Flood hero brings a wave of relief

Eastern Times Hong Kong
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The Independent Online
AT LAST Hong Kong has a hero, a real hero plucked from total obscurity by an act of bravery which saved two boys' lives and cost him his own. His name is Lee Ying-kwong. A name which meant nothing a few days ago but is now on everyone's lips.

No one in Hong Kong is quite saying so, but the former British colony badly needs a hero to relieve the unremitting gloom of a deepening economic crisis, a series of extraordinary food scares, out- breaks of mysterious diseases and simply terrible weather.

Like many obscure people who were suddenly thrust into the limelight, Mr Lee, a 51-year-old plumber, has turned out to have what might politely be described as a complicated personal life, which itself illustrates the sort of problems faced by the not-so-well-off in this brash society which seems designed for high achievers.

Last Tuesday Mr Lee was working on a housing project when the skies disgorged more rain than has been seen in these parts for as long as most people can remember. The ensuing chaos was so bad that even the stock exchange stopped trading.

Mr Lee, on his way to size up a job, was far removed from the comfort of flickering screens and fast bucks being made and lost on the stock market. He heard cries from a nullah, one of the dirty streams which carry waste. On investigation he found two boys who had been swept away in a torrent and were clinging to a grating at the mouth of a culvert. By lowering himself into the raging stream he managed to free the first boy. Then he went back for the other.

But by then the conditions had got even worse. While trying to free the second boy, he was swept away. Two days later the body was found. It seems he had been carried across Hong Kong's famous harbour in the torrent, having drowned shortly after the second abortive rescue attempt.

His 18-year-old son, Kwok-hung, described his father in terms that seem strangely reminiscent of the era of Chairman Mao. "He was the first one to learn from Lei Feng since the reunification of Hong Kong with China," he said. Lei Feng was a Chinese People's Liberation Army soldier who died in 1962, and who subsequently became the focus of countless Maoist campaigns concerning his supposed constant acts of self-sacrifice.

Now Kwok-hung is the son of Mr Lee's first wife, whom he met in China and brought back to Hong Kong. But under the extraordinary laws concerning the children of Hong Kong parents born on the Chinese mainland - who have no automatic right to join their parents in Hong Kong - Kwok-hung has been waiting three years to join his parents.

Suddenly, however, the wall of Chinese red tape came tumbling down and he was allowed into Hong Kong in time for his father's funeral. Meanwhile, two other "wives" had emerged. One was in Hong Kong, with a daughter. Another appeared in the border town of Shenzhen, where so many "second wives" of Hong Kong men seem to live.

It must have been more than a struggle to keep this diverse family in food and clothing on a jobbing plumber's wages. Mr Lee's heroic death has resulted in cash pouring in from the public to support the children.

Hong Kong's chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, meanwhile, has decided to award Mr Lee a posthumous gold medal for bravery. It's about the only thing Mr Tung has done right for quite a while. And the warm glow of Mr Lee's bravery just might be enough to take minds away from the growing contempt the public is showing towards a government which is revealing itself to be pretty much at sea in handling the economic crisis.

AWAY FROM heroism, deep in the bowels of the earth, in the carriages of Hong Kong's splendid underground railway, lurk a large number of men who are about as far removed from heroism as it is possible to get.

They are the gropers, who make use of the opportunity afforded in tightly packed carriages to conduct their unpleasant activities. They try - naturally - to remain anonymous but thanks to the diligence of the Chinese-language Easy Finder magazine, women have been given a chance of spotting them in advance.

An interview with a fortune teller reveals that gropers have readily identifiable physical features. They include thick lips, small mouths, bushy eyebrows, dull eyes, sallow skin, wide foreheads and narrow chins. No wonder they have to seek sexual gratification in packed underground carriages.

THE REACTION of the authorities following the arrest of Chan Tsz-tong is marvellous. He was a Hong Kong football team member who has been accused of complicity in a conspiracy to rig matches. "We all knew about match fixing," the authorities cried. Quite. Much in the same way that the authorities of the fabulously rich Hong Kong Jockey Club all knew about horse-race fixing, and various stock exchange officials knew about hanky panky at the bourse. Strange how they always keep it to themselves until some arrests are made.

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