Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Musings about mooncakes, Catholics and more on Mid-Autumn Festival eve

  
October 1st is China's National Day
 
This year, October 1st is also Mid-Autumn (aka Mooncake) Festival!
 
Despite it still feeling like summer weather-wise, today is the eve of the Mid-Autumn Festival.  As can be discerned from its alternative names, this festival is also associated with mooncakes, moon viewing and lantern displays.  It's also associated with family reunions, with many families making a point to gather together to have dinner together on the festival's eve. 
 
 
Beginning in 2010, Joseph, Cardinal Zen would deliver mooncakes to prisoners during the Mid-Autumn Festival.  This year, though, Hong Kong's Bishop Emeritus has been barred from doing so; with the authorities having deemed mooncakes to be political weapons and the donation of them to prisoners a political activity.  Such is the heightened paranoia and absurdities that have come to be the norm in Hong Kong in the wake of China's introduction of the security law to Hong Kong.  
 
Another disappointment that the 88-year-old cardinal has had to deal with recently came after he flew to Rome to seek an audience with Pope Francis but the Pontiff decided against allocating any time to meeting with him.  That U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also was denied a meeting with the Pope is no comfort; particularly as both Cardinal Zen and Pompeo shared the intent of voicing their concerns to the Pope about what's happening in Hong Kong (along with in Mainland China).       
 
 
Is it because Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam is Catholic?  If so, so are prominent advocates for Hong Kong's freedoms and bid for democracy such as Jimmy Lai and Martin Lee as well as Cardinal Zen.  More likely, it is Pope Francis feeling willing to sacrifice Hong Kong (with its Catholic community) along with the Muslim Uighurs and Buddhist Tibetans to cement a deal with the Chinese authorities; something that gets me thinking that he may be the modern day Pope Pius XII (AKA Hitler's Pope).
 
People looking from outside of Hong Kong may not think things are that bad in the territory.  As HK Wuliff, a Hong Konger whose musings and observations I often connect with, Tweeted back on August 1st: "yeah, we still have internet. we still get to go on youtube. we can go shopping. for a few days we almost lost restaurants but we have that back, now. we can still go to work and school and we’re still alive."  But also in the same thread can be found the following remarks: "it’s actually so insane how quickly HK descended into this state. imagine explaining to an acquaintance that in the space of one month, you’ve lost all political freedom and are now living in a city where dissent is punishable - actually punishable - by life in prison". 
 


Monday, September 28, 2020

Looking back to the start of the Umbrella Movement and ahead to there being continued protests in Hong Kong

How Harcourt Road looks on protest-less days
 

Admiralty is definitely more colorful when occupied by 
pro-democracy protestors and decorated with their creative works!

Six years ago today, what came to be known as the Umbrella Movement (or Umbrella Revolution) began in earnest after the police fired what was then an unprecedentedly large amount of tear gas into a protest crowd assembled at Admiralty.  I don't expect any tear gas to be fired today or to see water cannons going into action in the area, as was the case one year ago.  But make no mistake: the pro-democracy protest spirit that emerged on September 28th, 2014, has by no means been extinguished.  This even though the authorities have been doing what they can to bring Hong Kong to heel.  
 
Take, as an example, the banning of a protest march intended to take place this upcoming October 1st (with an appeal against the decision having proved unsuccessful).   As expected, the police cited public safety fears by way of the Wuhan coronavirus.  This is despite the third wave now being under control: as evidenced by there just being 10 new cases today; of which only 3 are local transmissions, all of which are linked to other ones.  And you also had the proposed march's very experienced organizers also indicating that social distancing measures could easily be practiced, such as asking marchers to wear masks and walk in groups of no more than four, the maximum number of people allowed to gather under regulations.    
 
As Renaud Haccart Tweeted back on September 15th: "As noted by other commentators, there’s a fair chance that group gathering rules will be the very last to go, as they provide the perfect cover for police to disrupt any public protest of any size or form and make arrests."  And it really didn't seem purely  coincidental that one week later, the powers that be proceeded to extend the current coronavirus social distancing measures until October 1st, amid online calls for a protest march on that day.
 
