Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Hong Kong law courts in the news along with two high-profile resignations from Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal

Brand Hong Kong's not as bright and cheery 
these days as advertised on this tram!
As lunch yesterday, a friend asked me how it was going.  I told her that I guess things weren't too bad as I hadn't been angry since last Wednesday, when I heard about Samuel Bickett getting deported from Hong Kong against his will.  Alas, before the day was out, I found myself messaging her to tell her that I was incandescent with rage once again upon hearing about two court rulings made yesterday.
All in all, one gets the sense that the judge for the case does not value the people concerned and ruled accordingly with regarding to how much their personal property was worth.  As one of the street sleepers, Siu-Bik Yuen, stated: "There is no human rights for us, we are treated as the lowest of the low, they (the government) don't regard us as human."
In addition, the judge seemed to have little sense of what life is like for these people.  I say this becausse he ruled that that they had failed to provide sufficient proof to assert ownership of the items in that they had not produced any "photos or receipts of items, or other documents to show the value of the items they claimed were lost in the government operation".  Well, yes -- because all that was tossed away by the riot police and cleaners, remember?! 
Then there's the matter of the legal procedure having gone on for so long that two claimants passed away -- at least one, in mysterious circumstances -- before the court reached a verdict.  As it so happened, one of them was a Vietnamese refugee -- which got me thinking of Drifting, a 2021 Hong Kong film about street sleepers whose characters had included an elderly Vietnamese refugee, and which had been inspired by a similar case involving street sleepers suing the government after getting their belongings trashed.  In other words: this kind of thing is not new and all.  And I'm sure the authorities won't be deterred from doing this again after getting off with such a light penalty yesterday!  

The second court ruling which I was upset by yesterday involved "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung, who turned 66 this past Sunday.  Already serving a 23-month jail sentence for separately organising an unlawful protest, and facing the more serious charge of subversion under the national security law, he was slapped with an additional two week prison sentence for a snatching a folder from a government official during a legislature meeting back in 2016 when he was serving as a Legislative Councillor.  

As per a news report: "His case has dragged on for years because of legal ambiguity over whether lawmakers can be charged over disruptions."  But the way was paved to prosecute him for this "offence" after the Court of Final Appeal ruled in September of last year that his actions did not fall in the realm of the "protected speech" that Legislative Councillors were allowed.  

Speaking of the Court of Final Appeals: it was announced today that two British judges who have been sitting on it have resigned.  "The situation has reached a tipping point where it is no longer tenable for British judges to sit on Hong Kong’s leading court, and would risk legitimising oppression,” British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss stated.
In a statement of his own, one of those judges, Lord Robert Reed (who happens to be the President of the British Supreme Court) made clear that his resignation came as a result of the administration in Hong Kong having "departed from values of political freedom, and freedom of expression" and he and his fellow British judge, Lord Patrick Hodge, not wishing to appear to endorse the administration.  Ironically, Lord Reed was actually involved in the Court of Final Appeal ruling last September that led to "Long Hair" being sentenced to an additional two weeks of jail yesterday.  I wonder whether that decision has preyed on his mind in recent months, weeks or days.   
As it so happens, that particular September ruling also led to another former pro-democracy Legislative Councillor, Fernando Cheung, being sent to prison for three weeks last month.  This prompted legal scholar Eric Yan-ho Lai to pen a piece in The Diplomat entitled: "Foreign judges are enabling Hong Kong's legal crackdown".   So, frankly, today's resignations were long overdue in the eyes of many. 

Today, Lai Tweeted the following about the resignations of the two British law lords from Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal: "The resignations of Lord Hodge and Lord Reed from #HK’s Court of Final Appeal are respectable moves in light of the ongoing political suppressions in the city"; and "the @UKSupremeCourt’s statement appears to imply the resignations are votes of no confidence to the city’s administration that does not respect political freedom and free speech anymore, and the Court does not want to collaborate with the HK administration anymore"

Monday, March 28, 2022

The Hong Kong government's deficiencies laid bare by the fifth Covid wave (and its handing one more opportunity to China to tighten its grip on the city)

