage. It was famous in the 1960s 
as the site of the 'Happy VD Clinic'." 

Chapter 5: City on a staircase 

The ripper was not there. Her patch of dirty pavement 
was clear of the usual tools of her trade — knife, plas- 
tic dustbin, chipped enamel plate — but the blood 
stains remained on the concrete. I hurried past, thank- 
ing my stars to be spared having to start my day with 
the cheery sight of spurting red fountains for once. 

I live in a miniature city on a staircase. Shing Wong 
Street is an old Hong Kong township that exists on a 
series of stone steps. You've seen pictures, I'm sure, of 
these narrow, stepped urban villages, winding up the 
slopes of Hong Kong. 

This one rises all the way from the Western end of 
Queen's Road, to Caine Road, where Central turns into 
Mid-Levels. As I stroll down the steps every morning, on 
my way to Sheung Wan subway station, an old cliche, 
originally uttered about newspapers, pops into mind: All 
of human life is here. 

Most of the buildings are ancient three- or four- 
storey tenements. In typical Hong Kong fashion, there is 
no division between residential dwellings and work 
places. Several old houses have small factories on the 
ground floor. 

The economy of this staircase town is based on print- 
ing. The younger men work on old-fashioned presses in 
rooms on either side of the steps. The doors are always 
open, and you can see old hot metal machines churning 
out documents. 

Toothless old ladies sit outside on the steps in the 
sunshine doing piecework, such as tying gold threads 
on to gift tags. Western management experts talk about 
low overheads. Here we have no overheads. When it 
rains, they sit in their doorways. 

The first crossroads we reach is where the Shing Wong 
steps cross Bridges Street, site of a polling station where 
residents vote for the Democratic Party at every election. 

It is at this junction that one sees the ripper. She is a 
wizened old woman, with a stooped, almost simian pos- 
ture. She makes a living selling extremely fresh chickens 
— by which I mean, sometimes still moving. 

For years, her technique has been as follows. She pulls 
a squawking chicken from a wicker basket from the 
ground, and yanks its head backwards with her left 
hand. She makes a sawing movement with a rather 
blunt knife across the neck with her right hand. A foun- 
tain of blood erupts. 

Then she drops the thrashing chicken into a plastic 
dustbin and clamps a lid on it. The dying fowl runs 
round and round inside the bucket. Thump thump 
thump thump thump thump. As one hurries past, one 
hears the creature's footsteps speed up as it panics and 
seeks escape. Thump-thump-thump-thump-thump- 
thump-thumpthumpthumpthump. And then it slows 
down, as blood and life gradually drain away 

This awful accelerating-decelerating drumbeat haunt- 
ed my dreams for a long time. It was the desperation 
and frenzy of it. I thought, at first, it was because it 
was the sound of death. Then, if you'll excuse me 
becoming a tad philosophical — I realised that it was 
because it was the sound of life. 

In recent months, the chicken-ripper became lazy, and 
decided that she could do business more quickly if she 
prepared her chickens in advance. She started slashing 
the necks of six chickens at once, and dropping them all 
into the dustbin. The tumult in the container as the ter- 

rified beasts clawed each other in their death throes 
was so great that the dustbin would leap around and 
dance, like the television set does in the Calvin and 
Hobbes cartoon. The dustbin lid would occasionally fly 
off, sending an explosion of blood-spattered feathers 
soaring into the air. 

So great was my distaste for this woman's work, that I 
when a saw an item in the Straits Times recently head- 
lined "Chicken slaughterer charged with murder" I 
cheered and clipped it out. The throat-slitter in 
Singapore had no connection with the woman on the 
steps in Hong Kong, but I felt it vindicated my feelings. 
If you could kill beasts in that way, you were capable of 
any dark deed. 

Then one day the chicken-ripper was gone. The junc- 
tion became curiously tranquil. 

The Cantonese taste for extremely fresh food is 
admirable, but distressing to the faint-hearted. 

My wife bought meat from the market butcher. "Wan' 
see how fresh?" he said. 

She didn't, but smiled politely He hit the lump of beef 
she was about to buy with the back of his chopper, and 
it went into spasm, because the nerves in it were still 

She carried the bag back up the stairs at arm's length, 
convinced she could hear a tiny, plaintive moooooooo 
coming from it. 

Asians are not known for being kind to animals, but 
there are exceptions. With the ripper gone, my focus of 
attention moved a few steps lower down, which was an 
animal lover's corner. Every day at 8.30 am, an eccen- 
tric old man appears at this spot with a designer carrier 

bag. It is full of individually wrapped food parcels. 
Suddenly, half a dozen stray cats — his children — 
appear and line up to be fed. There's a food parcel for 
each of them. 

Let us walk down just a few more steps. Now we are 
at the most pleasant part of Shing Wong staircase- 
town, where the steps pause and there is a small flat 
area, often containing one or two camp beds. It is over- 
hung by huge, beautiful old trees, which have grown 
out of tiny cracks in a wall. This is where workers who 
can't (or won't) pay Hong Kong rents sleep at night. 
These are not tramps or winos, but working class men. 
They wear watches and spectacles. 

Now the steps reach another intersection, this time 
with Hollywood Road. We have reached Sheung Wan, 
the original city of Hong Kong. 

At the bottom of the slope is a school, and on the 
wall, one notices a plaque. This was the site of Central 
School, partially responsible for the education of Dr Sun 
Yat-Sen, who grew up to become the father of modern 

As I say all of human life is here, from the lowest to 
the highest. 

Recently one spring morning, I saw the ripper again. 
She was wearing a patch over one eye. Clearly, one 
half-decapitated bird had scratched out its revenge and 
passed on a bit of its mortality before starting its dance 
of death. 

Chapter 6: The President's massage 

We all make writing mistakes (especially me), but some 
of us make them more hilariously than others. Some 
errors are accidental, some are deliberate, and some — 
well, we'll never know. Tony Giles has a cutting from a 
Hong Kong newspaper about a raid by "uniformed detec- 
tives". Unfortunately, this was printed as "uninformed 
defectives". There is a difference, albeit small. 

"We shall continue to dedicate our efforts to main- 
taining and ensuring that similar incidence shall be 
experienced again." 

Sign at the Hopewell Centre in Wan Chai: "Change 

bubble lift to revolving restaurant." 

That's a lot to ask of a passer-by. (Spotter: Pat Sarwal.) 

Sign on the wall at the Tsing Yi Sports Stadium: "No 
Pay, No Gain." (Spotter: Simon Jones.) 

The Gold Pfeil shop at the Omni group's Hong Kong 
Hotel has a sign in the window: "Furter reductions." 
Spotter Quentin Kilian said: "They must be making 
smaller sausages." 

James Johnston, of Lamma, notes that in the jazz sec- 
tion of HMV, the music shop in Swire House, Central, 
you'll find an artist listed as The Lonius Monk. I'm sure 
they haven't got confused about jazz pianist Theolonius 
Monk. No, this is probably a record of chants by a lone- 
ly guy from some monaster/. 

A sign was erected at the Marithe Francois Giraud 
boutique at the Landmark in Hong Kong: "Owing to the 
support of our customers we are moving to a more 
convenient location..." (Spotter: Don Rae.) 

A notice went up on the wall at Cliffview Mansions in 
Conduit Road, from Leader Engineering and 
Construction: "Any inconvenience caused is appreciat- 
ed." (Spotter: J.W. Gregg.) 

Slogan on the notepaper at the Movenpick Hotel, 
Zurich Airport: "Guest is stationery at our hotel." 
So what do they do? Pulp them? (Spotter: Martin 

Desmond O'Toole stepped into one of those photo 
booth machines at an MTR station, put his money in, 
and failed to get a recognisable picture out. So he 
wrote to the machine owner, Max Sight. 
That firm's customer service department wrote back: 

Condom company Okamato Industries (HK), of Wan 
Chai, is giving out product questionnaires, asking peo- 
ple about condom useage. You have to tick a box if you 
"use 15 pes or above per mouth". That's what it says. 

Remember Nike's slogan, 'Just Do It'? Slogan on a 
T-shirt won by a young woman in Central Hong Kong: 
"Just do me". (Spotter: Bernard Long.) 

Advertisement placed in the "wanted" columns by a 
Hong Kong company: "Medical Detail Man Urgently 
required. Either sex." (Spotter: Jean Bunton.) 

Announcement from Hong Kong's Environmental 
Protection Department: "Vibratory pokers will be subject 
to stringent noise limits if they are to be operated in 
designated areas during noise sensitive hours." So be 

ATV faxed its tentative schedule for the Olympics to 
Shonali Rodrigues. It said the games were to be broad- 
cast between 2500 hours and 3000 hours. "Somehow 
they have managed to squeeze an extra six hours into 
the day," Shonali said. I reckon it is because if you 
spend an evening watching ATV, it feels like 30 hours. 

Congratulations to people at the National Geographic 
Society. For years, the world's best-known experts in 
geography were writing to people in the territory as 
"Hong Kong, China". More recently, though, they have 
been getting it right. But they still have one thing to 
learn. That big building full of stockbrokers in the middle 
of town is "Exchange Square" not "Sex Change Square". 

How can a cash-strapped youngster jazz up her 
clothes? The AskAngie column in the South China 
Morning Post recommended that she invest in a few 
floral scarves and "dotty bananas" to jazz up her 
T-shirts and jeans. 

Mark Blacker, of Robinson Road, Hong Kong, bought a 
piece of computer equipment from IBM only to find it 
had a label across the opening of the box, saying: "Do 
not break seal prior to useage." 
How can he use it if he is not allowed to open it? Come 
on, IBM employees, THINK. 

Sign on Cheung Chau Island: 

"Alliance Bible Seminary." 


Spotter Roy Grubb commented: "And presumably they 

don't forgive those who trespass against them." 

Synopsis of Moby Dick by TVB, a Hong Kong television 
station: "When Ahab finally sights the huge Moby Dick, 
he steers his ship right for the whale. In a desperate 
effort to escape, the whale capsizes." 

The glossy, expensive annual report for the Joong-ang 
Daily News of South Korea opens with a taped-on head- 
line, I discovered yesterday. Peel it off, and you see why. 
The original headline was: "The President's Massage." 

Sign seen by Chris Gillespie at the swimming pool at 
Stanley Fort: "All persons entering the pool are not to 
wear a swimming costume or trunks." 

Contents of the room to the right of the press 
entrance in the Legco Building in Hong Kong: Three ur 
nals and a sign saying: "Pull gently to avoid hurting 

From a Bloomberg rt: . about an infrastructure deal 
by Guangdong Investment: "The company said it would 
sell 96 million new shares to its parent to help finance 
the purchase of $1.31 billion of toads." 

Jonathan Mirsky, delightfully eccentric foreign correspon- 
dent for The Times of London, bumped into a young lady 
wearing a T-shirt saying "EUTHANASIA" in Hong Kong. 
"What does that mean?" he asked. 
"It's in support of all the young people in the region," 
she explained. "All the euth in Asia." 

Advertisement placed by a Nathan Road company: 
"Part time models required. Sex, experience and nation- 
ality not essential." 

At last. A job which might suit some members of Hong 
Kong's stateless minorities. (Spotter: Jean Bunton.) 

Lo Hoi-man notes that there is a little Cantonese les- 
son in the tourist maps distributed free in Hong Kong 
hotel lobbies. It says: "To ask how much something 
costs, you say 'gay daw cheen' or 'gay man'." 
Hoi-man commented: "This must be why so many 
Chinese view homosexuality as a Western disease." 
One can just picture a sai-yan [Westerner] marching 
into a shop and loudly declaring: "Gay man." 
Shopkeeper: "Faidi Ah-Ho, dai seung leigejeung gau sau 
to." [Quick, Ah-Ho, get your rubber gloves on.] 

Stephanie Mitchell noticed signs on the windows in 
the stairwells at the Arts Centre in Wan Chai demand- 
ing that people "BE CONSIDERED". 
"I wonder if I have been," she asked. 

David Miller of Quarry Bay got a letter from Diners 
Club Australia apologising for postal delays in sending 
out his statement. 

"Actions have been taken to rectify the problem," says 
Diners Club. 

The apology was addressed to: "Mr David Miller, GPO 
Box 4761, Hong Kong, Solomon Islands." 

Reader Monika Hendry picked this non-sequitur out of 
an Observer story: "By March 1827, Beethoven — who 
never married but had several passionate relationships 
with women — was suffering from shortness of 
breath, chest pain, pneumonia, diarrhoea, jaundice, 
vomiting, and a distended abdomen." 
I sympathise, having much the same reaction to women. 

No wild parties at the Hong Kong Gold Coast settle- 
ment, no sirree. There is a sign on the forecourt of the 
Mobil station on Castle Peak Road which says; "No 
naked nights". Get those PJs back on NOW. 
(Spotter: Jan Jenkins.) 

The Legco official report for November 15, 1995, says 
Hong Kong now has a "Secretary for Home and Affairs". 
Sounds like a fun job. (Spotter: John Wilson.) 

Reuter sent out a despatch to newspapers about a 
Siberian conservation group, which intercepts tiger 
parts and other items destined for mainland Chinese 
dinner tables. "The team has confiscated 1 6 tiger skins 
last year as well several leotards," it said. 

For some weeks, I walked past a solid wall at Fortress 
Hill MTR station in Hong Kong which had a barrier 
erected in front of it, bearing the words: "Do not enter." 
This can only be to stop hordes of passengers using 
astral projection to walk through the concrete. 

Brian Heard was surprised recently when his office 
received a letter from the financial firm of Mason Ball. 
When I say "his office", I don't mean his staff - I mean 
his office. 

The envelope was addressed to his room, and the letter 
inside began: "Dear Room 1817". 

A reader in Boyce Road got a letter from Hong Kong 
and China Gas Co. "Dear Sir Madam, your gas bill will 
be deducted automatically from your designated bank 
account number with effect from gas bill dated 
024281039542 onwards." What's going on? Is the gas 
company using a star date calendar from Star Trek 
these days? 

The Hong Kong branch of Wacoal, the Japanese 
underwear company, has covered the territory with 
posters saying: "Good Up Bra." I bumped into Jeff 
Heselwood, staring at one of the posters and asking the 
obvious question. "What is?" 

Still on physical topics, a pop-quiz in Hong Kong's 

Boutique magazine includes suggestions for women 

whose rough partners "persist in kneading, rather than 

gently stroking, your breasts" 

The English version says: "Give his pecs a playful pinch 

to show how it feels." 

The Chinese version says: "Give his buttocks a playful 

pinch to show how it feels." 

Unh - do Chinese men not have pecs? Are Western 

male buttocks so heavily padded that they don't feel 

anything through them? 

Keith Maxted of Asco General Supplies, Kowloon, 
received a letter from C W Yip of the Immigration 
Department, saying: "Please bring your Hong Kong 

identity card-travel document, this letter and the fol- 
lowing documents: passport for visa endorsement with 
attached father." One likes to comply with bureaucratic 
arrangements as much as possible, but it is jolly hard to 
clip the old bloke to a pile of papers. 

course it isn't. There was a report in the racing page of 
the same newspaper the same week which said four hors- 
es "swept across the line literally locked together". If this 
is true, Hong Kong's race-fixers are using really unusual 

On the back of a baby garment in the Walt Disney 
shop, Kowloon: "Baby's first Christmas." 
On the label of the same garment: "18 months." 
(Spotter: Kevin Gould.) 

The Mass Transit Railway Corp held its "4th Yeung 
Sau On Plague Snooker Trophy", according to its 
newsletter. What are the rules of "plague snooker", any- 
way? Do infected players have to pot the ball before 
dropping dead? (Spotter: Howard McKay.) 

Title of a seminar at the Hong Kong Convention and 
Exhibition Centre: "Persuit of Excellence". 
(Spotter: John Meirs.) 

Asians are always being mocked for the ghastly mis- 
takes we make trying to communicate in English, so 
let's savage some native English speakers for a change. 
In the technology section of the Japan Times, John 
Moran wrote: "Sure glad the monkey is off my back. 
That's not a figure of speech. The monkey in question - 
commonly known as 'monkey B' - is a virus." 
Come off it, John. It IS a figure of speech, or you're 
playing piggy-back with Bubbles the Chimp. 

Next to the duck pond in scenic Tuen Mun park there 
is a sign which reads: "Do not feed the living creature." 
Given the condition of the murky water, I'm not sur- 
prised that there's only one left. (Spotter: Cathy Gritz.) 

My favourite recent howler goes back to that gem of 
a word, literally. On the international wires shortly 
before writing this, I read a football story which said-: 
"This time [Eric] Cantona kept his head - literally." 
The previous time, poor Eric was evidently decapitated. 
From the travel pages of the South China Morning Post: 
"Moscow is a city literally awash with museums." Of 

Sign on a wall in a restaurant in Stanley Village: "Up 
stairs air conditional." (Spotter: Jack Moore.) 

Robert Allender sent me a programme from a recent 
hotel industry conference which features an interesting 
seminar: "Guest's [sic] satisfaction - how to keep them 
from coming back." 

Sign seen in the window of Bauhaus, a boutique in 
Kowloon: "Sales urgently wanted." 

Marc Smith-Evans was playing squash with Paul 
Claughan at the Harbour Road Sports Centre in Wan Chai, 
Hong Kong when they noticed a sign outside the court: 

Marc wrote to the South China Morning Post after- 
wards: "As I was in a bit of a rush, I forgot to obey the 
notice. I wonder whether I could use the media to apol- 
ogise to the Urban Services staff and the workmen 
changing the ceiling tiles?" 

in the Christmas carol concert programme at 
the Hong Kong Club: I Saw Murray Kissing Santa Claus. 
(Spotter: Charlotte Woolley.) 

Seen in the wanted columns of the South China 
Morning Post: "Plastic salesmen." 
(Spotter: Jean Bunton.) 

Disclaimer printed daily on the television page of the 

South China Morning Post: "Programmers are subject to 


Yes, they are a fickle lot. 

Chapter 7: Your uncensored Chinese horoscope 

Dr Fung opened up his ancient, dusty tomes (actually, 
a pile of exercise books from Wellcome supermarket) to 
reveal page after page of tight, illegible scribble. The 
contents turned out to be a hotch-potch of apparently 
unconnected facts: the birth dates of criminals convict- 
ed in the Supreme Court of Hong Kong; data about the 
heads of listed companies in the territory; and a pletho- 
ra of astrological charts and readings. 
For the good Dr Fung (not his real name) is a geomantic 
hobbyist, believing there are causative links between 
astrological movements and modern societyThe America- 
born stargazer from Tai Hang Road, Hong Kong, has pre- 
pared a lunar astrology table allegedly based on observa- 
tions of the Asian business world over three years. 
So here are some excerpts from the geomancer's find- 
ings - surely the most gloriously honest horoscope in 
the world. 

Dr Fung, whom I suspect has his tongue firmly in his 
cheek, warned: "I would like to make it clear that this is 
not an attempt to offend any individual or group. It is 
an attempt to offend all individuals and groups." 
If, by any chance, you think you can identify which 
real-life individuals he had in mind, please write the 
answers on a postcard and send it to: The Tseung Kwan 
Stage III Landfill, Junk Bay, Kowloon. 

RAT (1936, '48, '60, '72, '84, '96): If you were born in 
the year of the rat, you are suave and sociable, with a 
romantic streak and a genuine talent at seduction. You 
are wildly creative, especially when it comes to filling in 
your tax bill. Your curriculum vitae is a pack of lies. 

OX ('37, '49, '61, '73, '85, '97): You are steadfast and 
practical, authoritative and talented, but rather too 
cautious for your own good. Hair grows sideways out of 
your ears in a manner that makes people physically 
recoil from you. You are a sicko. 

TIGER ('38, '50, '62, '74, '86): Unpredictable and free- 
dom-loving, your spirit of liberality is refreshing to 
everyone who meets you. You have lost billions of 
dollars for your company, but have disguised it by 
cooking the books. You smell funny but no one wants 
to tell you. 

RABBIT ('39, '51, '63, '75, '87): You rabbits are refined 
and chivalrous beasts. Ironically, you also have paranoid 
tendencies, thinking everyone is out to get you. In your 
case, you are right, as you are a pathetic, horrible per- 
son who is universally loathed. 

DRAGON ('40, '52, '64, '76, '88): Strong-willed and 
dominant, you operate on a string of impulsive deci- 
sions. Your bursts of magnanimity make you popular, 
but your habit of getting your triad friends to rough up 
your critics lowers your averages on the good-citizen 
scale. You will die of syphilis. 

SNAKE ('41, '53, '65, '77, '89): You have a strongly epi- 
curean nature, with a passion for the good life. You are 

prone to sessions of profound thought, alternating 
with periods of day-dreaming. You molest domestic 
servants, and feel guilty that you enjoy your work as a 
drug courier too much. 

DOG ('46, '58, '70, '82, '94); Protective and warm- 
hearted, your stubborn streak can be forgiven. Your 
aggression is a problem, particularly your liking for ran- 
dom violence and obscene phone calls. Hobby: Dragging 
people into stairwells. 

HORSE ('42, '54, '66, '78, '90): Exuberant and flirta- 
tious, you are one of the most entertaining people in 
your social circle. You are physically active and 
broad-minded, which is a good thing, considering 
that your main hobbies are incest and supporting the 
Liberal Party 

PIG ('47, '59, '71, '83, '95): Impartial and honest, the 
reliable pig is one of the most astute signs. Pity then 
that your coy, home-loving image covers a tendency to 
sue everyone in sight, including members of your own 
family. Your driving ambition is to make a hoax phone 
call to the Queen of England. 

GOAT ('43, '55, '67, '79, '91): Despite a cultured exteri- 
or, goats are prone to abandoning their inhibitions, 
thus giving rise to the ancient Chinese phrase, "Go on 
then, you randy old goat." You fall asleep when being 
made love to. 

MONKEY ('44, '56, '68, '80, '92): Provocative and decep- 
tive, the monkey is known for touchiness and ego-cen- 
tricity. You would be a shallow conman if you were 
more intelligent. You fall asleep while making love. 

Talking of the mystic arts. Hong Kong papers carried 
horoscopes bearing the name of British stargazer Patric 
Walker weeks after he died. Fortunately for astrology 
devotees, Patric was able to see a month into the 
future to supply his column. 
His prediction for Libra (his own sign) on the day he 
died was: "Certain reversals are inevitable". 

COCK ('45, '57, '69, '81, '93): You are stylish, given to 
ostentation and known for your fastidious, fussy man- 
ners. But under it all, you are completely different. You 
are wanted for crimes under various names in at least 
three countries. 

I once had a letter from a young local Chinese boy 
called Edward begging me to doctor the stars column 
to help him get his way with a horoscope-believing 
prospective girlfriend ("Today is a good day to fall in 
love with that spotty nerd who follows you around"). I 
declined, but it is an idea that pops up regularly. 

CK Man wrote recently to suggest we boost the econ- Ready Mixed Concrete of Hunghom was the exception, 
omy by allowing the Government to start writing the writing to its customers: "May we take this opportunity 

horoscopes. He gave the following suggestions: to wish you a Happy New Year of Cock." 

Cancer: "Why don't you go out and start a business, 

employing 100 people?" 

Virgo: "Today is a good day to spend a lot of money 

on products with a substantial made-in-Hong Kong 


Scorpio: "Jupiter is in the South China Sea, so it's 

vital that you sell all your shares in Tokyo and buy 

Cheung Kong." 

Pisces: "Your amah is overworked, so every Piscean 

should urgently employ a gardener, a cook, a driver, 

and a valet." 

Aquarius: "Aquarians should seriously consider dou- 
bling their workforces, or something horrible could 


Art gallery maestro John Jarman was shopping at the 
Wellcome supermarket in Razor Hill, Sai Kung, when he 
was handed scratch 'n' win contest cards which said 
that the current Lunar New Year (then 1996) was the 
Year of the Mouse. 

But surely it was supposed to be the Year of the Rat? 
Mouse? It's probably something to do with Bill Gates, 
said John. 

It reminds me of 1 993, the Year of the Cock, which 
almost every Hong Kong firm bowdlerised to Year of the 
Rooster, because male poultry is apparently obscene. 

Chapter 8: The ultimate "only in Hong Kong" stories 

The year was 1981. Annie Dennis had been asked to 
help the Independent Commission Against Corruption 
catch Hong Kong pharmacists who had been selling 
prescription drugs over the counter. 

