Monday, August 19, 2019

Vignettes from yesterday's mega protest in Hong Kong

Walking along undaunted, complete with balloon eye
70 days on from the mega protest march that 
 Holding firm amidst the deluge, confident that the
storm would soon blow over and calm skies return
I had agreed to meet with a bunch of friends at 2.15pm outside Tin Hau MTR station to get into Victoria Park for the extradition bill-themed protest rally that would officially get going there at 3pm yesterday. With trains bypassing the station from time to time (because the station had become super crowded with people intent to on getting to the same destination) though, more than half of the group ended up getting there late -- with one friend telling us that the closest she figured she would be able to make it to was Causeway Bay, over on the other side of the park.
As the minutes ticked by and it got close to 3pm, those of us at Tin Hau realized that the lines to get into Victoria Park had stretched past where we were standing and the crowd was overflowing into the nearby streets.  Rather than stay put and risk being squashed by others, we decided to go with the flow and join the crowd -- partly in search of a more accessible entry point into the park and also with a vague idea of meeting up with the one friend over in Causeway Bay.

Shortly after we made our move, the heavens opened and we had the kind of downpour that we joked had far more water pouring heavily onto us than the police's new water cannons would ever be able to  While a few people elected to make for cover, most people already on the road stood resolute in the storm -- with pretty much everyone equipped with umbrellas to shelter under.

While standing on the road and under my umbrella for what seemed like an eternity, I looked to my left and caught sight of a plastic-covered baby stroller belonging to a family who had decided to bring at least one child along with them to the protest -- a decision that I wager is far less uncommon in Hong Kong than most other parts of the world.  Also spotted nearby braving the storm was a woman in a wheelchair holding an umbrella for the man wheeling her. 

I'm not going to lie: The sight of those fellow protesters made me choke up. And tears are coming out of my eyes again as I write this.  So here's throwing out a couple of lighter observations from yesterday.  Firstly, there sure were a lot of kawaii umbrellas at yesterday's protests -- with the visages of Totoro, Hello Kitty, Kumamon, Doraemon and Winnie the Pooh among my spottings.  

Secondly, I must confess to finding a Twitter thread of protest anecdotes started in the wake of yesterday's peaceful, feel good mega protest to be charming as well amusing.  And it really is so very Hong Kong to learn about the middle-aged protester who was overheard telling the woman next to him (who chances are pretty high was his wife): "This is the most radical I have ever been in my life. I am marching on a road"! :)    

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Proof many times over that the current Hong Kong protest movement still has plenty of willing participants

Something I saw for the first time ever today: Electric Road
in Tin Hau closed off to traffic ahead of a protest in Victoria Park

A good part of today's protest took place in rainy conditions

 Even after today's protests officially drew to a close at 9.15pm,
there were still people in Victoria Park -- including those intent 

Earlier this week, a Hong Konger friend of mine -- who has a number of pro-police (though not necessarily, pro-Beijing, she pointed out) family members -- asked me if I thought that the current protest movement would die out in view of what had happened on Tuesday at Hong Kong International Airport.  I opined that this might have been so if those who had been there had not expressed remorse but the fact that an apology had been issued had helped matters and this especially after it was accompanied by self-reflection and the heeding of calls for more moderate ways of protesting to be attempted once more.

In any case, I figured that we would find out before the end of the week how much support the protests -- which have morphed from a single issue anti-extradition bill protest to a multi-issue one with five official demands -- (still) have since a number of protests were planned for this weekend beginning on Friday evening, with the "Stand with Hong Kong; Power to the People" rally in Chater Garden that had so many participants that some of them ended up temporarily "occupying" neighboring roads.  

One day later, a teachers' demonstration against the anti-extradition bill in the morning attracted a larger crowd than expected despite thunderstorms and heavy rain while a protest march that went from To Kwa Wan to Hung Hom and beyond also attracted thousands despite bad weather; prompting writer Louisa Lim to Tweet a photo of a veritable sea of protesters, accompanied by the words "Whoever thought the government could just wait this out and sentiment would die down might want to reconsider that strategy"!

