Tuesday, March 31, 2020

More than one anniversary to commemorate and threat to Hong Kong to worry about

We're not playing anymore :(

Yet another end of the month has arrived and, as has been the case for six months now, people have gathered at Prince Edward MTR station to mourn -- if not the actual deaths of individuals, then the hammering of one more nail on the coffin of Hong Kongers' freedom from fear while doing not much more than taking what used to be a popular as well as integral mode of public transportation, thanks to the actions of the police at Prince Edward MTR station on the evening of August 31st, 2019.  I hate that I'm expecting this but it really wouldn't surprise me if more tear gas gets fired by the police before the night is out, like has happened too many times already.  

As it is, there already have been some arrests made in the area; including, as previously anticipatedusing the new social distancing laws which came into effect over the weekend.  Almost needless to say, all of this really is not going to get people in Hong Kong thinking that the members of the local constabulary -- particularly those in green fatigues and riot gear and "raptor" outfits (rather than their previously more "regular" uniforms) -- are "citizens in uniform" who are going about "policing by consent".  (But, then, do the police really care what the public think of them anymore?)   

As it so happens, there also is another anniversary of note for Hong Kongers who care about the law being upheld in the proper, just way to commemorate today.  For on March 31st of last year, the first anti-extradition bill protest march took place.  Under-publicized (so that, I, for example, didn't know about it until I saw people demonstrating on Queensway), it nonetheless attracted some 12,000 participants.  I'm sure, though, that no one taking part in that March 31st, 2019, protest had any incline of the amount of support their cause would end up attracting -- and how it would lead to a sea change in the way Hong Kongers think and act, and the kind of community efforts that have seen Hong Kongers wage a fierce battle against the local authorities, their Beijing overlords, and the coronavirus which came over from Mainland China.

I really hope that the Hong Kong community's efforts to stem the Wuhan coronavirus will not be in vain. And even while I think there are many branches of Hong Kong's government that could do better (including Carrie Lam, of course, but those who issued quarantined individuals with faulty wristbands and allowed confusion to reign inside quarantine centers), it does seem like the Centre for Health Protection is doing a pretty good job with such as their having conducted some 90,000 tests for the coronavirus to date (resulting in a 12,000 to 1 million ratio that ranks among the highest in the world).            
For those of us who often find it hard to envision statistics and need the help of graphics, I'm glad for the existence of such as the South China Morning Post's local Wuhan coronavirus infographic.  Incidentally, I also find its map of confirmed cases in Hong Kong, which include the names (along with locations) of local hospitals where patients are treated to provide insights into Hong Kong's distinct identity vis a vis (Mainland) China.  Put another way, only in Hong Kong will you get hospitals with Cantonese names (like Kwong Wah, Tseung Kwan O and Pok Oi) mixed with others named after various British Royals (such as Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mary, Princess Margaret and the Prince of Wales) along with at least one with South Asian roots (Ruttonjee)! ;b 

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Pointing fingers but also calling for unity in Hong Kong's fight against the Wuhan coronavirus

Seen at a cinema concession stand hours before Hong Kong's

A much less crowded than normal Saturday evening 
shopping mall scene at Cityplaza yesterday

Another phase has begun in Hong Kong's battle against the Wuhan coronavirus: with cinemas, gyms and other entertainment venues (though not mahjong parlours!) being shut down for at least two weeks and restaurants and bars being among the public venues being subjected to new social distancing laws that allow a maximum of four people to gather together at any one time.  With the number of infections being reported to have risen by a further 59 today to a total of 641, I really do hope that these measures will prove effective, and before too long; this not least since there does appear to be a genuine danger that Hong Kong's public hospitals will run out of isolation beds "very soon" if the number of cases continue to surge by the dozens each day.

To be sure, Hong Kong is not currently a major disaster area like, say, Italy (whose death toll surged past the 10,000 mark earlier today), the USA (which became the country to have over 100,000 confirmed Wuhan coronavirus cases on Friday) or Britain (whose number of coronavirus fatalities went over 1,000 yesterday and whose medical director was trying to be optimistic when he talked about being able to keep the numbers of deaths to below 20,000). Even so, there is little doubt that many residents -- including those who previously weren't -- have gotten freaked out at the increase in Hong Kong's confirmed infection numbers.    

