Thursday, December 18, 2014

Frankenstein, and creepy sights and sounds in Trier!

Your eyes do not deceive - that's really 
the name of a train stop in Germany!
 The creepiest feeling place I was in on this recent trip

Yes, the cloister pictured in the middle photo is in a complex whose 
main building has door handles shaped like those of human hands... :O
As early as the first day of my most recent trip to Germany, I got the feeling of it being "deja vu all over again" -- and I'm not just referring here to the substantial breakfast that my German friend made sure that we would have after shortly I arrived at her home that morning.  Rather, while walking around her neighborhood, I noticed once more that things were so quiet that we could hear our own footsteps -- because there were so few people out on the streets, and ditto re any vehicles!

It was with amusement that we recalled how she had initially been quite agitated to learn that I found the quiet to be at times on the creepy as well as unexpected side.  And I do count myself very fortunate that my German friend doesn't only have a sense of humor but one that can be pretty similar to mine -- so that when one of the trains we took to Trier passed by Frankeinstein (Pfalz), she knew that that fact would tickle my funny bone and, also, that I'd want to take a photo of the railway station's sign for my record!
Incidentally, "frankenstein" means "stone of the Franks" in German -- and since the Franks were a confederation of tribes living in parts of what's modern day Germany, it makes sense that I'd spot such as a gravestone with the words "von Frankenstein" on it in Mainz, and belatedly discover that Frankenstein (Pfalz) is home to Frankenstein Castle (and that that edifice is said to have inspired Mary Shelley to write her Frankenstein).

In any event, I didn't feel scared at all in the brief moments that I passed by Frankenstein (Pfalz) -- and it was only later that day, when my German friend and I found ourselves in the cloister of Trier's UNESCO World Heritage-listed Trierer Dom (aka St. Peter's Cathedral), that I genuinely did feel unsettled and somewhat freaked out!

To understand why this was the case, try to imagine this: a very dark area where many shadows loomed, old (as in dating back to the 13th century) surroundings, lots of graves in the vicinity, a mysterious plume of smoke seeping out from an unidentified part of the building, and the sound of birds loudly cawing that caused my German friend to remark that she was getting reminded of scenes from Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds!
So small wonder then that we made haste to get out and away from that area!  Still, to be fair, we did find much of the cathedral proper -- both its interior and exterior -- to be awe-inspiring... though I also will confess to not caring to spend any large amount of time in its crypt, where were installed the remains of a number of people, notably some of the institution's bishops!! ;(

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

After dark in Mannheim, for the most part! (Photo-essay)

Four and a half years after I last visited Germany (and, for that matter, any place outside of Asia), I ventured to that part of the world once more to holiday with my German friend who I met on a hike here in Hong Kong a few months after I moved to the Fragrant Harbour.

As before, I mainly stayed at her place, from where we would make day trips to nearby towns, but also went further afield a couple of times.  And like on my 2010 visit, I ate a lot, drank quite a bit too, attended a concert, and visited lots of churches and cathedrals, a palace, a few museums and a couple of UNESCO World Heritage sites

However, the weather was a great deal colder on this visit -- thanks to my visiting in winter rather than summer.  While I wouldn't consider December the optimal time of the year to go to Germany (or, for that matter, Luxembourg too), there are some compensations: including there being Christmas markets in pretty much every town and city that I visited this time around!  Also, while winter days have too few hours of sunlight for my liking, it's also true that winter nights can yield beautiful sights (and photos!)... ;b

 Puppet Ponyo says: "Yes, my German friend was keen 
once more to ensure that we start off the day with 

 Guess what we had for dinner at the first Christmas market
ever that I went to (over in Mannheim)! ;b

 In addition to food and drink (think gluhwein!), there are
lots of stalls selling interesting items, many of them handmade

Among the stalls that I found fascinating were those
selling all manner of often surprisingly beautiful brushes!

Also pleasing to my eye was this night-time view of
Mannheim's landmark Wasserturm (Water Tower)

As this view of the grand Mannheim Baroque Palace shows,
I did spend some daylight hours in that city ;)
 An after dark shot of the same palace

Talk about novel: a concert (featuring Christmas carols and 
other songs sung a cappella) which took place in a working garage! :b

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Going, going... actually, not completely gone!

Looks like Causeway Bay's back to what it was before 
the Umbrella Movement happened? If so, click to 
enlarge the image and look at the top-most sticker!
"We'll be back!!" - believe it!
After dinner at Causeway Bay this evening (on a day when, inspired by the earlier Occupy Lion Rock action, a new pro-democracy banner was hung on Victoria Peak), I couldn't help going once more to the area where Occupy Causeway Bay was until yesterday morning.  At first glance, everything seemed like it had gone back to pre-Umbrella Movement times -- and that it was like the Umbrella Movement had never happened.  
But look more closely and you'll see signs that things aren't entirely like they were some three months or more ago -- and even if all those stickers do get removed from the area, there are mental images indelibly etched in the minds of many people; ones that make it so that, say, it's hard to look at umbrellas (be they yellow or otherwise) in quite the same way again, etc.  And yes, it's also true that when I'm in spaces such as the MTR, I can't help but look around me and wondered who in the crowd I may have previously passed by at the protest areas at some point in the past 11 weeks ago...

