Infrastructure update

The Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai Bridge, which is now set to cost Hong Kong taxpayers a mere HK$87 billion, will be delayed for a further year or so. The problem is to do with laying tubes under the seabed (thanks to amazing breakthroughs by scientists in Guangdong Province, this will be the world’s first underwater bridge). Apparently, everyone assumed the bottom of the Pearl River estuary had been scraped clean, and indeed shiny, by decades of trawling. It now seems that through some freakish accident of submarine geology, the seabed has sand on it, and this means the project will take more time and – I swoon with shock on learning this – money. For reasons that non-engineers are of course too stupid to understand.

The good news is that no-one from Hong Kong has any particular need or desire to go to Zhuhai anyway; the place is just a smaller, shoddier Shenzhen – though in fairness it has some OK seafood places. The South China Morning Post says the new link will cut travel time from 3 hours to 30 minutes. They are assuming the only existing connection is by road (via the Humen Bridge). In fact, on a door-to-door basis, the trip by the new bridge will be little or no faster than on the existing ferry services. This also goes for Macau, which is too small to accommodate extra traffic, and so will be insulated from the bridge by a sort of truck-stop buffer zone. As, now I think of it, will Hong Kong be for Mainland-registered cars (unless our transport geniuses decide Central can handle thousands more vehicles). So no need to panic about the delay: the bridge is destined to be largely unused, unless theySCMP-ZhuhaiBridge move the Standard Chartered Marathon onto it.

If this were the only white-elephant snag, we might overlook it. But we have a second that’s quite similar: the high-speed rail link to a suburb of Guangzhou we can never remember the name of. Setting us all back HK$71.5 billion and rising, this mega-project is also running into unforeseen difficulties. Apparently, when contractors dug down under the ground beneath Kowloon and the New Territories, they found an extensive mass of strange grey material with little black specks. To the naked eye, it looks rather like the flesh of dragon fruit. However, to the engineers’ horror, the substance turned out to be extremely hard and therefore very difficult to dig through. Scientific analysis showed the mysterious material was a stuff called ‘rock’. Experts at the MTR are striving to overcome this astonishing and unexpected challenge as we speak.

Again, the good news is that no-one wants or needs the high-speed rail anyway. Apart from a dozen passengers per week who want to visit [insert name of that GZ suburb], the target market is people who prefer to take 10 hours to get to Beijing/Shanghai by rail rather than take a three-hour flight. In other words, only a dozen other idiots. Plus another 36.2 million Mainland shoppers. So relax: no-one will miss it.

But wait! There’s more!

Back in the mid-1990s, Hong Kong’s last governor, Chris Patten, decided that a bit of Airport Express-linked reclamation off South West Kowloon would make an ideal and badly needed park for all humble citizens to enjoy. After the 1997 handover, the new regime thought this wasteful, as only a few ice-cream concessions would make any money. Instead, the area would be a ‘tourism’ attraction, possibly with a stadium. Then someone pointed that this was also a waste, as people could make even more money if the area was zoned for luxury housing – with developers having to run an arts-hub museum on the side to make it look like something for the public good. After the public saw through this scam, officials had a big tantrum and decided that, if the community wanted to waste money, they would waste tons and tons and tons of it, so there.

The result was the West Kowloon Cultural Arts Concept Themed Mega-Hub Zone District Project as we know it – a visionary plan for a huge rectangular concrete centerpiece building, alongside a huge square concrete building, across from a huge lantern-shaped concrete building, next to a long row of medium-sized oblong concrete buildings, all linked by flat concrete with plastic palm trees and dedicated to displaying pretty pictures and hosting much-treasured and wildly popular traditional Xiqu events. Most exciting of all: the mega-zone hub complex would have a giant underground parking area that, after much effort, bureaucrats calculated could become the Solar System’s most expensive ever basement, with an ever-rising price tag leaping from HK$13 billion to HK$23 billion just for starters.

