Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Finally more or less recovered after a nightmare experience two days ago

How a Hong Kong Island street looked less than
 an hour after I had been tear gassed

The dismaying sight that confronted me on my way home 
from dinner in a nearby neighborhood this past Sunday

Even though they occured just two days ago, some of my experiences this past Sunday now can feel like they took place in a different universe and were merely a nightmare rather than actual, lived reality that I have needed some time to recover from.  More specifically, that afternoon found me enjoying a pint of beer and a shared cheese platter at a favorite pub in Central.  So far, so good until it was time for the friends I was with and I to go our merry way home.  

Since we weren't trusting that the MTR would be a safe transport option on a protest day -- not least because we had received word of the riot police appearing in a number of nearby stations -- and over-ground public transportation were not operating in the areas where we lived, a friend and I decided to make our way back to our respective residences on foot. While walking past Three Pacific Place, a team of riot police suddenly emerged from the parking lot behind the office building and fired tear gas into the street and in our direction.  The friend I was with estimated that they were just five meters away from us at the time -- so yes, we did feel the effects of the tear gas pretty strongly.  

While this was not my first tear gas experience of the summer, it certainly was far more intense.  Even an encounter with the Tai Hang fire dragon the night before had not prepared me for how much my eyes would sting and water, and certainly not for how much mucus would pretty much immediately stream out of my nose and mouth as a result of a close encounter with that which is supposed to be used for crowd dispersal rather to attack people.  

So I am really grateful to the helpful stranger who came over and directed me to a safe area after noticing I was having problems seeing and the first aider who was near enough to come over to rinse my eyes with water and saline solution soon after the area was buffeted by tear gas.  (As an aside: it really can be amazing how many Hong Kongers will extend much kindness and generosity to complete strangers turned comrade-in-arms or "merely" fellow humans caught up in the same bad situation.)  

After that unpleasant experience, I decided to avoid the major thoroughfares where I figured the riot police would be more likely to be in favor of walking home via the backstreets. This meant my routing would be less direct but I figured it'd be worth it if this meant that I could avoid experiencing further tear-gas buffets.  

For the most part, this new strategy did result in a less incident-filled passage home.  I still did pass by three groups of riot police -- at least two of whom were being implored by upset area residents to "go away" and such -- along the way though.  And upon reaching the home stretch of my journey, I was met with the sight of a disconcertingly large number of police vans lined up at my home MTR station all the way almost to the neighboring MTR station. 

As it so happened, my area was one of the major problem areas that night.  Coupled with clashes having occured in my neighborhood on Saturday, I get the distinct feeling that my part of Hong Kong is now being perceived as a "no go" zone by many.  Ironically, it's one of the increasingly rare urban sections of Hong Kong where tear gas has not been discharged as yet.  But in view of how "generous" the police are in their use of that particular weapon at this disposal, I fear that it's just a matter of time before the likes of me will be catching whiffs of this substance which was previously such a rarity in our homes rather than "just" out on the streets in other parts of town. :( 

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Mid-Autumn Festival sightings of the Tai Hang fire dragon (Photo-essay)

Despite temperatures reaching a high of 34 degrees Celsius (93.2 degrees Fahrenheit) in Hong Kong yesterday, the Mid-Autumn Festival was celebrated throughout the territory.  To mark the occasion (and also show their determination to continue their protesting), some intrepid folks hiked up Lion Rock and formed a human chain a la the Hong Kong Way. A human chain also was formed up on the Peak last night while still others took advantage of the evening's peace to enjoy a special night out in Hong Kong.

For my part, I felt the Tai Hang fire dragon -- which makes its annual appearance the night before, of and after the Mid-Autumn Festival -- calling to me once more yesterday evening.  So, after an early dinner with a friend, off I went to a part of Hong Kong that turned out to be less crowded than usual when the fire dragon pays a visit this year; thanks in no small part to the ongoing protests having scared off a good number of visitors, especially Mainland Chinese tour groups.  And because the area was not so packed as it has been in recent years, I think I got some of my best shots ever of the traditional harbinger of good luck last night as well as got gifted an incense stick off the fire dragon for the first time ever! :)

Follow the incense and smoke to catch sight not only of
the fire dragon but the actual acts involved in assembling it!
An estimated 70,000 incense sticks are needed, along with large 
amounts of straw and twine, for the construction of the fire dragon!
Great balls of fire!  The fire dragon on the move,
in pursuit of two fiery and large "pearls"!
 Adding to the spectacle is the strong smell of incense
and high heat that accompanies this fabled creature 
credited with ridding the area of ill fortune

Hundreds of lit incense sticks on a 70 kilogram head with 
electric powered eyes and teeth of sheet metal make for 
an awesome sight, especially when viewed up close!

The fire dragon's 67-meter-long body is plenty impressive too!

Throw in the festive street decorations and it's all
really quite the memorable spectacle

 The head of the fire dragon at rest is still pretty spectacular
-- but just imagine it in motion... or make a point to
come over and see it  for yourself some time! ;b

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Trying in vain to put a positive spin on a situation that the police and government appear intent on making worse :(

It's a big deal when lots of people turn up for a protest march...