As a reminder: even without there being the Wuhan coronavirus attacking much of the world, the October 1st protest was banned last year.  And the ban not withstanding, tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of Hong Kongers went out onto the streets to protest nonetheless; and, in so doing, produced the kind of visuals that the authorities most certainly did not wish to have beamed out to the world on China's National Day.
 
It's not entirely impossible that a good number of people will elect to march in protest again this October 1st.  This despite anti-Wuhan coronavirus social distancing measures being in effect -- and the vague, broad and sweeping security law China imposed on Hong Kong on June 30th whose penalties include life imprisonment.  
 
Alternatively, it's been suggested that people wear black on the day to register that October 1st is a day of mourning, not celebration, for most Hong Kongers as well as a sign of solidarity with the 12 Hong Kongers whose bid to seek asylum and freedom in Taiwan led instead to their detention in Shenzhen.  I do sincerely hope though that people won't dress up in black if they do plan to go onto the streets to protest because black attire has become the equivalent to the Hong Kong police of red cloth to bulls!    
 
For those who are wondering why Hong Kong is such a city of protest: do realize that one big reason why this is so is because Hong Kong has never been fully or really democratic.  Consequently, Hong Kongers have had to find other ways to make our will be known and heeded; with mass protests having met with some notable success in the past (e.g., in 2003 and 2012).           

And for those who reckon they know about the security law that's been imposed on Hong Kong: do give the quiz by The Guardian a try.  In what loos to have been an effort to commemorate the start of the Umbrella Movement (even without outright stating it), that British newspaper has shone the spotlight today on: Hong Kong's "freedom swimmers" (the hundreds of thousands of Mainland Chinese who escaped to Hong Kong between 1950 and 1980);  the Chinese Communist Party faithful shipped in to carry out Beijing's will in Hong Kong this year; and Oxford University's efforts to protect the students of China in the wake of the coming into being of China's security law for Hong Kong.  

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Hong Kong remains far more threatened by political repression than the Wuhan coronavirus or nature in general

 
 
Playgrounds have been reopened for use this week (but have 
children gotten out of the habit of visiting them after so long?)

A rare tornado was spotted near Hong Kong International Airport yesterday afternoon.  Also, a wild boar family decided to head to Central and were recorded swimming in the pond of the Bank of China Tower.  It used to be that such events (along with, less amusingly, hiker deaths) would be the biggest news of the day when they occured in Hong Kong.  And in some ways, it's kind of quaint and assuring that they still can make the news these days.
 
But of course, these days, what tends to grab more attention is news concerning the Wuhan coronavirus or something political (which can range from political arrests to the enactment of a draconian law).  Re the former: at a time when things are looking really bad again on the pandemic front in many parts of the world (including Europe and Indonesia rather than just the U.S.A.), it can make for a nice surprise that Hong Kong has managed to bring its third wave under control; with there having been just two new cases yesterday and one today.      

As an added bonus: today's single new daily Wuhan coronavirus case was an import rather than local transmission; the second time this month that Hong Kong has reported no local cases.  For good measure: it's also the case that Hong Kong has only had one day this past week with an unsourced case.  All things considering then, there's actually plenty to feel good about on the pandemic combatting front here at this point in time.  So it surely is understandable that there are calls to reopen the still-closed-off beaches and to ease the gathering bans (the latter of which is impossible to not think are just an excuse to ban political vigils, rallies and marches -- like the one that usually takes place on October 1st); this particularly when it's allowed and normal again for such as MTR carriages to be super packed!
 
On the political front: there may have been more security law arrests -- this time involving a mother and her son accused of selling weapons online.  Upon further examination though, there are aspects of the case that appear questionable.  For one thing, the mentioned weapons are things like air guns, a bulletproof vest and respirators.  For another, whether the case actually falls under the security law is something that the police appear uncertain apart; this not least because the offensive materials (i.e., materials calling for Hong Kong independence) were found in the suspects' home (rather than, say, displayed in public by them)!      

