March 22, 2007
As weak as...

Colloquial Australian have many uses of the word "piss", including to emphasise the weakness of something or alcoholic beverages. For example, "American piss is piss-weak". Bear that in mind while reading this from today's (unlinkable but soon to be improved) SCMP on a test done in some Chinese hopsitals:

Can analysis of a cup of green tea indicate that you are sick? The answer is probably yes - if you are having a test done at a hospital in Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province. Television journalists, investigating viewers' complaints that they had been overcharged in hospitals, passed off the tea as urine samples and submitted them for tests.

Six out of 10 hospitals, including two state-owned provincial-level ones, said they found white blood corpuscles or red blood cells in the samples and concluded that the "patient's" urinary tract was infected. Five of the six hospitals prescribed medicine costing up to 1,300 yuan. The Zhejiang Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine, rated one of the best in the province, suggested the patient undergo liver function tests.

"The samples were taken from the same cup of green tea. We later ordered a test for the tea and found no red blood cells or white blood corpuscles," said a Zhejiang Television Station journalist who headed the investigation. A biology professor confirmed blood cells could not be found in the tea, even though it might be contaminated, the journalist said...Several hospitals later blamed "low-quality lab technicians" for the scandal when confronted by the programme. They said microscope observations should follow a machine test of the urine sample, but some technicians might omit the procedure, or, in some cases, modify their own results to match the ones from the machine.

"They said something like `the technicians are of low quality. They trust the machines because they are very good and expensive'," the journalist said.

Zhejiang health authorities have ordered a thorough investigation of the scandal and told laboratory technicians to "raise their quality", but the case has stirred anger nationwide amid growing discontent over the mainland's failing health care system. "Patients have become automatic teller machines for the hospitals," read a commentary by Guangzhou-based newspaper the Southern Metropolis News.

Those hospitals are taking the piss.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 11:39
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November 20, 2006
Black and White on Electric Bikes

I felt like I was in a 1930s movie yesterday in Hong Kong. Mainly, because the haze and visibility were so bad that colors were simply removed from my visual spectrum. Surprisingly, the API for Sunday was only "high", despite the fact that Lantau and Lamma Islands had disappeared from my apartment window in Pokfulam, and, while I was in Tung Chung for the afternoon, a vaguely plasticine odor hung in the air. 'High', according to the Environmental Protection Department, means that there is no immediate harmful effect on health. You may only find yourself coughing up blood a few years from now after prolonged exposure (or something to that effect). Perhaps they are not putting the sensors in the right place (i.e. buried 20 feet underground).

Given my smoggy, sepia-toned palette yesterday, I was very surprised to see this article about the ban on electric bicycles in Guangzhou. I assume there must be some traffic-related reason for this, but in an age of blanket smog, surely people riding electric bicycles can't be such a bad thing? Granted, the electricity used by bikes may very well come from a coal-fired plant (but maybe it's Daya Bay). The article unfortunately, did not shed light on why the bikes were banned. Anyone out there know why?

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 11:08
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November 06, 2006
Swinging the Chinese way

One of China's biggest problems is finding someone to speak up for oppressed the SCMP reports:

Controversial sexologist Li Yinhe has been rebuked by a family planner for promoting the rights of swingers on the mainland. Dr Li triggered debate after writing on an online forum last month that swingers, or couples who swap sexual partners, were no threat to society as they did not breach the principles of confidentiality or consent among adults. ...Dr Li also advised mainland swingers "to get around the law by only sleeping with one person at a time". Under mainland law, it is forbidden for more than two people to engage in sexual activity in one location.
Did you know that a menage a trois is illegal in China? Be warned.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 11:40
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October 31, 2006
Warming Insurance

I for one was pleased to see the release of Sir Nicholas Stern's report on global warming and greenhouse gas emissions. I have been a convert to the concept of the linkage between greenhouse gas emissions and global warming for some time, but I would like to pose a question to those head-in-the-sand, in-denial ostriches who are not (in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and an unprecedented, almost complete consensus in the scientific community).

Do you buy insurance? If you buy fire insurance, what do you think the chances are of a catastrophic fire destroying your home? To make my point more specific, even if you think that it is not a cast-iron certainty that we will end up having to give up 20% of our present GDP per year due to climate change, at what percentage of risk are you willing to pay out say 1% per year in environmental damage control 'premiums'? Particularly when every scientist that isn't a crackpot is willing to say that climate change is happening, and that the repercussions are likely to be completely disastrous. Even if you only think there is a 10% chance of disastrous climate change, it would be completely rational for you to support staving off potential environmental apocalypse.

Especially when every indicator points to that percentage being well over 50%. This is not a bet any insurance company would be willing to take on. Will you still sniff at the writing on the wall and say it's not happening?

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 10:58
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August 25, 2006
Lay off the white rice, lads

It's official - there are now more fat or obese people in China than there are in the US. The percentages of course are still heavily pointing to America as having the most fat people (and Illinois the fattest state), but the trendline is alarming.

