Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Focus on Yuen Long once more on the one month anniversary of the horrific mob attack at Yuen Long MTR station

View from Sai Wan Ho's Lennon Wall (or should it be 
stairwell as it covers so much more than just a single wall?)

One of many thought-provoking posters
to be found there

One month ago tonight, a mob armed with bamboo canes and sticks attacked passengers at Yuen Long MTR station (and folks in nearby areas).  One of the most shocking series of events of this turbulent summer was made even more horrifying by damning evidence (including on video) that the police not only did not promptly go to the rescue of the victims but actually colluded with the thugs responsible for inflicting much violence that night and shocking much of Hong Kong to its very core

This evening, a sit-in was held at Yuen Long MTR station to mark the one month anniversary of that savagery and also protest the fact that although 28 people have been arrested in connection with what happened in Yuen Long on July 21st, it's all just been only for unlawful assembly (rather than on more serious charges) -- and that not a single individual has yet to appear in court, never mind be found guilty of having actually committed a crime.  Much as I wish it wasn't the case, it seemed all too inevitable that a standoff would end up taking place between the police and protesters -- and for much of the time that I was writing this blog post, that was indeed what had been happening over there, just like it did on July 27th, when defiant people went to Yuen Long to protest against the thug attacks and police collusion of the previous week.

Coming on the same day as the news of an attack on three individuals having taken place at the site of the Lennon Wall in Tseung Kwan O in the early hours of Tuesday morning and reports belatedly surfacing of a British consulate staffer having gone missing on August 9th at the Mainland China-controlled immigration checkpoint of the West Kowloon terminus of the cross-border express train, this put Hong Kongers back on edge.  And when it came to light today that the Hong Kong police have access to closed-circuit television (CCTV) live streams from MTR station (and thus could see in real time what was happening in Yuen Long MTR station on the night of July 21st), let's just say that it's a miracle that actual clashes did not ensue at that locale this evening.  

Instead, what we ended up having at the scene were rubber ducks floating on a floor made wet and slippery to slow down the anticipated police pursuit of protesters intent on catching the train out of there so that they can live and be free to fight another day (or night).  Because, make no mistake, the protesters are not going away -- with a number of quite diverse protest events being planned to take place in just the next few days alone!   

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. :(

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Two days with more protests but no violence

"Asia's world city" has featured quite a bit in the 
international news this summer...

I get the feeling many people around the world
are thinking that much of Hong Kong is out of order

Actually, though, many people and things are working 
much as usual amidst all the political turbulence!

Despite my hoping otherwise, Tuesday ended up being the fourth consecutive day beginning from last Saturday that saw the police firing tear gas at civilians.  Instead, I -- and the rest of Hong Kong -- had to wait until yesterday to enjoy a blessedly tear gas-less day; and this despite not one but three protest events having taken place over the course of the day.  

There also was a protest in Tsim Sha Tsui over that arrest which turned out to be a light show of sorts and overall good humored occasion -- one which an attendee Tweeted "was something we all needed: no tears, no blood, just laughter, song, and dance"!  The fact that it took place at the same time as the much vaunted -- but, to my mind, rather cheesy -- A Symphony of Lights that many visitors to Hong Kong think is a "must see" made it even funnier to my mind!

More than incidentally, that touristy light show is still being staged daily.  And, as one may gather upon realizing that, much of Hong Kong remains functioning and operational despite the protests and after the conclusion of the tumultuous day of strikes -- and, as it turned out, clashes in various parts of the territory -- that Monday turned out to be.  

All this not withstanding, some 20 countries have seen fit to issue travel advisories for Hong Kong: with Australia having done so yesterday; and the USA doing so today.  But even while the regular police over-reaction to the protests (which are now about more than just the extradition bill but still have its withdrawal as a key demand) -- along with their delayed or just not getting to the scene at other times -- have most definitely made Hong Kong a less peaceful and safe place than it usually is, I have to say that I still feel far safer in Hong Kong than every other part of the world I've lived in, including Philadelphia.

I've been told that the City of Brotherly Love is a safer place these days but when I lived in what many of us thought would be more accurately described as the City of Brotherly Shove, it had the highest car-jacking rate of any American city, it wasn't uncommon to hear gun shots at night and I regularly saw crack vials on the corners of streets that I walked on.  And while I managed to escape being mugged, a friend -- who was a former army officer and thus one of those guys who prided himself on being able to look after himself -- got mugged while walking back late one night to his apartment just a few blocks away from my abode!

