Sunday, March 26, 2023

A protest in Hong Kong that shows how much of a police state it has become

attracted a lot more people than today's in the same area :S
Earlier today, a protest took place in Tseung Kwan O.  It wasn't a pro-democracy protest.  Instead, it was a demonstration against the government’s plan for land reclamation and building obnoxious facilities in the area.  And instead of attracting tens of thousands of participants (as had been the case with the protest march I took part in back on August 4th, 2019), it involved fewer than 100 people.  And yet, it probably was the largest protest Hong Kong has seen in years, and the first one given a letter of "no objection" by the police -- and thus "authorized" -- in three years.
More than by the way, that "authorization" (which only came late on Friday night) came only after jumping through numerous hoops. Among other things: the police "reminded participants to comply with the Hong Kong National Security Law".  Which is fine and well except, close to three years after China imposed that law on Hong Kong, we are still discovering new national security law (and, related, sedition) offences: e.g., earlier this month, possessing -- not even disseminating or publishing -- illustrated children's books about sheeps and wolves published by speech therapists!
Continuing quoting from a piece in The Standard about this: "The organizer is also requested by the police to arrange labor for crowd management to ensure no one can join the demonstration halfway."  An arrangement that those who have attended protests in Hong Kong -- or, for that matter, such as a film screening or group dinner -- will realize is ludicrous since it's pretty much unheard of for there to be no latecomers to such events!   
And there's the matter that many people found most shocking and ludicrous of all: Protest participants were "asked by police to display a number card around their neck and to comply with the anti-mask law".  Re that first bit: what next?  Will people be required to submit personal information before getting a number card to wear at protests?  As for the second bit: We knew this was going to happen once the mask mandate was lifted since there is an anti-face covering regulation on the books, introduced in October 2019 by Carrie Lam.  But even so, it's amazing to think that they would enforce it less than a month since the lifting of the mask mandate and while there's still a pandemic!   
In addition: "Chan Chin-chun, the convener of the concern group that filed for police approval, said they wanted the demonstration to fit some 300 participants and mulled putting stickers on participants’ clothing for identification. Yet, police finally lowered the cap to 100 and requested participants to hang a number card around their necks."  Really. If you can't see how unreasonable and insane this is (and don't care), why are you reading this blog (post)?!

For images (and video clips) of how ridiculous this all was, check out the Twitter threads by AFP's Xinqi Su and CNN's Chris Lau; the latter of which also provides good documentation of the restrictions that the press covering this farcical event were also subject to.  Xinqi Su's Tweet about and showing "The weight of self-restricting on organisers and rally goers boiled down to a point when an officer was heard telling a rally goer to “lend a hand [to hold up] your cordon line”" prompted the following suggestion from lawyer Antony Dapiran: "Next the [police]’ll be asking [the protestors] to tear gas themselves."
Speaking of people having plenty to say (still): ""Since the 2019-20 pro-democracy protests were crushed, Hongkongers have faced an uphill battle to stay in the international spotlight." Indeed, and put another way: I used to think we here in Hong Kong weren't communicating well enough what's going on to the outside world.  But these days, I find myself thinking that it's often more a case of people not listening well enough. And, truly, those (supposed allies) going on about how Hongkongers have fallen silent aren't helping. LISTEN. We are still here!  We may not be out on the streets protesting in the thousands and millions.  But we still are around and alive, persisting, trying to keep our dreams alive, and doing what we can to f**king love Hong Kong, okay?! 

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Some of my favorite members of the Yellow Economic Circle (Photo-essay)