So nix the carbs in the white rice. All you Cantonese, mebbe go easy on the dim sum too. You northerners, well, maybe more olive oil, less zha jiang mian and peking duck! Or if you're on the Atkins diet, eat only Peking Duck, just leave off the flour wrappers...:)

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 17:46
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August 18, 2006
Dying to get out

Move over David Copperfield, it's actually China that's discovered the fountain of youth....well at least the secret to immortality:

A third of deaths were not reported to the country's national surveillance system, it says. About one in five hospitals did not report any deaths at all.

Even where deaths were reported, there were often delays and mistakes. In about a quarter of cases, the cause of death given just related to symptoms, such as heart or lung failure.

If bird flu hits, you know you'll be safe in one of these hospitals.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 11:01
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August 16, 2006
Wal-Mart with Chinese characteristics

Wal-Mart has a special relationship with China - it sources huge amounts of its product from China and single-handedly accounts for 10% of US imports from the place. Wal-Mart is also famously anti-union, fiercely resisting them in any of its stores. But with the juicy carrot of Chinese retailing dangled in front of them, they've given way and allowed unionisation of their workforce in China.

Yet such a breach of Wal-Mart's fortitude is not what it may seem. Official Chinese trade unions are not the same as those in the West:

On the face of it, the conflict between the global retailer and the world's biggest labor group, the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, might seem of epic potential.

But less is here than meets the eye. The federation's not a union alliance in the Western sense. It's controlled by the ruling Communist Party, allows no competing labor unions, rejects free elections of its leaders and often goes to bat on the side of management over workers under the guise of harmonious economic development.

It's also a federation in a fix. It struggles to gain dues-paying members in the thriving private sector and craves international legitimacy. Almost no union confederation abroad recognizes it officially.

And union recruiting certainly differs to the West:
As Nanjing's top labor chief, Chen said it wasn't hard to recruit some 30 of the local Wal-Mart store's 300 employees and persuade them to form a union.

"I presented them with a TV set, a DVD player, books and 20,000 yuan (about $2,500) in cash," Chen said. "I also treated all Wal-Mart employees to an American blockbuster movie, `Mission Impossible III.' You know, with Tom Cruise."

And it's hard to know what the union is going to actually do...
Even so, Wal-Mart sounded unsure of what unionized workers might desire. All of Wal-Mart's Chinese workers get retirement benefits, medical insurance, workers' compensation, maternity and paternity leave, paid holidays and annual health checks, said Amy Wyatt, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart's international affairs.
And there's one more difference from Western unions:
It's not too early to predict, though, that the new unions will be denied a basic entitlement of unions in the West: the right to pick union leaders in democratic elections.
Workers of the world, unite.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:40
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April 21, 2006
Hotel {California} Shanghai

The enlightened efforts in China to advance understanding of HIV/AIDS took a small step backwards yesterday. The SCMP:

Shanghai police yesterday locked down a hotel where a group of haemophiliacs seeking compensation for being infected with HIV by a tainted blood product are staying. At least one foreign reporter who met the victims was detained.
The group of about 40 haemophiliacs and their relatives travelled to Shanghai from all over the mainland this week to demand redress from the government-backed Shanghai Biological Products Research Institute for selling a contaminated product in the 1990s.

Authorities surrounded the small hotel, shut off the elevators and prevented anyone from leaving after the group met journalists yesterday afternoon. Police also detained a US reporter for nearly three hours.

No group members were formally detained, but they complained they had been shadowed all week and harassed.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 08:18
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April 18, 2006
It's Not Easy Eating Greens

Not in Hong Kong anyway. A recent Greenpeace study on vegetables available at leading supermarket chains Wellcome and Park N' Shop demonstrated that the veggies they were selling to hapless consumers had pesticide levels well in excess of recommended limits, and used banned substances such as DDT.

The unspoken, shocking thing about this, of course, is that most consumers go to those supermarkets because they think that the beans and tomatoes there are somehow 'cleaner' and less 'local' that the produce on hand at the wet markets. But a Wellcome choi sum offering, for instance, had 240 times the EU limit on pesticides, and other fresh veggies offered by both stores were tainted by up to 5 different pesticides that act like a 'cocktail effect' that can multiply their effects by up to 100 times. All this produce is naturally coming from China.

Aside from prompting questions of why people on the mainland aren't just dropping dead (and in the countryside, many are), is there really any way local consumers can stop poisoning themselves? In the short-term, aside from the option of paying megabucks for a Japanese radish or a Dutch tomato, there really aren't any foolproof methods. One hopes though that China will eventually impose some sort of standards for their agricultural exports, and failing that, that Hong Kong perhaps needs to set one up for imports to set its citizens' minds at ease.

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 17:08
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April 11, 2006
Slow news day

Colourful watermelons.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 18:11
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February 16, 2006
Nuking Pollution

I have been a bit of a ranter in these pages about the horrible pollution in China, and how much of it does drift south to Hong Kong.

China has just announced that it is building two large new nuclear power plants, one in Shaoguan in northern Guangdong, and the other near the ancient port city of Quanzhou, in Fujian.

China currently has 4 nuclear plants in operation, and plans to build 30 more by 2020 to increase energy supplied from 'nu-cu-lar' power from 2% to 6% over that period. It is meant to deal with power consumption in urban areas and to cut down on pollution from dirty coal-fired plants.

