There are ideas which are so magnificently regressive and toweringly self-interested, that putting them into concrete becomes irresistible. Within Hong Kong’s moss-on-a rock government, over which progress just runs away, there is a working group on Regression and Wealth Appeasement (RWAP) which listens with silent intent to ideas like this.

Chairing it is the Director of RWAP (DRWAP), nominally listed in the Home Affairs Department as responsible for Youthful Enthusiasm, leaving much time for his confidential work. The Committee met last month to listen to a proposal from the deputy director, Deirdre Wong (DD). Present were the Deputy Director for Appeasement (DDAP), the Permanent Assistant Secretary for Circumlocution and Obfuscation (PASCO), and an assistant secretary called Archie, a new AO recruit, who was told to put down his pen and go have a 45-minute sized coffee.

DRWAP leaned back, beaming anticipation “Tell them about it, DD.”

“Right, Director. You know the Shanotuff…..”

“Zenotuff, DD, for God’s sake.’

“You mean we’re going to mess with the gweilo war memorial?” Photo: Wikicommons.

“……big white war stone opposite the Hong Kong Club. Well, it is a site that is so underused that it is actually driving business away from surrounding retail areas. Do you realize that there is not one shop between Prince’s Building and Bank of America Tower? People have no shopping chances if they walk between the two, so most don’t. Those that do – without any prompt to consume – are too disoriented to purchase when they reach the other end. This is all down to the Big White Stone wasteland. It needs to be energized for the community”

PASCO, arching an eyebrow and forgetting his brief, came straight to the point. ‘You mean we’re going to mess with the gweilo war memorial? Hell, that’s going to need more blowing water than we have ever managed before. And a lot of it in English, which ministers will screw up.”

DD took umbrage at such caution. ‘Oh come on!  All the government mourning stuff goes on at the Little Stone Hut next to City Hall. It’s only a matter of time before the older gweilos snuff it, the younger ones forget what it’s for and Shanotuff goes entirely.”

Artist’s impression. Photo: HKFP.

“When it does, it will be swift.” said DDAP with a faraway look. “It will be turned into a people’s park for half an hour before the site is somehow degraded, reclassified and auctioned for squillions. 200 storeys of mixed commercial, retail and hotel will arise with a city airport on top!”

“It can be called Zeno Top house” chimed in PASCO, warming now,” and the top half of the Big White Stone can go in the lobby as a ‘link with our past.’ Historical junk preserved in a paradoxical setting always throws them”

“Steady on, chaps!” DRWAP intervened, delighted by the aesthetic and environmental devastation he was listening to. “DD’s proposal is a more modest beginning. We are going to ring the Zenotuff green with single story boutique shops. The sort of powdered and puffed market stall put up along the Kowloon Park wall up Nathan Road, when we saw that the pavement was too wide and might encourage ‘boulevardism’ and pointless reflection. We call it ‘introducing a peripheral built environment’ ”

Nathan Road. Photo: HKFP.

“We can say the new structures protect the remaining grass from the wind.” explained DD. “There will be gaps between the shops so that the colonialists can still get to their stone but no one on the street will care about what’s going on because of all the juicy shopping. There will also be a coffee shop on a corner opposite the Hong Kong Club”

Soldier lattes, from HK$45.

“The coffee shop should have a connected war memorial theme.” said PASCO, resuming caution. “It should be decorated in the style of European cafes that the soldiers drank lattes in before they went and got killed. And if we are going to give this all to a developer to muck about with, there had better be a museum of some sort to deflect flak.”

“A museum showing how these foreign soldiers got dead,” agreed DRWAP. “We can use some of the writing on the Zenotuff itself for a name. How about ‘Glorious Dead Museum’?”

“Better still, ‘Interactive Glorious Dead Museum.’ declared DD. “Benefits for students too. Neat”

“And who do we give this one to?” asked DDAP. “Some pacification is needed out there. The jealousy over Cheung Kong getting the Marine Police HQ has never really gone away, even though we gave Sino the Tai O one. And we are out of cop shops now. New World has been given Avenue of the Stars, which went down less than well with the public, and Wharf are feeling left out”

DRWAP became chair-like. “Wharf has got Star Ferry and Peak Tram they could lick into profitable shape. Turbo power the ferries and Maglev the tram, and to hell with the public. There is a new kid on the block, Sing Kong Globe, with whom my second cousin has a passing acquaintance.”

“Super!” called out DDAP. “Those clowns will make such a mess, it will be crying out for further improvement before they’re even finished.”

“As you know, this has already been approved in principle at the highest level of the Liaison Office, so let’s give SKG the good news and they give us a good dinner.”

AO Archie returned to the room to find the meeting not quorate and recorded postponement to a date to be decided.

Stuart Wolfendale

Stuart Wolfendale is a freelance columnist, critic and writer based in Hong Kong. He wrote a long running weekly column in the South China Morning Post, was daily diarist of the Eastern Express, back page columnist of the Hong Kong Standard and contributor to Spike magazine. He also trains people in presentation skills and public speaking.