Cab Chat

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 September, 2008, 12:00am

Lee Kam-kei praises the quality control displayed by the space programme but holds little hope of seeing better controls on food from the mainland

All 1.3 billion Chinese would be proud of our space odyssey. I am no exception. It is already an extraordinary achievement of this country to send an astronaut into space and this time one of them is going to conduct the first spacewalk. China has well demonstrated its skills in science and technology through this spacecraft and it seems we are catching up with the United States and Russia. Although I did not watch the launch of Shenzhou VII on Friday night, I had full confidence that it would succeed. The country would not dare broadcast the mission live if they were not 100 per cent sure about every technological detail. It was to be watched by millions of people. There was no room for failure.

Sadly controls over quality and standards on the mainland are not always as good as those in force for the space module. The tainted milk crisis is just too horrible. Innocent babies are getting kidney stones for products from a renowned brand. Mainland brands have lost all [public] trust after this scandal. Indeed, I cannot tell what kind of products from the mainland are genuine and safe. Can anyone tell? Fortunately my family switched to overseas brands of milk powders years ago and I have told my wife not to buy any food, drinks or sauces produced on the mainland. She has recently turned to Singaporean soy and Italian olive oil for cooking.

But we have limited choices for fresh meat, poultry and vegetables. We cannot afford to eat [overseas] imported chicken or beef or fish every day. It is the same for vegetables, for which the city relies heavily on the mainland. The only solution to the poisonous pesticides used on vegetables, as we are told, is to wash them thoroughly. I understand the city government conducts some tests on imported food but I doubt their effectiveness. If those tests were done seriously, why would newspapers report residents getting sick after eating mainland food?

Mainland businessmen are so desperate for profits and it is so tempting to cheat given the loose regulations. I am pessimistic about the likelihood of seeing any big improvement. Unlike the space programme, food production is not initiated by the government but by private enterprises. Consumer health is not a priority for them. There will be no cure unless the country returns to the old days when the government took care of all businesses.

I am disappointed with the new taxi fare scheme and it will definitely add woes to our business. The reason is simple. The increased flagfall at HK$18 will scare away short-haul passengers, while the discounts on long-haul trips are not going to win the battle against discount-taxi gangs. The new scheme will give an average 15 per cent discount to long-distance passengers, but the discounters are offering to charge 20 per cent or even 30 per cent less than the meter. Worse still, most red-cab passengers take short-haul trips only and you can expect a sharply decreased demand. I think the unions should listen to taxi drivers before making decisions. We will see the adverse impact very soon.

The government should no longer boast that the economy is recovering. As a cab driver I know it is not. You can see empty taxies everywhere in housing estates and factories. Inflation also hits us hard. A simple lunch at a tea shop now costs HK$32 and the surging oil price has made us almost breathless. We have to be very cautious in our spending. For example, I know some stalls are offering Chinese-language newspapers at HK$5 instead of HK$6. I can therefore save the money for one copy every week. Supermarkets are so mean that they change price tags quietly. I heard the Consumer Council is doing price watches in the supermarkets and I wonder where I can get the information.

The financial turmoil in the United States is so damaging that the banks in the city are also affected. But I wonder why some people are so wicked to make up fraudulent rumours. Police can definitely trace the source. The government has a mechanism to protect people's deposits of up to HK$100,000 in the bank. I am not worried at all.