But not so fast. Even in a best case scenario, if nuclear power still only serves 6% of power in 2020 even with 30 new plants, imagine how many more coal-fired plants there'll be. Given Chinese government assumptions about power requirements almost tripling in the next 15 years, it basically means that the number of coal burning stations will more than double, no doubt particularly in the factory-laden Guangdong area.

There's also the question proper maintenance, and of where all those spent radioactive rods are going. Are they all getting shipped to Xinjiang's Taklamakan Desert?

Double the plants, double the smog. Eeech. It's time to get out of Hong Kong. Or start investing in bottled air.

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 11:10
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January 26, 2006
China's AIDS population

The Chinese government has released its count of HIV/AIDS cases and as was expected it was significantly lower than previously thought.

The new survey, conducted with the World Health Organization and Unaids, lowered the country's estimated number of HIV and AIDS cases to 650,000 from the official 840,000 figure released in 2003. Many experts and AIDS activists have long believed that China had at least 1.5 million cases, possibly far more.

At a news conference, Chinese and international health officials endorsed the new findings but also warned that China still has a serious AIDS problem that could rapidly worsen if testing, education and treatment programs are not expanded.
That's the good news. But...
...the survey found that while the overall number of cases is less than previously believed, the rate of infection is rising, with 70,000 new cases in 2005. Drug users and prostitutes transmitted the virus in most of these cases, but the report also found that the disease is now spreading from such high-risk groups into the general population, raising the risk of a broader level of infections.

...Since late 2003, China has mounted an aggressive nationwide campaign against AIDS and introduced pilot programs that provide condoms, methadone and even anti-retroviral drugs for free.

The joint effort between China, the World Health Organization and Unaids in drafting the study reflected the improved openness of Chinese health officials on the issue. But that collaboration also underscored the fact that the outside world would probably be skeptical of any study conducted solely by the Chinese government.
The government is starting to confront and deal with the problem, and this new found "openness" in the survey is a promising development. Let's hope it continues, and not just on AIDS.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 08:55
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January 18, 2006
Take A Deep Breath

I just got back from Beijing. Wonderful city, a bit nippy, but a pleasant place to get lost by Hou Hai Lake or even in Hai Dian. Food was excellent! Much higher quality than when I was a liexuesheng at Shi Fan Da Xue.

I did, however, note with concern the fact that my flight to Beijing had to be diverted to Taiyuan in Shansi province because of 'fog'. The visibility at the airport was apparently limited to 100 metres. It was not much improved when I landed three hours later.

So it was with some interest that I saw the latest pollution readings for cities in China by the China Environment Monitoring Center via The trouble with all such readings, though, is the basis for its measurements (because the whole world has totally different measures from one another). Basically, though, China has a scale from I to V, with I being an excellent, or 'G' rating, and V being terrible, or an 'XXX' rating. Beijing was rated III.

So I had a look at Shenzhen and Shanghai - they both had I, for excellent.

Hmmm....doesn't sound right to me! If Shenzhen and Shanghai are excellent...better start planting more trees!

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 18:20
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December 29, 2005
'Scuse Me Waiter, There's Benzene in My Soup

I read with interest this article on how a restaurant in Harbin has been carved out of 800 cubic meters of ice from the Sungari (Songhua) River. Similar to ice hotels and bars in Scandinavia, the restaurant is made completely out of ice, relieved and insulated only by very heavy carpets - patrons nevertheless must don heavy parkas. Allow me to quote the People's Daily:

It took workers more than 20 days to finish the construction, using some 800 cubic metres of ice, according to Liu.

The restaurant can hold some 100 people, with six large tables in the main hall and an adjacent separate room.

The most vivid design is the ice bar counter, where customers can sit on the ice stools while sipping hot drinks.

The main food offered in the restaurant is the traditional Northeast China's hotpot, with families or groups of friends sitting around a table to eat from a steaming pot in the middle.

But customers are advised to wear their thick winter clothes while enjoying the "extreme delicacy."

Thick carpet is laid on the floor to restrict the cold air from the ice floor below and the ice stools are all covered with woollen cushions.

"Of course, we aim to attract them to sit down not to freeze them," said Liu.

Liu said there was no need to worry about the hot air produced by the steaming hotpot melting the ice dome as it is very high up.

I found that last quote particularly amusing given the ill-famed effects the recent toxic spill into the river had on benzene levels in the H20. No need to worry indeed! I picture the writer a cross between an old-style Communist cadre and Alfred E. Newman.

But equally interesting are the ingredients put into the local hotpot, at least as listed by the People's Daily:"The restaurant is offering four special hotpot dishes, with some ingredients which can be rarely seen in common hotpot restaurants, such as meat of wild boar and deer, gnosis and ginseng, [the proprietor] said."

Now the other three I can understand, I grant you - but gnosis was something that rang a bell from my ancient philosophy classes. Allow me to quote from the Merriam-Webster dictionary online:"esoteric knowledge of spiritual truth held by the ancient Gnostics to be essential to salvation."

Perhaps a bit more "gnosis" in hotpots everywhere in China would be a good thing. Especially with the water quality being what it is, people'll need it in the afterlife!

