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Follow the Debate - China Real Estate April 2011


China Real Estate

The expansion of these gigantic cities has been fast, disruptive and unprecedented in world history. It has also been accompanied by rapid price increases. But they have occurred primarily in the first-tier cities. Markets cannot easily price what they have never witnessed before.










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China Daily   30/4/2011

Higher incomes lead to surging home prices

Rising household incomes in China are contributing to the surge in housing prices, in addition to loose credit policies and the practice of local governments' fund raising through selling land, People's Daily reported Friday, quoting scholars.

Higher incomes gave residents stronger investment power, and real estate investments are a traditional choice among relatively well-off residents. But speculation resulted in prices exceed the value of the property, Professors Zeng Kangling and Lv Huirong of Southwestern University of Finance and Economics wrote in the comment published in the newspaper.


People's Daily   29/4/2011

China to combat profiteering in home selling

China may further tighten regulation of its real estate market. The National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) is mulling over rules to combat profiteering in the property sector, in hopes of keeping housing prices at a reasonable level, Xu Kunlin, director of the NDRC's Department of Price Supervision, said in an interview with the Xinhua News Agency on April 26.


Caixin Online   27/4/2011

Suddenly, Public Housing Turns High Fashion

Creative financing plans have whetted local government and developer appetites for low-income apartments

Real estate developers and local governments used to turn up their noses at government subsidized housing projects for China's lower class.


Tencent to Form Housing Fund for Employees

An industry analyst expects similar moves to be made by other companies in the internet sector

(Beijing) -- Tencent Holdings Ltd.(HKEX: 0700), a leading internet firm in China, said April 25 it plans to set up a 1-billon-yuan housing fund for its employees within three years, as escalating housing prices and consumer inflation have started affecting their workers.


The New York Times   25/4/2011

The Air-Raid-Shelter Apartments Under Beijing

In the far west of Beijing, in a neighborhood called Apple Orchard, there is a small concrete bunker with a green sign at its mouth that says, “Air-Defense Basement.”

In the city above them, Louis Vuitton stores and Ferrari dealerships and soaring European-designed glass edifices mark China’s dizzying economic ascent.


Caixin Online   22/4/2011

No Trespassing for Local Government Land Cash

Local governments are getting around real estate market controls and pushing China's land prices higher

Central government market controls designed to dampen new home prices are clashing head-on with local government land-auction maneuvers aimed at boosting fiscal revenues.


The Wall Street Journal   22/4/2011

A Law to End Forced Demolitions

The draft law, now being discussed in the National People’s Congress, calls for an end to the intimidation, violence and “other illegal means by both local administrations looking to take possession of people’s homes and third-parties acting on their behalf,” the Beijing-based, state-run China Daily reported on Thursday.

Kaixin OpEd - You would have seen it first in Kaixin, see yesterday's China News.


People's Daily   21/4/2011

Door about to close on forced home demolitions

Property owners in China may soon see the end of forced demolitions, which have triggered conflicts and even seen people set themselves on fire in their desperation to hang onto their homes.

A draft law being discussed by the nation's top legislature calls for an end to the use of violence, intimidation and other illegal means by both local administrations looking to take possession of people's homes and third-parties acting on their behalf.

It also rules out such property seizures taking place on holidays or at night, unless there is an emergency that justifies it.


Caixin Online   21/4/2011

Hui Xian REIT Twice Oversubscribed

The first yuan-denominated real-estate investment trust (REIT) priced in at the lower end of its indicative range

(Beijing) -- Hui Xian Real Estate Investment Trust, a yuan-denominated real-estate investment trust (REIT) controlled by Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-Shing, closed its initial public offering on April 19, with its shares reportedly twice oversubscribed.


China Daily   20/4/2011

Illegal land grabs a growing problem

BEIJING - The "great" and "unrelenting" gap between available land and demand for construction sites has led China's top land supervisor to warn that there may be a growing number of illegal land seizures in the future.

