HOW often have you heard the lament ''you just can't get the right staff these days'' after some minor glitch at a Hong Kong hotel? After an event earlier this month, Hilton general manager James Smith will doubtless be joining the chorus of disapproval. Smith was visiting The Ritz Carlton's Presidential Suite for the territory's first single malt whisky tasting, which is the nearest to paradise on earth for a Scotsman like him. He was so taken with the proceedings he decided to call the Hilton Grill to get the staff there to explain to a guest he was meeting for dinner that he would be late. In his piercing Caledonian tones, readily overheard by the other judges, Smith told the Hilton's operator: ''Smith here, get me the Hilton Grill on the second floor.'' Then, as his face creased in bewilderment, the hotel boss barked out: ''Smith! Smith! Smith! What do you mean how do you spell it! This is James Smith - your bloody general manager!'' THE opening of the Conrad Hotel back in August 1990 was, in hindsight, very badly timed. To be fair, few people could have predicted Saddam Hussein would be marching the Iraqi army into Kuwait in the same month. But it meant the hotel started in a costly slump as the tourist trade dried up because travellers feared Scud missiles were going to blow their aircraft out of the skies. Four years later, Conrad general manager Dario Regazzoni is taking no chances with the $32 million refurbishment of the hotel lobby and ballroom. He has engaged a fung shui man to poke around the hotel and look over the plans, and especially the vast mural that a team of four French artists is currently painting. The original plans for the artwork included a tiger. ''What sort of tiger is it?'' the fung shui man demanded. ''If he is too fierce then his aggression will spread through the hotel!'' So the tiger was culled from the design. Soon afterwards the projected columns with a baroque twist were given the thumbs down on the grounds that the deliberate distortion might create the same effect in the rest of the Conrad. Happily the artist, Benoit Dupuis, had worked in Hong Kong and was aware of the vagaries of fung shui, and was willing to amend his design. However, Regazzoni's adherence to local customs goes only so far. The lobby and ballroom open on September 1 - was this date auspicious? ''Er . . . no, not really,'' a bemused Regazzoni said. ''That is the day I wanted it to open.'' EACH week the number of lighted windows in the Harbour City development drops as tenants move out in advance of owners Wharf Holdings' plans to raze it and build offices and flats in its place. The change is reflected in a room in Wharf's corporate headquarters on the 26th floor of Worldwide House which has two large pictures of the site taken from Victoria Harbour. One shows the vista as it stands with Harbour City erect, and the next is an artist's impression of what the remodelled scene will look like. Moored to Ocean Terminal in the first picture is the Wharf boat, the Pacific Princess. Strangely the corporate cruiser is nowhere to be seen in the second one, leaving the viewer to wonder if it is to be scuttled at sea before the redevelopment is completed. MORE news of Claire Marshall, manager of STAR TV's music service Channel V who told the Sunday Morning Post earlier this month that ''drugs have no place in rock and roll''. Marshall, it seems, has been telling colleagues in Channel V's Hunghom headquarters that when she was a mere stripling, 19 to be exact, she was a girlfriend of the latest screen heart throb, Englishman Hugh Grant. Posters for Grant's smash hit Four Weddings And A Funeral have sprouted all over Hong Kong, although the premiere has been delayed by the popularity of Keanu Reeves' Speed. Constantly seeing her former close companion's handsome mug with its toothsome smile must surely be agony for Marshall.