Thursday, January 30, 2020

Hong Kong's problems go beyond just a mask shortage and medical woes

This afternoon in Tsim Sha Tsui East -- people in masks
on the streets and also on a big screen

Everyone wearing masks on the Central-Midlevels 
Escalator system yesterday afternoon
Also at the Central-Midlevels Escalator system:
dispensers of alcoholic hand rubs/hand sanitizers
Before I moved to Hong Kong, I never wore masks.  Not long after moving to the Big Lychee though, I learnt that it's the "done" thing here to wear surgical masks when you have a cold or flu; a practice that came about as a result of Hong Kongers' experience with SARS in 2002-2003.  And because of this, I pretty much always have a box of surgical masks in my apartment -- so that I'd have one on hand to put on when I have a cold or flu, or even after I've recovered but have a lingering cough.
As it so happened, I caught a cold a few weeks back and, after I felt okay enough to venture outside, discovered that my supply of surgical masks was running low.  Around this time, people in Hong Kong were getting wind of a mysterious virus having infected people in Wuhan.  So when I went to the pharmacist to buy a box of masks, I saw that the price had risen to more than usual.  At the same time though, there were plenty of masks in stock.  So I didn't need to go to more than one pharmacist to buy what I wanted.   
Suffice to say that there has been quite a bit of Wuhan coronavirus-induced panic going on in Hong Kong in recent days.  Masks (surgical, N95, etc.) are now hard to findShops with stock can literally sell out of them in one minute (or even less)!  Consequently, many people are running low on masks -- or facing the prospect of this happening in the near future, if they haven't already run out of the supply of protective gear that is not supposed to be re-worn and shouldn't be worn for more than 24 hours.  
While it can be pointed out that a number of other territories are experiencing mask shortages (e.g., Malaysia and Singapore, which also have confirmed Wuhan coronavirus cases), it's worth noting that Hong Kong is an international logistics hub that surely wouldn't be having such a mask shortage and also mass panic if only its government were more efficient and trustworthy, and also actually care for its people (rather than just pretend to do so).  Small wonder then that so many people want genuine universal suffrage -- so that they can get a government that is answerable to them, not just their overlords over in Beijing.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Carrie Lam continues to play dangerous games, and badly
She really doesn't know how to do things correctly, does she?!
Hong Kong's least popular Chief Executive ever appeared in public today wearing a mask.  It says so much that she didn't only do so so late in the "game" -- that is, close to one week after Hong Kong had its first officially confirmed case of the Wuhan coronavirus and close to one month after China alerted the World Health Organization to there being several cases of what is now known as Wuhan pneumonia in the eponymous Mainland Chinese city -- but she didn't seem to know or be inclined to wear a surgical mask in the proper manner.  

Put another way: she is apparently hoping to fool people into thinking she's effectively done something when she in fact hasn't.  Sound familiar?  Also, if anyone doubts her insincerity, consider that her government is still pushing for the Court of Final Appeal to reinstate the mask ban that she used emergency laws to introduce but was ruled to be unconsitutitional by the High Court and thus suspended.

For those who (still) think people are panicking for no reason: Consider that since I last posted just two days ago, the death toll from the Wuhan coronavirus has jumped from 56 to "at least 106" and spread to still more countries, including Germany, where a German national contracted the virus from a Chinese colleague visiting from Shanghai.  More than incidentally, there now is a website that is providing real-time Wuhan coronavirus infection and death numbers.  As I write this blog post, the total number of people who have been reported as infected is at 4698 but I fully expect that number, and also the death toll, to rise by the time I check it again tomorrow morning. :(               

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Hiking for fun and health on the second day of the Chinese New Year of the rat

one with a trigonometric station and stated height of 222 meters
(Click on the above image to view an enlarged version of it!) 

 Panoramic view from about midway up Siu Ma Shan
(Again, click on the above photo to see an enlarged version of it!)