On the subject of the past: it's interesting how the sight of Umbrella Movement participants here in Hong Kong conjured up images and memories of particular major events that took place in mainland China last century for many.  For a large percentage of the non-students who decided to join the Umbrella Movement after September 28th, it was the spectre of June 4th that loomed most.  But for certain others who stressed that they wanted order rather than chaos in the streets and greater society, there was a fear that the Umbrella Movement's student participants were like the contemporary Hong Kong version of the Cultural Revolution's Red Guards.

Ironically, I think that Beijing and its supporters may have fanned the flames with regard to the latter.  Even more ironically, the authorities may have had a(n inadvertent) hand in making a number of protesters go from having the non-violent likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King as their primary role models to Malcolm X in his angriest and most radical phase.

Early on in the protests, the name Umbrella Revolution was quickly cast aside in favor of the less revolutionary Umbrella Movement which I personally continue to favor.  But in the later weeks of the protests, the Umbrella Revolution tag returned to the forefront...and yes, it's true enough that the one Umbrella protest themed T-shirt that I own (and have worn with pride) has the words Umbrella Revolution emblazoned on it.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Gone, Back, To Be Continued

Not so long ago (and for several weeks), the sections of road 

 Earlier today, the Causeway Bay protest area also was cleared

 What are the odds of this umbrella image still being there, I wonder?

79 days ago today, I returned from a wonderful Japan trip to a Hong Kong in turmoil -- one which my friend over at The Fragrant Harbour blog called Hong Kong's saddest day but which, in retrospect, may not have been an entirely dark one on account of it also having seen the birth of an Umbrella Movement that has instilled me a greater respect and love for many of my fellow Hong Kongers (even while also making many of us have less respect, faith and trust in the Hong Kong government, particularly its Chief Executive).

This morning, I returned from a visit to Germany and Luxembourg to news that the Causeway Bay protest area and the remaining sections of Occupy Admiralty would be cleared by day's end -- and so it has come to pass.  (In addition, while I was thousands of miles away, I got word that the great bulk of the protest area in Admiralty had been cleared -- and it's a sign of how removed this all seemed in Europe that the only newspaper I saw put this piece of news on its front page in the shops in Germany was the International New York Times.)

Since I've already written so much already about the Umbrella Movement, I'm not going to add much except to state my belief that this is NOT the end of it all but, rather, the start of a new phase in Hong Kong's history and contemporary being: one that marks Hong Kong as no longer being merely a money- and shopping-mad place. (Instead, those traits are far more likely to be found among those hailing from mainland China.)

Also, here's serving notice that this blog will soon return to "regular programming" -- with priority given in the next few days and weeks to coverage of my Germany and Luxembourg musings, and then to that of that Japan visit I made in September that I really do have exceedingly fond memories of. At the same point, of course it's not like the Umbrella Movement doesn't live on to my mind -- and I do like that I know for sure of at least one apartment in Germany that has a "I want true democracy" (for Hong Kong, not just Germany!) sign in it!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Farewell Occupy, on with the Umbrella Movement?!

A message from an anonymous Umbrella Movement member

Envisioning an evolution more so than a revolution?

Festive Christmas decorations have joined Halloween ornaments and Umbrella Movement symbols on display at Admiralty in recent weeks -- but in the aftermath of the botched attempt to escalate the protests late Sunday night and early Monday morning, it's looking more and more likely that Occupy Admiralty (and Causeway Bay) will be gone by Christmas, if not earlier.

Rather than see the withdrawal from the protest areas as an admission that the Umbrella Movement has failed, however, I would be inclined to look upon it more as an admission and realization that a change in tactics needs to be effected.  Among other things, alternative -- and better -- methods need to be found to encourage those Hong Kongers who are not inherently anti-democracy or (even) anti-"Occupy" to be more (openly) supportive of the Umbrella Movement, its aims and ideals.  

Also, other, better and more efficient ways need to be found to better utilize the efforts and goodwill of the (hundreds of) thousands of people who have supported and taken part in the Umbrella Movement over a period of time that's actually surpassed by several weeks the length of the student protests that took place at Tiananmen Square between April 18 to June 4, 1989

When that happens, I believe that people will come out once again to make their voices heard -- and send a definite message to the authorities about what they really want, now and for the future.  So come on, those of you who seek to lead us to a better future, put your thinking caps on and come up with at least one solid plan, pretty please! (And, actually, since many of the best aspects of the Umbrella Movement have come from people who haven't said anything about being leaders, everyone should feel free to offer up viable options too!) 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Change and continuity at Admiralty in the wake of late Sunday/early Morning violence (Photo-essay)

It's currently raining, the cold weather warning has been issued for the first time this winter, and a friend of mine just texted me to say "Poor people camping. It's all very depressing." This towards the end of a day that saw Occupy Central's three co-founders farcically try to surrender to the police, only to be let go without any charges place against them

Still, to put things in context, I honestly don't think that many members of the Umbrella Movement consider Benny Tai, Chan Kin Man and Reverend Chu Yiu Ming as their leaders.  After all, wasn't one of the main defining features of the Umbrella Movement that it was a leader-less movement that spontaneously arose out of the frustrations and hopes that many Hong Kongers felt after seeing unarmed protesters being tear-gassed, yet continuing to resist, that fateful day in September -- i.e., more than two months ago now?

