Wednesday, April 29, 2020

A rejuvenating spring hike in Aberdeen Country Park filled with scenic views and critter spottings (Photo-essay)

If I were to go by the weather alone, this is a good time to be in Hong Kong.  To be sure, the temperatures have gone up a bit in recent days but the humidity levels still aren't all that high -- so one is not sweating buckets when out hiking.  With a fourth consecutive day of no new reported Wuhan coronavirus cases (and for the sixth time in ten days now), there also are far worse places -- like, say, the USA or UK -- in the world to be in terms of the global pandemic situation.

Sadly though, the political situation in Hong Kong looks to be getting worse by the day.  And it really says so much that not only did yesterday mark the one year anniversary of an anti-China extradition bill protest that I attended but that, in contrast to what happened on April 28th, 2019, the police saw fit to break up a small, peaceful protest in a luxury shopping mall in Central last night.  

In all honesty, there have been so many days and nights in the past year when my heart threatened to break and I got to feeling for a time that there's no hope left for Hong Kong.  And then things happen to get me hopeful again.  Or I just go out into the peaceful and beauty Hong Kong countryside to temporarily get away from it all; and return feeling far more rejuvenated than I would have thought possible, and convinced that Hong Kong really can be a lovely place to live...

Minutes after beginning yet another hike in Aberdeen 
Country Park, I spotted this colorful emerald dove
With the sun beating down strongly, I was glad to be
under foliage for a good part of the hike
But of course I also welcomed those sections of the trail
where I was treated to unblocked scenic vistas :)
On trails like this, I can't help but stop to admire the views that show 
how close to the country parks the city can be (and vice versa!)
 Click on the above image to really appreciate
this panoramic view from Bennet's Hill :)
I know it's a bee but how can one be scared of it
when it looks so cartoon-like?! :D
A pair of white rumped munia which showed soon after
I took this photo that they can fly really fast!
The sight of squirrels often get me thinking of my alma mater,

Monday, April 27, 2020

Dangers to one's health by way of the Hong Kong police as well as the Wuhan coronavirus

Not the kind of place you'd expect anti-government protests
to take place, right?

And yet the likes of the Landmark and Cityplaza malls
have indeed been protest venues in recent times

Last week saw three days during which Hong Kong reported having zero new Wuhan coronavirus cases: a pretty major feat when you consider that this deadly and super infectious coronavirus continues to claim many victims -- as in fatalities as well as infected individuals -- around the globe, but notably in the USA.  And today, Hong Kong went on to record zero new cases again; the first time it's done so in consecutive days since January 27th and 28th.
All in all, it's tempting to suggest that things are getting back to normal in Hong Kong.  Except that things haven't exactly been normal in Hong Kong for so many months now.  Also, as an unnamed graffiti writer presciently pointed out some time ago: "We can't return to normal, because the normal that we had was precisely the problem".

Adding insult to injury, a number of police officers were caught on video (and audio) making fun of  District Councillor Andrew Chiu, who is missing part an ear after it was bitten off in the same mall back in November by by a pro-Beijing, Mandarin-speaking, knife-wielding man he tried to stop from assaulting other people there.  More specifically, he was told that "You can't hear us with just one ear" when he went and tried to talk to them and one police officer was seen mockingly rubbing his left ear as Councillor Chiu pleaded to the cops to act rationally.   

In addition, the police physically shoved the elected official and threatened him with being pepper sprayed.  And for those who think this was just an empty threat, consider that his assistant ended up being so badly injured after being pushed to the ground by the police last night that he reportedly was unable to talk and could only communicate with medics by blinking his eyes.

Some twenty four hours later, I've not seen any updates as to the assistant's physical status.  In this case, I'm hoping that no news is good news but, if nothing else, this provides us with yet another reminder that one can't assume these days that one will be safe and well -- both due to the way the police in Hong Kong are likely to (mis)behave these days, as well as while a pandemic still is keeping the world on its toes, if not threatening to get it down on its knees. :( 

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Hong Kong at the forefront in the fight against the Wuhan coronavirus, and political persecution by China

Is the outlook sunny or gloomy?  You decide!

This much I know: I still love Hong Kong

It's been a relatively good week for Hong Kong as far as the Wuhan coronavirus battle is concerned; with zero new cases announced on Monday (the first time this had been so in six weeks) and yesterday; and single digit numbers reported for the other days, including two today.  And although a number of social distancing measures (including cinema and bar closures) remain in force, the authorities decided to go ahead and stage the Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE) exams that were originally scheduled to take place back on March 27th.