China bull in Hong Kong

Still, I don't think that Hong Kongers and people looking on outside of Hong Kong are going to forget, and forgive, how badly the Hong Kong government has dealt with this fifth Coronavirus wave -- along with so many other things -- though.  And chief among Carrie Lam's sins for many is her running to Beijing for help and thereby giving it another prime opportunity to tighten its grip on Hong Kong.   
In recent days, articles by Hillary Leung has appeared in both the Hong Kong Free Press and The Guardian (containing much the same information but edited differently) about precisely this.  And I can do much worse than to copiously quote from one of them.  So, here's doing precisely that and sharing the following excerpts from The Guardian's piece:   
“Beijing has been trying to mould Hong Kong into another [Chinese] city,” says Lynette Ong, a political science professor at the University of Toronto. “The Covid crisis gives them a legitimate reason to do so.”
...Jeffrey Wasserstrom, a history professor at the University of California, Irvine, says “there was once a chasm separating what takes place in Hong Kong from what takes place across the mainland border”. That chasm is getting smaller.
Under the national security law, spaces like independent newsrooms, universities and civil society groups have felt a chill as Beijing seeks to integrate Hong Kong further into its fold.

And as Hong Kong prepares to welcome a batch of traditional Chinese medicine practitioners to staff treatment facilities and open more isolation camps built by mainland workers, the assimilation is now playing out more publicly than ever.

“The way that Covid has been handled by the Hong Kong authorities has demonstrated that the ‘one country, two systems’ concept is a pale shadow of what it once was,” Wasserstrom says.

As for the other deficiencies that the fifth Covid wave has "exposed", you know things are bad when even the normally pro-government, pro-Beijing South China Morning Post is running pieces discussing Carrie Lam's administration's poor leadership and inability to deliver.  Some excerpts from today's article noting those deficiencies in its headline as well as within its body:
[C]riticism and condemnation [has] rained down from former officials, business moguls and senior counsel, with former government adviser Jack Wong Chack-kie urging [Carrie] Lam to “resign in shame”. Even former commerce minister Frederick Ma Si-hang and Ronnie Chan Chi-chung, chairman of Hang Lung Properties, both usually circumspect about government matters, weighed in.
Ma said the governing team’s handling of the fifth wave exposed “all kinds of administrative deficiencies” while Chan bemoaned a leadership that lacked humility and was full of unfounded self-confidence.
...Experts told the Post the raging fifth wave of infections exposed not only Lam’s poor leadership, but also the weaknesses of the government as a whole, from its inability to plan ahead, coordinate civil servants and departments and disseminate information, to its failure in offering solutions even with help from Beijing.
...[A specialist in public administration, Professor John] Burns, an emeritus professor at the University of Hong Kong, said: “Effective governance requires leadership. Unfortunately, our leaders lack the ability to mobilise their own colleagues and the people to win this war. Rather, they value hierarchy and bureaucratic process above all else.”
The quote of the day must go though to another expert though. Professor Steve Tsang is director of the SOAS China Institute at the University of London.  Living and working outside of Hong Kong (and China) as he does, I think he is more able to not mince words.  And I think he got to the crux of the matter when he asked the following question: "How could the government of a very wealthy and developed city like Hong Kong be so unprepared, if it was even moderately competent?"!

Friday, March 25, 2022

More on Samuel Bickett and Hong Kong's still very serious and politicized pandemic situation