Gan Zangchun, deputy State land inspector-general with the Ministry of Land and Resources, made his prediction against the backdrop of 8,612 people being punished last year for illegally using land.

"Frankly speaking, the era in which land could be supplied for construction to meet demand in China has gone, forever," said Gan, who was speaking at a press conference organized by the State Council's information office.

"The supply of land will be unrelentingly tighter and the tension it causes will accompany the whole process of China's urbanization, industrialization and modernization."


The Wall Street Journal   19/4/2011

China New Home Price Rises Slow

SHANGHAI -- Prices of newly built homes in 49 of the 70 large and medium-sized Chinese cities covered by a government survey rose in March from the previous month, down from 56 cities in February and 60 in January, indicating the central government's tightening efforts are gradually beginning to show results.


Caixin Online   19/4/2011

Property Developers Still Riding Strong on Sales

China's top 10 developers saw property sales increase 78 percent in the first quarter of 2011, according to consultancy Centaline Property

(Beijing) – Strong balance sheets give leading developers little incentive to cut prices despite increasingly tighter government curbs over the housing market, Centaline Property said in a study on April 15.


Shifting Strategy for Real Estate Developers

As a boom for residential business fades, property developers are setting ambitious goals in the commercial sector

At recent meetings across China where property developers announced 2010 financial results, confident real estate executives told their investors about an important, and collective, shift in business strategy: From this year forward, commercial projects would replace residential properties as the industry's new focus.


China Daily   19/4/2011

Housing prices dip in survey

Majority of cities monitored saw a fall in value or slower growth rate

BEIJING - Property prices in key cities grew slower in March, and some actually declined, as the government's measures to curb rampant real estate speculation and tightened monetary policies began to bite.

Of 70 large and medium cities surveyed more than half experienced a fall in property values or a slower rate of increase. Twelve cities witnessed month-on-month falls in property prices, compared with eight in the previous month. Eight cities saw no change while 29 cities experienced smaller rises in property prices than in February, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said on Monday.

Prices of new homes in Beijing rose 4.9 percent in March from a year earlier, easing from a 6.8 percent gain in the previous month. In Shanghai prices jumped 1.7 percent last month, down from 2.3 percent in February, according to the NBS.

"The government's policies obviously reduced property sales in some first and second-tier cities. However, that does not mean that targets have been met," said Li Ming, chief executive officer of Sino-Ocean Land Holdings Ltd. "I think the government will launch more rigorous measures."

Sino-Ocean Land, like other property companies, plans to expand in smaller cities, according to Li.


CCTV   18/4/2011

Studio interview: Property market cools down in Beijing

For more discussion on the Beijing real estate market, we now turn to our Current Affairs Commentator, Professor Liu Baocheng, from the University of International Business and Economics. Welcome, Professor Liu ...

Q1: Housing prices in Beijing are beginning to drop. Do you believe the trend will be sustained in this quarter?

Q2: Most of the units sold in March, especially at lower prices, are located in the city's suburbs. How significant is this change?


China Daily   18/4/2011

Policies tame home price rises

Yet govt 'will face great pressure curbing the property market'

Beijing - Land prices in major Chinese cities rose slightly in the first quarter this year, but the rate of increase in residential land prices dropped as the government adopted measures to cool the runaway property market, the Ministry of Land and Resources said on Saturday on its website.

From January to March, the average land price in the country's major cities was 2,945 yuan ($451) per square meter, an 8.5-percent year-on-year increase, according to the latest figures from the land prices survey launched by the ministry and the China Land Surveying and Planning Institute.


Land ID system to identify misuse

Beijing - China will begin identifying parcels of land through a national system designed to curb illegal land use and protect farmers' interests.

The current serial numbers are coded regionally, and this has hindered the supervision of land use on a national level, said Zhu Liuhua, director of the farmland protection department under the Ministry of Land and Resources.