The first day of the university entrance exams proceeded without any major incidents.  But there are reports today of sick candidates having dropped out today (the second day) and a number of other students having their health fears increase after a transparent partition was set up in the middle of an exam hall for an unwell student (who later decided that he couldn't continue).

Truly, I feel for these kids. For in addition to the fear of infection -- and infecting others -- still playing on the minds of people here,  there's the mental stress brought about Hong Kong's political situation over the past year.  All in all, I'm moved to wonder what percentage of DSE takers are still suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in view of what's been happening to/in Hong Kong in the past year?  Heck, even a good number of adults have been feeling painfully strained by it all..
It doesn't help, of course, that the political persecution and prosecutions have not stopped -- and, in fact, look to have increased over the past fortnight.  The attacks by the Liason Office on Hong Kong's Basic Law and the arrests last Saturday of the 15 pro-democracy figures are just the tip of the iceberg.  There's also the less publicized arrests of regular folks -- ones that don't get reported much, if at all, in the English language media (but, thankfully, don't go completely unnoticed thanks to posts by concerned folks on social media -- like this one in Shatin on Monday night).

An aside with regards to the press: International media watchdog Reporters Without Borders released the latest edition of its World Press Freedom Index earlier this week -- and it's pretty chilling to see that Hong Kong has plunged down to the 73rd spot from the number 18 position it had in the rankings when the first chart was published back in 2002.  Those who are "the glass is half full" types will point out that Hong Kong has got a long way to go before it's anywhere close to Mainland China (down in the 177th spot, just three up from bottom-placed North Korea).  However, I am sure I'm not alone in taking the view that Hong Kong's press freedom has already deteriorated far more than should be the case!
Returning to the persecution and prosecution of pro-democracy figures: One of the fifteen arrested on Saturday, Au Nok-hin, also appeared in court this week for sentencing this week after -- shades of the woman convicted of assaulting police officers with her breast back in 2015 -- being found guilty earlier this month of assaulting police with a loudhailer during a protest.  After he was given just community service rather than jail time (and, frankly, that's still an injustice), the presiding judge was attacked online by pro-government critics for being too lenient in her sentencing.  

Also receiving criticism on social media is the judge who presided over a case yesterday whereby a defendant was found guilty yesterday of attacking three people at a Lennon Wall last August, leaving one of them (a female who had been hanging up posters at the wall) critically injured for a time.  Again, the sentence given -- this time involving a jail sentence of three years and nine months rather than the maximum possible six years -- was adjudged to be on the lenient side.  But what really has riled up a number of people is that the judge openly showed that his sympathies were with the guilty party, going so far as to refer to the attacker as possessing a "noble sentiment"!

Throw in an anti-government protester given community service for desecrating the Chinese national flag last year having been jailed for 20 days after the High Court ruled in favour of an appeal by prosecutors for a custodial sentence yesterday and it feels like Hong Kong can't celebrate as much as it might be expected to do so in view of it looking to be winning its fight against the Wuhan coronavirus.  For the fact of the matter is that, as Martin Lee has put it, "Hong Kong people [are facing] two plagues from China: the coronavirus and attacks on our most basic human rights."

At times like this, I think back to a Tweet by another Hong Kong lawyer back in January: "Everyone is rightly concerned about the spread of #coronavirus. But for years no one has cared about the spread around the world of the very authoritarianism and censorship which caused #WuhanOutbreak to be covered up and neglected until it is way too late."  

Will the world open its eyes to the grave threats to Hong Kong before it's too late, after which China -- and make no mistake that the Communist Chinese regime is behind the political persecution and legal prosecutions in Hong Kong -- will move on to politically attack, maybe even destroy, the rest of the world?  I'm hoping against hope that won't be the case but, at the very least, it does seem that, like in its fight against the Wuhan coronavirus, Hong Kong will have to lead and show the way once more.   

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Hiking as a means to de-stress and get away from the crowds for a time in Hong Kong (Photo-essay)

In my first year in Hong Kong, I discovered not only the joys of hiking but also how stress-relieving the activity can be.  Before too long, I got into the habit of going hiking at least once a week.  Initially, I made sure to never hike alone. In recent years, however, I've got the confidence to go on (more) hikes by myself.  And now, with "social distancing" being recommended in the wake of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic, hiking alone is the ideal.  In addition, I now am actively looking to go on trails that don't have much traffic along them.  