As things presently stand, the man arrested has been charged and denied bail but his mother was not charged and released on bail.  I haven't seen any explanation for their unequal treatment.  What I have read though is that the man's lawyer has alleged that his client was intimidated by the police into making making incriminatory statements against himself.  So it's entirely possible that when the case finally gets to court, the judge will dismiss it or acquit the accused due to faulty evidence or such like once more.  (Though, of course, the possibility also exists that one will encounter a judge more willing to take the side of the government -- for they do very much exist.)   
 
Looking beyond Hong Kong: some signs are appearing that the international community may belatedly be waking up to the China threat; in view of its actions in and towards Hong Kong and Taiwan as well as Tibet and Xinjiang.  With regards to Hong Kong: I found the following statements attributed to Miles Yu, a member of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's policy planning staff, in a recent Voice of America article to be pretty spot on:     
Hong Kong has provided the world with a measuring stick to assess Beijing's behavior since 1984, when a deal was struck to return the territory to Chinese sovereignty on the condition that it enjoy a high degree of autonomy for 50 years. The actual handover took place in 1997. 

Hong Kong is "first and foremost a promise... It's a promise of a high degree of autonomy for 50 years — judicial independence, free press, individual liberty, rule of law." 

What the world has witnessed... is a promise made and a promise broken. 

"You might say it has been broken in a very brutal and semi-fascist way."

And I do hope that he's right when he said more countries are coming to recognize that China poses a threat to everyone; this not least since the deadly coronavirus unleashed in Wuhan less than a year ago has gone on to cause so many deaths in the world already, with many more expected to come.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Joshua Wong arrested once again -- this time for acts he engaged in (including wearing a mask!) last October!

A familiar face whose frame is no longer so scrawny
and has generally toughened up
 
Another familiar face who, alas, is now living in exile
but still is speaking out for Hong Kong

Joshua Wong was arrested again this afternoon.  While it didn't come as a major surprise -- since with this famous thorn in the flesh of the Hong Kong government and also Mainland China's, it had seemed like just a matter of time before the authorities decided to arrest him once more -- it still was upsetting because, well, finding out about the arrests of people one likes and respects still does hurt, however many times it happens as well as seemingly inevitable (for some) it has become in contemporary Hong Kong. 

One small consolation: Within hours of his arrest, the 23-year-old political activist was released on bail.  Also, because his arrest is related to his having participated in an unauthorised assembly against the mask ban last October 5, it's not a security law arrest.  Even so, he's looking at the possibility of being sentenced to six years in jail if convicted of these "crimes".

As the Financial Times' Eli Meixler was moved to Tweet (and yes, it's as bizarre as it sounds): "So just to be clear that I have this:@joshuawongcf arrested for wearing a mask in Oct, when it as illegal by emergency ordinance, before it became legal again in Nov, illegal in April, when they were also required outdoors, and compulsory in September"; with the only bit that he got wrong being that the wearing of masks both in outdoor and indoor spaces in Hong Kong became mandatory in July!  Or as whitebison66 put it more succinctly: "he's arrested while it's illegal not to wear a mask for something that happened when it was illegal to wear a mask"!

Ironically, Joshua Wong's latest arrest comes just a few days after it was announced that his friend and fellow Hong Kong political activist, Nathan Law, had topped the 2020 TIME100 Reader Poll (the latest edition of TIME magazine's annual compilation of the world’s most influential people).  Put another way: the world recognizes the contributions of the likes of Law, Wong and Agnes Chow, and respects their efforts to stand up for their city and its people -- even while the Hong Kong government and its overlords in Beijing look upon them as nothing but trouble and want to lock them up, probably for life, and silence them, possibly for eternity.    