People's Daily   18/4/2011

More Chinese cities see monthly home price decline in March: NBS

More Chinese cities witnessed month-on-month decline in home prices last month as the government continued its efforts to cool the market, according to the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) Monday.

Month-on-month price declines of new commercial homes were reported in 12 cities out of the NBS' statistical pool of 70 major Chinese cities, compared with eight in February. Home prices stood unchanged in 8 cities, while 29 cities posted smaller monthly price gains.


Caixin Online   16/4/2011

Shifting Strategy for Real Estate Developers

As a boom for residential business fades, property developers are setting ambitious goals in the commercial sector

At recent meetings across China where property developers announced 2010 financial results, confident real estate executives told their investors about an important, and collective, shift in business strategy: From this year forward, commercial projects would replace residential properties as the industry's new focus.


The Wall Street Journal   16/4/2011

Paulson Praises China's Property-Taming Efforts

BOAO, China—Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson voiced confidence in the Chinese government's handling of the country's potential housing bubble, while also warning that managing the world's second biggest economy is going to be increasingly difficult unless the overall pace of reform accelerates.


Higher Interest Rates Might Push Up Property Prices

The latest rise in China’s inflation rate immediately spurred predictions of tighter credit by the People’s Bank of China. Yet, higher rates might not have the kind of dampening impact they would elsewhere, in particular on the frothy property sector.


China Daily   16/4/2011

Chinese VP calls for fairness in housing distribution

BEIJING - Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang has called for fairness in the distribution of government-funded affordable housing units, so as to ensure such government welfare goes to the needy.

The Wall Street Journal   15/4/2011

China Steps Up Rhetoric on Price Controls

Through its official mouthpieces, China has in recent days conspicuously stepped up its rhetoric–and in some cases its actions–on its largely unsuccessful campaign to rein in the country’s stubbornly high property prices.

In a prominently displayed article that was also carried on the Xinhua News Agency’s website, the People’s Daily reported Wednesday on a top-level official property inspection team’s arrival in Hangzhou ...








Basic Translation:

12, by the Deputy Minister of Land and Resources Yun Xiaosu inspection teams led the State Department, Zhejiang Province, started the implementation of real estate control policies and regulatory effectiveness, expand in Hangzhou, Ningbo, Wenzhou and other places of the field inspection.

Inspection team and his party arrived in 11 cities of Zhejiang province, Hangzhou, and held a meeting in the afternoon to listen to the Zhejiang Provincial Government and the Hangzhou government work report the real estate market regulation.

Residential land at the meeting said that the inspection teams to the main office issued a special inspection on the country informed of the contents of 8 to start work, paying particular attention to understand the real estate market of the new situation and to highlight four key inspection elements: a deployment of central regulation and control policy implementation; Second, the central control policies related to the number of deployed ratio requirements; third is regulation of the local government's work on the real estate records, in particular, responsibilities and implementation mechanisms; fourth is the responsibility of local government and regulatory approaches.

"The central view that the urban housing problem has mainly affected the overall situation must be determined to control inflation at the same time solve the housing problem." Yun Xiaosu said.

According to reports, Zhejiang Province, real estate investment since the first quarter this year, sustained and rapid growth, market turnover was down the chain, the overall prices stable. Such as March, Hangzhou New housing prices were down 0.3% year on year in Ningbo second-hand housing prices, the chain fell 3.8%, 0.1%, Wenzhou second-hand housing prices were down 0.1%.

Zhejiang Provincial Government which is expected, the next step in the policy control and the laws of the market together, demand will remain relatively stable rational state, development, construction and investment inertia will be weaker, the growth rate will gradually decline, trading volume was significantly reduced in the early will gradually stabilize supply and demand will be eased, prices will be adjusted within a certain range, on the whole real estate market is a crucial stage of transition period.

Kaixin OpEd: Economics is not a science, as the economists of the world would have us believe, it is at best an art.

You only have to look back over the 20th century to see the convolutions, changes, distortions and complete failures of economics.