Unlike the Zhuhai Bridge and High-Speed Rail, which were whims of ‘integration’ and ‘cooperation’ with the motherland, the Cultural Mega-Arts Zone Hub Concept had to have an avowed purpose – hence the aforementioned pretty pictures and music. So they needed an exotic foreigner whose official job would be to sort out paintings and singers and things, because they know all about that. But the problem is, they keep leaving (and we’re paying them big bucks). Hong Kong eagerly awaits the next thrilling episode of this saga.

As a light relief from large-scale infrastructure trauma, along comes Civil Aviation boss Norman Lo. When no-one was looking, he added extra features to his department’s new headquarters. I’m not sure how exactly a civil servant can change architectural plans and interior layout and designs without telling (let alone asking) anyone, but apparently you can. Or at least, up to a point. Then – bless them – our much-maligned Legislative Council members find out and lay into the guy.

Zhuhai Bridge, High Speed Rail, Arts Mega-Zone Hub and now the Civil Aviation boss’s en-suite luxury bathroom, and the pink Hello Kitty toilet with hot and cold bidet functions, warm air drier, built-in rice cooker, plays a medley of hit movie themes. Norman Lo: total amateur.

Yes, you’re in the wrong business


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17 Responses to Infrastructure update

  1. Maugrim says:

    Where will Michael Tien find another Westerner to lambast this time? In fact, where will the WK precinct get another Westerner themselves to replace the one they’ve just lost?

  2. reductio says:

    So much to comment on today, it’s difficult to pick. Bull-Shui, that’s the one. Well, my view is that if someone is daft enough to believe that pile of garbage and fork out 10 very big ones to comabat “evil powers” (Alan Zeman?) then more fool them. If she’d gone here:

    She could have saved a lot of money.

    Hold on…teaching geomancy at a university???

  3. Stephen says:

    Excellent Update.

    But wait you’ve missed one – The “we must have a third runway or we will face economic ruin” which apparently will leap from the drawing board to land reclaiming soon. Anyone with eyes in their head knows that on the otherside of that bridge are two airports, built around the same time as Chek Lap Kok, where mostly tumbleweed rolls down the runway. Of course it’s impossible to link them (Runways 3 & 4)according to the self-serving vacuous twat from Cathay although I forget why.

    How’s cruise ship hub going ?

  4. PD says:

    Maybe the numbers are being secretly massaged to form a sequence like 689 or 666 or 4444 or something?

    What we need now is a hub to daisy chain all the white elephants together. It would need to be west of the west Kowloon thingie and east of the airport. How about an island somewhere off Green Island? Drat! The Transylvanian’s already been there…

    I suggest Henry Tang be put in charge of the $23bn basement. And while we’re at it, why not employ the evil foreign overseas Vietnamese for the Fung Shui and the mould-prone concrete areas?

  5. Scotty Dotty says:

    This summary is bloody good.

    Where else to start but the root problem! Which is the reserves left by the British plus their continued expansion through limited land supply.

    Before the handover this largesse was handled by mature public administrators. Since 1997 Hong Kong has been burdened with inflantile and over-promoted “leaders” playing at grown up jobs without the brains or balls to do so properly. Hong Kong has drifted, step-by-step, into a surreal zone of huge cash reserves controlled by decision-shy nincompoops prone to kowtow the nearest overlord, or tycoon, or anyone whose shoes need a good shine. The result is these useless public mega projects.

  6. Jason90 says:

    Let’s hope the ‘superstitious paranoid’ woman is successful in her claim against the Fung Shui Master. If so, we should all be able sue the much wealthier organised religions (and even cults – whether benign or evil) when our prayers are not answered….
    Better hurry though, before they are cleaned out by the multiple suits brought by victims of priestly paedophilia.
    I wonder what the freehold on St John’s Cathedral is worth?

  7. Cassowary says:

    Budget planning according to the HKG:
    We can’t give out cash handouts again, why, people might get used to them! Universal health insurance? Oh, no no. It would lead to structural deficits! What should we do with this giant pile of money, then? How about another bridge to nowhere? Excellent idea!