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 13:53
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December 19, 2005
Now It's the Tuna

This just in: raw tuna is going to be off the menus of most sushi joints in Shanghai next year, and presumably (I would hope!) the rest of China.

To remain fresh, the deep-water tuna must be stored at -55 Celsius to remain fresh for the consumer. Once it is not, tuna changes in color from a deep red color to a brownish shade. Given that such low temperatures are not possible in China, tuna is often treated with carbon monoxide. This is potentially quite damaging for the consumer's health, particularly the kidneys.

The report quoted a local tuna expert, Professor Wu Jiale of the Shanghai Fisheries University, as saying on last Thursday that a study group he heads has finished drafting an industry standard for tuna eaten raw as Sashimi. The draft, now submitted to the Ministry of Agriculture, is expected to go into effect next year.

It may affect nearly all the restaurants and supermarkets in Shanghai offering tuna Sashimi, industry insiders worried, because most of the tuna on the local market is treated in this way.

In the meantime, we suggest everyone stick to turkey for the holiday period...unless you noticed it was sneezing a fair bit and had chills before it met its maker.

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 16:48
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Organic Food in Hong Kong?

After reading this article on organic food apparently being on the rise in Asia, I am prompted to ask the readership this question: when in Chinese, produce is labeled 'green food', does that mean it's organic, or is that just a meaningless label any produce-grower can stick on its vegetables? I've wondered every since I started seeing packs of 'green food' bok choy and choi sum in my local Park N Shop.

All of is grown in China, which naturally has thus far prevented me from actually buying any of it or allowing myself to have any faith at all in the 'organic'-ness of the produce in terms of not using dangerous pesticides, etc.

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 16:28
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December 05, 2005
China AIDS count

About a month ago I noted a report that found China's estimated HIV population may be signficantly lower than the previously estimated 840,000. Now the SCMP reports on the problems officials are having with releasing that number:

Authorities are reportedly in a bind over how to announce a new and supposedly more accurate HIV estimate that is significantly lower than previous figures...Senior officials said the assessment was now being verified by the World Health Organisation and UNAids experts. However, UNAids said it was waiting for Chinese officials to finalise the assessment...

A government source also said the new assessment was significantly lower than the 2003 estimate of 840,000 HIV carriers. Although the final figure may change at the last minute, the new estimate could be up to 20 per cent lower than the original figure...

Government officials are reportedly concerned that the public would doubt the credibility of a new estimate, and question whether the difference was the result of patients dying from Aids over the years, or whether the government was playing down the gravity of the situation. Another worry is whether a lower-than-expected prevalence would dampen the enthusiasm of the central government and international agencies for injecting resources into Aids prevention and treatment.

It's great news, but a problem of the government's own making. Events as recent as last week in Harbin show the Chinese government is not known for its openness and reliability when it comes to reporting. Getting international, independent groups to verify the data is a good first step. Even if the number comes out 20% lower, however, there is still plenty to worry about. Good statistical measurement is only the first step in dealing with disease outbreaks. Even with 600,000 people infected, the major worry is the potential is further infections.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 08:53
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November 29, 2005
Killer virus already in China

A new report on the potential for a bird flu epidemic in China reveals that corrupt or inept officials and bureaucratic problems may hinder efforts to halt the viruses' spread. Not exactly Earth-shattering. What is far more disturbing is the latest numbers on a virus that is already a proven killer approaching epidemic proportions: HIV/AIDS.

The SCMP reports that Vice Premier and former Health Minister Wu Yi has found the problem with dealing with China's AIDS problem:

Vice-Premier Wu Yi yesterday attacked local officials for disregarding national policy on Aids prevention and treatment, as the number of confirmed cases rose to a new high. The official number of people infected with HIV rose to 135,630 by the end of September, up 50,000 to 60,000 from last year, according to the State Council's Work Committee on Aids Prevention and Treatment.

But this figure was only 16 per cent of the estimated actual total of 840,000. Ms Wu blamed inadequate monitoring and testing for the shortfall...But the latest report shows the sharing of needles by drug users has become the most common form of transmission, accounting for 40.8 per cent of infections. Blood transfusions accounted for 23 per cent of infections and sexual transmission 9 per cent. About 23 per cent were infected through unknown means, but it is believed most of these were cases of sexual transmission.
My emphasis on the estimated real total. Ms. Wu also knows why local officials are not supporting national efforts to provide free treatment and education on prevention. It is a combination of ignoring the reality (ie blissful ignorance) and that promoting prevention and treatments could adversely impact local area's image, business and investment (ie AIDS is bad for business). The SCMP follows with the obligatory heart-breaking personal story, in this case a mother and son infected with HIV via a blood transfusion (full story below the jump).

It's a start that someone as enlightened and pro-active as Ms. Wu is leading the national fight against HIV/AIDS. It's a tragedy that such efforts are stymied at a local level by the very corrupt and inept officials the bird flu report is fretting about. Most importantly, instead of panicking about a potential bird flu epidemic, China and other countries should worry about the HIV/AIDS epidemic they already have.

Related: How serious is the bird flu threat and the problem of crying wolf.

