16 May 2008

Tofu Construction

You may need to click on the image to get the full impact of this picture.

From a morbid humour point of view, this could be one of those children activities book where it says that there are 9 dead children in this picture. Can you spot them all?

Only problem is that this is for real and there absolutely nothing funny about it. 9 families just lost their child assuming the One-Child Policy applies to them. 9 families trees just got chopped down. 9 blood lines just got terminated.

The numbers kept climbing and the 25,000 still missing are feared dead as the seconds tick away. Estimates are pointing the number of deaths to that near 50,000.

How many is 50,000? It will spill over the old National Stadium in Kallang. PM Lee would have lost his job in the last election. That's how many 50,000 is.

Earlier on, I talked about shoddy construction resulting in building collapsing and killing everybody in it.
Read the following article from South China Morning Post dated 16 May 2008:

Why did so many new buildings fail?
'Some survivors said the whole building just sank into the earth'

Shi Jiangtao in Beichuan, May 16, 2008    

In a sea of mud, tree limbs and rocks at what used to be Beichuan county's only high school, an old four-storey building is incongruously marooned.

Some roof tiles are broken, but otherwise, there is no obvious  damage.

"That's where I studied more than 30 years ago," said a 50-year-old man, who gave his surname as Wang. He graduated in 1977.

Mr Wang has been glued to the rubble for more than 40 hours, waiting for a miracle to bring back his daughter, Wang Xiaolan, who was on the first floor of the new school building when Monday's quake struck.

More than 80 per cent of concrete structures in Beichuan - 34km from the quake epicentre - collapsed, and only four out of every 10 people survived. "She's probably dead," a dazed Mr Wang said in a toneless voice. "They've been pulling out bodies, and some survivors said the whole building just sank into the earth within a couple of minutes."

The building where Wang Xiaolan, a 23-year-old English teacher, was conducting a class with first-year high school students was built in 2004. It is one of the three buildings on the campus that tumbled into piles of rubble.

"All of them were built after 2000," Mr Wang said. "It's strange that the old buildings remained intact but new ones collapsed."

The only other concrete structure left standing is a four-storey residential building 100 metres away. Brown flower pots still sit on a small balcony on its top floor.

"That was built in the 1970s for school teachers," Mr Wang said. "The quality of the architecture - from the frame, steel, cement to bricks - everything, was much better back then."

As buildings came crashing down, questions are being asked whether corruption and shoddy construction are to blame for such a heavy toll.

Victims' families have started pointing fingers at local officials who are suspected of pocketing money budgeted for construction and at private real estate companies that had saved money by cutting corners on the project. When Premier Wen J1abao was inspecting the township on Tuesday, Mr Wang was among the crowd, gripped by an urge to heckle him about the so-called tofu projects.

But he shook his hand instead, without saying anything. "I still can't get my head around it. My daughter was eating dinner with me on Sunday night, but the next day she's gone for good. How could that happen?"

Liu Yongzhi, 32, a worker at the Dongfeng Steam Turbine Plant, said he would ask Mr Wen why most public buildings in his town of Hanwang - 60km east of the epicentre - had toppled. The factory imploded into two metres of rubble, he said.

"It sounds unbelievable, but we were one of the top three steam turbine makers in the country," he said. "It vanished within a couple of seconds." Two schools affiliated with the factory were also destroyed, leaving 200 children buried.

A seven-storey, modern building in the township of 20,000 - which served as major entertainment spot for local cadres - also imploded, Mr Liu said. Several senior officials playing cards in a tea house on the second floor were killed.

Mr Liu's home - a single-family tiled house he built himself - withstood the quake.

"I laid down a really solid foundation for my place," he said. "There's not a single crack."

- South China Morning Post (16 May 2008) 

For the sake of pocketing that extra dollar, innocent lives were lost.

So what, I ask, is the price of a human life here in Spitland worth? 
It was the most serious quake in 30 years i.e. 3 decades of accumulated complacency that nothing is going to go wrong which lulled them into assuming that it would be safe to get away with shoddy workmanship.

30 years is a long time. That's the length span of about 1 generation. These shoddy buildings were probably built up the fathers, whom the sons are now going to be held responsible coz it's the grandsons who are now dead under the rubble.

I can bet you that the Central Gahmen will be taking action after the investigations are done. Heads will roll to appease the people...

... but the problem will never go away.

Image Credits:;

 - Voxeros

1. Chocolate gal left...
Saturday, 17 May 2008 7:56 am
The pain of the parents who have to bury their children.. feel like crying just thinking of it.. :(

2. JayWalk left...
Saturday, 17 May 2008 12:26 pm :: 
Chocolate Gal: Don't be surprised if the parents are dead too.

3. rn left...
Saturday, 17 May 2008 6:40 pm ::
you know... no one ever thinks of the consequences. It's human nature, and it's ugly

4. merryfeet left...
Saturday, 17 May 2008 10:58 pm
I can't imagine the pain and desperation that the rescue workers feel when they pull out lifeless bodies after bodies of children from the collapesed rubble of over 7000 schools. It when calamity takes its toll on the young, especially, that tear our heartstrings. Even more ironically, it is at these places that these kids are supposed to learn how to build a brighter future for themselves.
This picture pretty much brings a sense of reality of this quake to people like us who are miles away from the ground 0. ):

5. AURORE left...
Sunday, 18 May 2008 1:42 am ::'s terrible, I hope that you haven't family in this country .. I was in venezuela..I have some fotos here : it's my travel blog.

6. JayWalk left...
Sunday, 18 May 2008 9:44 am :: 
RN: The authorities should haul all those responsible to and let them stand in the rubble for 2 days. Let the stench of the 100 rotting corpses, on which they are standing on, haunt them for the rest of their lives.

Merryfeet: The stench was so bad that the 10 sniffing dogs brought in to locate survivors no longer have their sense of smell albeit not permanent.

aurore: No family in that part of Ch1na. We are all ok. :)

7. chinawander left...
Wednesday, 28 May 2008 7:35 pm
Actually I think its not simply a matter of greed since there are no people in the world who have a monopoly on that. If you study Asian architecture you realize that the so-called "tofu" construction is actually a philosophy of building that's over a thousand years old. Ancient Chinese, Japanese, and Korean buildings were always built quickly on average and often fell down easily and were therefore easily replaced. Even into the early twentieth century when modern materials and methods were available most homes in the Sichuan region were often made of mud. I'm not saying that skimping on the materials and therefore creating an awful death trap for children wasn't the case, only that the people who built the buildings were the victims of their own culture even though the children paid the ultimate price. I live and teach in China as I have for four years now and there isn't a single building around me that wouldn't crumble like a sand castle if an earthquake hit.

8. JayWalk left...
Thursday, 29 May 2008 1:27 pm :: 
Chinawander: Welcome to the blog. Well yes and no to your comment. If the folks know what they are paying for i.e. they know that the money spent is a tofu building in return right from day 1, then that's ok. I have no qualms about that.

I am here for 8 years already and unfortunately, the cutting corners on the part of the contractors are more often than not, done without the knowledge of the people who fork out money for them.


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JayWalk said...

Teaching English In China: Welcome to the blog.

It looks like Ch1na has finally caught up with my blog despite the Great Firewall.

As you would have noticed, this blog is still active albeit not as updated often, due to work commitments, as before.