Her mission, should she decide to accept it: Go into 
a succession of shops, asking for illegal tablets. A highly 
trained officer will lurk in the shadows outside, ready to 
pounce if she is given any 

Annie eventually found a shop in Kowloon which 
sold her the illicit substances, and she marched out of 
the shop, waiting for action. Nothing happened. 

The law enforcer had gone for a walk. 

She wandered around for a while, and eventually 
bumped into the man. 

Annie felt a bit of a heel as she re-entered the shop 
and pointed to the shopkeeper, who simply shrugged. 

The three of them then climbed into the ICAC van, 
and headed for the police station. Unfortunately the 
driver got completely lost. Soon neither he nor the ICAC 
officer knew where on earth they were. 

However, their prisoner was good at geography and 
ended up directing the driver to the police station, 
where he was duly arrested and charged. 

I can just imagine the conversation. 

"You turn down this road, and park the van in the 
police car park, on the left. Then you march me through 
those big doors and turn into the corridor on the left, 
where you throw me into the cells." 

"Mm gol." (Thanks.) 

"Mm so/." (Don't mention it.) 

Clare Vickers, drafting an educational children's book 
for the Hong Kong branch of Longman, included sen- 
tences about activities, including "John plays cricket" 
and "John plays squash". 

When she received the material back from the artist, 
she found "John plays cricket" was illustrated by John 
holding a hopping insect. 

"John plays squash" was illustrated by John stamp- 
ing the creature flat. 

The scene: A hospital ward in Hong Kong on a quiet 
weekend. A friend of mine from the Indian community 
had offered to help a patient choose a shahtoosh - an 
expensive shawl, costing between HK$6,000 and 
HK$12,000, made from the ultra-soft chin hair of a yak 
or a guru or some such thing. 

So she took six shahtoosh shawls, on loan from a 
shop, to the hospital and asked him to choose. He 
selected one. The other visitors to the ward took an 
interest - and bought the other five. 

"They paid cash. You'd think no one would carry so 
much money in cash in their jeans on a Sunday but this 
is Hong Kong," she said. 

Karin Arsan, strolling down the path beside the Peak 
Tram route south of Kennedy Road, saw a sign on the 
wall: "Central Green Trail, Station Two." 

It said she was gazing at a phenomenon called 
"Stone Wall Vegetation", continuing with these words: 
"The stone wall in front houses a rich variety of plants. 

Made up of large stones held together by cement, the 
wall allows water to seep out from the soil behind, 
enabling plants to absorb water and nutrients through 
seepage as well as atmospheric moisture." 

Sounds nice, doesn't it? Unfortunately, the sign was 
in front of a sight curious to see in Hong Kong. A spot- 
less wall. "It was more devoid of vegetation than any 
wall I had ever seen in Hong Kong," said Karin. 

Uh-oh. You don't think somebody cleaned it, do you? 

Tourold talking to the doorman of the Excelsior hotel 
in Hong Kong: "So, what time does the Noon Day Gun 
fire?" (Eavesdropper: Simon Constable.) 

Edward Turner III was walking through Mid-Levels, 
when he was stopped by a census-taker who asked him 
whether he knew where to find No 1, Chatham Path. 

"Do you know the name of the building?" Edward 

The young man consulted his computer print-out 
and showed him the relevant entry. The building in 
question was called "Latrine". 

The Westerner laughingly pointed to the public toilet 
across the track from the May Road Peak Tram stop. 

Edward said later: "As I headed up the path, he entered 
the small building, presumably to survey the occupants." 

I can just imagine the fellow knocking on the doors 
of the stalls and reading out his list of questions to the 
occupants: "And how many of you are in there? Do you 
have a colour TV?" 

A big cigarette poster has gone up alongside the 
Kowloon Funeral Parlour emblazoned with the words: 
"Coolness above all." 

Many of the people in the parlour, some of whom 
were ex-smokers are extremely cool. In fact, they are 
frozen stiff. 

On the rural island of Lantau, Hong Kong, you still 
occasionally see older residents wearing cone-shaped 
hats and traditional pyjama-like outfits. The fields are 
still designed like traditional rice paddy fields. The crags 
stand against the wind and the sea crashes against the 
rocks as they have done for centuries. 

A group of foreign holiday makers was musing on 
this as they sat in a restaurant overlooking the water, I 
heard from Tony Henderson. 

They watched as a little old lady trundled a rubbish 
trolley along a thin, winding path below them. 

"It's amazing how life in parts of Asia simply doesn't 
change," said one diner 

The perfection of the scene was enhanced by a shrill, 
cicada-like trill. They looked towards the bushes, to see 
if they could spot the member of the cricket family that 
was making the sound. 

But no. It was the rubbish-wallah's Ericsson GM3 
mobile phone. 

This, believe it or not, was a real announcement from 
the Hong Kong Government Information Service: 
"Attention News Editors: 

"The following is issued on behalf of the Regional 
Council: "How many people could be squeezed into a 
single-decker bus all at a time? 

"Entitled 'The Most Crowded Bus', this record 
challenging event is a special event of the Super 
Giant Maze which was organised specially by the 
Regional Council to commemorate its 10th 

Interested parties were invited to the Kwai Chung 
Sports Ground to see a bus in which people were jam- 
packed like sardines. 

I don't know how Chow Yick-hay of the Regional 
Council gets to work, but he may be surprised to learn 
that the rest of us do this every day 

A n:rin .'.as talking on a mobile telephone on a sub- 
way train in Mongkok, Kowloon. The carriage was sud- 
denly filled with the sound of more ringmg from his 
bag. Yes, someone was calling on his second line. 
(Spotter: Angela Jones.) 

Bernard Long saw a Hong Kong man in his 30s wear- 
ing a T-shirt which said: "Play safe — wear Malaysian 
rubber condoms." Nothing particularly unusual about 
that. Except for the fact that the man was wearing it in 
church. And yes, it was a Roman Catholic Church — St 
Joseph's. And yes, he did strut up to the front and take 
communion with it on. 

Why God is so sparing with his lightning bolts I will 
never understand. 

Four o'clock on a work-day afternoon. The setting: a 
lift in Taikoo Place, the Swire-owned complex in Quarry 
Bay, Hong Kong. 

Door opens. Smoker gets into lift. Furious glares 
from other occupants. Man quickly stubs out cigarette. 

Door opens again. Man in uniform carrying huge 
loaded shotgun gets into lift. No reaction. 

There was a newspaper item in the Hong Kong 
Standard about, the closure of the Kowloon Bay Bowling 
Alley "The alley has a long histon/. It began as a 40- 
lane alley 10 years ago," it said. 

Only in this territory could something 10 years old 
be described as having "a long history". (Spotter: Simon 

People in Hong Kong are finding little notes with their 
electricity bills informing them of a useful way to save 
electricity: "Don't iron your socks." 

Now that really is beyond the pale in a civilised 

I am reminded of the scene in The Diary of Adrian 
Mole, Age 13-3/4, where the boy serves tea in non- 
matching cups and saucers, and his shocked aunt sends 
him back to the kitchen with the words: "We are not 

The office of Hong Kong's Postmaster General made 
an announcement about new sheets of stamps: "The 

HK$10 definitive stamp depicted on the sheetlet is 
green in colour which is different from the brown 
colour of the current $10 definitive stamp." 

Everybody got that, then? Brown things and green 
things are different colours. One's brown, one's green. 
Thanks, PG! 

A large Santa Claus appeared at the main entrance to 
the Bank of China Building in Hong Kong in October. No 
doubt some junior official was told: "There's some 
Western festival called Halloween coming up. Go to the 
basement and dig out that effigy of a scary-looking 
barbarian to stick over the door." 

Merry Christmas. When December did arrive, Nick 
Griffin of Metro Broadcasting found himself admiring the 
Christmas display at the Nine to Five fast food shop in 
the Prince's Building. This consists of a little Christmas 
tree and a pile of gifts, all neatly wrapped in paper which 
says: "Wedding day congratulations." Ho ho ho. 

John Joseph of Hong Kong University tells me that the 
programme for the Urban Council's recent production 
of Lucia di Lommermoor contained a disclaimer at the 
bottom of page one. "Note: the contents of this perfor- 
mance do not reflect the views of the Urban Council." 

What could have driven them to add that? John 
thought about it. "I assume that in their view she 
should not have gone mad and murdered her wealthy 

and powerful husband on their wedding night, but have 
been a good tai-tai and erased the memon/ of her lover 
by taking a nice long shopping trip," he said. 

The doorway into the Mannings shop at the foot of the 
Mid-Levels escalator at Queen's Road, Central, has theft 
detection devices on either side, all neatly decorated 
with multi-coloured tinsel. Thieves caught by it will no 
doubt momentarily appreciate the joyful spirit of 
Christmas as they are dragged to the nick. 

Hong Kong truly entered a new era with the news that 
a man was arrested after allegedly hitting another over 
the head with a portable television. 

Personally, I blame Nokia and Ericsson for the loss of 
another bit of our heritage. Mobile phones, the tradi- 
tional hand-fighting weapon in Hong Kong, are now 
too small to do any damage. 

A friend of mine bought one of those feather-light 
Ericsson mobile phones the other day It looks flash, but 
unfortunately it is smaller than his face. He holds it to 
his ear to listen and moves it to his mouth to speak. 
Coming next in Hong Kong: mandible-shortening surgery, 
to enable yuppies to use flashier, smaller phones. 

On-screen shopping is coming to Hong Kong. Olivi 
Sheng of the Hong Kong University of Science and 

Technology gave an entertaining demonstration on 
Internet grocery shopping. It was highly user-friendly, 
with clear pictures and easy-to-use order forms. 

In the audience was Renee Thorpe, who felt that the 
only problem was that it was too slick — nothing like 
real shopping in Hong Kong. 

So Renee sat down and devised a few built-in obsta- 
cles to make Hong Kong shoppers feel at home. 

1. As soon as a user enters your Web site, he or she 
must be greeted with "Ngoh hoyih bong-do lei?" if 
Cantonese-speaking and "M'eh hep chew?" if English 

2. When asked for a non-existent item, such as a .47 
litre bottle of Snapple, the system must instantly 
reply: "Out of stock". 

3. If the user asks for an item that you do not sell and 
never will, the computer should flash "Maybe you try 
back later" and disconnect the shopper immediately. 

helper ran around collecting stray balls, of which there 
were many. 

Now I admit to being sympathetic to domestic 
helpers, but I'm not naive - just as many helpers are 
not naive at all. Some Filipinas queuing all night for 
Rugby Sevens tickets told friends of mine queuing near- 
by that they had agreed to stay out all night for their 
employers in exchange for HK$300. 

As the night wore on, and everyone became friendlier, 
they admitted that they were really picking up the tickets 
for re-sale at a fat profit to desperate Western men. 

I can imagine the sales pitch. 

Employer: "Consuelo, I want you to spend the day 
licking the floor clean with your tongue." 

Helper: "Yes, sir, I'll do it as soon as I put my Rugby 
Sevens tickets away in the cardboard box where I sleep." 

Employer: "Forget about the floor Why don't you spend 
the day watching my videos and drinking my sherry?" 

The scenic, once-rural island of Cheung Chau is 
achieving middle-class urban status. The tell-tale sign? 
Its residents are hiring domestic helpers to abuse. 

The island has a small number of tri-shaws, which 
are sort of cross between a bicycle and wheelbarrow, 
originally associated with the tourist trade. 

These days you see them trundling down the street, 
with a panting domestic helper working the pedals, 
while ma'am, six shopping bags and little Fei-fei sit on 
the bench at the back. 

The other night, the island's fancy tennis courts were 
occupied by ma'am and her coach, while the domestic 

KPS Video Express had a "buddy movies" promotion 
including such feel-good films as Natural Born Killers and 
Goodfellas. I had no idea that ultra-violence with large 
automatic weapons was considered a prerequisite of 
chummy relationships these days. (Spotter: Pranjal Tiwari) 

A Hong Kong television station recently showed 
Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence, a film about the suffer- 
ing in Japanese internment camps, as part of its special 
Yuletide seasonal offerings. 

"May I suggest a few titles for Mother's Day?" said 
Pranjal. "Perhaps Psycho and Throw Momma from the 
Train. " 

I like the idea. They could have a special winter 
season, too, featuring Some Like it Hot and In the Heof 

John Sanders was watching King of Kings, a biblical 
epic, on ATV World in Hong Kong, when they got to the 
scene about the three wise men. His fiancee Tseng 
Choi-lin started laughing. One of the wise men, Kaspar, 
was transliterated in Chinese subtitles as Ka-si-buk - 
or "Carlsberg". 

In This Boy's Life, Robert De Niro makes fun of a stepson 
who wants to change his name from Toby to Jack: "Hey 
Toby, Toby - whoops. Jack. Jack, huh? Hey, Toby-Jack!" 

The Chinese subtitle on Hong Kong television was: 
"Would you like to drink some Jack Daniels?" (Spotter: 
Steve Creighton.) 

Whenever the word "geek" is spoken on Hong Kong 
television, it is inevitably translated as "Greek". Movies 
are full of lines such as: "He's a skinny nerd with thick 
specs who never leaves his computer. A real Greek." 
(Spotter: Bill Teng.) 

In Only the Lonely, there's a tender scene where Ally 
Sheedy looks up at John Candy and says shyly: "I'm 
sorry. I'm an introvert." This was subtitled; "I'm sorry. 
I'm a pervert." (Spotter: Paul Fonoroff.) 

Real subtitles from Hong Kong films, featured in Sex 
and Zen ft a Bullet in the Head by Stefan Hammond and 
Mike Wilkins: 

1. I am damn unsatisfied to be killed in this way 

2. Fatty you with your thick face have hurt my instep. 

3. Same old rules: No eyes, no groin. 

4. A normal person would not steal pituitaries. 

5. Who gave you the nerve to get killed here 

6. Quiet or I'll blow your throat up. 

7. I got knife scars more than the number of your leg's 

8. I'll fire aimlessly if you don't come out. 

9. You always use violence. I should've ordered gluti- 
nous rice chicken. 

10. Beat him out of recognisable shape. 

Mandy Hemmings, 28, was relaxing on Sunday after- 
noon at her Happy Valley flat, dreaming about her far- 
away boyfriend Simon. Engineer Simon Rooke, also 28, 
was in the jungles of Malaysia, building the Pergau 
hydroelectric dam. 

Mandy's phone rang. On the Ime was the Grand 
Hyatt florist, an agent for Interflora. The florist said the 
shop had been trying to deliver flowers to her 

Mandy suggested that the flowers be delivered the 
following day 

"Would you like to know the message?" asked the 

Mandy thought it could wait, but the caller was 
quite insistent. 

"I think you should - it is really rather important," 

she urged. 

"OK," said Mandy, becoming curious. 

'Will you marry me?" 

Now that's Hong Kong efficiency for you. Love deliv- 
ered, proposals made, the course of young lives changed 
- at no extra charge. 

TicketMaster, the terrifyingly powerful computer at the 
UA Queensway cinema in Hong Kong, has taken it on 
itself to decide who can watch "adult" films. 

It asked one caller, screenwriter Lawrence Gray to 
fax in his credit card and passport. But how does one 
get a credit card or a passport into a fax machine? 
"Answer: you can't," Lawrence said, pointing out that 
few people have copiers at home. 

There is no human option on the voice-mail instruc- 
tions for you to explain this fact, or any other. 

It flatly refused to send another caller, journalist 
Rodney Pinder of Reuter, tickets to an adults-only movie. 

I tried it myself and also got turned down. Clearly, it 
thinks journalists are not mature enough to be consid- 
ered adults. 

Hey, maybe this is a pretty smart computer, after all. 

Chapter 9 : Our job is to enjoy you 

Want humour in Asian newspapers? Skip the 
cartoons, and flip back to the classifieds: 

For sale ad in the South China Morning Post: "Two 
Lorikeet Parrots — with cages. Bright green expat 
owner HK$700."(Spotter: Nigel Wilson.) 

In the job ads section of the Hong Kong Standard: 
"Marketing Secretary. 10-1 2k. At least two years' 
experience. Physically fit with self-defence skill." 

Clearly a company which plays rough. (Spotter: 
Alison Bareham.) 

environment" plus "a thorough knowledge of both 
gamma-ray spectrometers and high resolution magne- 
tometers" plus "fluent Bulgarian". 

Thousands will be killed in the rush. 
(Spotter: Martin Baggaley.) 

Slogan on the cover of a pamphlet listing Christmas 
catering services from Mario of Hong Kong: "Even if you 
are having a big X'mas party, with Mario your enjoy- 
ment will never be less." 

So the best thing they can say about themselves is 
that their presence is not a big downer. 
(Spotter: lain Masterson.) 

Marc Taylor found this ad in a Hong Kong newspaper: 
"Mazda MPV 95. Seven seater, owner fully auto." 

Florence Wong of the Shui On Centre, Hong Kong, 
advertised to recruit a person who wishes to collect an 
"attractive salary" to fill the post of "Beer Filtration 
Specialist". This is an activity that many stock brokers 
and journalists in Hong Kong do completely gratis for 
several hours a night. 

A Toronto firm advertised in the Globe and Moll of 
Canada for someone with knowledge of "digital elec- 
tronics design", plus "an extensive knowledge of FPGA 
programming and development in the Oread Xilinks 

In a similarly modest vein. Pizza Pizza of Hong Kong 
sent out a leaflet to potential new customers, saying: 
"Try to enjoy our delicious food." 

They sound confident, don't they? 
(Spotter: George Lau.) 

Angus Freathy was looking at a classified ad in the 
Sunday Morning Post: "Cats to sell — Owner has left 
HK. Healthy, desexed, free." 

Since the cats are for sale rather than free, one has 
to assume that it is the former owner who is "healthy, 
desexed and free". 

Canon has plastered subway stations all over Hong 

Kong with posters advertising its new IXUS camera. The 
slogan; "For Man or Woman". 

I had not realised that other cameras were for one 
or other sex only. No wonder I get funny looks when I'm 
lurking with my point-and-shoot in public places. 

GRADUATE MISTRESSES are invited to apply" with a 
photograph to a post office box number for a job in 
Kowloon. I had no idea you could reach accredited lev- 
els in that line of activity. 

Seen in the "wanted" columns of the South China 

Morning Post: 

"ASST MKTG MGR MKTG OFR U, 2-3 yrs S ft M exp." 
I can work out most of the abbreviations, but still 

can't figure why a couple of years of S ft M experience 

is needed. Is the boss a really, really hard man? 

(Spotter: Colin Bennett.) 

Another classified ad spotted by Angus Freathy: 
"Wanted: Heated hostess trolley fax". 

Must be tricky to use. "You've just received a fax 
Chan, but I'm afraid it landed in the steamed fish." 

Promotional sign outside a hotel near Karnak in Egypt, 
the site of the Karnak Temple: "Our Job Is To Enjoy You. 
Please Let Us Do Our Job." (Spotter: Graham Ford.) 

A Hong Kong company called Matrix is selling a multi- 
media projector for use in business presentations. 
Their advertisement carries the headline: "Blow up 
your computer screen and stun the audience" If they 
survive, that is. 

Slogan on the television ads showing products from 
Interwood Marketing: "As Seen On TV." 

This is like publishing a book emblazoned with the 
words: "This Book Now Available In Book Form." 
(Spotter: Robert Nield.) 

Doncha just adore Hong Kong classified ads? There 
a classic the other day, which said: "CERTIFICATED 

Chapter 10: Joint Venture 

Uh-oh. Danger ahead. It all started when Your Humble 
Narrator decided to show the draft text of his brilliant 
new novel Asian Values to novelist Sussy Chako to criti- 
cise (i.e., praise). 

This masterwork has a simple plot. University stu- 
dents handcuff two strangers together as a prank. If 
they stay shackled together for 24 hours, they raise a 
fortune for charity. But there's a hitch. One victim is 
an Asian businessman (you know, rapist of rainforests 
and stuff). The other is a female Western tree-hug- 
ging feminist. 

"It almost works," said Sussy "But not quite. It's not 
authentic enough. You need to live the story yourself, 
feel their pain." 

This was completely ridiculous and out of the ques- 
tion, of course. No sane person would allow himself to 
be chained to a complete stranger of a different culture 
and sex for 24 hours. 

So, naturally, I agreed. The publisher stumped up 
cash to cover an advertisement and pay-packet for a 
"research assistant desperately sought for temporary 
joint venture". 

My wife nobly volunteered to select the female vic- 
tim. This being the case, I assumed I would be attached 
to an elderly female street-sleeper with tentacles. But 
she selected Susie Wilkins, an attractive, red-headed, 
18-year-old singer. (Is any further proof needed of the 
gulf between male and female logic?) 

Eric Lockeyear of the Hong Kong Police lent us some 
cuffs. Publisher Jean Bunton shackled Ms Wilkins and 
Your Humble Narrator together at noon on a Thursday 
for 24 hours. 

The experience enabled me to compose the follow- 
ing useful rules. 

Twelve Bits of Advice for Anyone Planning to 
Handcuff Themselves to a Stranger For 24 Hours. 

1 . Do not handcuff yourself to a stranger for 24 hours. 

2. You'd assume it would be a bad idea to let your 
spouse select the stranger, but you may be wrong. 

3. Real people do double-takes, exactly like cartoon 

4. The first part of the 24 hours flies by quickly and 
amusingly but the novelty eventually wears thin, and 
the following 23 and three-quarter hours stretch before 
one like an eternity. 

5. People in Lan Kwai Fong, the bar area of Hong Kong, 
don't notice anything odd about a couple going around 
in heavy police shackles. Guests and staff in five-star 
hotels such as the Conrad International in Hong Kong 
do notice, but are far too refined to make any reference 
to it. 

6. You would be amazed how often you need to make 
minor adjustments to your underclothing. 

7. While offering cerebral explanations of how one's 
actions are an allegory of East-West influences in 
Southeast Asian history, members of the media will 
continually interrupt to ask: "How did you go to the 
toilet?" "Did you have baths?" 

8. Subway train turnstiles are an almost insurmountable 
obstacle for a handcuffed couple carrying bags. Admit 
it, railway executives. You forgot to consider people like 
us, didn't you? 

9. You may think there are certain private functions you 
absolutely cannot do when firmly attached to a 
stranger, but you would be surprised. 

10. It takes a female almost seven minutes to pull up a 
pair of tights using only one hand. 

11. The only way to turn over when sleeping in hand- 
cuffs is to roll right over the person next to you. Three 
hours' sleep results in the sleeping pair travelling four 
metres across a carpet. 

12. Attempting to butter a piece of toast with one hand 
results in the bread whizzing across the table into the 
lap of the person opposite. 

Warning: If you try to do this at home, children, please 
remember one thing. It is not nearly as difficult and 
embarrassing as it seems. It is much, much worse. 

Chapter 11 : Someone actually said that? 

John Dickson visited thie Foreign Correspondents' Club 
of Hong Kong and bought a souvenir club watch for 
HK$150. A staff member pulled open a drawer contain- 
ing 100 watches and set one to the correct time before 
politely handing it over. 

John commented that she might consider setting the 
time on all the watches when she wasn't busy and so 
eliminate the hassle of having to set the time each time 
she sold a watch. 

"Sir, how could I possibly do that?" she asked, 
indignantly. "I have no idea what time I'll sell each of 
them, do I?" 

Lee San San, the Hong Kong gold medal windsurfer, was 
being interviewed on TVB Pearl during the Atlanta 
Olympics. Right in the middle of her emotional speech, 
viewers heard the faint ringing of a mobile phone. 

Viewers watched in amazement as the interviewer 
pulled a phone out of his pocket, while still thrusting the 
microphone at his target with the other hand. In a voice 
clearly audible to viewers, he said: "Wai?" ["Hello?"]. 

A discussion about wine took place between journalist 

Hilton Shone and at Remy Fine Wines in Taikoo Shing, 

Hong Kong. 

Hilton: Is this dry or sweet? 

Staff member: Dry or sweet? 

Hilton: Yes, fruity like a Riesling, or dry like a Chenin 


Staff member: The more the price, the more the sweet. 

On a Cathay Pacific flight between Hong Kong and 

London, a crew member approached passenger Pat 

Malone, who was gueuing for the toilet, and said: "Do 

you mind if I ask you something?" 