Nobel prize winning theories crashing and burning at regular intervals, like Sopwith Fighters in WWI.

And that arch practitioner of the dark art, Greenspan, stirring the slurry and causing the GFC at the end of the 20th century, as if to prove it is all bunkum.

Hence, Kaixin will be interested to see the economics that China will evolve in the 21st century.

At the moment it is a tussle between command and control and free market theories.

Kaixin suspects that out of it come a new economics, Economics Yi Ling Yi.

Economics with Chinese characteristics...


Xinhua News   15/4/2011

China's central bank drains 83 billion yuan from money market

BEIJING, April 14 (Xinhua) -- The People's Bank of China (PBOC), the central bank, took 83 billion yuan (12.7 billion U.S. dollars) of liquidity out of the money market this week through its open market operations as it steps up efforts to tighten excess liquidity amid concerns about rising inflation


People's Daily   15/4/2011

Three Chinese cities to be top destinations for rich to live, invest

Six of the 10 cities worldwide that most appeal to wealthy individuals as places to live and invest will be located in Asia within a decade, according to the "2011 Wealth Report," published by Citi Private Bank and .

China's Beijing and Shanghai are expected to respectively rank the third place and the fourth place among the 10 cities, while China's Hong Kong will be in fifth place, according to the report.


Caixin Online   14/4/2011

Beijing Prime Office Rents Hit 10-Year High

Rents in the capital city rose 5.1 percent quarter-on-quarter

(Beijing) -- Robust demand has brought premium office space rents in Beijing to a 10-year high in the first quarter, according to a report released by property consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle on April 12.


Why Major Banks, SOEs Like Tight Regulators

Monetary policymakers have raised rates and restricted lending in ways that make the big boys happy

(Beijing) – The Chinese government again tightened its monetary policy belt April 6 while most of the country was on pause for the annual Tomb Sweeping holidays.


The Wall Street Journal   14/4/2011

Hong Kong Considers More Property Measures

HONG KONG—Hong Kong property prices have exceeded the peak seen in 1997 before the property bubble burst, Financial Secretary John Tsang said Wednesday, adding the government may introduce further measures to curb exuberance in the market.


Xinhua News   14/4/2011

Premier Wen vows to curb inflation, continue tightening property market

BEIJING, April 13 (Xinhua) -- The State Council, or China's Cabinet, on Wednesday pledged to continue the country's prudent monetary policy to rein in soaring prices while maintaining macro control over the runaway property market.

To keep the economy on track this year, the country needs to properly coordinate the relationship between its monetary supply and structural overhaul, and check inflation, Premier Wen Jiabao said while presiding over an executive meeting of the State Council.


China Daily   14/4/2011

China to see more interest rate hikes in Q2

HANGZHOU - China is expected to raise interest rates another two times in the second quarter of this year in an effort to counter persistent inflation pressures, a chief government economist said Wednesday.

The full-year inflation would be held between 4 and 5 percent this year, Fan Jianping, head of the economic forecast department at the State Information Center, said in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province.


The Wall Street Journal   13/4/2011

Superman Flies First Yuan IPO into Hong Kong

The first yuan-denominated initial public offering in Hong Kong is set to do well, but the pipeline of future deals in the Chinese currency is virtually empty.


China Nibbles on Big Apple

Bank of China Funds Columbus Circle Office Tower Deal as It Pushes Into Market

In the latest sign that cash-rich Chinese investors are funneling money into prime New York property, Bank of China Ltd. is lending more than $250 million to refinance an office tower near Columbus Circle, according to people familiar with the matter.


Xinhua News   13/4/2011

China lists uninhabited islands available for development

BEIJING, April 12 (Xinhua) -- China's State Oceanic Administration (SOA) on Tuesday released its first list of the country's uninhabited islands available for development by enterprises or individuals.

A total of 176 islands in seven coastal provinces and one autonomous region are open for the public to develop. Tourism, transportation, manufacturing, fishing, agriculture, forestry, construction, are some of the sectors that can be developed, according to the administration.

