Monday, November 30, 2020

Thoughts turn once more to the 12 Hong Kongers detained in Shenzhen, Prince Edward MTR station, the Wuhan coronavirus, and Carrie Lam

while on a boat in Hong Kong this past weekend...
MTR stations while passing by one last week
One hundred days ago today, 12 Hong Kongers sought to journey by boat to seek asylum in Taiwan.  Eleven of them had been facing prosecution in connection with anti-government protests, while one (activist Andy Li) had been arrested, but not charged, under the national security law.  Upon being notified by the Hong Kong police, the Mainland Chinese coastguard swooped in to arrest them.  They have been in custody in Shenzhen ever since.  And considering what we know has happened behind bars in Mainland China, there understandably are fears that they are being ill-treated, even tortured, while awaiting trial; with the letters that the prisoners have sent to their relatives hardly putting people at ease.
On Friday, the police in the Yantian district of Shenzhen said they had completed investigations into the case of the 12 Hong Kongers. While 10 members of the group are now accused of entering Mainland Chinese waters illegally, two face a more serious charge of organising the illegal crossingIt remains unclear what the maximum punishment for these charges are.  And it does not help that the lawyers their families who have appointed to defend them have been unable to meet with their clients.  
As Causeway Bay Books' Lam Wing-kee -- now in exile in Taiwan -- noted in a recent interview, "You can’t compare custody in Hong Kong to custody in [Mainland] China."  Hence the likes of Joshua Wong (still) seeking to keep attention on the plight of the 12 Hong Kongers behind bars in Shenzhen even when he himself is behind bars, albeit in Hong Kong.  (And while we're at it: spare a thought -- and if you're religiously inclined, prayers -- too for Gui Minhai, the Hong Kong bookseller sentenced to 10 years jail in Mainland China after being abducted in Thailand and despite his being a Swedish citizen.)      

At the same time, 伯昏無人's Tweet on the matter sums up how a good number of people feel: "By now the importance of 8/31 doesn't depend on whether anyone actually died that night. We commemorate it as a deplorable milestone in the collapse of HK civil society and the descent of these disgraceful uniformed thugs into a band of parasitical gangsters."  
And if I may add to it: we also mourn what we've lost in Hong Kong in the past year and a half or so: what remained of our respect for the police force once known as Asia's finest; the love we used to have for the MTR; and a time before Hong Kong bore comparisons to a police state, with "martial law and military-style rule", and talk and declarations coming seemingly daily about its (impending) demise.
Carrie Lam being Carrie Lam, she also took the opportunity to dismiss suggestions that the government has reacted too slowly to the current outbreaks, and rejected suggestions that it is to blame for the latest outbreaks which are thought to be linked to infected people returning from overseas.  In addition, she disclosed that the government's mulling setting up a hotline so people can report each other to the authorities for social distancing infringements.   
A reminder: earlier this month, the government set up a hotline for people to snitch on their fellow Hong Kongers who they suspect of having broken China's national security law for Hong Kong.  So it seems that it really is intent on encouraging Hong Kongers to become "snitches" and, in so doing, effecting a "Cultural Revolution" in a territory that had been spared the individual and collective suffering and social warping that had occured across the border in Mainland China for much of the 1960s and 1970s.        

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Amidst it all, trust Carrie Lam to get one's blood boiling and hackles rising

 How bright things looked in this photo taken one year ago today...
Even when the outlook is largely dark, there's still
some light in Hong Kong...
Hong Kong Chief Executive (in name only, really, these days) Carrie Lam gave her Policy Address at the pan-democrat-less Legislative Council this past Wednesday and I knew it'd be best not to watch or listen to her doing so.  But even reading live updates of it (including her praising of the "highly trusted" police force and new national security law and the announcement of her intentions to go ahead with the Lantau Tomorrow mega project and wreak further havoc on the education system) got my blood boiling -- so much so that I actually felt the top of my head heat up and feel like it was going to explode a la Inside Out's angry Anger