Yes, some hikers were wearing masks on the 
more crowded sections of hiking trails today :(

At a time when the death toll and number of people confirmed to be infected by the Wuhan coronavirus continues to rise (with the number of deaths now at 56 and there being close to 2,000 confirmed cases worldwide), it may seem callous to keep on posting hiking photos as well as to venture out hiking for the second time in three days.  And this before we also take into the account that, on the protest front, the riot police fired more tear gas at pro-democracy/anti-government protestors -- and other people, including street hawkers and children, who just happened to be there at the scene -- in Mongkok on the first day of the Chinese New Year of the Rat.  

The thing though is that today, the second day of the lunar new year, is normally a festive time of the year.  And I honestly reckon that getting depressed isn't going to help anyone -- so why not go out and do something I like that has the bonus of being a physically healthy activity?  

As it so happens, this time of the year additionally generally offers up some of the best weather for hiking -- in terms of the air being cool, so one doesn't end up sweating buckets when climbing up a hill -- along with good air and high visibility; the latter two of which we here in Hong Kong regularly attribute to the (oft polluting) factories in Mainland China shutting down for the holidays.  So off I went up to the hills of Hong Kong -- more specifically, Hong Kong Island -- once more; this time on my own on account of the friend I was supposed to go hiking with today bailing out for fear that it'd rain this afternoon.

Since I was hiking alone, I kept for the most part to trails that I had already been on and feel pretty familiar with.  I must admit though that early on in the hike, I decided that the day had finally come for me to check out the views from an unnamed hill that I had passed by before while walking along the southern section of Sir Cecil's Ride but hadn't previously detoured up to -- and was rewarded with some really nice views that were made even better by the day's high degree of visibility.  And because the afternoon really did shape up to be pretty lovely, I made my way via trails that passed through a wireless station near Siu Ma Shan Bridge to connect with the popular hiking trail that takes one up Siu Ma Shan and then Mount Butler.  

Up on Mount Butler, I met three people who had masks -- but around their necks rather than on their face.  As one of them told me, they didn't find it all that comfortable to hike with masks on.  In turn, I told her that I had put on a mask when leaving my apartment earlier today and had it on on the minibus ride to the trail head but then had removed it just before I commenced hiking; reasoning that I wouldn't be near all that many people when out hiking.  And for the record: for the first couple of hours of my hike, I think I passed by -- or was passed by -- fewer than 20 other people in total.  

But after I got down to Quarry Gap (Tai Fung Au) from Mount Butler, I came across a far larger number of people -- and with many of them speaking Putonghua, I must admit to thinking that I should follow the example of a good number of masked individuals and put my mask on!  Also, lest it not be clear: this was indeed the first time I've seen people out hiking with medical masks on -- and I think it's a good measure of how much more worried people have become about the Wuhan coronavirus over the course of some 72 hours that, just two days ago, I hadn't seen anyone with a mask on while out in a country park in Hong Kong.  :S 

Saturday, January 25, 2020

A hike that helped put me in a Chinese New Year spirit (Photo-essay)

In my first year of hiking as well as living in Hong Kong, I was told by a local friend that one reason why hiking was such a big thing in the Big Lychee was that people were encouraged to do so during and after the SARS epidemic hit the city in 2003.  For one thing, hiking is good exercise.  For another, going out into the country parks allowed people to venture outdoors without being in crowded spaces.   

While out hiking yesterday (in the midst of the Wuhan pneumonia epidemic whose death toll has now gone up to 41 -- all in Mainland China -- and resulted in five confirmed cases in Hong Kong thus far), I got to recalling that conversation.  But while I do hike for exercise and also to spend time in uncrowded parts of Hong Kong, yesterday's excursion also was prompted by my having a "tradition" of spending major holidays partly out hiking; with my going hiking on Chinese New Year Eve this year (rather than the first day of the Lunar New Year, like is my usual practice) because the weather for today was predicted to be less ideal than the day before.

I admit: I didn't feel in that much of a festive mood before the hike.  But after nature worked its magic once more (and a great conversation was had over the course of the excursion with my tramping companion), my spirits were lifted.  And after catching sight of those beautiful pink flowers that signal that Chinese New Year is upon us -- or, at the very least, nigh -- I really did come away realizing that, ongoing protests, government intransigence, Wuhan coronavirus threat and all, the lunar new year really was going to happen and I should try to be happy for at least some part of it.  (So Kung Hei Fat Choi (to Cantonese speakers), Keong Hee Huat Chye (to Hokkien speakers), Gong Xi Fa Cai (to Mandarin speakers), and here's wishing a happy and healthy Lunar New Year to these blog's readers!)  

