Friday, January 21, 2022

A socially distanced Hong Kong hike that helped to clear the mind and lift the spirits (Photo-essay)

It's amazing how hiking, or maybe just being out in nature, can help clear the mind and lift the spirits. After feeling upset for much of this week (thanks in no small part to hamstergeddon along with the continued persecution and emigrations), I decided to go on a midweek hike from Wan Chai Gap down to Aberdeen along a well-marked trail that, nonetheless, was on the quiet side -- so, quiet, in fact, that the sound of water flowing down hill streams found at a number of points along the trail sounded so much louder than one would expect very small waterfalls to make!
On the human side: Once I got off the paved path onto the unpaved trails, I figure I saw maybe six people, tops. (So, yeah, there really are parts of Hong Kong where social distancing is not all that difficult to enact.)  This being winter now in the Big Lychee, I didn't make any notable bug spottings either. But near the end of the hike, I saw lots of birds (kites but also crows) flying overhead -- and detected movement in the trees that turned out to be a couple of squirrels (which got me thinking once more of hamsters and their ilk -- but, fortunately, didn't completely return me to my previous black mood)!
View from Wan Chai Gap over to Aberdeen and beyond
This time around, I opted for the unpaved trail that's more
off the beaten track than the paved path that takes
In winter, about the brightest natural sights one sees
when out hiking are the red leaves
It's surprising how loud this water flowing down makes!
View from afar of one of the Aberdeen reservoirs
Way more trees than buildings and people 
in this neck of the Hong Kong woods! :)
Golden hour view towards the end of the hike
Spot the squirrel? ;b

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Hamstergeddon the day before as well as the actual day that Edward Leung Ting-kei is released from prison

TV reporter and crew at work -- undoubtedly talking about the  
hamstergeddon that the pet shop meters away is ground zero for
In the wee hours of this morning, Edward Leung Ting-kei was released from jail after having served close to four hours of the sentence he received for his part in what came to be known as the "fishball revolution" that took place over the Lunar New Year period of 2016.  In normal times, the early release of the young man who's been dubbed "the spiritual leader of the Hong Kong protests" (for his election campaign slogan, "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times", being a much heard chant during the anti-extradition bill-turned-pro-democracy protests) would dominate the news cycle. 

To judge from this news being covered far outside Hong Kong as well as in the Big Lychee itself (and for two days straight), this came as quite the shock to many people all over the world -- and rightly so, since, as per a Reuters report, "Scientists around the world and Hong Kong health and veterinary authorities have said there was no evidence that animals play a major role in human contagion with the coronavirus".  A measure of how ridiculous many felt these actions targeting the hamsters (and their fellow pet shop creatures) are can be seen in CNN's Ivan Watson, when reporting the additional news that "The Hong Kong government wants anyone who bought a pet hamster on or after Dec[ember] 22 to surrender it to the authorities to be killed" on Twitter, feeling a need to point out that "This is not a joke".
This not being a joke was something that didn't need to be made known to the traumatized young owners of hamsters whose parents felt obliged to obey the government's call to hand over beloved pets to be killed.  A particular heartbreaking video making the social media rounds shows a young boy tearfully and loudly bidding farewell to its pet hamster, Pudding. (If you can't make it to the end: the part where the sobbing boy uses his smartphone to take final photos/videos of his obviously beloved pet is... and ya, I would dearly like to slap the parent(s) who unneccesarily subjected his/her/their child(ren) to this trauma!) 
The sense I get is that the likes of Sophia Chan from a hamster concern group -- and surely not the same Sophia Chan who is Hong Kong's health secretary! -- who "slammed the authorities' decision as unreasonable and inhumane, saying it was "genocide" that frightened every pet owner in the SAR", are speaking for the majority in Hong Kong with regards to this issue.  And the people feeling irate about this matter includes children.  A sample story from a member of the HK Twitterverse: "I explained the decision to cull hamsters to some kids. They suggested that the government should slaughter all those participants of THE BIRTHDAY PARTY"!
For those who think this much ado about nothing: the thing is that this hamster cull is being seen as a reflection of the sad state of Hong Kong today.  As a Niao Collective Tweet stated: "Don't be a dick to people who're sad about the hamsters. It's about the hamsters, but it's also about the wild boars. Which is about the wild boars, but also about a lot of other stuff."  
Back to Edward Leung: I wonder what he'll make of all this but probably will never know, since his social media accounts have been deactivated and he's declined media interviews and visits.  Soon after his leaving prison and hours before his Facebook account was deactivated, he did share that: "After four years, I want to cherish the precious time I have with my family and restore a normal life."  And, frankly, I think it's thoroughly understandable.  
The fear though is that Edward Leung remains not really free; something that's given credence by it being reported that he will be under police surveillance for some time to come.  Yet another sign that this is not the Hong Kong he knew prior to entering prison.
Adding to all this is that the number of Hong Kong's new Wuhan coronavirus cases has risen to double digits in recent days, with: 18 reported yesterday; and 16, two of them local transmissions, today.  And for the record: a total of just three (3) cases have been linked to the Little Boss pet shop in Causeway Bay to date.