Although there are people who might want it to seem otherwise, Hong Kong pro-democracy protests have been predominantly peaceful and non-violent in nature.  This include many massive protest marches (including that which is estimated to have had some 2 million participants) and large rallies that took place in 2019 and into 2020.  Two other notable forms of protest that do not involve violence -- unless one talks about attempts by opponents of democracy to destroy them -- include the Lennon Walls and Yellow Economic Circle (the latter of which is still going strong up until today).   
Re the latter: they consist of shops, restaurants and bars whose owners and staffers are pro-democracy; with many of them having done so as helped protestors (by doing such as offering free food, drinks and other items, or having opened their doors to people when the areas they were in saw tear gas attacks by the police).  And many of their customers have chosen to support them in order to thank them for their actions, and continue to support them in these often trying economic times.          
One of the most popular and successful Yellow Economic Circle members has been AbouThai, a Thai lifetstyle chain owned by Mike Lam, one of the 47 Hong Kong politicians and activists accused of having broken the national security law by taking part in the pro-democracy primaries of July 2020, and his Thai-born wife, Bowie Kanokwon.  So imagine the shock that many people felt yesterday after he publicly denounced the Yellow Economic Circle, calling it a mistake.  In view of this, I won't be shopping at AboutThai any more.  But the good news is that there still are thousands of other "yellow shops" for me to support -- including the eight which offer up the following tasty fare:
Wong char (King stir fry) at Man Wah, a restaurant which suffered
an attack by pro-Beijingers in 2019 but still is going strong in 2023
Cha chaan teng fare at  一日三餐, a restaurant owned by
former Cathay Pacific pilot turned legislative councillor
(and currently imprisoned pro-democracy politician) Jeremy Tam
One of many pizzas I've eaten at Jacomax, a pizza chain 
whose owners (an Italian born man and his local 
Hong Konger wife) are very openly pro-democracy
Italian food and Hong Kong beer at Villa Villa, a North Point eatery 
that helps provide proof that that part of Hong Kong 
is not as wholly "blue" (pro-Beijing) as is often assumed! 
Assorted (and unusual -- e.g., including peanut butter and chocolate!)
siu mai at Tsui Kee Dim Sum, a "yellow shop" just a few minutes' walk
away from Prince Edward MTR station
The signature crab at The Chairman, a highly rated fine dining
establishment known for its championing of local produce
Seasonal sushi at Sushi Masa, whose Sheung Wan branch
I'm a particular fan of (and has replaced the Maxim Group's 
owned Senryo in my heart) 
A confession: Seng Seng Pocha/Korean Cuisine would be my favorite
Korean restaurant in Hong Kong even if it weren't "yellow"
(though, of course, if it were "blue", I wouldn't eat there)! :)

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Albert Ho is re-arrested, 10 days after his brother was arrested and one day after three more Hong Kongers were jailed over seditious books!

Albert Ho (second from left of the quintet in the above photo) 
and co in freer times -- specifically, July 1st, 2018
Another day, another arrest of a political activist by the Hong Kong police.  Today, it was 71-year-old Albert Ho, a lawyer by trade who's a former head of the Democratic Party and even a former Chief Executive candidate.  Today's arrest was not his first by a long chalk; and, in fact, I had forgotten he was not behind bars as he had spent more than a year in detention on a subversion charge before being let out on bail for medical treatment for lung cancer.
As per a report in The Guardian: "The judge who granted bail told Ho that if he committed any acts endangering national security “his bail will be revoked and he won’t be able to receive any kind of private medical care”."  Well, apparently, he's deemed to have done so by having dinner with friends (who happen to be fellow political figures) in public; with the authorities suspected that in doing so, he had been "perverting the course of justice due to allegedly interfering with witnesses while he was on court bail"!
Albert Ho's latest arrest comes 10 days after the arrest of his brother, Frederick Ho, who happens to be the lawyer of Elizabeth Tang along with Elizabeth Tang's sister, Marilyn.  For the record: Frederick Ho and Marilyn Tang are currently out on bail, along with Elizabeth Tang, even while Elizabeth Tang's husband, Lee Cheuk-yan, is not.  And yes, there are connections too between Albert Ho and Lee Cheuk-yan, in that the two men are, among other things, co-founders of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China (i.e., the organizers of the (previously) annual June 4th candlelight vigils at Victoria Park).      
The AFP's Xinqi Su provided a handy chart linking these five individuals.  And it's worth noting that Hong Kong can feel like a small world in terms of the personal and professional connections certain people have with one another as well as Hong Kong pro-democracy politicians and political activists often being so accessible that even a small potato like me can be on nodding terms, and sometimes even friends, with a number of them.  Re the last bit: And that's why the arrests, incarceration, silencing, etc. of many of these personalities are blows that can feel personal on top of being seen as blows in general to Hong Kong's future and hopes.

From a Hong Kong Free Press article: "According to local media, the designated national security magistrate of the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts said the case was about more than spreading seditious messages on social media as it involved designing, producing and printing the publication in question."  Truly, the national security magistrate(s) seem to believe that books have incredible power!

