The Chinese New Year holiday is underway this week so first, let me say Happy Chinese New Year or Spring Festival. This year is the Year of the Monkey according to the lunar calendar and while the monkey is a playful and curious creature, the year has been predicted by some to be very challenging. Indeed, despite the festivities or holiday relaxation for many of us in East Asia, the new year started off with serious tragedy.
First, the historic city of Tainan in southern Taiwan experienced an earthquake early Saturday morning that destroyed several buildings and led to hundreds of injuries. At least 40 have lost their lives and over 100 are still missing. The quake was measured at 6.4 which doesn't seem that strong but it was enough to topple several buildings including a massive apartment complex in which most of the victims and missing lived. There is increasing suspicion that substandard construction in that building (not much has been reported about the other ones that collapsed) played a big role and the latest development is that three executives of the company that built that apartment have been arrested (see the link above).
Meanwhile, Hong Kong saw some shocking scenes Monday as a violent street riot broke out over a police crackdown on street vendors in a Kowloon neighborhood. Fifty people were arrested and about 100 were injured, including both police and protesters. It's something that was initially a mystery though some observers are saying it wasn't just about the vendors but an outbreak of anger over problems in Hong Kong in the last few years. I can't say for now whether the violence was justified but I'll accept that there were deeper reasons behind the riot. There is a growing schism between many young people there and the authorities, especially over the heavyhanded influence of China, and this anger will not go away anytime soon.
These two instances are reminders that tragedy can always strike when unexpected and that dissatisfaction in society can continue for a long time until they erupt suddenly. Hopefully, the rest of the year won't be too turbulent but it is good to be mindful of issues around you.