And then came today.  A pro-democracy rally organized by the Civil Human Rights Front attracted far more participants than could get into Victoria Park, with the result that many people never made it into the official event venue and, instead, ended up flowing onto and along nearby roads and streets as far east as North Point and as far west as Sheung Wan!  Some will dispute the organizer estimate of the crowd size hitting 1.7 million (including the police, whose estimated numbers are a far lower 128,000 at the peak of the rally) but I personally can vouch for the lines to get into Victoria Park stretching as far west as Wan Chai some four hours after the official start time of the event!

What makes the size of today's protest all the more amazing is that: for one thing, it took place some 70 days after the anti-extradition bill protest march organized by the same organization on June 9th which attracted some one million participants; and for another, a good part of today's protests took place in pouring rain!  Even more remarkable for many may well be that this weekend will be the first in weeks to be tear gas free -- though as quite a few protesters could be heard joking today, it undoubtedly helped that all the rain this weekend made it so that the police couldn't use tear gas on people even if they had wanted to! ;(

Friday, August 16, 2019

Stand with Hong Kong; Power to the People -- Let Hong Kong Rule Itself?

So too was the adjacent Chater Road...
 So was Jackson Road and the area around the Cenotaph (though 
most people did make a point to stay off the surrounding green)
I went once more to Chater Garden for a protest rally this evening. The Stand With Hong Kong; Power to the People was co-organized by university students and "Stand with Hong Kong Task Force" as the Hong Kong leg of a series of 28 events scheduled to take place over this weekend in different parts of the world (including Melbourne and Adelaide, where pro-China counter-protesters turned up and made themselves look pretty ugly).
I have to be honest: I actually wasn't planning to attend the rally until I read that it didn't appear to be attracting the crowds that previous protest rallies at Chater Garden had done.  (One reason is that it's not the only anti-extradition bill protest event taking place over the next few days by a long chalk.)  But after making a last minute decision to lend a body to the cause this evening, I actually found not only Chater Garden packed to the brim when I got there but a good part of the surrounding area too, with the protest crowd having spilled onto nearby Chater Road, Jackson Road and more!
After this past Tuesday's airport mishaps, there was talk that the current protest movement had lost steam.  Judging from the attendance at tonight's rally (which the organizers estimated to have topped up at 60,000), I'm thinking not.  Also, it really does seem to be the case that whenever protester fatigue threatens, something or other will happen that gets people angry and/or reminds them of the current, imperative need to stand up for Hong Kong once more!

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Verbal shots fired on a day without street protests in Hong Kong

 Messages on one of many Lennon Walls that have 
sprung up in Hong Kong in recent weeks

The following is effectively just a long form version of a Xinqi Su Tweet from today which summarizes some of the more notable events that have taken place in Hong Kong today:-

1) At 2pm, there was yet another "Citizens' Press Conference", during which anti-extradition bill protest representatives said they would reflect on their actions and look for ways to improve in the wake of the airport misteps of Tuesday, reiterated their rejection of the Hong Kong government's claims that the protests are to blame for a slowdown of the economy, and once again called for the government to respond to their five demands in order to end the unrest, including withdrawing the now-suspended extradition bill and setting up an independent inquiry to look into alleged police brutality over the course of the extradition bill protests;

2) At 4pm, Hong Kong Police Force representatives held a press conference, during which they announced that 748 anti-extradition bill protesters have been arrested since June 9th (the day of the first mega anti-extradition bill protest march);

3) At 5pm, the Hong Kong Government announced at their press conference that nearly HK$19 billion sweetenerswill be dished out to the public in what they described as relief measures but many see as an attempt to bribe people into stopping their protest action against the extradition bill and such; and

4) This evening, long-established pro-democracy protest platform cum organizer, the Civil Human Rights Front -- which, among other things, organized the peaceful anti-extradition bill June 16th mega protest march -- announced that their planned protest march for this Sunday has been disallowed by the police, with only a rally in Victoria Park being allowed.  (This after Civil Human Rights Front convenor Jimmy Sham had specifically called for a peaceful protest march just a few days ago.)

Oh... and earlier today, Occupy co-founder Benny Tai was released on bail after serving three months of a 16 month sentence that he's appealing; after which he spoke of having been moved by the sacrifices made by many Hong Kongers to defend Hong Kong's core values, and his belief that "the golden era of Hong Kong is yet to come"!  (Caveat emptor: I'm not a big fan of his but I figure the more pro-democracy people out free in Hong Kong, the better!)