HIV-infected mother and son fight for justice

When eight-year-old Zhu Mengchang saw soldiers raising the national flag on Tiananmen Square this month, he told his mother he wanted to be a soldier when he grew up.

Liu Xianhong promptly burst into tears.

It was not that the mother of two was not moved by her son's ambition. Rather, she was beset by the uncertainties lying ahead, because they have both tested positive for HIV.

It was their first trip to Beijing, to petition the Ministry of Public Security over an assault on members of their family by about 30 police officers and security guards during a sit-in outside a Hebei hospital.

The raid on October 17 outside the Xiandewang Coal Mine Hospital in Xingtai put six of Ms Liu's family members in hospital.

"We were sitting in the yard of the hospital. Suddenly a group of policemen stormed in. They all wore helmets and held batons. Then they started beating us. Someone shouted, `Beat them to death. The coal mine will be taking care of this'. Then they beat us for roughly 20 minutes, and so many people collapsed," she said.

Ms Liu's husband, Zhu Xianping, and his parents are still in hospital. Mr Zhu suffered severe head injures and broken bones.

The sit-in was part of their battle to seek compensation and an explanation for her HIV infection through a postnatal blood transfusion at the hospital in 1995. She passed the virus to Mengchang, who was born two years later.

"It [the blood transfusion] was on the first day of the eighth lunar month. I clearly remember the date. It's my daughter's birthday," she said.

"I felt OK after giving birth to my daughter. But the doctor said I was weak and needed a transfusion. My husband said I should listen to the doctor, so I accepted it - the only transfusion I have ever had in my life."

It was only after tests by the Xingtai Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the Zhu family in February that they realised the 400 yuan blood transfusion had cost them more than that.

"My family knew that I was infected with HIV before I did. They didn't want to break the news to me because they thought I couldn't handle it. But I grilled my husband because I found it weird that he was in tears whenever he saw me," Ms Liu said.

Only Ms Liu and Mengchang tested positive for HIV.

Shocked by the news, Ms Liu went to the CDC to try to find out how she and her son had contracted the Aids virus.

"I have never worked outside Xingtai. We are decent people who have never done anything immoral. Experts from the CDC said the only way I could have been infected would be through a blood transfusion, and then I passed it to my son," Ms Liu said.

Attempts to contact Xiandewang hospital were unsuccessful.

A lawsuit demanding compensation of 1.2 million yuan from the hospital was filed in July.

Ms Liu's case is not a unusual in Xingtai, where Aids activist Li Qianji said at least 200 people were infected with the virus through transfusions of tainted blood.

Last year, Mr Li revealed to China Central Television that the Xingtai Blood Centre illegally bought blood from Shanxi province - mainly from the cities of Yuncheng , Linfen and Yongji - from September 1995 to January 1997.

Media reports prompted the Ministry of Health to order the Hebei provincial Bureau of Health to investigate blood supplies in Xingtai in December and January.

Ms Zhu and her family started holding sit-ins almost every day outside Xiandewang hospital after they filed the suit, in an attempt to seek an explanation from the hospital and to settle the case outside court.

Wang Liming, Ms Liu's lawyer, said a civil lawsuit could take up to six months to settle.

"She's HIV-positive and doesn't know how long she is going to live. By settling the case with the hospital, she thinks she can get the compensation to secure her son's medical expenses sooner. And she is willing to accept a lower figure as long as the hospital agrees to settle it," Mr Wang said.

But the family have never had a single meeting with hospital management during three months of sit-ins. Mr Wang said the hospital was unable to provide Ms Liu's medical record, as required by law.

Mr Wang said the Xingtai Public Security Bureau had set up a team to look into the case and Ms Liu would file a lawsuit against those who carried out the assault once the investigation was over.

He added that a ruling on Xiandewang hospital would be handed down soon.

A coal mine branch of the Xingtai Public Security Bureau said the case was under investigation, but denied police assaulted the family.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:30
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November 27, 2005
Can't Imagine Where the Smog's From

In the wake of this Harbin Sungari River debacle, there finally has been an article in the China Daily devoted to trying to come to terms with the pollution problem in China, described as 'urgent'.

Yet another article, same day, Xinhua is slapping itself on the back that China's output of coal is set to increase, easing supply concerns of the dirty, highly polluting carbon fuel. Of the 2.1 billion tons of coal, power plants will consume 1.18 billion. TWO BILLION TONS. That's well over a ton of coal per person in China.

Sort of answers a few questions at once, doesn't it? Dying miners, corrupt officials, poisoned environment. But there seems to be no stopping China now, driven to put coal into its veins to get the high of more industrial production, a few million more US dollars in exports. Let's face it - China has a coal addiction.

But I guess after last week, trying to shift to a reliance on gas, petroleum or indeed anything PetroChina produces must seem not like too attractive a solution...

** UPDATE ** Another coal mine disaster in China - 50 dead, over 100 missing.

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[boomerang] Posted by HK Dave at 15:43
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November 24, 2005
The rain in Guangdong falls mainly in Hong Kong

A bureaucrat's instinct when faced with a problem is to cover it up. And so it has proved in Harbin, where a toxic chemical spill into the Songhua river has finally been confirmed. Rumours had swept Harbin on Monday of some kind of water trouble, which lead to scenes of panic buying and water hoarding amid the confusion. The government cut off the water supply "at wee hours Wednesday" (could Xinhua be in the pun business?), leaving a city of almost 4 million literally without water. The chemical spill has passed Harbin at around 5am this morning and supplies have resumed again, although would you drink that water?

