Sunday, February 28, 2021

The destruction of Hong Kong's pro-democracy camp and dreams continues apace with the largest batch of security law arrests to date

So too is former radio show host turned lawmaker Ray Chan 
-- here pictured in happier times manning the People Power
What I feared would happen today has indeed come to pass.  More specifically, a large number of pro-democracy politicians and activists have been charged under China's national security law for Hong Kong for their organisation and participation in a primary election for the now-postponed Legislative Council election, denied bail and thus jailed.  Sure, it's 47 of them rather than all 55 people arrested last month (but not charged until now) by the authorities.  But it still makes for the largest group of people arrested in one fell swoop for "subversion" under the Chinese security law: not only since the law came into effect in Hong Kong late on June 30th of last year but also since the offence of subversion was introduced into China's criminal law in 1997.         

Agence France-Presse (AFP)'s Xinqi Su outlined what this all means on a Twitter thread that includes the following points: "The blow is wide and heavy - [falling] not only those who signed a joint declaration of their intention to use every power a lawmaker has to push for democratisation in HK have been implicated. Among the 6 organisers, only [American citizen but long-time Hong Kong resident] John Clancey is not prosecuted"; "This case will again set [the national security law (NSL)] and Basic Law on a colliding track when the court is asked to decided whether election candidates making up their minds to veto government proposals with powers given by Basic Law is an offence under NSL": and "Last but not least they are not just names, numbers, nor “freedom fighters”" but, instead, human beings.
Also on Twitter can be found a thread about the arrestees -- 39 men and 8 women aged between 23 and 64 years -- that helps to personalize them and gives them a face.  And such is the small world that Hong Kong can be -- and it speaks too to the accessibility of Hong Kong's pro-democratic politicians and activists -- that I personally have interacted with a number of them, including Chu Hoi-dick and "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung.  Consequently, today's "development" really does feel like a personal blow. 
The sense of devastation is compounded by the fact that, to quote political commentator Antony Dapiran, Hong Kong "has just jailed almost the entire pro-democracy opposition. 47 people - the leading pro-democracy candidates preparing to contest [Legislative Council (LegCo)] elections last year - were today charged with subversion under the national security law, denied bail & jailed pending trial."  And when ones factors in that the veteran likes of Martin Lee, Margaret Ng and Lee Cheuk-yan currently being on trial and facing jail time too, you're talking about generations of pro-democratic opposition members and activists all being put out of action and physically separated from the vast majority of their fellow Hong Kongers. 
Returning to today's arrests: As historian Jeppe Mulich has noted, "The charge of conspiracy to commit subversion for organizing or participating in the democratic camp's primary election makes little sense. It's wild conjecture on the government's side, based primarily on an op-ed by Benny Tai. But will that make a difference?"  He follows up with this statement: "On its face the charge is absurd and... seems in contradiction with the [Basic Law (BL)]. But my faith in the [Hong Kong] judicial system is not at its high point right now."  Something which he is most definitely not alone about.
Something else that Professor Mulich Tweeted also resonates with me: "Two million Hongkongers took to the streets on 16 June, 2019 to demand gov't accountability. The pro-democracy camp won 17 out of 18 districts in November 2019 [and it only wasn't a clean sweep because the Islands District has unelected reprentatives]. 600,000 Hongkongers participated in the democratic primary in July 2020. Don't forget those numbers today."  This is not least because it gives a good insight into who are the legitimate representatives of the people and their will here in Hong Kong.   
Small wonder then that two days ago, "a prominent activist [disclosed that] he’s not afraid of being in prison; he’s afraid that when he comes out there’ll be no one there to greet him cos everyone’s either moved away or been silenced".  And still the world doesn't do much more than wring its collective arms and express its "concern" as what is happening to, and in, Hong Kong. :(

Friday, February 26, 2021

Pandemic and political musings on the 15th day of Chinese New Year for the second year in a row