Which, for me, is all the more reason to listen to them while we can.  And I think it says a lot about Joshua Wong that, upon his release on bail today, he was urging the international community to focus less on the more well known likes of him and more on such as the 12 young Hong Kongers detained in Shenzhen after unsuccessfully trying to flee to Taiwan last month.  Also, his most recent Tweets at this time of writing are about a phone repair specialist unjustly arrested for possessing the phones of his clients who the police deemed to have broken the security law!      

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Continuing to draw attention to the plight of the 12 Hong Kongers in custody in Shenzhen, and Hong Kongers in Hong Kong too

No smooth sailing as yet in and for Hong Kong


It's somewhat assuring though to see the iconic Lion Rock 
still watching over Hong Kong

One month ago today, 12 desperate Hong Kongers set out by boat to Taiwan, hoping to get political asylum there. Instead, they were intercepted by the Mainland Chinese coast guard, in what is claimed to be Chinese waters. They are now in custody in Shenzhen.

This past Sunday afternoon, their relatives appeared in public for a second time to make an appeal for further information about their loved ones. Among other things, they would like to see proof that the 12 were in fact detained in Chinese waters in the first place.  (And, no, they aren't content with just getting "assurances" that this was the case by the Hong Kong police: that is, the same organization that alerted the Mainland Chinese coast guard as to the fugitives' attempts to flee Hong Kong.). The obviously very concerned individuals also want Hong Kong officials to contact the detainees to check on their latest condition to ensure that they aren’t injured as they themselves have been denied access to them.

These are demands that don't seem all that unreasonable, right?  However, these are the Hong Kong and Mainland Chinese authorities they are dealing with. And as we have seen time and time again, Hong Kong officials will not stand up for Hong Kongers against Mainland China. (Forget the Mainland Chinese ones caring about what happens to Hong Kongers.)  Why should they as they're too are not answerable at the polls (what polls?) to the people of Hong Kong!

Watching this saga, many people here have had the same thought.  Hong Kong Hermit was speaking for us all when he Tweeted that: "This is every reason why we fought against the extradition bill in the first place. Because everyone feared being sent to China, where there is no hope of a fair trial, and with a Hong Kong govt. that won’t even advocate for its own people doing less than nothing to help."

Back on Saturday, Hong Kong Secretary for Security John Lee declared that he "understood the 12 were in good health, but [Hong Kong] officials had no right to visit them."  He also essentially dismissed the attempts by the families of the detained Hong Kongers to ensure that their family members would get good legal representation by stating that this particular issue had already been sorted, with the detainees having picked lawyers from a list provided by the Mainland Chinese authorities.

As far as the family members are concerned though, this is not a satisfactory arrangement; especially since they have already hired lawyers to represent their loved ones -- and those lawyers have, like the family members themselves, thus far been denied access to the 12 detained Hong Kongers.  And with one month now having passed since they last set eyes on their loved ones, they appear more determined than ever to see them and get assurances re their still being alive and well (something that sadly is not guaranteed when one is incarcerated over in Mainland China).      

Many of their fellow Hong Kongers -- and human rights activists in other parts of the world -- are also seeking to publicize and plead for the cases of the 12 detained Hong Kongers.  Earlier today, the Civil Human Rights Front announced that it had applied for a letter of no objection (from the Hong Kong police) to stage a march on October 1st with "Save [the] 12 Hong Kong Youths" as its theme.  (And in a gesture of solidarity, the organizers of a previously planned October 1st protest march -- in Tsuen Wan, in honor of the schoolboy protestor shot in the chest there last October 1st-- have announced its cancellation.)  

I have to be honest and say that I wonder how many people will take part in the planned October 1st march, especially if the police decline to issue a letter of no objection.  It's not that people aren't still dissatisfied with the Hong Kong government nor do very much want to get the 12 Hong Kongers back to Hong Kong.  But the fact of the matter is that the risks of getting arrested (and/or plain harassed) by the police, even if one were to stick to walking on the sidewalks rather than venture onto the road itself, are now so much higher -- and the possible penalties, if convicted, so much worse than before China's security law for Hong Kong came into effect this past June 30th.  

