Michael Elliott

Michael Elliott

A weeklong electronic journal.
April 5 1997 3:30 AM

Michael Elliott

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       Spend morning polishing my speech to the American Chamber of Commerce. Title: "The City of Survivors," which is what we're calling the Newsweek special issue on Hong Kong, due out at the end of April. I usually wing speeches from a few notes, but I write this one out in longhand. Ever since we did a cover story a year ago accusing the business community of betraying Hong Kong, Newsweek has been controversial in more conservative circles here. Anything I say is going to be analyzed and reported so, for once, I prepare my remarks quite carefully.
       Fine; but the bore about this is that if I've written a speech, I've got to read it. And if I'm going to read it, I need to wear my reading glasses, harbinger of the detumescent years for those of us in our mid-40s. So I stand at the podium in my $18 CVS drugstore glasses, looking my age, which I am vain enough to find a drag. And because I'm reading, rather than declaiming, I keep my head down and--undoubtedly--mumble into my chin more than I normally would. The Q-and-A session, when I can wax lyrical and keep my head up (though I'm still careful what I say), goes better than the speech itself.
       After lunch, I head off to Government House for an interview with Chris Patten, the governor. The house itself is a pleasant example of colonial architecture--wide halls, airy, reminding one how awful life must have been here before air conditioning, one of those humdrum inventions that changed the world. Chris is his usual articulate, thoughtful self, quotes de Tocqueville on the importance of the rule of law, and evinces a quiet pride when considering the legacy of 150 years of British rule here. Since it's the last time that I'll ever visit the house in its present capacity (who knows what the Chinese will do with it--a Museum of Colonial Atrocities?), I play tourist and get our photographer to take a shot of me and Patten under the portico. Then, a pleasant surprise. Waiting in the anteroom is another old friend, Tessa Blackstone, Labor Party big cheese in the House of Lords, all-but-certain minister when Tony Blair becomes British prime minister on May 2. Tessa and her daughter have been visiting Hong Kong for a few days. We're on the same plane to London tomorrow night and arrange to meet up.
       Five days away, and I'm ready to go home--though I won't get back to New York until Monday night. I miss the kids--I mean, I miss the wife too, you understand, but as always on trips like this, I really miss the kids. It's a weird thing (if you haven't got children, you don't have to read the next bit), but the only really wallopingly strong emotion that most of us feel after a certain age is love of children. Yet you hardly ever see it figure in works of the imagination--in songs, films, even novels. Why is that?
       Thinking of children brings on guilt. I've had so much to do all week that I haven't done a minute's shopping. There's a dinner party tonight, an invitation to late-night drinks after it, a TV interview tomorrow morning, and somehow, I've got to find time to buy Roxana a nest of lacquered jewelry boxes and Gina a doll with a blue silk dress--and she was very particular about the blue. And I want to look for an antique map of Hong Kong for myself, to remind me at home (not that I need the visual aid) of the place that has shrugged off typhoons, a devastating war, and one of the world's greatest influxes of refugees; a city that has had to transform its economy continually; whose future has been under a cloud for years; whose wild, free society is now being transferred to the stewardship of China--and yet whose spirit brilliantly, indomitably, survives.

Michael Elliott is the editor of Newsweek International.