Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Tropical Storm Wipha is the first typhoon to visit Hong Kong in 2019

How Hong Kong looks after the T8 storm signal is hoisted
It's good to have umbrellas for protection at this time -- 
but, honestly, I think that hard hats are over the top! :D
Something worth noting: the MTR still runs during T8
(but not during T9 or T10)
At around 2pm today, the Hong Kong Observatory issued signal number 8 in honor of the first visit by a typhoon to Hong Kong this year.  If truth be told, I reckon Tropical Storm Wipha is on the wimpy side -- especially when compared to the previous typhoon that hit Hong Kong and was accorded a 10 last September.  And I really wonder if it would have been rated as a T8 if Hong Kong was not in such need of some respite from the political turbulence of this summer.
This being a T8 (rather than something more highly rated), the MTR was still running, supermarkets were still open, bars (especially those located inside hotels) are famously still operating at this time, and branches of Starbucks, McDonald's and Kentucky Fried Chicken were still receiving customer as late as 10pm.  And, of course, you can count on branches of 7-Eleven and Circle K -- the majority of which are famously open for 24 hours daily -- to still be selling all manners of items, including umbrellas and tissue paper, if not toilet paper
Nevertheless, there still are people who look upon the hoisting of a T8 (never mind higher) signal as something akin to an impending apocalypse.  As it so happened, I had gone to a specialty supermarket today when the T3 signal was in place and was shocked to see super long queues for the cashiers counters.  At the time, I had ascribed it to that store having had mega sales on.  But upon returning home and seeing announcements about plans for the raising of the T8 signal, I got to realizing that typhoons seem to still put the fear of God into some people in a way that even major political protests can't! ;(

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Into the ninth consecutive week of protests in Hong Kong

Protest art at Shau Kei Wan's Lennon Wall

Young but determined

The morning commute was made more difficult than usual for many people in Hong Kong today when protesters disrupted MTR train services: initially on the Kwun Tong and Tseung Kwan O lines but then also on the Island and Tsuen Wan lines.  There also were reports that some bus drivers were driving slower than usual, to add to the transportation problems that saw bus routes altered and such in my part of Hong Kong along with the local MTR station temporarily closing off its entrances and exits.

All this might be repeated on a larger scale on Monday, August 5th, as there have been calls variously made already for a transportation gridlock, social workers strike and general strike to take place that day.  Despite my having already seen posters online and at my local Lennon Wall for a general strike that day, I do wonder what are the chances of a general strike actually taking place in Hong Kong.  Frankly, this seems hard to imagine -- but, then, so many events have occurred over the past weeks (e.g., central Hong Kong being turned into a battle zone, a protest march with some two million participants, riot police invading a shopping mall and thugs attacking train passengers at a train station) that truly would have been beyond my imagination just two or three months ago.    

Before then though, more protests are expected to take place.  And, indeed, there's one taking place as I write this blog post over in Kwai Chung, where people have gathered to voice their support for 44 individuals charged with rioting last Sunday (including one who's just 16 years of age) and their dissent at the gravity of their charge (which carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years). 

Amidst all these riot charges (and talk), here's pointing out that not a single shop has been looted, not a single shop window broken, etc. by protesters over the course of this summer of discontent in Hong Kong.  And while a small number -- especially relative to the number of people who have gone out and marched on the streets -- of protesters have acted violently, there really shouldn't be any dispute as to who the real thugs in this whole affair are: and, sadly, I don't just mean the Triads either -- as can be seen by videos such as this one and this one that I do not believe were "doctored" in any way.  But what do you expect of a police force for which there is so much damning evidence of their having colluded with organized criminal gangs? :(

Monday, July 29, 2019

Reflections on this past weekend of further protest and violence, and statements made today by various parties

Contrary to widely disseminated opinion, not all 
Another fallacy I've heard: that those who don't go march are all 
against the anti-extradition bill protests or have no opinion about them

A Tweet by Jeffie Lam, a journalist who calls Yuen Long home, starkly illustrated how the use of the tear gas by the Hong Kong police has become the new normal.  Indeed, it's actually hard to recall that, prior to this summer of protests, the last time tear gas had been fired in Hong Kong was back on September 28th, 2014 -- and it was such an incredible shock to many as that was the first time that tear gas had been fired at Hong Kongers since 1989.   