Far more interesting will be whether the chemical plant where the explosion occurred will be investigated and prosecuted if (as seems likely) found negligent. Much depends on how long media focus remains on Harbin.

Perhaps because I come from Sydney, Australia, a city and country constantly worrying about water supplies, I find the next water story staggering. It all began back in 1989, when Hong Kong reached an agreement with Guangdong to secure water supplies for the Big Lychee. That agreement gave Hong Kong priority access to Guangdong's water (which supplies 80% of Hong Kong's water needs), in return for Hong Kong paying well in excess of normal rates. In typical style the deal allocated a rising amount of water to Hong Kong to allow for growing water usage over the years. According to the SCMP, Hong Kong is due to receive 810 million cubic metres a year of water from the East River. But because public servants have no idea how to guage future demand, it has turned out Hong Kong has used less than its full allocation. The twist is Hong Kong has already paid for that water. So what does it do? It dumps it in the sea! Between 1999 and 2003 more than 500 million cubic metres of water, which at the agreement rate of HK$3.085 a cubic metre represents HK$1.5 billion worth, was dumped because Hong Kong's reservoirs were full.

The new agreement is a step in the right direction. Hong Kong will guarantee to buy a minimum of 600 million cubic metres and pay only for what it uses. In return it will increase the per unit price by 10%.

Haste makes waste, but waste is a hasty bureaucrat.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 08:41
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November 21, 2005
Pricing bird flu

From The Standard:

Some Chinese insurance compnies are taking a big chance on the possible spread of avian influenza among humans as an opportunity to expand their business. Beijing Minsheng Life Insurance on November 7th was first to launch a policy that would pay the insured if they are infected by the H5N1 virus. Four days later, Shenzhen based Hua-an Property Insurance followed. The Hua'an policy costs 100 yuan for each 200,000 yuan of compensation. It is valid for a year for anyone aged 3 to 70. Analysts say the odds are that the two insurers will make money given what they consider is the low probability of a serious pandemic.
A couple of interesting implications. Firstly these insurance companies are putting the chance of dying from bird flu in the next year at 0.05%, and that includes their profit margin so in reality it's even lower. You won't read that on the front page of the panicky press. Secondly this could be a great opportunity for these Chinese insurance firms to expand offshore - imagine the demand around the world for these kind of products. Thirdly, it's good to see the private sector becoming part of the policy solution in preparing for bird flu. Lastly, this is a perfect example of innovative capitalism at its finest - a pricing of risk in response to clear demand. All from the heart of Communist China.

Eventually the world will learn it can sometimes learn from China.

Update: There's also coming Tamiflu futures.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 10:12
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» The Lone Elm links with: Avian Flu Insurance

November 16, 2005
China Chook flu

Are chickens chicken about needles? China plans to vaccinate China's 14 billion chickens against bird flu. This leads to two questions. Firstly, will such mass vaccinations help eliminate bird flu? Secondly, how is it they can produce 14 billion doses of chicken vaccine but Roche will take years to make mere millions of Tamiflu doses?

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 11:44
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November 09, 2005
Blue balls attack

It's science, Jim, but not as we know it. The People's Daily shows us high-resolution photos of the H5N1 bird flu virus, with an amusing caption...


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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:33
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November 02, 2005
Five morals

Singapore's former Prime Minister has taken another leaf out of the China book and said that there can be such a thing as too free a press. The SCMP:

Former prime minister Goh Chok Tong has defended Singapore's pro-government media industry from international criticism, saying a liberal press is not necessarily good for every country...Lee Hsien Loong, said Singapore's government and economic performance proved the city-state's system worked.

"Western liberals often argue that press freedom is a necessary ingredient of democracy and that it is the fourth estate to check elected governments, especially against corruption," he said in a speech on Monday night. "But a free press by western standards does not always lead to a clean and efficient government or contribute to economic freedom and prosperity."

The article doesn't mention if he provided examples to support this last statement, but I doubt it. Singapore was ranked 140th out of 167 countries for press freedom, while China was 159th (and Hong Kong 39th). As if to back up the ex-Prime Minister, the SCMP notes China's enlightened policy to coverage of bird flu:
ontrols over reporting on bird flu outbreaks have been tightened, despite Beijing's pledges to employ "complete openness" in the fight against the potentially catastrophic virus.

In a recently issued directive, the Publicity Department ordered newspapers to seek approval from the authorities before publishing any reports on new outbreaks of bird flu and any animal or human deaths which result...

Apart from the reporting of outbreaks and any deaths they cause, news about an exercise to prepare for the closure of ports in the event of human-to-human transmission of H5N1 has also been kept under wraps. Authorities were wary that news of the drill could spark speculation that human cases had been reported, according to government sources.