 May everyone be energetic as dragon horse deer
in the year of the ox/cow!
Today is the 15th day of the lunar new year.  Long before the celebrations of the new Chinese year of the ox/cow draw to a close (on Chap Goh Meh) though, the Communist Chinese government and its Hong Kong acolytes have already given those of us hoping for a better year -- or plain tomorrow -- for Hong Kong plenty to worry and be upset about.  Put another way: I wish I could be confident that the year of the ox/cow will be better than that of the rat was; but, alas, I'm not.     
As a general aside: it has long bugged me that there are people who will go to work despite obviously being unwell and infectious (be it with a cold, flu or worse).  And my feelings about people who go and socialize even while possessing symptoms associated with the coronavirus are unprintable.  Ditto those who decided to stop wearing masks (period or "just" properly) -- despite a mask wearing protocol being in place -- because they see the number of daily new cases going down.  (I've seen more people doing that this week than combined for the entire months of December and January.) 
And while Hong Kong's vaccination program has finally begun, the only vaccines available are questionable Sinovac ones since the arrival of the BioNTech vaccines (which have far greater efficacy than the Sinovac ones) has been delayed.  Hopefully, it won't be a permanent delay -- and there will be enough of the BioNTech for everyone for whom it will be their choice of vaccine; which probably will be a lot of people, especially after it is more widely realized that the so-called Fosun-BioNTech vaccine is actually the same as the much heralded Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine!     
In any case, as has been so for a good part of the lunar year of the rat, greater political clouds than pandemic ones have been darkening my mood as well as loom on the horizon.  Earlier today, United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet stated her concerns that China is restricting basic civil and political freedoms – including in Hong Kong – in the name of national security and Covid-19 measures.  This follows her decrying Hong Kong's rapidly shrinking civic and democratic space in December last year.
But until political leaders like her actually do more than "state their concerns" and "decry" what is happening in Hong Kong (along with the likes of Xinjiang), the fact of the matter is that the Communist Chinese regime and the government it put in place in Hong Kong are going to keep doing what they are doing -- including destroying the Hong Kong many of us knew and love.  And then there are the multinationals that feel that they "cannot afford to ignore the Chinese market if they want a better growth prospect" and are enabling China (far more, really, than it is enabling them).  
It is truly very painful for those of us who love Hong Kong, democracy and freedom to see what it is happening in our beloved city.  The "unauthorized assembly" trial involving Martin Lee, Margaret Ng, Jimmy Lai and six other veteran pro-democracy figures is not going well, according to a friend who has been in attendance every since it began back on February 16th.  (And the signs that a campaign is being mounted to plead for (clemency for) Martin Lee in the international media point to the expectation that guilty verdicts will be pronounced for him and his fellow defendants.)     
And even as this high profile trial drags on in court, there are signs that the authorities are getting ready to re-arrest other pro-democracy personalities and possibly not let them out on bail this time around.  More specifically, the 55 democratic politicians and activists arrested in January under the security law but then not charged have been told to report back to the police this Sunday, five weeks earlier than scheduled, and the fear is that this time, they will be charged and immediately put behind bars.   

Oh, and belated Happy Chinese New Year greetings to this blog's readers, and Kung Hei Fatt Choi!

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Being uplifted by reminders of how wonderful Hong Kong is by way of a hike from Shui Long Wo to Sham Chung (Photo-essay)

More political oppression (e.g., threats to disqualify elected pro-democracy district councillors, guilty verdicts and prison sentences looming for pro-democracy figures like 82-year-old Martin Lee, 73-year old Margaret Ng along with fellow 73-year-old Jimmy Lai) is in the air again in Hong Kong. But spending hour upon hour doom-scrolling in my apartment (and getting agitated about such as the ridiculousness of the recently announced Hong Kong Annual Budget) is not going to help those being persecuted as well as me.
So off I went into the Hong Kong countryside once more to remind myself that the Big Lychee is a beautiful place and that I really f**king love it. And, honestly, when you get off the bus near a trailhead and pretty much almost immediately feel nature's embrace, one's spirit does quickly lift.  Call it living in the moment. Credit "forest bathing". But a hike out in the Hong Kong countryside really does do wonders for my psychological health -- and presumably also is beneficial for my physical well-being...
The view to be had a stone's throw away from 
the bus stop at Shui Long Wo
A reminder that this was a Chinese New Year hike :)
A view that takes in mangroves by the water's edge
as well as the surrounding green hills
Click on the above image for a panoramic view of sand, blue water,
blue-greenish hills and mountains, and a beautifully bright blue sky!
It never ceases to amaze me that one can round a corner in 
Hong Kong and suddenly enter an idyllic space like Sham Chung :) 
Another panoramic view to be had -- this one of the idyllic
spot that is Sham Chung
Rather than hike out of there, the friend I was with 
and I made sure to time our excursion so that we'd 
be able to catch the infrequent kaito from the nearby pier :)