Taking things up a notch in the aftermath: instead of Carrie Lam appearing to condemn the protesters once more after yet another weekend of protests that have morphed into ones condemning her and her government along with the police and the Triads as well as demanding the withdrawal of the extradition bill she proposed that is the root of all this mess, we had the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (AKA the Liason Office, AKA Sai Wan) calling its first-ever news conference since the 1997 Handover of Hong Kong to China by Britain, during which its representatives reiterated its support for Hong Kong's Chief Executive in name (but no longer by actions).

There are some people who reacted to this "news" with disappointment.  Others expected no less.  And then there's the football fans among us who see Beijing's latest move as akin to Carrie Lam being given the equivalent of the dreaded vote of confidence that usually is confirmation that the person given it will soon be sacked!   

Also noteworthy is that on a day that Carrie Lam was expected to temporarily emerge from hiding and make some kind of statement, a letter from jailed Hong Kong activist Edward Leung shows the kind of leadership that Hong Kong could benefit from.  Meanwhile, that from his fellow Shek Pik prison-mate and activist, Benny Tai, which also was sent out today, echoes a July 1st message written on the Legislative Council Complex -- that the Hong Kong government is reaping while it sowed by doing such as ignoring peaceful protests, even ones involving millions of people.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Letting the visuals do the talking

This afternoon in Causeway Bay

Causeway Bay late this evening

Lest it not be clear: it's not normal for the main road in Causeway Bay to be closed to vehicular traffic because it's filled with pedestrians or for any other reason.  But, then, these are not normal times that Hong Kong is experiencing by a long chalk -- and so much so that words are pretty much failing me this evening, as was the case yesterday.  

So, for now, I'll let the visuals do the talking -- not just the photos above but also videos like this one which aired for the world to see on CNN last night and this shorter clip from tonight of further police misconduct of the sort that one would not expect of those supposedly on the right side of the law but totally would of those who have taken to referring to their fellow Hong Kongers as "cockroaches".

Friday, July 26, 2019

In Sha Tin close to two weeks after the post-protest mall mayhem of July 14th

Things are not quite normal still at New Town Plaza
How many shopping malls have Lennon Walls, after all?
Some other walls in the mall have surfaces redolent of what I saw 
I returned to the New Territories "New Town" of Sha Tin for the first time today since taking part in an anti-extradition bill protest march there on the same Sunday that the riot police ended up invading a popular area shopping mall located near the march's official end point.  With those events having taken place less than two weeks ago, they definitely were still on my mind when I walked into New Town Plaza, the location of scenes of mall mayhem unlike any that Hong Kong had previously seen. 
My initial impressions was that things had gone back to normal there.  But as I walked through New Town Plaza, I got to realizing that a series of Lennon Walls have been set up within the shopping mall. on either side of the exit leading to Sha Tin Town Hall; with the added novelty of these ones consisting of mobile panels that can be wheeled about!

As it so happened, my reason for going to Sha Tin this evening was to attend a "bamboo circus" performance at the town hall by Vietnamese arts troupe Lune Production.  Featuring exciting acrobatics, mood-setting music, fun humor and super innovative choreography, A O Lang Pho is one of those shows able to transport its audience to another world.  However, I found myself jolted back to troubled Hong Kong when, in one of those coincidences that surely couldn't have been foreseen, its featured props included bamboo poles and sticks that got me thinking of the weapons used in the Triad attack at Yuen Long on Sunday night, and there was a number which saw the performers donning construction helmets of the types that have come to be associated with Hong Kong protesters!  
After the performance, I made my way through New Town Plaza to the area MTR station -- the way I along with many other protesters had done two Sundays back.  In the mall, I noticed that crowds had gathered -- with one in a circle surrounding people talking intensely with one another and a couple of others surrounding columns that had been newly plastered with posters with images as well as textual information about what had happened in Yuen Long on July 21st, and injunctions to take part in planned protests in that northwestern New Territories town tomorrow.  
I'm not sure how long those posters will remain on those walls but I do know that they were put up just minutes before I got onto the scene as the man responsible for those actions was still around in the area.  Dressed neatly in office wear, he would not fit most people's image of a radical activist; and this especially he was accompanied by a similarly conservatively-attired female friend who looked far more nervous than him but determined all the same.
Here's the thing I want to emphasize to those who still don't get it: many of the people taking part in the extradition bill protests -- which have morphed over the weeks to also include protests against police brutality and violence, and more -- are not your usual protesters; not least because they come from a wider range of professions and more walks of life than might be expected.  The fact that mothers, senior citizens, journalists, lawyers, social workers and -- today -- airline plus airport workers have organized as well as taken part in protests these past few months says a lot to me, including that we protesters are far from alone.  Indeed, I'm inclined to believe these days that we are the mainstream in, and majority of, Hong Kong! 