The islands are scattered off the coasts of Liaoning, Shandong, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Fujian, Guangdong, Guangxi and Hainan. Guangdong and Fujian top the list with 60 and 50 such islands, respectively.


China Daily   13/4/2011

Property developers feel pinch of tightened belt

BEIJING - Chinese property developers are suffering from a slump in cash flow amid government tightening measures meant to battle rising inflation and rein in speculation in the housing market, according to a report by a financial information provider.


Ministry says land abuses to increase

Beijing - The illegal use of land in China is likely to become more common this year since regional governments still encourage economic growth that relies heavily on the use of land for construction projects, the country's land watchdog and analysts said.


People's Daily   13/4/2011

China needs over 200 bln yuan to fund land reclamation: official

China will need to invest at least 200 billion yuan (30.56 billion U.S. dollars) in its efforts to reclaim damaged land masses, an official with the Ministry of Land Resources (MLR) said Tuesday.

China's land reclamation program is in need of heavy funding and the government's investment fell far short of the demand, Wang Shouzhi, head of the MLR's department of policy and regulation, said during a work conference.

Statistics show that China now has around 100 million mu (6.67 million hectares) of land laid to waste by human activity and natural disasters.


Caixin Online   12/4/2011

CDB to Roll Out 100 Bln Yuan in Public Housing Loans

As part of the central government's plans to build 10 million public homes this year, China Development Bank has said it will grant 100 billion yuan in loans for public housing construction

(Beijing) -- China Development Bank, one of China's policy banks, will earmark 100 billion yuan this year in loans to support the country's public housing projects, chairman Chen Yuan told a financial forum in Beijing on April 10.

The amount is equivalent to 20 percent of the bank's new lending in 2011, said Chen.


People's Daily   12/4/2011

New home sales in Shanghai fall 33 percent

New home sales dropped one third in Shanghai last week while the average price remained below 20,000 yuan (US$3,058) per square meter for the second straight week.

Sales of new homes, excluding those built under the city's affordable housing programs, dived 33.4 percent to 123,000 square meters during the seven-day period ended Sunday, halting a three-week rally fuelled mainly by increased supply, Shanghai Uwin Real Estate Information Services Co said yesterday.

The average price, meanwhile, rose 2.1 percent to 19,992 yuan per square meter. Seven out of the 10 best-selling residential projects in the city by contract area are priced at less than 15,000 yuan per square meter, Uwin data showed.


CCTV 11/4/2011

CCTV Chinese people invest more in real estate abroad VIDEO

In recent years because of the impact of property-purchasing limitations and other control measures, more and more people are considering investing in real estate overseas. At the Beijing Spring Real Estate Trade Fair, international real estate exhibitors from more than twenty countries and regions including the US, Australia and Britain have been showing off their projects.

Control measures on real estate have stimulated many Chinese people's interest in investing in real estate abroad. Because of current control policies, 30% of home buyers have turned their attention from the domestic market to overseas. Statistics show investors from the Mainland and Hong Kong account for 10.8% of the share in the market of new homes in the US. At this year's Beijing Spring Real Estate Trade Fair the number of overseas real estate projects accounted for 40%, an all time high.


Studio discussion: Reasons behind overseas property investment spree

For more analysis of this issue, we're now joined in the studio by our Current Affairs Commentator, Liu Baocheng.Thanks for joining us, Mr.Liu.

Q1: What is the reason behind the recent overseas property investment spree?

Q2: Can investors be assured of profits by investing in overseas housing markets? Are there risks involved?


Caixin Online   9/4/2011

Toothless Targets for Urban Housing Prices

China's city governments have announced 2011 housing price control plans that may be all bark and no bite

The Shanghai government waited until the very end of the first quarter to set housing price control targets for the full year, and worded its directive in a way that left the man on the street and even industry experts scratching their heads.


