Thursday, October 30, 2014

One month and two days on since the Umbrella Movement came into being

There's a very thin line between 
shopping and protest areas in Mongkok

People are still going to Ocean Park even if
they need to go to a different place from Admiralty
to get on the bus that takes them there

I spent some time in Admiralty earlier today -- the first time I had done so this week.  Because of the nature of my job, the hours I spend on it and where I do it, I spend the bulk of my week days in those parts of Hong Kong where the ongoing protests are out of sight, and fairly easily out of mind too.

Put another way: people outside of Hong Kong may get the impression that all of Hong Kong is in turmoil (or at least ferment) but for huge swathes of the territory and its people, life looks to go on -- and not that visiby differently as it did before September 28.

Yes, certain roads have been blocked, tram services partially disrupted, numerous bus routes have been rerouted and the MTR is noticeably more crowded than usual.  But the MTR is still running (and pretty smoothly too), people are still taking buses to go to places like Ocean Park as well as more mundane destinations -- and making use of taxis, mini buses, private cars, etc. to get about too.  And when they get to the places they want to do, they're going about working and living and enjoying life in various ways!

On a related note: right next to the protest areas, shops and stores are open for business -- and while the numerous jewelry and luxury watch stores along the Mongkok section of Nathan Road and Causeway Bay section of Hennessy Road may complain about the Umbrella Movement ruining the business, the fact of the matter is that there had been a downturn in their business for several months now (due in no small part to Xi Jingping's anti-corruption campaign -- which, sadly, has yet to target 689 despite reports of his having taken secret payments from an Australian company).

With it being "business as usual" in much of the Big Lychee, there are some who may conclude that the Umbrella Movement hasn't actually had much of an impact on Hong Kong as a whole.  Yet I also know that I'm far from the only person out there who will never see an umbrella in the same way again, the number 689, the color yellow, the Hong Kong police and, actually, even Hong Kong itself, and its people.  

And even while I now see Queensway filled with traffic once again, in my mind's eye, I can easily (re)envision it as an "occupied" area on which tents were pitched and people strolled, and can easily imagine it being that way again -- in a way that I would never have been able to do just a little more than a month ago.

As I told a friend of mine who asked me a few weeks back if I had been changed by the Umbrella Movement: I don't think I have, but it sure has changed my perception of Hong Kong... and, actually, for the better too -- not least because it's opened my eyes and mind to possibilities and positives involving it that I never previously was able to envision. Hence my continuing to hope that some good will actually come out of all this, even if not necessarily tomorrow, next week or even next month.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Umbrella Movement: one month on

Evening crowd at Admiralty -- photo taken 
during the first week of the protests

 Lunchtime view from above at "Occupied" Admiralty
-- photo taken in the middle of week 2 of the protests

The now ultra famous "Umbrella Man" created by
the artist known as Milk -- photo taken in week 3 of the protests

 A midweek lunchtime from above of Admiralty -- and to judge 
from this photo taken in week 4 of the protests, the area has
become more, not less, "occupied"!

 A sea of tents and people at Admiralty last Sunday evening

One month ago today, I wrote about Hong Kong being in turmoil.  That same day, I worried aloud to a friend of mine that violence would break out in the center of Hong Kong and that we'd see our first protester casualty within the next 72 hours.

Little did I know then what I now know about Hong Kongers.  And while there are people who have lauded the police for showing great restraint under trying conditions, my feeling is that it's the members of the Umbrella Movement who deserve the greater credit for things being so much more peaceful and less violent than pretty much anyone could have imagined, given the circumstances.

While we're at it: I'm also going to credit the Umbrella Movement with giving me a lot of reasons to love Hong Kong more than ever before. For even while this protest has not yet achieved what it sought to do and also has brought to light many of Hong Kong's ills, it also has shown what needs to -- and can be -- done to make Hong Kong a better place to live for the majority of its people, and that there are plenty of good people, young and old, who are willing to make sacrifices to make it so.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Hong Kong movie heroes and the Umbrella Movement

A Bruce Lee quote looked upon as a good piece of advice
which I've seen posted at Admiralty and Mongkok

 What many people would love to see happen:
i.e., a hero like Wong Fei Hung
administering a beating to the wolf

For those who haven't realized: in recent years, most Hong Kong film folks have come to look upon mainland China as the biggest market for their products -- and it's the rare Hong Kong movie these days that's not a co-production with the mainland.  So there are economic reasons for many local filmmakers and stars keeping mum about the subject of the ongoing pro-democracy protests or, worse, coming out and making statements against the Umbrella Movement.