Monday, February 22, 2021

The Way We Keep Dancing shows what Hong Kongers want to keep being (Film review)

Poster for the first film I saw in a cinema in 2021
The Way We Keep Dancing (Hong Kong, 2020)
- Starring: Cherry Ngan, Heyo Fok, Babyjohn Choi, Lokman Yeung, Lydia Lau
Back in 2013, director-scriptwriter Adam Wong scored the biggest hit of his career to date with The Way We Dance, a dance-infused coming-of-age romantic drama that also made stars out of leads Cherry Ngan and Babyjohn Choi.  Now this trio have reunited with some other cast and crew members from that film for another hip hop-heavy offering whose English title clearly alludes to the earlier movie (and whose Chinese title (狂舞派3) makes the connection even more explicit). 
A sign of the whimsy that pervades this project though is that, while there was indeed a 狂舞派 (i.e., The Way We Dance), there actually never was a 狂舞派2.  But because Adam Wong believes that sequels tend to disappoint, he decided to just go straight from 1 to 3 with regards to the films' titles!  By a similar token, even while The Way We Keep Dancing makes use of the conceit that certain of the movie's characters had actually starred in The Way We Dance, this film -- which seeks to address real world issues rather than just regular movie ones -- is actually a fictional feature rather than a documentary.  
Should all this sound too confusing or complicated, just know this: Cherry Ngan's character in The Way We Keep Dancing is named Hana (not Cherry Ngan or, for that matter, Fleur -- the name of the character she played in The Way We Dance).  An up-and-coming artiste in the Hong Kong entertainment world, she looks to have a brighter future than her friends (including boyfriend Dave (Lokman Yeung) and Milk Tea (Lydia Lau)) but envies their being better dancers in real life than her.  And although her agent reckons she ought to separate herself from her "gang", Hana tries to help them out professionally by getting them involved with the projects she gets hired to front: be it a commercial for a consumer product or what amounts to putting the gloss in the gentrification of their home area -- called the Kowloon Industrial District in the film (but recognizably real life Kwun Tong). 
Fairly naive and soft-hearted, Hana lacks the out-and-out business focus and drive of Leung (Babyjohn Choi), a well-known Youtuber who some of his peers are inclined to look upon as being insincere to his friends as well as his art, even while also lacking the artistic edge and idealism of rapper Heyo (played by his namesake, Heyo Fok).  And, at one level, The Way We Keep Dancing centers on the push-pull that she feels -- and the audience through her -- between the imperative to make money, and be true to oneself and one's art.     

If truth be told, there's really not much doubt as to which side Hana and her friends will end up; and this even without factoring in the peer pressure and communal hostility that ensues after it is realized that the "Dance Street" promotion that Hana and Co. got involved in was being used to mask the destruction of their neighborhood by developers that Hong Kongers will see much resemblance to real-life villains such as the quasi-government Urban Renewal Authority.  Consequently, the film's soul-searching scenes lack a genuine sense of tension and certain of these sections of the movie can feel overly lengthy as well as indulgent.  
At the same time though, it's clear enough that Adam Wong has a lot that he wants to say and make a stand about.  And Heyo's rap numbers actually are worth listening to -- not only for the hypnotic rhythms and sounds but also the sincere substantive content; with the climactic rap number being particularly powerful and emotionally cathartic.  (On a film note: he may not have top billing but Heyo Fok is the (break-out) star of this show.)  
At a time when Hong Kongers feel so much pressure to "face reality" and give up on many of their beliefs and goals, it is admirable to see a Hong Kong film that trumpets people's determination to hold on to their ideals and principles.  Something else that I appreciate is how much love for the local community flows through The Way We Keep Dancing.  Those who don't know Hong Kong may not believe that a movie centering around a community of hip hop artistes can be very Hong Kong.  But those who do will know this is so when taking in this film that also would be well named if it was entitled "The Way We Want to Keep Being".    
My rating for this film: 8.0