Monday, January 17, 2022

A new week begins with more stories of departures from -- and jail time imposed on pro-democracy protestors in -- Hong Kong

Life and death in Hong Kong
Yet another friend announced on Facebook yesterday morning that she's left Hong Kong. The first departure of 2022, she adds to the total of eight friends who left Hong Kong in 2021 and three who left in 2020.  In the case of this friend, she and her husband actually had decided they would need to leave the city of her birth the day after China imposed a National Security Law on Hong Kong (i.e., back on July 1st, 2020 -- the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to China by the British) but it took some time to carry out this decision.  It's not at all easy to leave one's home city, after all.
There are people who claim to not have a single friend leave Hong Kong in the past couple of years or so.  Perhaps not coincidentally, they also tend to be individuals who also claim to be politically neutral.  On the other side of the equation are people who tell of scores of friends and (former) colleagues who have departed Hong Kong, many of them with their partners and kids, and sometimes parents (too) in tow.  And a look at such as Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) withdrawals and  rising school vacancies along with British National (Overseas) (BNO) passsports confirm that Hong Kong is experiencing a population outflow.         

Among my friends who have departed from Hong Kong are individuals who had previously only ever lived in Hong Kong along with those who had done such as gone to university and/or worked in countries like Britain, Australia and the USA.  For pretty much all of them though, Hong Kong had ceased to be a place that they felt comfortable and safe in (and, in the case of those with kids, wanted their children to go to school and grow up in).  And even if they have said it in quite the same way to me, I reckon that many of them share now Taiwan-based artist Kacey Wong's feelings that "I didn't leave Hong Kong, Hong Kong left me".
And then there is the sense that things will only get worse; this even when things are pretty bad already.  And no, I really am not (just) referring to the pandemic and its attendant restrictions.  (With regards to the situation involving the Wuhan coronavirus: Hong Kong reported seven new cases today, one of them local.  This may seem like nothing, especially relative to what is being experienced in much of the world, but it is worrying that we now also have a local Delta variant case along with Omicron variants in the community.)         

The fact of the matter is though that Hong Kong's prison statistics point to a bigger problem and source of worry for many residents.  Specifically, the fact that the number of prisoners on remand (and unconvicted) has increased by over 84 percent from 2000 points to "The courts hav[ing] discarded the presumption of innocence" and, consequently, "people are being punished without trial, and not just for [national security law]".  
And when pro-democracy protestors get tried in court and sentenced upon being judged to be guilty as charged, the sense of injustice mounts at the sentences that are imposed on them.  As an example, consider the sentencing this past Saturday of nine defendants -- aged between 20 and 29 years, none of them with a criminal history previously -- to up to three years and four months in prison after being found guilty of "rioting" near the Hong Kong Polytechnic University on November 18th, 2019.    
On the subject of horrific attacks: remember that on then district councillor -- and now political prisoner -- Andrew Chiu which caused Chiu to lose part of an earThe man found guilty of that crime and others on the day, Joe Chen, is scheduled to be sentenced next month.  What's the bet that he will receive a lesser sentence than the young man who now is scheduled to spend close to eight years behind bars for attacking a police officer?      