The Wall Street Journal   8/4/2011

China Developers Could Resist Cheap Housing Push

SHANGHAI—China's pledge to hugely increase public housing is likely to face problems from property developers and local governments, real-estate executives and analysts say, testing the central government's ability to offer more affordable housing to its people.


Caixin Online   8/4/2011

Toothless Targets for Urban Housing Prices

China's city governments have announced 2011 housing price control plans that may be all bark and no bite

The Shanghai government waited until the very end of the first quarter to set housing price control targets for the full year, and worded its directive in a way that left the man on the street and even industry experts scratching their heads.


Xinhua News   8/4/2011

China's Cabinet orders inspection on progress of home price curb policies

BEIJING, April 7 (Xinhua) -- China's State Council, the Cabinet, has sent eight inspection teams to 16 province-level regions to supervise the implementation of the central government's policies to control home prices.

The teams were sent to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangdong, Shandong, Zhejiang, Jiangsu and 10 other regions since the beginning of April to inspect the progress of affordable housing construction and policies targeting property price curbs.

This was the latest move made by China's central government to rein in soaring housing prices, a primary source of public complaint in major Chinese cities.


The Wall Street Journal   6/4/2011

Central Banks Grapple With Competing Forces

China Raises Rates to Fight Inflation

BEIJING—China raised interest rates for the fourth time in less than six months in a fresh attempt to battle rising inflation that has weighed on consumers and businesses in the world's No. 2 economy.

The People's Bank of China said benchmark rates would increase on Wednesday by a quarter percentage point to 3.25% for one-year deposits in the local currency, and 6.31% for one-year loans.

Economists React: PBOC Lifts Interest Rates

China’s central bank raised benchmark interest rates Tuesday, a national holiday, lifting one-year yuan lending rate and the one-year yuan deposit rate by 0.25 percentage point each as the country continues to battle inflation. Analysts weigh in:


People's Daily   6/4/2011

China announces 2nd increase in benchmark interest rates this year to tackle inflation

The People's Bank of China, the central bank, announced Tuesday it would raise the benchmark one-year borrowing and lending interest rates by 25 basis points beginning Wednesday.

This was the second time the central bank raised the benchmark interest rates this year and the fourth increase since the start of 2010.

After the increases, the one-year deposit interest rate will climb to 3.25 percent while the one-year loan interest rate will reach 6.31 percent.


People's Daily   4/4/2011

Chinese central government says no to forced eviction of farmers

China's State Council, or Cabinet, on Saturday asked local governments not to abuse a reform of rural land use to forcibly occupy the land by demolishing homes of farmers against their will.

A State Council circular published on the central government's website ( said measures must be taken to correct wrong deeds and protecting rural residents' rights and interests must always be top priority of the reform.

A major goal of the reform, starting from 2008, is to encourage rural dwellers to move into new residential buildings like urbanites, while their old houses and surrounding land, often in small pieces, would be recultivated into farmland to be used more efficiently.

The move is designed to increase arable land while improving farmers' living conditions.


Caixin Online   2/4/2011

CICC: Housing Price Controls Weaker Than Expected

CICC said measures to address the overheated real estate market through price caps do not look promising

(Beijing) -- Recent housing price caps set by local governments have fallen short of market expectations, and may further fan speculation over price increases, according to China International Capital Corp (CICC).


Changing Profit Landscape for Property Sector

A cooling residential market is forcing property developers to consider subsidized housing and commercial projects

The good old days of easy money appear to be fading fast for real estate developers in China now that the government has implemented new-home purchase limits and credit lines are tightening.


People's Daily   2/4/2011

49 Chinese cities miss deadline for price targets

China will likely face a long and tough battle to curb soaring property prices, especially since most local governments failed to establish strong price control targets by a deadline set for the end of March, analysts said.

On Jan 26, the State Council, China's Cabinet, put into effect limits on the prices of properties and began requiring local authorities to set targets to control new home prices this year. Those policies and others were meant to cool down the country's overheated property market.