...hence the people in power not wanting to see 
such mega turnouts repeated again

Not so long ago, I had a friend characterize me as -- or should I say accuse me of being? -- a Pollyanna.  But while I'd not deny that I do like to look on and for the bright side of things, it's also true enough that there are times when my mood can suddenly plummet after an unpleasant encounter with a person, having a not so satisfying experience or even hearing a less than positive piece of news.

Which brings us to my present situation: After feeling miserably low after the events of last Sunday, I actually perked up a bit over the next few days during which I had positive encounters with a number of people (clients as well as friends), a few really nice meals, and even enjoyed a night out at the cinema watching a feel-good documentary about women and sake.  And even though I wasn't at Hong Kong stadium on Tuesday night, seeing and hearing what ensued there via video clips by Twitter users (like this and this too) did warm the cockles of my heart.

To be sure, the sight of three women (two of them with official looking red vests that seemed to emphasize that they were hired help) tearing down posters and post-it notes from my local Lennon Wall in broad daylight early yesterday afternoon did get my temper rising.  But my returning to a scene a few hours later with a hand-made poster to rebuild the wall and seeing in the evening that others also had contributed to re-building what I have come to look upon as a community affirmation of pro-democracy demands and support made me feel that there were more positives than negatives in that day.

Sadly, however, the fragile inner peace I had for the first half of this week was shattered this afternoon by the news that a proposed march this Sunday by the venerable Civil Human Rights Front has been banned by the police.  For those who wish to keep count: It's now the 13th such time this has happened this summer (if one also includes the banning today of another proposed protest march on Saturday -- that one over in Tin Shui Wai).  

One big reason why this ban gets my goat is that the authorities are attempting to ensure that there are no further mega protests (like those organized by the Civil Human Rights Front on June 9th and 16th) will take place not by trying to actually assuage the protesters but, instead, by preventing them from exercising what's supposed to be basic rights guaranteed in Article 27 of the Basic Law.  Put another way: Even while still often making a case that peaceful protests are useless, they also want to ensure that large-scale peaceful protests are no longer possible in Hong Kong.   

Another reason why this ban (which I'm sure will be appealed but am not sure will get overturned) is such a downer is that it's come on top of the news also received today that the MTR is continuing with its actions to inconvenience the public (this time by announcing earlier today that it has deemed overnight Mid-Autumn Festival services too risky), and Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng -- whose unpopularity rivals Carrie Lam's -- announcing that the government has indeed been considering invoking emergency powers and also that her department had been thinking of introducing a law banning protesters from wearing masks

With regards to the last "idea": Again, it shows that the government is not trying to actually get to the root of problems but, rather, dealing -- and in an idiotic way at that -- with the by-products of them.  To try to stop people in notoriously germaphobic Hong Kong from wearing masks would seem like a recipe for disaster and revolution even in normal times.  To do so when Hong Kongers already feel that they have so much to be angry about really is the height of insanity, and yet one more sign that this government is seriously clueless as to how to get Hong Kong out of the situation it currently is in as well as of actually understanding -- and positively responding to -- the demands of the people. :( 

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Life goes on during this summer of discontent

Takashi Murakami's works speak to me 
in bad times as well as good

This is undoubtedly because his work consists of 
darker images along with smiley, cute ones

It's also the case that it's hard to come away feeling done
after being surrounded with so much brightness and
so many smiley faces, even they are "only" of flowers!

At the same time though, things have been more peaceful on the streets (and MTR stations -- despite their being paid unnecessary visits by Carrie Lam).  Walking around in various parts of Hong Kong yesterday and today, it sometimes felt like what had happened over the weekend had been but a dream (or terrible nightmare).  Such was the contrast between what I saw at, say, Causeway Bay last night versus what I know happened there the night before.

There are people who may think that I shouldn't have been out and about so much these days even so, that doing so is inviting danger or bad things to happen to me.  To them: I'd say that to do so would be to bow down to one's fears and effectively let the terrorists (in this case, the Hong Kong government and Beijing -- with their threatening propaganda) and scaremongers win.  Consequently, I still am trying to go ahead and continue to enjoy living in Hong Kong amidst all the political upheavals and feelings of discontent that have come out into the open this summer.

The likes of Trevor Noah may have -- disappointingly cowardly as well as unnecessarily, to my mind -- cancelled a show in Hong Kong (that I had got a ticket for months in advance) but there have been other cultural events to go to in this city which is actually still functioning far more than many people outside of it seem to realize.  And while it's also true enough that I've been less in the mood than usual to check out a light hearted comedy or Hong Kong movies with the police or Triad members as the heroes, I've nonetheless done such as taken in film festival screenings of Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing and Mathieu Kassovitz's La Haine, and gone to see Bong Joon Ho's amazing Parasite at the cinema.

To be sure, there are times when I've not been as on the ball with regards to the cultural calendar as usual (and thus ended up missing out on such as this year's Food Expo).  However, I did score some bargains once more at this year's edition of the Hong Kong Book Fair and also remembered to catch the Murakami X Murakami major survey exhibition of the works of Takashi Murakami, one of my favorite contemporary artists in the world, at Tai Kwun just before it finally closed at the beginning of this month. 

