23 September 2009

A Plague of Bureaucrats

Like ants invading the kitchen, swarms of civil servants have been infesting the village.

A few days ago a government delegation visited me to discuss the bit of our property that they intend to usurp. As usual for government, they sent a platoon of nine people representing four departments, though only two of them actually had anything to say. They were there to talk about a five-square-meter piece of the public footpath which we happen to own due to a surveying anamoly, probably because one of the original surveyors made a slip of the pen when he mapped the lot boundaries back in 1903. I was naturally relieved that they have no intention to take over any part of our actual garden. A neighbor, who is a retired civil servant, walked past during the discussion, did a head count, and estimated that the meeting was costing taxpayers HK$50,000 (US$6410).

Every day since then, troops of between 4 and 6 people have been appearing on the footpaths, clutching topographic maps, pointing here and there, and drawing hieroglyphic symbols on pavements and trees. One day a group wandered around with survey equipment, though every time I looked they were in a new place, standing in a huddle and talking. I never noticed them actually setting up and using their hardware.

The next day I spied a small crowd of clipboard-carriers following a man with a camera. As if leading a dragon dance, every few meters he would stop and the others would stumble to a halt, consult their clipboards and nod meaningfully. Then the parade would begin again for another few meters.

Today a gang of four bearing marking pens drew pink triangles outside our gate and elsewhere along the footpath, then doubled back to inspect their artistry.

All this is in preparation for the laying of the sewer pipes. It will be the largest engineering project in Wang Tong Village history. When it's finished, I hope that along with the household effluent, all those nervous herds of civil servants will make a one-way trip out of our village for good.

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