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Political talk and protest action in Hong Kong

Clouds, not tear gas, over Hong Kong around sunset today

 A time and place to peacefully admire the sunset

A few minutes before I started writing this blog, the trigger-happy Hong Kong police fired still more tear gas at a relatively peaceful group of protesters in Sham Shui Po -- a district of Kowloon I like to go to for traditional Cantonese fare and retail therapy.  Until I got the news that they did so, I was thinking that today would be a time for people in Hong Kong to take a breather and time to reflect on what had happened yesterday, in particular last night, when the wheels threatened to come off the protest wagon after a series of ill-judged missteps at Hong Kong International Airport (for which representatives of the people responsible have apologized). 

At some point today, I went shopping (for groceries and pharmaceutical goods) in North Point, where thugs had attacked protesters (but then been repelled) on August 5th and other people (including two journalists) this past Sunday, and was happy to see that things looked to have returned to normal in the area (whose Chun Yeung Street wet market is one of my favorites in Hong Kong).  In a similar vein, things were peaceful enough this evening in Causeway Bay, where the police fired tear gas on August 4th, and where I met up with a friend for drinks and a meal (and also enjoyed sunset views from the edge of the Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter while walking over to meet her).

During dinner, my friend and I talked about a variety of subjects that -- inevitably these days -- included what's been going on protest-wise and in the world of Hong Kong politics (which, today, included beleagured Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam firing her PR chief and Cathay Pacific sacking two of their pilots over Hong Kong protest-related incidents).  Politics was discussed quite a bit too when another friend and I met up for lunch yesterday.  Indeed, I don't think I've been able to have a single extended conversation with any of my friends in the past couple of months that have not ended up touching at some point on the protests and tumult that have been gripping Hong Kong for some time now.   

Not so long ago, I heard many people opine that Hong Kongers didn't care about politics, only making money.  I must admit to having been skeptical about this even then.  For one thing, money and politics are often intertwined to my mind.  For another, so many of the Hong Kong movies I've viewed over the years have had political undertones, if not outright political messages and commentary.  

My favorite movie in the whole, wide world, Peking Opera Blues, may be seen by some as primarily an action-(adventure-)comedy but it's always come across as more dramatic and full of political messsages to me.  In addition, there are the scores of films over which the events of June 4th, 1989, cast a long shadow, including those cinematic works made in the years leading up to July 1st, 1997, and even after it which expressed fears about the Handover and what would ensue thereafter.  And don't tell me that all those films set during the Second World War and even those works in which Chinese patriots are depicted rebelling against -- or just plain resisting the rule of -- the imperial Qing government aren't political because they're just martial arts movies!

Hopefully at some point in the near future, I'll be in the mood to view movies again.  Alas, at this point, there's been too much drama in real life -- and so much of it so surreal and close to unbelievable that if I viewed it in a movie, I'd dismiss it as not realistic! -- that I've just not been inclined to have escapist fun in watching a story unfold on a big screen in a darkened room.  Instead, I want to stay attuned to what's currently happening in Hong Kong, and also play a part in it as I truly believe that the fight is far from over and that our cause is a just one indeed.   

Monday, August 12, 2019

Still capable of being shocked by events unfolding in Hong Kong despite thinking I was already beyond being so :(

Areas in Hong Kong where tear gas has been fired
since June 12th (and as of this morning)

Two months ago today, the Hong Kong police fired smoke bombs and tear gas into crowds of protesters and also shot rubber bullets and bean bag rounds at people.  Their actions shocked me and many others here in Hong Kong.  But, rather than cause the extradition bill protests to cease, they actually ended up getting even more people out on the streets -- and increased the demands the protesters made (and are still making through today).  

After an estimated two million people took march in a protest march on June 16th, there were hopes for a time that Carrie Lam might actually bow to the will of the people and that the police would realize how excessive their actions on June 12th were.  Little did the likes of me know then that July and now also August would bring more and greater shocks to the system and for Hong Kong; ones that psychologically devastate even though someone left so shell-shocked in recent weeks that there really have been times when I wondered anything else could surprise and pain me even more.   