And so it proved: with independent outlet Free HKMedia founder, "Pastor" Allan Keung (who I've only ever seen in a pastor's outfit), sentenced to eight months behind bars by Principal Magistrate Peter Law; his co-defendant and stall owner, Alex Lee, handed a prison term of five months; and Lee's wife, Connie Chan, getting the longest prison term -- of 10 months.  
The sacrifices that continue to be made for others by more than one Hong Konger.  For their loved ones, for other (pro-democracy) Hong Kongers.  Some of whom are one and the same.  Truly, Hong Kong has a lot of honourable, admirable people... sadly, in jail. :(

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Blue Island is a film about Hong Kong(ers) that truly hits home (Film review)

Taiwanese poster for a Hong Kong film
that has to be screened in Hong Kong cinemas
(and, in all likelihood, might never will)
Blue Island (Hong Kong, 2022)
- Chan Tze-woon, director and scriptwriter
- Starring: Anson Sham Kwan-yin, Chan Hak-chi, Tin Siu-ying, Kenneth Lam, Keith Fong Chung-yin, Raymond Young, Kelvin Tam Kwan-long
This is one of those Hong Kong films that will make the most sense to those who have the requisite knowledge of Hong Kong's history and political scene.  Sadly as well as ironically, few of these folks have had the chance to view Blue Island -- and, in all likelihood, won't do so in the foreseeable future -- as this thoughtful as well as thought-provoking docu-drama by Chan Tze-woon is one of those cinematic works that stands little chance of being approved for viewing by Hong Kong censors in the national security law era.  
Billed as a Hong Kong protest documentary, Blue Island is actually less straightforward and more ambitiously conceived than Yellowing (2016), Chan's Umbrella Movement documentary, as well as previous films I've viewed about Hong Kong's anti-extradition bill-turned-pro-democracy protests (including Kiwi Chow's more well known Revolution of Our Times).  Described in a Variety review as a "hybrid documentary", it contains re-enactments of events that took place in the 1960s and 1980s as well as footage of events that took place in 2019 (and possibly beyond), both on the street and off it along with interviews with a number of people who range in age, occupation and, actually, political perpectives too.
Blue Island opens with what the audience later learns is a dramatic re-enactment by two young adults of the escape from Mainland China by two individuals who are now are Hong Kong senior citizens.  Chan Hak-chi and Git Hing swam to the then British colony of Hong Kong in 1973, when the Cultural Revolution was raging in China. In contrast, Anson Sham Kwan-yin and Tin Siu-ying, who briefly portray the husband and wife, and later are seen enjoying a meal and conversation with them in the film, were not born when Hong Kong -- the territory and its people -- was handed over to China by the British in the summer of 1997.     
Some of the most interesting and best sections of this considered offering involve conversations between the young people and the older folks who they essay in the dramatic re-enactments of such as an interrogation scene between a British police officer and a leftist protestor arrested for his involvement in the 1967 Hong Kong riots.  An unscripted exchange between Raymond Young, who served time in jail when he was just a teenager and is the most pro-China participant in Blue Island by far, and Kelvin Tam Kwan-long, the young Hong Konger (and he most definitely identifies as that, versus "Chinese") who played Young in the scenes set in 1967, turned out to be thoroughly moving as well as interesting and illuminating.  
Something truly noteworthy about Blue Island is how complexly it paints the local political scene.  Of course, those who are pro-Hong Kong and -democracy are (disproportionately) represented in the often meditative film; and there are individuals whose vision of Hong Kong excludes China.  But director Chan also serves up a reminder that there also are people out there who love China as well as Hong Kong, and want -- and have worked for -- democracy for all of China, not just Hong Kong.     
One such individual is a veteran politician seen in the film hanging out with his friend Raymond Young.  The fact that "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung is one of the 47 pro-democracy figures who have been behind bars for more than two years tells you a lot about how broad is the persecution the authorities have enacted.  
Another of these individuals is Kenneth Lam, a lawyer who was one of the students present at Tiananmen Square on June 4th, 1989.  A former president of the Hong Kong Federation of Students (one of whose alumni gatherings he's seen attending along with a number of faces readily recognizable to those familiar with the Umbrella Movement as well as the 2019 extradition bill protests), he has continued to show solidarity over the years with the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, and also those determined to remember the Tiananmen Square Massacre and still dream of democracy for China as a whole.    

