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In Hong Kong, the chicken came after the egg

January 05, 1998

In Hong Kong, the chicken came after the egg

The grim headline was terrorizing, even to those steeled against the horrors of the world. It screamed "All Hong Kong Chickens Must Die."

See, I knew turning the city over to Communist China would come to no good. It always starts with chickens, doesn't it? Stalin started with chickens sending thousands to the infamous gulag coops of the great north.

Television graphically showed men in white moon suits and gas masks, with ruthless efficiency stuffing chickens. And I'm not talking about stuffing them with apple walnut dressing. No, 1.3 million chickens, most of whom had been looking forward to a happy rendevous with a wok, were being stuffed into trash bags and given a gaseous blast with the nite-nite nozzle. Oh the Hunanity.

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Because of the avian flu virus known as A H5N1 (so-named because "mumps" was already taken), health officials called for the slaughter of all Hong Kong chickens, although what 1.3 million chickens are doing living in the city, I'd like to know.

The mass slaughter, they hope, will snuff out the disease, which is blamed for the death of four people and the sickening of a dozen or so more, with symptoms of coughing, fever and sleeping on the shower-curtain rod with your head under your arm.

But isn't this an overreaction - all because a few people forgot to use a meat thermometer? In the United States more people than that are gored to death by cattle each day, but you don't see us stuffing cows into trash bags.

Who does the Chinese premier think he is, the Pharaoh?

Maybe somewhere in the city a farmer has tucked a baby chick into a reed basket and hidden him in the bulrushes and 20 years from now this great chicken will part the Zhu River and lead the oppressed into the land of grubs and corn meal.

Hey, that's my idea! You put down that cell phone, Oliver Stone!

I don't see why they have to kill them. Couldn't they just shake the eggs? (Speaking of which, perhaps they could send some of these Chinese Avian Death Squads over here to deal with the geese at City Park.)

According to the Washington Post, "the biggest problem was that the number of workers deployed for the operation - 1,200 from the agriculture department - have no experience in handling, let alone killing, chickens. They are largely desk-bound bureaucrats, working in jobs such as licensing and transportation, looking after Hong Kong's country parks and supervising rabies cases."

Imagine. There's some hapless Chinese version of Dilbert sitting in front of his spreadsheet and someone comes up and hands him a gas mask and says, "Today's going to be a little different."

And Chinese restaurants were obviously feeling the anguish.

"You can still see chicken on the menu," a cashier at one of Hong Kong's premier restaurants told the Post. "But anything with two feet we don't have."

Look for the National Pig Council people to move in soon, with their "Pork: It's the Other Non-Viral White Meat" slogan and "easy substitute" recipes in which pork roasts are somehow made out to have drumsticks.

The real messy thing though is that dogs and rats are starting to dig up the mass chicken graves, and health officials are worried the virus will be transmitted to them. And while the American public may sit passionlessly by and watch chickens and rats be destroyed, what will they think if health officials have to start executing pups?

And will our friend at the famous Chinese restaurant be forced into another disclaimer?

"Anything that barks and anything with long, furless tails we don't have..."

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