I watched and listened to the Hong Kong Free Press' Tom Grundy interview Samuel Bickett last night (Youtube video available here)This was actually the first time I had had heard him speak at length and 'live', and I must say that he acquitted himself very well; this not least since he clearly was still fatigued and probably also in shock to some extent from his most recent ordeal(s).  And, almost needless to say, I found the close to 40 minute long interview interesting and informative, and moving too.   
At various points, the now US-based lawyer -- who first moved to Hong Kong in 2013 -- spoke about planning to provide more details himself on his blog about his most recent prison experience and plans to continue pursuing his case up to the Court of Final Appeal, and I look forward to reading more of his writings in the future.  Mr Bickett also elaborated on a number of points he had made in the message he posted on Twitter two days ago and provided some background about his family -- and it's interesting, even while not super surprising, to learn that he has his parents' support in his pursuit of justice for himself and Hong Kong; and that he was raised by people who took part in civil rights protests in the USA.
On the subject of protests: More evidence for how difficult it is to stage them in Hong Kong these days came yesterday after three people staging a pro-Ukraine protest were fined by the Hong Kong police yesterday, and two taken away and arrested.  For the record: none of them was actually fined or arrested for protesting.  Rather, the fines came from their contravening the current anti-pandemic measure involving no public gatherings of more than two people being allowed and the arrests came from those two people not carrying any identification documents (like Hong Kong ID cards or their passports) with them. 
Nevertheless, there's no disputing that there is a feeling among many Hong Kongers that anti-pandemic measures, along with the actual Wuhan coronavirus itself, have played a key role in dissuading, even preventing, people from staging and taking part in large-scale protests since 2020.  As Quartz's Mary Hui wrote back in April of that year (i.e., some three months before China imposed a national security law on Hong Kong): "Since January, as the novel coronavirus spread rapidly in China, large-scale protests in Hong Kong have taken a pause as people called on each other to avoid crowds"; and a "Hong Kong regulation banning public gatherings of more than four people, enacted [in March] in an effort to combat the coronavirus pandemic, immediately stoked fears that it might be used to crack down on political dissent—and it appears to be happening already."
Speaking of the "novel coronavirus" that's now not so novel: Hong Kong's daily new Covid cases dropped down to a one-month low today.  Even so, it's still over the 10,000 mark (specifically, 10,401; with only four of the cases being imported ones) -- a far cry indeed from the 0 or even single digit figures Hong Kong had become used to for much of last year.  Also, the number of fatalities is still way higher than should be the case: with 192 deaths reported today (162 new; 30 backlogged); bringing the number of fifth wave deaths to 6,749 and total Covid deaths in Hong Kong to 6,962.  

And while the number of new daily cases are expected to keep going on a downward trajectory (as per the pattern of Omicron variant waves which sees the coronavirus spread easily and quickly but then appear to naturally burn out faster than that of other variants), the number of Covid fatalities are  expected to be high for a time.  And it most certainly doesn't help that the Hong Kong government appears to be sticking to a pandemic strategy that's far more guided by politics than science -- with today's major pandemic announcement by Carrie Lam involving the planned distribution of Covid kits next month that will include boxes of "traditional Chinese medicine" (TCM) along with N95 masks and rapid test kits (all of which will doubtlessly have been made in China).    
Scarily, not only has Lianhua Qingwen been adjudged to be ineffective by various government agencies but it in fact can be harmful.  Earlier this month, there was a reported case in Hong Kong man having  experienced acute liver failure after reportedly consuming painkillers and Lianhua Qingwen capsules! And while one doctor was quoted in local media as saying that overdosing on paracetamol can damage the liver, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s School of Chinese Medicine also went on the record to state that Lianhua Qingwen "contains a level of toxicity that can be harmful to the liver"!
Almost needless to say, Carrie Lam and her administration's reluctance to listen to actual medical experts here in Hong Kong greatly frustrates and upsets said medical experts (among them, at least one RNA virologist, professor of public health and medical practitioner).  As for the public: ignore this linked The Standard article's headline and note the line in it that "Respondents rated the SAR government 2.68 out of 10 in terms of their efforts in terms of curbing the fifth wave of pandemic"; and that, for many people, that rating is already way higher than should be the case

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

The latest (but, I trust, not last) about Samuel Bickett, and first mention here of "The Impossible City"