The Wall Street Journal   31/3/2011

A Shanghai Benchmark: The $40 Million Office Floor

The Empire State Building cost around $41 million. So does a single floor in China’s tallest building.

The owner of the 101-story Shanghai World Financial Center says that in recent weeks it has set deals to sell five high-level floors in the building for as much as 273 million yuan, or $41.6 million, each.


People's Daily   1/4/2011

Hukou - longest stopgap policy in China

By Li Hong

The discriminative home-buying policy, charted by Beijing, Shanghai and other Chinese cities earlier this year, which permits permanent urban residents to buy two homes, but non-permanent migrant workers to purchase only one, again sheds light on a draconian systematic divide of Chinese people – the "Hukou", or residence registration regime -- a left-over from Chairman Mao Zedong's era.




China Themes

Green China

Economic China

Yuan Revaluation & Internationalisation

China Real Estate





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Set in Zanzibar in 1910, it is the story of two people from different worlds falling in love. Susan immerses herself in Zanzibar. Asim falls in love with this woman from the nation that killed his wife. Susan is a spy. Asim is the chief advisor to the Sultan of Zanzibar. Germany and France are holding secret negotiations to form a Pan European alliance, which would isolate Britain and destroy her power. Susan and Asim are caught up in all this and their love is finally dashed on the cold, hard reality of international high politics.



Available on Amazon's Kindle $4.99 - Over 400 Pages





 Chapter One


'A maharaja’s ruby cast on a Persian carpet by the blackest of hands'



Their souls danced, honouring his promise.

The ancient dhow stirred in the soft morning breeze. Like a sleepy lion, it began to move through the water, snuffling about the other boats on the harbour; some scurrying, some at anchor, some darting before a brief gust of wind. The lateen sails a bustling panorama of blood-red and sun-bleached white.

Aft, the woman's eyes searched the skyline, drinking in the architecture of Stone Town, the heart of Zanzibar; its jagged, cluttered silhouette so familiar, so much a part of her soul.

Abruptly, her eyes ceased their restless searching, jagged by an invisible hook, transfixed by the grand buildings on the northern shore, Beit-al-Ajaib, the House of Wonders, Palace to the great Sultan of Zanzibar. The distinctive architecture captured in the tropical light: coconut white outlined by contrasting shadow plays of pepper black.

A smile, ever so slight, started to play on the edge of her mouth then disappeared. A memory that should have been fond instantly turned to sharp unbearable pain. Her eyes hardened and moved on.

Without warning the captain threw the rudder over. Stumbling, the woman barked her shin on a wooden box, a rough-hewn coffin. She recoiled, knocking over an untidy stack of cane baskets. Imprisoned in the baskets, rusty cockerels, their scruffy heads straining through the latticework, snapped at her, cried out to her; their raucous din overwhelming her, drowning her.

Dimly, through the fog of noise, the strident swearing of the sailors in Kiswahili seeped into her conscious. Understanding, she smiled mirthlessly.

The coffin had been carelessly stowed, a chore, rather than a labour of respect or love.





London 1910


“Hello, who are you? I am Oliver, is Edward at home?”

The words were spoken by a tall, impeccably dressed young man as he rushed into Edward’s flat shaking off surplus water and calling for whisky while shoving his umbrella into a stand. It was a blustery, grey, bitterly cold February afternoon in the heart of London. He brushed a curl of soft auburn hair from his forehead and smiled charmingly.

Susan laughed, her hazel eyes dancing with the exhilaration of the new. “Yes, he is having a bath. I think he is trying to get warm. I’m Susan, Susan Carey, his sister.”

“Ahhh yes, from Australia. How do you do?” said Sir Oliver, smiling broadly and offering his hand. He noticed the laughter in her eyes, and the depth, particularly the depth, intensified by jade flecks that made them striking and alluring. “So, you have arrived, good trip I trust.”