One reason for this is that a number of those expats are the type who had left Hong Kong for safer environs some months back, only to return after those territories started to have way more Wuhan coronavirus cases than the Big Lychee -- and bring not only the behavior that encourages the rampant spread of the coronavirus but also the very disease itself back to Hong Kong!  And adding fuel to the fire is the distinct sense that quite a few of us have that those also were precisely the type of people who do not care all that much for Hong Kong, did/do not support the pro-democracy protests and, indeed, would frequently complain that the struggles for a free Hong Kong were threatening to destroy Hong Kong's economy.  

Now, with the government's imposition of stricter measures against such as public gatherings being seen as in no small part due to their errant behavior, people are further up in arms against these errant expats; this not least because, predictably, the disreputable outfit that is the Hong Kong police have made use of these new laws to target pro-democracy protestors and their supporters.  Put another way: the misbehavior of a minority of people, including those who currently reside here but don't really consider Hong Kong home, looks to have provided the authorities with further means to come down on those people it should be serving but consider to be their enemies.   

In view of such "developments", the possibility that further measures could be imposed against public gathering because of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic is really troubling.  Consequently, pro-democracy Hong Kongers have added incentive for helping get this infectious and deadly disease under control, and sooner rather than later.  So, no, I'm actually not celebrating that yet another police officer has been reported to have been infected by the coronavirus.  Incredibly (with such as the actions of the infected police officer who refused to wear a mask while in hospital), even in this fight, it can seem like we all may not be on the same side -- but, really, the sooner we are on the same page, the healthier it will be for all of us!  

Friday, March 27, 2020

Not opposed to all of the Hong Kong government's latest measures but still disapproving of the Hong Kong police

Something I'll still be able to do in Hong Kong next week
(unless things change dramatically for the worse in the next few days)

Filming a movie that I wonder whether I'll ever see 
and, also, if I'll be able to do so in a cinema
Hong Kong's record for most confirmed cases of the Wuhan coronavirus in a day again today with 65 new patients being announced; bringing the total detected infections in the territory to 518.  On a day when the world's total number of confirmed cases has hit 558,357 and total number of recorded deaths has gone up to 25,262 (according to the worldometer's live count at the time of writing), that actually doesn't generally sound like all that much any more.  But in the Big Lychee itself, it was enough to get the authorities feeling entirely justified in introducing a number of tougher measures to try to combat this highly infectious and deadly disease

After earning much derision from many quarters and prompting objection from even her usual allies, Carrie Lam actually back-tracked on her proposed banning of alcohol in bars and restaurants.  Amazingly, the measures she has gone ahead and introduced instead generally seem pretty sound and valid.  For example, capping seating at restaurants to a maximum of four makes sense to this person who has opted against eating out with more than two other friends at a time for a number of weeks now.  And even while I do worry that the ban of gatherings of more than four people at a time could be used against pro-democracy protestors, it still is double the amount of people currently allowed to gather by the likes of Germany and Britain.

Actually, about the only measure announced today that I really disagree with is the announced closure of cinemas for at least two weeks beginning tomorrow evening.  This is not least because I feel that Hong Kong's cinema operators really have done a lot to make their theaters a Wuhan coronavirus safe zone; and, also, because movie viewing -- unlike eating and drinking -- is something that can be done with one's mask on.  So, really, what I would have ordered instead is that food and drinks not be allowed into movie theaters as well as require mask-wearing throughout a screening.

