Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Troubles continue to abound for Malaysia and Hong Kong on Malaysia's 64th Merdeka Day (and the second anniversary of the Prince Edward MTR station "incident")

The MTR closed its doors to the public way too often in 2019,
For a good part of my life, August 31st was a day of celebration on account of it being Malaysia's Merdeka (Independence) Day; with not even the death of Princess Diana back on August 31st, 1997, having left a black mark on the day as far as I was concerned.  But since August 31st, 2019, this has been a day whose arrival has tended to leave me in a dark mood -- and it was the same again today, two years after the Prince Edward MTR station "incident" in Hong Kong which saw riot police running amok and terrorizing train passengers inside an MTR station that was closed off for a time afterwards to first aiders and the press as well as the general public, leading to suspicion (which persists to this day) that a number of people were killed in there by the cops.  
I (thankfully) was not there inside Prince Edward MTR station during the attacks but I remember watching many video clips as well as at least one live stream.  Suffice to say that I will never forget the anguished screams and cries of the train passengers (not all of whom were anti-extradition bill protestors) who had the misfortune to be pepper sprayed at pretty much point blank by the riot police -- so much so that even when I watch this video on mute, I still can hear the screams of the weaponless civilians in the clip, who include at least one medic (as can be seen by a helmet with a red cross marked on it lying on the floor in still shots that were taken of the scene).  And all it takes is for me to see the numbers 8.31 for me to feel like I've gone back in time to that nightmare night of August 31st, 2019.
So, really, I don't need much to "trigger" bad memories of two years ago and generally feel upset when the annivesary of the Prince Edward MTR station attack.  But today also sees Malaysia in a mess politically as well as majorly troubled by the Wuhan coronavirus -- as can be seen by the newly appointed Prime Minister, Ismail Sabri Yaakob, being in quarantine this Merdeka Day -- while Hong Kong is a place where speech therapists end up in jail for publishing children's books featuring talking sheep -- with three more General Union of Hong Kong Speech Therapists members being charged with "sedition" (one of those vague national security law crimes) yesterday in addition to the union's chairwoman, Lai Man-ling, and vice-chairwoman, Melody Yeung, who had been similarly charged and denied bail back on July 23rd.
A few days after their arrest, the Niao Collective took it upon itself to translate into English one of the union's illustrated talking sheep books. The following are some excerpts from the Twitter thread translation of The Sheep Village Defenders:
Be honest, now: that's not quite what you'd have thought a publication deemed so dangerous to (mighty) China's national security that the speech therapists behind it had to be put behind bars, even prior to their trial (which is scheduled to begin in earnest in late September), and be denied bail, right?  But there you have it, and the fact that this all has taken place in Hong Kong really does leave the territory and its government with a PR problem; even after the United Kingdom's Supreme Court delivered the Carrie Lam administration a PR victory last week by announcing that its president and deputy president will continue to serve as non-permanent judges of Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal after finding the territory's judiciary to still be"largely independent”.
Amidst all this are those, like Hong Kong Free Press columnist Kent Ewing, who are of the opinion that no PR "reboot" will clean up Hong Kong's damaged international image since "millions-strong anti-government protests, police brutality and incompetent leadership don’t play well on the global stage".  And as the Hong Kong resident of more than two decades also asserted, "Hong Kong was once seen as a thriving, free-wheeling, free-thinking East-West success story. Now it is increasingly viewed as a city whose creativity and independent spirit have been crushed by the heavy hand of central government authorities, who see dangerous anti-China forces everywhere they look."    
In addition, there are the local thugs who aren't low enough to resort to doing such as sending threatening letters, the latest accompanied by an actual blade, to a serving district councillor.  "Shut up about 831 to keep your family safe" was the message delivered along with the blade to Leung Pak-kin, who was a reporter on August 31st, 2019, and whose video of riot police pepper-spraying people in MTR train carriages in Prince Edward MTR station have been widely viewed and disseminated.
So much for "the truth will set you free".  Instead, in Hong Kong today, it seems that the truth will be bent and distorted as much as possible -- witness Carrie Lam stating earlier today that there is no crackdown on civil society currently going on -- in addition to the possession of it causing more than one person to be put in danger or behind bars.  (With regards to the latter: I think of Leung Pak-kin's July 21st, 2019, equivalent, Gwyneth Ho currently being in detention while awaiting the commencement of a national security trial against her and 46 other politicians and political activists who took part in a democratic primary in July of last year to determine who would run in a since and still postponed Legislative Council election!) 