The mist was rolling over the hills by Wong Nai Chung 
Reservoir Park as we began our hike yesterday afternoon
A look in another direction showed beautiful clear skies
and super high visibility for miles though!

Spotted in the distance: a sea vessel that looked
like something out of a sci fi movie!
Chinese New Year flowers galore hanging over 
as well as on the side of the hiking trail!
A more close-up shot of some of my favorite wild flowers ever :)
This is not to say that there aren't some splendid views
to be had along the Tsz Lo Lan Shan Path, with the mist
adding some magic to familiar sights down in Repulse Bay
but maybe the first not directed against Leung Chun-ying!
Rather than take the Tsz Lo Lan Shan Path all the way,
we diverted at Tsin Shui Wai Au over to a trail that took us 
past a now very familiar stone bridge over to Tai Tam Road :)

Friday, January 24, 2020

On the eve of a most unusual Chinese New Year

Hong Kong protest-themed banners 
Less political, more conventional and -- I'd argue -- 
less interesting rat-themed lunar new year decorations
Many months ago, a friend asked me when I thought the pro-democracy protests would end.  Before I could answer, he gave his opinion that it all would be over somehow by Chinese New Year.  By this, I assume he meant this upcoming Chinese New Year.  If so, well, the Lunar New Year of the Rat will arrive in just a few minutes and the pro-democracy protests aren't over yet -- though it's also true enough that they've been overshadowed in recent days by the Wuhan coronavirus crisis which is concerning the world despite what the World Health Organization (WHO) might want to believe.
To put things in perspective though: even this year's Chinese New Year celebrations are kind of being overshadowed by this medical crisis out of Wuhan.  Or, as more than one international news outlet has put it: the deadly virus outbreak has prompted China to cancel the Lunar New Year!
In all honesty, it really doesn't seem like there will be much cheer this Chinese New Year -- and maybe more so in Mainland China than Hong Kong!  For the record, the death toll has now reached 26 -- all of them in Mainland China thus far (though now no longer restricted to Wuhan or even Hubei province).  And there now also are confirmed Wuhan pneumonia cases in Singapore and Vietnam in addition to the eight territories already on the dreaded infected list as of Wednesday; with Hong Kong's number of confirmed cases having risen to five.   
It'd be putting it mildly then to state that this is shaping up to be a really unusual Chinese New Year.  With that in mind, I don't think it is all that inappropriate to have Chinese New Year banners that proclaim "Five demands; not one less" and "Liberate Hong Kong; revolution of our time" as well as "Lots of luck and (good) things to come" about one's abode this year -- like I have post being given them at the independent/pro-protest Sai Wan Ho Lunar New Year fair last weekend.  And if I came by one with wishes for a healthy year ahead, I definitely would have got that too.  In any case, that's what I plan to go about wishing people as well as the usual Kung Hei Fat Choi this year!

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Health problems on top of political ones for Hong Kong, Xi Jinping and more?! 
The spread of the Wuhan pneumonia as of today 

A man visiting Hong Kong from Wuhan tested positive for the Wuhan coronavirus that has infected hundreds of people in Mainland China alone and now has killed seventeen people there.  He came to Hong Kong via the hated Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link which already upset people because of its co-location arrangements which gave Mainland China immigration authority on a section of Hong Kong territory and was used in the abduction of Simon Cheng last year, when the Hong Konger was working for the British consulate general in Hong Kong.

As though the way they have been dealing with pro-democracy protests and protestors is not enough to infuriate, Hong Kongers now can easily find fault with the local authorities' methods of handling what is amounting to a serious health problem besetting Hong Kong and the world at large.  (Incidentally, the U.S.A. became the first non-Asian territory to report having a confirmed case earlier today.)  

So adamant are the authorities to turn the wearing of masks into a political act that none of Carrie Lam's administration seem willing to wear masks -- even for medical reasons.  Thus one has the spectacle of not just one but two senior government officials coughing multiple times in public but refusing to put on a mask, as would be the medically safe and good mannered thing to do.  And the fact that one of them is the acting Chief Executive -- while Carrie Lam is on a charm offensive in Davos (that's probably more offensive than charm) -- while the other is the health secretary really does not fill Hong Kongers with confidence in the intelligence and wisdom of the already pretty lowly-rated administation.