Take what happened last night as an example. The following are just some of the horrible things that occured over the course of a single day: Tear gas was fired inside Kwai Fong MTR station; tear gas also was fired in Tsim Sha Tsui, Sham Shui Po, Cheung Sha Wan and Wan Chai; and riot police charged at protesters in Tai Koo MTR station, caused people to fall down a long escalator there by doing such as pushing and beating them as they sought to retreat down it and even fired rubber bullets at them from a point blank range

As if this all wasn't bad enough: after a male protester was shot in the eye by a rubber bullet on June 12th, a female first-aider was hit in the eye by a beanbag round fired by a police officer last night.  In addition, some police officers were caught on camera disguising themselves as demonstrators and attacking the real protesters in Causeway Bay -- something that brings to mind Triad members doing the same at Occupy Mongkok in 2014.

The suspicions many Hong Kongers have of police-Triad collusion in the wake of what happened in Yuen Long on July 21st were further enhanced last night after men dressed in white went about beating up people with poles and metal rods in Tsuen Wan.  And in notoriously "red" North Point, four people (including two RTHK journalists) were attacked by suspected Fujianese thugs who had come from north of the Hong Kong-Mainland Chinese border despite there being a heavy police presence in the area for much of the day. 

Small wonder then that many of us here in Hong Kong felt emotionally exhausted, if not outright devastated, this morning.  But rather than have a day to recover, today saw more protests -- including by staffers of a hospital over "police excess" and one that saw Hong Kong International Airport shut down (and more than 200 flights cancelled).  

More than incidentally, one reason why the airport has been a popular protest site is that it's thought that the police will not fire tear gas there.  Except that now that they have done so in an MTR station as well as at a children's playground, popular shopping districts, etc., it probably should not be a surprise if even a busy international airport turned out to not be exempt after all. :(  

Saturday, August 10, 2019

More tear gas this evening -- and signs of increasingly indiscriminate police actions :(

Spot the difference between the police at Admiralty

Last Saturday, I took in a screening of Matthew Torne's Last Exit to Kai Tak.  The beginning of this 2018 documentary which takes a look at five people involved in the Umbrella Movement and what they set out to do after the conclusion of its "Occupy" phase began with visuals showing the firing of tear gas on September 28th, 2014 that were clearly meant to shock viewers as well as remind (some of) them of the horrific actions by the police that prompted hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers to go out on the streets to protest.  

It is a measure of what's happened over the course of this current summer of discontent that those scenes didn't have as much shock value as the director had thought would be the case; this not least since so much more tear gas has been fired since June 12th -- including some 800 rounds alone this past Monday -- than was the case back on September 28th, 2014, and many, many years before that date.  And, indeed, after an interval of three days without tear gas this week, the police have gone back to firing more tear gas at protesters this evening.

At one of her now rare public appearances yesterday, Chief Executive (in Name Only) Carrie Lam claimed that the mass protests gripping the city having contributed to an economic slump worse than that which had occurred during the 2003 SARS outbreakAt least one economist has disputed that the current economic slump is worse than 2003's: this not least since, "During SARS, people could not go out every day and there were no planes coming to the city, with no tourists coming and property prices falling,” he said. “Every day was like that."  

I also would like to put it to Carrie Lam that the main contributors to the current economic slump may well be the Hong Kong police force and their copious use of tear gas, including the area with the highest concentration of hotels in the territory (i.e., Tsim Sha Tsui) and popular shopping districts (e.g., Mongkok and Causeway Bay).  Not to take away from the firing of tear gas in mainly residential areas (e.g. Wong Tai Sin) and other parts of Hong Kong that international tourists don't usually frequent, let alone are familiar with (e.g., Tai Wai and Yuen Long) but when those areas with familiar looking luxury shops and landmarks are made to look like war zones, it really does make for especially bad optics -- and that's been happening for close to two months now!

Over the past weeks, I've had a number of friends and family living abroad contact me to ask if I'm safe in Hong Kong after they read about -- and, usually, more vividly, watched -- the protests and the police reaction in this part of the world.  Even while I've tried to inform them about the protests (and why people are protesting), I've also sought to assure them that it's actually not all turned anarchic in Hong Kong.  

Among other things, I remain confident that the sight of large crowds of protesters is not a scary thing in Hong Kong -- and, indeed, can be beautiful and inspiring.  Sadly though, I'm much less able to vouch for one's feeling safe in the presence of the increasingly out-of-control Hong Kong police; particularly since, in addition to their trigger happy ways with regards to tear gas, they also have taken to arresting innocent bystanders and looking upon them as "the enemy" along with anti-extradition bill/pro-democracy protesters. :(