Saturday, February 20, 2021

The sun's setting quickly on RTHK, and Hong Kong's press freedoms in general

Sunset in Hong Kong
Even if nothing else, it's quite the dramatic sight
There's a Hong Kong blog I've been reading for some years now called Big Lychee, Various Sectors.  Early on, I reckoned the blogger behind it was being overly cynical in subtitling it: "Watching the sun set, little by little, on Asia's greatest city – with a dash of Hemlock".  But these days, the "watching the sun set... on Asia's greatest city" rings way too true and one wonders how soon it will be before Hong Kong ceases to be a place that that blogger and I hold in high regard.  

I also have been upset by seeing supposedly neutral press increasingly toeing the government line along with the attacks on openly pro-democracy media (the latter physically during protests but in other ways as well in the past year or so). And what is happening to RTHK is especially horrific because it is both of them combined: the destruction of a respected, even beloved, Hong Kong institution; and the further emasculation of Hong Kong's press freedoms.
For the record (and quoting from the Reuters piece re RTHK):-

The only independent, publicly funded media outlet on Chinese soil, Radio Television Hong Kong was founded in 1928 and is sometimes compared to the British Broadcasting Corporation. Its charter guarantees it editorial independence.

It angered Hong Kong’s government, the police, and Beijing with its coverage of 2019 anti-government protests that shook the Asian financial hub, including several investigations that sparked widespread criticism of authorities...

Something else also worth noting: "Hong Kong’s ranking fell to 80 in the global press freedom index of Reporters Without Borders in 2020, from 18 in 2002 (just one position below the USA). China ranks 177th."  So yes, it has far to fall before it gets to the level of (Mainland) China.  But, truth be told, it's already fallen far further from grace than many of us are comfortable with.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Who'd want to be in Jimmy Lai's shoes, and be Carrie Lai, period?

How long more will Apple Daily be a part of the 
Hong Kong (media) scene?
I fear that soon, this pro-democracy newspaper will be 
no more (and not because it's sold out either) :(

Add to this the not insignificant matter of the self-made billionaire already having spent quite a bit of time behind bars despite not actually having been found guilty (thus far) of any crimes for which he has been charged and his situation really does feel particularly unfair.  Speaking of which: he was denied bail once again today for his first national security law charge; with one lawyer on Twitter speaking for many with his statement that "If Jimmy Lai can't satisfy an NSL judge to grant bail, then nobody ever will. Simple as that."

The long-time pro-democracy advocate is on the record as stating that: "Even with handcuffs, I feel at peace" and that he is willing to sacrifice for Hong Kong.  Hailing originally from Mainland China, Jimmy Lai undoubtedly knew the kind and amount of pressure and oppression the authorities can exert on an individual.  Even so, knowing is one thing and experiencing another -- and watching it all happen to a loved one is something else altogether.  There are reports that his family and friends burst into tears as he signalled his love for them as he was escorted out of court this afternoon.  Who can blame them for being upset by the injustice along with his sacrifice?  

She undoubtedly stated this to try to boost public confidence in the Mainland Chinese vaccine whose efficacy stats have left some people doubting whether it's worth taking.  Here's the thing though: she really ought to boost public confidence in her first!  We are talking, after all, about Hong Kong's most unpopular Chief Executive ever by a long chalk: whose current "no confidence" rating stands at 70% and net approval at -52%!  (Note: I'm not insulting her -- something the government is reportedly seeking to make illegal! -- here; merely stating the facts!)       