Fortunately, despite the image that most people have of Hong Kong as a crowded concrete jungle, there really are lots of hiking trails in the Big Lychee where one can be away from crowds of people along with built up areas.  One trick to finding them is to avoid the major -- and consequently more well-known -- trails such as the Dragon's Back or those sections of the Lantau Trail that take one up and down Sunset Peak and Lantau Peak.  Another is to go on a non-public holiday weekday.  (I know not everyone can do this, and understand what a privilege this is!)  

In short: given the right choice of trail and time to go on them, even those hiking trails that are easy to get to by public transportation -- such as the ones I went on a few days ago that took me from Braemar Hill to Quarry Bay -- can turn out to be ones where you'll not see (m)any other people for a good part of them... :) 

An added bonus of being on a quiet trail: increased chances
to come across all manner of wild critters!
Where this view compass was located, and stupendous views were 
to be had, was actually the most crowded section of this hike I went on 
(with my having to share this space with a mother and her two kids!)
Even this inviting bench was unoccupied when I was in its vicinity!
In a much quieter and less crowded part of Hong Kong than 
many people -- especially non-hikers -- are able to imagine exists!
Clumps of red amidst the green and rocks on the side of Mount Parker!
A far closer view of one of those clumps of red leaves
 A novel view of a sunlit butterfly 
 The sight of those tall buildings were a sure sign 
that I was near hike's end

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Communist Chinese shenanigans under the cover of the Wuhan coronavirus

Of course we have not forgotten what happened
Seen earlier today in Hong Kong
Hong Kong recorded zero new daily Wuhan coronavirus cases for the first time in six weeks yesterdayToday, four new cases were reported -- but all four of them were imported ones: with two patients having developed symptoms when they were in the UK and the two other infected individuals being asymptomatic but testing positive after returning to Hong Kong from the USA.
Ironically, that strong sense of community and capacity for independent thinking are among the things that the Chinese Communist regime (and its Hong Kong government lackeys) seem most keen on stamping out in Hong Kong(ers).  Rather than looking to encourage or even harness those particular characteristics that surely could go towards making Hong Kong great, they are viewed as threatening the authorities -- and that can seem like all that matters to those in power over in Beijing.

Perhaps it's because I'm in Hong Kong but it does feel like the crackdown is particularly intense here, where "One country, two systems" was supposed to be the order of the day until at least 2047 but now seems like it could be effectively done away with next month.  At the very least, quite of a lot has taken place here in the past few days, with the Communist Chinese regime attempting to use the global pandemic as the cover for their nefarious activities (particularly since much of the rest of the world, notably the USA, has been much more negatively affected by the Wuhan coronavirus cases and deaths than the likes of Mainland China (at least officially) and Hong Kong (who learnt its lessons from its SARS experience that involved Mainland Chinese government deception).
Adding insult to injury is the continued misbehavior of the Hong Kong police.  In recent days, we've seen the kind of arrests that involve less high profile folks and a far greater likelihood of violence, and the all-too-predictable hassling of protestors that make use of the social distancing regulations.  

Sunday, April 19, 2020

More on Martin Lee and the Basic Law, particularly recent interpretations of its Article 22

Not the brightest outlook at Admiralty even back in July

Can Hong Kong brave the Communist Chinese onslaught?
The odds are against us but we're still going to try

I wasn't planning to blog again today but after an article I linked to over on Facebook about Martin Lee became my most shared post ever over on that community, I figure it's worth drawing to people's attention here too.  In an exclusive interview conducted before his arrest (along with 14 other prominent pro-democracy figures) yesterday, the 81-year-old senior lawyer talked about such as his time spent co-drafting Hong Kong's Basic Law -- a document which he described as "a solution where there was no solution".

"We put all our hopes in the Basic Law and hoped it would safeguard everything over the next 50 years", Lee is quoted in the article as saying.  Sadly, the hopes have been dashed; with Lee further stating that, “It’s not the fault of the Basic Law that [China] doesn’t keep its promises and the UK turns a blind eye".   

