Your tax dollars at work


A collective noun for Hong Kong public-works screw-ups? Coming up…

A complete and absolute Donald of white-elephant infrastructure horrors dominates today’s headlines. RTHK conveniently has them all: the Zhuhai Bridge artificial island is sort of moving; Express Rail Link contractors might stop work if the money runs out; and the Central Market re-uglification project will no longer feature something called a ‘floating garden’.

A fuller investigative piece on the Zhuhai Bridge thing is here by Howard Winn (formerly of the South China Morning Post, which apparently can’t bring itself to pick up the story). The problem is that the reclamation method used for the artificial island housing the border facilities – while relatively environmentally friendly – needs a long time to settle, in a sort of ‘now they tell us’ way.

The bad news is that this means the whole bridge connecting Hong Kong and Zhuhai will be delayed. The good news is that no-one will notice or care because the link is destined to serve no useful purpose anyway.

It could have made sense back in the Pearl River Delta export-manufacturing miracle boom days, but that’s history now. A fallback excuse for the project was that it would deliver billions and billions more Mainland tourists and shoppers into Tung Chung and Central, but of course that idea now goes down like a cup of cold vomit.

The unspoken reason for the bridge is that it symbolically attaches uppity, insufficiently de-colonized Hong Kong to a humdrum semi-crappy bit of the glorious motherland, which means ‘integration’, which is a Good Thing. Plus, of course, someone’s making a bundle out of all the contracts.

The Express Rail Link from Kowloon to Shenzhen similarly exists to satisfy some sort of psychological need to make Hong Kong appear connected with and absorbed into the rest of China. My hunch is that planning-oriented Communist ideologues are genuinely angered by maps that show the country’s high-speed rail network stopping at Shenzhen. Hong Kong, they would mutter, thinks it’s too important, too superior, too cool to be like all the other cities with their vaguely creepy-looking bullet trains. It must be forced to conform.

The big selling point was ‘You can get to Wuhan in five hours!! Yippee!!’ That failed to enthuse – as of course did the default alternative lure of ‘zillions of tourists’. So it’s just a Stan-RailLinkplain old white elephant. There is talk of work coming to a halt owing to unpaid bills. Sadly, this is far too good to be true, and is just a scare story designed to get extra billions flowing again. (The shortfall is HK$3 billion – mere beer money.)

Strolling to the office this morning, I helped a lost Scandinavian-accented backpacker. She said she was looking for Central Market. I replied that she was standing inside it. She asked how she could go upstairs. I said she couldn’t – it’s closed. So where, she asked, could she go to see the place where they sell the vegetables? Sparing her a trip to Park N Shop, I sent her off in the direction of Sheung Wan Municipal Services Building.

How many years ago did Central Market sell its last produce? I have no idea how you can spend so much time converting a largely open-plan four-floor building into an indoor park and food court. And then there’s the cost. It seems a six-month, HK$100 million job became a six-year, HK$1 billion one. All they had to do was knock a few old stalls out, give it a lick of paint and install some benches. Instead, according to the latest reports, the geniuses in charge have been unable to find a way to convert the rooftop into a public space without chucking half a billion bucks away, so they will now leave the roof as it has been all along. Or something. The public will have to be content with the rest of the building, assuming they live long enough to see this project completed.

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10 Responses to Your tax dollars at work

  1. Headache says:

    I believe the collective noun is a “boondoggle” of white elephants.

  2. LRE says:

    I think your Scandinavian backpacker might have been after Graham Street, the de facto Central Market, that is also scheduled to be turned into a charmless mall.

    <Donald-think&rt; Good thing, too because — as everyone in Hong Kong knows — tourists who come here are in desperate need of somewhere in Central to buy high-end watches, jewellery, “designer” goods, expensive Chinese medicine and milk powder all under one roof.

    Whereas who on earth would actually need fresh fruit, vegetables or meat!?