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Can't keep the worries away on the fifth day of Chinese New Year :(

That time of the year to spot these seasonal flowers
I hope to be able to see Chinese New Year flowers 
in Hong Kong next year too...
It's just the fifth day of Chinese New Year and I wish I could hold on to the holiday mood for a little while longer.  But although this festive period traditionally lasts for 15 days, there are too many reasons to not feel super cheery in Hong Kong once more.
To be sure, the lockdowns that were put on hold over the festive period have not resumed (at least not tonight).  Also, Hong Kong has now seen two consecutive days of single digit new Wuhan coronavirus cases (of 8 (two of which are imported) today and 9 (five of them imported) yesterday) -- and confirmation that a number of social distancing measures will be eased or lifted starting from Thursday.
But there are people who fear that this decision is premature; this especially since the recent low reported new numbers may be due in part to private clinics being closed during the first few days of the Lunar New Year and local people generally being reluctant to go see a doctor during this period, and there observably has been quite a bit of family and other get-togethers taking place over the holidays.  (With regards to the last: I definitely did see large groups out hiking together in the past few days and also could hear lots of people visiting the homes of some of my neighbors too.)
Oh, and the trial of nine of the fifteen pro-democracy figures arrested back in April last year (including now 82-year-old Martin Lee, Margaret Ng and Jimmy Lai) began today.  In the prelude to it, there was quite the hoo-ha over the appointment of a British QC -- so much so that David Perry eventually bowed to international outrage and changed his mind about taking the government's case.  But while there appeared to be less focus on who the presiding judge would be, the discovery today that it is Amanda Woodcock will surely have caused some worries since: her track record with regards to cases involving protestors (see examples here and here)  is not encouraging; and it also is worth noting that she is a designated National Security Judge.        
One wonders if the identity of the presiding judge played some factor in Au Nok-hin having chosen to pleaded guilty of the charges of organising and participating in an unauthorized assembly on August 18th, 2019, and Leung Yiu-chung opting to plead guilty to taking part in the protest that was supposed to take place in Victoria Park but spilled over into the streets because it attracted far more people (an estimated 1.7 million) than the stated venue had a capacity for (despite the weather that day being not at all ideal).  At the same time, it is worth noting that the other seven defendants indeed maintain their innocence; with Lee Cheuk-yan and "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung further making clear that they consider their prosecution to be political persecution since peaceful assembly should not be considered a crime.     
Adding to Hong Kongers' worries: the sense that the space for freedom of expression is shrinking fast. In her Al-Jazeera piece, journalist-educator Yuen Chan reported the Chinese University of Hong Kong's Lokman Tsui worrying "about the future of the free internet in Hong Kong. “The [National Security Law] has been used and abused offline to silence dissent,” he says, “and the fear is that the NSL will now be used to silence speech online too.”"
She goes on to state the following: "This would deal a serious blow to a city that has been watching its freedoms erode at a frightening pace. For Chris Yeung, the chair of the Hong Kong Journalists Association, the free internet, freedom of the press and the independence of the judiciary, are the “ultimate test” of Hong Kong’s survival as a city that is still recognisable as Hong Kong."  And left unsaid but very much in the air is the worry that, in the not too distant future, Hong Kong will indeed no longer be recognizably the city many of us know and have loved.  :(       

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Loving Hong Kong on Valentine's Day, the first day of Chinese New Year and when out hiking! (Photo-essay)