If this were one of the last views of Hong Kong I got...
In what can seem like another lifetime, I was an Anglophile who considered Britian -- more specifically, England to be my spiritual homeland.  But after spending time at boarding school there, I decided to head over to the U.S.A. for my further education.  Thus it was that when I left England at the end of my secondary school days, I wondered when I'd return there and, figuring it'd be a long time, got all weepy when the plane I took after leaving boarding school took off from Heathrow Airport and I looked down at England for what I thought might well be the last time in my life.  
From that experience and how much I know that I love Hong Kong, I think I'd be a quivering wreck on the last plane I take out of the Big Lychee.  And so I very much feel for Samuel Bickett, who this evening posted an account on Twitter of his having been banished from Hong Kong by the authorities -- and given no time to wind up his affairs here or even say goodbye to his partner and other loved ones here in Hong Kong.    
A quick rewind: the last time that I wrote on this blog about Mr Bickett was on February 9th, and it was to report that he had been sent back to serve his remaining prison sentence after his High Court appeal against his being penalized for going to the aid of a young man being assaulted by what turned out to be an off duty policeman proved unsuccessful.  The last day of the American Hong Kong lawyer's prison term was yesterday.  But rather than be allowed to stay in Hong Kong and do such as lodge an appeal to the Court of Final Appeal with regard to his case like he had intended, he was taken immediately from prison to Immigration Detention, then put on board a plane out of the place he has come to look upon as home.   
In his own words: "While I wasn't born in Hong Kong, it has long been my home.  Like many other Hongkongers, I have been forced to leave behind my loved ones and my city by an unelected government that, with open contempt for Hong Kong's system of law and justice, has sought to destroy everything and everyone that makes our city exceptional."
Samuel Bickett may now be out of Hong Kong but the sense I get is that he left at least part of himself and his heart here.  And he definitely wants to return -- and I totally believe that he'll be fighting for Hong Kong while he's away from it.  Like so many other Hong Kongers abroad (including Nathan Law, Ted Hui and Kacey Wong) who look upon themselves as exiles rather than migrants.  
As for those of us who are still here: I know there are many people who think we're foolish to remain.  And of course I've had to think about and consider leaving Hong Kong, and figure that I will have to at some point.  But, for now, there still is enough here to love that makes me loath to voluntarily take my leave.  And I know I'm not alone; not least as a result of reading Karen Cheung's The Impossible City: A Hong Kong Memoir (which I actually have not yet finished reading but already have found much to like, even love).

Here's sharing a bit from its Preface: "The day after the national security law was enacted, a gray banner that lay betweeen tram tracks read, "I really fucking love Hong Kong"... The photograph [of it] went viral, as a sort of declaration of love toward the place everyone told us was now disappearing.  The catchphrase accompanied cute protest artwork, playlists of local music, stories of random acts of kindness by Hong Kongers. But did we really fucking love Hong Kong? The timing of the statement felt almost ironic, like we were describing an abusive partner on their deathbed, and you couldn't talk about how much they suck... But maybe this is what it means when we say we love this place -- we recognize all of its imperfections, and still refuse to walk away."

Also from Karen Cheung in The Impossible City: "It takes work not to simply pass through a place but instead to become a part of it."  I know there are people who came to Hong Kong just to make money and left untouched by its charms.  I also know of people who came to Hong Kong thinking that would be the case for them and ended up falling in love with Hong Kong and staying for far longer than they thought they would, and even coming to think of themselves as Hong Kongers.  
I am one such individual who came to Hong Kong from elsewhere but has come to feel that this is home.  So is Karen Cheung (who was born in Shenzhen and who also has family ties with Singapore).  And so is Samuel Bickett.  Which is why I'm sad to know that he's left these shores as well as saddened by the injustice meted out to him.  But also heartened by his continued defiance, which can be seen in his message this evening also including the following words: "The fight for truth and justice in Hong Kong was never going to be easy, nor won quickly.  But it is worthwhile.  And I have faith that one day I will be able to once again walk the streets of a Hong Kong ruled by law and governed with the consent of its people."    

Monday, March 21, 2022

Some reasons given to hope in Hong Kong today but also to stay wary!

