15 May 2016

My One Minute with Regina 我和葉劉的一分鐘

My friend and I arrived at the front desk of a casual restaurant on the mezzanine floor of the Mandarin Oriental. There was a young couple standing in front of us. The maître d’ flashed a smile and led them down the long hallway into the dining hall. The restaurant didn’t look full, and so we waited our turn.

A few seconds later, two older women approached the restaurant and proceeded to stand right in front of us. They blocked our way, like two secret service agents ready to take a bullet for us if someone pulls out a gun. They showed no interest in making eye contact or acknowledging our presence. It was as if we were invisible to them.

Regina, which means "queen" in Latin

One of the women was hard to miss. She was Regina Ip, a senior member in C.Y. Leung’s cabinet and a divisive figure in local politics best known for her role in pushing a controversial anti-subversion bill in 2003. The bill failed, she resigned, and so did her then boss Tung Chee-hwa.

I decided not to make a fuss, for two reasons. First, I wanted to give Ip the benefit of the doubt. It was entirely possible that she just wanted to look for her friends who had already been given a table.

Second, I wanted to know if Ip would avoid the rookie mistake of behaving like a swaggering politician. After C.Y. Leung’s now-infamous “bag-gate” incident – the chief executive allegedly pressured airport staff to deliver a forgotten bag to his daughter at the boarding gate in violation of security protocols – it would be far too easy, almost stereotypical, to assume that all self-important government officials act above the law – and basic social etiquette.

And so I waited. Meanwhile, my friend Jeremy, who isn’t from around here, had no idea who this woman with an aggressive hairdo was. He started to give me looks, amused by the queue-jumpers.

The "first family" embroiled in bag-gate

A few more seconds later, the maître d’ – an impossibly gracious Eurasian woman – returned.

The moment of truth.

The maître d’ walked behind the counter and smiled to me and my friend. I smiled back and said, “For two, pleas….” I hadn’t even finished my sentence when Ip’s female companion lunged forward and made a “V” sign. “Table for two!” she growled.

“Is this woman for real?” Jeremy protested.

Confused, the maître d’ asked politely, “I’m sorry, but who got here first?”

“We did,” I said, giving a slight head tilt.

“But you see, we called the restaurant to let them know we were coming,” Ip finally spoke. I turned and stared at her, transfixed by her warped logic.

Ip saw the look on my face and said, “We really did, you can ask the restaurant!” 

I believed her. But it wasn’t the point.

“It doesn’t matter,” she conceded, “You two can go in front of us.”

“No, no, you two go ahead. It doesn’t matter to us either,” I countered, rejecting an offer that implied I was the one who had cut the line.

By then, the maître d’ had heard enough testimony from both plaintiffs and defendants. She must handle this kind of minor disputes several times a day.

“Right this way, gentlemen,” the maître d’ returned a verdict.

As she walked us down the hallway, the maître d’ furrowed her eyebrows and said, “I am really sorry about what just happened.” I wasn’t sure whether the half-Caucasian staffer had recognized Ip, but she wanted to apologize for her just the same.

“It’s not your fault,” Jeremy replied. He then turned to me and said, “Those two need to learn some manners and wait in line like everyone else!”

“Did you know who the taller woman was?” I asked my friend, before giving him a three-minute crash course on local politics.

“I don’t care if she was Michelle Obama!” Jeremy quipped. “Is that how things work in Hong Kong? Do all politicians think they don’t need to follow the rules?”

The "crime scene" at the Mandarin

That last question plunged me into deep thoughts. Jeremy might not know much about local politicians, but his remark summed up their holier-than-thou attitude rather accurately, even over an incident that seemed so insignificant.

I wasn’t angry with Ip. During our 60-second encounter, she was never rude – her companion was – but she wasn’t. She might have even passed for a nice lady. She was careful to avoid clichés like “Do you know who I am?” or “Manager! I need to speak to the manager!” – as so many of her peers would or could have said if placed in a similar situation. Even if she had thought it, she was smart enough not to say it.

Instead, I felt bad for her. As much as I find her political stance regrettable, Ip has a lot going for her. Her public service experience, education credentials and willingness to play ball with Beijing make her a formidable contender for the Government House. 

In the end, however, it won’t be her politics (she is an unabashed Beijing loyalist), or her naked ambition (she makes no secret of her aspirations for the top job), or even her superiority complex (she has been caught on camera giving reporters and service people a hard time) that will do her in. She is guilty on all three counts, of course, but none of them is politically fatal.

Her Achilles’ heel is her tone deafness, which explains why she has called foreign domestic workers seductresses of married men, compared wearing animal fur to eating meat, proposed to lock up asylum seekers in detention camps, and believed restaurant lines don’t apply to her if only she gives the manager a heads-up. She honestly believes she is right, convinced by twisted reasoning that makes sense only to her but that fails the most elementary of sanity checks. 

