Saturday, May 30, 2020

Visual reminders of Hong Kong's existing beauty and allure (Photo-essay)

Compared to the previous few days, yesterday and today have been on the quiet side in Hong Kong as far as political manouverings and protests go.  Ditto when compared with what's been happening over on the other side of the world in Minnesota and elsewhere in the USA.  (My solidarity, more than by the way, with the protestors against police brutality over there.)

Of course, this is not to say that everything's peachy keen here by any means.  And even on the Wuhan coronavirus front, anxiety levels have been raised by there having been a total of 16 new cases over the past two days (all of which were imported and actually involved returnees who had flown back on the same plane from Pakistan).

Still, I think this is a good time to serve up some reminders of Hong Kong's physical beauty -- as seen not on hikes (which I've not been on for a few weeks now because the weather's been on the rainy and gloomy side recently) but on urban walks.  For here's the thing: I know that Hong Kong is its people but it also is a particular place that really has its own unique allure that I hope the Communist Chinese regime and its quislings won't be able to completely destroy, however hard they try...

It pays to look up from time to time when walking around in Taikoo Shing :)
How idyllic it can all seem, given favorable circumstances
Buildings, mountain, people, sea (or, okay, harbour!) and sky

View across Victoria Harbour from Kowloonside,
Yes, fishing boats still can be sighted in Victoria Harbour!
Yes, I think there's beauty to be found in a concrete jungle
And, actually, it's not that hard to catch glimpses of the greener side 
of the Big Lychee even when you're right in the concrete jungle... :)

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Hong Kong braces itself as the USA as well as China act on Hong Kong

Hordes of riot police in Causeway Bay yesterday afternoon

Crazy amounts of riot police out detaining people
in Admiralty that same afternoon

"You can't kill us all" but it can seem like they
want to arrest everyone instead :(

Hong Kong once again had zero new Wuhan coronavirus cases today, making it 12 days since there was a locally transmited case in the territory.  But while the government also has announced that more entertainment venues will be able to reopen next week, its ban on large public gatherings -- including the annual June 4th candlelight vigil in Victoria Park -- will remain in place.  

Even while plans already are being made to commemorate the Tiananmen Massacre in a different way from how it's been for the past 30 years in Hong Kong, the chances are high that this June 4th will also be filled with other protests here in the Big Lychee thanks to the controversial national anthem bill -- which resumed its second reading begin yesterday, only to have the debate on it be temporarily halted today -- being due to be passed on that very day.  Put another way: the chances are very high indeed that Hong Kong will have its own tragedy to mourn that day along with a Chinese one. 

This past year, there's been so many sad days for Hong Kong already.  June 12thJuly 21stAugust 31st.  The list goes on and on and on.  And some people might add yesterday and today to it.  With regards to the former: the anticipated major protests actually didn't occur for the most part.  Even so, pepper balls were fired by the riot police in Central at lunch time and some 360 people (a good number of whom were schoolchildren along with other youngsters) were arrested by the police in premptive moves that came approximated arrests for "thought crimes" and doing away with presuming people are innocent until proven guilty

To be sure, there were standoffs between protestors and the police late into the night in Mongkok.  But many (most?) of the arrests and the Central pepper ball attack took place hours prior to it; when it seemed like, as a result of the calls to strike and go out into the streets having been made at the last minute (after it was realized that the area around the government complex had become well nigh impossible for regular folks to enter), the majority of Hong Kong elected to end up going about the day pretty much as normal -- with maybe more "yellow" shops staying open for business than ones who decided to close to show solidarity with anticipated strike action by others.

Granted that on my afternoon stroll through Hong Kong's urban areas yesterday, I did witness pockets of protests.  At Admiralty, I also saw a long line of stopped trams -- not able to proceed further west due to what was happening over in Central.  On the other hand, I found Harcourt Road and the shopping mall closest to it to be far more deserted and less full of people than Pacific Place (everyone of whose shops was open for business along with its cineplex) further away from the Legislative Council building.