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Vanishing Hong Kong now includes Bleak House Books :(

More than just heritage buildings are vanishing in Hong Kong... :(

In his blog post (which he also shared on Facebook), Bleak House Books proprietor Albert Wan shared that his store was "a happy, thriving and successful bookshop" as well as "viable, self-sustaining, community-oriented" as was his intended goal.  So it's not for financial problems that has prompted him to make the decision to have this October 15th be the last day that the bookstore will be opened to the public.  
Instead, "The decision to close the bookshop follows another equally painful and sad decision, which is that my family and I will be leaving Hong Kong in the near future... [and t]he backdrop to these developments is, of course, politics. To be sure, what my wife Jenny, my kids, and I do in our daily lives is not overtly political. Jenny is a university professor, I sell books, and the kids are primary school students. But as George Orwell once remarked, ‘[i]n our age there is no such thing as “keeping out of politics”. All issues are political issues.’ This observation is as true today as it was in 1940 when Orwell first made it. And given the state of politics in Hong Kong, Jenny and I can no longer see a life for ourselves and our children in this city, at least in the near future" (my emphasis).  
Speaking of the state of politics in Hong Kong and how "all issues are political issues": On Friday night, Yau Tsim Mong district councillor Derek Chu invited friends to a screening of local Hong Kong romantic drama Beyond the Dream at his office.  As it turned out some friends invited their friends and it seems that a couple of them were undercover law enforcement officers (or, at the very least, those who tipped off the authorities).  For actual officials soon arrived at the office and handed out fines to the 40 or so people present for having violated the officially anti-pandemic public gathering ban that doesn't allow more than four people to be in a public space for a common purpose.   
Among the people present at that film screening -- and fined for his sins -- was the movie's director, Kiwi Chow.  Should his name not immediately ring a bell: this is the Hong Kong filmmaker whose Revolution of Our Times had its world premiere at Cannes last month and was one of prophetic political anthology Ten Year's co-directors.  And yes, one can't help but wonder whether there would have been a raid on the district councillor's film event if the screened film hadn't been directed by Chow. 
For those who mused why the district councillor hadn't just screened the film at his home (since the gathering ban does not extend to private gatherings): you've not been to regular Hong Kong abodes, have you?  For the record: the median area of a home in Hong Kong is 430 square feet and the general expectation is that a home that size would house a family rather than a single occupant.  Also, there are tens (even hundreds?) of thousands of homes that are smaller in size; with "nano-flats" (some of them sized at just around 128 or 135 square feet) having proliferated in recent years.  

There are stories circulating of many Hong Kongers who have moved abroad being ecstatic at being able to afford abodes in Britain and elsewhere far bigger than they had ever lived in in Hong Kong.  Of course bigger homes are not the reason why they've been moving abroad in droves in recent months (and expected to continue to do so for a time).  Speaking of which: a friend told me that, soon, she will be the only individual in her work team who will be remaining in Hong Kong; with the rest having decided to join the migration.  And earlier this week, yet another friend of mine announced her impending departure in a Facebook post; with her -- and Bleak House Books' Albert Wan's -- leaving going to make the number of people I personally know who have left Hong Kong since the coming into being of China's security law for Hong Kong go into double figures.