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Little respite from the political whirlwind that's beset Hong Kong

Scenic view from the same Hong Kong high point in daylight
A friend invited me to dinner up on Victoria Peak last night.  Even on the drive up there in another friend's car, I was thinking how it all felt a world apart from the more troubled as well as mundane one down below -- particularly over in Yuen Long, where tensions remain high after the attack at its MTR station late Sunday night.
After dinner (which involved far more political discussion than is usually the case when I'm with that particular group of friends), my companions and I went for a short stroll to enjoy the cooler air to be found on Hong Kong Island's highest peak (but only the territory's joint 31st highest) and also the night views to be had from atop it.  When doing so, I got to thinking that it's less than two months ago since I last was up on The Peak -- on a hike just three days before a protest march against the extradition bill whose mega participant numbers surely would have counted for much more than it did if Hong Kong were a (genuine and full) democracy.
With so many impactful events having taken place since my last afternoon up on the Peak though, that hike can feel like it took place in another lifetime.  Heck, even the last 48 hours or so alone have been so full of news, and twists and turns, that Sunday night seems at times like it took place so long ago; though it also is all too true that some of the visuals recorded that night, and disseminated online and by various news outlets, feel like they have been seared forever into my memory.
Other symbolic attacks that have taken place in the past 48 hours or so include ones by a Mainland Chinese man on the Lennon Wall and replica of the Goddess of Democracy at Hong Kong's City University.  It's a measure of how troubled the city currently is that these acts do not appear to have been allocated coverage by any of the English language media outlets.  But, then, a sign of how troubled the world in general is can be seen by Boris Johnson having become Prime Minister of Britain today; with not even the death two days ago of Li Peng (announced yesterday) feeling like it matters all that much in the grand scheme of things. :(

Monday, July 22, 2019

Shock and horror last night at what happened in Yuen Long, anger and continued resolve in Hong Kong today

An encouraging message (Hong Kong, add oil)

Angry, but funny too?

I spent close to an hour standing around waiting for yet another extradition bill-related protest march to get going from Victoria Park yesterday afternoon and another four hours or so marching with hundreds of thousands of people on the streets of Hong Kong.  Like many people, I had dinner close to where our march ended and then took the MTR home.  

Unlike some unfortunate protesters and their fellow passengers who got off at Yuen Long MTR station, my return journey was expectedly uneventful.  They, on the other hand, were met by a gang of men armed with sticks inside the station itself, who went about indiscriminately attacking unarmed people -- including at least one heavily pregnant woman, journalists, a sportcaster, a church worker and at least one Legislative Councillor.   
At least 45 people were seriously enough injured to have to be seen to in hospitals, with one man in critical condition.  Matters were not helped by the police not having promptly respond to emergency calls for assistance, never mind being on patrol in the area in response to rumors circulated in the afternoon that white t-shirt clad Triad members were seeking to ambush people returning from the protest march there.  

