"An unsavory spectacle"

To continue with what I wrote yesterday, let me quote the following from an online article called China's panic-buying of salt:

"Somewhat surprisingly it has been cities across China, including Hong Kong, that have witnessed panic in recent days, in contrast to the relative calm in Japan.

Last week, a salt-buying frenzy was unleashed across China that spread to Hong Kong, which quickly became a rather unsavory spectacle. Rumors had spread via the Internet from across the border that some salt contains iodine, which would provide protection from a looming radiation threat from Japan. Throngs of people began scrambling for salt, mobbing shops and wholesalers.

On Friday, the Hong Kong government had to resort to a mass text-message campaign imploring people not to believe rumors and to stop panic-buying salt. The fact you might have to eat kilos of the stuff to get sufficient iodine was of no consequence. Indeed, so chaotic was the behavior that some people were even seen bizarrely carting off bottles of soy sauce. Amid the buying, retailers reportedly raised the price of salt more than tenfold, seeing an opportunity to profit from this panic.

The whole episode has caused a certain degree of embarrassment and shame, particularly in contrast to the restrained behavior in Japan, where there is very real suffering. There the orderly and stoic lining up for water, transport and food in the middle of biblical-like devastation has shown the remarkable endurance and self-control of the Japanese people.

This makes the contrast with images on mainland China all the more stark. Some academics have suggested the willingness to believe bogus warnings reflects a lack of trust in the government's truthfulness in China. That could have some credence: Back in 2008, the government tried to keep the scandal of powdered milk mixed with melamine that was poisoning babies quiet until after the Olympic Games in Beijing. Perhaps one unintended consequence of a one-party government which controls the media with an army of censors is that it creates a fertile breeding ground for paranoia.

What is perhaps more surprising is that Hong Kong, which has a free flow of information and independent media, also joined the frenzy."

It may be a surprise to the writer that "Hong Kong... also joined the frenzy", but it is not a surprise to me at all. Having been born and bred here, I would like to say (or shall I say "I regret to say"?) that I probably know more about my folk than some gweilos.

In any case, the writer must have been, like myself, quite disgusted with the episode, in saying that it was "a rather unsavory spectacle" and "has caused a certain degree of embarrassment and shame".

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