Friday, August 27, 2021

University students and others (including singer-activist Denise Ho) targeted by the Hong Kong authorities

I wonder what Dr Sun Yat-sen (who figures prominently 
on this mural found on a Hong Kong side street) would make of 
In addition, three of Anthony Yung's fellow accused HKU student leaders -- Kinson Cheung King-sang (also 19 years of age), Charles Kwok Wing-ho (20) and Chris Todorovski (18) -- continue to be behind bars as they have been denied bail after the quartet's arrest two Wednesdays ago for allegedly advocating terrorism in a motion they passed as members of the HKU Students' Union Council which expresses deep sadness at the death of Leung Kin-fai, who stabbed a police officer this past July 1st and subsequently committed suicide, offered sympathy and condolences to the deceased's family and friends and spoke of "his sacrifice to Hong Kong".  And separately from the issue of whether the mourning of the death of a man (whose only life taken was his own) can be seriously considered terrorism, it's worth noting that the HKU Student Council had actually withdrawn that statement, apologized for it and resigned over it back on July 9th in the wake of the strong criticism it had received from the Hong Kong government and the university authorities.        
Even before their arrests, I thought that Yung, Cheung, Kwok and Todorovski were being penalized pretty harshly for what could be seen as merely youthful indiscretions.  For example, the quartet and a number of their fellow HKU students were barred by the university from entering the campus and  prohibited from using any university facilities and services (even while officially still students of HKU!).   Also, their union's office had been raided by national security police and the university stated that it was cutting ties with the student union; with the latter action and the barring of the students from campus causing law lecturer Eric Cheung to resign from the HKU Governing Council in protest.  
What makes the actions of those in charge of HKU even more upsetting is that this is the University of Hong Kong we're talking about: Hong Kong's first institution of higher learning and the one still considered by many people to be its premier one (as well as among the top in Asia and even the world).  And the university that happens to be the alma mater of "the father of the Chinese revolutions of the last century", Dr Sun Yat-sen: who, on a 1923 visit to it, delivered a speech that contained the following assertion: "the answer to the question, where did I get my revolutionary ideas: it is entirely in Hong Kong".  
A former HKU professor who recently moved to the University of Toronto, Chris Fraser, recently Tweeted that "HK today has been overrun by vandals who are tearing down civil society."  This was before the national security arrests of four undergraduate students at the Hong Kong university he used to teach but after the bringing down of the Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union (HKPTU) whose club (i.e., supermarket) had its last day today.  Galileo Cheng was there to witness its closing after 48 years of service and the photos he took there communicate well the sadness as its closure.      
With regards to other civil organizations now under threat: the authorities most definitely are gunning for the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China best known for organizing the June 4th candlelight vigils in Victoria Park and setting up the June 4th Museum to continue mourning and remembering those who died at Tiananmen Square and related locales back on June 4th, 1989.  The crime they're being accused of?  Collusion with foreign forces! 
Here's the thing: while previously it could be argued that all the authorities wanted was to shut the organization down, the examples of Apple Daily and Next Media show that the powers that be now want more than that.  Also witness what's happening with the 612 Humanitarian Fund, with Secretary for Security Chris Tang accusing it today of profiteering by asserting that "I have noticed that this organisation has announced that it will soon disband, but they also told people to donate a huge sum before they disband, do they really have to profit just before disbanding?"      
On a surely unrelated note: One of the 612 Humanitarian Fund's trustees, singer-activist Denise Ho, is coming under scrutiny as an "anti-China activist".   It definitely is not a good sign that Chinese state media have trained their sights on the long-time democracy proponent.  And while it is hoped that, like her friend Anthony Wong Yiu-ming, she will be able to successfully battle the system, I do worry that she will fare less well than he (thus far) has done.  

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Films as national security threats and national security law threats to films in Hong Kong