All in all, yesterday felt nothing like this past Sunday.  Indeed, I'd go so far as to suggest that it all felt like a rehearsal of sorts for a later day, or a day to experiment to see what worked and what didn't -- on the side of both the protestors and also the police (with the latter opting to show how much of a paranoid police state Hong Kong has become, probably without much thought of how unsustainable their actions actually are, and what consequences they will almost inevitably engender).

As it happened, the day's major development actually took place late at night and came courtesy of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.  In a succinct Tweet, he dropped quite the bombshell.  Hours later, as much of Hong Kong slept, he embellished on his announcement to assert that: “No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground”; and “While the United States once hoped that free and prosperous Hong Kong would provide a model for authoritarian China, it is now clear that China is modeling Hong Kong after itself”.  As such, the United States of America would no longer maintain special trade relations with Hong Kong or consider it an autonomous region, as it has done since the 1997 handover by the United Kingdom to China.

It remains to be seen what exactly the US government is going to do after this announcement.  Among the possibilities are sanctions, the cancellation of bilateral treaties, the imposition of tariffs on goods coming into, out and through Hong Kong, and export controls.  But even while most people acknowledge that Hong Kong will inevitably be dealt more economic blows as a result of this (which already have been felt at the stock exchange), there is a sense that it will be worth of it if it means that the Chinese Communist regime is made to pay for its destruction of "one country, two systems" and Hong Kong itself.  And of course its Hong Kong quislings deserve to be penalized too.

Something else that remains to be seen are the specifics of the highly unpopular (among Hong Kongers) national security law that China's rubberstamp congress approved this afternoon -- with one dissenting vote and six abstentions.  But while it's headline news in Hong Kong as well as beyond, the fact of the matter is that pretty much everyone knew the bill would be made law once it was announced last Thursday; hence my feeling far more devastated on Thursday night and a good part of Friday than I actually do today.    

It can seem like scant consolation at this point but it's worth noting that this national security law hasn't come into effect yet.  (As Antony Dapiran pointed out, the law hasn't actually been drafted yet -- and that's estimated to take another couple of months.)  And even while enquiries about, and actual purchases of, VPNs have surged in Hong Kong in recent days, like Goofrider, I don't plan on censoring myself -- at least not just yet -- without knowing the specifics.  Why give the oppressors the satisfaction of handing my right to free speech over on a silver platter?  

Also, for the record, the Basic Law still officially remains in force in Hong Kong, and Article 28 of it goes as follows:
The freedom of the person of Hong Kong residents shall be inviolable. No Hong Kong resident shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful arrest, detention or imprisonment. Arbitrary or unlawful search of the body of any resident or deprivation or restriction of the freedom of the person shall be prohibited. Torture of any resident or arbitrary or unlawful deprivation of the life of any resident shall be prohibited.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Still striking out even while waiting for the axe to fall on Hong Kong's existing freedoms 
 A graphic floating around online showing some differences
An emoji organizational chart made by someone who wants 

This is because, to put it mildly, major protests are anticipated to take place again tomorrow; this even though the police have rejected an application by a district councillor for a rally to be held outside of Civic Square tomorrow.  For some days now, there have been calls for people to go and besiege the Legislative Council complex -- like for the planned reading last June of the extradition bill.  And even though people do worry about their personal safety, in view of what the police did on June 12th, it's looking like many people are preparing to answer those calls.   

In addition, late this afternoon came calls by several parties for a general strike to also take place tomorrow.  I've also seen calls made for other kinds of disruptive actions to be taken.  And, again, even while there is a real fear among some people of arrests or worse (that might keep them from doing anything tomorrow even while wanting the same outcome as active participants), there are others who appear to have lost their fear.

A reminder: Hong Kong's pro-democracy struggle has a lot of support, including from people who may not feel comfortable going out on the streets but still have made their existence known from time to time (including at last November's District Council elections which saw the democratic camp win by a landslide).  And I think it's abundantly clear to them, despite the "assurances" being trotted out by the Hong Kong government along with Communist Chinese regime officials, that the freedoms found to be in Hong Kong (but not in Mainland China) are in grave danger of being destroyed (along with people who value it); this even more so after Beijing further expanded the parameters of the proposed national security law for Hong Kong today

Amidst all this, it may seem like small consolation indeed that the Lands Department has found that a hated senior police officer has indeed unlawfully occupied government land in Sai Kung and has illegal structures on the village house in which he currently resides.  And even though the warnings meted out don't seem tough at all, some will see the very finding that illegal acts had been committed as proof that not all sections of the Hong Kong government have been ruined by pro-Beijingers (with the Food and Health Bureau also having been singled out for praise in recent weeks by someone who wants democracy for Hong Kong).  