At a certain point though, anger turned to depression and despair, and then hysteria which found me seeking some release in laughter.  Honestly, way before the end of the more than two hour long speech, I was far from alone in turning to humor to try to stop the pain but also just because everything was just feeling too ridiculous and insane for serious words.
Even some of her faithful (or should it be faithless?) acolytes were not responding to the Policy Address the way that their fearless leader found ideal: being driven to slumber, figuring out what others were doing via social media and using their smart phones to communicate with hairy crab sellers. In other words: even they appeared unable to seriously deal with listening to her killing Hong Kong -- or, at least, outlining her plans to do so in her distinctively deadening way!
Even as many of us laughed "the laughter of people who value love and friendship and plenty, who have lived with terror and death and hate" (cf Elenore Smith Bowen's Return to Laughter) though, we were crying inside and mourning for Hong Kong.  For the Policy Address promised worse to come for Hong Kong in a year that's already seen what Antony Dapiran's succinctly described as "all of Beijing’s wish list for HK... fulfilled in one hit".  Which is why I needed to take some time out before commenting on it all.  Because, frankly, that's one hella big hit that we're talking about there. 

Speaking of the Wuhan coronavirus: this week has seen daily new case numbers that are in the 80s and even 90s; with the dancing/singing cluster having recorded 415 cases alone as of today.  At a time when Hong Kong is looking to have a fourth coronavirus wave whose infection numbers may eventually exceed that of the troubling third wave, you'd think that the authorities would be wanting to be supportive of medical personnel and do what it takes to help keep their morale up.  But, as we sadly know, this is a far more punitive government than Hong Kong deserves and needs.
Looking for a silver lining in the dark political clouds currently hovering over the Big Lychee: at least Joshua Wong is now out of the solitary confinement that he was put in for 72 hours -- for questionable reasons -- and reportedly in good spirits.  Unexpectedly, even while he was in solitary confinement, he was able to complete a written interview with German publication Die Welt (which has been translated into English here).  So at least he's not been held incommunicado (though it is worth remembering that he actually hasn't been sentenced yet -- with that expected to take place early next week).
With a Hong Kong judge having handed a 21 month prison sentence to a protestor for throwing eggs at police officers and the exterior of the police headquarters though, one can't help but worry at the sentence that Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam will be slapped with.  (Yes, the Hong Kong judiciary retains some indepence -- witness yesterday's ruling in favor of "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung in a case that went all the way up to the Court of Final Appeal -- but we all know the direction that the wind is often blowing these days.) 

Amidst it all, we can pretty much always rely on Carrie Lam to get the hackles rising.  As if her marathon performance on Wednesday was not enough, she had to go on TV and talk, in an interview which aired last night, about how she has so much cash lying around in her home because she has no bank account after the American government imposed sanctions on her!  Presumably this means that even the Bank of China is not willing to let her bank with them for fear of the American government's actions and ire.  And lest we forget: we're talking about a woman paid a HK$5.21 million annual salary.  So the knowledge that there's so much cash lying about her place might tempt some criminals thinking it might be more fruitful to rob her residence than, say, a local jewellery store or bank!   

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Memories to Choke On, Drinks to Wash Them Down offers up bittersweet portraits of Hong Kong (Film review)

Now screening at my favorite cinema in Hong Kong :)