Chow Chun-fai's painting of a still from 
Fruit Chan's Little Cheung (1999)
Not content to stop there, the authorities -- via Commerce Secretary Edward Yau (the same Edward Yau who a few days ago defended the government’s decision to exempt Nicole Kidman and three other people working on Lulu Wang's The Expats Amazon Prime series from serving mandatory quarantine, suggesting in the process that the Australian actress' trip to a Central shopping boutique may have been a part of a “costume fitting”) -- issued a statement last month that films that make it through Hong Kong's censorship checks may still be deemed to breach the national security law.  And now they also have made clear their intent to introduce a new film censorship law that would have vest them with the power to revoke approval previously granted to movies for national security purposes. 
"We need this provision to cater for circumstances where a film which was graded or approved before, but given the new law enacted and new guidelines issued, there might be chances that we need to reconsider such cases," said that man Edward Yau again, this time at a press briefing which took place yesterday.  And the severity of this proposed law -- which will be tabled at the now opposition-less Legisliatve Council for its first and second reading next Wednesday -- can be seen in its power to send anyone responsible for illegal screenings to jail for up to three years and/or a fine of HK$1 million (US$128,000).
I know some people will worry that their beloved kungfu movies and period actioners will be affected (this not least since a good number of them have plotlines involving heroes and/or heroines going against, if not outright bidding to overthrow, the ruling regimes) -- or even any film whose characters consider Taiwan to be a country (as opposed to a renegade province of the People's Republic of China).  Also, more than one person has wondered if Les Miserables (whose Do You Hear the People Sing? is a popular Hong Kong protest anthem) might be one of the (many) movies retroactively banned; ditto re whether the Star Wars films would (also) get the chop -- since it's about a rebel alliance out to defeat a powerful regime!  
It remains to be seen how sweepingly the people empowered to do so will apply the new law that will have no problems passing through the now opposition-less Legislative Council.  Still, one thing we can be pretty certain about is that the likes of Ten Years and documentaries about the extradition bill protests (e.g., Kiwi Chow's Cannes world premiering Revolution of Our Times) and the Umbrella Movement (e.g., Evans Chan's Raise the Umbrellas) won't be screened in public or even semi-privately (though not privately in homes?) in Hong Kong after this law is passed (as early as next week). But, then, it's been a while since any Hong Kong film of this overtly political nature has been.
In the wake of Edward Yau's announcement, Hong Kong filmmakers have been filled with (more) worry -- though there's an argument to be made that the proposed law is targeted more at film exhibitiors and distributors than filmmakers.  Still, I'll leave the last word for now to director-producer Mabel Cheung, who's quoted in a RTHK article today as saying the following:
The trade has a lot of questions. We have had meetings with officials, mainly to ask them what's allowed and what's not…. But the government hasn’t been able to give any concrete answer...
Most of us [filmmakers] just want to make movies to entertain people, express our beliefs or make movies that move us personally… Directors should be brave, we should stand firm and make movies for things that are worth it. Although there may be a lot of uncertainties, if you don’t keep walking how would you find out whether there’s a way? How could you censor yourself? I think we should be brave and stride ahead.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Tan Chu Mui's Barbarian Invasion doesn't come across as a vanity project despite her starring in, directing and scripting it! (Film review)

An evocative poster for a hard to categorize movie!
Barbarian Invasion (Malaysia-Hong Kong-Mainland China, 2021)
- Tan Chui Mui, director and scriptwriter
- Starring: Tan Chui Mui, Pete Teo, Bronte Palarae, James Lee
Before anything else: this film is officially listed as a co-production but Barbarian Invasion is, for all intents, a Malaysian-made film, with a "Who's Who" of Malaysian independent cinema involved in its production in front of the camera behind the scenes.  However, it was largely financed with Hong Kong and Mainland Chinese money (including that emanating from the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society) -- and this might have played a part in a substantial amount of its dialogue being in Mandarin/Putonghua and Cantonese (even while the first lines spoken in the movie in Bahasa Malaysia and the film's dialogue also includes Hokkien, Tamil, Burmese and English).    

Also, despite their possessing similiar titles, Tan Chui Mui's film has very little in common with the 2003 Oscar-winning entry from Canada entitled The Barbarian InvasionsAlso, Barbarian Invasion also has nothing to do with the movements of Germanic peoples which began before 200 BCE and lasted until the early Middle Ages, destroying the Western Roman Empire in the process.  
Instead, it takes its name from the Hannah Arendt quote about how "Every generation, civilization is invaded by barbarians - we call them 'children'"!  And for the record, the first lines of dialogue in Barbarian Invasion are indeed spoken by a child: specifically, Yu Zhou (played by Nik Hadiff Dani), the young son of Moon Lee (portrayed by director-scriptwriter Tan Chui Mui), a woman looking to relaunch her acting career after becoming a mother and divorcee who was (is) the muse of famous director Roger Woo (essayed by Pete Teo).  