This stands in stark contrast to what the Secretary General of ASEAN was saying just yesterday: that Asian countries need to be open about bird flu news. It also contradicts comments by disease control director Qi Xiaoqiu on openness over bird flu. But remember, a free press is not necessarily does not always lead to a clean and efficient government or contribute to economic freedom and prosperity.

As a vote of thanks to Singapore, it appears PBoC's Huijin Investments has rejected Singapore's state-owned Temasek Holdings from taking a 10% stake in Bank of China (although Bloomberg contradicts the Caijing Magazine report). Why the rejection? The SCMP again:

"Huijin is BOC's major shareholder and at present it does not agree with Temasek becoming a strategic investor," a senior China Banking Regulatory Commission official told the South China Morning Post...The eight-member board of directors at Huijin, which controls 78.15 per cent of BOC, voted to reject the deal because Temasek's investments were seen as excessive, according to a report in Caijing magazine...

"What the government wants to do by allowing foreign strategic investors is to bring in the products, the management skills and the banking technology, and Temasek is not actually a bank," said Frank Gong, the chief economist at JP Morgan. "Temasek clearly doesn't bring as much to the table as Bank of America and Royal Bank of Scotland," added ABN Amro banking analyst Simon Ho, referring to the two banks' investments in China Construction Bank and BOC, respectively. "It brings a lot of money but not banking technology per se."

That's what not having an open press gets you.

Meanwhile in soon-to-be-police-state-for-a-week Hong Kong, an example of press freedom gone wrong. Again the SCMP:

Journalists adopting unethical tactics to pursue stories are ruining press freedom and destroying the credibility of the media, industry representatives warned yesterday. The accusations came after two reporters from a Hong Kong-based publication allegedly broke into Canto-pop star Gigi Leung Wing-kei's room in China World Hotel in Beijing last month while she was there to attend a Ferragamo fashion show...

Tam Chi-keung, vice-chairman of the Journalists' Association and convenor of its ethics committee, condemned media members who worked "under the umbrella of press freedom but were actually destroying it".

And you thought Western paparazzi were bad. At least you know in Hong Kong your personal data and privacy are well protected by the mis-named Office of the Privacy Commissioner for Personal Data. Right? Ummm...the SCMP one more time:
A privacy watchdog has found no reasonable grounds to launch an investigation into the disclosure of e-mail subscribers' information by Yahoo! that led to the imprisonment of a mainland journalist.

Commissioner Roderick Woo Bun told a special Legco panel meeting on information technology and broadcasting yesterday that Yahoo! Holdings (Hong Kong) had only disclosed information related to an office of a Chinese newspaper. He said that according to a verdict of the Changsha Intermediate People's Court in Hunan , "the information disclosed by Yahoo! ... to mainland authorities was only about the Contemporary Business News office in Hunan, which is not personal data".

Calling Rebecca MacKinnon.

To sum up: free press is bad for you, agreeing with China won't get you a piece of their banks, being a celebrity sucks, China learnt nothing from SARS and your email isn't private. Welcome to the Asian Century.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 10:20
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» Imagethief links with: The Asian Exception: Singapore Rejects a Free Press
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China AIDS estimate

Bates Gill is not just a spoonerism of the world' richest man. He is a noted expert on China and amongst other things, the HIV/AIDS problem in China. Meanwhile China has a well-known penchant for fiddling statistics, especially as many public servants are measured by these statistics. Worst of all, often the same person compiles the numbers they are measured by. But sometimes this can hide positive trends for fear of ridicule. The SCMP reports on Bates Gill's observations:

Beijing may be keeping new estimates of the number of HIV infections on the mainland secret because they are lower than previously published figures and could undermine the government's credibility...This could be the reason why the official HIV figure had remained at 840,000 for the past two years, said Bates Gill, a China expert at the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

"What I've heard is that with further modelling and more fine-tuning of their approaches, they now ... have come to the conclusion that the number may be actually lower than 840,000," he told a briefing in Beijing. The new estimate had not been made public because of concern about the political impact of such an announcement, he said.

"Clearly the immediate reaction might be, `Oh my God, they really are meddling with the numbers and they're trying to put forward a picture which is less serious than it actually is'," Mr Gill said...

The estimate of 840,000 HIV-positive cases was arrived at using modelling techniques, and was the result of a co-operative effort between China, the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids. The central government had only directly diagnosed HIV in 120,000 people, said Mr Gill, who regularly travels to the mainland to meet Ministry of Health and other senior government officials. "What I'm saying is that nine out of 10 people or so in China today - according to the government's own statistics - who are HIV positive don't know it," he said. "And the government doesn't know who they are or where they are."

So there's good news, but we can't be told about it. That aside, the main issue is the one I've put in bold in the quote: dealing with the potential for a wider HIV/AIDS epidemic in China. Forget about bird flu. The stigma of AIDS, combined with old fashioned values and widespread ignorance, means China is at the cusp of a potential widespread problem. A problem that can be prevented if the political will is there.