In any case, when I visited the Admiralty protest area yesterday, I saw signs both of the aftermath of the violent clashes that took place late Sunday evening into early Monday morning, but also that the spirit of resistance remains alive...

 Flat brown spaces mark the spots where there used to be 
many more tents in Tamar Park than was the case yesterday

 ... but many tents remain pitched to the north, west 
and south of the Legislative Council Complex

A policeman and dog patrolled the overhead bridge
over the central section of the Admiralty protest site...

...while one of the two escalators connecting that 
overhead bridge to the "Occupied" ground level -- and 
half of the other escalator -- is now obstructed by barriers

 The site's Lennon Wall remains -- but near the top
of the stairs has been erected another barrier

Signs -- with still relevant messages
-- also continue to be found in the area

 You won't get any argument from me re that sentiment!

A banner that spoke to me when I first saw it on October 1
still remains at Admiralty -- and remains pertinent to my mind

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Personal landmark and socio-political reflections

A commemorative photo I'm glad to have been able 
to take at Admiralty earlier today

The first time I stepped on Hong Kong soil, I did so as an 11-year-old tourist who wasn't all that impressed by what I saw, heard and experienced on a visit whose strongest memories included seeing a rat in a restaurant where we were served drunken prawns and spotting a used condom while strolling about up on Victoria Peak!  So it should come as no surprise that, bar for a few short stop-overs on flights between Malaysia and the US, I did not deign to make my way to Hong Kong again for a time.

But after I became a "born again" Hong Kong movie fan while living in Philadelphia back in the late 1990s, I started to become attracted to visit the Fragrant Harbour.  And after several enjoyable visits where I did the things that a fanatic Hong Kong film fangirl would do -- including watch a lot of movies while I was in town and make pilgrimages to certain film locations -- and also learnt more about Hong Kong's cultural heritage and history, Chinese food and such, I decided that I really, really, did want to live in Hong Kong.

In all honesty, I will say that Hong Kong is the one place in the world that I set my sights on wanting to live in and then looked for a job there that would allow me to do that.  (In contrast, places like the US and Tanzania were where I went because the career I was pursuing at the the time dictated that I should go.)  And on May 1, 2007, I finally achieved my dream of moving to Hong Kong.

Since that day more than seven years ago, I've seen my love for Hong Kong grow stronger -- not least because I found more and more about Hong Kong to like over the years.  With the state of Hong Kong cinema being what it is and has been in the past few years, I have to say that a love of Hong Kong movies would not have regularly kept me happy and satisfied for all that long.  

Instead, I've also done such as discovered a love of hiking on Hong Kong's many kilometers worth of trails, been able to unleash my inner foodie courtesy of living in a place with more than 10,000 restaurants (including some that serve great Japanese food and delicious Korean eats along with a range of Chinese cuisines, and so much more!), found places to gain a major appreciation of Japanese nihonshu as well indulge my fondnesss of traditional British beers along with craft beers from many parts of the world, etc., etc.

Along the way, I've made my share of good friends and enjoyed doing lots of different things with them.  Also -- and okay, here's where it gets political -- I've appreciated that Hong Kong is a place where I've felt free to do such as commemorate June 4 every year and to exercise my right to free speech and assembly each July 1 and, latterly, as part of the Umbrella Movement.

For some years, I felt that the June 4 vigil was something I could go to because it was a universal human rights event -- albeit one with particular meaning for people living in Hong Kong and Mainland China.  However, I didn't feel that I should take part in the July 1 marches because it specifically pertained to Hong Kong and I shouldn't get involved too much with local matters....until 2012.  

That year, I started feeling that I had lived in Hong Kong long enough to feel like a Hong Konger (as well as share the views of many about such as Leung Chun Ying delivering his first official speech as Hong Kong's Chief Executive in Putonghua rather than Cantonese).  Still, it wasn't until two weeks ago that I officially became a Hong Kong permanent resident, and today that I got my card certifying that this is indeed the case.

When I mentioned to them a month or so ago of my intention to apply for Hong Kong permanent residency, a few local colleagues and friends asked me why I wanted to do so -- this not least because Hong Kong has been in turmoil these past few months.  But while it may be hard for some people to see, the Umbrella Movement's existence actually is one more reason why I love Hong Kong -- because it shows me that Hong Kong has many people who share my socio-political concerns and ideas, and believe that Hong Kong can be a better place and (fairer) society than certain others seem content for it to be.