Since Yu Zhou is one of the more annoying child characters I've seen in a film of late, I'm glad to state that he is not in the limelight for much of the movie.  At the same time though, he is an important presence in the movie in that, early on, Moon is shown letting him pretty much rule her life and, in the second part of the film, his absence greatly impacts her course of action.  Still, the further one goes into Barbarian Invasion, the more it becomes evident that the film is about Moon and her finding herself again after years of being a mother and wife made her feel more like a vessel of, or adjunct to, another human being -- something that Tan Chui Mui knows from personal experience

Lest this all sound too philosophical or metaphysical, here's pointing out that Barbarian Invasion also features a lot of cool and intense action: with Moon's comeback role requiring her to undergo intensive training in various martial arts (including Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Krav Maga (the Israeli art of self-defence), Muay Thai, taekwondo and boxing) under Master Loh (impressively portrayed by the versatile James Lee) and there being a number of scenes in which Moon shows what she's learnt, including when trying to teach a good Samaritan (played by the charismatic Bronte Palarae) how to defend himself from those who might want to stab him in the back rather than "just" give him a good slap.  (And no, it's not a coincidence that the film's lead character has the same name as 1980s Hong Kong action movie actress Moon Lee!)
Speaking of actresses who have graced Hong Kong action movies: I couldn't help but think of Tan Chui Mui's Malaysian compatriot, Michelle Yeoh when seeing Tan performing martial arts moves in certain Barbarian Invasion scenes.  At the same time though, I found myself noting that Tan appeared far more willing to look (physically) bad than Yeoh for the sake of her at.  And yes, I do think that Tan's willingness to "uglify" herself on screen does help prevent Barbarian Invasion from being the vanity project that one worries that this film would be upon hearing that it stars the woman who also is its director and scriptwriter (and, also, was mainly shot in a small town in Terengganu, Malaysia, close to Tan's hometown of Sungai Ular)!    

More than incidentally, I must admit to hesitating a bit to check out this movie since I had been extremely underwhelmed by Tan Chui Mui's debut film, Love Conquers All (2006).  But I'm very glad I did though: this not only because the multi-lingual and -genre Barbarian Invasion is one of the most genuinely Malaysian movies I've seen in a while but also because it's a thoroughly engrossing cinematic work that is absolutely unafraid to wear its transnational pop cultural knowledge (with fun references to Hong Kong movies, South Korean cinema and Hollywood, etc.), general intelligence and impassioned heart on its sleeve.  
My rating for this film: 8.0

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Pleading guilty in a Hong Kong court is not necessarily an admission of having committed a wrong these days

Raphael Wong -- a man who's physically short in stature
but with a lot more guts than many who physically tower over him

A friend spoke at lunch today about her frustrations dealing with her "blue" (i.e., pro-Beijing) father in recent days.  In particular, after hearing the news of a number of pro-democracy activists and politicians having pleaded guilty in court, he had told her: "See?  They admit that they've done wrong!"  And when she tried to point out otherwise, he refused to believe her.  
Since we agreed that there are a number of people out there like her father, here's going ahead and looking some more into two recent cases where the pro-democracy defendants had pleaded guilty.  The first of these involves Andy Li and Chan Tsz-wah, who pleaded guilty this past Thursday to "colluding with foreign forces to endanger China's national security" and thus falling afoul of the national security law that China imposed on Hong Kong on June 30th, 2020.
Upon examining the details of the charges brought against them though, certain things start to look rather murky.  For example, the actual actions they have admitted to involve doing such as crowdfunding to take out ads in foreign newspapers (like the New York Times) calling for sanctions to be taken against the Chinese and Hong Kong governments.  Apart from the taking out of advertising in foreign newspapers not appearing to be something that would seriously endanger a major country and city's security, there's also the issue of most, if not all, of the actions they have been accused of taking that endanger national security having taken place before the national security law, which officially is not retractive, came into effect!
Consequently, observers such as human rights campaigner Luke de Pulford have been moved to conclude that "Andy Li has commited no crime" (and that Andy Li and Chan Tsz-wah are being used to strengthen the Hong Kong government's case against media tycoon Jimmy Lai).  In a statement released by human rights NGO Hong Kong Watch, its Policy Director, Johnny Patterson, had this to say about Andy Li's general treatment since he was apprehended (with 11 other Hong Kongers) by the Mainland Chinese coastguard while trying to flee to Taiwan by boat back in August of last year
It is hard to imagine what Andy Li has been through since the trumped up National Security charges were first levelled against him in August 2020.