My first reactions upon learning of all of this was of shock and horror.  But the sadness of last night has actually developed today into anger and a determination to ensure that fear and bullying tactics do not prevail in Hong Kong.  And judging from posts I've seen on social media today, it would seem that anger at what ensued in Yuen Long last night is indeed the prevailing emotion of many Hong Kongers

It might strike some as strange but this actually gives me hope in Hong Kong and feel far less despondent today than I was on the night of June 12th and the day after.  For one thing, I believe all this anger is a sign that people's resolve to see this anti-extradition bill protests through remains strong.  And it being so widespread surely is not something that those who committed the violence last night and those who encouraged them to do so anticipated at all; a sure sign that they have under-estimated and mis-read once again the mood and spirit of a good majority of Hong Kongers.   

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Left close to speechless by today's events

Early on in today's protest march, so much sweat was already shed
Messages that have been ignored today :(
Please don't have the efforts of so many be in vain!

It's late, I have to work tomorrow morning, I'm still catching up on what's happened in the time that I finished today's protest march (at around 7.30pm) and then went to have dinner and a long chat with a friend.  So I'll direct you over to a blog post of a friend whom I marched along with earlier today, and just add that blood, sweat and tears have been shed for Hong Kong today and it's all not over yet. :(

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Natural and other sights along Stage 3 of the Wilson Trail (Photo-essy)

I haven't been out hiking for some weeks now -- not because I've been too busy protesting (against the government's refusal to withdraw the extradition bill that got millions people out onto the streets) but, rather, because of other factors such as it having been so hot that I've come down with heat rash so extreme that I've felt like there are invisible pins sticking into me!  So, this summer, I've ended up joining the ranks of those Hong Kong hikers who take a break from their favorite outdoor pursuit during the hottest months of the year and content myself with looking through my photo archive and waiting for a nice, cool day to arrive that will see me bounding up one -- or more -- of Hong Kong's hills once more.

And actually, even in those years when I've gone hiking in the warmer along with cooler months, there are certain trails that I'd not consider going on when the temperature and humidity are on the high side.  Among these is Stage 3 of the Wilson Trail -- whose 9.3 kilometer length shouldn't be scoffed at, and more so when one also takes into account its routing taking those who go along it up to the top (or near enough) of not one but three Kowloon peaks!

This section of the Wilson Trail is notable for passing
through scenic parts of the Hong Kong countryside that 
actually aren't designated areas within the country parks...
 Something else noteworthy is the expansive views one gets 
while going along it of the very large Junk Bay Chinese 
Permanent Cemetery located on the eastern side of Devil's Peak
It's hard to avoid having to go up at least one hill
when out hiking in Hong Kong...
...and it's true enough that what (and who) goes up,
will have to come down at some point!
One of those scenic views that makes the effort that goes
into hiking feel very worthwhile indeed :) 
How many Hong Kong hills have been quarried for
their stone or levelled in the name of development?
are no more and feel sad that this is so
 Hopefully these farmed lands are still around as I do 
think that their existence adds to Hong Kong's charm...

Friday, July 19, 2019

More on -- and of -- Hong Kong's Lennon Walls!

Notice that colorful pedestrian overpass in the distance? 

A closer look reveals that much of its color is thanks to hundreds, 
if not thousands, of post-it notes stuck on its glass walls

Like other Hong Kong Lennon Walls, there are messages
written in English along with Traditional Chinese characters

A friend living in the US asked me earlier today whether there are protests daily in Hong Kong.  I can understand why, especially from a distance, this can appear to be the case as about the only time that Hong Kong gets mentioned in international news report these days, it's with regards to the many and large anti-extradition bill protests that have taken place over the past month and a half now.

But while it does appear to be so that not a single weekend has gone by since June 9th without at least one protest against the still not yet withdrawn extradition bill -- and, increasingly, Carrie Lam and her government as a whole and police brutality too for good measure -- there remain many week days that are free of protest: that is, if one excludes doing so on social media and on Lennon Walls; both of which have become serious battlegrounds along with the streets themselves and, occasionally, also shopping malls.

Tai Po's Lennon Wall -- which is more of a tunnel as it's really very long and large -- has been particularly targeted by "blue ribbon" protesters, no doubt because of its size and prominence in the public imagination.  Early today came news of pro-government individuals having been bussed in (some say, from Mainland China) to deface it in the hours of the morning.  Even while this act aroused some ire and disgust, people aren't taking it too much to heart as there's confidence among those who have had a hand in creating the Lennon Walls and making them creative environments for people to express their solidarity with one another along with frustrations at the government that the Tai Po Lennon Wall is not only going to be restored but also grow bigger.   