Still, it seems that you can always trust Carrie Lam to fan the flames of indignation, if not resistance, and cause people to want to show their disapproval of her words, actions and very being -- and if not her, it'd be the Hong Kong police.  Just this week, we have Carrie Lam telling the parents of the murdered teen -- whose murderer she had previously wanted so much to see brought to justice that she introduced the ill-fated extradition bill -- to "get over it" (with it being the murder of their daughter, lest it not be clear!).  In addition, the Hong Kong police have announced that they will be tightening controls on the press and refusing to recognize the likes of freelance journalists, reporters for news websites, student journalists and citizen journalists (even if they are accredited by major press associations such as the Hong Kong Journalists Association and Hong Kong Press Photographers Association).

As Agence France-Presse (AFP)'s Xinqi Su has noted in a Twitter thread: It was journalists not considered genuine media under the police's new and questionable classification who broke the news about: the passengers being beaten by the police inside Prince Edward MTR station on August 31st, 2019; a cop shooting an unarmed protestor at Sai Wan Ho on November 11th, 2019; a riot policeman shooting a young protestor in the chest in Tsuen Wan on October 1st, 2019; and a 12 year old girl being chased and pushed to the ground by riot cops this past September 5th.  

Consequently, it's hard to not suspect that the police look to be bidding to kerb reportage that shows them looking bad when they in fact do bad.  In any case, the Hong Kong Journalists' Association statement that these changes "will seriously impede press freedom in Hong Kong, leading the city toward authoritarian rule" surely is no exaggeration.

Monday, September 21, 2020

A wonderfully memorable evening at Kichijoji's Bakawarai (Photo-essay)

I dreamnt last night that I was visiting Japan. I've had many dreams in the past few months of leaving Hong Kong and going elsewhere but until last night, all of the dreams had actually been not very pleasant in nature: seeing as they involved my having to flee a place I love (and have come to look upon as my actual as well as spiritual home).

In last night's dream though, I was visiting what's become a favorite country to visit because of -- in no particular order -- its fantastic food, libations, cultural attractions, and natural ones too, a certain Pear (Fairy), friendly people and old friends who I met in Hong Kong but since have returned to their Japanese homeland.  And even while it really saddens me that it's looking like the Wuhan coronavirus is going to prevent me from making even one trip to Japan this year, it's also true enough that I have plenty of great memories of the Land of the Rising Sun to tide me over a while -- some of which I haven't yet chronicled on my blog. So here's going ahead and resuming posting about some of them from my May 2019 trip to Tohoku and Tokyo!

izakaya, I simply had to go there when I was in Tokyo!
 
Bakawarai's idiosyncratic way to welcome its customers
and mark reserved seats (And, if you're wondering, that's 
the name of the friend I went with on the egg ;b)
 
That egg's not just for show, by the way -- as it can get used as 
an ingredient in one of this Kichijoji izakaya's signature dishes!
 
An omelette that's picture worthy and really truly yummy!
 
I had plenty of seafood on this trip but this stewed fish head may well 
have been the single most delicious seafood dish I had on it! 
 
I love this Japanese whelk dish and pretty much always order it
whenever I see it on the menu (or, in this case, as the menu's 
only in Japanese, ordered by other customers!)
 
Yes, we had a lot of beer and
sake that night... :b
 
My vote for this atmospheric izakaya's piece de resistance:
the cured bacon hanging above the counter from clothes pins :D
 
A couple of notes to conclude: Thanks to Morgan for two of the above photos; and something that made my visit to Bakawarai truly memorable was that Simon and Martina happened to go there for dinner that night!  (And yes, I did perk up my courage to go and talk to them, and thank them for this really great izakaya recommendation!)  Also, should there be any doubt, I really would love to visit Bakawarai again on a future trip to Tokyo.  Truly, it's one of those places that makes me wish I lived in the neighborhood -- though it'd actually be pretty dangerous if that were the case, as I could definitely imagine my going and drinking as well as eating a lot there on many nights each week! :)  