If one were to look at the closest thing Hong Kong has to a Constitution, one would find that Articles 45 and 68 of it state that the Chief Executive and members of the Legislative Council should be elected through universal suffrage, and Article 22 says the Mainland Chinese government cannot interfere in affairs in Hong Kong.  In August 2014, Beijing's threatened to make a farce out of the idea of universal suffrage for Hong Kong when its National People’s Congress Standing Committee ruled that Hong Kong voters could only elect its top leader by “universal suffrage” from two or three candidates endorsed by the majority of a 1,200-strong largely pro-Beijing nominating committee.  

Compounding this absurdity is that past Hong Kong government documents clearly state that the Liason Office in Hong Kong was set up under, and thus is subject to, Article 22 of the Basic Law.  So, basically, that the already incredibly unpopular Carrie Lam's government is effectively dubbing past Hong Kong governments liars with its current proclamations as well as further hollowing out the "One country, two systems" ruling that's supposed to prevail for 50 years.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

The latest attack on Hong Kong's core values will hopefully backfire on the government

A nightmare courtesy of the Hong Kong government

Innocence and paradise lost

Some 24 hours ago, I wrote about Hong Kong facing a threat more dangerous than the Wuhan coronavirus.  Well, in the subsequent 24 hours, Hong Kong has reported having just two further coronavirus cases in the city, marking one full week of single digit daily totals of rises in infected cases; with further good news coming by way of there having been 35 coronavirus patients discharged from hospital today.

Also seemingly positive news was the surprising announcement by the Hong Kong government that, contrary to that Mainland Chinese body's assertions just yesterday, the China Liason Office and its staff actually are required to abide by the laws of Hong Kong, including Article 22 of the Basic Law.  How this all plays out is something worth keeping an eye on but it's interesting that there seems some push back at this time to what has been a series of encroachments on Hong Kong's "high degree of autonomy" by Beijing and its representatives in Hong Kong.  (Update: that didn't take long: the Hong Kong government has backtracked on its stance!)   

But well before those announcements were made came the shock news of the arrest of 15 Hong Kong pro-democracy figures, the majority of whom are on the moderate side of the political equation.  One good indicator of this is that the oldest of them, 81-year-old Martin Lee, had, like with fellow eminent barrister Margaret Ng (who's just nine years his junior), never been arrested before today.  And how ironic was it that just days after being stabbed outside the Liason Office, "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung was among the people arrested today (for actions which actually were far from violent)?

Although they now have all been released on bail, there's no mistaking the severity of today's police actions -- and how much of an assault to Hong Kong's core values this represents.  The concern right now is that there won't be sufficient international outcry or actual actions taken to make Carrie Lam and co rethink their actions.  

And even though the bombshell news of the arrests initially made me despair, I'm inclined to take an alternative view of things as the day has gone by, one that actually is well articulated in a series of Tweets by the Hong Kong activist behind the Twitter account of Anon_Snufkin which include the following observations:
All those arrested today knew this was the consequence of walking out of Victoria Park and they were all willing to accept those consequences because they all understand the only place to fight the CCP's lawfare is in the courts;  
The win here is that now some of the best connected lawyers and political figures in Hong Kong get to challenge Article 17 of the public order ordinance in what will be a landmark ruling (eventually, after the appeals).
It could spectacularly backfire for the government.  
It's a sad day, yes, arrest should never be welcomed or encouraged But it can be a tool so it isn't a sad day because it's putting people from 'our side' into the battlefield they should be on.

Friday, April 17, 2020

A more dangerous threat to Hong Kong's overall well-being than the Wuhan coronavirus rears its head once more

physical representatives of the Hong Kong spirit
and Communist China in Hong Kong respectively

 In all honesty, the closer you get to it,
the less impressive the Liason Office seems

And the obstacles erected at its entrance sure don't help to make 
it look welcoming and open, and actually makes it look besieged!

Sadly, in Hong Kong, the glimmer of light at the end of the coronavirus tunnel has also come on days that provide dark reminders of the battle that still needs to be waged against the encroaching repression of Beijing and its local Hong Kong underlings.  The day before China's National Security Education Day, Reuters put out a special investigative report into Hong Kong's judiciary that had senior judges, leading lawyers and diplomats based in the city spilling the beans about how "The independence of Hong Kong’s judicial system is under assault from the Communist Party leadership in Beijing"; and that, according to one local judge, "the senior mainland judges... just don’t get Hong Kong at all... They always want to know why Hong Kong is so confused and chaotic, and not ‘patriotic.’"