In this context, it's really a pretty big deal that the likes of Chow Yun Fat, Anthony Wong Chau Sang and Chapman To have spoken up and out in defence of the protesters.  And already, there have been calls by a Beijing mouthpiece for action to be taken against the pro-Occupy celebrities such as the banning of their works from being shown on the mainland and their being able to work there.

Showing why he's so beloved in Hong Kong (and by many others in other parts of the world), Chow Yun Fat has responded to the suggestion that he's on the mainland blacklist by saying "I'll just make less then"!  (In the linked article, Fat Gor also is quoted as stating that "I’ve met the residents [in the protest areas], the students — they are very brave and it’s touching to see that they’re fighting for what they want. The students are reasonable. If the government can come up with a solution that the citizens or students are satisfied with, I believe the crisis will end.")

And on Twitter, it's been reported that Anthony Wong Chau Sang has said that "If Chow Yun Fat is willing to make less money, I'll take a pay cut to star in Hong Kong movies"!  (Wong, more than incidentally, stars in Gangster Pay Day, a hybrid triad drama-comedy-romance going on general release in Hong Kong on October 30 which I believe that Hong Kong movies will love and hope that viewers will give good support to.)

For their stance and statements, Chow Yun Fat and Anthony Wong Chau Sang deserve to be hailed as Hong Kong heroes.  And while we're on the subject of Hong Kong cinema-linked heroes: kudos to Pang Chi Ming, a kung fu practitioner of more than five decades who also happens to be a fourth generation descendent of the great Wong Fei Hung, for pointing out -- in response to a pro-Beijing politician's assinine assertion that the umbrellas of Umbrella Movement participants were more aggressive devices than the tear gas used by the police -- that "an umbrella is used for self-defence in real gongfu (or kung fu), and is not an aggressive weapon"!

And speaking of martial artists: a friend of mine who has been spending a lot of time in the "Occupied" section of Mongkok told me, "I've never heard Bruce Lee quoted so much as the last few weeks; how can the police disperse a crowd that acts like water? They'll just come back."
An umbrella is used for self-defence in real gongfu, and is not an aggressive weapon, - See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/news/asia/east-asia/story/hong-kong-protests-descendant-legendary-master-wong-fei-hung-hits-back-ove#sthash.mNMtGgEA.dpuf
An umbrella is used for self-defence in real gongfu, and is not an aggressive weapon, - See more at: http://www.straitstimes.com/news/asia/east-asia/story/hong-kong-protests-descendant-legendary-master-wong-fei-hung-hits-back-ove#sthash.mNMtGgEA.dpuf

Sunday, October 26, 2014

One afternoon in "Occupied" Mongkok (Photo-essay)

Yesterday evening, I had a discussion with an expat friend about the current situation that I found rather disquieting.  One of those who had professed to support the students the first week that the ongoing pro-democracy protests began, she now says that she's "neutral" on the matter -- in that even while she (now) thinks that 689 is a leader who seems thoroughly incompetent, she also wants "the students" to stop Occupying and have things get back to normal.

As she talked, it became obvious that a major reason for her opposing the Umbrella Movement was economic, with her telling me that one good friend's business has suffered quite a bit as a result of the protests and at least two of her friends who worked in luxury retail and catering in Causeway Bay have lost their jobs in recent weeks.  In response, I wondered whether with the latter, some businesses are using the protests as an excuse for a lack of business -- as it's a fact that stores catering to mainlanders have seen lowered sales in recent months because of Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign.  (For evidence, check out this interesting article written on September 24, days before Occupy Hong Kong began.)   

An even more frustrating part of our discussion was when my friend stated her belief that the protesters is pretty much entirely composed of "students", and that they have knives and other weapons with which they use to attack the police.  Determined to prove her wrong, I headed over to Mongkok this afternoon to get visual evidence of what the most volatile thus far of Occupy Hong Kong's three protest areas actually regularly looks like.  (As another friend of mine -- one who spends a lot of time there -- told me re the media coverage of Occupy Mongkok: "All they show is the exciting part. 23.9 hours of sleeping, recycling, and homework goes missing"...)  
 