Held for six months in arbitrary detention in mainland China, he will have almost definitely faced torture and intimidation ahead of today's plea.

His current show trial on vague and absurd charges of "collusion with foreign forces" is another dark day on Hong Kong's road to authoritarianism. The case shows that the mainlandisation of Hong Kong is seeping into the legal system. Testimonies which are likely to have come under duress should be rejected out of hand, not accepted as reliable. The guilty plea only shows that both he and Chan Tsz-Wah no longer believe you can get a fair trial in Hong Kong.

Thursday also saw Figo Chan (a former convenor of the Civil Human Rights Front), his League of Social Democrat colleagues Raphael Wong, “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung and Avery Ng, and fellow pro-democracy politicians Cyd Ho and Yeung Sum plead guilty in court to having organised a demonstration on October 20th, 2019 against the government's anti-mask ban (which, by the way, is still in effect -- meaning that even while Hong Kong currently has a general mask-wearing requirement as a social measure against the Wuhan coronavirus, it also simultaneously has a regulation against the wearing of masks if one is taking part in a protest!).  Chan, Leung, Cyd Ho and lawyer-politician Albert Ho pleaded guilty too to another charge of conspiring to incite others to attend an unauthorised protest on October 19th that year. 
The court heard mitigation pleas prior to the sentencing of the seven pro-democrats yesterday. The following are a couple of excerpts from Raphael Wong's mitigation statement ahead of his expected sentencing on September 1st: "I have nothing to be ashamed of and no remorse for what I did on that day”; and "The march in Kowloon on October 20 was certainly an opportunity to reflect public opinion. Now, by imposing heavy penalties on us, the court is only punishing public opinion… suffocating the freedom of expression"; He also maintained this: "The true and frequent violence is the kind of violence that ignores people’s demands, that tramples on their opinions, that deprives them of their right to express themselves."  
Does this sound like the words of a man who believes he's guilty of an actual crime?  My sense is that Wong believes that he is on the right side of justice and is still holding out for true justice to be served. Sadly, this probably means that he will given a harsh(er) sentence by the judge (who's a designated national security law judge -- though the case in which Wong's embroiled is -- thank goodness for small mercies -- not a national security law case).  At the same time, while some might see his stubbornness as foolishness or worse, I see it as courage -- and respect him for being willing to call what he sees as a spade a spade. 
Still, it does upset me to know that, in contemporary Hong Kong, Raphael Wong's taking the stand that he has done means that the likelihood of his being able to be free in the near future will have significantly decreased.  But this is more of an indictment of what Hong Kong has become -- including its judicial system (see the words of Beatrice Li, Andy Li's sister on this here) -- rather than Raphael Wong and others with his convictions. 

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Nicole Kidman shows the world, with the help of the Hong Kong government, how some animals are more equal than others in Hong Kong as well as Animal Farm