In addition, after noticing that I was exhibiting signs of depression a couple of months back (namely, feeling bereft of energy and losing my appetite), I've made a point to go out (to catch and channel Hong Kong's vibrant energy) and also regularly treat myself to good food -- sometimes in the company of friends but other times on my own.  And for those who didn't realize: I'm one of those people who is generally fine dining out alone.  Indeed, I sometimes think that when I'm more able to focus on, and appreciate, what I'm eating when I'm dining on my own than when I'm with company and sometimes end up not actually tasting the food all that much when having a serious conversation with other people at the table! 

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Yet another troubled Sunday this summer in Hong Kong

A peaceful evening walk through Victoria Park
like this would not have been possible tonight

How many Hong Kongers feel about the MTR these days

I am one of those people who regularly spends quite a bit of time in Causeway Bay.  As a matter of fact, I had both lunch and dinner in the area yesterday.  As luck would have it though, I was not in that part of town which is a major shopping and entertainment as well as dining district this evening.  Otherwise, I might have caught whiffs of tear gas again thanks to the police having unleashed a "tear gas buffet" in Causeway Bay this evening

As it so happens, I was due to have dinner tonight with friends over in Kennedy Town.  And even after I read about Central MTR station having been closed in the afternoon, with arrests having been made there by the police and the station subsequently being trashed by angry protesters (in the area to take part in a march in support of the Hong Kong Democratic and Human Rights Act), I still thought I could make my way to the western side of Hong Kong Island -- by bus (rather than MTR, since I didn't want to risk being caught in a situation like the poor people in Prince Edward two Saturdays ago) -- only to decide to give up the idea after waiting in vain for half an hour for a bus -- which regularly runs every 15 minutes at most -- to take me there.

Upon returning to my apartment, I got online and came across sights and reports that show a further escalation of the violence and conflict that Hong Kong now regularly sees on weekends (and some weeknights too).  For some people, the most shocking sights today have involved the trashing of Central MTR station.  For me, it remains the police's wanton use of a whole array of weaponry, including tear gas, in unlikely places and in ways in which they clearly had not been intended to be used, on people, many of whom don't even appear to have been protesters.   

Something else that also shocked me today was that the riot police seemed to be arresting people everywhere -- particularly young people, on the assumption that they inevitably are radical and violent protesters -- tonight, including in my neighborhood and that hotbed of crime (not!), Victoria Park!  For, in all honesty, I still don't think that Hong Kong is full of criminals.  As such, I really wouldn't be surprised if a good number of the arrests made this summer turn out to have been uncalled for and the vast majority of the cases against arrestees will be tossed out of court, if they even make it into court at all!

Saturday, September 7, 2019

No to White Terror and the police in Hong Kong!

At the Anti White Terror rally at Chater Garden last night

Posters like this in the area explain why people

For my part, I went to the "No White Terror" (especially by the Hong Kong police) rally organised by the Social and Political Organization Workers Union over in Chater Garden.  And as I trust you can see from my photos at the top of this blog post, sentiments about this matter definitely are strong and protest attendance remains on the high side too.

Upon making my way to Chater Garden, I was startled to see a noticeble police presence in the area.  But while people opted to generally ignore the police officers milling about on the sidewalk on the southern side of Chater Garden and across the road in front of the Cheung Kong Centre, the police team stationed over on the northwestern side of the public space attracted a good bit more attention and even quite a bit of verbal abuse from the section of the crowd that they were closest to.

In view of the police over-reaction that has been rampant over the past few months, I thought it unwise to effectively provoke them and did worry that the situation would deteriorate into violence at some point.  Fortunately, the police officers concerned were more disciplined and restrained than many of their fellows.  (As a general rule, I do reckon that those in regular uniform are less inclined to abuse their powers and go wild than the riot police and "raptors" who have become all to familiar sights to Hong Kongers this summer.).

At last night's Chater Garden protest rally, Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) convenor Jimmy Sham announced that his organization plans to hold another protest march on September 15th.  I hope that this time around, it will get a Letter of No Objection from the police (like was the case for last night's rally and the June 9th and 16th mega marches organized by the CHRF).  I also hope that the police will make themselves scarce that day, particularly like with the June 16th protest march.  Because, these days, it really does appear to be the case that the best case for a peaceful protest is the absence of members of the police force (be they in uniform or undercover, masquerading as protesters) in the area. 

Actually, the general consensus among Hong Kongers these days is that the appearance of the police pretty much anywhere is a sure fire sign that trouble will ensue; this not least because they appear to increasingly be unable -- or, worse unwilling -- to distinguish between violent and peaceful protesters, and also between actual protesters and bystanders!  Consequently, it's become a regular thing for local residents to actually demand that police officers go away and leave people to effectively police themselves and their own area -- and given how law-abiding the vast majority of Hong Kongers actually are, I actually reckon this arrangement would indeed work fine!