  8. Qian Jin says:

    You will eventually be proven wrong and have to eat your own hat over your condemnation of the expense on the integrated high speed rail link. It will be an almost instant success.

    Nobody these days is ever able to fly to from Hong Kong to Shanghai in three hours. I have the proof if you want it. The last three trips …..about 8 hours door to door and the most stressful and unpleasant of airport negotiation experiences one has ever encountered perhaps except for getting to and from Ukraine’s Donetsk Airport.


    Again, the good news is that no-one wants or needs the high-speed rail anyway. Apart from a dozen passengers per week who want to visit [insert name of that GZ suburb], the target market is people who prefer to take 10 hours to get to Beijing/Shanghai by rail rather than take a three-hour flight. In other words, only a dozen other idiots. Plus another 36.2 million Mainland shoppers. So relax: no-one will m

  9. reductio says:

    @Qian Jin

    Like the bit about the Ukraine airport but I would AVOID WRITING IN CAPS LIKE THIS AS IT MAKES YOU OUT AS A NUTTER.

    Just my view.

  10. Why don’t we divert the high speed rail line to Shenzhen airport instead of [insert name of suburb here]? Then we won’t need a third runway, and the rail link could actually serve a useful purpose. As for the Arts Hub, it must be the only one in the world to have had multiple rounds of public consultation about what buildings should sit on the site and not a single one about what artistic activities the public would like it to house. In a sensible city (i.e. one not dominated by property developers) one would determine the cultural needs first, then design the buildings to accommodate them.

  11. LRE says:

    On the whole: “Fung shui expert ‘exploited victim’” story, I just can’t help but think: How the hell does this make headlines?! What next — “Mainland ‘locusts’ mostly come in China”?!?! “Pope reveals he is Catholic”!?!? “Beijing’s 2017 plan for universal suffrage not really democracy”?!?

    You nutter. 😉

  12. Monkey Reborn says:

    Great post Hemlock.

    If you are or were a HKG taxpayer, or own a company paying corporate profits tax, try and read below without getting angry.

    a) Elephant-by-elephant breakdown

    21.6b HKD Concrete buildings for philistines in Kowloon Elephant
    87.5b HKD Bridge to nowhere Elephant
    81b HKD XRL link (semi-elephant)
    7.2b HKD Cruise terminal elephant

    Wildlife fund in support of albino elephants (a.k.a. HKG tycoon social welfare fund) funded by HKG gov: 197.5b HKD

    c) Demographics

    No. of residents in Hong Kong: 7,184,000
    Tycoon welfare support per resident: 27,491 HKD per person

    No. of income taxpayers in Hong Kong: 1,630,000
    Tycoon welfare support per income taxpayer: 121,166 HKD per taxpayer.

    Numbers are from web sources and may be a little out of date of incorrect. Also these numbers ignore the other sources of income from the government, like corporate taxes. However I suspect that a detailed cost/benefit analysis in relation to the total Elephant related wealth transfer to the construction and development industry (dominated by a few tycoons), and the total share of corporate tax paid by them (all tax avoiders with byzantine BVI or Cayman corporate holding structures), versus the tax paid and benefit received as a result of gov Elephant “investments” by the corporate sector as a whole in Hong Kong, would yield even scarier and more infuriating numbers.

    They told us it was government investment that would benefit us all; we didn’t realize they meant “us” as in the bureaucratic-tycoon elite, and that by “investment” they really meant “massive inequitable, hidden transfer payments, a.k.a. system-facilitated theft”, until the PLA imposed martial law to preserve social stability, and all the tycoons and bureaucratics used their second passports and … left, without nary a backward glance, pockets filled, hearts empty.

  13. Monkey Reborn says:

    @ Qian Jin

    Surprisingly, I find myself in agreement with you. I would take a civilized 6 hour train journey over a 2-3 hour “unexpected delay” sitting in a crowded departure lounge in Hongqiao or Pudong, then 2 hours sitting on the tarmac with a planeful of our always tense and repressed, occasionally explosively angry, rude and aggressive, mainland compatriots, then 2 more hours on said flight. Especially if for reasons of cost or scheduling I am travelling to SZ Baoan, and need to do the taxi queue and then deal with Futian and or Luohu as a second ordeal.