About the only silver lining that I can see in this whole Wuhan coronavirus thing is that it's one more serious problem that President-for-life Xi Jinping now has on his hands.  And while I normally don't like to wish ill to happen to my fellow human beings, I must say that there are times when one really does hope that karma strikes certain individuals -- like was the case with the Chinese senior health official who, ten days after describing the Wuhan pneumonia as"under control", was diagnosed with it himself!  

Addendum: I love how Bloomberg considers Hong Kong and Taiwan to be non-Chinese locations on its Wuhan coronavirus map.  One awaits the reaction to this from the Chinese and imagines that it will be stronger than the reactions of others to the American Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)'s use of a map of China which includes Taiwan as part of it!

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Trying to get into a festive frame of mind against the odds

One of two stalls the League of Social Democrats operated at this year's
Lunar New Year flower market until the authorities shut it down today

I wonder how long this similarly political themed stall run by the
of China will be allowed to remain at the same venue 

With just four days to go before the Chinese New Year of the Rat (or Mouse, since the Chinese word for rat(s) also applies for mouse/mice) comes along, the world's biggest mass migration has begun.  This year, it is estimated that 3 billion trips are expected to be made during Chunyun (the Lunar New Year Spring Festival) as families reunite, with some featuring members returning to China from abroad as well as returning home from far flung parts of the country.

Despite the Wuhan pneumonia now having claimed six victims in the eponymous Chinese city and spread to other parts of China -- and, indeed, other parts of the world (with confirmed cases in Thailand, Japan, South Korea and now also Taiwan) -- there doesn't seem to be any plans to stop this massive human migration, which will invariably include trips made across the Mainland China-Hong Kong border.  And while Hong Kong doesn't have any confirmed cases as yet, many people believe that it's but a matter of time before this happens; this not least because of fears that the authorities are not dealing adequately with this medical threat.

Almost needless to say, the spread of the Wuhan pneumonia to Hong Kong really would dampen the festive mood.  As things stand, there will be no parade on the first day of this Lunar New Year nor will there be a fireworks show on the second day of the festival.  And the banning of dry goods, including satirical items, at Lunar New Year fairs held at government venues this year means that they really are just Lunar New Year flower markets for the most part -- and, consequently, have attracted way smaller crowds than usual.  

In previous years, I had enjoyed going to the Lunar New Year market at Victoria Park -- primarily to see the Chinese zodiac-themed goods on display.  While at the festive fair, I'd also check out the political satire on show and, in recent years, make a donation at one or more of the booths run by pro-democracy political parties and organizations.  

Denied the opportunity to do so this year, I've gone hunting instead for alternative, independently-run Lunar New Year fairs held in various parts of Hong Kong and, thus far, checked out ones in Mongkok, Sai Wan Ho, Causeway Bay and Hung Hom.  Looking at photos of the one held in Sai Wan over the weekend made me wish I had gone there too.      

There undoubtedly are people who think that the ongoing protests makes it so that this is not the time to smile, laugh and celebrate; this especially since the government has yet to show signs of acceding to the four remaining protestor demands.  More than incidentally, the authorities' lack of response and, also, Beijing's increasing encroachment into Hong Kong affairs has prompted Moody's to downgrade Hong Kong's economic rating; something that would be bigger news if it hadn't happened amidst the Wuhan pneumonia outbreak fears.      

For my part though, I feel that after the authorities ruined Halloween last year, threatened to do the same with Christmas and didn't allow 2020 to start off all that well, they surely ought not ruin what's the most important holiday of the year around these parts.  At the very least, I'll take what opportunities there are to try to be happy during this upcoming Lunar New Year -- and the days leading up to it -- even while also preparing by equipping myself with masks and such this year (along with more traditional accoutrements such as red packets to give out along with new clothes to wear, the latter for at least the first few days of the 15 year festive period)!