Fifth wave Hong Kong signs outside 
the Legislative Council building
In recent days, there has been much (international media) coverage of Hong Kong's fifth coronavirus wave disaster -- for good reason.  Maria Ilaria Sala's article for The Guardian on Friday had this stark headline: "Here in Hong Kong, Covid has surged and we’ve run out of coffins. Please learn from our mistakes".  And Timothy McLaughlin's piece in The Atlantic includes the following choice quotes about Hong Kong's situation:
[I]n early 2020, Hong Kong was ahead of the COVID curve, not lagging behind it. As soon as news emerged of a still-mysterious virus, everyone here began wearing masks and adapted to social distancing almost immediately; I wrote article after article about what life would look like in the weeks to come in America, having seen the future myself. While the West was caught off guard, Hong Kong felt prepared. 
Now medical facilities are overwhelmed with sick patients, and because morgues have struggled to keep pace, body bags are piled up in hospitals alongside patients still receiving treatment. Coffins are being shipped in to meet the demand. Construction workers are racing to build isolation facilities, including one that looks like a wartime field hospital on the border with the mainland. Some 300,000 people are in isolation or under home quarantine. After recording only 213 deaths and about 13,000 cases of COVID-19 from January 2020 to early 2022, the city is swamped by the current Omicron wave, which began at the start of the year and has led to more than 960,000 cases and more than 4,600 deaths.
That article came out on Thursday.  Just one day later, Hong Kong's number of Covid cases passed the 1 million mark and its death toll exceeded 5,000.  And this despite the daily reported number of cases and deaths having dropped sufficiently to provide confirmation that we are over the peak of the fifth wave.  Put it another way: the numbers are still on the disturbingly high side; with today's involving 14,068 new cases and 223 new reported deaths.  

Still, though those who are inclined to celebrate this would do well to remember to remember the Extradition bill saga (which involved a suspension before a long overdue withdrawal but also development for the worse soon afterwards) as well as Carrie Lam's words today that "I am not saying today that we will definitely not do this".  Put another way: how can we really trust her and what she says?  This is not least because she's prone to flip flops, if not playing with the truth and delivering outright lies.  And it doesn't instill confidence that the day earmarked for the resumption of flights to Hong Kong from the nine currently banned countries (which include the U.S.A., U.K. and Australia) is April 1st: April Fool's Day!       

In all seriousness though, there's also the fact of so much damage having already been wreaked on Hong Kong and the Hong Kong government's attempts to stem the flow of exiting expats and international businesses, never mind local residents, is already too little too late.  Thus it was that in her report today about Carrie Lam's announcement that some of Hong Kong's Covid restrictions will be relaxed (beginning from next month), CNN's Kristie Lu Stout also talked about the damage down to lives and livelihoods, and referred to the city where she currently is based as "a once vital world city" rather than one that is remains so. :(

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Finding beautiful things to (temporarily) focus on and enjoy still in Hong Kong (Photo-essay)

There is so many terrible things happening in so many parts of the world.  I think many people (especially in the West) are focused on what's happening in Ukraine as well as their respective homelands.  But I find myself thinking from time to time re the troubles in places like Tibet, Xinjiang, Myanmar and Thailand too.  And if all our human-made problems (which I'd consider Hong Kong's fifth coronavirus wave to partly be) weren't enough, Mother Nature's been getting into the act too.  
Amidst it all though, I got a reminder (via WholesomeMemes over on Twitter) that even when things aren't going well in our world, we have to try to find something beautiful.  So here's sharing photos from yet another spring day stroll along the Victoria Harbour-front that I hope will provide you with a visual and psychic cleanse:
The past few days have been warmer than usual 
for this time of the year as well as welcomingly sunny
Perhaps because the weather was truly good, a pair of pet owners
decided to bring their parrots out to enjoy the sun and fresh air
Yup, there had more than one bird with them! (And yes, it's 
fairly normal for Hong Kong bird owners to take the pets out) :b

Bird number three -- the brightest of the bunch, and also the wildest 
in behavior (I get the feeling that if it wasn't chained, it would have 
flown away and joined the cockatoo crew that lurk about in Victoria Park!)
Looking westwards towards the setting sun (with visibility
so high I could clearly see Castle Peak in the distance)
If you looked in other directions at this point in the
late afternoon, the sky actually was still on the blue side :)
The low clouds over Kowloon Peak were a visual bonus!
Still more low clouds over the Kowloon Hills spotted
as I neared the end of my walk that late afternoon/early evening :)c

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

The Omicron variant still wreaking havoc in Hong Kong, and now doing so over in Mainland China too!

A quarantine taxi -- note the special marking on the 
rear side window -- whose driver hopefully was 
not infected with the Wuhan coronavirus!
Hong Kong reported a record daily high of 249 Covid deaths yesterday and 289 (229 new; 61 backlogged) today.  A reminder: prior to the advent of the fifth coronavirus wave, Hong Kong reported a total of 233 Covid deaths.  That's how devastating this Omicron-fueled fifth wave has been.  
And although it looks to have peaked in term of daily new case numbers (with 27,765 reported today -- both by laboratories and those who reported testing postive when self-testing with rapid tests compared to the plus 50,000s of a little over a week ago), there are fears that the high death rate -- with 1 in 20 cases in Hong Kong currently ending in death -- will continue for a time.    

