Thursday, April 28, 2022

The third anniversary of the first China extradition bill protest that I took part in

"No extradition to Mainland China" was the 
simple demand three years ago today
Three years ago today, I took part in a very large as well as peaceful protest in Hong Kong against a certain China extradition plan/bill.  Back then, I marvelled at how many people had turned out to march on the streets that day.  I had no idea that a few months down the road, there'd be 1 million and even 2 million strong marches against that extradition bill.  And I certainly would not have been able to imagine how unwilling the Hong Kong government would be to listen to Hong Kong people and do what was best for Hong Kong (as opposed to its bosses up in Beijing).

Put another way: I (and the many other people who turned out to make our voices heard) was so idealistic then.  But while I'm far more cynical now, I still have no regrets about doing what I did on April 28th, 2019, and, subsequently, on June 9th, June 16th, etc. of that year.  And, actually, yes, I still believe that our cause was a righteous one and that we are on the right side of history rather than those who are currently -- but by no means permanently -- in the ascendancy in Hong Kong.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

The exodus from -- and self censorship in -- Hong Kong continues apace

Seen on a Lennon Wall in November 2019; there are fewer 
non-CCP-controlled/leaning media outlets now in Hong Kong :(
It's only Tuesday but it's been a terrible week already as far as those who care for freedom in Hong Kong are concerned.  In the wee hours of Monday morning, I learnt via a Tweet that the deputy chief executive of the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute (HKPORI), Hong Kong's leading independent pollster, had left Hong Kong.  
In a Hong Kong Free Press piece that came out later in the day, Chung Kim-wah was reported as having done so because he had decided that the city where he had been born and raised was "a place where one may “no longer live normally and without intimidation.”"  Interestingly, HKPORI CEO Robert Chung remains in Hong Kong, for now.  But I wouldn't be surprised if he too were to join the growing exodus before too long.
The latest individual to have announced that he, too, has left Hong Kong, is political cartoonist Ah-To (whose works -- including this, this and this -- have touched many hearts).  Excerpts from a social media post he put out today have been translated into English and shared by Niao Collective.  They include the following heartrending message: "I’m sorry. I’ve left [Hong Kong] because I want to continue to make art for [Hong Kong]. This may sound like a contradiction, but my heart is full of conflict. If my spirit remains here, my flesh is already in exile…… and to tear myself apart in such a way when I create, I worry my art would become soulless and detached. But if I stayed to draw political cartoons, the mental toll would be just too great. I am forced to make this choice."

Also: "Please forgive me for being so weak. I can only create art from afar to support HK. Because I left in a hurry and quietly, I regret not being able to say goodbye to friends. Thinking about all those HK friends and family I may not see for a long time, thinking about...; … our fellow fighters who are in jail, my loyal readers, my wife who has been forced to leave with me.. my heart hurts. I’ve never made a post that made me so exhausted, every word is pain. But I will remember this pain, and give voice to those without a voice…".

In between the news of Chung Kim-wah and Ah-To's departures has been that of human rights lawyer Michael Vidier Chased around Hong Kong Airport last night by pro-Beijing news outlets (as with another prominent Hong Kong lawyer, Paul Harris, who left for Britain back in early March), I'm sure that he, too, was prompted to leave after being contacted/warned by National Security Police.  The writing was on the wall after news came last week that his law firm, Vidier & Co, would cease practice on June 3rd after 19 years of operation.  But it seems that June date wasn't soon enough for the authorities.
If all this wasn't upsetting enough, consider also that yesterday saw the Foreign Correspondents'  Club (FCC) announce that it would be suspending the 26th edition of its human rights reporting awards.  In a letter to its members, the organization stated that: ""Over the last two years, journalists in Hong Kong have been operating under new 'red lines' on what is and is not permissible, but there remain significant areas of uncertainty and we do not wish unintentionally to violate the law. This is the context in which we decided to suspend the awards".  Specifically, it was feared that the awarding of a number of awards to the now defunct Stand News would violate the national security law as the reportage that would be recognized covered topics such as police accountability in the Hong Kong protests in 2019.
That it was a contentious decision can be seen in seven of its press freedom committee members, including the Washington Post's Hong Kong and Southeast Asia bureau chief, Shibani Mahtani, the Financial Times' Jennifer Creery, Quartz's Mary Hui and freelance writer Timothy McLaughlin, announcing their resignation from the committee in protest. In addition, the Wall Street Journal's Dan Strumpf, has announced his resignation from the FCC's board.    