Memories to Choke On, Drinks to Wash Them Down (Hong Kong, 2019)
- Leung Ming-kai and Kate Reilly, co-directors
- Starring: Leong Cheok Mei, Mia Mungil, Zeno Koo, Lam Yiu Sing, Kate Reilly, Gregory Wong, Jessica Lam
This four-part anthology film had its world premiere at last year's Hong Kong Asian Film Festival but began its local theatrical run only this November.  So much has happened in Hong Kong since its very first screening its home territory.  Among other things, one of its stars was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to commit criminal damage and forcible entry into the Legislative Council a few months back and, not coincidentally, Memories to Choke On, Drinks to Wash Them Down has been deemed a "yellow" movie -- with calls coming from a number of individuals in the pro-democracy camp to go support it in at the box office in the way one would shops that are part of the yellow economic circle.      
As more than one person who's gone to view this independent film has found though, it is a worthy watch based on quality alone, and I think it is very possible to appreciate this movie even if one is not super politically inclined.  At the same time though, many of its details will be particularly appreciated by those viewers who know and dearly love Hong Kong; this not least because this film does seem to be speaking to those who are this way inclined, like its husband and wife pair of co-directors themselves.
One of the best things about Memories to Choke On, Drinks to Wash Them Down is its telling the stories of the kind of regular folks who don't usually get much screentime in other movies.  For instance, its first part, Forbidden City, revolves around two women who are transplants to Hong Kong.  The elder of them (played by Leong Cheok-mei) came from Mainland China during the Cultural Revolution and now makes her home in a New Territories village; the younger (essayed by Mia Mungil) arrived from Indonesia ten years ago to work as a domestic worker and currently cares for the latter, whose memory is no longer what it used to be.         
Over the course of the short time that we see them together, it is clear that they are both good to, and care for, each other.  This also is the case for the two brothers (portrayed by Zeno Koo and Lam Yiu-sing) whose tale is told in the film's second tale, Toy Stories.  Set largely in the confines of the old Sham Shui Po toy shop which their mother wants to sell, it ably weaves together themes of brotherhood, childhood, adulthood, memories and ambitions to tell an affecting tale that will make one nostalgic even while realizing that times change and we have to grow up, and move on.
Memories to Choke On, Drinks to Wash Them Down's third part is another two-hander.  The low budget film's biggest name, Gregory Wong, and co-director Kate Reilly play teachers in Yuen Yeung who meet by a drinks vending machine on her first day at school (and early on in her Hong Kong sojourn).  Bonding over caffeinated packet drinks (lemon tea for him; yuen yeung for her), the colleagues turned friends spend time hanging out together in cha chaan teng, cooked food markets and more.  But while there's quite a bit of food porn on show in this segment, its real substance goes beyond culinary tourism; and a visit to the branch of Kentucky Fried Chicken that he tells her is the most romantic KFC and its surroundings ends up being so emotionally evocative that I found myself choking and tearing up.
Non-fictional unlike the three other segments of the movie and focused on a single individual for the most part, the film's fourth and final section, It's Not Going to Be Fun, felt jarringly at odds with the rest of the work and was the least enjoyable section of this omnibus offering.  It didn't help that I couldn't figure out if the subject in focus, a young aspiring District Councillor named Jessica Lam, was actually being self-deprecating or a real ditz for much of the time that she was on screen.        

As it turned out though, this documentary segment ended up eliciting the strongest emotions from me because it turned out to capture a precious moment of Hong Kong history where hope existed and triumph was possible.  Maybe there will come a time when one can look back and smile at it all.  Sadly, this is currently not the case.  The English title of this Hong Kong film did serve notice that it would be bittersweet.  And so Memories to Choke On, Drinks to Wash Them Down proved to be, with the bitter bits really delivering quite the punch to the gut even while the sweet sections continued to linger long after I made my way out of the cinema. 

My rating for the film: 7.5

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Wuhan coronavirus goings-on are the talk of the town but don't lose sight of other salient Hong Kong happenings too!

From one perspective, it can look like our dreams
and resolve are melting away...
...but that's not what the creator of the above 
wax sculpture sought to represent! 

Inevitably, the government has ordered bars, nightclubs and saunas to close for a period once moreThe announced closure of the watering holes has cause an uproar -- among bar owners and patrons alike -- because, among other things, none of  of Hong Kong's recent coronavirus cases have been linked to these establishments.  
Still, the main talk of the town in recent days appears to have been the "dancing venues" cluster; with the revelation that quite a few socialites are involved and a running list already including one billionaire, three wives of billionaires and a top executive at Goldman Sachs!  And to spice things up further, there's a story making the rounds that this "dancing venues" cluster's -- and perhaps even the entire fourth wave's -- "Patient Zero" is a woman who went and visited her son who had newly returned from Britain while he was officially quarantining in a hotel!  (Amazingly, it hadn't actually been illegal for people in quarantine to receive guests until recently; rather, it seems to have just been assumed that people would act in a responsible and trustworthy fashion!) 
Amidst all this coronavirus-related commotion, it can seem that even pretty major political developments are not getting the attention they deserve.  Granted that the international press has covered Joshua Wong, Ivan Lam and Agnes Chow being taken into custody yesterday.   But I haven't seen that much coverage of, say, a third Hong Konger having been charged today under the national security law... for having chanted slogans calling for Hong Kong's independence.  

