Extravagence out of control: China’s Tower of Babel

In a China where millions of citizens still live in chronic poverty, with little or no access to the basic necessities that we take for granted (clean water), where migrant workers by the millions are forced to leave their rural villages for the big cities where, exploited, they typically earn barely enough money to feed their families, is this ‘Tower of Babel’, christened “New Countryside in the Air” by its developers (see link below), which is nothing more than a trophy built to make a name for self-indulging village chiefs, a venture too far that will prove to be a conspicuous failure? A future monument to the excessive greed, decadence, and wasteful squandering which are inevitable by-products of a totalitarian society starved of freedom of expression, political accountability, and economic transparency?




Huaxi village, Jiangyin County, in Jiangsu (which according to the People’s Daily is China’s richest village, with an annual income of over €4 billion!!!!) is building what will be the world’s 15th tallest building and 8th tallest in China. In a rural village? Says the “elected” (likely the only candidates) village chief of Huaxi, Mr. Wu Xi’en, “..it is now the time to get rid of that image (that rural areas always have low houses) and build a new high-altitude rural area“.


Key features of the “New Countryside in the Air”:


  • Design height: 328 metres / 1,076 feet (Hong Kong’s Central Plaza, its 3rd highest building, which dominates the Wanchai skyline, is 374 metres))
  • Floors: 74 stories (Hong Kong’s Central Plaza has 78 stories)
  • Total investment: 2.5 billion RMB (about €260 million… the original planned cost was €155 million)
  • Construction area: 20 million + square metres.
  • Residential accommodation: 2,000 people
  • Restaurant seating capacity: 3,000 people enjoy meals at the same time (including Asia’s largest revolving restaurant)
  • Elevators: 35 elevators with speed at over 10 m / s, the fastest in China.
  • Surveillance equipment: The world’s most advanced !!
  • Fire extinguishing equipment: The world’s most advanced!!
  • Opening date: 2011, the 50th anniversary of the village’s founding.

I wonder how the system really works at the local village level in China, where village officials are not subject to the same regulations as civil servants, and where villagers, although provided with rights to watch over such officials, dare not speak out against abuses of power (including forced seizure of land, the misuse of village assets on loans to companies owned by relatives of the village bosses who run their districts like fiefdoms, embezzling government compensation for land use rights or selling out collective property in closed-door deals) by greedy village heads for fear of reprisals.


Astonishing, up to €260 million invested by a village in a village!!  And what of the planning permission process? Wouldn’t there need to be approval for such an investment at a provincial level? Where was the provincial supervision? Didn’t anyone care to step back and ask if the money could not be better spent, or in the very least attempt to assess the risk exposure of the local government and the banks that helped finance this construction?


What does this probable “white elephant” say of the ideals over which the founding fathers of the People’s Republic fought a brutal civil war? All those vices traditionally blamed on the decadence of the colonial exploitation that China had to endure now have a free reign to thrive, despite numerous campaigns over the decades to weed out such “spiritual pollution”.


When China’s property bubble explodes and the China economy eventually and truly hits the buffers (the one cardinal rule all economists agree on is that what goes up eventually comes down), this edifice to gluttony that is the “New Countryside in the Air” will loom large in the ensuing post-mortem which, doubtless will cite the excessive waste and missed chances to help those most in need and create a more equal society.


.. By the 60th anniversary of the village there are plans to open Huaxi Dragon Tower, which at 118 stories will be 538 metres (1,765 feet) tall.

 New Countryside in the Air

Tower of Babel

Building a woman from a man for US$6,325

Staying with the marketing theme, this time with an advertising twist, here is another interesting sex-related oddity (well at least I think it is) – The “sex change” 变性倾向, for those of you who feel like women trapped in a man’s body, or who feel like men trapped in a woman’s body: Gender identity disorder, as it’s referred to in the medical world.

So there I was the other morning, lying on my Bangkok [http://wp.me/p15Yzr-12 (or Krung thep maha nakorn boworn ratana kosin mahintar ayudhya amaha dilok pop nopa ratana rajthani burirom udom rajniwes mahasat arn amorn pimarn avatar satit sakattiya visanukam) hotel room bed when a copy of the Bangkok Post newspaper quietly slips under my door.

Building a woman from a man for US$6,325 - Bangkok Post Saturday July 24 2008 army chief urged to act
The Bangkok Post, Saturday July 24 2008 – “Army chief urged to act”

Glossing over the front page, muttering to myself not much has changed since my last trip back in January, with talk of a military takeover and all that…., when my eyes set upon the banner advertisement at the bottom of the page: “Sex change  1,625 us$”

Bangkok Post Saturday July 24 2008 - Army chief urged to act  - sex change anyone?
The Bangkok Post, Saturday July 24 2008 – “Army chief urged to act” and by the anyone want a sex change?

Building a woman from a man for US$6325 Sex change Kathoey Thailand

Not exactly the kind of advertisement you’d find of the front page of the Irish Times, the Financial Times, or Washington Post (well perhaps on Singapore’s Straits Times), but then this is Thailand and even for such an eminent newspaper as the Bangkok Post advertising sex change operations just adds to the endless clichés, quirks and idiosyncrasies associated with life in this teeming, chaotic metropolis of ten millions.

The advertisement would appear to support the perception by a casual observer (i.e. me) that kathoey, or transgenders (“the third sex”),  are  fully accepted by Thai society.  Previously, an enlightened (sic) Thai friend and former colleague,  explaining the Thai Buddhist principles with respect to tolerance and Karma, declared “being a kathoey is the result of wrongdoing in past lives”, which therefore vindicates the consideration that kathoey are deserving of pity rather than blame.

Hmm…. well, such a mind-set may be true if you look at the ever smiling drag queens working in Bangkok’s famous cabaret shows, and the more traditional female occupations such as make-up artist and hair-stylist.  However, I’d be in doubt about how such sentiments would play out in my native Ireland where its ok to be gay, but tough to be trans!

Yet, in truth the road to normal acceptance by society can be rougher than a poorly-honed breast enlargement (“silicone implants ranging from  1,125 us$, mammoplasty with Mentor/ES prosthesises included” as per the advertisement).  It is very unlikely you will meet a kathoey with a job in a bank, school, corporation, or in government.  They face many social and legal obstacles:  Legal recognition is non-existent, and they are not permitted to change their legal sex.  Trouble can also occur in relation to access to amenities such as toilets [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7529227.stm], while a wayward kathoey still has to stay in an all-male prison if convicted of a criminal offence.

So about that advertisement….. What sort of English reading / speaking foreign “woman” trapped in a man’s body would, after reading the Bangkok Post advert, be motivated to pick up the phone to dial 02 2545888? A cross-dresser already taking hormones?  Nah, likely someone who wants to meet the drop-dead gorgeous Miss Tiffany Universe 2007… only to find out that Khun Tanyarat is actually a guy!

Now that’s a misleading advertisement if there was ever one.

Note: My calculator informs me the total cost of untrapping the woman from within the man is 6,325  us$ and counting!

Building a woman from a man for US$6,325 - The famous Calypso Ladyboy Cabaret show in Bangkok
The famous Calypso Ladyboy Cabaret show in Bangkok