    And it goes without saying that cosmopolitan tourists like your Scandinavian would have zero interest in street markets selling such inconsequential and unnecessary fripperies as fruit veg and meat… <&sol;Donald-think&rt;

  3. Big Al says:

    I would have suggested “clusterfuck” as the collective noun for Hong Kong public-works screw-ups, but I’m happy with “Donald”. With such a breathtaking array of administrative ineptitude, where does one start? Maybe it would be simpler to find a Hong Kong public works project that didn’t Donald in some form or other? I’ll get back to you when I find it …

  4. Joe Blow says:

    Hemlock mentioned last week that the Coach tat emporium in Central had closed down. I noticed this week that triad-friend Albert Yeung of Emperor has closed down one of his major bling stores opposite Times Square. When is he going to switch off the giant video screens to save electricity ?

    See, things are not all bad.

  5. Chopped Onions says:

    Its cockney innit, as in, ” They’ve only gone and bleeding donald and ducked it, hav’int they?”

  6. RSG says:

    Hong Kong has essentially become China, just with a slight veneer of cosmopolitanism under which the same ugliness festers. For the moment, there are enough remnants of the colonial era to make the place vaguely livable on a day-to-day basis (government services and the overall environment are still somewhat better than in the Mainland, although that is a very low bar for a supposed “world city”) but these are, of course, slowly eroding under the incompetent and obviously corrupt HK ruling class.

    At least in Mainland China, you don’t have to spend so much money simply to exist in a place. In Hong Kong, thanks to absurd rents and therefore ridiculous pricing for everything else, you have to pay a fortune for the “privilege” of living in this mediocre has-been of a city. This place had a lot going for it yet it has managed to squander so much over the last two decades.

  7. With the exception of the occasional holiday period like Chinese New Year, every time I see a Hong Kong-Guangzhou through train on the East Rail line, it appears to be 90% empty. Clearly this indicates the massive demand for train travel between the two cities which the planners presumably confirmed before deciding on the High Speed link. I mean, only an idiot would build a massively expensive railway for which there is no demand, wouldn’t they? Er…

  8. Qian Jin says:

    If they can’t stop a small man-made island from shifting and eventually floating away down the Urmstom Road, what chance in hell do they have of preventing the planned third runway from meeting a similar fate? The water where the runway is to plonked down is even deeper and surface current even stronger.

    Bet most of you hadn’t heard of the Urmston Road in Hong Kong. “Dragon Drum Channel ” (龍鼓水道 ) in Chinese. It was named after a former chief of the East India Company, Sir James Brabazon Urmston. It might have been better to name the channel after his second name, ‘Brabazon’, a famous early motor racing pioneer, because anything plonked down in this water moves at almost the same speed of the word’s first racing cars.
    Many of us have always suggested that Hong Kong’s third runway should be shared with Shenzhen (at their airport). The latest leak suggests there is every possibility that this is where Hong Kong’s third runway will eventually settle, having been swept up the Pearl River.

  9. @Qian Jin – don’t things usually get swept down river rather than up? Still, if the third runway ends up somewhere far to the south of Hong Kong, this will be very convenient for the PRC government, as it will save them the trouble of building a runway on it to bolster their claim that it has always been part of Chinese territory since ancient times. Meanwhile I am sure our dolphins and a large part of the Hong Kong population will not mourn its departure.

  10. RSG says:

    @Outside Influence

    As a frequent traveler between both cities, I can assure you that during peak times (Fri-Sun, as well as weekday mornings and evenings), the through train is pretty much jam-packed. You need to buy southbound tickets at least 2-3 days in advance unless you are traveling in the middle of the week, in the middle of the day. During holiday times, this only gets worse. I’ve been traveling on the through train for almost 8 years, and it gets progressively more crowded every year. A few years ago, most trains were half empty but that is no longer the case.

    That being said, I still prefer the through train rather than crossing at Shenzhen, with the interminable lines. And the pending connection to Guangzhou South Station (actually in Panyu) will only be useful if you want to connect up to the national high speed network.

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