On Wednesday, a video clip was released showing new Liason Office chief  Luo Huining -- whose appointment was announced back on an early January day that the likes of me began getting a sense that there was something happening in Wuhan that we needed to be pretty worried about -- alleging that "Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement was a “major blow” to the rule of law, threatening the one country, two systems principle under which it operates with China, and was influenced by pro-independence and radical violent forces."  Along with raising the spectre of Article 23 once more, he also called upon "society" to "move the defence line forward" and "create a social and public opinion environment favourable to struggle against behaviours threatening HK's stability and national security".  

That same day, Carrie Lam expectedly followed Luo's lead by also blaming Hong Kongers seeking democracy for Hong Kong for threatening national (i.e., Communist China's) security.   So much for Article 22 of the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China, which reads as follows: "No department of the Central People's Government and no province, autonomous region, or municipality directly under the Central Government may interfere in the affairs which the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region administers on its own in accordance with this Law."

Fortunately, it looks like "Long Hair" suffered only a minor injury -- unlike with the likes of Legislative Councillor Andrew Chiu (who, lest we forget, had part of an ear bitten off by a Putonghua-speaking pro-Beijinger, last November)  and Civil Human Rights Front convenor Jimmy Sham (left bleeding from his head and arms, and wheelchair bound for a time after being attacked by men wielding hammers last October).  Still, a reminder was served that there are more dangerous threats to Hong Kong's overall well-being than the Wuhan coronavirus lurking about and impatiently waiting to strike more.

Also worrying is that the Liason Office doubled down today on its attack on "One Country, Two Systems" today by declaring that it is not subject to Basic Law restrictions.  And because so many of those who call it home aren't going to go down without a fight, it really is looking more and more like Hong Kong will return to not only being a City of Protest but also a City on Fire after it wins its fight with the coronavirus unleashed on the world by the same regime that has killed so many millions more people over the course of its existence. :(

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Far from the madding crowd in Aberdeen Country Park (Photo-essay)

A statistical comparison between Hong Kong and New York City is currently making the rounds on Facebook and Twitter. It's not entirely up to date.  Actually, at the time of writing this blog, the Big Apple actually is listed on the relevant New York Times page as having 106,764 (not 103,208) confirmed Wuhan coronavirus cases and 7,154 (not 6,898) recorded Wuhan coronavirus deaths.  Meanwhile, the Big Lychee's equivalent numbers, listed on the Centre for Health Protection's coronavirus dashboard, are 1,013 (not 1,005) and 4 (the correct stated number) respectively; with Hong Kong having recorded just three new cases today and five yesterday

Even as late as one month ago, I doubt that anyone could have foreseen that there would be such a gulf between these figures for Hong Kong and New York.  At the same time though, as most people who live in Hong Kong can vouch, Hong Kongers do really value having good health, and often work pretty hard to obtain and maintain it.  A reminder: Hong Kong does have the highest life expectancy in the world.      

Expectedly, amidst the health crisis brought about by the Wuhan coronavirus, many people -- myself included -- have made a point to continue exercising and, actually, probably increase their exercise quotient.  In recent months, many of Hong Kong's hiking trails have become more crowded than usual, especially on weekends and public holidays.  But, especially on non-public holiday weekdays, if you go on the right trails, you really still can avoid the crowds, even on Hong Kong Island...

Just a few minutes after disembarking from a bus, 
I found myself on this trail in Aberdeen Country Park :)

Even after all these years, I still do get amazed at how quickly 
one can feel like one's gone from the concrete jungle
into some place so much wilder as well as greener!

Unlike their metal equivalents in urban parks, wooden 
fitness stations in the country park are still available for us

An alternative view of The Peak from Aberdeen Upper Reservoir

 A few meters away from a view compass along what appears
to be a path less taken, a scenic vista unfolds :b

  This view of Aberdeen and Ap Lei Chau from
Bennet's Hill was pretty prime too! :)

 The rare butterfly that stopped long enough for me to snap
a photo also is one that I don't think I've photographed before :)

Although it's closer to a country park entrance and exit,
Aberdeen Lower Reservoir wasn't as popular a place 
to hang out as Aberdeen Upper Reservoir that afternoon!