As has been ascertained, reasons for this terrible death rate and toll include the vulnerable elderly having low vaccination rates and, when they are vaccinated, being vaccinated with Sinovac (rather than the considerably more effective -- against Omicron and in general -- BioNTech/Pfizer).  For an understanding why this is so, consider reading this piece by Francesca Chiu, whose father lives in a nursing home with "a strong anti-vax atmosphere", thanks in part to a dearth of support and information about the government's vaccination programme.  
And how about Covid deaths that may be the result of Hong Kong's public hospitals being overwhelmed?  No numbers have currently been given with regards to this.  But here's some alarming figures with regards to Hong Kong's public hospitals to ponder: "The average occupancy rate of inpatient beds at 16 public hospitals soared to 104 per cent on Sunday, according to the Hospital Authority – the most crowded since mid-January", the Hong Kong Free Press reported; with 10 hospitals exceeding their capacity that day; and "[t]he Prince of Wales Hospital in Sha Tin [being] the most overloaded, with an occupancy rate of 140 per cent, followed by Caritas Medical Centre in Sham Shui Po, which had an occupancy rate of 129 per cent."
The article further noted that: "The newly designated hospital for Covid-19 patients, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, also reported a medical inpatient bed occupancy rate of 128 per cent."  And for the record: the "[o]ther hospitals that saw over 100 per cent occupancy for inpatient beds were Queen Mary Hospital, Tseung Kwan O Hospital, United Christian Hospital, Princess Margaret Hospital, Yan Chai Hospital, Alice Ho Miu Ling Nethersole Hospital and North District Hospital"; medical facilities variously located on Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories.      
Returning to the subject of the vulnerable elderly: in view of Hong Kong's taxi drivers being more likely to be elderly than young (with there being more drivers who are over 80 years old than below the age of 30 years!), one is moved to wonder what percentage of them have been (fully) vaccinated or even boosted.  And this especially so with regards to the 300 who have agreed to become designated drivers of "taxi ambulances"!
I hate to say it but my suspicion is that it's (far) lower than it should be, with negative consequences.  Or should I say "positive" as in "Covid positive"?  This morning, it was reported that 30 of the "taxi ambulance" drivers appointed by the government to ferry Covid-positive patients to and from designated clinics have tested positive for Covid.  And if you thought a 10% infection rate among the drivers was bad, consider that an update came later in the day that, in fact, it's 57 of the 300 taxi drivers have tested positive as of yesterday -- but, undeterred by this "development", the government is planning to recruit another 500 drivers to turn their cabs into "taxi ambulances"!       
With regards to the situation over in Mainland China: Covid cases have hit a two-year high there and millions of residents of at least cities (including Shenzhen, Shanghai and Jilin) are indeed in lockdownThe situation in the northeastern city of Jilin is considered to be particularly severe.  And although its daily case number of 3,076 is pretty low to Hong Kong's (ditto the overall daily case number for Mainland China of 3,507),  it's worth bearing in mind that officials there know that what we're seeing is "the beginning stages of an “exponential rise”"  in the number of cases.  Also, that it is extremely likely that there is (deliberate) under-reporting of case numbers taking place (since China has a history of this).
Another measure of the seriousness of the current Covid situation in Mainland China: Local government officials of cities that have seen outbreaks have been sacked.  And yes, one has to wonder why the same fate has not befallen Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of a city with experiencing a far worse outbreak than that of Jilin and Changchun?! 