Still on the legal front: It's also heartening to see Hong Kong's Bar Association contesting Beijing's legal power to enact the national security law and its president, Philip Dykes, publicly questioning why Article 23 was ever written into the Basic Law if national security legislation can be imposed by Beijing under Article 18 instead, as the central and SAR governments claim.  The point here being that, even while we know that the Chinese Communist regime is going to ram that law through, we want to show how it is -- and the Hong Kong quislings being trotted out by them are -- lying so much over the course of doing so (and, indeed, for quite some time). 

As a political commentator put it: for decades now, the Chinese Communist regime has felt that "the freedom embraced by Hong Kongers represents a fundamental threat to its power".  In his recent article for The Age, Ben Bland also noted the following: 
The strong sense of separate identity felt by many Hong Kongers directly undermines Xi’s claim to be uniting and rejuvenating all the Chinese people. And the fact that Hong Kong’s success has been predicated on its British-based legal system and its international way of life undercuts Beijing’s efforts to show the world that its style of governance is superior. This is the subversion, separatism and foreign interference that Beijing is trying to outlaw with its national security legislation for Hong Kong...
...[O]ver the past few years, Hong Kongers have shown that Beijing cannot easily win this political struggle despite the profound power asymmetry between the two sides. The fact that Beijing has been driven to unilaterally impose national security legislation is a testament to activists’ successful efforts to stop the Hong Kong government implementing such a law.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Hong Kongers surprise with their courage and determination once more

"Together, we fight the virus", and oppression

Hong Kong police making like the army of occupation

To be sure, the Communist Chinese regime and local quislings are making a mockery out of "One country, two systems" -- but make no mistake: Hong Kong people are not giving up on their five demands and fight for freedom.  For those who doubt this: look at and to what happened in Hong Kong this afternoon and evening.  

While it's easy enough to fixate on the police and their eye-catching array of weapons (including the infamous water cannon and tear gas), do pay attention too to the fact that several thousand Hong Kongers were prepared to go out today to show their opposition to the national security law that the Communist Chinese regime has said it will impose on Hong Kong. (And for those who argue that (some) protestors also have weapons: honestly, now, do plastic water bottles and durian husks really count compared to what the ultra well equipped police have?!)

I was in Causeway Bay this afternoon and it was interesting to observe what ensued on the two occasions that tear gas was fired in my vicinity.  The first time around, around 1.30pm, several people (shoppers as well as protestors) sought cover in shops and other indoor spaces -- and I was pleasantly surprised to find that at least one "blue" store was not only prepared to let people shelter from the tear gas but, also, let people know when and where the police had dispersed from the area so that people could go out without fear of being arrested.

The second time around, around two hours later, I was closer to where the tear gas (or powder) was unleashed.  Rather than run for cover, much of the gathered crowd walked away from the scene.  Put another way: people calmly made like water as they flowed -- rather than rage like torrents -- away into nearby streets and alleys.     

I realize some might see it as grasping at straws but I honestly was heartened by the frankly surprising large number of people who turned up to protest today.  It's not just because this all took place in the midst of the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic (that still is raging in much of the world though it's true enough that Hong Kong reported zero new cases yesterday and today).  Rather, it all did so despite everyone who turned up fully realizing that they could be arrested and attacked.  

Maybe this is because people feel like they have little or nothing left to lose anymore.  Even so, one has to admire and respect the courage and determination on show from ordinary folks -- female and male, young, old, middle-aged -- including when they persisted in doing such as singing Glory to Hong Kong even in the face of a heavy police presence.  (Unlike at the West Kowloon Magistracy this past Monday, I actually didn't recognize any well-known face in the crowd; so will surmize that this was yet another truly leaderless affair.) 

