So today, I go out to this alleyway between two buildings, which is where a lot of office workers go to smoke. I see this piece of paper taped up on the wall and, as you can see from the above, it’s some ad for buying baby milk powder. And I thought to myself, this is how someone starts a business now, this is where someone sees an opportunity, that they have some source for cans of this stuff and are doing some kind of, well, I don’t know if it’s illegal, probably not, but some kind of odd business.
How did things get to this? First start off with a shitty, corrupt government in China. And then with some people (not all, and probably not most, but some) who are so willing to put profits above the sanctity of human life that they start selling bogus milk powder laced with cheap chemicals that are actually poison. They don’t care that it’s poison. It’s profit. No, don’t ask me what happened to these sick people that they got that way, the point is that they did.
And so people in China no longer trust the baby milk powder supply. They don’t trust the manufacturers. They don’t trust the government to police it. They don’t trust that the shops are selling what they say they’re selling.
And for some of them, they’re close enough to Hong Kong and rich enough that they can get a visa and come down here and buy some. And then some people get the idea to start bringing cases of it across the border to sell at a profit. So the supply chain gets overwhelmed and there’s none left for local families. So the government attempts to stop it by, possibly illegally, putting a two can limit on cross border immigration. And despite that, a lot of it is still going over the border. Two weeks ago in Shenzhen, I saw people gathered just outside the train station loading up carts with dozens of cans of the stuff.
We need this stuff. This is, no joke, one of the things that fuels our economy. Because without milk powder to feed the babies, mothers can’t go out and work, and it takes two incomes (or preferably three) now to be able to afford some Sun Hung Kai shitbox in the middle of nowhere. No milk powder, moms have to stay home and the economy collapses.
Let me tell you – when I lived in Hong Kong from 1995 to 1999, I never went to Shenzhen. Why would I? There was nothing there. Then in the early 00′s, when I did start going, for 35 RMB Peking duck and 80 RMB saunas, you’d come out of immigration in Lo Wu and it would be like walking out of the Port Authority bus station in New York. Damned unpleasant. Something to be endured. Some place to fight your way through until you reached civilization.
Over time that changed. Lo Wu got (mostly) cleaned up. You come out of that train station now, it’s clean and nice and the only people who bother you are those trying to bring you to their knock-off shops in the shopping mall. And hey, some time try going over the Shenzhen Bay Bridge to Nanshan district. Gleaming new office towers and housing. Tree lined streets with public art and parks everywhere. Elevated outdoor shopping malls. I’d be thrilled to work there.
Because Chinese people got rich. Maybe not as rich yet as Hong Kong people but it’s going that way. They say that in 10 years salaries in Shenzhen are going to be as higher or higher than they are in Hong Kong. I think it’s gonna be less.
And now we don’t go to Shenzhen. Shenzhen comes to us. Because the RMB is stronger than the HK dollar, shopping is cheaper in Hong Kong for luxury goods and imported goods, and they come flooding across the border buying not just gold and jewelry and homes, they buy whatever they can carry back in over-sized wheeled suitcases.
The people in China got rich. At least some of them. Because the government there made a deal with the people. “We’ll make you rich as long as you keep your mouths shut and let us have absolute power and every now and then kill a few thousand just because they think democracy might be a good idea. You keep your mouth shut, look the other way, and you can have a Rolex and an SUV.”
Meanwhile, most of the people in Hong Kong did not get rich. Many got poor, or poorer. Because there is no such deal in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is owned and run by six companies that have a vested interest in keeping people ever-so-slightly above the poverty line so that they can continue to buy goods from these despots without ever challenging their reign.
Hong Kong minimum wage law? That works out to around HK$5,000 a month. That’s US$650 a month. That’s why people live in cages in Sham Shui Po or subdivided fire traps in Mong Kok. Tell me you’ve had a day where you don’t see an 80 year old man or woman digging through a garbage can for discarded beer cans and bits of cardboard, pushing some cart up a steep hill to a recycling center to get enough money for a bowl of porridge. “Please, sir, I want some more.” “More? You want more?”
Dock workers? They aren’t allowed to leave their 5×5 cages during their entire 12 hour shift. No lunch break. No toilets – they have to shit in their cages and wrap the shit in newspapers and carry it down at the end of the day. Guess who owns the docks? Li Ka-Shing. Sure, he can claim that he only owns the place, he doesn’t supervise it, he’s out-sourced that. You think one word from him wouldn’t give them a 30 minute lunch break? But he doesn’t want that. It might cut into his profits. Because the US$30 billion he’s got apparently isn’t enough.
C.Y. Leung wants to contribute $100 million of Hong Kong’s money for disaster relief in Sichuan. What about disaster relief in Hong Kong? Because, yes folks, there are indeed some people doing well here. Some folks are making lots of money. But they’re a tiny minority. All of the statistics show the gap between rich and poor is getting wider. That the number of people living below or near the poverty line is increasing.
And so Hong Kong gets overwhelmed by mainland Chinese demands for goods available here to the point that there’s nothing left for the people who actually live and work here.
I mean, check out this post from Hong Wrong about how the massive drop in gold prices last week led to people flooding over the borders to buy gold here and literally cleaning out the shops.
This week it’s gold. This year it’s milk powder. What’s next? Rice? Petrol? This is our new normal. Better get used to it.
So I tried to think of a solution. Something came to mind.
What? Throw out one country two systems now. Open the border. Let Chinese rules apply here.
Because once China steps in, maybe the first thing they’ll do is get rid of the Li Ka-Shings and Sun Hung Kais and New Worlds, breaking up their tight fisted oligopolies over ever corner of our market, or at least forcing the market open to real competition – because none of these pigs could survive a day when they’re not colluding with each other on prices and telling the government what laws to pass.
Sure, it’s gonna mean that we get censorship. The Great Firewall of China will sit over our Internet. But there are ways around that. Our newspapers suck. But they already suck. Universal suffrage? Were we ever really going to get it anyway?
Well, okay, maybe not. Let’s face it, all it would probably mean is that we’d get a bunch of new companies owned by families of army generals and politicians. Probably we’d have poison milk powder too. We’d still be bad off, just in a different way.
So, no, I don’t know what the answer is. I do know that the system we have now ain’t working and our fearless leaders don’t have any more clue than I do on how to fix it.