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Continued pandemic concerns in Hong Kong, including with regards to vaccinations

Hong Kong recorded 5 new cases of the Wuhan coronvirus today, down from the previous day's 9 new cases, Thursday's 14 and Wednesday's 22.  It's also comforting to learn that today (like with Thursday, but not yesterday or Wednesday) saw zero new local cases reported.  Nonetheless, there are people who worry that we are by no means out of the woods.  E.g., epidemiologist Ben Cowling Tweeted yesterday that the "Situation now is eerily reminiscent of the start of our fourth wave, when it seemed like the outbreak was coming under control, and then it turned out it wasn't" and that "Test and trace won't break every transmission chain, even when done as well as it's done in Hong Kong".  
And the way things are going, it's also entirely possible that people can't go watch this year's edition of the tradition Chinese New Year movies in cinemas during Chinese New Year -- though let's hope not since Chinese New Year actually lasts for 15 days and the current extension of the tough covid measures that has seen cinemas being closed along with gyms, museums and a number of other facilities and venues since January 5th are due to end on the third day of Chinese New Year!
Something else that was touched on at Carrie Lam's press conference but not detailed was that the "vaccine bubble" that had previously been mooted  -- and is slated to include schools, public cultural and recreational venues, and, most importantly for many people, all restaurants -- will have its start date brought forward from the previously stated February 24th.  This is one of the rare moves by the government that I applaud; with the caveat that I actually think this is one of those things that they should have done months ago!
Earlier this week, I went and got my third shot of the mRNA vaccine most well known internationally as Pfizer but known as BioNTech and/or Cominarty here in Hong Kong.  The nurse who administered my jab told me that I was the rare person who had gone for a booster that she knew of; with her mostly seeing people getting vaccinated for the first time against the coronavirus thus far in 2022.  
Also, when I asked her whether many people were motivated to get their first shots because of the Omicron variant now being in Hong Kong, she responded in the negative.  Instead, it appears that the vast majority of people going to get vaccinated are doing so because they don't want to not be able to go out with their friends!  And while much has been made of how much yum cha means to the elderly, the nurse I was chatting with informed me that, actually, many younger folk were among the recent first time vaccinated Hong Kongers who finally felt compelled to get a jab because of the talk of the imposition of a "vaccine bubble" soon.   
The question I have now is: since the mooted "vaccine bubble"'s current requirement is just one solitary jab, are many people going to be content with getting only one jab rather than two or three?  (And this even while medical wisdom has it that three jobs are far better than two or one against Omicron.)  For the distinct feeling I'm getting is that these folks are only getting vaccinated in order to be allowed to have access to restaurants and such that will be covered by the "vaccine bubble" rather than because they actually think that the vaccines will help protect them and others from getting seriously ill, including with "long Covid", or worse.    

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Chronicle of a death foretold: Hong Kong democracy edition

Many of us who are not in prison in Hong Kong sometimes 
do feel like it's a matter of time before we all are :(
I wish I could say otherwise but the political persecution has continued in Hong Kong in recent days.  Just today alone, there's the news that activist Owen Chow -- who was one of the 47 people involved with the democratic primaries held to select opposition camp candidates for the Legislative Council arrested back on February 28th, 2021, and then one of the few (just 15 to date) subsequently released on bail -- has been arrested once more this evening.  His alleged crime(s): in official speak, "violating bail conditions and publishing remarks that endanger national security"; in reality, he posted on Facebook about the Legislative Council "election" this past December -- which, remember, he was originally in the running to run for a seat in!        
As Hong Kong's latest coronavirus cluster expands further (but still is not officially considered/described as the fifth wave), thanks in no small part to certain members of Hong Kong's political "elite", the political analyses and commentary continue to come in.  Today, we have a lengthy piece from politics professor Philip Cowley that is worth reading in its entirety; not least because it points to "the real scandal" in Hong Kong.  For those who prefer seeing just a few choice excerpts though, here's a selection:

In Hong Kong, there is anger at the behaviour of their politicians, but it is mixed with massive dollops of schadenfreude. By European standards, Hong Kong’s fifth ‘wave’ is less of a wave and more of a millpond. It has involved fewer than 50 cases thus far. In a territory of more than seven million people, one of them just happened to attend a party containing many of its most senior political figures; of all the tapas restaurants in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.

