THIS is not normal. This is not normal. This is not normal. If you do not take regular trips outside Hong Kong, I would strongly advise you to spend some time every week repeating the above mantra. Otherwise, you risk falling into the trap of thinking that the way things are done here is the way things are done in mature, civilised, modern societies. And that is an egregious error. Foreign correspondents have a useful little trick which they use to keep themselves from being seduced into sharing the mindsets of the places where they have been posted. It is called Substitutions, and it is really a kind of reality check. It is particularly helpful following an event like the recent Hong Kong election. This is how you play: you make a list of recent reports - unexceptional Hong Kong stories that appear in the pages of this and other papers. Then you go through the list and replace all the proper nouns (and sometimes 'improper' nouns) with names and places from outside Hong Kong. All of a sudden, the scales fall from our eyes and we see our society as the bizarre place it really is. The following tales originated in Hong Kong. In brackets afterwards, you will find the word or words that have been replaced. 1. A record voter turnout gave the Labour Party a resounding mandate in the British election yesterday. However, the Conservative Party will rule. (Democratic Party, pro-Beijing parties) 2. The Los Angeles Police Department was called to intervene when a riot broke out outside a downtown doughnut shop last night. Protesters explained that many of them had been holding thousands of doughnut vouchers for years 'as a form of investment'. (Hong Kong Police, cake shop) 3. Music promoters using New York's Madison Square Gardens auditorium have been told that they can henceforth only feature heavy-metal rock groups who play quietly. (Hong Kong Stadium, concerts) 4. In his inaugural speech, United States President Bill Clinton said: 'Today is a joyous day for all Caucasian people . . . We will continue to encourage diversity in our society, but we must also reaffirm and respect the fine traditional values of whites.' (Tung Chee-hwa, Chinese) 5. In a US court, alleged mobster John Gotti denied charges that he was involved in organised crime. Unfortunately for him, the same day a movie he financed started playing on cinema screens, showing in detail his rise from small-time punk to major gangster. (Macau, Broken Tooth Koi, triad chief) 6. A Bodyshop picture of a slightly overweight doll was ruled too obscene to be shown in the London Underground yesterday. However, Wacoal posters of under-nourished models with the slogan 'Be slim, be glamorous', were cleared for display at all stations. (Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway) 7. The British people are not ready for democracy and will not be until well into the next millennium, Tony Blair told a meeting of international financiers last night. (Hong Kong people, Tung Chee-hwa) 8. This highly desirable Connecticut townhouse also includes larger-than-usual servants' quarters measuring a total of five feet 10 inches by four feet six inches. (Hong Kong flat, amah's room) 9. Legal experts in Paris confirmed that the French constitution specifies that French nationality can only be granted to persons of Caucasian race. (Hong Kong, Basic Law, Chinese) 10. A Canadian spent the equivalent of US$1.7 million to buy a car licence plate bearing the number '5'. He explained that he did so because 'five' rhymes with 'alive', which he felt was a positive statement. (Hong Kong citizen, '9', longevity) 11. A Spanish company arranging for a Hong Kong Chinese businessman to be met at Madrid Airport, organised a man to stand at the arrival gate with a sign saying 'Mr Chink'. (Hong Kong company, Western businessman, Heathrow, 'Mr Gweilo') 13. In Rome yesterday, the country's Obscene Articles Tribunal ruled that a photograph of the Venus de Milo was obscene, because her trunk was unclothed. (Hong Kong, Michelangelo's David) 14. When 12 Grand Citizen Medals were handed out at a ceremony in Berlin yesterday, the police band played a stirring march called Be A Brave Caucasian. (Grand Bauhinia Medals, Be A Brave Chinese) 15. In New York, a Wall Street broker, explaining his lateness and dishevelled appearance, explained: 'Sorry, I'm late. My domestic servant didn't turn up for work this morning and I don't know how to dress myself.' He was only half joking. (Hong Kong, Exchange Square) Repeat the above exercise once a month to get life in Hong Kong back into perspective.