This Valentine's Day post is dedicated to the great love of my life: Hong Kong.  As I've told many a friend: every other place in the world I went to live in, it was for school or work.  Hong Kong is the one place in the world where I decided I wanted to move to and then did what was necessary (e.g., find a job) that would allow me to do so.   
Something else I've shared with many a friend is that I fell in love with Hong Kong via Hong Kong movies but, after moving to the Big Lychee, I got to loving Hong Kong even more by way of exploring the territory by hiking in its countryside as well as walking about in the city.  And going on a hike was what I spent the afternoon of the 1st day of Chinese New Year.  
More specifically, I went back along the High Junk Peak Country Trail with a friend in on what was a close to perfect day weather-wise: i.e., the sun was shining, the sky bright blue, the temperatures temperate (sweatshirt needed in the shade; t-shirt okay enough in the sunshine), and the air refreshing. And, as the following photos should show, the day also was blessed with beautifully high visibility... :)
Way bluer skies and higher visibility than the first time
Looking westwards to Tseung Kwan O and far beyond
A part of Hong Kong I've yet to set foot on but would love
to at some point: the Ninepin Island Group
I remembered the trail pretty well but forgot that
there's a section in the middle where one walks down
several meters before ascending to higher ground again!
It would be criminal to go up Tin Ha Shan without pausing 
every once in a while to look back and drink in the views :)
The views to be had from atop Tin Ha Shan aren't half bad either
(and include sightings of Tung Lung Chau)!
Yet another plateau I love in Hong Kong: that of Tin Ha Shan's
If the descent down it was less hairy (and yes, descents often 
freak me out more than ascents), I'd visit Tin Ha Shan more often! ;S

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Venting away on the eve of the lunar new year of the cow (or ox)!

May yellow turn to gold in the year of the cow (or ox)! :b
Not too long from now, it'll be a new lunar year; with that of the cow (or ox) replacing that of the rat (or mouse).  It would be great if the new lunar year brings better tidings for Hong Kong and the world at large.  I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that this past year has been pretty awful -- with billions of people having to deal not only with a previously unknown coronavirus but also major political problems.
Since one isn't supposed to start of a new year with gripes and pessimism, let me go ahead and vent in the short time that's left before the lunar new year (celebrated by ethnic Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Koreans, etc.) comes along.  (Of course, I should be further cleaning up my apartment but, truly, I've spent quite a bit of time doing that already today!)  So, without further ado:-  
As it so happened, last night also didn't see any enforced lockdowns, "ambush-style" or otherwise: the first since January 23rd that this was the case.   Also yesterday, Secretary for Food and Health Sophia Chan announced that "social-distancing rules will be eased after the Lunar New Year break, with the extension of dine-in services at restaurants till 10pm and reopening of venues such as gyms and beauty parlours". And museums and cinemas (woo hoo!).
Good news?  Except that there are certain catches that come with those rules easing. Among them: "All [restaurant] staff will have to be tested for Covid every 14 days, and patrons will have to use the LeaveHomeSafe tracing app or have their personal information recorded." (The last bit in recognition of the fact that not everyone in Hong Kong has a smartphone still!)
In short: a bit of freedom will return, albeit accompanied by extra surveillance. And I hate to be a Cassandra but announcing the easing of social distancing restrictions ahead of the Lunar New Year period is only going to get certain people feeling that they can gather more, and in larger groups, in homes and other locales (e.g., private clubs, including those dance clubs linked to the start of the current, fourth wave) which thus far have not been subjected to gathering restrictions. 
Of course I hope I'm wrong about this and that people will behave responsibly and considerately.  But I already saw quite a bit of over-crowding today, notably at wet markets (something to be expected since people have to get groceries for tonight -- since restaurants aren't allowed to be open, and many customarily close anyway so that the staff can have reunion dinners with their families -- and the next few days)! 
So... happy days over the festive period and then we all pay for it with further restrictions and surveillance in the days, weeks and months after?  And, actually, the griping about these new regulations have already begun.  (Surprise, surprise -- not!)   A restaurant chain owner has questioned whether Hong Kong's coronviarus testing capacity can handle the regular checks of some 300,000 catering sector workers.  Meanwhile, the president of the Federation of Restaurants worries that the requirement that customers use the government's LeaveHomeSafe app could lead to conflict between customers and restaurant staff.     

In an ideal world, we would trust the government and the police, and they would trust the people.  But while there may indeed have been such a time in Hong Kong, that, alas, is no longer the case -- and as much as I wish this would change in the coming year of the ox/cow, I don't see that happening as surely as a deer is not a horse