Depending on your point of view this is either a sign of how unlucky the politicos were or, and this seems to be the view taken by many of the people I speak to, it proves that that there is indeed a God. Because it is, bluntly, hugely enjoyable to see people who have inflicted such heavy-handed measures on the population hoist by their own petard like this, especially when not all of them have handled their incarceration with grace and dignity.

...[But] however enjoyable the Witman scandal is, there is a danger that it all distracts from the broader points about Hong Kong’s record of dealing with Covid.

The cautious approach that initially served it well is now crippling it. The death rate remains staggeringly low relative to the rest of the world; per capita, the UK’s death rate is 78 times higher. But this policy is becoming increasingly unsustainable, the measures required increasingly harsh. What once advertised itself as ‘Asia’s global city’ is becoming ever more isolated. Multiple travels bans are in place; even of those who can fly in, most have to spend three weeks in quarantine. Hong Kong’s airport is now a ghost town, save for the families leaving. The goal of reopening the border with the mainland — which Lam and others see as their priority — appears no closer to fruition either.
...The inter-generational tensions caused by Covid are evident all around the globe, with the young, mostly safe, forced to undergo restrictions to protect the more elderly. But nowhere is this issue starker than in Hong Kong, where the youngest are again being punished to protect an elderly population that has done next to nothing to protect themselves — and by a government that has also done next to nothing to make them protect themselves. This, rather than a piss-up in a tapas restaurant, is the real scandal.
 And if all this wasn't enough: today also saw Carrie Lam announce that Hong Kong will create a host of new national security crimes -- and no, I am not kidding though I very much wish I was!  More specifically, Carrie Lam confirmed that her government would create new "local legislation" that meets Article 23 of Hong Kong's mini-constitution, which calls for the city to pass its own national security laws in addition to the Chinese one imposed on Hong Kong on June 30th, 2020.

Interestingly, Lam did not outline what these new security law crimes would be.  "But the specific offences Article 23 lists are treason, secession, sedition, subversion and theft of state secrets.  It also includes prohibiting any foreign political organisations from conducting activities in Hong Kong or local political organisations establishing ties with similar overseas bodies."
If truth be told, the threat to pass Article 23 has been there for a long time.  A reminder: opposition to Article 23 is what got hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers out protesting on the streets back in 2003Back then, the Hong Kong government backed down.  The chances that Carrie Lam's administration will listen to the people, however, are pretty much nil.  And "[o]nce the Article 23 legislation is implemented it will complete the cycle of what was once a free liberal society and turning it into an authoritarian one," former legislative councillor Dennis Kwok has warned. :(  

Monday, January 10, 2022

Partygate continues but what appears more chilling is the appointment of a new PLA commander to its Hong Kong garrison

A visual reminder that the People's Liberation Army
And if this was not enough, details have emerged of two other mass social gatherings attended by senior government officials in recent daysOne of them involved a lunch event last Tuesday at a clubhouse in Tsim Sha Tsui Fire Station whose 100 plus attendees included Director of Fire Services Joseph Leung, Executive Council member Ip Kwok-him, Director of Architectural Services Winnie Ho, newly elected legislative councillor Kitson Yang, and Home Affairs Department directors Paul Wong and Alice Choi.  Then there was the boat party two days later to celebrate Michael Fong's promotion to director of the Civil Engineering and Development Department attended by over 20 individuals -- which, frankly, is twice the size of the largest social gathering I've attended in the past two years or so!
If truth be told, all this currently constitutes more of an extended opportunity to laugh at, and ridicule, the Hong Kong government for its hypocrisy than anything else.  Still, if Hung's partygate becomes a cluster and/or any of those partygoers (who have been freely wandering around Hong Kong for much of this past few days) infects other people and cause the fifth coronavirus wave to descend upon Hong Kong, it all will of course become far less funny -- and, frankly, the possibility exists for this to happen.
Something else that has become a far more likely possibility as a result of recent developments is Hong Kong really becoming another Xinjiang.  In particular, the announcement late last night that China’s Ministry of National Defense had appointed the chief of staff of the Armed Police Force in Xinjiang, Peng Jingtang, to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Hong Kong Garrison commander sent shivers down my spine even while I wondered if this appointment constitutes a promotion or demotion for him.
And even before Peng came into the picture, threats to Hong Kong's culture already existed.  Among other things, there's the film censorship law which threatens to tame, if not destroy, Hong Kong cinema.  And in the past 24 hours or so, the promotion of Cantopop music has been linked to the promotion of Hong Kong independence by a pro-Beijing commentator in a "long established" newspaper and thus a national security matter.   
How ludicrous this latter move has been noted by the likes of Catrina Ko, who Tweeted: "Literally they’re criminalising CantoPop as seditious now... Do they register the fact that Canto songs aren’t exclusive to HK geographically as well as culturally?"   (As evidence: I offer up the use of a Sam Hui Cantopop song in the opening credits of Malaysian film Sepet and my having attended concerts by Cantopop legends Leslie Cheung and Anita Mui in Atlantic City all those years ago.)  Sadly, apparently not.  And that just adds to the tragedy of what's happening to Hong Kong: that so much of what's been done to it doesn't make logical or rational sense; only CCP-sense, if even that!     