 Protesters catch 40 winks on the street just meters away 
from the barriers separating "Occupied" space 
from that manned by the police

And there are people who spend there protest time 
reading -- like also can be seen at Admiralty

To be sure, there's no question that Occupy Mongkok 
has its quirks, such as the shrine to Guan Yu, 
the Taoist god of war revered by the police and triads alike

 Can you tell that verbals between a few men 
are taking place in the background of this photo?

 A reminder that the protesters are fighting and caring for
-- and thinking of -- far more than just themselves

A reminder that not all Umbrella 
Movement participants are students!

Yes, some parents think the area safe enough to bring their kids

No spraying this afternoon -- thank goodness --
but much evidence about that people are staying (put) there!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Order and civility in an "anarchic" area and situation

no longer there but it sure has inspired people, 

In the meantime, the 'Occupation' goes on

...and yes, protesters here really do things like
read and clean up while in the protest areas!

While walking in my neighborhood this morning, I came across a few booths -- manned in the main by elderly men and middle aged see lai -- and got stopped by near one of the latter and asked to add my name to a signature to a "pro-police".  I refused -- not because I absolutely hate the police, or am against law and order, but because I know this campaign is an anti-Umbrella Movement one masquerading as something more positive.

Also, sorry, but this is far from the right time to express one's support of the Hong Kong police force -- for even while I will grant that they do appear to have been able to better control themselves these past few days and nights than otherwise lately, they have quite a long way to go to return to being looked upon as Asia's finest and an organization we can believe in and trust once more.

With regards to the people at the frontline of the "pro police" campaign: part of me is inclined to think that they are motivated by fear and also want to make use of fear -- specifically, that the Umbrella Movement will cause Hong Kong to become a place where chaos and anarchy reigns.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record: I wish people like that would go and visit the protest sites and see for themselves how it is there.  Honestly, I reckon that many of them will hardly be able to believe their eyes (and ears) at what they will find there -- particularly, Admiralty, the area with which I personally have become the most familiar.

In some ways, yes, it's anarchic -- in the sense that there is no one person "in charge" there, or even one group of people.  But as a recent TIME piece's headline and subheader have it, The main Hong Kong protest site is a perfect anarchist collective: There are no leaders, but everything, from the supply tents to the recycling stations, runs just beautifully.

Someone I know who was visiting the place for the first time this afternoon told me, in a way that made it seem like he was filled with wonder, "it's so quiet and peaceful"!  And, indeed, when you bear in mind how many people there are there, and also its location in a central, super urban part of Hong Kong, it really, truly is!

One reason for this is because of it being free of cars and other vehicles.  Another is down to the behavior and general deportment of the people who are there: honestly, civil and civilized are perfect ways to decribe it and them.  And all this without the presence of any designated enforcers of law and order about.

In what other part of the world do protesters do things like sit quietly and read, snooze and nap, sweep the road and pick up trash, go about fashioning origami paper umbrellas and yellow ribbons, etc.?  Only in Hong Kong, a place that is not just another Chinese city, surely?!  

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Umbrella Movement at Lion Rock, Admiralty and elsewhere in Hong Kong

Spotted at Admiralty earlier today

A popular area for lunch at Admiralty

Among the thousands of messages at 

The unrest continued in Mongkok today but as serious as it was, the big news that people were reporting to one another via social media, phone messages and other means was about a group of climbers hanging a giant yellow and black banner emblazoned with the Chinese characters for "I want real universal suffrage", an umbrella symbol and the words "Umbrella Movement" on Lion Rock.* (To watch a video explaining why this action was undertaken, go here.)

I was lunching at Admiralty when I received word from a friend about the Umbrella Movement on Lion Rock act.  Minutes before, I had been in an office high above Admiralty discussing the Umbrella Movement and 689's brazen comments about democracy and the poor with a woman working there who told me that several of her colleagues as well as her have taken to spending lots of time in the protest areas, including regularly at lunchtime but also after work and during the weekends.