"Go right ahead. Fire away" 

"Do you know what terminal we arrive at?" 

"I think it's three," replied Pat. "But who wants to know?" 

Heard on a Mass Transit Railway train In Hong Kong: 

A; Where are you off to? 
B: The Majestic cinema. 
A: What are they showing? 
B: Sex and Sensibility. 

Debbie Smith was taking a taxi home to Sai Kung, in the 
hinterlands of the New Territories in Hong Kong. To make 
conversation, she said to the driver: "It's a long way" 
He snapped back: "Well, you show me the right way then." 

An Asian starlet swept into a chic boutique in New 

York, and selected some suitably expensive items. 

"How would madam like to paY?"asked the lady in 


"Oh! Just charge it to Mr [name suppliedj's account," 

she simpered. 

"That's strange," said the lady "I'm Mrs [name supplied]." 

I swear this is a true story. The name has been left 
out to avoid worsening a situation which is already less 
than consummate bliss. 

Thai media mogul Sondhi Limthongkul sounded 
extremely relaxed during his phone interview on RTHK's 
morning radio show. 

"Actually, I was lying in bed at the time," he told 
Your Humble Narrator at lunch the same day. 

The same show had earlier featured Matt Barrett, 
chief executive officer of the Bank of Montreal. 
Afterwards, his public relations man Ted Thomas 
phoned him at the Mandarin Oriental and said: "You 
sounded a bit strained on the radio this morning." 

"I'm not surprised," he replied. "I was on the toilet 
at the time." 

An elegant Chinese woman, mother of a well-known 
Hong Kong TV presenter, was prevented from playing at 
Deepwater Bay Golf Club because of what she was 
wearing: a golfing outfit. The baffled member explained 
to officials that she had bought the golfing clothes at a 
golf shop. She pointed to the classic check slacks and 
the little golf logo on the knit shirt. 

"But there are no flies on your trousers," the 
official said. 

Now this, she had to admit, was true. Women's 
trousers often have elasticky bits or fasten on the side. 

The official explained that the club had a strict rule 
that no one could play in trousers which did not have 
flies. She was ejected from the course. 

Could someone kindly tell the committee at 
Deepwater Bay Golf Club that women's trousers often 
don't have flies at the crotch, because, well ... you see, 
chaps, there are the birds and the bees . . . 

Peter Jackson of Inchcape Insurance Services was on a 
Philippine Airlines flight from Singapore to Manila 
when the stewardess told him to pull the table out of 
the armrest and place his nuts on it. 

He thanked her for her concern about his comfort, 
but declined. 

Overheard at the weekend: A man who had just bro- 
ken up with his wife was telling his friend how he had 
moved from a palatial residence to a tiny flat. 

"It's not the space, so much, but what I really miss is 
all the pampering, you know," he said. 

So he was really missing his wife? 

"No," he said. "The maids." 

Robin Bradbeer was car-hunting, touring Hong Kong 
car parks, many of which double as sales showrooms. 

Robin: How many owners has this car had? 

Salesman: Zero. 

Robin: Ah. So it's a showroom model? 

Salesman: No. It's been owned by one person. 

Robin: So, it's had one owner? 

Salesman: No. It's had zero owners. 

Robin: Ah, so it's a showroom model? 

Salesman: No. It's been owned by one person. 

Robin: So, it's had one owner? 

Salesman: No. It's had zero owners. 

Etc, etc. 
He has had conversations like this a dozen times. It 
became apparent that in Hong Kong second-hand car 

salesman's jargon, the term "owner" does not include 
"original owner", but "mug we palmed this old banger 
off to before". 

woman smiled. "Oh no," she said. "You can't use it, 
because you don't have your credit card any more." 

Richard Hawkins moved from Australia to Hong Kong. 
He sent an e-mail message from Australia to the secre- 
tary in Hong Kong commissioned to organise accommo- 
dation, explaining that he would like a long bed and 
"enough room to swing a cat". 

Although she had always previously replied instantly 
this time she took two days to get back to him with a 

"I have made a hotel booking for you, with a double 
bed. In respect of bringing your cat to Hong Kong, I 
have contacted the relevant authorities and am obtain- 
ing copies of the necessary forms." 

Alan Walker of Fanling took his Visa card into the 
Hang Seng Bank in Causeway Bay to have it cancelled. 

"Yes, sir," said the charming young woman at the 
counter, cutting it into two pieces in front of him. For 
the bonus points he had collected, she handed him a 
special coupon worth HK$100 which he could spend 
wherever he liked. 

He decided to spend it at a Shell petrol station — 
but they refused to accept it. "You have to show your 
credit card at the same time," the Shell staff member 

So Alan went back to Hang Seng Bank and explained 
that he had been unable to use the coupon. The young 

Yu Binglin, vice-mayor of Zhuhai City, China, was 
speaking at the Marlboro China Zhuhai International 
Race '96: "On behalf of the committee of the China 
Zhuhai International Circuit, I herewith express my 
deepest thankfulness to the guests, racists . . ." 

Tan Chenfu, chairman of Zhuhai International 
Circuit, said his company was making every effort to 
provide "top training and racing facilities to all the 
racists and friends". 

Don Cohn went to the Sunning Pharmacy at New Town 
Plaza, New Territories, with a prescription from a well- 
known Hong Kong doctor. The pharmacist picked up a 
book of doctors allowed to prescribe it, and looked up 
the name of Don's physician. "I can't find it," he said. 

Now this had to be wrong. Don's doctor had had an 
active practice in Hong Kong for at least three years. 
Then he noticed that Sunning Pharmacy was using a 
book of doctors that was five years old. 

"Shouldn't you keep up to date?" he asked. 

The pharmacist looked at him. "But I'd have to buy a 
new book," he said. 

Don suggested he make a call to verify the name of 
the doctor. The pharmacist told him to go elsewhere. 

Don found the pills he was after at Fanda, the large 
pharmacist opposite the Mandarin Oriental in Central. 
He was surprised to find that they cost double the price 

he was expecting, and pointed this out to staff. 

"Okay, so how much do you want to pay?" replied 
the pharmacist, sounding more like a dodgy vendor of 
fake Rolexes. 

The pharmacists of Hong Kong. What a fine body of 
upstanding professionals. 

Hugh Tyrwhitt-Drake stopped off at a 7-Eleven in 
Hong Kong early one morning to buy his South China 
Morning Post. The paper had not yet arrived. He was just 
leaving the shop, when the saleswoman called out after 
him: "Kahm yaht dou yauh." [We've got yesterday's]. 

"Does your family have a maid?" 
"What kind of cars are used to transport you to 

"Where do your parents take you for holidays?" 
"Does your mother have any original dresses by Chanel, 
Versace, or Alaia?" 

Actually, I made the last one up, but it's in the same 

Overheard by Ann Day of the Helena May Institute 
from the mouth of a small boy emerging from a cinema 
showing Apollo 13: "No wonder they got in a mess, 
dad. They had Forrest Gump driving." 

Overheard at a perfume counter in Daimaru: 

"It's not pronounced Poison. It's French." 

"Well how do you say it then?" 

"Poisson. " 

"But I thought that meant fish." 

"It does mean fish." 

"Funny name for a perfume." 

"Well I didn't make it up." 

What do Hong Kong schools look for in their pupils? 
Character and intelligence? Or money and a knowl- 
edge of brand names? I would like to think the former, 
but I don't know. 

A colleague's friend sent his children to the Chinese 
International School for an interview, and they were 
asked questions by a panel of teachers. 

There's a new pawn shop on Canal St West in Hong 
Kong called Hang On Pawn Shop, I heard from Mark 
Majner. It's one of those shops where you have to ring 
a bell to get in, so he imagined the scene when a cus- 
tomer arrives. 
Ding dong. 

"Okay." (Customer waits outside). 
(Customer gets tired of hanging on and presses the bell 

"Woi? Hang On. " 

"Okay" (Customer waits outside.) 
(Customer gets tired of hanging on and presses the bell 

"Wai? Hang On. " 
Etc, etc. 

Chapter 12: This is your Captain shriel<ing 

Today, business travellers, we are going to examine 
one of the most controversial issues of modern society: 
just how intelligent should aircraft toilets be? 

But first, a news flash. It has been discovered that 
the lack of female airline pilots cannot be blamed on 
general sexism. The cause is highly specific sexism. 

Psychologists reckon passengers relax more if they 
think the plane is being flown by a bloke. And not just 
any bloke. It has to be one of those mature, fatherly 
mellow chaps. 

Pilots' manuals instruct the crew to give the image 
that the captain is personally doing all parts of the job, 
even if he is doubled-up in the crew toilet for the 
whole trip. This can mean dressing someone else up. 
"You always have the option to get the first officer to 
wear your jacket through the termmal," says an oldish 
Cathay Pacific captain's manual I have. 

Here is a list of Announcements You Don't Want to 
Hear on Aircraft Public Address Systems, some of which 
come from a discussion of the subject on the Internet. 

"This is your Captain speaking. I just wanted to take 
this opportunity to remind you that your seat cushions 
can be used as flotation devices." 

"Is there a geography major on board?" 

"This is Captain Edwards. It would be a good idea if 
you all pull down your window shades and concentrate 
on the inflight movie for a while." 

"Staff announcement: Would the new stewardess 
kindly report to the cockpit and sit on my lap." 

"We're having a few technical hitches, probably 
nothing to be alarmed about. Just enjoy the view. If 
those on the left of the aircraft look out of the window, 

you can see a little parachute drifting down. That's me 
in my ejector seat." 

Anyway let's get back to today's topic, which is 
intelligent washroom appliances. Bryan Leving of Hong 
Kong visited the toilet in the first class section of the 
new Philippine Airlines Boeing 747-400. 

He was pleasantly surprised to find that the airline 
had placed a "smart" tap in the wash basin. Simply 
place your hands under it, and it turns itself on. Take 
your hands away and it turns itself off. 

Prominently placed in the washroom was a sign: "As 
a courtesy to the next passenger, kindly use your paper 
towel to wipe the basin." 

So he wiped the basin dry. 

Which caused the tap to turn on. 

Which led him to wipe the basin dry again. 

Which caused the tap to turn on. 

Which led him to wipe the basin dry again. 

He could have been there for hours, had he not 
deliberately disobeyed the instructions and left the 
basin wet. 

We interrupt this essay for another Announcement 
You Don't Want to Hear on Aircraft Public Address 

"This is the Captain speaking. We've now reached 
our cruising altitude of 39,000 feet and ooooohhh 

Chapter 13: Play it again, Ali-Sum 

Crash. Bump. Plink. Thud. Thunk. Tinkle. A curiously 
musical cacophony floated through the tranquil air of 
Cheung Chau island one warm day 

"I thought someone was murdering his grandmoth- 
er," one 14-year-old resident said. 

He went to the window to have a look. A piano had 
magically appeared outside the front door It was a 
rather sad-looking upright "Joanna", apparently aban- 
doned. A sign in Chinese had been placed on the front: 
"Free to Music Lover". 

The piano had participated in the time-honoured, 
two-stage Hong Kong method of property disposal. 
First, place object outside personal space when no one 
is looking. Second, run. 

The householders of Tai Sun Street thought nothing 
more about this until the evening came. It was mildly 
amusing, the first time a drunken passer-by started to 
thump on the keys. "0 Danny boy..." 

The second to 15th times were less amusing. 

Sometimes the "music" was experimental. 
Sometimes it was Chopsticks, played with various 
degrees of virtuosity. Every so often, a passer-by who 
could actually play the thing would send melodies 
trilling through the night air. 

After two nights of impromptu concerts, the piano 
vanished, and has not been seen since. 

This whole business of furniture disposal is a tricky one. 

A financial analyst of my acquaintance moved into a 
new flat on Hong Kong Island. Like most flats, it was 
tiny and he could not move any item without moving 
everything else in tandem. 

He placed his favourite bookcase outside the front 

door, to give a bit of space in which to manoeuvre. "I'll 
bring the thing back in a minute," he told his wife. BIG 

He spent some time shifting all the other furniture 
to where he - okay, his wife - wanted it. Mopping his 
brow, he opened the front door to find - nothing. His 
bookcase had quickly and silently been adopted by 
new parents. 

What to do? He composed a sign asking for his 
bookcase back, and placed it in view of his neighbours 
in the block. 

That night, there came a knock on his door. It was a 
security guard, telling him that he must remove his sign, 
because other residents said it implied they were thieves. 
What a pleasant start to life in a new community. 

There was drama on Cheung Chau island as well 
last week. 

A young Western woman noticed that her flatmate 
looked ill, so she summoned help. Cheung Chau is a 
rural place, and there are no roads or vehicles — normal 
ones, anyway. The ambulance on the island is a tiny lit- 
tle one-man motorised truckette. Two men and a 
stretcher squeeze on to it. 

The mini-ambulance whizzed out of the fire station 
and shot along the narrow paths. After a few minutes, 
it became apparent that the vehicle itself had been 
stricken with some dire illness. The engine received its 
last rites outside the Hongkong Bank. 

The fearless servicemen were not to be swayed from 
their mission. They assembled a stretcher-on-a-trolley 
device and rescued the young woman, wheeling her 
towards the clinic. 

It soon became apparent that the stretcher itself 
was ailing. One wheel was rolling at a funny angle, and 
eventually flew off. 

The patient made a full recovery. Doctors are not 
confident about the survival of the ambulance and the 

One worries about what will be used the next time 
an accident victim needs to be transported to safety. 
"You climb on to this piano, please, missee." 

Chapter 14: Moving experiences 

When Hong Kong newspaperman Andrew Lynch 
arrived at London's Heathrow Airport a few days ago, 
he couldn't help but notice a chauffeur, peaked cap an' 
all, waiting for the Cathay Pacific flight from Hong 
Kong. In the uniformed man's hand was a sign saying 

No doubt a Hong Kong functionary had telephoned a 
car service in London and had a somewhat brief con- 
versation on the following lines. 

Driver: Who do I have to meet? 

Hong Kong caller: Is a gwoilo. 

fied amount of bail, the driver was freed to collect his 
accoutrements, human and otherwise. 

The troupe and furniture arrived at the des res in 
Happy Valley at 2.30 am. 

I think Charlotte and Susannah got off lightly. In 
cases of unpaid tax, they sometimes confiscate every- 
thing in the miscreant's possession and auction it off. 

Lot number 1 : Truckload of slightly used gwoilo- 
taste (i.e. bad taste) furniture. Two gwo/por included. 
(Tipster: James Effingham.) 

A young woman named Charlotte hired a removal 
truck and a driver to pick up some furniture in Stanley 
and Mid-Levels, and transport it to her new flat in 
Happy Valley 

The move proceeded smoothly enough. The furniture 
had been collected and the driver was moving along 
Queen's Road East on the way to their final destination. 

Suddenly, a policeman pulled them over for a spot- 
check of ID cards. It transpired that the driver had not 
paid any income tax for the past few years. 

Excited by cornering a desperate fugitive - well, 
actually, the driver was shrugging nonchalantly - the 
officer extended a firm invitation to the entire ensem- 
ble to pay a visit to Wan Chai police station. 

The two flatmates, Charlotte and Susannah, were 
surprised to find themselves behind bars in a police van, 
as the whole lot - driver, truck, furniture, and occu- 
pants - was duly impounded. 

After three hours, and the payment of an unspeci- 

Handbag-snatchers used a taxi as a getaway car and 
the victims pursued and caught them in another taxi. 
Only in Hong Kong have I heard of thieves relying on 
passing taxis to provide a getaway car service. 

David Roads was reminded of an incident a couple of 
years ago when some rather dense Filipino robbers raid- 
ed a shop and leapt into a taxi, shouting out to the dri- 
ver: "Airport, Philippine Airlines."The victim told police, 
who arranged for an officer to stand by and arrest the 
villains as they arrived at the PAL check-in desk. 

Despite what other airlines claim, Chinese Eastern 
Airlines must have the best inflight entertainment in the 
region. This is the opinion of Diana Collins of Hong Kong. 

On the runway in Shanghai, passengers were asked 
not to punch holes in the windows during the flight. 
One assumes this is a common problem, if passengers 
have to be reminded not to do it. 

Once in the air, they were told that if they reguired 

anything during the journey, "please refrain from con- 
tacting the cabin crew". 

Wasn't it amazing that two Hong Kong trams were in a 
head-on collision in Hennessy Road, Causeway Bay? 

I mean, how fast do these things go? I can just imagine 
the testimony at an inquin/; "Suddenly I saw this tram 
heading straight for me at four kilometres an hour, roughly 
the same speed as a pensioner on the pavement nearby I 
tried to screech to a halt, but it was too late, as we were 
less than half an hour away from a direct collision." 

Bob Bunker of Mees Pierson was passing the 
Legislative Council. Two men came out and climbed 
into a car with the "AM" government number plate. 

The car moved a few yards in a straight line, from 
the Legco parking lot, to the Hong Kong Club, which is 
the next building to the north. 

The two men disembarked and went into the club. 

The chauffeur drove the car into the tortuous Central 
one-way system and travelled God knows how far until 
he eventually managed to get back to where he started. 

Who was wasting resources in this terrible manner? 

Bob didn't recognise the government officials. 
"Probably someone working on some environmental 
protection sub-committee," he mused. 

Martin Merz, a savvy China trader who can curse in 
five Chinese dialects, clambered into a taxi in 

Guangzhou and asked to be taken to the airport.lnstead 
of flipping on the meter, the taxi-sigei decided to try to 
cheat his passenger into over-paying. 

"Fifty renminbi," he barked. 

"Very well," replied Martin in street level Mandarin, 
"But first we will visit the police station and discuss the 
matter there, you dumb (expletive]." 

The driver was clearly impressed by the foreign bar- 
barian's ability to talk just like a proper male human. 

He immediately switched the meter on. "I just wish 
to make one correction to your statement," he said. 
"You should have said: 'But first we will visit the public 
transport management office.' The police don't give a 
(expletive) about taxi fares." 

Ian Skeggs was sitting on his yacht, floating off Middle 
Island with a group of friends, enjoying a few bottles of 
chilled wine. 

About 8 pm they started to feel hungry, but felt too 
lazy to move their fat butts and go and get some food. 

"Why don't we get a pizza delivered?" someone asked. 

"To a boat? Impossible!" said Inchcape Motors exec- 
utive Ian. 

Wagers were taken as to whether Pizza Hut would 
be willing and able to deliver a still-warm pizza to a 
boat off Middle Island. 

They phoned the manager of the Pizza Hut in 
Repulse Bay and found him completely unfazed at the 
thought of deliver/ to an ocean-going vessel, bobbing 
about in the South China Sea. 

The sailors gave the pizza delivery man their mobile 

phone number, which he called a couple of times to 
make sure he was going in the right direction. Shortly 
afterwards, they spied him walking along the promenade 
holding the pizzas high. He then climbed into a sampan 
and braved the waters, soon reaching ian's boat. 

They munched into their Deep Pan Super Supremes 
and found them still piping hot. 

Everyone was delighted. 

Except Ian. "I lost a bottle of champagne because I 
bet no one would deliver a pizza at sea." 

An official statement has been posted in Hong Kong 
newspapers by the New World Centre Management 
Office in Kowloon. 

"Notice is hereby given to the owner of a Daimler 
saloon bearing UK registration number KVP 650W, 
which has been parked in the New World Centre 
Basement Four car park, 20, Salisbury Road, Kowloon, 
since August 1988, that if the vehicle is not collected 
after payment of parking charges at the New World 
Centre Office Building West Wing, 20, Salisbury Road, 
Kowloon, within seven days from the date hereof, 
arrangements will be made for the vehicle to be dis- 
posed of without further notice." 

This was pointed out to me by John Ferguson of 
Build Asia Selection, who said: "I wonder whether the 
owner might not find it less expensive to buy a new 
Daimler, considering the car parking charges in such 

An unusual line from the Reverend Wendell Karsen at 
the Union Church: "A pessimist is someone who looks 
both ways before crossing a one-way street. So an 
optimist, I would imagine, is someone who doesn't 
look at all. On Hong Kong roads, I would recommend 
being a pessimist." 

There was a teeny-weeny problem with the Round 
The Island Yacht Race. It couldn't go round the island. 
The Hong Kong harbour was too narrow, there was too 
much traffic in it already, and there are vast spans of 
dangerous reclamation on both sides. Organisers decid- 
ed the yachts don't have a hope of going around Hong 
Kong island without being dredged up and turned into 
part of a sea wall in new Kowloon. 

Instead, the sailors are going to go part way round 
and then turn back again. 

Michael Ouinn of Friends of the Earth said: "Boats that 
do not dissolve in the harbour will receive a special award". 

Chapter 15: Acne Chan and the wonderful basket 

Asians who carry Western names like to choose mem- 
orable ones. This is why Hong Kong's registers of 
employment have included a secretary called Nausea 
Yip and an artist on a porn magazine called Pubic Ha. 

Genuine Hong Kong names, from a collection made by 

an engineer: 

Acne Chan, a female bank clerk; 

Motor Fan, a male electrical engineer; 

Ivan Ho, a male TV talk show host; 

Handy Kam, a male salesman; 

Orphelia Kok, a female programmer; 

Arsenic Lo, a male (job unknown); 

Hernia Kong, a female railway worker; 

and Morning Sun, a female student. 

From The 1997 Hong Kong Diary by John Dykes, pub- 
lished by Ant Co: 

1. There's a Twinkle To out there. 

2. You've got to feel a bit embarrassed for Willy Pong, 

3. Then there's the slightly confused woman called 
Candy Man. 

4. McDonald's has a staffer called Alien Lee. 

5. A friend swears he knows a Scooby Doo. 

Hong Kong environmental specialist Paul Claughan 
was informed by US Environment Report magazine that 
he can contact a nuclear fuel expert by writing to: 

"B.F Bugger, Off. 

"of Communications." 
Do you think there is a subliminal message here? 

There's a salesgirl in the Causeway Bay Giordano store 

by the name of Busy (Spotter: Andrew Case.) 

It must be jolly hard to pick her up at a disco. 

Suitor: Hello darling, what's your name? 

Busy: I'm Busy 

Suitor: Well, excuuuuuuse me. 

The winner of a contest on TVB's Pearl Watch in Hong 
Kong was called Harlet To. (Spotter: Bernard Long.) 
Someone had better warn this young lady that her 
name could lead to embarrassing misunderstandings. 

"Who are you?" 

"I'm Harlet." 

"Really? How much do you charge?" 

Chen Hsien Min, managing director of Prime Success 
International Group, revealed that his English name is 
Keeper, because he played in goal for his school soccer 
team. Good thing his school game wasn't cricket, which 
features positions known as Silly Mid-On, Square Leg 
and Deep Mid-Off. 

If you call up the offices of Compaq Computer Hong 
Kong and ask to speak to "admin", you may get a Mr 
Admin Cheung on the phone. And no, he doesn't work 
in the administration department - that would be too 
logical. This IS Hong Kong. 

A new nightclub has opened in IVIanila, called "Club 
Chevalier". (Spotter: Peter Weldon.) It is run by a woman 
called Candy Bumpy I foresee problems if this place 
gets confused with the giant Hong Kong based office 
supplies firm of the same name, Chevalier. 
Customer: "Got any floppy disks?" 
Candy Bumpy: "There's nothing floppy around here, dear." 

In the Willie Building, Central, you'll find a printing 
worker called Do Do To. What would happen if Do Do 
To married actress Dodo Cheng? 

"Do you, Do Do, take Dodo, to be your wife?" 

"I, Do Do, do do." 
Then again, imagine if he had a stutter... 

Making sure your name doesn't mean something 
embarrassing in other languages is only half the battle. 
Pronouncing it correctly is the other half. Tan Gim Eam 
tells me a friend of hers called a computer firm in Hong 
Kong to speak to someone called Anais. 

Caller: Can I speak to Anais, please? 

Receptionist: No such person. 

Caller: It's spelt A. N. A. I. S. 

Receptionist: Oh, you mean Anus. Hold on. 


Caller: Hello! Can I speak to Anais? 

Anais: Anus here. 

Your Humble Narrator sat next to Patrick Paul of Price 
Waterhouse at a dinner, and was surprised to learn he had 
an acguaintance in Zimbabwe named Wonderful Basket. 
Mr Paul said he found it tough to adjust to greeting this 
large and macho African gentleman with the affectionate- 
sounding words: "Good morning, Wonderful..." 