Ma Chun-man certainly is less of a household name than Joshua Wong.  Not a full-time political activist, he's a food delivery driver who lost his job last month.  But that's the big news though: that is, that the national security law and ongoing political clampdown does not seem to be targeting just an extremely small number of people.  Instead, the net being cast is super wide and encompassing.  Consequently, as Goose Lee Tweeted: "Delivery drivers, lifeguards, teachers, estate agents - normal people who would like never have been in trouble in their lives - are now being sent to prison in Hong Kong for having expressed their basic human rights. This is happening every day."  
Also, remember the international experts who resigned enmasse last December from the supposedly Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC)'s investigation into allegations of police brutality during the 2019 protests upon discovering its lack of independence?  One of them, Professor Clifford Stott, had stated that he would be writing his own report on the matter and last Tuesday, Oxford University Press published a report on the role the Hong Kong police played in the radicalization of Hong Kong's protest movement co-authored by the professor of group psychology and the dynamics of crowd behaviour. 
“I think the conclusion one should draw is actually that the public order commanders were very bad at their job,” he said. “When one looks at the evidence across the whole sequence of events, you can see some really, really poor decision-making”...
“The idea that the protests were marked by violence and petrol bombs is only true of the latter phases. It’s not true of the beginning. There was no violence, there were no petrol bombs on June 9, there was no violence and confrontation on the 16th,” he said, referencing the mass demonstrations by hundreds of thousands of people which saw the beginning of the movement’s “five demands”.

Three of those five demands directly related to police behaviour on June 12.

I wonder how many people think back to June 12th, 2019, and believe that things would have been so very different here in Hong Kong if the police had not acted the way they did that day -- including some members within the force itself.  Considering how many people felt compelled to join the protests after that fateful day (as had happened after the police fired tear gas into the crowd on September 28th, 2014), I'm inclined to think it's an awful lot.       

Monday, November 23, 2020

Joshua Wong is behind bars once more but continues to speak out for Hong Kongers

 Posted by Joshua Wong on his Twitter and Facebook pages last night
From January 2013: Ivan Lam, Joshua Wong
and Agnes Chow on the cover of City Magazine
Shortly after I finished blogging late last night, I learnt that Joshua Wong had put out a message -- in English on Twitter, and in Chinese on Facebook -- about his, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam's decision to plead guilty to charges of illegal assembly in court this morningHe stands to be imprisoned for up to 5 years for essentially pleading guilty to being an activist and to protesting (although I've also seen the maximum sentence mentioned for all of them as being three years).  Immediate detention is likely for all of them. 
The following are excerpts from his message (which consists of an 11-Tweet thread on Twitter beginning here):-
Ever since the outbreak of the movement last year, when the smell of tear gas has become our collective memory, I always remember what one of Hong Kong activists, @BrianLeungKP, said, “More than language and values we share, what connects all the Hongkongers is the pain.”

Hence, despite possible jail sentences ahead, it is my honour to stand with each of you from the very beginning, fight shoulder to shoulder, and bring our voices to the world. Nevertheless, whatever storm we might face, I always have my faith in my fellow Hongkongers...

“We rejoice in our sufferings,” Romans 5:3-4 reads, “knowing that suffering produces endurance. and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” Once sown, seeds will one day sprout. Weary and distraught as some of you might feel, please have each others’ backs.

Cages may lock up our bodies, but never our unwavering souls. One day our indomitable will return and make us assemble again.

Reading his message, I can't help but feel that Joshua Wong and his comrades are effectively stating their willingness to be martyrs for the Hong Kong pro-democracy cause.  Much as I respect and admire his (their) resolve, this still all makes me really sad.

For one thing, I don't believe that advocates and practitioners of peaceful protest deserve to go to jail and for as long as this trio are likely to do so.  For another, this triumvirate are surely too young to have to shoulder so much burden and responsibility.  

One of the photos Joshua Wong posted in that Twitter thread I quoted above serves as a reminder that he just graduated from university this year; as did Agnes Chow. A political activist since he was a young teenager, he has been imprisoned twice already. Joshua Wong now still is only 24 years old; Agnes Chow is 23 years of age; and Ivan Lam is 26 years old.

