Monday, May 26, 2008

Chengdu Trip #5: Aftershock!

I'm back at Hong Kong International Airport. This means I can access my blog without using the VPN to get around China's Internet filters, though the free wifi connection is pretty flaky right now. I didn't get to do anything during my last night in Chengdu; I was still sick from the Zigong trip and had not eaten for about a day and a half. The flight from CTU to HKG was only about 30 minutes late, compared to ~3 hours during the days right after the earthquake.

Speaking of earthquakes, I felt the largest aftershock since the main Wenchuan quake yesterday afternoon at around 4:20pm local time. It was a magnitude 6.0 or 6.4 depending on who you ask. Interestingly, the original quake has been "upgraded" again to 8.0 in China but remains at 7.9 at the USGS site. I wonder how much of this is the politics of exaggeration common in China.

Anyway, the aftershock didn't feel that big even though I was on the 10th floor of an apartment building. The building swayed a bit, stopped, and swayed a bit more. It only lasted a short time, probably less that 20 seconds, but I heard all sorts of screaming and freaking-out from outside. Lots of people ran outside of their building and stood in the middle of the street. In China, that's probably more dangerous than an earthquake.

After about 10 minutes and no buildings collapsed, some people went back inside. However, there were still a lot of people sitting outside. I wonder if they're going to start sleeping in tents again.

Not everyone was scared by the aftershock. I was watching TV and didn't bother to get up. Across the street in an 8th floor apartment, they continued cleaning right away, even climbing half-way out the window.

On the plane ride, I was reading some articles about the quake in the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong newspaper). During the quake, a lot of school building collapsed, apparently from shoddy construction, probably from a combination of lack of education funds in rural areas and corruption. The article also had an interesting statistic:
In March, Premier Wen Jiabao pledged to increase spending on education by more than 45 per cent, to 156.2 billion yuan, this year.


By contrast, government officials nationwide annually spend nearly 300 billion yuan on dining and entertaining, 300 billion yuan on the use of vehicles and 250 billion yuan on government-sponsored domestic and overseas tours.

Dang! I though the U.S. government was inefficient but this is crazy. To spend double the education budget (after a huge increase) on just eating out?! Meanwhile, China's foreign exchange reserve stands at ~US$1.76 trillion.

The other article reported that the government will ease the one-child policy for parents of dead/disabled children:
Chengdu, capital of stricken Sichuan province, is to allow families who lost their only child in the earthquake to have another, official media reported.

Parents whose only child was disabled in the quake can also apply for the right to have another, provided the disability is serious enough.

Sigh... having children is a "right" you need to apply for with the government. Also, who decides if an injury is serious enough? Some bureaucrat in the government?

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