More than by the way, earlier today, one of the 15 who I went to West Kowloon Magistracy to support this week, Apple Daily owner Jimmy Lai, sought to point Carrie Lam to an actual (rather than non-existent) quote by Nelson Mandela which goes as follows: "There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires."  And I have little doubt on whose side of Hong Kong's fight for democracy and freedom the South African freedom fighter and inspirational world leader -- whom his enemies had labelled a terrorist and imprisoned -- would have been on if he were still alive today.    

Friday, May 22, 2020

Hong Kong reacts as the Communist Chinese regime readies its nuclear option

Freedom of speech and expression might soon be done away with
at more than just Hong Kong's Lennon Walls :(

As Lo Kin-hei, the Hong Kong Democratic Party's vice chair shared on Twitter: "The sadness is real. No matter how prepared we are to witness the death of our loved city, and no matter how many times it felt like it is dying, it still pains me to see another part of the remaining flesh is gone. The more you love Hong Kong, the stronger the pain you have."

Against the odds though, there are people who remain defiant rather than are in despair.  And for the likes of Kong Tsung-gan and Stephen Vines, the fact that the Chinese Communist regime is now applying its nuclear option shows its desperation and weakness more so than a loss of patience.  Also, I, for one, wonder how thinly the Chinese Communist regime has stretched itself -- at a time when, for the first time in decades, it's had to abandon setting a GDP growth target for the year.     

Among the books I've been reading this month (bought on my visit to Bleak House Books) has been Richard McGregor's Xi Jinping: The Backlash.  Call it wishful thinking but it seems to me that now would be a good time for the world to band together to stand up to the Chinese Communist regime led by Xi.  At the very least, it should ponder the consequences if it doesn't -- because who knows where else it would want to exert control over and destroy after getting its way with Tibet, Xinjiang and now Hong Kong?

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Feasting and festivaling in Sendai around this time last year (Photo-essay)

This time last year, I was in Japan.  In the days leading up the trip, my major worry involved trying to get over the cold I was having so that I would be able to enjoy my latest sojourn in the Land of the Rising Sun: one that would take me up to its Tohoku region for the first time.  And as it so happened, because I wasn't 100 percent recovered by the time the trip began, I actually elected to wear a surgical mask while on the plane (as well as cover my neck and upper body with a shawl to keep it warm, for good measure).     
Little did I know that, one year later, the idea of being a tourist would seem so unthinkable.  Also, that the past year or so could have been so eventful that I felt obliged to stop chronicling my May 2019 Japan trip in early June and not post again about it until this past March.  Even today, ample newsworthy -- and worrisome -- things are happening in Hong Kong and around the world (along with the happy sight of Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen being sworn in for her second term) that part of me feels I should be writing about more serious stuff.

At the same time though, I think we all could do with a bit of a break from the recent spate of depressing news.  And with talk of mooted "travel bubbles" (in places like Hong Kong, which saw a third consecutive day with zero new Wuhan coronavirus cases reported today), my thoughts have indeed started returning to the possibility that in the not too distant future (as in this time next year, if not earlier), I might be able to visit my favorite travel destination again to do such as dine in a third generation oden restaurant and witness centuries-old dance celebrations...

After spending the earlier part of the day in Hiraizumi,
I returned to Sendai and went strolling down its streets 
and alleys in search of another memorable meal in the city...

 It took quite an effort for me to find Oden Sankichi but, even 
from the outside, I knew I was in for something special there :b

As you can probably tell from its name, this is an  
oden specialist (like Takoume over in Osaka) :)

If anything, there was a greater choice of oden there than anywhere 
else I've been -- and the waitress had to calm me down
and restricted me to four items per order at a time! 