While we're on the subject of mask-wearing: A measure not (yet) implemented by the Hong Kong authorities that I think would be warranted involves requiring masks to be worn on public transportation.  And for those who think this is extreme: consider that the Czech Republic has now made mask-wearing mandatory in public!  (So yes, it's indeed possible for non-Asians to come to the conclusion that masks are an effective weapon against the Wuhan coronavirus!)
In view of how the masks (where to wear them or not) divide in Hong Kong is commonly perceived to be that between people of (East) Asian heritage and those who are not, it seems particularly strange that a Hong Kong police officer refused to wear a mask while being attended to by two medical staffers at a Hong Kong hospital.  After testing positive for the Wuhan coronavirus, the policewoman -- who had earlier been identified as being among the cluster of infected bar attendees -- has now caused the two medical staffers to have to be quarantined at the very least (and could be responsible for having caused them to be infected, and worse).  
More than by the way, Cheng Lai-king was the 15th pro-democracy district councillor arrested since the November 24th District Council elections which swept so many of these pro-democracy representatives to power and emphatically stated what Hong Kong people wanted.  And as a recent poll shows: Support for Hong Kong's protestor demands remain strong, and has even risen, even as the Wuhan coronavirus has put a damper to rallies (and now also gatherings).  In short: we still don't approve of the Hong Kong government, most emphatically think the police are not the good guys and gals, and still are making -- at the minimum -- five demands, not one less!  

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

A reminder that there's much to appreciate of nature by way of a Hong Kong springtime hike (Photo-essay)

With over 440,000 confirmed cases of infection and 19,752 deaths recorded on the worldometer's Wuhan coronavirus page at the time of my writing this sentence, there's little doubt that this very infectious (among humans) disease is continuing its spread across the globe.  Trying to find a silver lining in the pandemic crowd, reports had emerged about how, in the wake of a coronavirus-induced lockdown, the clarity of the water in the canals of Venice had improved dramatically -- with the implication being that some positive rejuvenation was taking place amidst all the woe.

Sadly, many of the stories that were geared to give people hope turned out to be false.  And for those looking to nature for inspiration (and forgetting that the coronavirus is itself a natural phenomenon), it needs to be borne in mind that the coronavirus poses a lethal threat too to our closest living relatives, the great apes.  Still, this is not to say that we should turn against nature.  Indeed, with Hong Kong having had its share of good weather in recent months, many residents are considering it very much a bonus that we (still) are free to appreciate it by venturing out of our homes and the city and close to nature by way of a hike in the territory's country parks and green countryside!  

And yes, given how long Hong Kong has been dealing with the Wuhan coronavirus (with its first confirmed case having been back on January 22nd), it can seem strange that it doesn't have stricter regulations in place in terms of people's physical movements.  For that, I give a lot of credit to the self- and community-initiated mask wearing and social distancing that has been the rule rather than the exception for most people for months now.  And even while Hong Kong is by no means out of the woods yet in its war against the coronavirus, I am with those folks who are of the opinion that there is no other place they would rather be right now...  

A predominantly green view from Victoria Gap
Viewing the city below from gaps in the foliage ;b
My first caterpillar spotting of 2020! :)
Springtime view from Lugard Road
The pocket park in the shadow of High West looks to be
a nice spot for social distancing (at least on weekdays)!
The Hong Kong Trail takes one downhill from the pocket park,
with views like this to be had from time to time along the way 
A good part of the section from the Peak down to Pok Fu Lam
is actually in areas where the foliage obscures views 
and gets one focusing on the surrounding nature though
Remember the body of water at the top of this photo-essay?  
Well, here's a closer glimpse of Pok Fu Lam Reservoir here! :)

Monday, March 23, 2020

Open cinemas no longer the norm -- and, soon in Hong Kong, bars and restaurants serving alcohol too!

Message on the big screen before the movie began
when I was at the cinema last week

How the alternate seats rule was enforced there!

While movie theaters in many other countries (including Italy, France, Britain, Ireland and Malaysia)  have been closed -- and still remaining shuttered -- because of the global pandemic's spreading in earnest within their borders, Hong Kong cinemas are far from the norm in having stayed open every day of 2020 thus far.  And because they have introduced a number of preventative measures (including requiring temperature checks before admission, the wearing of masks inside theaters and putting in place seating arrangements geared to ensure sufficient physical distance between audience members), they are generally looked upon as safe areas to be in; this even though a couple of cinemas in the territory have been confirmed as sites where people infected with the Wuhan coronavirus had visited.