As of July 16th, there were over 130 Lennon Walls in existence in Hong Kong.  And at the Hong Kong Book Fair yesterday, I saw at least three mini Lennon Walls erected by different companies, with messages on Post-It notes contributed by various book fair attendees.  In addition, yet another Lennon Wall has sprung up on a pedestrian bridge near the fair venue

Pedestrian bridges and overpasses appear to be popular places for Lennon Walls.  In the past week, I've come across three in three different parts of Hong Kong -- with the one in Causeway Bay being particularly impressive and, here's a sign of our troubled times, manned by a volunteer presumably on the lookout for those sad individuals with destructive tendencies who evidently don't agree with the messages posted on the Lennon Walls that include ones urging people to do such as "Love Hong Kong" and with such apparently inflammatory sentiments like "Hong Kongers, don't give up"! 

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Many protests add up to a big picture of a Hong Kong united in opposition to the extradition bill and Carrie Lam's administration!

Journalists turned protesters to condemn police violence 
and defend press freedom this past Sunday
The Fourth Estate ensured there were lots of photo ops
during the event ;b

Earlier this evening, thousands of silver-haired individuals took part in a protest march in support of younger extradition law protesters.  Although nominally a silent march, it seemed like many of the participants couldn't resist the opportunity to give voice to their demands (such as in this Tweeted video clip, where they can be heard chanting "Carrie Lam, step down" in Cantonese).

The assembly point for today's march was Chater Garden, the site of protest rallies organized in recent weeks by mothers who also wanted to show that the extradition bill is not just the concern of young Hong Kongers.  With a far shorter route than, say, those for the mega protest marches of June 9th and 16th, many people who would have had major difficulty completing those others were able to take part, including a silver-haired attendee with one leg who propelled himself along on crutches.   

I have to admit: that photo of that determined individual caused me to well up.  It also got me thinking back to an assertion made by someone who refuses to believe that the majority of Hong Kongers are against the proposed -- and supposedly now "dead" but not yet withdrawn -- extraditioon bill that even if it really was the case that two million people went out into the streets on June 16th to show their opposition to it, the fact that "only" two million people did so meant that there still are over five million Hong Kongers who have no problems with it.   

More specifically, I think that assertion doesn't stand to reason because I am sure there are lots of opponents to the bill whose physical health makes it so that they are unable to go out on the streets to protest against it; and this particularly so since some of the marches are now getting so many people out on the streets at the same time as to literally bring traffic -- foot and vehicular -- to a standstill!  And then there also are people unable for other reasons to take part in the protests, including because they have to work on those days and at those times that those protests are taking place.  

Among them are those members of the Fourth Estate whose job it is to cover the protests.  And while it might be said that the press is supposed to be impartial, the fact of the matter is that, especially after being subjected to police brutality or witnessing this happening to their colleagues -- or "just" fellow humans -- in recent weeks, it is only to be expected that they will end up taking sides.  Thus it was that, this past Sunday, Hong Kong journalists and their supporters staged a protest of their own -- against police violence and for press freedom -- and that at this event, signs calling for Carrie Lam to step down along with such as the Hong Kong colonial flag were in evidence as well as blown up photographic evidence of inappropriate policing that has taken place at recent extradition bill protests.    

Taken by themselves, today's silver haired protest march and the press' on Sunday might not amount to much, especially in terms of numbers of participants.  But I think the fact that they have taken place and are among a whole series of protests occuring in various parts of Hong Kong that have included ones organized by mothers and will include one by social workers later this week as well as more "regular" protest organizers like the Civil Human Rights Front says a great deal about the level -- and varied circles -- of opposition that there is to the extradition bill and Carrie Lam's administration in Hong Kong society these days. 