All in all, I ended up having 15 different items to eat -- and, 
if memory serves me right, three different sakes to drink 
at what I found to be a welcoming as atmospheric spot :)

 A staffer at Oden Sankichi I got to chatting with told me
I should make sure to not miss the Aoba Festival
which was taking place that weekend

Even though I actually left Sendai (for Tokyo) on the festival's first day, 
I did manage to check out some of the signature Suzume Odori  
(sparrow dances) enthusiastically performed on the streets :)

As I promised one of the friendly Oden Sankichi staffers I ended up
chatting quite a bit with, I hope to return to Sendai at some point -- and 
hopefully catch more of the colorful community festival the next time around

Monday, May 18, 2020

A court visit on yet another eventful day in Hong Kong

unorthodox entrance to court this afternoon

15 pro-democracy figureheads still defiant today

For some reason, social distancing rules seemed to be 
in abeyance at the West Kowloon Magistrates' Court today

While no one was shot by a police officer in Hong Kong today (thank goodness for small mercies!), this Monday also was a pretty tumultous one in the Big Lychee.  Having employed bully boy tactics to put a stop to legal filibustering by the pro-democrats a couple of weeks ago, pro-Beijing representatives and their muscle (in the form of the Legislative Council' (LegCo)s security personnel) once again employed force to ensure that things went their way today -- to the extent that they actually caused physical injury to pro-democracy lawmakers while physically ejecting them from a meeting room.  

In the process, some pretty jawdropping optics were presented to the public, including ones showing lawmaker Helena Wong being being carried out of the meeting room (and her male colleagues -- among them Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai -- being dragged out), Legislative Councillor Ted Hui being assaulted by LegCo security personnel (many of whom are ex-police officers and boy, does it show).  And it really was upsetting as well to see a trio of pan-democrats (including "king of votes" Chu Hoi-dick and "god of Hong Kong protests" Roy Kwong) sitting dejectedly on the floor under the watchful eyes of LegCo guards after being ejected from the room.  

Still, perhaps nothing beats -- and says more about the state of Hong Kong democracy and government -- than the sight of a pro-Beijinger who chaired the meeting being protected by a menacing line of security guards before the meeting even got started; though the video showing LegCo security guards ensuring that pro-democracy lawmakers are denied entry to the room while a crucial vote is in the process of taking place comes close.  And as a result of these antics, pro-Beijinger Starry Lee was re-elected as chair of the House Committee by the ridiculous margin of 40 to 0.

Lest it be lost amidst all these details, remember that this all has to do with the attempt by the Hong Kong government to pass the National Anthem Bill that will make the booing of the March of the Volunteers punishable by imprisonment.  And with its passing seen as a precursor to the passing of Article 23, the stakes really are getting higher and higher in the fight for Hong Kong to remain the Hong Kong that so many of us love.  

Not so long ago, there were people who believed that Hong Kong was a beacon of democracy that could and would inspire the rest of China.  Among other things, they pointed to Hong Kong being the only part of China where the tragic events of June 4th, 1989, were commemorated.  So imagine what a signal it would send (to Hong Kongers, ethnic Chinese people everywhere, and the world) for the annual candlelight vigil to not be allowed to take place this year -- as is looking likely to be the case.  

Honestly now, wouldn't it seem too coincidental if social distancing measures were to be extended in Hong Kong through to June 4th?  (And for the record, today, Hong Kong once again reported zero new Wuhan coronavirus cases.)  Incidentally, this afternoon, the court set the next hearing for the case against the 15 pro-democracy figures (who have all been released on bail) for June 15th -- but there was a bit of a reaction when the judge mistakenly stated the date as June 16th.

Here's the thing: with one-year anniversaries coming up for a number of key events in the anti-extradition bill campaign next month, I was expecting things to heat up again in June after the pro-democracy activists re-focused to a large extent on defeating the Wuhan coronavirus in recent months.  What I did not expect was that the Communist Chinese regime and its Hong Kong enablers would step up its repressive actions while the pandemic's still occupying the attention of people around the world, and so openly and shamelessly too.   

It's bad enough that the Hong Kong government has used the Wuhan coronavirus and social distancing measures put in place to combat it to selectively harass "yellow" businesses.  But now it looks intent on turning Hong Kong more and more into "just another Chinese city", and maybe even Xinjiang.  

Still, it's not like there aren't Hong Kongers willing to stand in the way of this happening.  Back at the West Kowloon Magistracy this afternoon, it really was quite something to realize that the 15 defendants, all of them pro-democracy activists to the very core, span three generations: from 81-year-old Martin Lee to 24-year-old Figo Chan.  And, to judge from those who went to cheer them on today, their supporters' age range is even greater!