Getting back to Hong Kong in the present: I understand if people -- especially those who have never been to this part of the world -- have concerns about visiting at this time.  But here's sharing that a Montreal-based British friend of mine was in town for a few days recently and, after once again having had a good time eating lots of dim sum (including on one occasion with me), going out to bars (including, again, on one occasion with me!) and doing things he enjoyed, told me he's hoping to return to visit again before too long. 

In addition, while the protests are still on-going, it's worth noting that many of them are peaceful.  For example, this evening saw a march to protest the extradition bill by Catholics that was followed by a prayer meeting.  And for those who still haven't realized it: yes, Hong Kong protesters are a diverse lot -- and often really aren't that scary! ;b  

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The largely peaceful day after a tear gas-filled long weekend

Some businesses took part in the strike yesterday

These stores were open yesterday but closed 
early today due to fear of Triad attacks! :O

After yesterday's tumult  -- over the course of which the police fired 800 rounds of tear gas in the course of a single day! -- peace has reigned for the most part today in Hong Kong.  While walking through Victoria Park this evening, I got to remembering how lovely this place can be while gazing up at the clear night sky, the cultivated greenery in the park and people having a good time there doing such as playing soccer or basketball with friends or just sitting about shooting and enjoying the breeze. 
At the time of writing though, a crowd has gathered outside Sham Shui Po police station after the president of Hong Kong Baptist University's student union was taken into custody for being in possession of a laser pointer he had bought in Sham Shui Po; this after the police deemed the device to be an offensive weapon despite laser pointers in fact being legal to purchase in Hong Kong.  With the police being particularly prone to over-reaction these days, it wouldn't surprise me if more tear gas were to be fired tonight even while I of course am hoping that this would not be the case.

Over in North Point, where men with sticks attempted to beat up pro-democracy protesters, only to have been handed a beating themselves last night, there also was tension in the air for part of the day as rumors spread of Triad thugs planning to descend on the area to seek revenge for their bruised "brothers".  (Interestingly, even while North Point has a reputation for being a super pro-Beijing area, the suspected reinforcements are said to have come from the Mainland rather than be consist of area locals.)

While it's looking like it all was a false alarm, many businesses took the rumor to heart and closed early for the day.  We're not just talking here of local businesses but branches of large and international chains such as Starbucks, Pret A Manger and Mannings.  And many of the businesses that didn't close early probably might as well have since they had way fewer customers than usual this evening.  

To put things into context: while some businesses in the area did close yesterday to take part in the general strike that had been called for by anti-extradition bill protesters, more of them closed early because of fears of Triad violence today.  In addition, it's also true that even more businesses closed because of a typhoon's visit last week than either fears of Triad violence (at least today in North Point; the experience of Yuen Long a couple of weeks ago seems more extreme) or in support of pro-democracy protests.    
Something that I think is worth noting though about the busineses close to where I live: the ones operated by protest supporters (or protesters themselves) that closed yesterday did not close early today.  I am guessing that their owners are less easily scared by rumors of violence -- or just braver folks all around! ;b 

Monday, August 5, 2019

No longer a tear gas virgin after a tumultuous day of strikes and protests

What a beautiful day it was in Hong Kong
today weatherwise...

Sadly, men with guns spoiled the day 
for thousands, if not millions, of people

Protesters had been calling for a general strike to take place in Hong Kong today as yet another way to push for the withdrawal of the proposed extradition bill, investigate the police for police brutality, a total recall of the claim that the protests of June 12th constituted a riot, have a blanket amnesty for all extradition bill protest participants who have been arrested, and for Chief Executive-in-Name-Only Carrie Lam to step down.  And things appeared to be going to plan when effectively the entire MTR system was shut down this morning and many flight cancellations as well as delays came about, thanks in no small part to air traffic controllers taking sick leave enmasse today.

Also announced weeks ahead were rallies at seven different points in Hong Kong, all of which had received letters of no objection from the police.  Shortly before 3pm, I set out to take part in the one at Admiralty.  Seeing as it was a beautiful day out, I decided to travel overground by bus but I ended up abandoning this option after the bus I was on got stuck in a traffic jam about midway, no thanks to such as at least one driver getting out of his car and abandoning it right in the middle of the road!

While walking over to Admiralty, I noticed that a significant number of businesses had closed and/or shuttered their entrances, including branches of banks.  Upon getting closer to my destination, I also saw that roads had been blocked off to vehicular traffic and people were walking along and milling about on sections of Gloucester and Harcourt Roads.    