Monday, July 15, 2019

A peaceful protest march in Sha Tin yesterday sadly followed by mayhem in an area mall

At the protest march in Shatin yesterday afternoon

 In the town center, residents on the overhead bridges above 
were cheering the protesters as they passed below

On the other hand, the police -- many without warrant cards displayed,
as should have been the case -- were in a less cheery mood

On yet another weekend of protests in Hong Kong, I elected to sit out the one in Sheung Shui on Saturday but went marching with a few friends and thousands of other extradition bill opponents in Sha Tin yesterday afternoon.  The first protest march that New Territories "new town" had seen in decades attracted far more participants that the organizers -- and probably pretty much everyone else -- had anticipated, and included first time protest marchers (like one of the friends who marched with me yesterday) and people who had not been out protesting in the streets for years (like another of the friends I was with yesterday who, until yesterday, had last participated in a protest march back in July 2003).   

Having also not gone to the anti-extradition bill protest march in Kowloon last Sunday or other protests held outside of Hong Kong Island, much of yesterday's march felt rather novel to me.  In addition to the route taking me through streets and past places I'm not that familiar with, there also was the interesting experience of marching past area residents: some of whom had turned up to watch the parade out of curiosity; others of whom had turned up to cheer the march participants on (as could be seen by their smiles, thumbs up gestures, applause and initiations of interactive chants of "Hong Kong yan ga yau" (Hong Kong people, add oil)!).  

Something else pretty noticeable was how the pace of the march was refreshingly quick for the most part compared to such as the million (plus) people marches that took place this past June 9th and 16th.  About the only two times, in fact, where the procession came close to a standstill was, early on, when people were exiting the football pitch that was the site of the official march start and at one road junction where the police wanted to ensure that a road that we were walking past would still be accessible to vehicular traffic.

While waiting to be allowed to cross to the other side of the road, march participants came up close to a bunch of police officers, some in uniform but quite a few of whom were not.  With time to spare to look around and look closely at one another, many of the march participants could not help but notice that a good proportion of the cops wearing vests atop their t-shirts did not have their warrant cards or any other form of identification displayed in the clear pockets of their vests -- which actually was a clear violation of police regulations
Almost needless to say, this did not endear the police to the protesters.  It also didn't help matters that the police did not offer any explanation of why sections of the march had been made to stop.  In all honesty, I think some attempt at that rather than just menacing glares and robotic repetitions of "Thank you for your cooperation" would have helped keep things calm and got more understanding.

In lieu of being supplied information by the police, people turned to online Tweets and such to figure out what was going on.  And it was through that medium that I learnt via a friend that one reason for our delay was that there had been a far larger turnout than expected and that the narrower streets that the march passed through could easily handle -- and, also, as my section of marchers neared Sha Tin town center, that there already had been incidents involving the police firing pepper spray at protesters nearer the front of the march.

Despite the latter reports though, we protesters kept walking along the designated protest route and the mood actually was quite cheerful even then.  After we got to the area by New Town Plaza (from where the Sha Tin MTR station is directly accessible) though, a good number of protesters decided to call it a day and make for the exit.  Most of the party I was with went for that option; with the one friend who lives in Sha Tin deciding to go all the way to the end of the march.  

As we walked through the mall to go and catch our train out of Sha Tin, little did we know that just a few hours later, New Town Plaza itself would be where utterly surreal scenes involving the riot police, protesters, shoppers and other people who had the misfortune to be in the mall when "Hong Kong's finest" (so not!) decided in their infinite wisdom to chase people into and through it.  In the ensuing melee, more than 20 people -- protesters and police officers -- were injured, two of them critically.  And while Carrie Lam and Co have once again made use of the word "rioters" to describe the protesters, still more videos and photographic evidence have emerged showing the Hong Kong police behaving badly. 

777 may not know -- or be willing to admit -- who really were/are in the wrong here.  But it's not for nothing that the police hunting for protesters yesterday were told in no uncertain terms by area residents to "Leave, just leave, everything will be fine if you leave.  [The protesters] will just go away if you leave".  Also, like in Mongkok the previous Sunday, there are stories of people who were there to just shop or eat ending up getting traumatized by the police.  Put another way: I have a feeling the police made more enemies with their behavior yesterday; enemies who may well decide to join future protests that now are calling for the police to be held to account for the brutality that now chillingly has become standard operating procedure as well as for the withdrawal of the hated extradition bill.