Now that's what I call a big screen!
Actually, this news has been reported internationally too (see here and here and here for starters).  And the Hong Kong government has only fanned the flames of indignation, in its distinctive way, by acknowledging that it had approved Kidman's quarantine exemption and sating that this should be okay because she's keeping away from Hong Kong people (prompting one wag to note that "She certainly did her research on the expat lifestyle"!) and not allowed to take any public transportation whilst in Hong Kong with a quarantine exemption!   
Even before this, it's not like people were feeling positive about the Amazon Prime production that Nicole Kidman is an executive producer for and, also, may be starring in.  Among other things, it didn't help that Expats' director, Lulu Wang, is the scion of privileged Chinese Communisty Party members, and seemingly unaware that Hong Kong has an established film and TV industry of its own and thus should not be the kind of place where you need to import cameras for your production!  Oh, and there's also the tone-deafness of choosing to make a contemporary TV show about Hong Kong expats that doesn't look like it'll acknowledge what's been happening to Hong Kong in the past two years (like, you know, protests and repression).  
If this wasn't bad enough, amazingly, Amazon has now committed to a secondly series focusing on Hong Kong expats: this one entitled Exciting Times -- and no, it doesn't seem like its title is meant to be ironic in any way -- based on a novel that rang at least one Hong Konger's alarm bells back in January of last year!  This all has prompted some people to wonder if it has to do with the Hong Kong government's plans to launch an international publicity campaign to promote Hong Kong as the "best place in Asia to live, work and invest in" post its hiring global PR firm Consulum FZ LLC (Consulum) to "relaunch Hong Kong" and make its image more positive post it being sullied by such as mass arrests of pro-democracy politicians and political activists, the shutting down of the territory's largest pro-democracy newspaper and the imposition by China of a national security law for Hong Kong.  
Speaking of negative Hong Kong news: yesterday saw the arrest of four University of Hong Kong undergraduates-- aged between 18 and 20 years of age -- for "advocating terrorism" (by having released a statement, which they later retracted, expressing “deep sadness” over the death of a man who had wounded a police officer this past July 1st and appreciation for his “sacrifice”); and the announcement of the imminent halting of operations of the 612 Humanitarian Fund established to help arrested Hong Kong protestors due its soon not going to have a bank account it can use
Then today also saw two members of the Hong Kong 12, Andy Li and Chan Tsz-wah, pleading guilty in a national security law case that is linked to jailed media tycoon Jimmy Lai (as a result of what some suspect torture and other pressures), and tens of thousands of Hong Kongers holding British National Overseas passports being forced to leave behind their retirement savings when they leave for the United Kingdom.  And yes, I easily could have made one of these the main focus of this blog post -- and no, my not doing so doesn't mean that I think that all those happenings are not noteworthy.      

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Yamaguchi prefecture's Akiyoshido deserves more than one blog post devoted to it! (Photo-essay)

"Hong Kong will no longer allow incoming travellers who test positive for Covid-19 antibodies to undergo a shorter compulsory quarantine, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on Tuesday."  Decisions such as these, that are contributing to Hong Kong being isolated from the rest of the world, are making some people with relatives and roots in other territories decide to leave Hong Kong (along with the imposition of China's security law on Hong Kong).   And many Hong Kongers are despairing about the low likelihood of being able to leave for some time to come for leisure travel -- this despite Hong Kong having a total of three new Wuhan coronavirus cases (and just one of them locally transmitted) today -- for residents of this physically small territory who, prior to the pandemic, were among the most well-travelled people on Earth.  
When, I wonder, will I able to travel for pleasure to Japan again?  For now, I can do so only in my dreams and vicariously (through doing such as watching Japanese movies and Funassyi videos, reading Japanese books (my current favorite Japanese writer is Keigo Higashino) and eating Japanese food).  And by looking at the photos from my Japan trips -- which led me to think that I shouldn't have sold this blog's visitors short with regards to photos of Yamaguchi prefecture's amazing Akiyoshido (which I visited back in October 2019).  So here's another photo-essay of Japan's largest limestone cave, approximately one kilometer of which is open to the public to explore.  Enjoy?! :)
Akiyoshido has three public entrances/exists.  The one I opted for
was the one closest to the Akiyoshidai plateau
Puppet Ponyo in the "300 Million-Year-Time-Tunnel" (whose 
information panels highlight the cave's estimated age)
One of Akiyoshido's star attractions is the

50 feet high Koganebashira (Golden Pillar)
Another geological formation inside the cave that merits 
a cool name: Chimachida (The 10,000 Rice Fields --
because that's what it supposedly resembles!)
Does this look like Mount Fuji to you?  
Because that's what it's called! ;b
An unnamed section of the cave that I thought was pretty cool,
not least because a stream runs through it
All too soon, it was time to emerge from the cave
-- in my case, by way of this exit 
Having seen that this stream/river has underwater origins
makes it all the more cooler to me :)