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Pandemic fever, and brewing political and court battles

There's no doubt about it: Hong Kong is gripped with pandemic fever once more.  It's not just that the new case numbers are clearly on an upward trend again -- with 37 new Wuhan coronavirus cases reported today (compared to 33 yesterday and 33 also the day before (Thursday)) -- but also that Hong Kong reported its first locally transmited coronavirus case in over three months today.  But, mostly, it's because much of Hong Kong has been keeping tabs on the dramatic saga involving what has been variously labelled the birthday party cluster, birthday present cluster, patriots cum officials cluster and -- most hilariously of all to me -- party cum cluster!
Suffice to say that many Hong Kongers greeted the latest news with anger and incredulity along with a modicum of cynicism.  And this all the more so upon the discovery that some 70 of those people who had their quarantine orders rescinded had not actually reported to, and been installed at, Penny's Bay days after news broke about this whole affair

It remains to be seen which government officials, legislative councillors and election committee members at the birthday party -- which went on for six hours, during which close to 200 people mingled unmasked and sang karaoke as well as ate and drank in an indoor setting -- will be among those who end up not having to quarantine at Penny's Bay.  One individual in the clear though is Junius Ho -- but, funnily enough, he appears to be still stuck at Penny's Bay late tonight; prompting him to go on liveon social media to issue criticisms of health secretary Sophia Chan and chief executive Carrie Lam for the government's rigid pandemic strategies, and even call on Carrie Lam to resign!
Has Junius Ho actually seen the light after getting a taste of the Penny's Bay medicine -- or is he launching his own attacks in what is looking to be a political war between Carrie Lam and her enemies within the pro-Beijing camp?  There are jokes going around that Carrie Lam is angry at those people for, if nothing else, going to a party to which she appears to not have been invited!
On a more serious note: while all this has been going on, it's not like the rest of Hong Kong has ground to a stop.  Life goes on and, sadly, so do the convictions of pro-democracy protestors.  More precisely, today saw the jailing for up to 42 months of 21 people found guilty of "rioting" in Sheung Wan on July 28th, 2019 (i.e., one week after the July 21st, 2019, attacks at Yuen Long for which way fewer than 21 people have been sentenced to prison).

For those keeping an eye on what's going on in the Hong Kong courts: news has come in that the Court of Final Appeal will hear a challenge filed by a real estate agent who was convicted and jailed for carrying zip ties near a rally held by District Council election candidates in 2019.  I know many people have given up on justice in Hong Kong.  But there still are people trying to challenge the government in court, and they include lawyer-activist Margaret Ng who, earlier this week, applied for a court order from the High Court to demand the police return some materials obtained from the search of her home on the day of her arrest last week
More than by the way, I had to check the calendar to confirm that Margaret Ng and the other Stand News people were arrested just last week.  Because so much happens daily in Hong Kong, it can feel like many events took place much longer ago than they in fact did.  And yes, I have to remind myself: we've only just ending the eighth day of the new year which sadly is feeling like it's delivering more of the same as the past couple of years or so: i.e., still more pandemic times, and yet more persecution and repression in national security law-era Hong Kong. :(