Bird flu has pushed AIDS far from the front page, so in that sense it has already started affecting human health.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:20
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October 27, 2005
Obligatory China bird flu post

China reports a bird flu outbreak in a village in Hunan province. Today the SCMP reports on the death of a 12 year old girl from that village:

A 12-year old girl has died from flu-like symptoms in a Hunan village where the mainland's third outbreak of bird flu in a week was confirmed. He Yin and her 10-year-old brother fell ill about a week ago at their home in the village, Wantang, after eating a sick chicken that had died, according to their farmer father, He Tieguang . She died soon after reaching the Children's Hospital in the provincial capital, Changsha .

So far there is no evidence linking her death with the outbreak of bird flu in Wantang.
Moral of that story: don't eat sick chickens. And once you've finished stockpiling your Tamiflu, check the used-by date, says the SCMP:
Doctors and pharmacies in Guangzhou have accused Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche of dumping Tamiflu medicine close to the end of its shelf life on the mainland market.

One doctor said he bought his first batch of the drug in August and the medicine had a January 2006 expiry date. A second batch bought last month was good until May and the last batch bought last week had a January 2007 expiry date. "The normal practice is to give us medicine with at least one year of shelf life remaining, but they told me they had no more stocks. They only have 2006 stocks. I think they are clearing old stocks. This is so unethical," he said.

But before you panic, I implore you to read this piece from The Standard, titled Battling an epidemic of fear. It is not 1918. In the words of a famous book: Don't Panic.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 10:06
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» links with: China Confirms Third Bird Flu Outbreak

October 14, 2005
Neolithic Noodles

Like Momma Made

According to an NPR report, the dispute concerning the first region of the world, China, Italy, or the Middle East, to feature noodles on the menu, is settled. According to archaeological remains from present-day northwest China, the Lajia site is the winner by thousands of years. The noodles, made from millet, disintegrated into dust upon contact with the air. If only those annoying little morsels of noodle too small to pick up did that.

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[boomerang] Posted by Infidel at 09:46
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October 07, 2005
Things not to do when touring China

Number 1: Don't hand out the Falun Gong/Epoch Times' Nine Commentaries on the streets of Shanghai.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 11:54
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September 29, 2005
The only traffic lights in China

Monty Python had a famous song about traffic lights. It began (the full version is below the jump):

I like traffic lights,
I like traffic lights,
I like traffic lights,
No matter where they've been.
I like traffic lights,
I like traffic lights,
I like traffic lights,
I like traffic lights,
I like traffic lights,
But only when they're green.

It appears China has taken the message to heart. Today's SCMP reports on the latest efforts to prepare China for a potential flu outbreak guessed it, a set of traffic lights with Chinese characteristics. Below the jump is the flu system, with the added bonus of a blue light at the "don't panic" level. But this isn't the first time we've seen the blue/green/yellow/red lights. Only last month the Income Research Institute said China's income gap was approaching the yellow light area. I'm waiting for someone to introduce the "walk/don't walk" scale.

In a country where 100,000 people died last year from traffic accidents, it's a shame the only traffic lights that get noticed are in newspapers.

China's flu alert system


The full Monty Python traffic light song

I like traffic lights,
I like traffic lights,
I like traffic lights,
No matter where they've been.
I like traffic lights,
I like traffic lights,
I like traffic lights,
I like traffic lights,
I like traffic lights,
But only when they're green.
He likes traffic lights,
He likes traffic lights,
He likes traffic lights,
No matter where they've been.
He likes traffic lights,
He likes traffic lights,
He likes traffic lights,
But only when they're green.
I like traffic lights,
I like traffic lights,
I like traffic lights,
That is what I said.
I like traffic lights,
I like traffic lights,
I like traffic lights,
But not when they are red.
He likes traffic lights,
He likes traffic lights,
That is what he said.
He likes traffic lights,
He likes traffic lights,
He likes traffic lights,
He likes traffic lights,
He likes traffic lights,
But not when they are red.
I like traffic lights,
I like traffic lights,
I like traffic lights,
Although my name's not Bamber.
I like traffic lights,
I like traffic lights,
I like traffic lights,
I...Oh God!

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:39
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September 14, 2005
Cosmetics are a con

Literally a con, says the Guardian. Read the whole article linked below by Dave for the full, grizzly story.

I wonder if cosmetics will carry a new warning: May contain lead or buckshot.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:12
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August 18, 2005
Pigs in Space

Sometimes a blogger will struggle for a title for a post. Other times, they write themselves. The People's Daily says China is to send pig sperm to space. This vital step forward for China's space program is an attempt to see how the DNA is altered in space:

About 14 grams of pig sperm will be taken into space in October this year. Under the effect of microgravity, high radiation and strong magnetic field, DNA of the sperm may alter, said Wang Jinyong from Chongqing Academy of Animal Husbandry Science.

After four or five days in space, the sperm will be brought back to Earth and used to fertilize pig eggs in test tubes. The DNA may change for better or for worse, and we must preserve good changes and eliminate bad ones so as to improve quality of pigs, Wang said.

That's right, China is trying to breed super-pigs. Their poor porcines cousins, confined to the tight bounds of Earth, are spreading streptococus suis and infecting Hong Kongers. Consumers can't wait for genetically modified astropigs.

In other strep sius news, Justin may have found the potential source of the disease in pigs.

And lest you other animals rest easy, it could well be eels in space next.

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[boomerang] Posted by Simon at 09:45
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