Who paid for the ‘sponsored feature’ that takes up the top half of page A4 in this morning’s South China Morning Post? Stupid question. I did. The government, in its desperation to spend HK$1.5 billion of taxpayer’s money (or whatever the latest estimate is) per kilometer on its high-speed rail project, is now dipping into our pockets again to buy space in the media to convince its 7 million child-like citizens that it’s a brilliant idea.
The headline screams that a project already HK$30 billion over-budget will make us richer. A rather thuggish-looking landlord/restaurateur/government spokesman Allan Zeman declares it will change our lifestyle. That’s one way of putting it: cost over-runs bring the total cost up to HK$100 billion and half our hospitals and schools close. (Neglecting to consider that readers, or at least their stomachs, may be of a sensitive disposition at this hour of the morning, The Standard’s Mary Ma editorial insists that the rail network will “pump unlimited nutrients from the mainland into Hong Kong.” Eeww.)
Aside from dangling before us the lure of five-hour rides to Wuhan, the advertisement tells the tale of easy-to-relate-to football fan Alex Cheung, who boards this space-age transport system one fine day in 2015 and marvels at the speed with which he is taken to the throbbing metropolis that is Shibi (the suburb 45 minutes by metro away from downtown Guangzhou, where we all assumed the high-speed rail station would be). The tone of breathless wonder brings to mind those old forecasts decades back of how we would live in 2000: Dad flies to work in his personal helicopter, while mom makes a glorious dinner out of little plastic packets zapped with gamma rays powered by free electricity thanks to our friend the atom.
What happens next to Alex, as, wiping the last dribble of gourmet coffee from his chin, he steps off the hypersonic module onto the gleaming platform of the Shibi intergalactic transport hub and makes his way past the ranks of robot-porters out into the dazzling new world of connectivity that will ultimately benefit a variety of sectors? Sadly, we hear no more of him. We simply get quotes from a ‘government paper’ assuring us, with an air of hope rather than conviction, that this is an opportunity we can “ill-afford to miss out upon.” But what more can we expect from an advertisement created by civil servants pushing the expenditure of HK$69 billion-and-counting on a 16-mile stretch of rail?