It’s funny how one incident can rocket a politician from obscurity to public figure overnight. Consider Mr Ma Fung-kwok.

Until last week Mr Ma was an obscure piece of government lobby-fodder. He sits in LegCo for the Sports, Arts, Culture and Publication functional constituency and is the convenor of a minor political entity called the New Century Forum, which is a sort of Taste to the DAB’s Park’n’Shop. Same goods, higher prices, nicer décor.

Mr Ma, who also sits in the NPC on our behalf, has not been a political skyrocket though he was at one time counted among the early admirers of C.Y. Leung.

Ma Fung-kwok. File Photo:

His connection with culture, apart from sundry advisory posts in the gift of the government, is as managing director of a company called Major Trend Entertainment Ltd. This is a small company – it admits on the TDC website to one to five staff – with global ambitions in the “video products distribution business”.

It lists its major markets as “Africa, Australasia, Central & South America, China, Eastern Europe, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Middle East, North America, Other Asian Countries, Scandinavia, Southeast Asia, Taiwan, Western Europe.“

This suggests that Mr Ma is a seasoned traveller, which makes the story of his ascent to public joke rather a puzzle, because it occurred at the airport.

According to newspaper reports Mr Ma was passing through the usual security screening when the person who stares at an X-ray of your hand luggage noticed that there was a receptacle in the Ma backpack larger than the official limit, which is 100 millilitres.

Mr Ma seems to have supposed that since the 200-millilitre container – a tube of hair gel – was more than half empty it should not have been intercepted. He was invited to throw it away and refused.

The hair gel model that Ma Fung-kwok used. Photo: Gatsby.

So far this is the sort of little misunderstanding that could happen to anyone. I have personally lost two sets of scissors to the security screeners. My wife was deprived of a tiny screwdriver of the kind you use to adjust the screws on your spectacles. A colleague had to donate a very nice bottle of wine to the Perth airport.

If Mr Ma had ditched his gel we would have heard nothing of it. However, an argument then ensued. In this Ma mentioned that he was a Legislative Councillor. He further dropped the name of Fred Lam, the chief executive of the airport authority.

In the end he was allowed to keep the tube of gel, in violation of security rules. This was, as might have been expected, written up as an example of a bigwig taking advantage of his status to bully humble airport employees into bending the rules.

Mr Ma later tried to repair matters in chats with other reporters. He did not dispute that he had mentioned his legislative status, or dropped the name of Mr Lam. These ingredients in the conversation had got there innocently, he said. He also apologised for any misunderstanding, which was nice of him.

The legislator bit came up but “he only mentioned he was a lawmaker as he was concerned about airport security measures”. The mention of Lam? He “mentioned Lam’s name because the second staff member who spoke to him claimed to be the highest ranking airport official, so Ma corrected him”.

Fred Lam. Photo: GovHK.

Well Mr Ma is entitled to the benefit of the doubt. I confess, though, to having some difficulty in envisaging conversations in which innocent mistakes of this kind might be made.

“You can’t take that on board, Sir.”

“Why not?”

“Airport security rules, Sir.”

“But I’m very concerned about airport security.”

“That’s what they all say, Sir, why should I believe you?”

“I have to be concerned about airport security because I am a Legislative Councillor… Oops, I wasn’t going to mention that…”

The matter of Mr Lam coming up also presents some difficulty. Suppose you are buying a tube of hair gel in Watson’s. A difference of opinion arises. You ask to speak to the boss.

“I am the boss,” replies the staff person you are talking to. Do you at this point say “No you are not the boss. My friend Li Ka-shing is the boss”?

Departure hall of the Hong Kong International Airport. Photo: GovHK.

Well there we are. Mr Ma is entitled to be presumed innocent, and innocent I am sure he is. What bothers me is the fact that someone of such an age and social eminence is using hair gel.

I am reminded of the old etiquette dilemma, the cause of much social soul-searching among young Prussian officers in the early 1900s. If you are dancing with the Colonel’s wife and your monocle falls down her décolletage, what do you do? Pursue it, ask the lady to pursue it, dance on and pretend nothing has happened?

The answer to this question, according to the crusty (fictional) general in H.H. Kirst’s Officer Factory, is that a man who wears a monocle is a fop, and no fop can become an officer.

I am not concerned whether Mr Ma takes his hair gel to Beijing with him or not. Why is he using it at all?

Diligent examination of the various Ma photos on the internet suggests that Mr Ma is having a problem common among men in his age group. Areas of his head which formerly supported a lush crop of vegetation are now barren. Part of his scalp is, if you will excuse a four-letter word, bald.

Mr Ma’s solution is the technique known to men of my generation as the Bobby Charlton comb-over. Mr Charlton was an eminent footballer whose hair artifices always disintegrated under the stress of combat, leaving an interesting lopsided effect which lasted until he got back to the dressing room.

What you do is to let the hair at the side, where you still have hair, grow very long. You then plaster it over the top of your head, concealing the bare skin beneath.

This could be considered a controversial method for a legislative councillor. If we cannot trust a man to be honest about the state of his scalp, how can we trust him about more important matters?

But for a representative of the arts and culture we can perhaps suggest some more creative solutions, pioneered by cultural icons which whom we are all familiar. I suggest Mr Ma could be invited to choose from:

The Elton John Solution: wear a wig which is so outrageous that nobody can mistake it for real hair. It’s just an indoor hat.

Elton John. Photo: Flickr/David Shankbone.

The Yul Brynner/Telly Savalas Solution: shave it all off and go for a smooth dome. I understand some ladies find this look very appealing.

Tim Hamlett

Tim Hamlett came to Hong Kong in 1980 to work for the Hong Kong Standard and has contributed to, or worked for, most of Hong Kong's English-language media outlets, notably as the editor of the Standard's award-winning investigative team, as a columnist in the SCMP and as a presenter of RTHK's Mediawatch. In 1988 he became a full-time journalism teacher. Since officially retiring nine years ago, he has concentrated on music, dance, blogging and a very time-consuming dog.