At today's hearing, after the trio lodged their guilty plea, they were denied bail and remanded into custody.  They are expected to be sentenced two Wednesdays from now, on December 2nd.  December 2nd also happens to be the day that Agnes Chow is (was) supposed to report to the police for her separate national security law charge and the eve of her 24th birthday.  It's further worth noting that, unlike Wong and Lam, this would be Chow's first time in prison if the judge does decide that her "crimes" of "inciting people to join an unauthorised assembly" back on June 21st, 2019, and "taking part in the assembly".

With his Twitter account "managed by friends" while he's in custody, another message was posted in Joshua Wong's name today.  The following is how it reads in its entirety:-

[MSG IN CUSTODY] 1. Comparing to [our being] remanded, #save12hkyouths in China deserves more of our attention. Today marks the 93rd day of their detention. Their families finally received letters from the dozen, signifying that they are still alive. #SAVE12 campaign managed pressure China.
2. But from the content of the letters, they might have been tortured until they agreed to make forced confessions, saying they had appointed lawyers assigned by the authorities, saying they regretted taking part in activism.
3. I wish to pay tributes to our fellow activists who are about to face trials and prison, or to whom in distress for not being able to return home: We're not fearless, but you are the braver ones.
4. What we are doing now is to explain the value of freedom to the world, through our compassion to whom we love, so much that we are willing to sacrifice the freedom of our own. I'm still learning to conquer the fear and I believe you are with me along this journey. 

Sunday, November 22, 2020

The fourth Wuhan coronavirus wave has arrived and the political arrests continue in Hong Kong

A Tweet by a Hong Kong journalist turned barrister that I, sadly, can really relate to

Yes, I can relate to this Tweet too :(
Hong Kong's fourth Wuhan coronavirus wave is here.  Any doubts that this was so have been dispelled this week -- which began with the reporting of single digit new case numbers earlier in the week (e.g., the four on Tuesday) before a surge later in the week brought the numbers of new infections up to 26 on Friday, 43 yesterday and 68 today (the highest daily total in more than three months).
Among the individuals who tested positive this week is a 75-year-old billionaire, Rosanna Wang Gaw, who may be the super spreader of a dance club cluster which now numbers 80 cases, making it Hong Kong's second largest coronavirus cluster to date; topped only by the second wave's bar and band cluster which eventually totalled 103 confirmed cases.  The revelation that today's newly confirmed cases include individuals living on The Peak and in Bel Air as well as the less rarified likes of Yau Ma Tei, Wong Tai Sin and Kwai Chung shows that the coronavirus is spreading among the rich as well as regular Hong Kong folks (  
Hopefully, this will get all sectors of Hong Kong society to pitch in and do their bit to help prevent an infectious disease expert's dire prediction of 1,000 new cases per week in the territory come this December.  And with the scuttling of the Hong Kong-Singapore travel bubble before it actually got going, we at least don't have to worry of importing additional cases from Singapore or, as may be more likely at this point, exporting cases to the Lion City.
More than incidentally, Britain's All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong decided yesterday that it will nominate "Grandma" Wong for the Nobel Peace Prize.  The vice-chair of the group, Lord Alton of Liverpool, said Wong was fearless and “embodies the bravery, determination and resilience of the Hong Kong protestors that have inspired the world” while British activist Luke de Pulford has stated that “Grandma Wong’s only crime is to demand the fulfilment of the promises made to #HongKong by Beijing AND the UK. And to do it without a shred of fear". 
This follows another Hong Konger, Nathan Law, being honored at the 2020 Sergei Magnitsky Human Rights Awards on Monday with the Outstanding Opposition Figure Award for his “outstanding work standing up to the Communist Party of China to keep Hong Kong free”.  In addition, two Hong Kong political films -- including short film Night is Young, about a taxi driver’s experiences during last year’s pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, by Ten Years co-director Kwok Zune -- won at the Golden Horse Awards in Taipei last night.     

At a time when the world has so much (else) to fixate about, these kinds of things help give a sense that there still are eyes on Hong Kong, and support for those who are struggling against what really is an oppressive regime mounting a major assault on Hong Kong's freedoms.  And for those who (still) wonder why there should be eyes on Hong Kong: consider it the canary in the coal mine in terms how China behaves when faced with a people who don't buy into its values and system.  
Already, Beijing's open violation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and willingness to kill a golden goose should have gotten alarm bells ringing loudly.  It remains to be seen though whether China's Hong Kong gamble will end up hurting it more than the world at large.