If Wonderful Basket married Liz Case, who does the 
lunchtime show on Hong Kong's Radio Three, would 
their children be known as the Basket-Cases? 

Hold the presses. A reader tells me that Do Do To could- 
n't marry Dodo Cheng because he is already married. 

Whoops! There goes the phone again. That's odd. It's 
someone telling me that Do Do To is definitely a 

There's only one possible conclusion: there are two 
Do Do Tos. Imagine the confusion if they were ever 
introduced to each other. 

"Do Do To, Do Do To." 

"Is your name Do Do To too?" 

"No, my father was Do Do To II. I'm Do Do To III." 

Hold the presses again. A caller tells me he has an 
employee called Do Do To-To, which is one syllable up 
on the Do Do Tos. If this chap passed his name on to 
his son, and the boy ever met someone with the same 
name, he would have to say: "I'm Do Do To-To II too." 

Adam Williams of Dow Jones Telerate in Hong Kong 
showed me a letter from a chap caled Soso So. I won- 
der how his doctor greets him when he is run down? 
Doctor: "How are you feeling, Soso So? So-so?" 

Iranian journalists have a problem with Bob Dole, 
whose surname is the Persian word for male genitalia. 
(Spotter; Mirja Muncy.) 

Reporter Majid Fanni told his foreign counterparts: 
"It might seem funny to some people but it's creating a 
serious issue for us. How can we write headlines using 
that word?" 

It would have become easier had he become President, 
Majid. The word would have seemed more fitting. 

If you'll excuse further asterisks, the Obscene Articles 
Tribunal in Hong Kong has passed a film featuring 
"Actress F'^ Keiko". This was brought to my attention 
by reader Simon Cuthbert, who thought she appeared 
"appropriately named for her chosen career". 

Name of a rather attractive Hong Kong girl, spotted 
by Brian Stewart: Bikky Jar No, you can't have a nibble. 

Hang on a minute. The journalist complaining that Bob 
Dole's surname is the Persian for male genitalia is 
named Majid Fanni. 
You black pot, you... 

On a related topic, Bernard Long tells me that in 
Malaysia, the premier of Pakistan is always referred to 
as President Benazir 

"They cannot bring themselves to utter the word 
Bhutto, because of what it means in Indonesian, Malay 
and some dialects of the Philippines," he said. 

A Bhutto is a man's er, well, um. Dole. 

There is a footballer of Brazilian origin in Osaka called 
Argelico F**ks. I've prudishly used asterisks, although I 
realise that a name, technically, cannot be an obscenity. 
But imagine having to go through life burdened with 
such a moniker. "His name sounds like an advert for a 
male escort service," said spotter Jeremy Walker 

cttcr received by business people in Hong Kong: "Dear 
Sir, thank you for your interest in our company product 
and services. We are pleased to submit herewith the 
information for Internet Phone for your kind reference. 
Yours sincerely, Yu Wankel." 

There's another one of those subliminal messages 
here, isn't there? 

A company in Tsim Sha Tsui produces a brand of batten/ 
called Double Cat, each of which features a picture of 
two moggies, one black and one white. The director of the 
firm carries the English name Mr Double Cat. His Chinese 
name is Seung Mau Seen Sang [Mr Pair of Pussycats). 
Now that's what I call fully integrated marketing. 

Seen at the Spice Market restaurant in Ocean 
Terminal, Kowloon, a waiter with a badge that said, 
simply, "Human". 
(Spotter: Shona Parker) 

Trader Choith Ramchandani asked a young woman work- 
ing at the Friendship Store, Shenzhen, what her name was. 

"Lucy," she said. 

Unfortunately her nametag said "Lousy". 

Paul Moyes of Coopers a Lybrand in Hong Kong tells 
me that there is a Correctional Services Department 
officer, who presumably is employed to show prisoners 
the error of their ways, called Wong Wai-man. 

He also knows of an executive at the Official 
Receiver's Office (the agency responsible for monitoring 
the affairs of liquidated firms) called Monita Yu. 

I'm assured that there was once an undertaker in the 
United States whose real name was Filmore Graves. 

But the chap I really feel sorry for is the real-life 
American detective whose name is Bond. James Bond. 

There's a gentleman m Happy Valley whose name is Ho 
Ho, I heard from Michael McGuire. "This is right up 
there with the poor child who was named Module after 
the Apollo 11 landing, "he said. 

I wonder if Mr Ho Ho was born in Santa's grotto some- 
where? What happens if Mr Ho Ho married one of Stanley 
Ho's daughters? He could end up as Mr Ho Ho-Ho. 

There is also a Ms Lai Lai-lai who lives in the territory. 
Come to think of it, there have been several songs writ- 
ten about her. Doesn't Those Were the Days mention her 
in the chorus? 

Kai Tak, the Hong Kong airport, is derived from the 
personal names of the two former owners of the land, 
Mr Ho Kai and Mr Au Tak. 

Rather cute, isn't it?l mean, you can't imagine a 
major airport in the United States deciding to call itself 
"Beau and Flopsy International Airport", can you? 

All the racehorses of Hong Kong music-fan Hans Ebert 
are named after hit songs - "Only You", "Light My Fire", 
"Happy Together" and so on. He wanted to call his lat- 
est filly "A Horse With No Name," but the authorities 
turned him down. They thought it would have been too 
confusing to have the 10-words-a-second commenta- 
tors saying; "And ahead on the final stretch is 'A Horse 
With No Name'." 

One owner called his horse "Derry Air", which seems 
Okay in print, but caused sniggers when crowds heard 
the commentator say something like: "And moving up 
from a position at the rear, is jockey Hypothermia Chan, 
bouncing up and down on his Derry Air" 

Hans said: "There used to be a horse named 'Pepper 
Steak'. I wonder what ever became of him?" 

Andy Onslow tells me that the Possession Street 
branch of Hongkong Bank has a teller named 
Strawberry Field. He says he was in the queue when he 
spotted her, so I guess he could say he felt he was 
waiting for Strawberry Field forever It doesn't surprise 
me. This is Hong Kong. Nothing is real. 

Chapter 16: The great Tandoori mystery 

If an industry continuously mis-represented its products, 
you could take civil action against it, couldn't you? Of 
course — unless the industry is the restaurant business. 

Let us consider the experience of Robert Gray of 
Discovery Bay, Lantau. Robert does not like cheese. He 
never orders cheese, and never knowingly eats it. 

By good fortune, he lives in a settlement off the 
coast of China, a region which has a tradition of 
cheese-free dining stretching back to the dawn of time. 
So it should be easy to avoid the stuff, no? 

No. These days it's everywhere - but not by name. 
He dined recently at Va Bene in Lan Kwai Fong, and 
ordered minestrone. He was presented with a dish of 
soup in which a large number of pieces of shredded 
cheese were enjoying a swim. "Hi, Robert," they seemed 
to say to him. "Come on in, the soup's lovely" 

He grimaced. 

"You should have asked first," said his wife, helpfully 
"You normally do." 

"But this is bloody soup," he protested between his 

Robert's standard dialogue with waiters in Italian 
restaurants is as follows: 

"I'd like the CotoHetta alio Milanese, please. Now, 
does that come with cheese?" 


"Yes, cheese. Does it come with cheese?" 

"You want cheese?" 

"No. Specifically I DON'T want cheese. Can you make 
sure there is none on my meal, please?" 

This conversation cuts the number of cheese-tainted 
meals to one out of two instead of 100 per cent. 

Mr Gray and Your Humble Narrator share this dislike. 
I once ordered a green salad in an Italian restaurant in 
Macau and received a dish of cheese. Admittedly there 
was a shredded lettuce leaf under the diary topcoat. 

He told me he once protested loudly at a restaurant, 
after he ordered a safe-sounding veal cutlet to find it 
heavily coated with molten yellow stuff. 

The waiter fired back: "But this is an Italian restau- 
rant. Everything comes with cheese." 

"Not in friggin' Italy it doesn't," replied Robert. 

Now this is an important point. Say you go to a 
restaurant called The Sub-Saharan, and find they are 
marketing ice cream and jelly as indigenous cuisine of 
the area. You ought to be able to complain to some 
restaurant business watchdog called the International 
Foodstuff Authenticity Council. (Authentic restaurants 
in north Africa serve black forest gateau.) 

Having said that, the problems sometimes arise from 
the customer rather than the business. I spotted a mid- 
dle-aged American woman sitting in Club Sri Lanka, a 
small basement restaurant in Hollywood Road, Central, 
pleading with the waiter. 

"But you MUST have tandoori chicken," she insisted. 

The waiter, never having heard of the dish, pointed 
out that it wasn't on the menu. 

"I know it's not on the menu, but your chef must be 
able to make it. It's the most famous Indian dish." 

The waiter said: "This is not an Indian restaurant. 
This is a Sri Lankan restaurant." 

"Can't you just make a small one for me? Or a chick- 
en tikka, which is almost the same?" she said. 

She clearly thought countries full of small brown 

people eating curry were interchangeable. 

I have never been to an Indian restaurant outside 
India which doesn't have tandoori chicken (except for 
vegetarian ones). And I have never been to a restaurant 
in India which DOES serve tandoori chicken. 

One day, that American tourist from Hollywood 
Road, is actually going to go to India and get a shock. I 
can picture her sitting in a cafe in Trivandrum saying: 
"But you must have tandoori chicken. This is India. This 
is what you people eat all the time." 

The real "standard" Indian dish is masala dosa - 
potato curry pancake. You CAN find this in many Indian 
restaurants in Hong Kong. But usually not on the menu. 
It's round the back, being scoffed by kitchen staff. 

Last time I was in London, my host took me to his 
favourite oriental diner. He announced to other guests: 
"He's from Hong Kong. We'll get him to order for us, 
and have a really authentic Chinese meal." 

But did the restaurant have any of my favourite 
dishes? Dau m/u.^ Shredded beef and kumquat in 
sesame pockets? Onion cakes? Gai loan? 

No. But they did have something called "chop suey", 
lots of things cooked in soy sauce, and neat little "Hong 
Kong fortune cookies" to hand round at the end. 

The meal was not particularly good, and after won- 
dering around Picadilly Circus and having a few drinks, 
we felt in need of a snack. So we headed to Leicester 
Square and enjoyed Hong Kong's real favourite meal. 

Two Big Macs with large fries to go. 

Chapter 17: All vegetarians digested here 

Her eyes lit up. "I know. We'll make you a Western 
meal," my wife said. It was 1986, and my wife and I 
were living with a young Indian couple in a small flat in 
Uttar Pradesh, northern India. In that household, the 
menu was the same every day: rice and one vegetable. 
The simple meals were surprisingly tasty, despite (or 
perhaps because of) the bugs in the kitchen, especially 
in the jar in which lentils were kept. 

Now we had volunteered to do the cooking, and my 
wife Mary, from England, had the bright idea of intro- 
ducing our hosts, Govind and Shailajah, to the rarified 
delights of European cuisine. 

But where to find the ingredients? The little market 
in our village sold only rice and local vegetables, at the 
equivalent of US$1.50, or HK$10, for enough food for a 
family for a week. 

We took the ancient bus (a 50-seater vehicle carrying 
143 people, many sitting on the laps of strangers) along 
the dusty roads to Delhi. After desperately scouring shops 
in the Indian capital, we were left with a menu which 
was Western, but not exactly haute cuisine: tinned 
sausages, cauliflower cheese, fried eggs and baked beans, 
ice cream. The raw materials cost a fortune. 

Back in the flat in Uttar Pradesh, we spent hours in 
the kitchen. When the meal was ready we asked them 
where they kept the cutlery. 


Ah. No cutlery. Right. 

The four of us sat in a circle on the concrete floor 
where dinner was normally served (there was no dining 
table), and studied the dishes placed between us. We 
made the following discoveries. 

1. You can't eat Western food Asian-style because it is 
served piping hot and scalds your fingertips. This is 
particularly true of sausages. 

2. After you have waited for Western food to become 
cool enough to grasp, it has become congealed and 
disgusting. This is especially true of cauliflower 

3. When an "over-easy" egg is inserted into the mouth 
with the fingers, a single bursting yolk can cover 
about 20 square inches of shirt with an indelible yel- 
low splatter. 

4. Baked beans should not be eaten, hot or cold, with 
the hands. You end up consuming them one at a 
time. Misjudge the pressure between finger and 
thumb, and the slippery buggers will shoot the 
length of the room. 

5. It is almost impossible to eat ice cream with your 
hands, because it is too cold to touch. Wait for it to 
thaw (which takes about two minutes in India) and it 
becomes completely impossible to eat, seeping away 
through the floor. 

Afterwards, Mary told me she could see poor Govind 
catching his wife's eye, and the unspoken message was 
unmistakeable: "After this, can we have some food?" 

Shailajah sat cross-legged and politely stirred the 
hideous mess on her plate with her index finger. "I'll 
cook tomorrow,' she said. 

One man's delicacy is another man's rubbish. I've 
always thought that the ultimate proof of this is the 
product made by Hong Kong company Tung Fong 

Hung Medicine Co. "Old Orange Peel" costs about 
HK$18 a packet and is available in supermarkets 
around the territory. 

Of course, there are many examples of this principle 
around Asia. In the open air food markets of northeast- 
ern Thailand, snackers can buy seven live lizards on a 
string for 20 baht, which is just under US$1. 

The Isan tribe of that area also makes what looks 
like a pinkish rice salad. Consume at your own risk. It is 
made out of the eggs of giant red ants. 

It is good to see that the gourmands in the sensa- 
tion-hungry West are starting to get interested in some 
of the insect-based dishes of Asia and Africa. 

Recent insect cookbooks published include 
Unmentionable Cuisine and the memorably titled 
Butterflies in My Stomach. Entertaining Witti Insects is in 
its third edition, the Times of London recently reported. 

A Food Insects Newsletter, produced quarterly by a 
professor at the University of Wisconsin, now claims a 
circulation of 2,000. Its recipes include ones for cater- 
pillar crunch, sauteed giant ants and waxworm fritters 
that explode like popcorn when dropped in hot oil. 

Other unusual dishes are just abnormal parts of nor- 
mal food animals. For example, in Japan last year, there 
was a bit of a run on canned eyeballs. Sounds disgust- 
ing? These succulent, burst-in-the-mouth globes were 
taken from tuna, other bits of which I suspect both you 
and I, dear reader, have eaten without qualms. 

In Hanoi, at the Nha Hang Bia Hoi restaurant, a corre- 
spondent once told me that the menu included veal in 
various styles ("Burned" and "Burned with burned rice 
flour") but the piece de resistance was "Not Born Yet Baby 

CowStir Fried". Gets your mouth watering, doesn't it? 

But to go back to insects for a moment, don't 
think you can just nip down to the Botanical Gardens 
and snack on things living under rocks. There are 
more than a million species of insects, and only 
about 1,000 are believed to be suitable for human 

Which ones improve the flavour of lentils, I don't 
know, but I'm told that palm grubs go particularly well 
with red wine. 

Now on sale in every Hong Kong subway station: small 
packets of "Mamon" at HK$4. I knew you'd find the 
stuff in Hong Kong somewhere. (Spotter: Roy Grubb.) 

On the menu at Hunan Garden, Exchange Square: 
"Chicken and stringbean with strange sauce." They said it. 
(Spotter: Jack Moore.) 

Lunch special offered by a Kowloon hotel: "Welsh ham 
from Scotland." (Spotter: John Marenakos.) 

Sign on the door of a restaurant in Causeway Bay: "All 
vegetarians digested here." (Spotter: John Dickson.) 

Ever been served murky dark liquid instead of coffee? 
Stephen Birkett was, on a recent trip to Nepal. To be fair, 
it was labelled with commendable honesty: "Mucca". 

The team at Carnegies, the fashionable bar and 
restaurant in Wan Chai, the Hong Kong bar area, has 
been building up a healthy midday trade since the 
introduction of free wine and cheesecake with lunch. 

So it came as a surprise when the majority of 
desserts were returned to the kitchen barely nibbled. 

New manager Karl Bullers asked the chef what the 
cheesecake flavour of the day was, and he replied: 
"Cheese and onion". 

"This man is a master of culinary invention," one of 
the directors of the company told me. 

He has a range of "firsts" in cooking techniques. 
Instead of trying to work out which soups are served 
hot and which chilled, he made a soup and asked 
diners: "Do you want it hot or cold?" 

When making mashed potatoes, he boiled them in 
their jackets, to make them easier to peel. To save time 
with the sausages, he fried them earlier and then 
warmed them up by dropping them in hot water. 

Instructions on a packet of noodles: "Please eat 
slurping them briskly in the traditional Japanese 
manner." (Spotter: Bryce Mclntyre.) 

John Snelgrove asked the waitress at the Aberdeen 
Marina Club: "What is the roast of the day?" 
"It is the daily roast," she helpfully replied. 

On the menu at the Hoi Yuet restaurant in Peking Road, 
Kowloon, Jo-Anne Franks spied "fried vegetarians". 

I haven't seen Linda McCartney around lately, 
have you? 

From a food review in HK Magazine: "The sweet fruity 
sauce complimented the deep-fried garoupa." 

One wonders what it said? "You're looking tasty 
tonight, dear." 

The slogan of Casino Filipino, a posh restaurant and 
gambling establishment at Tagaytay, near Manila, is: 
"We suggest crabs... followed by craps." 

I agree that this is too often the case with Asian 
seafood meals. 

Mike Raath wanted to go to the Military Club in 
Macau for dinner, but did not know if the dress code 
was casual or formal. So he telephoned and asked. 
"Formal casual," was the reply. 

A restaurant called "Cafe de Bore" was recently 
encountered in Japan by Jo Anderson. "I resisted the 
temptation to see if it lived up to its name," she said. 
Jo also came across a place called "Cafe de Cancer." 

A Chinese restaurant at the airport in Chengdu, 
Sichuan province, has gone one better than fast food. 
The large colourful neon light over the front door 
proudly beams: PASTFOOD. Accurately, no doubt. 
(Spotter: Paul Mooney) 

On the "Western breakfast" section of the menu of 
Ming Kei Fast Food of Quarry Bay, diners find "Fried 
Egg, Slated Crap and Shredded Chicken in soup" for just 
HK$16. (Spotter: Ann Li.) 

Seen on the function board at the New World 
Harbour View hotel in Wan Chai: 

"Proctor and Gamble 

"Hazardous Chemicals 

"Buffet dinner." 

(Spotter: Rosie Brough.) 

Emblazoned on the the drinks list at La Piazzetta 
restaurant in Tsun Wing Lane, Hong Kong: "List of 

"My name isn't there," grumbled Fred Fredricks, 
who saw it. 

In Taipei, Steve Whorf chanced upon an eatery called 
"Unconscious Restaurant". One suspects the real 
implication is "half-witted proprietor". 

Every day, a minion goes around the gentlemen's 
toilets in the Hong Kong Country Club filling all the 
urinals with ice cubes. Heaven knows why A whisky 
drinker commented: "The stuff now goes from being 
pure scotch on the rocks to once again being pretty 
much pure scotch on the rocks in about 20 minutes." 

Chapter 18: Hutch life and fatal tights 

This is the warning notice on a Kenwood toaster given 
by Chase Manhattan credit card centre to customer 
Denise Tsang: "Do not leave your toaster unattended." 

Why? What does it do? Stroll around your house, 
poking around in your lingerie drawer? 

Yes, it is one of those modern products that you 
need to have - just for the instructions or the name. 

Name of a brand of of women's tights in Seibu depart- 
ment store: "Fatal". 
(Spotter: Cathy Gritz.] 

Brand of brassiere spotted in Marks B Spencer: 
"Padded Balcony". 

I can only assume that the imagery has been chosen 
because balconies are large items that stick out hori- 
zontally from upright structures. 
(Spotter: Andy Ram) 

Karen Koh saw some shoes in Central with the brand 
name "Marcos". No prizes for guessing who the target 
consumer is. 

Chris Sanda, of Mid-Levels, found a new brand of den- 
ims at the Temple Street Night Market in Mongkok: 
Cross-Dressing Jeans. "I think there will be a limited 
market for these," he said. 

Paul Claughan of Stanley noted his local supermar- 
ket was offering "this week's special: pioneer baby 
spittoon, $26.90" 

"They start them young," he commented. 

I note that Wellcome supermarket [owned by the 
Jardines group) in the Landmark (owned by the 
Jardines Group) in Central (owned by the Jardines 
group, more or less) is selling a new product: opium- 
scented incense sticks. 
Going back to their roots. 

A brand of watch has been launched in Hong Kong 
called Time-Spirit Concealed Diamond, which has a gem 
out of sight, on the back of the watchcase. 

Spotter Rob Christie reckons this is not going to be a 
big seller I agree. A more saleable name would be Time- 
Spirit Whopping Great Sparkler You Can See Miles Away. 

Mike Martin popped into the Hong Kong Trade 
Development Council's Design Gallery and found an 
interesting ecumenical item on sale: a Christmas bunny 
dressed up like Santa Claus - the name: "Rabbi" the 
rabbit. Right costume. Wrong religion. 

Vinda, a Hong Kong maker of pocket paper handker- 
chiefs, is starting to market a brand of toilet tissue, I 
noticed yesterday Perhaps they could sell the stuff to 
Indian restaurants, and then it would be Vinda Loo Paper. 

New Ning Honq Diet Tea is an amazing product. The 
more you drink, the slimmer you get. The blurb on the 
side says: 

"The poem 'Never regret when you are getting slim, 
often remember the Ning Hong Diet Tea' has been uni- 
versally acclaimed." 

Funny. I don't remember reading that in the Oxford 
Anthology of World Poetry. 
(Spotter: Mike Yalden.) 

Yes, it's the perfect magazine for a community where 
everyone lives in little boxes. I am referring to Hutch 
Life, Hutchison Telecom's new magazine for users of 
pagers and mobile phones. This is the group that called 
its now-disbanded cable television unit HutchVision. It's 
a good thing the company's early British telecommuni- 
cations system, called Rabbit, failed. We would have 
had a corporate unit called RabbitHutch. 

Label on packets of Sesame Cereal, made by Shui 
Heung of Hong Kong, spotted by Sana Mulji: "It con- 
tains much Protein and all kinds of Vitamins, suitable 
for all apes." 

I think they mean they consider it suitable for barbar- 
ian races which are low on the evolutionary chain, Sana. 

Nicholas Reynolds went to IKEA in Causeway Bay to buy 
an item of furniture listed in the catalogue as a "Lack" 
table. Why give an innocent table such a negative name? 

"They didn't have one in stock. They didn't have one 
when I went back there on three separate occasions in 
the following month, and they also didn't have one at 
the other IKEA stores," he said. 

So now he knows. 

Seen at Park'N Shop in Discovery Bay: "Boy Cow 
Cheese". Boy cows don't produce milk. Sounds like a 
load of bull to me. 
(Spotter: Norman Wingrove.) 

An American firm called SmithKline Beecham is sell- 
ing boxes of instant Horlicks with English and Chinese 
packaging carrying the medical-sounding words: 
"Recommendation: drink three times a day." 
The name of the "doctor" who made this prescription 
is curiously absent. Could it be that he works in their 
marketing department? 

Name of a brand of toilet paper in Hong Kong: "Good 
View". Pieces of toilet paper have short, unhappy lives, 
and I very much doubt if enjoying a good view is ever 
really on the cards for them. 
(Spotter: Colin MacKay.) 

Boffins in Japan have solved the smoking problem. If 
you can't stop yourself puffing the weed, all you have 
to do is buy a packet of Vita Cool, I hear from Jean- 
Louis van der Velde. The producers of Vita Cool claim 
that: "If you dip the butt of the cigarette into Vita 

Cool when you smoke a cigarette, surprisingly 80 per 
cent of nicotine will be transformed into vitamins... 
With a pack of Vita Cool, you can smoke as many as 
300 cigarettes." 

Some Hong Kong women are opting for Clarins Bio- 
Ecolia "perfecting cream". This has instructions in vari- 
ous languages telling you how long to leave it on. 
English: "Leave for 5 to 15 minutes." 
German: "3 bis 15 Minuten einwirken lassen." 
Dutch: "3 tot 5 minuten laten inwerken." 
From this, the clever reader can work out that "5" i 
German is "3" and "15" in Dutch is "5". 