Sunday, January 19, 2020

A mammoth protest rally in Central prematurely broken up by questionable police action

Spillover crowd for a rally at Chater Garden this afternoon
(Click on the image to view an enlarged version)

Among the rally's featured guests was an Italian opera singer
who treated the assembled crowd to three songs

Doraemon trying to put the crowd at ease as they were
leaving, upon the request of rally organizer Ventus Lau

Last Sunday, I attended a protest rally at Edinburgh Place that was meant to be a warm-up of sorts for a protest march to be held today.  After the police refused to issue a letter of no objection for the provocatively-named Universal Siege on Communists March though, the organizers went ahead instead with a protest rally at Chater Garden, with the understanding that the spillover crowd could also be allowed to occupy the adjacent spaces such as Chater Road and the square where the Cenotaph is located.

As I made my way into Central this afternoon by bus, I not only passed by lots of cops (including Raptors as well as "regular" riot police) along the way but also noticed that, even 20 minutes before the official start time of today's rally, Chater Garden was already full.  And after we saw that sections of Chater Road as well as Statue Square were being utilized by Filipino domestic workers on their day off as well as protestors, my friends and I decided to base ourselves at the Cenotaph, from where we also were able to get a good view of a giant screen on which was beamed the proceedings taking place in Chater Garden, just a hundred meters or so -- but hundreds, if not thousands, of bodies -- away.

With this afternoon's very well attended -- as it turned out -- Siege of Communists rally having been set up at just a few days' notice, the roster of speakers seemed weaker than the previous week's (with, among other things, few of them sticking to the announced theme; with the result being that the rally turned out to be more of a general "five demands; not one less" and anti-police -- rather than anti-Communist -- protest).  Or maybe they were just the warm-up acts for the main guests.  We will never know, however, because shortly after Joshua Wong had stepped onto the stage at Chater Garden, but before he could really get going with his speech, people were being told to leave the area and head for Admiralty.
Actually, from my vantage point, I smelled trouble about 70 minutes into today's event.  First, I noticed that the number of riot police stationed across the street by City Hall rapidly increased within the span of about 20 minutes.  Then, with the help of my camera's 30x zoom lens, I got to seeing that the crowd on an overhead bridge to the west of us had turned their backs to us and were finding more interest in things that were happening to the west of them.  And shortly after, there came calls for long umbrellas to pass on over to the west.  

Consequently, when the call came for people to start leaving, my friends and I -- along with a good part of the crowd, as it so happens -- opted to make our way eastwards towards Admiralty where I, for one, was hoping that I could hop on a bus home.  But as we went about doing so, very slowly since there were a lot of us -- some in wheelchairs and others carrying young children, to boot -- trying to go in the same direction at the same time, we heard the sound of a number of rounds of tear gas being fired as, once again, the police didn't seem to realize, understand or care that it really takes a large crowd a good amount of time to disperse even when that is exactly what the members of the crowd are seeking to do!

From the reaction of some members of the crowd to this, I'd say that a number of them didn't previously have the experience of having tear gas fired in their vicinity.  Either that or the added sight of riot police appearing from various sides to block off a number of possible exit points really freaked people out because I was half-expecting a fatal stampede to happen at various points.  Fortunately, there were calmer heads about too -- and after shouts asking people to calm down and count their steps as they walked (which really does calm and slow people down), those of us not pounced on by the police did manage to safely make our way to Admiralty and points further east.    

Yesterday, rally organizer Ventus Lau had pre-warned attendees to not expect a carnival today. "Given past experience, no matter how hard we try to protect our participants and no matter how many marshals we have, we still can't control the actions of the riot police. They are losing control and losing their minds," he was quoted as saying.  How prescient he proved to be.

Watching what happened from free Taiwan, Ryan Ho Kilpatrick (who's normally Hong Kong-based) was moved to Tweet about his shock at realizing how much he had, unconsciously, become desensitised over the months and accepted all this as normal.  I was struck by this because it sadly is too true that I too have become used to hearing tear gas being fired, smelling it, and expecting for not getting much, if any, warning of this odious substance being inflicted on a crowd of predominantly peaceful protestors and bystanders who happen to have the misfortune to be in the area; so much so, in fact, that I go to even "police approved" protests equipped with protective gear.