Saturday, May 16, 2020

More bad news for those who value truth as well as freedom for and in Hong Kong

There are times when it can feel like the sun is 
(permanently) setting over Hong Kong

At the very least, I find myself wondering how much
hotter things are going to get around here... :S

So much happened yesterday that I actually emotionally blocked out much of it until today.  Or it's probably more accurate to say that I did feel it last night because I had yet another one of my nightmares involving the Hong Kong police office being horrible to pro-democracy protestors; an experience that too many of us have had for close to a year now

Such were the body blows dealt to the Hong Kong that many of us know and love that you have the likes of the University of Hong Kong's director of the Journalism and Media Studies Centre, Keith Richburg, opining that yesterday, May 15th, 2020, was the day that Hong Kong lost all illusion about "One Country, Two Systems".  In addition, you've got Democratic Party vice chairman Lo Kin-hei feeling a need to record a video to share his emotional reactions to what transpired over the course of that single, dark day.  Still, maybe nothing can capture the horror like the Tweet by Professor Clifford Stott of Keele University.  

Appointed to be a member of the International Expert Panel (IEP) that was supposed to advice the Hong Kong government's Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) -- before the international experts resigned enmasse in December, one month after suggesting (like Hong Kong protestors) that an Independent Commission of Inquiry would be better suited to the task of investigating the Hong Kong police -- he elected to post the following quote from George Orwell (of 1984 and Animal Farm fame): 'The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.  

His (re)action tells you so much about what he thinks -- not only of the travesty that was the IPCC report released yesterday but what Hong Kong has a whole has turned into, on yet another sad day for those who value freedom and truth in society, government, and for ourselves.  But lest it not be clear, he followed up with a statement that began includes the following assessment: "This report provides a good level of detail on the nature of events.  Nonetheless there are key pieces of data that are missing and it is unlikely that the report will placate genuine public concerns about the nature of police conduct during key moments in the evolution of the protest movement" (including June 12th, July 21st, August 31st, and the sieges of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong Polytechnic University).

If only the release of the IPCC report yesterday was the only dampener on Hong Kongers' spirits.  (Actually, as I told a friend at dinner (at a "yellow" restaurant) yesterday, I knew it would be pretty useless after the international experts felt compelled to resign from the commission.)  Instead, other blows came by way of: an Education Bureau fiasco concerning a history exam question; the first person to plead guilty to rioting (why did he -- plead guilty, I mean -- since one of the five demands is to recognize that the protests are not riots?!) having been sentenced to four years imprisonment; the path being further cleared in the Legislative Council for the National Anthem Bill to be passed; and Carrie Lam holding yet another ridiculous press conference, this time in front of a backdrop trumpeting "The Truth About Hong Kong".  

Oh, and yesterday being the 11 month anniversary of the death of Leung Ling-kit, there were further protests in malls again.  Surprisingly, the police did not interrupt last night's protest at Pacific Place.  But they were back to their disruptive ways this afternoon at various locales in Hong Kong, including Tseung Kwan O, where they effected several arrests.

On a day that also saw a victim of police brutality being sentenced to prison (for assaulting a policeman and bystander) -- even while it remains unknown if the officers who hurt him have even been charged for their crimes -- and two senior education officials resign in the wake of the exam question fiasco, it really can be hard to not despair at it all.  Yet reading a Chinese medical practitioner's sad but nonetheless helpfully contextualizing advice to Hong Kong (translated into English by Yuen Chan) has helped, even while there is no doubting the severity of the situation being faced:-
Do what you can, in chaotic times, don't lose out to them. Live well, be good to yourself. Then work hard to be a good person. Help others do the same.
Don't have kids. Tell others not to have kids.
And while it can seem like a bit of an afterthought, here's nonetheless thinking it worth pointing out that Hong Kong returned to having zero new Wuhan coronavirus cases today for the first time since Wednesday; thanks in no small part to the sterling efforts of the Hong Kong people (probably the most responsible and intelligent society in the world tragicially denied the right to vote for its own leader and government).