Fred Lul of Multi-Plan Optical, Tsim Sha Tsui, is 
sending out a letter to clients: "People say their spec- 
tacle and contact lens can get not satisfied. 
Complaining, lens fell out while you walking down the 
street, nose gets hurt...." 

He must be selling jolly heavy contact lenses. 

One recipient of this wonderful letter, Wayne Beer of 
Swiss-Sure Co, commented: "Nothing worries me more 
than unsatisfied spectacles and contact lenses." 

But despite the offbeat missive, Fred really does 
offer an innovative service. Multi-Plan is now providing 
Hong Kong people with bulletproof lenses. They will be 
very useful for triads and similar people during periods 
of gang warfare. 

Triad leader: "I'm going for a walk. Might shoot a 

few people, get a pizza. You want anything?" 

Deputy: "Not safe, boss. Sun Yee On gangs plan to 
gun you down." 

Triad leader: "Mo mun tai, I've got my new Multi- 
Plan bulletproof specs on." 

Deputy: "But what if they shoot some other part 
of you?" 

Triad leader: "Damn, I didn't think of that." 

Women in Hong Kong are rushing out to buy a hugely 
expensive new Clinique skin cream called Moisture On- 
Call. I have one of those at home. It's called a tap. 

It's tricky thinking up names which cross international 
barriers. But Japanese business people rush in where oth- 
ers fear to tread, quick to use their limited knowledge of 
English to add international labels to their products. 

Lester Lim of Peregrine passed me this list of gen- 
uine brand names and descriptions used by Japanese 
firms. Some of them are not as off-the-wall as they 
sound. Pocari Sweat, for example, is designed to replace 
liquid you lose by perspiring, and Lester reckons it 
tastes like sweat. 

Liver Putty (Japanese equivalent of Spam) 

Chocolate Sand Cookies (sandwich cookies) 

Cookie Face (cosmetics brand) 

My Fanny (brand of toilet paper) 

Salad Girl (another cosmetics brand) 

"Skin clock for those wishing to become a dog" 

(title of a calendar) 

Naive Lady (another brand of toilet paper) 

Strawberry Crap Dessert (ready-to-eat crepes) 

Hawaiian Plucked Bread (bread) 

The Goo (soup) 

Pee Pee Pot (a tea kettle) 

Pork with fresh garbage (pork with cabbage) 

Specialist in Deceased Children 

(slogan for a pediatrician) 

Hot Piss (name of an antifreeze spray) 

Catch Eye! (title of a mail order catalog) 

Finest Moldy Cheese (just what it says) 

My Pee (nappies) 

VD Facial Cream (stands for Visible Difference) 

Nail Remover (actually, nail polish remover) 

For political incorrectness, I still think you cannot beat 
the globular confection that they used to sell at 
Daimaru Japanese department store in Causeway Bay, 
called "Chocolate Negro Balls". 

Chapter 19: Blocks and blockheads 

Those smart Hong Kong business people wouldn't 
throw away money, would they? The answer is: Yes, 
they do it all the time. They suffer incalculable losses by 
inflicting incredibly crass names on their property 

Who would want to live in Greenish Court, a tower 
which conjures up images of unhealthy complexions? 

An understated banking friend had to overcome 
huge embarrassment before he could force himself to 
sign a lease for a flat in MacDonnell Road named 
Wealthy Heights. 

Corruption-swoopers at the Independent 
Commission Against Corruption are groaning, having 
found they have to move from one building with "car 
park" in its name to another 

Similarly unglamorous is the Yau Ma Tei Car Park 
Building in Kowloon, where you'll find the office of 
Anna Hoffman and her colleagues at the International 
Organisation for Migration. This building has a major 
highway running right through the middle of it. The 
road enters the building at a level equivalent to four or 
five storeys above ground. 

It is interesting that another resident of the block is 
the Traffic Control and Surveillance Division. I can only 
assume they have a hole drilled in their office floor for 
the purpose. 

An ex-resident of the building is the Environmental 
Protection Department, which is interesting, considering 
Yau Ma Tei has some of the worst pollution, and specif- 
ically radon, levels in the territory. 

Does the department know something their former 
neighbours do not? Very likely 

Why do Hong Kong places have such awful names? 
Business people here are good at throwing up build- 
ings, but much less talented at the poetic reflection 
and linguistic skills necessary to come up with a name 
that sounds right. 

So, instead, buildings get labels. There used to be a 
commercial building on Hong Kong Island called 
Commercial Building. 

There still is a place called Witty Commercial 
Building in Yau Ma Tei, and Cheerful Commercial 
Building in Kowloon Bay One supposes these are the 
"intelligent buildings" one reads about. 

Possibly the most idiotic office name in the whole of 
Hong Kong is the soulless construction in the King's 
Park area called Adjoining Building. What will they do if 
the place next door is ever pulled down? 

On the east side of Tsim Sha Tsui, there is a tower 
called Prat Commercial Building ("prat" or "pratt" is a 
still-used Anglo-Saxon word meaning "buttock" or 
"buttock-like person".) If the post-handover government 
wants to re-zone the various industries in Hong Kong, 
this may be a good place to put all the forex salesmen. 

The Far Eastern Economic Review did a brief survey 
of ultra-boring building names in Hong Kong recently, 
and came out with the following: 

The main building at the Queen Mary Hospital in 
Pokfulam is called Main Building, and the new clinical 
wing is called New Clinical Wing. 

There is a building in Central called Central Building, 
near a tower called Central Tower. 

A Tin Hau skyscraper is called Sky Scraper. 

A hi-tech industrial centre in the New Territories is 

called Hi-Tech Industrial Centre. 

However, this tendency is not limited to Hong Kong. 
In the Philippines, Price Waterhouse can be found in a 
multi-storey building called Multi-Storey Building. 

Incidentally, if you are a fan of Roadrunner or Bugs 
Bunny cartoons, you will be interested to know that 
there's a place in Hong Kong called Acme Building, in 
the Jordan area. Whenever a cartoon character buys 
anything, from a stick of dynamite to a grand piano, it 
always comes labelled "Acme", which has been coined 
as an all-purpose bland commercial name for Toon 

Some office names in Hong Kong are so banal, they 
sound like they come from a book for tiny tots. All the 
names in the following paragraph really exist: 

"One day, Peter Building said to Mary Building, Let's 
go and visit my friend David House. But when they got 
there, they found that David House was being renovat- 
ed so they went to see Alfred House instead." 

Peter Building and Alfred House are in Central, Mary 
Building is in Tsim Sha Tsui and David House is in 
Jordan. I suppose if Peter and his friends wanted to go 
really upscale, they'd go to see William Mansion in 
Mid-Levels (speaking of boring names). 

Reader Steve Davy found a shop in Hong Kong's 
Little Manila, the shopping centre in World-Wide 
House, Central, called Surplus Shop. And guess what? It 
was empty. Truly a surplus shop. 

Still on the subject of shops, there's a florist in Hong 
Kong called A Florist. And yes, it is listed in the business 
telephone directon/ under 'A'. 

At 20 Des Voeux Road you'll find the Unicorn 

Trading Centre. "Just the place if you want to exchange 
your old unicorn for a new one," said Fred Fredricks, 
who spotted it. 

Going back to Discovery Bay, there are nine Green- 
something buildings, I hear from Mary Newman, who 
lives in Greenbelt Court. Other residents live in 
Greenmont, Greenwood, Greendale, Greenland (!), 
Greenfield, Greenburq and even Greener/. Not yet used: 
Greenback, Green Banana, Green Card, Green Monkey 
Disease, Green Wellie Brigade, Greenfly, Greed. 

My personal favourite example of "label masquerad- 
ing as name" is a reasonably good vegetarian restaurant 
I frequent in Stanley Street, Central, the name of which 
is Vegetarian Restaurant. 

This place is full of uniformed waitresses, each of 
whom bustles around with a name tag attached to her 
bosom. All the name tags are identical, and say: 
"Waitress". This usefully differentiates them from, say, 
"Potted Plants". 

Chapter 20: Mean business 

Muhammad Boota popped into a toy shop at 
Chungking Mansions in Kowloon to find musical gad- 
gets shaped like dogs available at a special "sale price" 
of HK$15 each. He went back again a week later to 
find the sale had finished. The items were back to their 
normal price of HK$10 each. 

You have entered the strange and bizarre world of 
Hong Kong commerce. 

In a shop called Hats ft Caps in Discovery Bay, Anju 
Gill spotted an old cliche given a new twist by a curious 
decision about where to position the words and spaces: 

"If you want 

"To get a head 

"Get a hat." 
So they give you a free head with every hat, do they? 

Marco Polo magazine, the journal of Cathay Pacific 
Airways business class travellers, advised them that 
"Telephone check-in was previously only available to 
passengers departing on the same day It has now been 
extended to include the previous day as well." 
Recipient Peter van Es of Repulse Bay was 
impressed: "So they can now check you m for a flight 
you have just missed." 

A Hong Kong policeman was quoted as saying that he 
was desperate to make an arrest because he had not 
caught a criminal for almost a month. I never realised 
there was a quota system for crimes. What happens if 
we all behave ourselves for one month? Do they arrest 
10 per cent of us at random? 

How come the Hong Kong government's clampdown 
against "love hotels" is being handled by Tim 
Stephenson of the Home Affairs Department? 

Surely it should be the Hotel Affairs Department? 

Michael Adkins, having a HK$15 omelette in Brown's of 
Exchange Square, Hong Kong, asked for a glass of water. 
He was offered a tiny bottle of mineral water at HK$25. 

"Can I just have tap water?" he asked, 

"We don't have tap water," replied the waitress. 

"How do you clean the dishes?" he asked. 

That stumped her. 

Businesswoman Roberta Hilburn Chan bought a copy 
of M. Scott Peck's spiritual masterpiece. The Road Less 
Travelled, at Kai Tak airport, where she found it dis- 
played — with books on Exotic Travel. 

A full-size pagoda was made in China and shipped to 
Prague by businessman Ken Geissler. His contact in that 
eastern European city went to the airport to meet four 
Chinese workers hired to assemble the structure. 

The four men came through the arrival gate and 
approached the man they were meeting — but their 
heads were all tilted to one side, as if they were suffer- 
ing from terrible stiff necks. 

"Have you got muscle spasms in your neck?" he asked. 
"No," one of the workers said. "You're holding the 
pla card with our names on upside down." 
(Contributor: Robert Dunlop.) 

Page one of Siam Commercial Bank's 1995 annual 
report features the following words: "HRH Princess Maha 
Chakri Sirindhorn graciously presided over the suspicious 
occasion of the opening of Siam Commercial Bank's Head 
Office on Rutchayothin Road on January 29, 1996." 

Spotter David Wu commented: "It's pretty unusual 
for a bank to suggest that it is up to monkey business, 
but I appreciate the warning." 

Seen on Des Voeux Road, Hong Kong (spotter Jens 
Weitzel): two workers in green shirts emblazoned with: 
"Confidential Waste Management". 

What exactly do these people do? Break into your 
trash can at the dead of night? 

Women in Hong Kong are refusing to use fraud-bust- 
ing credit cards which carry photos. "I may change my 
hairstyle," one told bank staff. In three years, only 35 
per cent of Citibank's Hong Kong customers have 
agreed to take photo-cards. 

A typical experience: Customer buying fur coat hands 
over Visa card. Shop assistant fails to hide slight snigger. 
Customer storms out of shop, hands card to passing 
fraudster, goes home and orders card with no picture. 

Sef Lam of Via Vai Travel was at a travel agency semi- 
nar in Hong Kong, when an agent asked whether it was 
morally okay to accept a HK$5,000 cash kickback from 
a travel insurance company. 

The official advice given: If your company does not 
mind, pocket the money. Otherwise, report the giver to 
the ICAC. 

Ethics? What does that mean? Isn't that a place in 
the UK? 

I see from the Hong Kong Governnnent Gazette that a 
Japanese company called Kabushiki Kaisha Watanabe 
has lodged an application to register "Vincent Van 
Gogh" as a trademark. This is a truly brilliant idea. I'm 
going to register "Leonardo Da Vinci" today and demand 
the Louvre hand over the Mona Lisa. 

Simon McCrum of the Union Insurance Society of 
Hong Kong sent me a furtive note: "Dear Lai See, 
now that my house guest has left, and is well out of 
range 6,000 miles away, I thought you might be 
interested in his business card. 'Export Manager for 
British Beef must be the world's least enviable post 
these days." 

Giordano fashion-shop has launched its winter collec- 
tion with posters all over town saying: "Catch the win- 
ter chills." If that's what happens, their coats can't be 
much cop. 

Reader Alan Wright reckons I should give a Truth in 
Advertising Award for Park'N Shop. It is selling Yvecourt 
brand red wine with a label proclaiming it to be 
"Bordeaux rough". 

A female reader boarded a Lauda Air flight to Vienna. 
A flight attendant handed her a pack, with the words: 

"For your inflight comfort." 

The first thing she pulled out was a condom. 

Hey, they do have a good time up there. 

A children's fantasy book called Ludwig and the 
Chewy Chunks Cafe, written by some non-entity or 
other (okay, it was me), is displayed in a book shop in 
Central alongside Hong Kong's Best Restaurants. Well, 
they are both about eateries. 

Seen in a Taiwan bookshop filed under Agriculture; 
fioofs. (Spotter: Sef Lam.) 

Seen in Bookazine, Hong Kong: How To Moke An 
American Quilt \r\ the section headed Interior Design 
and Crafts. 

"Have a look, but I want them back," a Nokia 
spokesman joked. 

As the event drew to a close, there was a hurried 
count of the phones. Uh-oh. The doors were shut and 
staff asked for all the phones. The phones were eventu- 
ally returned and reporters released. 

Of course, they should have just dialled the number 
of the missing phone and seen which reporter's satchel 
rang. Then the other reporters would have had a story. 

Seen in a razor factory in Guangzhou: A big sign that 
read "Safety First". 

Next to it: An equally large sign that read 
"Quality First". 

"Well, which is it?" asked spotter Paul Ellis. 

There's a little blurb about Kroll Associates (Asia) in 
the newsletter produced by the Hong Kong branch of 
the Australian Chamber of Commerce. It says: "The 
range of services offered by Kroll includes business 
intelligence analysis, due diligence, asset searches, liti- 
gation support, extortion..." 

If they really do the last of these, I don't think 
they'll have much luck.The extortion field in Hong Kong 
is already pretty crowded. [Spotter: Andrew Cameron.) 

There was a tricky moment at the Nokia press briefing 
at the Mandarin Oriental hotel. Several new mobile 
phones were handed to reporters. 

Your Humble Narrator is not saying that journalists 
are laid-back job-hoppers, but the following genuine 
application letter was received by my office from a for- 

mer employee. "Greetings from sunny Phuket, which 
happens to be my latest domicile after I got run out of 
Singapore. I am heading up to Hong Kong before the 
end of the month to try and replenish my dwindling 
financial resources. I'll be in Hong Kong for about a 
month and I promise I'll show up for work this time." 

people called up with tales of five, eight, and even ten- 
hour lunches. 

But the title went to a newspaperman ennployed by 
another Hong Kong newspaper. He went to lunch, got 
drunk, failed to return, and was sacked in absentia, thus 
never returning from lunch. 

Some good excuses to use for missing work, especially 
in yuppie communities: 

1. I can't leave the flat because my mobile phone 
is sick. 

2. I'm phoning from a traffic jam in the tunnel 
which I entered last night trying to get home yesterday 

3. My amah didn't turn up this morning and I don't 
know how to dress myself. 

4. I read the fashion pages of the newspaper over 
breakfast and discovered that my clothes are no 
longer "in". 

Tony Giles was watching the spinning globe graphic on 
BBC Newsroom yesterday when he noticed something. 
Their planet Earth is turning the wrong way, from East 
to West. 

This caused him to dismiss conspiracy theories about 
the Beeb. "They're reporting from a different planet, 
anyway," he said. 

This columnist once did a survey to see who in eating- 
mad Hong Kong had taken the longest lunch. Several 

Eric Lockeyear, when company commander of the Blue 
Berets, lectured his young inspectors on the need to 
cover personal traits, character, personality and perfor- 
mance of duty in their reports on their men. 

One report read, in its entirety: "Eats well, sleeps 
well, and makes up the numbers." 

Eric asked for more information. 

He received it back with three words added: "Works 
when cornered." 

Is your life in danger from your business dealings? 
Think your wife might do you in when she finds out 
about your mistress in Shenzhen? 

No problem. Just sign up with Diners Double Care 
Plan, a new insurance service for potential murderees 
offered to Hong Kong people by Diners Club. 

Most insurance companies specify that your benefi- 
ciaries get a lump sum "in the event of accidental 
death" to use the formal terminology Stranger drives 
over you by accident — you get cash. Spouse drives 
over you after a tiff, he or she gets not a cent. 

But it's different at Diners Club. Its policy specifically 
pledges to make a special cash payment "in the event 

of death from non-accidental situations". You - well, 
your spouse or partner - will get an instant cash sum 
to help out with immediate expenses. Useful. It costs a 
lot to flee to Taiwan or hire Johnnie Cochran as a 
defence lawyer. 

Hong Kong businessman Ian Dubin was peering at 
this offer with interest. "So if I decide it's all too much 
to bear and top myself, I still collect," he mused. "Or 
better yet, if I decide my significant other is too much 
to bear, I can insure her and do her in." 

Tempting stuff. If I were the insurance seller at 
Diners Club, I would ask some pretty tough questions 
on the application form, such as: "Does your spouse 
laugh maniacally at you from time to time while finger- 
ing sharp kitchen instruments?" 

John Philp arrived in Hong Kong from Australia and 
decided to stay. He tried to cash in the return part of 
his ticket. Singapore Airlines confirmed that he was 
entitled to a refund — and then told him to go back 
to Australia to pick it up. 

But if he went back to Oz, he would have to use the 
ticket for which he was seeking a refund, and . . . well 
you see his problem. 

"My God, the power of your column is incredible!" 
he enthused. 

After a newspaper item written by this writer, the 
airline officials sent John his cheque. 

And it only took two years. The power of the press! 

Chapter 21 : The perfect crime.. .not 

Rank amateurism is lowering the standards of Hong 
Kong's criminal classes. Your slick, cerebral, white-collar 
criminal is no longer running the show. It's all have-a- 
go amateurs these days, and the result is that our court 
cases are even more bizarre than ever. A quick glance 
through the recent crime files provides ample evidence. 

extortioner", perhaps? 

The same man pleaded guilty to writing "triad [Chinese 
mafia] poems" on four occasions. Again, the lawyers infu- 
riatingly failed to go into detail about what the poems 
were, leaving us to surmise the form and content. 
"Is this a chopper I see before me. 

Its handle towards my hand?" 

Only in Hong Kong could police crack a salad-traffick- 
ing ring. Do you remember the 1995 case in which a 
"vegetable-stealing syndicate" allegedly stole celery, 
lettuce, and carrots to order for restaurants? 

A 20-year-old defendant admitted guilt in this par- 
ticular "green movement" at Cheung Sha Wan market 
in August. 

A prosecutor asked the judge to view the case as sig- 
nificant enough to be considered under the Serious and 
Organised Crimes Ordinance. The judge took this request 
with a pinch of salt, not to say a splash of vinaigrette. 

There was the classic "moon cakes for votes" case, 
a political scandal that somehow lacked the grandeu 
of Watergate. 

A man named Chan Chi-ming was jailed after 
demanding protection money from two undercover 
police officers, and then painstakingly writing out 
receipts for them to use as evidence against him. 

I wonder what the receipts said? "HK$1,500 
received, with thanks, your friendly neighbourhood 

One of the saddest recent cases was that of Wong 
Fuk-tim, 41, who was arrested on a boat and charged 
with being an illegal immigrant. Police made it clear 
that illegal immigrants were not wanted in Hong Kong. 

Wong made it clear that he did not want to be in 
Hong Kong, and was in fact quite clearly in a boat 
heading back to China. 

As he was led off to the cells, even the judge 
agreed that this was an odd case. Wong did not 
want to be in Hong Kong. Hong Kong did not want 
him. But the law requires that he be locked up - in 
Hong Kong. 

This is not to say that the underworld elsewhere does 
not have its share of heroic failures. 

Who can forget the criminal who raided a meat- 
packing warehouse in the United States and escaped 
with a cargo of 1,000 cow rectums? I have often won- 
dered how the poor fellow got rid of them. I assume he 
had to stand on street corners in New York, whispering 
to likely passers-by: "Psst! Wanna cow rectum? Below 
market price." 

Then there was the case a friend told me about in St 
Albans, in Southeast England, in which a German 
defendant was being tried. 

"Is there anyone in the gallery who could act as an 
interpreter?" asked the judge. A man raised his hand 
and was invited to the side of the dock. 

The judge said: "Would you ask the defendant his 
name and address?" 

The volunteer said to the defendant in a B-movie 
German accent: "Vot is your name and vair do you liff?" 

The result was six months in prison for contempt of 
court - for the interpreter, not the defendant. 

Judging by the few I have known (not in the Biblical 
sense), this girl's attitude to money is unique among Hong 
Kong nightclub hostesses. How does she make a living? 

There have been cases where the sheer nerve of the 
criminal wins our grudging respect. 

Anyone in the property sales business, for example, 
must feel a little admiration for Raymond Chan Ka- 
chun, 30. He pleaded guilty in August last year to sell- 
ing the 25th floor apartment of a building that was 
only 21 storeys high. 

Offbeat, yes. But for sheer volume of difficult-to- 
believe cases. Hong Kong is still well ahead. 

For example, police found a man threatening to jump 
from a balcony at a Tai Po housing estate last year. 

They persuaded Yu Hon-keung, 40, to come down, 
and asked him why he was so unhappy 

Yu said It was because he was terrified that his part- 
ner would reveal to police that he, Yu, was actually the 
Dreaded Lift Robber. Oops. 

The courts jailed him for three years on January 5, 

But most cases involve sad losers. Possibly the most 
pathetic recent criminal case in Hong Kong was that of 
Yeung Yuk-kit, 20. She was a young woman who robbed 
a pedestrian on Cumberland Road, Kowloon Tong, in 
May, 1995. 

She and an accomplice took HK$1 7,400, a watch, a 
gold necklace and a bracelet. 

But Yeung left behind her wallet, which fell out of 
her shirt pocket into the victim's handbag. This is the 
only mugging case I have heard of in which the mug- 
ger's wallet is transferred to the victim. 

A memorable case from the South China Morning Post 
in February 1996 began thus: "A nightclub hostess who 
pocketed her lover's watch when he insulted her by 
offering her money after sex was cleared of theft by a 
High Court judge yesterday" 

Other memorable recent cases, from Hong Kong and 

Hong Kong accountant Chu Ying was caught leaving 
a supermarket with a HK$8 tin of mackerel in her 

trousers. She pleaded absent-mindedness. Crown pros- 
ecutor Victoria Hartstein said that if you put a tin of 
fish down your trousers, you l<now about it. The Crown 
won the case. 

Gregory Rosa, 25, of Rhode island. United States, 
was charged with a spate of vending machine rob- 
beries in January. He tried to post his entire US$400 
bail in coins. 

A man suspected of robbing a jewellery store in Liege, 
Belgium, said his alibi was that he was occupied break- 
ing into a school at that time. Police arrested him for 
breaking into a school. 

A Hong Kong medical secretary, 30, stole HK$230,000 
by fiddling listings of equipment ordered at the 
Department of Anaesthesia and Intensive Care at 
Chinese University Carrie Wong Oi-lan was caught 
when she listed a karaoke machine. 

Chan Wing-kwong, 22, carried out an armed robbery 
in a lift in Tai Po, and escaped with the grand sum of 
HK$7, or slightly less than one US dollar. He was 
caught because he had chosen the lift of the building 
where he lived, and his victim recognised him as a 

Two men in Kentucky, United States, tied a chain from 
a cash machine to their truck and then drove away The 
cash machine stayed put. The bumper came off the 
truck. The men fled from the scene, leaving the bumper 
behind - with their vehicle licence plate still attached. 

Ho Kong construction worker Yeung Chishui was 
charged with possession of an offensive weapon. He 
argued the 27-centimetre knife was actually a type of 
umbrella. He was sentenced to 15 months, well out of 
the rain. 

A man walked into a Circle-K store in a major 
American city and asked for change for US$20. When 
the assistant opened the till, the customer snatched 
$15 and ran out. He left the 20-dollar bill behind. 

