Injustices in China that Keep Me Awake at Night
We all have standards, a tolerance threshold, and over time my vacillating affair with Asia has weakened in quality and proposed risks to my sleeping patterns. When I am awake, I hope what I have witnessed through the expat years is all a bad dream and that justice will prevail over a timeline of events. These are the injustices in China that haunt me:
October 29, 2014:
In Hong Kong murder is rare, but over the Halloween weekend two young Indonesian women were found dead in a British banker’s apartment in a Wan Chai popular expat neighborhood. The banker claimed they were prostitutes and.. he is not mentally unstable. The victim’s family reacted; she was a loving working daughter who sent money home to help build a home for her family.
No, I did not witness these murders. But, I am saddened. Hong Kong has a large female population of Philippines looking for a place to live and work so they can support their families back home. The story holds true for these victims. Indonesia and the Phillipines are poor countries where apathy, poverty, corruption and a convoluted bureaucracy are foiling efforts to combat child sex tourism in the remote areas of East Bali and Manila. There are increased cases of organized sex trafficking where children are promised good jobs in hotels and restaurants. Many hotels are run by the Chinese mafia. Check before you book.
A recent walk in a Sai Ying Pun hutong (back alley), west Hong Kong, triggers a familiar nauseating sensation. In a west end neighborhood known for the export of dried seafood, I see several men unloading a truck load of shark fin. Their remains are floating somewhere at sea. It is said that shark fin soup is good for you, and that it has many health benefits. These claims are unfounded.
Sharks actually have high levels of mercury and the fins are often treated with hydrogen peroxide in order to make their color more appealing to consumers. Not really the type of thing you should be eating if you are concerned about your health.
The activist group, Hong Kong for Elephants launched a protest walk from Chater Garden to the U.S. Consulate and then to the Hong Kong Government headquarters. They were protesting elephant ivory–controversial as it is desired. Especially in China. Ivory trade has been illegal since 1989 due to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Hong Kong had 665t of ivory in stockpiles, most of it sourced through trade law loopholes. Today the remainder, 117t of ivory, is being sold in Hong Kong. This is four times more than the city’s 29.6t stockpile of illegal ivory seized at border checkpoints over the last 40 years. Hong Kong serves as a thoroughfare for trade in illicit goods en route to mainland China.
Since 2002, the population has decreased by 50%. When I visited South Africa, Kruger Park, a rhinoceros sighting was needed to complete the hunt for the “Big Five” but we kept finding elephants. From a distance, a rhinoceros can be mistaken for, “Oh, look! Oh, just another elephant…” But 33,000 are slaughtered every year.
The current price for one kilo of ivory in China is $16,000 USD. There are 447 Hong Kong traders with a “license to posess” ivory legally in HK. In 2022, it is predicted that the entire elephant population will be extinct. Last year in Sri Lanka, we visited the elephant refuge. Many are orphaned due to the poaching of mothers. “People want to buy ivory, so we sell it to them. This is just how things are.” A shop owner in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong told me this.
A Dukezong (Shangri-la), Buddhist guide told us that the real reason an entire historical wooden village burned to the ground in January was because the government shut off the water supply due to uninsulated pipes.
I asked, “Are they going to resurrect Old Town?”
His reply was, “They must. It is Communist law.”
Eight months later there was no evidence that it would be rebuilt. The preventive measures for dealing with another catastrophe in the future is not the obvious.
The woman who was responsible for the fire was sent to jail. It was an accident. Her blanket fell off her bed onto a gas heater. As the name Shangri-La may suggest, Dukezong had become sort of a Disney Land version of an ancient Tibetan town, marketed to Chinese tourists. Our tour to the local monastery was supposedly a working monastery. The most glaring example that it wasn’t, were the sacred texts that were stacked on the ground, while they renovated the temple. (In Tibetan Buddhism, texts are always kept high above the ground.)
Another example of the myth of Shangri-La: a surreal advertisement video showing Tibetans, their music and culture as tourist attractions. It was so simplistic–far from the reality of Chinese/Tibetan relations. In the center of the old town, for the benefit of tourists, a traditional dance was performed every afternoon. Not many westerners were buying what the Chinese government was selling.
In the Xinjiang Province, the Kashgar uprising left 100 people dead. When I traveled to Xinjiang Autonomous Region, it was my first trip outside of Shandong Province and it remains my favorite Chinese province. Many Uighurs, like Tibetans yearn for independence for Xinjiang, a sprawling region rich in minerals and oil that borders eight Central Asian nations. Critics say the millions of Han Chinese who have settled here in recent years are gradually squeezing the Turkic people out of their homeland. But many Chinese believe the Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gers) are backward and ungrateful for the economic development that the Chinese have brought to the poor region.
The city experiences a semi-arid continental climate and is located in a mid-temperate zone with short springs and autumns, as well as longer winters and summers. Urumqi is rich in natural resources such as oil, coal, rare mines, glaciers, forests, grasslands and wind energy, etc. China has a lot to lose if they give up control over Xinjiang.