And minutes after I finished my lunch and was strolling about in the area, I was hailed by someone else I knew and proceeded to have a fairly lengthy conversation with him whose topics included -- you guessed it -- 689's recent comments that have incensed much of Hong Kong in an interview South China Morning Post columnist Alex To has described as having "set the gold standard on how not to do a media interview for generations of politicians to come"!

Something else that I discussed both before and after lunch today was how the authorities seem to think that the Umbrella Movement has just a very few supporters as well as participants.  For example, during the talks held on Monday evening between Umbrella Movement representatives and the authorities, one of the latter looked to have inferred that people at home (rather than out in the protest areas at the time) all weren't Umbrelle Movement supporters; to which I wanted to shout out "Little do you know!"

On a similar note: In a letter to the editor published in the South China Morning Post a few days ago, someone drew the inference that there aren't many Occupy Central supporters out there because he hadn't seen anyone sporting a yellow ribbon while taking a ride in the MTR.  I hereby wish to tell that person (and interested others) that if they were to go to the protest areas -- be they in Central, Admiralty, Causeway or Mongkok -- they will find that not all people there sport yellow ribbons.  

Actually, I'd go so far as to say that very few of them sport yellow ribbons.  Also, not everyone in the area is clad in a black or yellow t-shirt.  For that matter, there actually can be seen quite a few people there who are attired in shirts, blouses, dresses, etc. rather than t-shirts of any color! Because lots of the people are more inclined to demonstrate their support by doing such as spending time in the protest area(s) rather than by altering the way they regularly dress.

Put another way: Umbrella Movement participants and supporters dress and look like the kind of people that you find in "regular" Hong Kong -- because, well, they are regular Hong Kongers (and constitute a far wider range than "just" "students", "radicals", etc.)!  And I bet that there are far more of them about and around than the authorities and "anti-Occupy" folks do or want to realize. 

*An update: a video has been uploaded on Youtube showing how the climbers got the giant banner hanging from Lion Rock (see here).  Well done guys (and at least one gal) -- and thank you for speaking out and lifting spirits up!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The inconclusive talks, and the eye-opening interview given before them


If only members of the government would come under the yellow 
canopy in the flesh (Yes, you may say I'm a dreamer but...)

So the talks between the protesters and the authorities finally happened... and as widely expected, neither side looked able to convince the other of the validity of its views.  But on the bright side, they were talking -- not shouting at and haranguing the other.  And Hong Kongers got to see and hear that the Umbrella Revolution representatives aren't radical revolutionaries but, rather, overly idealistic students at worst.

Also, it may be empty words but it's still interesting that Chief Secretary Carrie Lam included the following statements in her concluding remarks:-

- The framework for 2017 is not final.

- The government is considering how to make a report to central government to reflect people’s views.  

Still, far more illuminating to me -- and most definitely damning -- is 689's remarks ahead of the talks in an interview carried in The Wall Street Journal, the International New York Times and the Financial Times -- and reported by such as the South China Morning Post in the past 24 hours.  And while the International New York Times' article's headline read "Hong Kong Leader Reaffirms Unbending Stance on Elections", the South China Morning Post got closer to the crux of it with its headline of "CY Leung: 'Democracy would see poorer people dominate vote.'"

For those who missed it, here's the opening paragraph from the International New York Times piece: The Beijing-appointed leader of Hong Kong, Leung Chun-ying, said Monday evening that it was unacceptable to allow his successors to be chosen in open elections, in part because doing so would risk giving poorer residents a dominant voice in politics.

And here's more from the South China Morning Post's piece:-

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying told media that if the government met pro-democracy protesters’ demands it would result in the city’s poorer people dominating elections.

...Leung said that if candidates were nominated by the public then the largest sector of society would likely dominate the electoral process. 

...“If it’s entirely a numbers game and numeric representation, then obviously you’d be talking to the half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than US$1,800 a month [HK$13,964.2],” Leung said in comments published by the WSJ, the FT and the INYT.

...Semi-autonomous Hong Kong has one of the biggest income divides in the world, with growing discontent at increased inequality and exorbitant property prices fuelling the protests which turned increasingly violent at the end of last week.

...Leung’s latest comments are likely to further fuel the anger of protesters who see him as hapless, out of touch and pandering to the whims of a small  number of tycoons who dominate the financial hub.

And this man is supposed to be a Communist?  Only under China's brand of Communism...