All the people above ended up behind bars, but I'm not 
in favour of an overly harsh interpretation of the law. 

Police officers know there is a "grey area" in which 
they can exercise their discretion in dispensing the law. 

So I am deeply disappointed in the recent news that 
officers from my island seized a cargo of 250 karaoke 
machines from a mainland cargo boat. 

Hey guys, come on. If they want them, let them 
have them! 

Chapter 22: The truth about Santa Claus 

All the statistics, financial and business information 
in the following story are true. Whether the 
characters in it exist or not is something for the 
reader to decide... 

He should have looked like a bum, a bag-man, a wino 
or any other New York misfit as he walked dejectedly 
down a trench of brown slush in the middle of 42nd 
Street, a string of yellow taxis emitting curses in four 
languages behind him. But some hard-to-identify quali- 
ty about the old man caught the attention of passers- 
by watching from the kerbs. "He didn't look like a store 
Santa Claus, you know," said Milly Kablinski, 14. "He 
looked like kinda how the real Santa should look." Her 
comments were echoed by dozens of observers, ranging 
in age from three to 71. 

Perhaps it was that his white beard looked real, 
despite being stiff, half-frozen and full of ice crystals. 
Perhaps it was his physique, since the bulging costume 
seemed to be filled out by a real stomach, rather than 
the usual cushions. Perhaps it was the sad, sincere smile 
that he flashed at people who stopped to greet him. 

Whatever it was, large numbers of people — most- 
ly children — started following him as he trudged past 
the New Victory Theatre and climbed into a podium at 
the edge of Times Square on that fateful Christmas Eve. 
That was when he made the announcement that shook 
the world: "My name's Santa Claus," he said. "And I'm 
turning myself in." 

The full story came out a few hours later in an inter- 
view on the Larry King Shorn on CNN. Mr Claus, who 

admitted entering the United States on a passport 
bearing the pseudonym Kris Kringle, told the show's 
producers that he would only agree to be interviewed 
by children aged 13 or under. 

Two 11-year-olds, Melissa Wong and Charles Petrie, 
both of Henry School on 17th Street, were roped in 
to do the interview at short notice. 

"I cannot go on living a lie," declared Mr Claus dra- 
matically "There are so many untruths told about me, 
and I thought I had better come clean." 

"But you're real," said Charles. 

"Oh, I'm solid enough," said the old man, patting the 
front of his substantial torso. "It's all the other stuff 
which isn't true. The Toy Kingdom at Number One, 
North Pole. The team of 50 magic elves who make the 
toys. The reindeer-based distribution system. It's a load 
of baloney" 

"Really?" said Melissa, her legs swinging excitedly 
from side to side. "There's no Toy Kingdom at the North 
Pole?" She leaned so far forwards in her seat that she 
momentarily slid off the front. 

Santa Claus spoke conspiratorially as he helped her 
back on to her seat. "Well, if you really want to know. 
They don't come from the snowy wastes at all. They 
come from the sub-tropics. The vast bulk of them come 
from... Hong Kong." 

"Hong Kong, Japan?" said Charles. 

"Hong Kong's not in Japan, dorkbrain," scolded 
Melissa. "It's in Singapore." 

"Yep, Hong Kong," said Santa, immediately looking 
more relaxed, now that his secret was out. "I have sev- 
eral toy production centres, but the biggest in the 

world is Hong Kong, in the Far East, where I have 554 
individual toy-making operations, making LIS$2 billion 
worth of toy animals and US$564 million worth of 
dolls. I haven't even been to the North Pole in years." 

There was a moment of silence, and then Melissa 
jumped slightly, signifying that a producer had 
squawked into her ear-piece that she should ask more 

"Er — and what about the elves? Are they in Hong 
Kong, too?" she said. 

"There's no team of 50 magic elves, for a start. There 
are tens of thousands of toy-making operatives, and 
most of them live in Guangdong, China." 

"China, Japan?" asked Charles. 

"China's not in Japan, goofball," snapped Melissa. 
"It's in Taiwan. How many toys do you send out?" 

Santa picked up a file marked "Hong Kong Trade 
Development Council Research Department" and started 
peering through it. "I'll tell you exactly. In 1994, my 
Hong Kong team sent out HK$69 billion of toys to the 
children of the world. That's about $9 billion in 
American dollars. It goes up about 10 per cent a year." 

"Gee," said Charles, the awe showing in his voice. 
"That must be an awful lot of toys." 

"It sure is," said Santa. "Of course, they range from 
little plastic animals of half a buck or less, to working 
child-sized automobiles, costing hundreds. If you aver- 
age them out to, say, US$12, that's about 800 million 

Both Charles and Melissa were dumbstruck by this 
news. During the silence, viewers could just about hear 
the tinny voice of the apoplectic producer screaming 

into the children's earpieces. Melissa was the first to 
recover. "Have you got them on you? Can we see them? 
Where are they?" 

"They're all around you," said Santa. "Almost exactly 
half of them come to the United States. Have you seen 
toys labelled Mattel, Fisher-Price, Hasbro, Tyco, ErtI, 
Universal Matchbox, Playmates, VTech? In your toy 
boxes at home, do you have Barbie, Snoopy, Garfield, 
Ninja Turtles, Jurassic Park toys?" 

The children nodded. 

"All from Hong Kong," said Santa. 

"Did you bring any Hong Kong elves with you?" This 
was Melissa. 

"We don't call them elves, we call them staff. And 
most of the actual toy assembly isn't done in Hong 
Kong any more. In the old days, both the toy-making 
department and the distribution department were in 
Hong Kong. Today, nine out of 10 Hong Kong toys are 
made in Guangdong, China, before being sent over the 
border. They all get distributed from Hong Kong." 

"Yeah, I know, by the reindeer," said Charles. "Donner 
and Blitzen and Randolph and all those guys. I saw the 

"It's not Randolph, you pinhead," said Melissa. "It's 
Rupert. Rupert the red-nosed reindeer." 

Santa was sitting back in his chair saying nothing, 
but slowly shaking his head. 

"What do you mean?" asked Melissa. "It isn't 

The old man smiled. "There aren't any reindeer. I had 
to retire those guys years ago. According to the stories, 
I'm supposed to deliver presents, by reindeer, on Christmas 

Eve. But I have at least 800 million children waiting 
around the world. If you estimate Christmas Eve as lasting 
12 hours, that's 0.000054 of a second per child. Not pos- 
sible, however hard I worked the reindeer. The animal 
welfare people would have my guts for garters." 

"So how do you do it?" asked Charles. 

"Logistics," said Santa. "To put it in a nutshell, the 
team hold this mammoth toy fair called the Hong Kong 
Toys and Games Fair every January. I'm expecting 
23,000 toy distribution specialists from 110 countries to 
visit, and sort out what toys are going to be sent 
where. Then we spend the rest of the year sending 
them out to all the countries of the world." 

Melissa had a question. "Do all the toys go to kids 
like us?" 

"That's an interesting question," said Santa. "And the 
answer is this, no. Until recently, most of them did go 
to Western kids. But I'm having a huge number of 
requests now from Asian kids, especially China and 
Japan. And I've also had lots of orders from here." 

He pointed at the globe which formed part of the 
studio setting. "See this place here?" He pointed to 
South America. "Do you know what that's called?" 

"Sure," said Charles. "Denmark." 

"That's not Denmark, you geek," said Melissa. "That's 
the Falkland Islands. That's where Mrs Thatcher lives." 

"This is called Latin America," said Santa. "My offices 
in Hong Kong have been getting orders for millions of 
dollars worth of toys from children here, particularly 
from Brazil and Paraguay That's good news for my 
Hong Kong staff." 

"I've got a question," said Charles. 

"You don't have to put your hand up, you're not at 
school, you dweeb," said Melissa. 

Charles dropped his hand and said: "Do you keep a 
list of all the toys?" 

"I do," said Santa. "It's a book called Hong Kong Toys, 
published by my partners at the Hong Kong Trade 
Development Council. I'm ver/ proud of it. It was listed 
in the Guinness Book Of Records as the biggest periodi- 
cal in the world, ever. The January 95 edition has 2,012 
pages, each one filled with pictures and details of toys." 

The two children literally started to drool at this 
news, Charles dribbling on to his chin. 

"Wow! Can I have a free one?" 

"Sure," said Santa. "You can have one each." He 
reached into his pocket and took out two small 
envelopes. "Hong Kong Toys is now out on CD-ROM." 

The old man leaned back in his chair and became 
ruminative. "Funny how no one realised that Hong Kong 
was the Toy Kingdom. I guess I must be pretty good at 
being discreet." 

It was warm under the studio lights, and Mr Claus 
had accidentally let his red jacket flap open. 

There, on the inside pocket, were four words that 
didn't mean anything to the children, but registered to 
the viewers watching on Cable TV from half a world 
away in Hong Kong: "Sam The Tailor, Kowloon." 

Christmas triggers memories. 

Teacher had a facial twitch triggered by stress. This 
morning it was vibrating so rapidly it looked as if she 
had a washing machine hidden in her clothing. A 

rolling, voluminous mountain of silk, she could easily 
have done so. 

"I've got to go out and run a few errands, children," 
she said, her palpitating face revealing her guilt. "A 
couple of older children will look after you and help you 
organise the nativity." 

The scene: A small school in Kuala Lumpur. The date: 
1963. The players: A group of five-year-olds in a mostly 
Asian kindergarten. 

Our minders decreed that the boys should paint the 
scenery while the girls could do the interior of the lowly 
cattle shed. But what sort of scene should it be? A child 
called Josiah had been to Israel, and msisted that it was 
hot and sandy, like a desert. 

"No, it's not," I said. "What about the Christmas 
trees? And the snowmen? They would all melt." 

None of us had seen snow, but we had all seen 
Christmas cards, and the class agreed that Bethlehem 
was an arctic place, lined with snow-capped fir trees. 
"Jesus used to walk in a winter wonderland," said a boy. 
"It says so in a hymn." 

"Right. Just hear those sleighbells jingling, ring-ting- 
tingling too," I said, quoting another hymn. 

The best artist in the class was a boy called Guna, so 
he was commissioned to draw the outlines on the stage 
backing while the rest of us slapped white paint on it. 
In the centre, he drew a large igloo. 

"What's that?" asked Josiah. 

"It's an igloo," replied Guna. "That's where Jesus 

Josiah argued strongly that Jesus lived in a stone build- 
ing, not an igloo, but we had stopped listening to him. 

Thinking about this as an adult, it occurs to me that 
Asians really ought to be able to instantly and closely 
identify with the Christmas stor/, which is, after all, a tale 
of a poor family living close to animals in a hot country. 

But instead, we grow up with an absurdly mixed-up 
mish-mash of stories with influences from the Holy 
Lands, Germany, England and America. 

I do not blame the West. We got this from our 
teachers, most of whom were local people who had 
never been out of the country. They lived under the 
delusion that Christmas was necessarily associated with 
cold weather. This was despite the December tempera- 
ture outside being a searing 34 degrees Celsius. 

Christmas was visually represented by snow-covered 
pine trees, in defiance of the fact that outside, the sun 
was as hot as it was over the stable on the original 

But back to the classroom, where the girls were 
organising the interior of the igloo. "It's got a manger," a 
little Chinese girl called Su-mei said confidently. 
Unfortunately, no one knew what a manger was, so pur- 
suit of that line of enquiry ended as soon as it began. 

A little boy whose name featured the letter 'a' an 
incredible number of times (it was something like 
Ramachandarama) went over to the girls and said: 
"Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Jack Frost nipping 
at your nose." He said it was a verse from the Bible. 
Rambutans served as chestnuts, and a rubber plant was 
pressed into service as a Christmas tree. A desk acted as 
a table for Jesus' Christmas dinner. 

What animals were present at the original nativity in 
Bethlehem? Several of us knew the answer to that one. 

Reindeer, of course, stupid. These we saw as a type 
of bullock with coat-pegs. We knew the name Rudolph. 
A child with an American parent said there was an 
important subsidiary character called Frosty the 
Snowman. But was a snowman an animal or a person? 
Such an important question had been missed by our so- 
called educators. 

Other animals present at the nativity, in our version, 
were gollywogs, which were not considered politically 
incorrect in those days. Dark-skinned children were 
picked as gollywogs. While having my gollywog make-up 
applied, I heard the children agree on the most important 
human characters: Jesus, Mary, Joseph and Santa. 

One child was adamant that there was an old man 
called Scrooge in the story, who was always saying 
"Bah, hamburger." Half a dozen girls of the frilly sort 
were pressed into service as angels. I cannot remember 
the names they were given, other than Gloria, Hosanna, 
and X. Chelsea. 

The scene I describe may be more than three 
decades old, but similar confusion exists in the minds 
of Asians today. You have heard the tale of the 
Japanese department store which prepared a display of 
Santa Claus crucified. 

Gail Maidment of Small World playgroup in Hong 
Kong told me that she once told a Japanese mum to 
dress her little darling as an animal for the nativity play 
The woman complied enthusiastically. On the day of the 
play, Gail had to explain to the mother that the Bible had 
no record of the baby Jesus being visited by Donald Duck. 

As for Christmas dinner — well, a bland meal of 
turkey and potatoes was a change, but I think many 

Asians feel strange not having their daily bowl of rice 
and spicy accompaniments. 

An Indian restaurateur I know in Hong Kong put 
turkey curr/ on his menu one Christmas — and found 
his eatery full of munching Westerners. I was much 
happier there than a few hundred metres down the 
road, where there was a McDonald's outlet full of 
Chinese and Filipinos scoffing Big Macs for their 
Christmas dinner. 

As the Malaysian Scrooge would have said: "Bah, 

Chapter 1 : How to take jokes through Immigration 

They were already laughing when I walked into the 
room. Perhaps laughing is the wrong word. They were 
having a debilitating attack of hysterics. One of my 
friends was silently clutching his stomach and the other 
was making weird ak-ak-ak-ak noises and jerking as if 
he was having convulsions. 

It was funny just to watch them. I felt my cheeks 
and the corners of my mouth twitch upwards, and I 
started to snigger, too. 

What was the joke? That's just it. 

It doesn't matter 

Scientists have discovered that laughter is genuinely 
infectious. That's not just a figure of speech. You CAN 
"catch" laughter. And no medical insurance covers it. 

Let us have a serious talk about an unserious topic. 

Anyone with a professional interest in humour will 
observe a small incident of laughter proving mfectious 
like the one mentioned above, and one word will spring 
to his mind: Buboka. 

Buboka! I say the word like an incantation every 
time I find myself employed to make people laugh. 

This is a small district of what was then Tanganyika, 
a country in eastern Africa, known for having suffered a 
laughter epidemic. A teacher made a joke in a Buboka 
classroom. The remark itself was quite banal (humorists 
all over the world can take comfort ever more). But 
what followed was distinctly odd. A couple of children 
started laughing at it, in the convulsive, screaming way 
that only the very young can. This proved highly infec- 
tious, and soon the whole classroom was roaring. 

The shrieking sounds began to filter through the 
walls of the school, and other classes started chuck- 

ling. Eventually, everyone in the building - pupils and 
teachers - were rolling around, and totally incapable 
of doing any work. 

Lessons were adjourned, and even/one went home. 
The children continued to hoot with merriment as they 
arrived home, and the parents could not help but smile 
at the sight of their offspring falling down and picking 
themselves up, in throes of helpless laughter. 

The mothers and fathers started to chortle. The next 
day so many adults were howling with uncontrollable 
laughter that no one could go to work. The entire village 
spent the day whooping for no apparent reason - because 
by this time, no one could remember the teacher's original 
remark. The peals of laughter continued for two weeks, 
during which time it spread to neighbouring villages. 

I know this sounds like a story from a children's 
book, but it is actually a case recorded in the Central 
African Journal of Medicine. The Buboka people began 
to suffer from general exhaustion and the Red Cross 
had to be called to give them drugs. 

The case was studied by psychologist Robert Holden, 
based in Oxford, England, who told reporters: "There 
have been similar incidents in Africa, but this was the 
longest laughter epidemic on record." 

Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised at it. The Dalai 
Lama has long considered laughter to be the first inter- 
national language. "If we use the basic human tech- 
niques of a smile, and a generally happy attitude, that 
means of communication is beyond words," he said. 

Many Asian political figures have started injecting 
amusing lines into their speeches in recent years. Some 

One of the best known is Joseph Estrada, vice-presi- 
dent of the Philippines. His humorous lines started off 
as apparent malapropisms. Why did he favour a certain 
restaurant? "I like the ambulance." 

When teased about his word mix-ups, he said: 
"Better to stop using English. From now on, I'll just 
speak in the binocular." 

But one is tempted to think that some of the 
"slips" are conscious, such as the time he explained 
why he could always remember names: "I have a 
pornographic memory." 

Chris Patten, Hong Kong Governor from 1992 to 
1997, once faced a ballroom of local business people 
after a grand meal. He pointed to the media table and 
waved his officially prepared speech at them. "As far as 
you lot are concerned, this is what I said," he declared. 

Then he delighted his audience by telling funny sto- 
ries instead. One of his favourite anecdotes: "A senior 
British official was being posted to the Far East, so he 
had some bilingual cards prepared giving his name and 
title: 'Sir John Snooks, Permanent Secretary'. When he 
arrived in the orient, he got very strange looks as he 
handed the cards around. So he asked his interpreter if 
there was any problem with it. She looked at it and told 
him: 'Well, there may be. What it actually says is: 'Sir 
John Snooks, Eternal Typist'."' 

The wise-cracking leader told Your Humble Narrator 
that there are serious reasons why political leaders 
should make people laugh. "Humour is exceptionally 
important for anybody with power - self-deprecating 
humour in particular," Mr Patten said. "First, because it 
stops you becoming irredeemably pompous, and second, 

because it keeps you in touch with reality" 

Mr Patten used his skill to good effect in Hong 
Kong, where his phrases came across as good- 
natured, compared to the repetitive remarks uttered 
by Chinese officials. 

But he said he suspected that their apparent short- 
comings in the humour department could be blamed on 
their system, where officials are required to rigidly fol- 
low party lines. "I'm sure in the locker-room situation - 
- not that I have ever been in a locker room with any 
of them - the officials are just as humorous as people 
anywhere," Mr Patten said. 

Indonesia's Minister and State Secretary Moerdiono 
gave a stern warning on the limits of humour to a 
gathering of 400 comedians in Jakarta in 1994. Comics 
should refrain from making ethnic or religious jokes, 
however funny they may be, he said, because such jokes 
may prove "fatal" to the nation. 

Careful. There are some places in Asia, where it is 
said a man can literally laugh his head off. 

Fortunately, these are becoming fewer in number. 
Even China seems to be lightening up. Deng Xiaoping 
said in reference to rumours of his death: "I must have 
died five or six times... but I am still not dead, so I must 
be a fain/.". 

Young people may think the concept of the "comedy 
sketch" was invented by Monty Python. Nope. 

In China, in the Zhou and Gin periods of the first 
millenium BC, Chinese comedians specialised in "xiang- 
sheng" (literally, acting-mime) which can be translated 
as comic dialogue. This theatrical art underwent a 
revival in the Song and Jin dynasties, between the 10th 

and the 13th centuries, and again this century. 

Here's an excerpt: 

B: How old are you? 

A: One year older than last year. 

B: And how old were you then? 

A: One year younger than now. 

B: Well, I can see you know a few tricks. 

How many people are there in your family? 

A: As many as there are toothbrushes. 

B: And how many toothbrushes are there? 

A: One each. 

Yes, okay, so it is not The Dead Parrot Sketch, but it's 
recognisable as a comedy 

Possibly the oldest pan-Asian "humour centre" in the 
region is the Travellers' Tales column of the Far Eastern 
Economic Review, which has been collecting examples 
of wit from around the region since 1961. 

This exposed the manufacturer of men's 
underpants in the Philippines which went by the 
brand name "Hang-it-Out", the chain of Japanese 
restaurants called "My Dung", and thousands of 
other absurdities. 

Several journalists have edited the column, including 
the present writer. But since most of the tidbits in the 
section are sent in by readers, a trawl through the old 
archives provides a barometer of what the intelligentsia 
in Asia find amusing. Western expatriates were the 
main contributors in the early years. Today, half the 
material comes from Asians. 

Political correctness has also crept in. In the 1960s, 
spelling errors were a mainstay Today the material is 
edited to remove the most blatant examples of linguis- 

tic chauvinism, and the main tales are "amazing-but- 
true" stories of life in Asia. 

Much of what makes people laugh is unintentional 
humour. For example, making a circle with your finger 
and thumb means "good" in some cultures, and "bot- 
tom-hole" in others. When the film Top Gun was shown 
in Brazil, audiences hooted with laughter, because every 
time something good happened, Tom Cruise would flash 
the "bottom-hole" sign to his partners. 

Are there jokes peculiar to certain cultures? 
Probably although most are unique only because they 
are on word play in a particular language. But there are 
certainly examples of jokes which focus on peculiarly 
Asian situations. 

This was told to me by an Indian in Hong Kong: 

One Chinese girl gossiping to another: "I'd never 
slept with an Indian guy before, but he said he would 
give me a present. The next day I got this note saying 
that he had arranged for someone to deliver an Indian 
washing machine to my flat. I hurried home and there 
it was — a rock." 

This came from a Sri Lankan: 

Q: What did the elephant say to the naked man? 

A: You breathe through that? 

From a Singaporean: 

"This city is so healthy we had to kill someone to 
start a cemetery." 

Not only does the growing supply of, and demand 
for, humour, brighten up our lives, but doctors believe it 
is good for our health, both mental and physical. 

Or as American writer Mar/ Pettibone Poole said in 
1938: "He who laughs, lasts." 

Chapter 2: What a wonderful world 

Your breakfast buffet features curried noodles. Your 
newspaper is filled with crime reports about men who 
kidnap young women to sing with. Your chambermaid 
gives you investment advice. These are all little 
reminders to the world citizen that he or she is in Asia. 

Sign seen in a hotel in Itaewon, Seoul: "Hotel is not 
responsible for the interaction of ugly morals between 
guests and employees." 
(Spotter: Anthony Campbell.) 

At the Vista Hotel in Tokyo, Ross Evans found a mes- 
sage: "Welcome to put up for tonight at this hotel. 
Please stay at your home." 

He said: "After putting up with the Vista for a night, 
I was more than happy to comply with the second part 
of the message." 

Seen on a Jakarta hotel doorknob: "Please place this 
door knob hanger outside your room before 11 pm if 
you wish to have a newspaper delivered tomorrow 
morning. If you are staying longer than one night, your 
newspaper door knob will be placed outside by the 
evening room attendant from the second night 
onwards. If you wish not to be disturbed, please place 
this doorknob outside prior to the evening turndown 
service. Leave this door knob in the holder if you do not 
want a newspaper delivered." 

Well, I hope that's perfectly clear. 

A friend of mine found Wild Swans by Jung Chang, 
a saga about three generations of a Chinese family, 
in an Australian bookshop filed under "poultry 

From a 1996 tourist brochure for Sri Lanka: 
"Different religious and ethnic groups live side by side 
in total harmony." 
(Spotter: Dominic Biggs.) 

A South Korean talking into a mobile phone walked 
straight into a tree and killed himself The Korea Times 
quoted a Pusan police spokesman as saying he had 
seen many car accidents caused by mobile phone 
users, but that it was the first known pedestrian 
mobile phone death. 

Let that be a lesson to all of us. 

Tommy Lillqvist, at an airport in Japan, decided to 
check the time of his departure on the board: "17.65". 
No wonder the Japanese have a higher rate of produc- 
tivity per hour. 

When Templeton fund managers were launching theii 
latest fund in Singapore this week, they described their 
new style as "bottom up, hands on". 
Now this I gotta see. 

Following the success of Sailor Moon videos and 
Dragon Bo// Z cartoons on the local market, the 
Japanese are sending out their latest kid-vid series. 
Recently arrived in Hong Kong is a set of videos about a 
cute cartoon pig, entitled Boorin 1, Boorin 2, Boorin 3, 
and so on, up to Boorin 14. I can see these being big 
sellers in the international video market, can't you? 

touch screens to perform all the usual banking services. 
A head appears on a video-conference screen and talks 
to you. It's really cool. 

Coming next: Virtual bank robbers. Someone wheels 
in a television set showing an armed man every couple 
of months. 

