Cheng Ho Gardens: China’s subtle land-grab (Part III)
By Paul Spencer Sochaczewski
This was exciting and exhausting. But Wee wasn’t finished.
“What’s this area here on the map called Cheng Ho Gardens?” I asked.
“Ah, I’m really excited about this. I know good Party cadres shouldn’t have big egos, but I’m very proud of this.”
Cheng Ho Gardens, named after the famous Chinese Muslim eunuch admiral of the Ming Dynasty who explored much of the world including Southeast Asia in the 15th century, was a combination retirement village, tax haven and secure final living place for the world’s rich, famous and unloved.
Horace Wee put a humanitarian spin on Cheng Ho Gardens.
“Throughout the world, there are men and women who have served their countries but have nowhere to live after they retire. We’re providing a place where they can own property, safely invest their savings, build the homes of their dreams.”
“Can’t people do that anywhere?”
“Not the unfortunate people we’re targeting. Think of nation builders -- Ferdinand Marcos, Idi Amin, Jean-Bédel Bokassa and Zia-ul-Haq. Inspirational leaders like Hosni Mubarak and Baby Doc. Freedom fighters Mobutu Sese Seko and Donald Rumsfeld, Joseph Kony and Charles Taylor. Augusto Pinochet. Muammar Gaddafi.
"Bringers of development to primitive people such as Taib Mahmud and Najib Razak. Not to mention the entrepreneurs who deal in recreational chemicals -- Pablo Escobar and Manuel Noriega. Socially-conscious entrepreneurs like Donald Trump. Spiritual leaders like Jimmy Swaggart and Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.
"The men and women who run multinational businesses that you Westerners sneer at and call evil -- the Triads, the Cosa Nostra. Good, hard-working folks with families who have nowhere to go. When so-called ‘civilized’ countries refuse these kind people safe haven, they are denying good men and women their basic human rights. We’re meeting a need the United Nations has ignored -- safe haven for rich refugees.
"We hope to get the Nobel Peace Prize.”
* * *
What Wee left unsaid is this: China is desperate for rare earth minerals, timber, oil and natural gas, uranium, precious stones, medicinal plants and body parts of endangered animals. Many of these treasures are found in countries that are poor, disorganized and run by rabidly corrupt despots.
China’s main tactic has been (and no doubt will continue to be) to infiltrate such mineral-rich/ethics-poor countries by offering to build airports, dams, train lines and roads in exchange for good terms on extraction rights.
But in addition to the airports and dams, which the dictator can point to proudly as examples of national development (and quietly pocket his 10 percent commission), China offers these men (and a few women) a safe haven in Cheng Ho Gardens -- a comfortable and secure refuge (with security guards trained by Israeli and Rhodesian consultants) in which to enjoy their golden years after the inevitable coup or downturn in business.
“Win-win-win,” Wee explains.
* * *
With the panache of a huckster trying to sell time shares in an Orlando condo, Horace Wee explained the options.
First, the prospective buyer makes a non-refundable deposit of $10 million for his Nanyang passport. I assume that this fee can be offset against normal cost-of-doing-business bribes the Chinese pay for permission to rape and pillage the buyer’s country.
Then comes the fun part. The buyer can design his or her own island. Nothing off-the-shelf for these folks.
“One of our new citizens, from a wealthy East African country, wants an island in the shape of a male lion. The tail will be a links-style golf course, and the lion’s mane will conceal hidden beaches with air-conditioned pavilions where he can relax with his wives. I think he has six, plus another few in training.”
“Other designs are similarly intriguing?” I asked.
Wee went through some of the plans for the 18 islands already committed. One North African gentleman wants his island to be in the shape of his jowly visage, so visitors flying in to Cheng Ho International Airport can be greeted by his smiling face.
Another opinion leader has commissioned Wee to build a tropical volcanic island, with a 2,000-meter-tall volcano in the center.”
“Which will explode?”
“Not in the geological sense. But we will install a few things that he wants -- a state-of-the-art pyrotechnics center within the volcano’s cone, so the volcano will explode fireworks on his birthday, and a roller coaster that will travel around and inside the volcano.
“And there’s a gentleman from a northern Slavic country who doesn’t like sub-tropical weather, so we’ve created for him a series of gigantic terraces and mini-mountains. Thanks to the extensive solar energy system -- after all, we aim for all of Nanyang to be green and for residents of Cheng Ho Gardens to be good Earth citizens -- each of the vast terraces will be air-conditioned, and the ground soil, shipped in from Canada, I think, will be lined with refrigeration pipes and underground irrigation systems.
"The idea is to create a series of temperate landscapes where his gardeners can grow apples, cherries and roses. He’ll have forests of maple, oak and pine. In some areas he’ll have snow for skiing and an ice rink where he can play hockey and his young figure-skating girlfriends can spend their free time. We’ll introduce Northern Hemisphere animals so he’ll feel at home -- foxes, rabbits, moose. His main house will be in the form of a Bavarian hunting lodge. Very tasteful.”
I was impressed. But a bit apprehensive. Wee was revealing too much.
“Why are you telling me all this? Surely not to get publicity in the Times.”
“Let’s grab a beer and I’ll answer your question.”
(To read the final chapter, click here.)
Paul Spencer Sochaczewski is a Geneva-based writer whose books include An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles, Distant Greens, Curious Encounters of the Human Kind, Redheads, Share Your Journey and Soul of the Tiger (with Jeff McNeely). This satirical piece is excerpted from Exceptional Encounters: Enhanced Reality Tales from Southeast Asia, which will be published by Explorer’s Eye Press in late 2017. Paul can be contacted at: www.sochaczewski.com.