“I am very well thank you, and yes, it was a good trip,” replied Susan.

He laughed and glanced at the sitting room, “whisky?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, please come in…….. that was silly of me, after all, it is your flat.”

Oliver smiled and gestured for Susan to lead the way. He followed her into the room, and after helping himself to a generous portion of whisky, walked over to the fire.

Shortly after, Edward, wrapped in a huge ruby-coloured dressing gown and wiping soap from his ear strode into the room. He was of similar age to Oliver, late twenties, well built, if slightly podgy, with dark auburn hair and a full moustache. Susan looked up and smiled to herself, she could see now where he had picked up some of his new mannerisms.

“Thought I could hear voices. I see you two have met, no need for introductions then.”

As he was speaking, Edward walked to the side table and grabbed a whisky decanter by the neck. He glanced at Oliver who nodded. A long finger snaked into one of the tumblers followed by the distinctive clink of crystal. He swept the decanter off the table and carried it to where Oliver was sitting. After pouring the whisky, he sank into a lounge chair and sipped from his glass, enjoying the warm glow as it spread through his body.

Suddenly he sat up exclaiming, “Sorry sis, would you like something to drink?”

“Kind of you to remember, but no thank you, and yes, Oliver has already inquired.”

Edward nodded and sank back into his lounge chair.

They chatted, tentatively at first, getting to know one another. Edward had not seen Susan for two years and was unsure how his sister would take his new relationship. Oliver was intrigued by Susan. An attractive, self-assured young lady of high intelligence with a degree was a rare find. And, as fate would have it, she was also a trained and experienced teacher. He suggested a picnic at Oxford, which was met with ready acquiescence. Arrangements were made for the following Sunday.

“I’ll see if the Rolls is available,” mused Oliver. “Must ring father, haven’t spoken to him in ages.”

Oliver, Sir Oliver Marchmaine, was an unaffected young man of intense intelligence who saw life as a great adventure to be lived to the full. He was also unyieldingly loyal to his country, England, which is why he had joined Military Intelligence on leaving Oxford.

It was 1910 and Europe was stirring. It was a time full of interest, intrigue and danger. The European chessboard was becoming increasingly complex, the moves more subtle. A time when an unexpected move or feint could have profound consequences.



Regaining her balance, the woman’s eyes were drawn, hesitantly at first, resisting back to Beit-al-Ajaib. She wondered if it was still the same. Still the same centre of power and intrigue that had been so much a part of her life all those years before; that had defined her life.

She remembered those first few moments, remembered standing in the foyer of the palace, .………… remembered the breathtakingly beautiful Persian tapestry ........

The sea breeze stirred her clothes. She smiled a little sadly, and in her mind the tapestry gently swayed. Two small apparitions ran giggling up the stairs: two small exquisitely rich burkas disappearing along the first floor landing. Childish squeals of mischief and joy left in the air.......

“Move to seaward, you accused of Allah! Move!”

Her thoughts were clawed back to the dhow, the captain crashing the tiller over to avoid another boat on the crowded harbour. The woman instinctively ducked her head to avoid the heavy boom as it swung over her, the rusty cockerels squawked their raucous indignation, their heads straining through the latticework, relentless.

The collision avoided, the dhow continued on its way. The cacophony dying down to the occasional command by the captain or the cry of a seagull.

The woman's thoughts returned to Beit-al-Ajaib

  …………. laughing and giggling, girls of seven or eight. A door on the first floor slammed and all sounds of them disappeared. Silence. The woman smiled. She could see herself, a young woman, dressed plainly, unselfconsciously, her sexuality tantalisingly just out of reach, hidden beneath the thin veil of her clothing. She remembered standing alone in the foyer, looking around, perplexed. Asim came through a door to the left of the tapestry.


The woman started and looked around. Then, realising, was cold again. Alone again. Alone, rocking to and fro to the rythm of the sea. Alone, beside a rough-hewn coffin.






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