The choice of "actor" to play the young Kenneth Lam in Blue Island was a fellow pro-democracy activist and student leader.  Although he's about three decades younger than Kenneth Lam, Keith Fong Chung-yin has also/already endured his share of trials and travails.  Sentenced to nine months jail last April, the young man is, sadly, just one of a number of the Hong Kongers seen in this film who has spent time behind bars in recent years.
More than by the way, it can come as a shock for those who know -- or, at the very least, can recognize them -- to see several people who now have been incarcerated in it.  This is particularly so in the film's end segment; which makes it all the more sad and poignant.  I hope that those viewers who don't know the folks who feature in that end segment will be similarly affected.  This even though feeling like one has been punched in the gut is not ideal.  Because, while Blue Island has much that one can intellectually appreciate, it needs to psychological and emotionally impact in order to truly hit home.
My rating for this film: 8.0    

Friday, March 17, 2023

Taking time out to smell and appreciate the flora at the 2023 Hong Kong Flower Show (Photo-essay)

We're only a little past its half way point but this month already has had more bad news days than I would like.  It's particularly grating because March is one of my favorite months of the year -- seeing as the weather's pretty pleasant this time of the year, and March is the month that traditionally sees such as the Hong Kong Arts Festival, Hong Kong International Film Festival, the Hong Kong edition of Art Basel and the Hong Kong Flower Show taking place.      

Still, rather than stay at home and mope, I've been indeed out and about on a number of days this month.  And yesterday saw me attend my first Hong Kong Arts Festival event in four years and today saw me go to Victoria Park to check out the Hong Kong Flower Show for the first time in years.  With regards to the former: I'm not sure if this is the current norm but attendance was on the low side; with the concert hall just around half full.  
In contrast, the Hong Kong Flower Show had larger crowds today than I remember seeing in previous years; but even while it was a bit freaky at times to be surrounded by so many people (remember: the pandemic is NOT over), I did have an enjoyable time checking out the flora themselves and the ways in which they were presented for show. :)
Hydrangeas were the flowers officially in focus 
at this year's Hong Kong Flower Show
Based on the attention they were receiving them though, I'd say  that 
the most popular flowers of the show were the cherry blossoms 
(or are they peach blossoms, as a friend has suggested they in fact are?!)
A perennial favorite: tulips
Foxgloves were also in abundance, and appreciated,
at this year's Hong Kong Flower Show
Something I've long appreciated: the whimsy on show
at this event :)
It's probably just my imagination but I saw some
surprisingly yellow imagery at the show (e.g., their proximity
got me thinking of those white things as umbrellas...)
There definitely were a good number of yellow flowers,
including sunflowers, at the show
Something else on shoow that may not be "politically correct" 
in contemporary Hong Kong but still really is a fact:
Hong Kongers' love of Japan! :)

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Looking forward to the Hong Kong International Film Festival even as possessing certain books is revealed to be arrestable crimes in Hong Kong

Special arrangements for the first day of ticketing
for the Hong Kong International Film Festival ;)
That which one URBTIX staffer once told me was the worst day of work for her has arrived once more: the first day of ticket sales for the Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF).  As has become a tradition of sorts for me (since they scrapped postal applications for tickets some years back), I woke up early this morning and headed to an URBTIX outlet to get tickets for the film fest.  And even though I arrived before ticketing officially began, there already was already a queue in front out of the ticketing counter of eager film fans!
By the time I got to the counter to buy my tickets, tickets for three of my screening selections had already sold out.  That they were all for Hong Kong films is evidence that there most definitely is local support for Hong Kong cinema.  Another factor that has come to play in recent years is the fear that films that are screened at the fest will end up not getting (allowed to be) screened in regular cinemas.  A case in point: Stanley Kwan's First Night Nerves, which I viewed at the 2019 Hong Kong International Film Festival, has yet to be accorded a theatrical run -- in Hong Kong or anywhere else in the world.
Of course, since 2021, we've had films pulled out of the Hong Kong International Film Festival for what appears to be censorship reasons.  And this even though the fest programmers have become more conservative in recent years with regards to their programming.  A case in point: I don't think a work like Wang Bing's The Ditch (2011), a memorably devastating portrayal of the "anti-rightist" campaign masterminded by Mao Zedong, would get screened at the HKIFF these days.  Still, to be fair, there are films in this year's program that could be described as daring selections -- and the likes of me will be keeping an eye out to see if they get pulled (at the last minute) from the fest.  