In contrast, bars and restaurants have been fingered as places where the Wuhan coronavirus has been spread.  First up, was what has come to be known as the case of the hotpot family, a number tested positive for the highly infectious disease after getting together for a hotpot and barbecue dinner on the second day of Chinese New Year.  More recently, the bar and restaurant area of Lan Kwai Fong became known as a "coronavirus hot spot" after a number of people who visited it came down with the coronavirus.

Put another way: the woman who seems to erroneously think that Hong Kongers are misbehaving children, and that she is the mother who needs to teach them lessons, appears to think that drinking alcohol inevitably leads to drunkenness and that then leads to casual sex which, in our current times, leads to increased Wuhan coronavirus cases in the city!  At the same time, by not closing down bars and restaurants, she also seems to be declaring that people getting together to eat at those same establishments -- and in however large a group -- is fine so long as they don't imbibe any alcohol when doing so!!

To be sure, I know of certain drinking establishments that are considered pick-up joints and others whose cramming together of a whole bunch of people, some of whom like to walk around in the place, make me feel really uncomfortable at a time when social distancing is highly encouraged.  But I also know of bars which most certainly are not looked upon as places to find a partner for a one night stand, where there often is a lot of space between seats and where the customers are discouraged from standing around, never mind moving about a lot!    

All in all, the distinct feeling I get is that Carrie Lam hasn't been to too many bars -- and probably doesn't even drink any alcohol (or if she does, is liable to get rather loose upon doing so!).  Also, she doesn't seem to know about "Club 7-Eleven" -- as it sounds like the Hong Kong government is not going to ban convenience stores as well as supermarkets and specialist alcohol shops from selling alcohol, only bars and restaurants!

At the same press conference, the lowest rated Chief Executive in Hong Kong's history (we're talking an abysmal 9.1% approval rate here!) also announced that Hong Kong will be closing its borders, for two weeks beginning this Wednesday, for all non-residents of the city bar for those coming in from Macau, Taiwan and Mainland China.  At this point in time, I guess it stands to reason that those people from those three territories should be exempt since there officially are few active Wuhan coronavirus cases there.  Just think though: how much more efficiently Hong Kong could have stemmed the influx of the Wuhan coronavirus into the territory if Hong Kong had closed its borders to people from Mainland China when it was the only country in the world known to have coronavirus cases!

And if all this doesn't make you angry enough, consider these two snippets of news from Mainland China: firstly, China's People Daily (a government newspaper) has been celebrating there being more Wuhan coronavirus cases outside of China than within it (for the record, the global total number of confirmed cases is currently 360,327 as I write this but probably will be higher by the time you read this line); and if you think that's already bad, here's a picture of an inflatable arch installed somewhere in that country with the declarations "Celebrate the US's epidemic; wish Japan's epidemic last very long" printed on it!  

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Demanding that the government listen to the people in Hong Kong and willing it to screw up less in Malaysia

What would have been a normal dinner scene at a 
Baba-Nonya restaurant in Penang not so long ago