Sign seen in a Singapore market shoe shop by Graeme 
Defty of Standard Chartered Bank: "Buy two, get one 
free." Ideal for people with three legs. 

Ian Bolton of Tsuen Wan recently returned from 
Boracay where he stayed in a hotel in which guests 
were told: "Please wash your feet off with sand and dirt 
before entering the swimming pool." 

P.A. Bolin of Kowloon lost 50 per cent of the cash he 
put into the JF India Trust in the past couple of years, 
and decided to take out the rest, to blow on a good 
meal or something. A transaction advice arrived saying 
that the sale went through on April 22 and the cheque 
will be sent to him — on May 20. How do the India 
Trust managers move money? By bullock? 

Standard Chartered Bank has opened 24-hour virtual- 
reality banking faciiitiesat Tanjong Pagar and Scotts 
Mall in Singapore. You go into a people-free room and 

Joyce Laurence of Hong Kong bought a Philips video 
cleaning tape. "Press play and leave for 10 seconds," the 
instructions say in English, French and German. Press 
play and "funzione per 20 secondi", they say in Italian. 
Her husband Andy was curious as to why Italian videos 
were twice as dirty 

Must be something to do with Italians' hot Latin blood. 

The shareholder mentality has come to Asia - and 
how. Antics at the annual meeting of Kelvinator of 
India were brought to my attention by Gary Greenberg 
of Peregrine Asset Management. 

About 500 shareholders turned up and blocked the 
meeting in New Delhi for almost two hours. This was 
not because they disagreed with any of the resolutions 
- it was because the freebies were not up to scratch. 

First, they turned their noses up at the function 
room, a military auditorium. Shareholders felt it should 
have been in a five-star hotel, said Rajendra Bajpal, 
reporting for Bloomberg. 

One shareholder told the meeting: There is no water; 
there is no tea; and last year's gift was a blot on 
Kelvinator's name. 

Worried by the seething crowd, executives formed a 
quick huddle and decided to give each shareholder a 
portable food-warmer and a pen. This was not a good 
idea because the previous year's gift had been a pen, 
which shareholders had complained didn't work. 

The audience then started battling with security 
guards. Chairman J.R. Desai decided to adjourn the 
meeting until next month and tried to leave. 

Shareholders changed their minds and said they would 
accept the gifts rather than wait for another meeting, and 
that he might as well go ahead with his resolutions. 

When he started to read them out, the crowd shout- 
ed that it was too boring to do them one at a time. "All 
passed," they hollered. 

Dr James Oliver noticed the title badge on a staff mem- 
ber at St Theresa's Hospital in Kowloon was "menial staff." 

It reminded me of the common job description one 
finds in India: "Peon". One wonders how job application 
letters from such people read? 

"Dear Sir or Madam, after a year as an Utter Nobody, 
I was promoted to Lowly Peon, and then became General 
Dogsbody for two years. I thus feel ready to face the 
challenge of being Vice-President, Menial Duties." 

the fact that the country's only electric chair was 
destroyed by fire in 1986. 

Richard Hawkins of Wan Chai ordered an enormous 
meal at the famed Alorcha restaurant in Macau and 
found he and his party could not finish it. So they took 
the last item, a barbecued chicken, away with them in 
a doggie bag. 

They entered the casino hall at the Hotel Lisboa, 
where the "heavy" guarding the door inspected their 
bags and informed them of a house rule they had not 
known about: the chicken could not enter (there was 
no sign on the wall expressly forbidding the entry of 

Richard decided to sacrifice the bird. He binned the 
chicken and entered the casino. On a whim, he glanced 
around - just in time to see the same guard taking the 
chicken out of the dustbin and scuttling off through a 
doorway with it. 

Do they not feed the security staff or something? 

So, Lisa Leeson has applied to join Virgin Atlantic as a 
flight attendant. I wonder if she realises that if Virgin wins 
a Singapore air route, it will be going to Changi airport, 
not the prison of the same name, where her husband is. 

At the time of writing. President Fidel Ramos has just 
signed into law a bill which allows courts to use lethal 
injections to kill criminals. I hope he checked that 
there were syringes in stock. The Philippines' congress 
reimposed the death sentence in 1993, but overlooked 

You know how posh hotels try to prevent you nicking 
the bathrobe by putting a price on it? Well, Luca Ebreo 
stayed at the Grand Bay Hotel in Zhuhai and found a 
list in his room which was remarkably comprehensive. 
There were 82 items on it. These included the Queen 

sized bed (4,500 renminbi, which is about US$540), the 
sofa (4,000 rmb), the door lock (3,000 rmb), the wash 
basin (1,200 rmb), and the bath (6,000 rmb). You can 
even take the toilet away as a souvenir of your happy 
stay for a mere 2,500 rmb, although Luca did not spot 
anyone in the lobby actually strolling out with one. 

Title of a set of paper-folding instructions published 
by Natsumesha Co of Japan: "How to make an organ." 

The ingenuity of the Japanese never fails to amaze me. 
(Spotter: Tony Nedderman.) 

One man has been sentenced to death and five 
accomplices given 20 years in jail in Vietnam. The six of 
them made 67 million dong in fake currency, in a 
forgery operation which started in 1993. Split six ways 
this is equivalent to US$1,000 each. Anyone who coun- 
terfeits dong doesn't need jail. They need maths lessons. 

Cathay Pacific's Marco Polo magazine tells the tale of 
frequent flier Kazuko Takahara, who went into the bar of 
her hotel in Frankfurt and asked for a "dry martini". She 
received three cocktails (and no doubt, amazed glances 
that a petite Asian woman could down so much alcohol). 

The German word for "three" is "drei". 

Ms Takahara was just about to decline the drinks, 
when something occured to her and she stopped herself 
getting into even more trouble. The German word for 
"no" is "nein". 

Chapter 3: The long run 

There was ice in the air. It was a chilly Friday in 
Beijing, but there was bright sunshine in the hearts of a 
group of runners, stamping and snorting and stretching 
their limbs like thoroughbred racehorses. 

The authorities in China know how to put a bit of 
pomp into mass events, and they had done a fine job 
on this breezy October day for the 1996 Beijing 
International Marathon. 

Some 10,000 school children in colourful uniforms 
lined up in the Workers' Stadium, where the race would 
begin and end. Military bands played thundering 
marches. The Minister of Cultural Affairs was wheeled 
out to greet the competitors. 

Some 300 of the runners were doing the full 
marathon of 43 kilometres, or 26 miles. Of these, there 
were only 20 Western faces. These naturally attracted 
attention because of their scarcity value. 

Stuart White of Hong Kong was excited, especially 
after being interviewed by the Reuters news agency 
Like all amateur runners, he had focused on the really 
important things: flashy new running shoes and a 
designer stopwatch. 

The only nagging worry at the back of his mind was 
that they were all being treated as star athletes, and he 
knew that he, for one, was an amateur, albeit a keen one. 

Still, he was looking forward to doing the circuit and 
taking the final steps back into this magnificent audito- 
rium, to be greeted by thousands of cheering people. 

But no time to think about that now. 

Thwack! As the starting gun sounded, he mused that 
this really was marathon runners' heaven. Tarmac 
pounders such as himself were treated like gods. Tens of 

thousands of people lined the streets of Beijing to cheer 
the competitors on, and the atmosphere was wonderful. 

The first hour or so was the usual bone-shaking blur. 
It was only after they had stamped the streets for a 
foot-blistering 25 kilometres, with 18 still to go, that 
things began to change. 

Stuart and several other runners were plodding on 
manfully, but the main pack of more experienced 
sprinters was a good 40 minutes ahead. 

Suddenly a lorry, bellowing toxic fumes, roared 
passed them. Workers aboard proceeded to scoop up all 
the distance and directional signs for the race. 

Oh no. The runners' eyes widened. How would they 
know where to go? 

Stop! But the lorry sped on and away, taking away 
all clues as to the route the runners should take. 

The course organisers then decided to pack up the 
all-important water stations, just as the runners who 
really needed a drink came thumping by. 

The traffic situation returned to normal, and the 
marathon men had to include a new activity into their 
race: keeping alive. 

It was cold. They quickly became dehydrated. Cars 
seemed to be trying to kill them at every crossroads. It 
had become marathon runners' hell. 

Then they realised another official vehicle was fol- 
lowing. Now this one was a bus, sweeping up all the 
stragglers behind them, whether they wanted to end 
their runs or not. 

The vehicle reached the foreigners. Aiyeeeah! What 
to do? Foreigners can't talk, and they are notoriously 
difficult to handle. Safer to let them be. 

So they allowed Stuart and two other waiguo ren to 

The runners realised they faced a serious problem. 

How would they know where to go? 

It was The People to the rescue. As the runners 
reached a junction, a spectator on her way home point- 
ed out the correct route. At the next corner, more spec- 
tators smiled and told the runners which way to turn. 

The people, courteous and smiling, became sponta- 
neous route-markers, all the way around the city All of 
a sudden, the possibility of finishing the race returned. 

One toothless old man voluntarily escorted them for 
some five kilometres on his Flying Pigeon bicycle. 

Unfortunately, not all the directions were correct, 
but they were close enough. "It would have been easy 
to take advantage of three tired, pathetic gwailos, and 
send us marching off to North Korea," Stuart mused 
afterwards. But no one did. 

Finally after three hours and 41 minutes, they col- 
lapsed into the Worker's Stadium. The pollution that 
hung in the air had blackened their faces like those of 
cartoon characters who get blown up. 

The stadium was empty Not a single schoolchild or 
worker in sight. No champagne or flowers. But the run- 
ners still felt triumphant. 

To this observer, Stuart's story says more about the 
character of China than all the economic analyses put 
together. In the long run (take that literally in this 
case), the inefficiencies of an old-fashioned bureaucra- 
cy are outweighed by the resourcefulness and warmth 
of the Chinese people. 

Incidentally the foreigners in this particular joint 

venture found they'd run an extra five kilometres. How 
did they manage to complete it, with no water? 

Stuart said afterwards that they were feeling really 
dehydrated when they ran their 40th kilometre. They 
turned a corner and came upon a dishevelled fruit-sell- 
er, trying to make a few fen by selling fruit from the 
countryside. The poor man stared at the pitiful sight of 
the former capitalist imperialists, stumbling along the 
road. In the true spirit of socialism, he stepped into the 
road and gave each of them a gift of an orange, free of 

It tasted better than Dom Perignon's finest. 

Chapter 4: Twin peaks 

Bras are on everyone's lips these days, if you'll excuse 
a sartorially inelegant metaphor. Bra wars have been set 
in motion by a massive advertising and promotion 
splurge in Asia by the producers of the Wonderbra. This 
is a 54-piece bra that promises to turn a 34-inch bust 
into a 36-inch one. 

The Wonderbra display which has opened on the sec- 
ond floor of Japanese department store Sogo in 
Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, includes a changing room "for 
the hordes of style-conscious shoppers who can't wait to 
see the impact of this essential fashion accesson/ on 
their figures," according to the company spokeswoman. 

Wonderbra is made by the Sara Lee Corp, a United 
States firm hitherto famed worldwide for making those 
big, spongy cakes that you find in supermarkets. What 
the connection is, one can only guess. 

This coincides with the news that Hong Kong bra- 
maker Top Form is in financial trouble. They usually 
issue one of the most popular annual reports. This is 
because the company feels the need to have large num- 
bers of illustrations showing the skimpy, lacy product 
"in situ". But not this year. The only figures in the finan- 
cial document are numbers. 

One theory is that the increase in Asian breast sizes 
has caused problems. In the 1980s, the top selling bra 
in Asia was 34-A. By the end of 1993, the standard 
bust had grown to 34-C. 

This makes a significant percentage increase in raw 
materials. The semi-globular nature of the expansion 
means that 20 small pieces of material need adjusting. 

They could perhaps find a new market by taking a 
couple of tips from Triumph, I hear from reader Steve 

Aldred. Steve helped the Hong Kong office of Triumph, 
an international bra and frilly bits company, with a pro- 
motion in 1995 in which each day a diamond ring was 
given to customers. 

The stunt was so popular that among the bra 
"users" who turned up to collect their rings were two 
men. "Nobody followed up to find out their cup size," 
Steve said. 

Innovation in the actual garment could be an alter- 
native answer to Top Form's problems. Alicia Kan of the 
Economist Intelligence Unit's Hong Kong office told me 
about a bra made under the Social Form brand and sold 
in the Philippines. It has a built-in space for carrying 
cash or trinkets. 

They come in A and B sizes only I assume this is 
because a double-D with a lot of money would become 
rather, er, high profile. 

I mentioned this over breakfast to a male companion, 
who warned of a problem. "The wearer's boyfriend may 
be rather disappointed to discover a boring wodge of 
cash instead of what he expected to find there," he said. 

I replied that this may be true elsewhere, but proba- 
bly not in Hong Kong. 

Incidentally did you see the news item which said 
managers of a Russian industrial plant haven't been 
able to pay workers in roubles, so are paying them in 
bras instead? The unusual salary was offered by the 
Enikmash machine-building plant in Voronezh, the 
Komsomolskaya Pravda reported. 

The company had traded some of its industrial prod- 
uct for a shipment of Chinese-made bras. 

It is hard to picture anyone getting Russian mam- 

maries into tiny Chinese brassieres. I wonder if this how 
the word "bust" originated? 

But to be serious and businesslike on the subject of 
the female upper-retaining garment for a moment, I am 
informed that there exists a New Zealand farmer who 
has been appealing for bras to support his tomato crop, 
which has been bulging out more than usual lately. 

The Russians could send their Chinese-size bras to 
Wellington, where they would presumably be eminently 
suitable for the farmer's purposes. It may be the start of 
a revolution in tomato grading. 

"I'll have a kilo of 36C tomatoes, please." 

Chapter 5: Miracle on platform two 

Business consultant Steve Creighton recently made a 
business trip to Tokyo. Japan is a strictly cash society, 
and he was carrying a large wad of more than a million 
yen in Japanese banknotes - the total was worth more 
than US$13,000 - stuffed in the pocket of the case of 
his laptop computer. 

After clearing customs at Narita airport, Steve went 
to the Japan Rail Sobu line, to catch the last train of 
the evening to Yokohama. 

Already worn out from the flight, he absent-minded- 
ly left the computer - and the mammoth brick of cash 
- on the station platform as he boarded the train. He 
was halfway to Tokyo before he froze in horror and 
realised what he had done. 

It was too late to get another train back to Narita, 
and by the time he got to a payphone, the airport's lost 
and found switchboard had closed for the evening. 

What a nightmare. 

Laptops, which inevitably come in small black cases 
and are carried in addition to one's normal luggage, 
are incredibly easy to leave behind. They are also easy 
to purloin. 

There was one other occasion in which Steve had let 
this same computer out of his sight and it had disap- 
peared. He was on a Philippine Air Lines flight to Hong 
Kong when he left it on the seat and went to the toilet. 

Returning a few minutes later, it was gone. When he 
asked the passengers around him, they referred him to 
the stewardess, who said: "I'm sorn/ sir, I think one of 
our staffs has stolen your bag." 

Well, at least she was honest. On that occasion, the 
laptop was promptly returned - after all, you can't 

exactly make a clean getaway when you are 6,000 
metres in the air. 

The Japanese habit of demanding all transactions be 
in cash is the cause of much heartache. Aera, a Tokyo 
news agency, reported in 1994 that wads of cash are 
found on trains 11 times a day on average, adding up to 
one billion yen (about US$9 million) a year on the 
trains of the East Japan Co alone. 

The tradition is also the cause of much traffic. On 
the 10th and 20th of each month, business people 
drive to the offices of their associates, clients and sup- 
pliers, to cement relationships by exchanging large 
amounts of money 

One businessman, trying to bribe a politician with 
about 400 million yen, had to have it wheeled into the 
man's office on a trolley. 

Toshio Miyaji, president of a chain of electronics 
stores, told a New York Times reporter last year: "I feel 
very lonely if I have less than one million yen in my 
pocket." That's eguivalent to US$9,260, or HK$72,000. 

There's a remarkable orderliness about Japanese 
society which means that lost bundles of money are 
often recovered. 

Other valuables are also left behind on trains. 
Toupees and false teeth are found regularly. A finger in 
a jar was once discovered in a subway train. No doubt 
there was some sentimental Yakuza member some- 
where sniffing over the loss. Gangsters cut off their fin- 
gers, or each other's, in fits of machismo. Plastic sur- 
geon Mitsuo Yoshimura in Fukui has been running a 
thriving little business transplanting gangsters' toes on 
to their hands, to make up for missing fingers. Of 

course, they look a bit funny and one has to hope no 
one smells your hands. 

Dogs, cats and other pets are also frequently found 
forgotten in railway carriages. This is surprising, since 
the Japanese pamper their pets to a remarkable degree, 
spending US$2.4 billion a year on pet food and toys. A 
cable radio broadcaster in Osaka has been offering a 
pet channel, with music for animals. A Japanese study 
of cat brainwaves reveals that they particularly enjoy 
the music of The Carpenters, which will surprise no one. 

But I digress. 

Let us return to the horrific events of that never-to- 
be-forgotten day in the life of our visitor to Tokyo. 

After a sleepless night, Steve Creighton made the 
three-hour trip back to Narita to prayerfully ask staff at 
the lost and found office whether his bag had been 
handed in. 

He stepped out of the train, and something on the 
ground caught his eye. 

The laptop computer bag was sitting on the station 
platform, entirely untouched, in the precise spot on the 
platform where he had left it the night before. 

It is, as I say, an orderly society. 

Chapter 6: St Mary's Trucking Service 

The payroll robbery in the Philippines was meticulous- 
ly planned. Fifteen men were involved in an operation 
which took just 180 seconds from beginning to end. 
The villains arrived at the scene of the crime-to-be in a 
dirty white Toyota Corolla, two motorcycles and a sil- 
ver-grey van, at 9.15 am on a Tuesday. 

The bikers spun round to act as look-outs. Counting 
each second, the other 13 men entered the premises of 
Ren Transport Co, a garbage hauling firm in Banlat 
Road, Quezon City 

Armed with three M16 Armalites and an AK-47, the 
raiders disabled the security guards and raced down the 
corridors to where they knew the cash office was. 
Clearly they had had inside information. 

The first intruder crashed through the door and 
waved his gun around. "Dapa kayong lahat," he shout- 
ed, ordering staff to drop to the floor. Cashier Susan 
Cruz and her colleagues complied instantly 

"We're not here to kill you. We just want the 
money," spat the raider. 

Ah. Oh dear. That's when they were told the bad news. 

They were too early 

Er, the payroll is delivered at 10.15 am. 

10.15? Not 9.15? 

That's right. 10.15. 

The villains fled. Their entire booty, to be split between 
the 16-strong team; some petty cash and two radios. 

So much for the theory that everything in the 
Philippines runs late. 

What a fascinating place the Philippines is. The four 

worlds of business, the underworld, the establishment, 
and the church are all interlinked in bizarre ways. 
Corruption is inevitable in a place where a policeman 
gets the salary that First Worlders pay a domestic ser- 
vant. A chief financial watchdog gets the salary of a 
Hong Kong factory worker. As a result, there's a lot of 
unsavoury stuff going on. 

Rolando Abadillo, a former police torturer turned 
businessman and politician, was assassinated on June 13. 
One would not normally applaud the murder of a human 
being, whatever his background. But Filipino columnists 
are less scrupulous. "This has not exactly been a regret- 
table incident," enthused Teodoro Locsin, editor of the 
Philippines Free Press, unable to hide his glee. 

Mind you, it does happen elsewhere. When Andely 
Chan Yiu-hing, a film industn/ executive and Sun Yee On 
triad member, was murdered in 1993, a Hong Kong police 
spokesman said: "This rather solves a problem for us." 

Your Humble Narrator wrote a column while in 
Manila, sitting at an "Authentic French Bakery". 
Although much of the country remains poor, Manila is 
starting to look like richer Asian cities, filled with slick 
shopping malls and "international" restaurants. 

How authentic is this French restaurant? They are 
serving adobo-flavoured croissants. Enough said. 

A tour firm called Traveller International in Ermita is 
offering a 34-day pilgrimage for US$7,290. Buyers are 
taken to many places "straight out of the Bible!" 

As well as the predictable Bethlehem and Jerusalem, 
the itinerary includes Lourdes in France, Fatima in 
Portugal, and Vatican City in Italy. I'm not sure which 
edition of the Bible they appear in. 

The sales bumpf says: "See the stains of Jesus blood 
which He shed on the cross perfectly preserved under 
glass up to now. 

"Stand on the very spot from where Christ ascended 
into Heaven. 

"View the manger where Christ was born on Christmas 
Eve 2,000 years ago." 

If Christ was born on Christmas Eve, whose birthday is 
Christmas Day? 

Round the corner, the Kou Bansei Dispensary in Manila 
was selling a pill called Sexvitan-B, under the slogan: 
"No more sexual function. No more impotency." 

A cure for impotency may be useful, but "no more 
sexual function"? Isn't this throwing out the baby with 
the bathwater? 

Many firms in the Philippines are trying to attract 
local women to send to Hong Kong to be domestic 
helpers. Overseas Employment Centre Ltd of Makati, in 
its ad, boasts that it is: "The only agency that gives 
Chinese cooking lesson upon arrival in Hong Kong." 

Yes, learn how to cook two years' worth of Chinese 
meals in just one easy lesson. 

At Clark Field, former US air base, patriotic Filipinos 
are getting rid of street names such as Mitchell, O'Leary 
and Anderson, which are Western. They are replacing 
them with "locaT'ones such as Manuel, Jose, Ramon and 
so on, which are Spanish names. Go figure. 

Businessman Kenneth Yu of Metro Manila must have 
ambitious export plans for his mineral company. Why 
else would it be called the Martian Steel Corporation? 

A motorcycle rider crashed into the back of a 10- 
wheeler truck in Laguna a few days ago. Benjamin 
Fortunato, 42, needed urgent help - and discovered 
that he had been injured right in front of a hospital. 

He was rushed inside, but the hospital allegedly 
rejected him because he did not have cash to pay the 
deposit. He was taken to a second hospital which also 
refused to admit him. 

He died outside. 

Reporters were unable to get comments from the 
managements of the two hospitals. 

The first was called the Amante Emergency Hospital. 
The second was called Divine Mercy The victim's name 
translates as "Mr Lucky". 

The other, and much more pleasant, side of business in 
the Philippines is that you get people running business- 
es which are completely normal - except that they are 
dedicated to saints. 

These are real company names I came across in two 
days of doing business in Manila: 

St Mary's Trucking Service; 

Saviour Providers Employment Agency; 

St Anthony's Drugstore; 

Sacred Heart Employment Agency; 

Holy Steel Manufacturing; 

St Augustine's Realty and Development Corp; 

A. De Jesus Customs Brokerage; 

Saint Mark Movers; 

and, believe it or not: Holy Rosary Kiddie School. 

Chapter 7; The lion, the rich and the war refugee 

This writer has long had a soft spot for Singapore. This 
is strictly classified information, since it is considered a 
seriously uncool position for a foreign journalist to take. 
But I have an unusual point of view, since I first arrived 
in the Lion City in 1960 as a two-year-old refugee. 

It is certainly possible to find bad things to say about 
the place, but then that is true of every country. The 
good news is that Singaporeans are developing a sense 
of humour, and have become more self-critical recently. 

Most of the city-state's problems - the ones that 
get discussed - are not big ones. "After littering, incon- 
siderate car parking and other anti-social behaviour 
had been elevated to a national level, we had the 'mad 
free textbook rush'," the Straits Times said. Shocking 

Or consider this. "Some Singaporeans still behave as 
if they were in the Stone Age," Prime Minister Goh 
Chok Tong said. "They litter the common areas or park 
motor vehicles indiscriminately And they vandalise 
library books." 

I'm not sure which Stone Age he is talking about. In 
the one in my history book, primitive hominids hunted 
sabre-tooth tigers, and there was relatively little in the 
way of car parking and library offences. But the fact is, 
most countries would love to have Singapore's prob- 
lems, because most are so trivial. 

And the place is changing. There are still older peo- 
ple who are hostile to outside influences. But the 
younger people have the same liberal, freedom-loving 
characteristics as their counterparts everywhere. 