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Winter on Fire inspires, and generates support and empathy for Ukraine (Film review)

A 2015 documentary film that's back in the news
- Evgeny Afineevsk, director, producer and cinematographer 
As a gesture of support for Ukraine in the wake of it being invaded by Russia on February 24th, Netflix has made a 98-minute-length documentary which provides much needed background information to what's currently happening in the country free to view on Youtube.  Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom is a film that I'd bet is unfamiliar to many people in the world.  However, it's one that well known to Hong Kongers -- not because it won the People's Choice Award at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival or was nominated for the Best Documentary, Feature Oscar in 2016 but because many free screenings were mounted of it here in the latter part of 2019 and it served to inspire many pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong who viewed it.   
As it so happens, I never did catch a screening of the film back in 2019 and only just viewed Winter on Fire for the first time earlier today.  Still, I have to admit that I can't help but see this documentary about Ukranians out protesting on the streets of Kyiv through the eyes of someone who took part in street protests in Hong Kong in 2019, 2014 and many another year.  And I totally can understand why many Hong Kongers would feel a connection to Ukranians after watching the work as well as be inspired by what was initially an uprising -- whose protest camp in a central square brought to mind those in Tiananmen Square in 1989 for someone like me -- before turning into the full-fledge Maidan Revolution (or Revolution of Dignity) which took place in the winter of 2013-2014.
In November 2013, protests erupted in Ukraine after its then president, Viktor Yanukovych, opted against signing an accord with the European Union (that would have politically aligned Ukraine with "the West") and opt, instead, to have closer ties with Russia.  Initially, those who went and gathered at Kyiv's Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) numbered just a few thousand but the size of the protest crowd soon grew in size, with it becoming very apparent that a very large number of Ukranians wanted to be, as they chanted, "Europeans".
Like was the case in Hong Kong (in 2014 and 2019), the protestors were initially peaceful, with participants consisting of female and male, old and young (including a 12 year old prominently featured in Winter on Fire) and people from different walks of life (including professionals, trade unionists, students and retirees).  Something that wasn't explicitly mentioned in the film but also is visually apparent is that the protestors were multi-ethnic in nature: in that not all of them were stereotypically blonde haired and blue eyed and some of them actually looked like they were Roma (though it's also true that I didn't notice any Afro-Ukranians in the protest crowd or, for that matter, among the government forces sent in to quell the protest).
Also, sadly, as was the case in Hong Kong (especially in 2019), the protests soon turned violent though.  Or, rather (in both Hong Kong and Ukraine), the protestors were attacked by government forces and felt obliged to protect themselves and rescue others from violent fates at the hands of the government forces -- who, in Ukraine, fired live ammunitiion into the crowd as well as rubber bullets and tear gas, and also made use of stun grenades.  
One key way in which the Ukranian protest crowd differed from those in Hong Kong is that there were ex-military men in the midst.  It was interesting to hear a number of them talk in Winter on Fire, including about tactics and the kind of assistance they were able to specifically and generally render.  Another major way in which the Ukranian protests was different from the Hong Kong ones: a lot more lives were lost in public view, and directly as a result of the actions of government forces, in Kyiv.  (Should it not be obvious: the film contains some really disturbing footage, made even more upsetting to view because you know what you were watching was real on account of it being a documentary rather than a work of fiction)     
And then there's the most significant difference of all: the protestors in Ukraine succeeded in overthrowing the government -- with the unpopular president fleeing the country one morning.  In the post-script, the audience of Winter on Fire also is informed that the hated Berkut (the special police force that looks for Hong Kongers to be the Ukranian version of the riot police) was dissolved.  How many Hong Kongers would love for this to happen here but, sadly, have very little confidence that it ever will.
Regardless of whether I wear my Hong Konger hat while viewing this film or not, the following is for sure: Winter on Fire is a very good work: not only because it is thoroughly capable of getting the blood pumping but also because its narrative explains clearly what was shown happening.  In sum: it is a documentary that not only makes one understand why freedom from repression means so much to Ukranians but, also, gets one feeling it is only right to support their bids to remain politically independent.
My rating for this film: 9.0

Friday, March 11, 2022

Hong Kong Covid horror stories

How bad a state is Hong Kong currently in?  Well, when you
consider that entry to places of worship are currently off limits... :S
Others wondered if martial law had been declared in Hong Kong or they had been summoned to be admitted to one of those horrible "community isolation facilities" that have been built (overly) quickly in recent weeks.  All in all, it's a wonder that no one actually got a heart attack as a result of hearing the alert, though several people did voice that it threatened to do so for them!   
Two days later, Queen Elizabeth Hospital is in the news once more -- and this time, we're talking about something truly tragic that can in no way be taken lightly or turned into a joke that we can all laugh off.  Specifically: photographs circulated on social media showing filled body bags having been put in a hospital ward right next to patients and their beds (those poor patients!), and, in one image, a bag of adult diapers having been placed atop a filled body bag