Saturday, September 19, 2020

More political worries prompted by a spate of legal decisions this week


At first glance, all looks well -- but look closer and you'll see 
that scorch marks from fiery past battles 
remain visible on this pedestrian overpass
 
Protest stickers found on the back of bus seats 
as recently as this week
 
A friend who I was due to have lunch with messaged me yesterday evening to ask if I wanted to postpone our meetup on account of lots of rain being forecast this week.  I had to laugh when seeing her query because, of all the things that get me worried in Hong Kong, the weather is often the least of it.  (And yes, it's true enough that I've been known to venture outdoors when Typhoon Signal Number 8 has been raised!)      

This same friend also is one of those people who, when Hong Kong's daily new Wuhan coronavirus cases look on the high side, will cut down on her socializing and stay at home for days on end.  So it's a sign of her confidence that Hong Kong's third coronavirus wave really has ebbed that she agreed to meet up for lunch in the first place.  (For the record: Hong Kong passed the 5,000 mark in terms of total number of Wuhan coronavirus cases today but it's noteworthy that the majority of today's 13 new cases are imported ones and, also, that there were just 3 new cases reported for yesterday.)

In another sign that the third wave of the coronavirus has ceased to cause people great worry, a number of entertainment venues, including bars, were allowed to reopen yesterdayLan Kwai Fong reportedly wasn't as crowded as might have been expected, because of the intermittent rain that can seem like a big deal for many Hong Kongers!  Given the circumstances though, this might not be a bad thing for Hong Kong as a whole -- and, frankly, I think it'd be irresponsible of the government to allow bars to operate to 6am (like one idiot pro-Beijing lawmaker has suggested)!
 
If truth be told though, my greatest worries this week have been political in nature.  For while there haven't been any recent political arrests of note in recent days, I've been reading reports of the verdicts delivered in cases involving political figures and anti-extradition bill protestors -- and a good number of them have proved pretty troubling individually, and plenty troubling when looked at collectively. 
 
 
That Thursday also saw a 15-year-old having his probationary sentence for pleading guilty to arson and possessing materials with intent to damage property in May changed to six months in a detention center, during which he will undergo hard physical labour and discipline similar to a prison, after the Department of Justice won a review of the case.  In addition, the same Department of Justice announced that same day that it will be lodging an appeal against the acquittal of Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai this past September 3rd in a case that had seen a pro-Beijing newspaper's reporter claim that he had been threatened by the media mogul.  And if all this wasn't enough, that same day also saw a construction worker being the first person found guilty of rioting in connection with last year's extradition bill protests.   
 
 
Earlier this week, lawyer-author Antony Dapiran was prompted to Tweet the following query: "How many more of these cases need to collapse before the DoJ stops wasting time and resources and public money prosecuting the thousands of arrests made last year on flimsy grounds...?"  Unfortunately, because it's not their money per se (but that of tax payers and such) that they're wasting, I don't think that these uncalled for prosecutions are going to be stopping anytime soon.
 
In what can amount to be a war of attrition and major testing of intelligent people's patience and tolerance, there sadly will be individuals who decide that they don't want to put up with all this anymore.  Thus it was that yesterday saw the Hong Kong government announce that Australian judge Justice James Spigelman has resigned from Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal and a warning from legal sector Legislative Councillor Dennis Kwok that more foreign non-permanent judges may resign from Hong Kong's courts in the near future because of concerns they have with the security law imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing.  (Put another way: confidence is waning in the true impartiality of Hong Kong's judiciary.)     
 
 
Seeing her efforts to hold on to that seat makes me all the more convinced that the pan-democrats would be walking into a trap if they were to voluntarily vacate hard-won Legislative Council seats to protest the government's postponement of the Legislative Council election and extension of the present Legislative Council term.  This is something that remains in the air, and something that is in the democratic camp's hands.  I just fervently hope that when the time comes to make the decision, they will act wisely and pragmatically (rather than let emotion and pure idealism prevail).