For decades, she has been living in a bubble, surrounded by hand-shakers and brown-nosers at her beck and call – like her lunch companion who had no qualms about riding on her coattails to reap even the smallest advantage in life. Over time, she loses the common touch, and so goes the common sense.

If and when she decides to throw her hat into the ring, Ip won’t be running against other hopefuls like John Tsang or Carrie Lam – she will be running against herself. And that’s the toughest battle in the world.

She made enemies of 350,000 FDWs


This article also appeared on Hong Kong Free Press.

As posted on Hong Kong Free Press


  1. I have always found Regina Ip to be quite intelligent but like you said this kind of incident is very telling. However, she or CY was able to pull off something like this because the service provider is willing to play along with them, which tells you the root cause is the culture of Hong Kong.

  2. Well, well ! I got myself completely clear now ! No wonder why my boss keep telling me recently : "Hey ! Jean, we better start arranging some social etiquette courses for our so-called 尊貴嘅 Senior Management." Then, I asked her why and any urgency on it ? She just said : " asap. " (Sighed)

    有時真係幾匪夷所思!都咁大個人啦!最基本嘅禮貌同尊重去哂边鼠呀! 唔通真係權力使人腐化,極度權力使人極度腐化 ! 都真係幾乞人憎!


  3. Jason,

    Thanks for writing such an excellent article out of a brief encounter set out in a casual and least crowded venue - a natural litmus test revelation - with the naked ambition woman who have always wanted the general public to acknowledge her as the HK woman with the iron fist; as one who have the willingness to go against all odds to dethrone CY any time and get on to the top job, come what may, if ONLY she receive blessings from the Central Government now or in the next HKSAR CE election in 2017.

    Time isn't the factor or worry for her as a contender, she seems well prepared to reign in the top post when that golden opportunity strikes. Her silent opponents are well aware of her ambitions as one who kept drooling for many years in her dreams - with aspirations openly to become the first female CE in HKSAR history.

    As a resident cum observer in HK seeing Regina Ip from her days as a civil servant till today as a legislator and executive councillor with CY Leung ( she was once well known locally as the broom head because of her hairdo), I have consistently noticed that she always had a bad taste in her mouth and never seemed to behave rationally but critically in the wrong side of the equation. Not sure if she always acted in that subtle way on purpose or to show her uniqueness from others. Her comments on the recent airport bag-gate incident were totally irrelevant and deplorable, given the fact that she was once the security chief before and after HK handover.

    In front of the media, she was and is still seen consistently to sway her stance to and fro on any public issue in accordance with public opinion and would always add a pinch of salt to show her stupidity, which in all cases ended up with a hostile and negative outcome to her image and character - being politically incorrect, not firm to her actual belief and indecisiveness. Would she be fit to be the upcoming HKSAR CE ?

    Regina always displayed herself as one of the top English Language gurus in HK, often critical of the local English standards as if she was a native English speaker ( whereas she herself spoke in Chinglish accent ) where she bragged to have earned a degree in English Language at HKU.

    To her credits, she had written a few books in English on how to improve the English Language skills for local children, she boasted of her mastery of English Language at the HK Book Fair. More so recently after her return from a break to pursue further studies in Stanford University following the failed Article 23 passage in HK, with a vengeance. Not sure if her mentor at Stanford was God Almighty as she always had his name in her mouth on HK critical issues. Then on universal suffrage, where he was more open and liberal, she tried to shun the question and kept away from his views.

    As a non-local person, Jeremy had well spotted the moments of truth on his encounter with Regina with no first-hand knowledge of who she was. Her attitude of snobbishness is consistent with her peers in the establishment. That will never change.

  4. After having read Regina's response to above post in your Facebook, I find it more compelling of cementing her "aloof" character, where she constantly considered she was always right no matter where and in whatever scenario.

    She gave the impression that with her high achievements so far in her civil and political career in society, as if she was and is obligated to special treatment in one and all casual events here or elsewhere.

    She may have been seen polite outwardly in this case given the bad images she already have had before with the media and the common people in the streets at large, her working style seemed to give the benefit of doubt to have the belief that she deserved that special status because of who she was and is, and one above the madding crowd - an extraordinary future HKSAR CE candidate with Central Government's blessings.

    Maybe because of her cookie-cut image of a distraught woman with that funny mouth gesture whenever she speaks out, she portrayed to beholders as to speak out not from her heart. ( This may not be right but emerged possibly out of her past tarnished image ?)

    No matter how strong her facts, analyses and viewpoints be, her unconvincing words often lacked that human inner natural humility and softness. She appeared as a faker, which she may not be, rightly.

    Probably, she was and is and will always be - nothing more than an over-confident " Ronald Duck Trump " style of someone that never be wronged, consciously or unconsciously ?

    It is hard to calibrate her feelings, during and after the one minute encounter reactions, as trivial when she countered that she had other better things to do.

    Overall, an utterly disgrace to get herself off from her clown-like act which she believed to be normal.

    To get herself to become HKSAR first woman CE, she should better polish up her image with some image consultants. Wish her luck.