After getting to my destination, I met up with a friend and initially decided to head over to the grassy area by the Government Offices, only to find it super crowded -- hence many people having overflowed onto Harcourt Road nearby.  With my friend never having been to this part of Admiralty before (she had not taken part in the Occupy 2014 part of the Umbrella Movement and, in fact, only went on a protest march for the very first time this past July 1st), I decided to take her around and show her such as the Lennon Wall at Admiralty and Civic Square (the latter only from outside as it's closed to the public once more).    

As we were strolling about in the area, we heard "pop-pop" sounds in not so far distance.  "Surely it couldn't be tear gas?", we reasoned, since it wasn't even 5pm yet -- and, as we had just commented minutes earlier, daytime protests tend to be peaceful even while things have started regularly taking a turn for the worse after darkness falls.  Soon afterwards though, another barrage of "pop-pop-pop" sounds were heard -- and this time, there was a distant whiff in the air of a substance I had previously never smelled.

Around the time that it was announced at a police press conference that the police had fired more than 1,000 rounds of tear gas since June 9th, I got confirmation that those "pop-pop" sounds were made by the firing of tear gas when I not only heard the sounds and smelt their contents but also saw plumes of smoke rise up in the air and felt my eyes stinging from the substance borne into my section of the area by the substance.

Because it gets blown about by the wind, the tear gas has an effect far beyond the area that it is fired into.  So at Admiralty this afternoon, it didn't matter if you were standing on Harcourt Road, on the sidewalks nearby, on overhead pedestrian bridges, in either of the two parks nearby, etc.: you'd smell the tear gas, see it and feel its sting.  And this was all the more so since so many rounds of tear gas were shot in the time that I was there.

To be sure, it wasn't 87 cannisters, like what had happened that one day that it was fired back in September 2014.  But as news has come tonight -- the third consecutive night of tear gas having been used by the Hong Kong police -- of tear gas having been fired in at least seven different Hong Kong districts today (along with a mob attack in North Point -- which, unlike at Yuen Long on July 21st, was repelled by protesters), I think it's patently clear that the police have lowered their standards in terms of deciding when it's appropriate to fire tear gas at protesters even while now seeming to favor doing so from literally -- though not metaphorically -- higher ground! :(  

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Taking part in peaceful protests on a weekend featuring lots of altercations between the police and protesters (Photo-essay)

An anti-extradition bill protest was scheduled to take place in Mongkok yesterday, with a route that would take participants only over to neighboring Tai Kok Tsui.  Rather than conforming to the restrictions set by the police, the protests ended up spilling over to Tsim Sha Tsui, Jordan and Yau Ma Tei.  Protesters ended up temporarily shutting down the Cross Harbour Tunnel twice over the course of a few hours.  But the biggest news of the day for sure had to be angry Wong Tai Sin residents getting riot police who had descended on their neighborhood late at night to retreat after they fired tear gas in the mainly residential area named after a popular local god

Shortly before I began writing this blog, more tear gas was fired by the police -- this time in Causeway Bay over on Hong Kong Island and, earlier, over in Western after protests overflowed to those areas from a rally restricted to Belcher Bay Park, whose size and design really is not suited to hosting a lot of people, never mind protest participants.  For a brief period today, the Cross Harbour Tunnel was shut down once again too.

In between the Mongkok and Belcher Bay Park events, there had been a protest march in the New Territories New Town of Tseung Kwan O.  Later in the day, there were altercations there between the police and protesters -- but no tear gas fired (as yet).  During the couple of hours or so in the afternoon that I had marched along the proscribed route with a couple of friends and thousands of fellow protesters though, it was pretty peaceful -- and a family affair for many even.  I wish that more Hong Kong protests could be as tension-free as this protest whose flavor I hope the following photos can give a good idea of.  But, then, I also do wish that peaceful Hong Kong protests could bear more fruit...

 I got an inkling that the Tseung Kwan O march would be 
well attended on the train there, and confirmation of it after
seeing this sight at the train station closest to the march start

An unusual way to send out messages (and I don't mean
via the advertisement on the umbrella)!
The crowd was thick but we made good time, unimpeded
by the police (who were pretty much non-existent in the area) 
and few physical obstacles along the route
On many roads, the march participants took up
all the lanes and even the pavements
I'm guessing this kid agreed to go on the protest march with her mother
after she was told that she transport herself along the route by scooter!
Then there were the kids pushed in prams
and carried in arms by their protester parents
Also among the Tseung Kwan O protest march participants
were a number of people in wheelchairs -- their determination
to play a part put a lump in my throat and tears in my eye
Toward's march end at a velodrome near a shopping mall,
many residences and -- most usefully for me! -- an MTR station