Adding to the insanity of it all: Ventus Lau was arrested this evening in front of bewildered reporters who had just finished interviewing him about the rally being cut short by the police.  Apparently, in their eyes, he had incited them by doing what's actually perfectly legal: that is, asking for the man who had gone onto the stage and demanded that Lau prematurely terminate the rally to give proof that he was, in fact, a police officer.  

Secondly, it seems Lau had violated the terms of the police's "no objection" to the rally by having allowed too many people into Chater Garden.  In other words, one of the reasons for his arrest was because too many people had showed up to the rally -- which definitely did attract a heck of a lot more people than last week's, with 150,000 having been in attendance according to organizer estimates

Friday, January 17, 2020

Resistance in the face of political and police pressure

Solidarity in Hong Kong, and from overseas, last Sunday
Veteran rally attendees come equipped with portable stools!
A rally took place last Sunday that was intended to be a warm-up event for a march planned for this Sunday, January 19th.  Late last night, however, came news that the police had refused to issue a letter of no objection for the planned march: making it the first protest march since November 2nd -- probably the worst day for tear gas for me personally since I ended up inhaling it both on my way to and from protest events (which ended up being prematurely broken up) -- that the police have decided to effectively outright ban; though it also could be said to not have been entirely unexpected since the local constabulary have tried to stop 19 protest events from happening in the past few months.   
Finally, it's lovely to learn that actual, wild dolphins still are willing to visit Hong Kong (with a pod of upwards to 100 of them spotted swimming in Victoria harbour earlier today)!  It's like word spread to them of the announcement earlier this week that Ocean Park will be axeing its dolphin shows after years of pressure from activists and they're not only celebrating but also lending support to help publicize the fact that (persistent) protests do pay off (eventually)!              

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Human Rights Watch lays bare China's Global Threat

How many Hong Kong protestors perceive China
 If only more people felt this way...

Human Rights Watch launched its 2020 global report at the United Nations headquarters in New York yesterday.  The international non-governmental organization (NGO) was originally scheduled to launch its 30th annual review of human rights practices around the world in Hong Kong today but changed the report's launch venue and date after its executive director, Kenneth Roth, was denied entry to Hong Kong on Sunday.

The Hong Kong immigration officer who barred Roth from entering Hong Kong told him that the decision to do had come from Hong Kong.  But Beijing later owned up to its being behind that decision. As Roth has noted in a Tweet, "Hong Kong's Basic Law (its mini-constitution) gives the Hong Kong government "full autonomy on immigration control matters." In barring me from entering, Beijing just flouted that key element of "one country, two systems."

As it so happens, the lead article in Human Rights Watch's World Report 2020 is entitled "China's Global Threat to Human Rights".  It is currently available in its full form in English, Chinese, Arabic, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian.  I have a feeling though that, due to its length, not as many people will plough through it as would be ideal.  So here's picking out a few key paragraphs and sentences that I think are worth reading, at the minimum:-

China’s government sees human rights as an existential threat. Its reaction could pose an existential threat to the rights of people worldwide.

The motivation for Beijing’s attack on rights stems from the fragility of rule by repression rather than popular consent. Despite decades of impressive economic growth in China, driven by hundreds of millions of people finally emancipated to lift themselves out of poverty, the Chinese Communist Party is running scared of its own people.

The conventional wisdom once held that as China grew economically, it would build a middle class that would demand its rights... Few today believe that self-serving rationale, but most governments have found new ways to justify the status quo. They continue to prioritize economic opportunities in China but without the pretense of a strategy for improving respect for the rights of the people there. 

If every government alone faces a choice between seeking Chinese economic opportunities and speaking out against Chinese repression, many will opt for silence. But if governments band together to address China’s flouting of human rights, the power balance shifts.

By the same token, companies and universities should draft and promote codes of conduct for dealing with China. Strong common standards would make it more difficult for Beijing to ostracize those who stand up for basic rights and freedoms.  

Unless we want to return to an era in which people are pawns to be manipulated or discarded according to the whims of their overlords, the Chinese government’s attack on the international human rights system must be resisted. Now is the time to take a stand. Decades of progress on human rights are at stake. (My emphasis.)