    However, despite my personal desire for the high speed rail link, or the application of some common sense and sensitivity for the “Glorious Masses” who actually use the transport system in the “Motherland” (as opposed to the private jet employing mainland bureaucrat elite, who make our bureaucrats seem like a rather dour bunch who lack style and aplomb, rather like comparing the Mexicano narco-mafia to Burmese gangster mafia), I fear the XRL is nevertheless an albino elephant, from the perspective of the costs and benefits to Hong Kong society when measured as a whole.

    A good alternative to your problem would be to petition the central gov to demonstrate action, to seek truth from facts, and acknowledge there is no modern, developed nation state which allows its military to manage and control civilian airspace *on a day-to-day* operational basis. I wouldn’t, however, advise complaining in person in BJ, unless you are prepared to embark on a Kafka-esque journey of absurdity through quantum space and time, to places that don’t exist, like black jails, and talk to people who don’t exist, like local gov financed thugs, about your subversive intent as a foreign-influenced “infiltrator” to enjoy timely, punctual domestic air travel … and experience that which doesn’t exist, like the perfect application of the socialist rule of law in the context of the clear facts and characteristics of today’s social situation in China, or express your “make-believe” constitutional rights, enshrined in the glorious but non-existent constitution of the People’s Republic of China.

    For the all the oppressed masses in the whole world, by the people of China, may the Vanguard party of our Glorious Revolution move forward and vanquish, destroy, and crush into dust all opponents and enemies of the Glorious Revolution of Chinese Socialism and rejuvenation of our Glorious Chinese Nation. Amen. And make a lot of money doing it. Amen amen.

  14. Scotty Dotty says:

    @ Monkey Reborn

    Thanks for those excellent figures on how much waste the Hong Kong government has ploughed into unnecessary infrastructure.

    It’s a perfect reminder of the “Crony Capitalism” index run by The Economist last year (2014): Technically: “Billionaire wealth as % of GDP”

    The sane world might have been shocked at Eastern European crypto-communist-turned-capitalists in Russia nabbing 20% (ie, a few billionaires controlled a fifth of the economy) given this was just a little higher even than oil-rich Ukraine (18%). And those Eastern Europeans simply had matched the longer established thieving by Singapore Lee’s familiy and buddies who in 2014 owned 19% of that former British colony. By comparison, bent black ANC politicians in South Africa even after thieving countless white farms and industry had stolen a mere 9% of the republic.

    Hong Kong on the other hand… holy moly. Repeat. HOLY M-O-L-Y. The fragrant harbour is without doubt the biggest reallocation of wealth in human history, thank you Peking. The Hong Kong “Crony capitalism” index score is a staggering 78%.

    More directly: a few Peking-supported Hong Kong billionaires, corrupt and wicked every one, now own 8-in-10 of every teeny bit of Hong Kong.

    There is simply no other place on earth than Hong Kong that has allowed so much theft by billionaires.

    Prepare to cough into your coffee:

  15. Chinese Netizen says:

    Excellent mash up today both by owner and commenters! Love this site.
    So it’s official…ivory tusk “hub” notwithstanding, we now have an official (white) elephant preserve that is called Hong Kong.
    I love it when clueless, pseudo refined (just because they may have studied in the UK once and drink imported wine), but non visionary and Confucian raised-since-youth to respect nothing but successful zillionaires or powerful despots – government bureaucrats become the arbiters of what is cultural and aesthetic.

  16. PD says:

    I propose we have 3 rounds of public discussion on the colour of the toilets in the Great Exorbitant Cultural Car Hole.

    Monkey Reborn goes from strength to strength! Not that Hemlock and the others are any less brilliant!

  17. gumshoe says:

    I always say if you feel trapped in the airplane, just open that emergency hatch and take a breather. I’m the guy who opened the emergency exit on the plane. He’s me.

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