Communication breaks down - frankly speaking

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 September, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 September, 1998, 12:00am

Most Legislative Council questions elicit less information than they should. Officials are great stonewallers, and legislators, bless them, are not very good at winkling them out from behind the protective waffle.

Just occasionally though, you learn more than you ever wanted.

There we were, just waiting for Chan Wing-chan to get to the question. He'd been babbling on about delays on the Tung Chung Line for ages. Legco President Rita Fan had to interrupt him twice to urge him to get on with it. And still he burbled.

But then, suddenly, he came to the point. It wasn't a question at all. It was a statement of stunning irrelevance. And yet, good grief, it was a show-stopper.

He had taken the Tung Chung Line himself, he informed us, and had experienced a breakdown.

Over the years, we have often wondered about Mr Chan. But we never thought he would be quite as open about his personal problems as this.

Sorry, Mr Chan. Not your fault. Blame the interpreter. We know you were trying to say the train had broken down. Either that, or you were trying to explain that you had had to wait so long you thought you might experience a breakdown if you had to sit there any longer.

But sometimes it is a little difficult to know exactly what you and your colleagues are trying to say.

You cannot always blame Legco's simultaneous interpreters, however. Sometimes, the English statement has been handed to them in advance and all they have to do is read it out.

Poor things. Imagine having to tell the world that 'delays were caused by operational reasons such as incongruous interface of signalling and mismatch between train and platform doors'.

The second part of the sentence probably means the train stopped in the wrong place and passengers could not get out. The bit about the incongruous interface of signalling, though . . . Who knows? Could Secretary for Transport Nicholas Ng possibly have been trying to tell us that trains are regularly routed into the path of oncoming traffic, because signals fail to lock on to the driver's ocular instruction interception organs, but that disaster has always been averted at the last moment, when, by some miracle, the incongruity of the interface has been noticed in the signal box? We had no difficulty, however, with interpreting Mr Ng's remark that possible improvements in frequency were limited by constraints at the design stage.

Just for once, he was giving a straight answer. Eventually, trains on the Tung Chung Line will be able to run at four-minute intervals in rush hour.

Better than that? Forget it.