A Thousand-Word Picture

This first picture shows a food deliveryman bringing a shipment of wheat gluten to a local food stall.

So far so good.  Here are the thousand words (well, more or less a thousand words, but who is counting?)

[Oriental Daily via Yahoo! News]  June 20, 2005.

[in translation]

In recent years, there have been numerous stories about unlicensed food processing factories on mainland China.  It turns out that there are also similar factories in Hong Kong as well, with exceptionally bad hygienic conditions.

In Shek O (east end of Hong Kong island), there is an unlicensed wheat gluten factor that begins production around midnight and continuous produces wheat gluten to supply the food markets and restaurants in eastern Hong Kong island.

This unlicensed has extremely bad hygienic conditions -- flies and cockroaches run everywhere, the cooking utensils are blackened with mold, the water pipes are clogged with greasy dirty water and the wheat gluten are oily.

This unlicensed factor is unoccupied during the day, but the lights come on at night and people work there.  This reporter went in and pretended to ask for directions.  There was a worker loading the wheat gluten into plastic bags, while oil was being heated in two big woks with about twenty to thirty more baskets of wheat gluten still on the ground.

The reporter asked the workers what is happeneing, and he replied: "These are wheat gluten used to make sweat and sour vegetarian food.  They have just been fried, but they have no taste as yet."  The reporter later trailed the worker, and saw him delivering the wheat gluten to dozens of food stalls and restaurants in Sau Kei Wan, Sai Wan Ho, Chai Wan and Kong Shan.

This unlicensed wheat gluten factor only operates during the night and there is nobody there during the day.  There is a sour stench.  The factory house is very crude, constructed just from wooden boards and steel sheets.  There is a store room for the flour, oil and equipment, as well as for mixing the flour.  Inside is the area for the stoves to fry the wheat gluten.

The storage room for the wheat gluten was filled with garbage and dirty water.  The work room reeks of a public toilet, such that one is forced to cover the nose.  There are mosquitos and flies everhwere.  The machine to mix the flour is quite old, with signs of rust.  Less than one meter from the flour mixing location is a ditch full of foul-smelling yellow water.  Since there is no bathroom, it is assumed that the workers must relieve themselves here.  It was really disgusting.

The reporter called the factory manager named Mr. Chu.  At first, he politely admitted who he was.  When the reporter told him about the purpose of the call, he changed his mind and said, "You've got the wrong person!" and he hung up.  The reporter went to the address where the delivery vehicle was registered and found the worker who did the delivery.  The worker said: "This is my car.  I am only responsible for delivering.  If you have enough evidence, you should show them!"

The reporter spoke to the manager of one food store that accepted the products from this unlicensed factory.  He said that the wheat gluten cost between HK$1 and HK$2 per piece, which is not particularly cheapt.  But this outfit calls him up to see if he needs merchandise, so it was more convenient.  When the reporter informed him of the hygienic conditions at the unlicensed factory, he sad stunned: "I had no idea.  I did not think that there was a problem.  If this is so, I won't order from them again."

And now for the photo that I could have shown you without making you read all those words.

So who can you trust these days?  Alright, you know that you are taking a risk if you go to a sidewalk restaurant in Sai Wan Ho.  But even the Peninsula Hotel buys its raw food materials from suppliers that cannot always be inspected and certified.  Don't worry, be happy.