Sunday, August 15, 2021

The Civil Human Rights Front's turn to disband

Out on the street with the Civil Human Rights Front
in what can seem like another lifetime
Among other things, the CHRF has not organized a protest rally for some time now -- no thanks in large part to the Hong Kong police force objecting to their requests to stage them -- and its two most recent convenors, Figo Chan and Jimmy Sham, being currently behind bars.  Additionally, back in March, a campaign was already being waged by the pro-Beijing media to discredit this (previously) influential pan-democratic protest coalition which was founded in 2002 to coordinate protests by a network of pro-democracy and social issue advocacy groups in Hong Kong.  
Actually, in view of how quickly Hong Kong's largest union was taken down (in just 11 days), it's a testament to the people behind the largest of civic organizations in Hong Kong thus far to have disbanded that it managed to battle on for as long as it did.  On a more negative note: it's a clear sign of how much the Hong Kong government's attitude towards the 19-year-old umbrella organization of civil society groups has changed over the years.  
A Hong Kong Free Press report on precisely this noted that back in 2013, the then Chief Executive, Leung Chun-ying, referred to representatives of the CHRF as "friends" when addressing Hong Kongers after that year's July 1st protest march organized by the CHRF.  For the record, here's the pertinent section of the speech in question: "Friends from CHRF who hosted this protest, other friends who participated in organising it, as well as Hongkongers who attended the demonstration… You’ve worked hard. The government will carefully listen to all demands expressed in the protest".  Also for the record: this very fact was pointed out by Figo Chan back in May and Leung Chun-ying can indeed be heard stating this (in Cantonese) in a video clip posted on Twitter by Citizen News' Alvin Lum in April
In recent years, however, the CHRF was seen as a trouble-making thorn in the flesh of the government -- and, increasingly, an organization that needed to be brought down; this despite the CHRF having long espoused non-violence, always havin sought police approval when planning demonstrations, and never going ahead with organizing protests that did not receive a police-issued “letter of no objection”.  Even more amazingly, Commissioner of Police Raymond Siu has alleged that the CHRF might have violated the national security law in recent years even though this pro-democratic coalition has not organized any protest marches or rallies in the one year and one and a half months since the imposition of China's security law on Hong Kong on June 30th, 2020.         
Three questions arise from Raymond Siu's allegations.  Firstly, what happened to the declaration/promise (including by the likes of Carrie Lam) that the national security law is not/won't be retrospective?  Secondly, does this mean that Raymond Siu believes -- and the Hong Kong police force that he commands -- considers that every single participant in the protest marches and rallies organized by the CHRF that he alleged to have violated the national security law also have violated that draconian and uber broad law?  If so, so much for yet another Carrie Lam claim: this one about the national security law "will only target an extremely small minority of illegal and criminal acts and activities"!  Thirdly, since the police granted permission for all the protests that the CHRF organized to take place (beginning in 2002 and all the way through to 2019), are they criminally liable too?      

On a personal note: the CHRF organized the first Hong Kong-centric protest event that I took part in -- the July 1st protest march of 2012.  (I was a regular attendee of June 4th candlelight vigils in Victoria Park even before 2012 but those memorial events for the Tiananmen Square massacre are ones I see as as more international in scope.)  And over the years, I came to associate them with peaceful protests that often had a carnival-like atmosphere.  
Even in 2019, my sense was that the protests that took place under the aegis of the CHRF were likely to be more peaceful and safe to participate in than certain others.  Incidentally, another organizer of protests that I had thought of as having a greater likelihood of being peaceful and safe to attend was Ventus Lau.  And the fact that he too is behind bars along with the likes of Jimmy Sham and Figo Chan shows how extreme is this ongoing government clamp down on dissent and freedoms.  
In their farewell statement, the individuals who made the decision to dissolve the organization stated that: "Even though CHRF no longer exists today, we believe that different organisations will still keep their beliefs, not forget about their original intentions, & support civil society".  I would like to believe that this will indeed be the case.  
Even so, there's no denying that the efforts to try to support and be part of Hong Kong civil society has gotten harder with the dissolution of civic organizations with deep roots and wide impact like the CHRFAlso, as journalism professor Yuen Chan already shared prior to the confirmation of the CHRF's dissolution today: "Two years of so much loss and brutality, but the deliberate, brick-by-brick dismantling of civil society may be the most painful thing see so far."