Singaporean friends the other day were picturing 
what would happen if one of the few remaining old- 

school types was on duty at the immigration desk of 
Changi Airport during the time of Jesus's second coming. 

Immigration officer: "I'm sorry, Mr — er, Christ, but 
you cannot be coming into Singapore, looking like 

Jesus; "I am returning in glory to claim the faithful." 

Immigration Officer: "Maybe so, but we don't like 
long-hairs and such hippy looks. And those sandals - 
no good-laah. You have foreign publications in your 
bag, is it?" 

Jesus: "I bring a new revelation from on high." 

Immigration Officer: "Well, no, we are not all that 
keen on having too many international media, not 
favoured, you know." 

Jesus: "Salvation is mine alone." 

Immigration Officer: "I am not denying it, Mr Christ, 
but maybe it's better you go to Hong Kong first, get hair 
cut, nice Bally shoes, Tsim Sha Tsui tailor suit, mobile 
phone-laah - and then come back, we let you in. You 
don't mind me suggesting this, is it? Next please." 

In 1996, the Singapore Government announced a 
plan to spend S$5 billion on an underground network 
of 84 kilometres of road in the heart of town - already 
a futuristic metropolis. 

It seemed astonishing enough when I first visited it 
in 1960, and marvelled to see incredibly tall buildings, 
some a mind-boggling 10 storeys high. 

My family fled from government forces in Sri Lanka 
on a dark night in 1960, and our flight dropped us off 
in Singapore, then a sleepy fishing port which was part 
of Malaysia. We were two adults, two children, a tod- 
dler (me) and a babe-in-arms. We couldn't afford a 

hotel or a taxi, so we seemed destined for a night on 
the streets. 

Then my father announced that he had had an idea. 
We winced. These were always dangerous. "Check into a 
cheap hotel, and they'll want cash. Check into a good 
one, and they'll let us sign for everything," he said. 

We heaved our bags down the driveway of the 
Goodwood Park, a five-star palace of terrifying luxury, 
and my father imperiously demanded that we be housed. 
They housed us in their largest room. On the same basis, 
we didn't have cash for a taxi - so we piled into the 
limousine that he hired with his signature. 

(When my father needed a visa to go somewhere, he 
made his own, stamping his passport with an official- 
looking chop which said: "Republic of Amnesia" They 
didn't have a word back then for my father's cheeky 
methods. They do now: chutzpah.) 

Looking back, I realise that such antics either work 
or get you sent to jail. Fortunately my father managed 
to find a job before the bills became payable, and we 
escaped the debtors' prison. 

In 1995, 35 years after my first visit to Singapore, I 
returned - and naturally headed to the Goodwood Park 
hotel. The only difference was that the generations had 
moved on. Now I was the adult at the reception desk, 
and I had a two-year-old running at my feet. 

It was good not to be a refugee. But the 
Singaporean economy had also moved on. 

We still couldn't afford to check in. 

Chapter 8: Death, where is thy funnybone? 

Chip Weber is a small businessman working in Asia, 
with his favourite homes being Hong Kong and the 
Philippines. The 40-year-old runs his own sports coach- 
ing company, doing the paperwork and the training 
himself. Good-natured and smiling, you would never 
believe his secret obsession. 


For some reason he cannot explain even to himself, 
the American is fascinated by unusual fatalities and 
bizarre accidents. He has been cutting relevant stories 
out of newspapers for years, and is working on a book 
on the oddest such incidents of recent years.Here are 
some raw and unedited examples of the reports Chip 
has collected from around the world: 

Police said they were investigating the death of a 
man who was killed after being hit by a turnip that was 
thrown from a passing car. The attack apparently was 
carried out by a gang whose members toss vegetables 
at random at people. Another man suffered stomach 
injuries after being hit by a cabbage, police said. 

Russell Berkley claims his love life went down the 
drain when someone pulled a plug in a hospital 
whirlpool. His left testicle was sucked into the pipe 
with the water "I know it wasn't more than 30 seconds, 
but it felt like forever," said Berkley 

A sudden gust of wind blew a portable toilet off the 
fourth floor of a building - and crushed a construction 
worker to death ... The portable potty had been placed 
on the fourth floor of the building for the convenience 
of the men working there . . . "It was a tragedy but it 
could have been worse," said a co-worker. "Fortunately 
no one was using it." 

A Continental Airlines worker died on Wednesday from 
injuries sustained when a DC-10 ran over him. 

A soft drink machine robbed a teen of his change, 
then toppled over and killed him when he tried to get 
his can of soda pop out. 

Doctors removing a young man s appendix were sur- 
prised when the real cause of his pain wriggled into 
view - a two-inch long red worm that he had eaten 
with his homemade sushi. 

A body that was discovered in the chimney of a bar- 
becue restaurant was identified as that of a handyman 
reported missing three years ago ... . Witnesses 
described the body as "smoked". 

A tornado picked up a 40-year-old woman in a rural 
Chinese village and carried her almost a third of a mile, 
and then dropped her safely back to earth, the state run 
China News Service said Friday And like any worker wor- 
thy of the state, she cheerfully plodded back to the fields 

after the flight. "Yang Youxiang experienced an air adven- 
ture," the news service said. "She crossed the Jiuda River, 
and was carried for 500 metres, then landed slowly." 

n't turn up at the hospital," Dominic Conlin, manager at 
East Grinstead Hospital, Southern England, said. 

A man apparently engrossed in music from his headset 
stereo while walking along railroad tracks in the town 
of Sylmar failed to hear an approaching train and was 
struck and killed, authorities said. 

A rodeo group must compensate a woman injured 
when a bull jumped three fences and charged into a 
bathroom, a judge has ruled. 

Jan Lavric got up from a wheelchair and walked after 
receiving a blessing from the Pope, but he says it was no 
miracle. Some nuns at a Vatican audience thought other- 
wise, but a slightly embarrassed Lavric said from his 
home in the English Midlands yesterday that he had 
never been disabled. "I just found an empty wheelchair 
and sat down in it," said Lavric. "Suddenly a nun wheeled 
me off," the Pope entered, and "what was I to do?" 

An Inglewood woman trying to frantically to put out 
her blazing Christmas tree was enveloped in flames and 
killed, authorities said yesterday. Tammie Brown was 26. 

A woman who thought she was having sexual rela- 
tions in the dark with her husband told police she 
realised it was a rapist when he fled her bedroom 
through a window, police said Thursday. "She didn't feel 
right about it, and when he climbed out her bedroom 
window, she knew something was wrong," said detec- 
tive Pattle Wasielewski. 

A man running through a hallway of a downtown sky- 
scraper was unable to stop himself and fell 39 floors to 
his death by the momentum of his speed through a 
glass window, officials said yesterday. The victim was 
identified as Reginald Tucker, 29, a lawyer. 

A British hospital is hunting for a man who had an ear 
grafted on to his leg after it was bitten off in a brawl. 
Patrick Nean/'s ear was so badly damaged in the fight last 
year that it could not be immediately restored to its right- 
ful place and was temporarily sewn to his right thigh. "He 
was due to have it stitched back onto his head but he did- 

An experienced parachutist filmed his own two-mile 
death plunge after he fell or jumped from an airplane 
with a video camera mounted on his helmet, apparently 
without realising he did not have a parachute, investi- 
gators in Louisburg, North Carolina, said. Officials 
declared the death of Ivan Lester McGuire, 35, of 
Durham, to be an accident. 

A 300-pound woman nearly smothered her husband 
by sitting on him during a dispute, police said. The man 
was hospitalised yesterday in critical condition and the 
woman was in custody. The man had threatened to get 
a gun during an argument Friday when his wife pushed 
him to the ground and sat on his head and chest, cut- 
ting off his breathing, police Capt Joseph Purpero said. 

A woman passenger survived a fall of three miles from 
a Soviet airline and then won US$50 compensation - 
for the loss of her baggage. 

A former suicide prevention volunteer has been sen- 
tenced to life in prison for trying to kill a former hotline 
caller. Superior Court Judge Allen Fields sentenced 
Frank Snyder, calling it "one of the most bizarre cases I 
have ever seen". 

Chapter 9: The cult of Benny Hil 

He was fat and ugly and lived humbly. His television 
show was cancelled in 1989 because his boss said it 
was "sexist and outdated". He died alone in 1992. Is this 
the story of a failure? 

No way. Benny Hill, a British comedian, has become a 
world-wide money-spinning phenomenon. This is 
despite the fact that much of his material was adoles- 
cent humour, or jokes about British politicians forgotten 
even in Britain. 

Today, his shows are being broadcast daily all over the 
world, and he would be listed among the richest men in 
the UK, if he were alive. 

But one die-hard fan had heard a rumour he found 
bizarre: The show was being regularly transmitted in 
Communist China. Benny had been gaining a cult fol- 
lowing behind the bamboo curtain. 

Steve Creighton, Asia business consultant and Benny 
Hill maniac, had to find out. "We have a confirmed 
sighting in Shanghai," a business contact in China had 
said. Steve was on the next plane. 

As the aircraft flew north, the Hong Kong-based con- 
sultant threw his mind back to the last Asia-Pacific 
sighting of his idol. It had been in Macau, three years 
earlier. He had been working in Tokyo at the time, but 
thought it a small price to fly to Hong Kong for the 
weekend, take the ferry to Macau, and rent a hotel 
room for the one hour necessary to see Benny make his 
characteristic salute in a new country. 

As the programme drew to a close, he had felt a surge 
of energy all around him. Psychosomatic reaction? No. 
The typhoon of the decade was striking the Portuguese 
enclave. Steve raced from the hotel onto his ferry, 

which promptly sank in the storm. 

Sure, it had been a bother to be thrown into the sea. 
Okay, being plucked to safety by the coast guard had 
been tiring. Yes, being rushed to hospital by ambulance 
was time-consuming. But he was happy He had seen 
Benny in Macau. 

But this time it was different, he mused as he sat on 
the Shanghai-bound flight. Steve was skeptical that the 
programme would be bought by the authorities in 
China. He could believe it about Hong Kong, where all 
the stars are fat and silly. But the Celestial Kingdom, 
socialist paradise of Mao? 

Other fans thought differently. He fits well into China 
and Asia, claims UK programme salesman Peter Davies 
of Thames Television International. "He's strangely 
moral. After all, he never gets the girl." 

Other countries with non-British cultures which had 
bought the show included Cuba, Iceland, and the Ivory 
Coast, Africa. 

After Steve's plane landed in the most populous coun- 
try in the world, he began showing a piece of paper 
with "Banni Xi'er" written in Chinese characters, to 
every person he could find. There were a lot of people 
to be found. 

No reaction. He went to a disco and showed the name 
to young people. They had never heard of him. 

He went to the Foreign Language Institute and round- 
ed up 25 professors of English Literature and Culture. 
They, surely, would know about Benny — their job 
titles promised it. But again he drew a blank. 

As a last-ditch effort, he stuck a Benny Hill tape into 
the video recorder. Instant recognition. "Aah, The Fat 

Man. He's got a tape of The Fat Man," said the profes- 
sors, suddenly filled with glee. 

With their help, he made enquiries at the Television 
Broadcasting Authority of Shanghai, but was told that 
The Fat Man's show had been cancelled just the week 

One student, however, had a tip for him. The show 
was being broadcast in her home town, a waterfront 
settlement called Nantong. 

A few days later, he found himself standing on a dis- 
tant pier at 3 o'clock in the morning, looking for a 
brother he couldn't possibly recognise, to go and watch 
TV with a family he didn't know. 

The brother picked him up and took him to their fami- 
ly home. The following day they had a grand pre-Benny 
party Steve taught the family the Benny Hill salute, 
Fred Scuttle mannerisms and other bits of pop culture 
from the programme. 

Then came the moment for Benny to appear on 
Nantong television. Nothing. A programme about excit- 
ing developments in farm machinery appeared instead. 

"Not worry," said grandmother. "Channels often run 
behind schedule. Banni Xi'er on after one hour." 

They waited an hour. And another. And another. 

The next morning, depressed and dejected, Steve 
headed for the ferry pier to take him back to Shanghai. 
Grandfather ran up to him clutching a newspaper. "Oh, 
I think we make a mistake. Banni Xi'er not on Channel 
4. On Channel 3." 

It was good to know that the great man was being 
broadcast in China, but Steve was deeply disappointed 
that he could not report back to other Bennyhiliacs that 

he had actually watched the show in the last great bas- 
tion of communism. 

As the domestic flight from Shanghai to Guangzhou 
neared cruising altitude, the inflight video monitor 
spluttered to life. 

"Xlfang Minxing Yike," it said. Famous Stars of the 

He could not believe his eyes. 

Somewhere in the clouds over Hangzhou, a familiar 
fat face flashed up on the screen. And saluted him. 

Chapter 10: Kids make nutritious snacks 

Picture the scene. We're in a sliockingiy untidy office 
in Fleet Street, London, circa 1985. Your Humble 
Narrator is staring at the grizzled old editor before him 
and the words of a song flash through his head: "Hold 
me, love me, hold me, love me, ain't got nothin' but 
love, babe, eight days a week." 

The words of the Beatles' song did not sum up my 
feelings towards the crabby old man, as death by torture 
would have been preferable to even briefly touching him. 

No, they referred to my discovery of the working 
system imposed on the newspaper business by the 
trades unions. You got a day's pay for every seven hours 
you are in the office. Headline writers were getting 
eight days' pay for five days' work. 

The unions had also ensured that work took as long 
as possible - they had banned computers, so all the 
writing had to be done with scratchy ballpoint pens - 
yes, right up to the mid-1980s. Zak, the Daily Express 
news editor, knew I never refused an offer of work, and 
my personal best was 11 days' pay for one week's work. 

So for seven or 14 hours at a time (or sometimes 
more - I once did 28 hours) we sat there, dreaming up 
headlines one after the other. 

lenge, since space is always tight, punctuation is rarely 
allowed - and sub-editors love to top each other's 
attempts at wordplay 

The concept of the humorous headline had alleged- 
ly been invented by the UK's Guardian newspaper, 
which titled a report of a church fire with "Heated one 
day at the organ." 

The London tabloids and a few US newspapers (such 
as the New York Daily Post] picked up the habit and 
turned it into an art. 

A classic British headline from the war: "Eighth Army 
Push Bottles Up Germans". 

From the crime pages: "Police Shoot Man With Knife". 

An example of a headline given a double meaning by 
the lack of a hyphen or a comma is this one, seen in a 
UK newspaper: 

"Want a woman vicar?" 

Tutor castigated for spreading communism while 
"Black Marx." 

Welfare scrounger spotted working for firm fixing 
leaks in welfare payment office? 
"Fiddler on roof" 

Choosing what to put in a headline was always a chal 

Puns are found even in political news, such as this 
headline from an American newspaper in the 1980s: 
"Reagan Wins on Budget But More Lies Ahead". 

Your Humble Narrator once placed a trivial snippet on 
his newspaper page about a middle-aged woman with a 

hangover at the Grand Hyatt. "What can I get you?" 
asked the waiter. "A bucket to be sick into," she jokingly 
replied. He brought a silver channpagne bucket on a 
stand and placed it by her chair. 

The headline was "Sick bag." Fortunately, the star of 
the story (and her lawyer) failed to spot the double 

Here are 20 gems from a huge collection by Fritz 
Spiegl, a well-known UK media-watcher: 

The jargon used in business pages often leads to 
bizarre statements. At the time of writing, Bloomberg 
has just titled an electronic news item; "Investors Are 
Going Bottom-Fishing in Thailand". 

The South China Morning Post's sports editor tells me 
a report about Arsenal manager Terry Neill's fears about 
lanky defender Willie Young was headlined: "Neilt has 
problems with big Willie." 

Meat shortage: MPs attack minister 

Queen sees Fonteyn take 10 curtains 

Man who received trousers loses appeal 

Ex-alderman dies: one of eight axed by Tories 

MPs cheer Bill on homosexual behaviour 

Councillor had to go in a hurry 

Foot to head joint body 

Our women lick male sportsmen 

Mounting problems for young couples 

Man in Thames had drink problem 

Girls plump for new university 

Newly weds aged 82 had problem 

Councillors to act on strip shows 

Spotted men stealing salmon 

Minister to stand firm on fish 

Neutron bomb talks 

Fish talks 

His Gas Comes From A Hole 

No Water — So Firemen Improvised 

Women who smoke have lighter children 

A title which made sense to regular sports readers, but 
amazed others: "British Girl Has to Scratch". 

Churchgoers all over Hong Kong must have delightedly 
cut out the front page headline of the South China 
Morning Post (about US politician Winston Lord) to 
place on their bulletin boards: 

"Lord dismisses nuclear threat." 


Journalists love to collect headlines with intentional 
or unintentional double meanings, or which state the 
obvious. Many readers, including Ed Peters of the New 
Territories, sent me this list of real headlines from 
American newspapers: 

1. Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers 

2. Safety Experts Say School Bus Passengers Should Be 

3. Drunk Gets Nine Months in Violin Case 

4. Survivor of Siamese Twins Joins Parents 

5. Farmer Bill Dies in House 

6. Iraqi Head Seeks Arms 

7. Is There a Ring of Debris Around Uranus? 

8. Prostitutes Appeal to Pope 

9. Panda Mating Fails: Veterinarian Takes Over 

10. Soviet Virgin Lands Short of Coal Again 

11. British Left Waffles on Falkland Islands 

12. Lung Cancer in Women Mushrooms 

13. Eye Drops Off Shelf 

14. Squad Helps Dog Bite Victim 

15. Shot Off Woman's Leg Helps Nicklaus to 66 

16. Enraged Cow Injures Farmer With Ax 

17. Plane Too Close to Ground, Crash Probe Told 

18. Miners Refuse to Work After Death 

19. Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant 

20. Stolen Painting Found by Tree 

21. Two Soviet Ships Collide, One Dies 

22. Two Sisters Reunited After 18 Years in Checkout 

23. Killer Sentenced to Die for Second Time in 10 Years 

24. Never Withhold Herpes Infection From Loved One 

25. Drunken Drivers Paid $1000 in '84 

26. War Dims Hopes for Peace 

27. If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last a While 

28. Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures 

29. Enfield Couple Slain: Police Suspect Homicide 

30. Red Tape Holds Up New Bridge 

31. Deer Kill 17,000 

32. Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery: Hundreds Dead 

33. Man Struck by Lightning Faces Battery Charge 

34. New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group 

35. Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft 

36. Kids Make Nutritious Snacks 

37. Chef Throws His Heart into Helping Feed Needy 

38. Arson Suspect is Held in Massachusetts Fire 

39. British Union Finds Dwarfs in Short Supply 

40. Ban on Soliciting Dead in Trotwood 

41. Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half 

42. New Vaccine May Contain Rabies 

43. Man Minus Ear Waives Hearing 

44. Deaf College Opens Doors to Hearing 

45. Air Head Fired 

46. Old School Pillars are Replaced by Alumni 

47. Bank Drive-in Window Blocked by Board 

48. Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors 

49. Sex Education Delayed, Teachers Request 

50. Include Your Children When Baking Cookies 

As for great duff headlines of our time, an American 
newspaper called the Collinsville Herald-Journal ran a 
headline in February 1996 which said: "Economist Uses 
Theory to Explain Economy". 

Other stultifyingly obvious headlines, include the fol- 
lowing, which were collected by people in the news 
business in the US in 1996: 

"Whatever their motives, moms who kill kids still 
shock us" [Holland Sentinef). 

"Survey finds dirtier subways after cleaning jobs 
were cut" [The New York Times, November 22). 

"Larger kangaroos leap farther, researchers find" {The 
Los Angeles Times, November 2). 

"Light meals are lower in fat, calories" 
(Huntington Herald-Dispatch, November 30). 

"Alcohol ads promote drinking" 
{Hartford Courant, November 18). 

"How we feel about ourselves is the core of 

self-esteem, says author" 

{Sunday Camera, Colorado, February 5). 

It's only when you see a really dull headline that you 
appreciate what a good sub-editor does. While writing 
this essay, a news report arrived on my desk from the 
Hong Kong Government Information Services. The 
attention-grabbing title: "Urban Services Department 
Remains Government Department". 

"Malls try to attract shoppers" 
{The Baltimore Sun, October 22). 

"Official: Only rain will cure drought" 
[The Herald News, Massachusetts, September 4). 

"Tomatoes come in big, little, medium sizes" 
[The Daily Progress, Virginia, March 30). 

"Man run over by freight train dies" 
[The Los Angeles Times, March 2). 

"Court rules boxer shorts are indeed underwear" 
[Journal of Commerce, April 20). 

"Biting nails can be signs of tenseness in a person" 
[The Daily Gazette of Schenectady, New York, May 2). 

"Lack of brains hinders research" 
{The Columbus Dispatch, April 16). 

The best headlines are those which create a startling 
image in the mind of the reader, who doesn't know 
quite what was intended. A favourite of mine, from a 
US newspaper: 

"Prosecutor Releases Probe into Undersheriff'. 

The humorous tradition remains alive and well. 
Remember the recent story about the Scottish Roman 
Catholic bishop who ran away with a woman? The 
Sunday Express told readers: "Shamed Bishop Seeks 
Missionary Position." 

Anyway, so there we would sit, in that Fleet Street 
office all the hours of the clock, making up wild puns. It 
was fun, but it was also gruelling. Newspapers are 
printed every day, including Christmas Day and every 
other holiday, and the offices are open night and day. It 

was tough getting any time off at all. 

I can recall tPie first time I had to say no to an 
offer of work by Zak. The old Daily Express news edi- 
tor was filling in the work roster, and had left spaces 
for me to work the worst shifts as usual when I broke 
the bad news to him. 

"I'm not coming to work on Saturday," I said. "I'm 
getting married." 

He didn't even look up. "What time you getting 
married?" he growled. 

I got married, went to Asia on honeymoon, and never 
went back to the Doily Express. But as I stormed out of 
that office, I remember recalling a headline printed in the 
Liverpool Daily Post about the time the explorer Sir Vivian 
Fuchs planned a journey: "Dr Fuchs off to South Ice". 

Oops. In the journalistic columns on which this book is 
based, I printed a picture of a quaintly worded sign 
banning "bench-idlers" from a park in Hong Kong. I 
wickedly suggested that it referred to the judiciary, who 
of course spend their few hours of work lazing around 
on benches in courts. 

With atrocious timing, I found myself the following 
morning in the dock at the courts in Western District, 
for late payment of business registration fees. 

Perhaps the judge won't have read it, I prayed. 

Magistrate Polly Lo gazed at me with one of those 
stern-but-fair expressions that beaks surely practice at 
home in their mirrors. 

"Are you the person who writes in the South China 
Morning Post?" she asked. 

Damn, I thought. 

"Yes, Madam," I said. "And I am standing here 
regretting a rude reference to the judiciary I put in yes- 
terday's newspaper." 

"I didn't read it," she said. 

Phew. Two minutes later, the hammer came down, I 
was HK$650 poorer, but a free man. 

A rare example of a writer delighted that most peo- 
ple have much more important things to do than waste 
their time reading his bilge. 

But thanks anyway 



^. Hong KoHR ^"""riM:.^.!'^ 


Goodbye Hong Kong, Hello Xianggang 

byNury Vittachi 

The Crown Colony of Hong Kong is no more. 

It has been replaced by Xianggang, the Mandarin name 

for the super-city on the coast of China. You thought 

daily life in the territory was surreal before. 

But the fun has just begun. 

Top Asian journalist Nury Vittachi talies you on a side- 
splitting tour through the bizarre last days of an imperial 
colony, and ushers in what promises to be a wild new era. 

You can't make this stuff up 

This essential guide to life in modern Asia includes: 

Weird dining experiences such as the "Hazardous Chemicals 
Buffet Dinner" and the restaurant serving "Fried Vegetarians"; 

Boggling sights from around Asia, including Japan's 
"Cafe de Cancer" and Taiwan's "Happy VD Clinic": 

Wonderful Hong Kong names such as Acne Chan, 
Motor Fan and Arsenic Lo; 

Praise for Nury Vittachi's ( 


The South China Morning Post 


The Japan Times 


Dr Judith Mackay 

Amazing businesses, such as Moronicus Ltd and 
Puking International; 

Incredible 'dumb criminal' tales, including the salad-trafficking 
ring and the man who sold the 25th floor of a 21 -storey building; 

Plus all those bits you meant to cut out from the newspaper 
but never got around to.