The thing is: it's far from certain where the "red lines" are in Hong Kong.  But, at the same time, it's also clear enough that more and more things and actions are being declared illegal and grounds for arrest by the day.  
Indeed, after I got home from my HKIFF ticket purchasing outing this morning, I got on social media and learnt that the Hong Kong police had arrested two men for "possessing “seditious publications”, apparently the “Sheep Village” books".  Take a moment to let that sink in.  The Hong Kong police arrested two Hong Kongers for possessing books: specifically, illustrated children's books about sheep and wolves!  Produced by speech therapists!! 
After you do so, questions will inevitably arise in your mind.  A sample from the member of the Hong Kong Twitterverse who goes by John deFROG: "One big question for me is: how would the police know you own a seditious publication (presuming you're not spotted reading it on the MTR or whatever)? Hotline tipoff? Infiltrating social media groups? Tracking online book purchases?"  To which some people have replied "Yes" and "All of the above".
At the risk of sounding like a broken record: this should not be -- and is not -- a normal, acceptable state of affairs.  Also making the news today: the League of Social Democrats' "Bull" Tsang Kin-shing being told at a hearing today that he will face trial, along with two others, this July for "allegedly displaying posters without government permission last May".  Honestly, each time the authorities dig up something obscure to prosecute and persecute people with, they remind us of the freedoms previously taken for granted and now lost in Hong Kong. 

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Chow Hang-tung shows once again that she is a woman of courage and principle even while Hong Kong reveals once more that it is not a normal place

Chow Hang-tung in better times (Photo of her that was
Two Saturdays ago, lawyer-human rights activist Chow Hang-tung and two fellow Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China standing committee members, Tang Ngok-kwan and Tsui Hon-kwong, were found guilty by a national security law judge of failing to comply with a notice from the national security police demanding information, including personal information about standing committee members and staffers.  This weekend, the former members of the now defunct group that used to organize Hong Kong's annual June 4th vigils were sentenced to jail for four and a half months.
Chow and co are appealing the verdict.  Somewhat surprisingly, he trio were granted bail pending appeal.  In an action that might also raise eyebrows, Chow refused to be bailed.  The reason why though is entirely in keeping with what we have come to know about this courageous, principled woman: "she didn’t accept a bail condition that would restrict her speech." 
Yesterday, Chow made a statement in court to the presiding judge that brought to mind fellow pro-democracy Hong Kong lawyer Margaret Ng's  "I stand the law’s good servant but the people’s first" speech from close to two years ago.  It's available to view in full in both Traditional Chinese and English, and has sections that I think are very much worth quoting:

Your Worship, we know as a matter of fact that we are no foreign agent, and nothing has emerged in this year long ordeal that proves otherwise. To sentence us in such circumstances is about punishing people for defending the truth.

The truth is that national security is being used as a hollow pretext to wage an all out war on civil society. The truth is that our movement for human rights and democracy is home grown and not some sinister foreign implant. The truth is that people here have a voice of their own that will not be silenced.

The Alliance is no stranger to the cost of speaking truth to power. We should know as we have been guarding the truth of the Tiananmen Massacre for over 30 years and have campaigned for many of those jailed and harassed and humiliated for telling that truth. We have long been prepared to pay the price.

With the notices and the degrading designation as foreign agent, the government was effectively saying to us, bend your knees, betray your friends, betray your cause, accept the state’s absolute authority to know all and decide all, and you shall have peace.

What we are saying with our action is simply one word: NEVER. An unjust peace is no peace at all. Never will we surrender our independence from the state. Never will we help delegitimise our own movement by endorsing the government’s false narrative. Never will we treat ourselves and our friends as potential criminals just because the government says we are.

Instead we will continue doing what we have always done, that is to fight falsehood with truth, indignity with dignity, secrecy with openness, madness with reason, division with solidarity. We will fight these injustices wherever we must, be it on the streets, in the courtroom, or from a prison cell. This battle including what we have done in this case, is a battle we have to fight, here in this city we call home. For our freedom to be ourselves is at stake. For the future of our city - and even of the wider world - is at stake...

Sir, sentence us for our insubordination if you must, but when the exercise of power is based on lies, being insubordinate is the only way to be human. This is my submission.
Also yesterday: Elizabeth Tang (who was arrested on the national security law charge of "colluding with foreign forces" this past Thursday) has been freed on bail. But don't celebrate just yet: the bail's a hefty HK$500,000 and she also had to surrender her passport.  
Honestly, it's not like we needed further proof that Hong Kong is NOT back. Or if this is what the authorities mean by "normal", I don't think many peoople consider this to contribute to the making of a "Happy Hong Kong"Also, Hello Hong Kong? Surely not if people are getting arrested seemingly daily for alleged crimes many are not even just denying they have committed but also don't actually know what "wrong" they did to deserve getting arrested!