Despite what some folks might think, the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong have not ended.  At most, many protestors have decided to use the past couple of months or so to try to protect Hong Kong against the Wuhan coronavirus (which we first got wind about in early January) -- by doing such as sourcing masks for people as well as pressuring the Hong Kong government to close the territory's borders and contesting the authorities' plans to set up quarantine centers in high density neighborhoods.  But, truly, as long as Hong Kong has a government that is more inclined to do Beijing's bidding than that of the local populace, I am sure that many Hong Kongers will feel obliged to resist the authorities, and demand that their voice be heard, respected and obeyed
Also, the way that Carrie Lam and co have responded to the Wuhan coronavirus threats (i.e., badly) has probably lost them more allies and supporters, and got more Hong Kongers realizing that they need as well as deserve a better government.  A case in point: in recent days, lawmakers across the political spectrum have united to demand that Hong Kong ban all non-residents from entering the Big Lychee, unanimously passing a motion in the Legislative Council calling for such a move, as well as for tests for the Wuhan coronavirus of all locals arriving home from overseas; this after a rise of confirmed cases of infection in the past week, mostly as a result of a number of people flying into Hong Kong testing positive for the coronavirus, to bring the total of cases in Hong Kong to 273.     
To be sure, these screw ups can see rather minor to people in other countries where tens of thousands of people have been infected (including Spain and Germany) and even died (e.g., Italy as well as Mainland China).  And, in all honesty, I actually have spent much of this week in greater shock over how badly Malaysia, for one, has been dealing with the Wuhan coronavirus onslaught.  This is the country, after all, that went from zero deaths from the coronavirus at the beginning of this week to eight today, and whose number of confirmed cases of infection has now risen to 1,183 (from 428 just one week ago).
This past Monday, the leader of the backdoor government appeared on television to announce the placing of a "movement control order" from Wednesday through to March 31st.  With his speech being short on details, the order sowed much panic, chaos and confusion.  Days after implementation, there still appears to be disagreement about what it actually entails, with new details emerging -- including that today which apparently makes it so that only the head of each family is allowed to venture out to shop for groceries and other necessities (which then begs the question: what if the head of the family is elderly, incapacitated and otherwise not the best choice of person to go out to do such?!)

Truly, the more I hear about the "new" Malaysian government (which many Malaysians don't consider legitimate nor capable), the more I despair that it can steer Malaysia out of this crisis any time soon, and with fewer casualties than would be the case if, say, the Pakatan Harapan government were still in power and its health minister were in charge.  At the very least, unlike the present incumbent, the much respected Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad surely would not have fallaciously suggested that drinking warm water can help to prevent infection by the Wuhan coronavirus!  
And while I know this ridiculous pronouncement by someone who supposedly does have a medical degree is ridiculous, I really can't laugh about it because so many lives are at stake.  We're talking, after all, about the dangerous enemy that Malaysia is currently having facing, along with Hong Kong and the rest of the world, is one that the last time I looked at the latest coronavirus pandemic statistics a minute or so ago, had already been confirmed as having infected 288,044 people in the world and claimed a reported 11,949 human lives. :( 

Thursday, March 19, 2020

An inadvertently private meal at Shikon by Yoshitake (thanks to the Wuhan coronavirus?!)

The best ankimo (monkfish liver) I've ever eaten in my life! :)
It looks like a chunky piece of meat but actually is
a chunky piece of buri (wild yellowtail)!
I realize the liver sauce of this awabi (abalone) dish does
not have an appetizing color but trust me when I say that it is
what made this particular dish utterly delicious! ;b
Before life in Hong Kong dramatically changed in the past year or so -- thanks, firstly to the extradition bill crisis and ensuing pro-democracy protests, and now as a result of the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak-turned-pandemic -- this blog was far more likely to consist of hiking photo-essays, film reviews and foodie write-ups than political talk (though it's true that the last was not entirely absent, especially after I became a Hong Kong permanent resident).  And for quite a while, and up until recently, my most popular blog post ever was the one chronicling the meal I had at the Hong Kong branch of Sushi Saito.  
Because the restaurant which I had it in has been open for longer already, I wouldn't be surprised if this post about my lunch at Shikon by Yoshitake (formerly Sushi Shikon and, before that, Sushi Yoshitake) doesn't attract as many readers.  Still, not least because it may well be my most  memorable lunch ever, to date, I'm going ahead and chronicling it in some detail anyway.  And for the record: I actually ate at the sushi-ya which now is located in the Mandarin Landmark (as opposed to its original location at the Mercer Hotel) a few weeks back.  But trust me when I say that it's a meal that I still feel like I can taste -- so vivid are my memories of it!
Before anything else, a couple of caveats.  Firstly, I knew before I went in that it has been awarded three Michelin stars.  But, in all honesty, I'm not to be super over-awed by reputations -- as I actually have eaten at other three Michelin star restaurants here in Hong Kong (and was, in fact, underwhelmed by at least one of them).  Secondly, my meal at Shikon was made even more special by the friend I went with and I turning out to be its only customers for lunch that day (surely thanks to the Wuhan coronavirus making some people less inclined to dine out).  In any case, we really ended up a lot of attention from the chefs -- which probably helped to intensify our overall experience and, actually, make it so overwhelming that I ended up needing to lie down and have a post-meal nap to recover afterwards!  