Granted that we know that Hong Kong's public hospitals have been under severe strain -- no thanks to the private hospitals not pitching in much at all.  Just today, there was a report in the Hong Kong Free Press that "over 12,500 of the Hospital Authority's (HA) 88,000 employees have been infected with Covid-19 during the fifth wave, as it continues to overwhelm the public healthcare system" and about a viral video showing Queen Elizabeth Hospital’s Accident and Emergency Department's consultant doctor, Ho Hiu-fai, a veteran medico who's worked at the hospital for 35 years, breaking down in tears during a staff meeting.
Truly, the picture painted by Dr Ho at the staff meeting was horrendous.  Among the details: some 80 percent of patients who arrived at the hospital by ambulance had Covid and some 65 percent of them required hospitalization.  Also, "some patients failed to be admitted into wards and were stuck in the emergency room".  And the reports of other staffers at the meeting were alarming too: including about the emergency room "being like hell, where patients have to sleep on the floor, and there is not enough medicine and supplies like saline water and oxygen"; and there also being "not enough manpower to take care of elderly people's needs, such as taking them to the toilet and feeding them." 
Even so, nothing quite rammed home how terrible things have become like those shocking photos.  You know it's bad when a public health professor's Tweeted reaction to the most circulated of them was: "It takes a lot, and this far into the pandemic, but this photo has brought me to an all-time low point." And in the words of another person upset by what they saw: "What two years of Hong Kong government incompetence, and Central government interference, has done to Asia's World City."
The Hong Kong Hospital Authority has urged for understanding -- and I think many people will give them -- or at least its medical staffers -- that.  People know that they are overwhelmed and that they've been hung out to dry by the Hong Kong government.  But the Hong Kong government itself really has a lot to answer for.  
Oh, and for the record: Hong Kong reported another 294 Covid deaths today; bringing the total number of fifth wave deaths to 3,231 to date.  (A reminder: until the fifth wave, Hong Kong had considerably fewer Covid deaths than deaths from SARS in 2003.)  As Hong Kong-based history professor Noah Shusterman put it: "No excuse for this, not now, not in 2022."     
Adding to the horror: the mental strain that caused more than 270 Hong Kongers to call the Samaritan Befrienders Hong Kong (SBHK) suicide prevention group for help in January and February as a result of emotional distress caused by the fifth wave.  And then there are the suicides of two elderly individuals who caught Covid  for fear of causing a burden to their family.  As Natalie Wong, the journalist who Tweeted about them, stated: "Hong Kong has failed them". :(

Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Spring has arrived in Hong Kong (and the fifth wave peaked?)! (Photo-essay)

What I think I can say with some certainty though is that spring has arrived in Hong Kong -- and brought beautiful, bright blue skies along with agreeably mild weather.  Rather than hole up in my apartment, like I did all of yesterday and Sunday, I went out today for a walk: a good part of which was along the Victoria Harbourfront; and a good section of which route I previously had never been on.  And over the course of doing so: you guessed it -- I got to thinking once more that Hong Kong is really beautiful and I (still) f**king love Hong Kong!    

View of the Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter and across the harbour 
over to the Kowloon hills and past it to Tai Mo Shan
Not the usual view of the Cross Harbour Tunnel -- and, in fact, 
it took me a few seconds to realize what it was that I was seeing! :b

Today was definitely the closest I've been to the Cross 
Harbour Tunnel by foot (as opposed to bus, taxi or car)!
Pedal boats waiting for to be utilized again (perhaps
after the fifth wave recedes)
In the meantime, at least one can still enjoy the harbourfront 
views and seats along with the day's good weather! 

Should there be any question what the body of water
that dominates the nearby scenery is called...
Not as many people out on the promenade as one might expect,
given how beautiful the weather was -- but, then, it's a week day 
and we're in the middle of the fifth coronavirus wave, after all :S
Also, I actually didn't see as much wildlife as I'd expected
(very few butterflies out, for instance) but I did spot this bird! :)