And now, without further ado, here's outlining, in chronological order, the feast we had -- which began with a serving of what looked like a sticky vegetable soup; only, within were plump, juicy seasonal clams from Japan that made the dish for me (but whose Japanese name I unfortunately didn't quite catch).  Next up came Shikon's famous tako (octopus): massaged for one hour(!) before being slowly braised, it has a texture unlike any other octopi I've ever eaten and, almost needless to say, was pretty darn good!  And then came the magical third dish: two of the largest chunks of ankimo I've ever been served -- and whose size exponentially increased the sense of sheer luxuriousness I felt while eating what may well be my favorite liver to eat of all!    
After a pause that was necessary as a result of both my friend and I having had a moment while eating the ankimo and wanting to hold on to it for a few precious seconds, the meal shifted to the sushi section.  First up on the sushi front was a piece of tai (Japanese sea bream/red snapper) which, if truth be told, is a fish that I feel that Japanese people tend to love more than me.  In this case, I also was a bit shocked by how strongly vinegary Shikon's shari (sushi rice) is.
Happily, I was much more able to appreciate the surprisingly thick piece of buri (wild yellowtail) I was served.  Aged to perfection, then seasoned, it was unbelievably good and so fatty that it was nice to have the shari be that vinegary in taste.  All in all, that super complementary neta and shari combined to make it the best single piece of buri sushi I have ever had.  (And this comes from someone who has eaten a lot of buri -- and, for that matter, hamachi (farmed yellowtail) -- sushi and sashimi in her lifetime!)
Afterwards, came pieces of umami-rich akami (red tuna meat), zuke (marinated) and bafun uni (red sea urchin) sushi in quick succession.  They were good but paled in comparison to the buri and that which came next: the sliced awabi (abalone) over rice, with a generous dollop of abalone liver sauce -- which, strangely enough, reminded me of duck egg yolk in taste -- atop it!  Something else that made me very happy to be served was the kuruma ebi (tiger prawn).  A treat when eating teppanyaki, it is even more special as a sushi topping. Oh, and at Shikon, they layer head "sauce" on it -- so yum!
When I spied what was next, I worried a bit that the meal was over -- since anago (saltwater eel) is sometimes the final piece of sushi served at an omakase meal.  Happily, that was not the case.  Instead, it was followed by two portions of kampyo maki (dried, then stewed gourd in a sushi roll).  I know people who don't love it but I found this choice to be charmingly old school and also pretty delicious!
In view of my having heard raves about Shikon's tamago (grilled egg), I should have known that a meal there would not be complete without it.  As it so happens, I really do feel this famed dish was the best piece of tamago I've ever eaten.  More like a cake than omelette, it was fluffy and sweet but with a hint of the ebi (prawn) that also is an ingredient.  And because it was more sweet than savoury, it did seem a bit strange to have before the miso soup that was served at the same time at it (but traditionally is drunk after one eats the tamago).  Still, neither of them were the real desserts nor final course of the meal.  Instead, it was a delicately presented Kyushu strawberry and an (red bean) wrapped in mochi that signalled the meal's end.
As we sipped the green tea that was also was served, Shikon's head chef Yoshiharu Kakinuma reappeared from the inner kitchen -- whose workings he had been supervising for the bulk of the meal (whose sushi pieces were fashioned instead by Sohei Matsukura who, at dinner time, does the honors in the private room) -- for a final chat.  Incidentally, I got a peek at the sayori (Japanese half-beak) being prepared for dinner that day and must say that I did feel some envy for the sushi-ya's dinner diners.  At the same time, I definitely don't regret having decided to have lunch at Shikon.  Indeed, it may have been the most expensive lunch I've ever had -- even without factoring in the sake I felt compelled to have when eating the food! -- but it actually also felt really worth it all the same! :)