In what can seem as a retort and rebuke to the Hong Kong FCC's refusal as an organization to stand with local, very much embattled Hong Kong journalists, the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan (FCCJ) announced today that its Freedom of the Press Asia award had gone to "Hong Kong journalists".  As Japan-based Nikkei Asia journalist, Andy Sharp, noted: "While Japan is not perfect, there is freedom of speech and expression here, unlike in many countries."  
In contrast, while incoming Hong Kong chief executive John Lee may asssert that press freedom exists in the Hong Kong (so there is no need to ask him to “defend” it), I think most of us know it's otherwise.  No need to take my word for it.  Instead, consider this piece in The Guardian today about advocacy group Hong Kong Watch  reporting on the almost complete dismantling of the free press in this city.
More than by the way, Hong Kong Watch's website is no longer accessible from Hong Kong without a VPN (after the group refused to obey the Hong Kong government's demand that it shut down its website).  So, in view of the Hong Kong government clearly not wanting what Hong Kong Watch says to be read and heard, I reckon people would (and should?) be even more curious to find out what it has to say about Hong Kong!       

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Sights to see in the vicinity of Wah Fu, Waterfall Bay and the Aberdeen West Typhoon Shelter (Photo-essay)

After having gotten back to hiking ways a couple of weeks ago, I've lapsed again with regards to going out onto the hiking trails this week as the temperatures have risen and I have renewed my acquaintance with bugs that bite and cause skin allergies to flare up.  Soon, I fear, it'll even be too hot to take long urban walks.  For now, though, that's still enjoyable as well as doable -- and for those who didn't think it: yes, there really are sections and corners of Hong Kong I've yet to visit (along with places that I've been meaning to revisit after having not doing so in a while)!
Back in my first year in Hong Kong, I went over to Wah Fu and Waterfall Bay.  A couple of weeks ago, I decided to revisit the area and, after spending time there (including at Waterfall Bay Park), I ended up walking over to Aberdeen.  Along the way, I came across what I initially took for a footbridge that would take me over to Ap Lei Chau, only to realize when I had walked along a good part of the structure that it actually was the breakwater of a typhoon shelter!  And yes, I felt a bit silly after making this discovery -- but I also got in some cool views from it.  So, no regrets really re having been on it, and any part of that afternoon's excursion, actually!  (And I hope you'll get a sense why after seeing the following pictures taking on it!)

Public estates in Hong Kong (like Wah Fu) are more colorful and 
photogenic than those to be found in many other parts of the world
It's also not uncommon for public housing estates to be located 
View from Waterfall Bay of a container ship 
passing through the East Lamma Channel
Also in the area: a swim spot with lovely scenic views!
And then there's the home of abandoned gods (that 
included Aladdin's Genie as the more usual Taoist deities!)
-- or, at least, abandoned figurines of the gods -- in the area! :O
See why I thought this was a bridge that would
take me over to Ap Lei Chau?
For some people, the breakwater's a good place to 
hang out and do a spot of fishing
Meanwhile, I got to thinking this might be a good spot
to take in a sunset one of these days :)

Friday, April 22, 2022

Culture and censorship at M+

The closest I may ever get to M+
For more years than I care to remember, I've been reading about the West Kowloon Cultural District and the mooted jewel of its crown, a world-class museum of visual culture known as M+.  I remember how excited I was to get a taste of what was (supposed) to come six years ago by way of an exhibition at Artistree of works from the M+ Sigg Collection donated by Swiss businessman, diplomat and art collector Uli Sigg to the Hong Kong museum.  
But with each year that its opening was delayed, my enthusiasim to check it out waned; and this particularly after China imposed a National Security Law on Hong Kong on June 30th, 2020.  Thus it was that despite its having finally opened to the public late last year (a few weeks after the opposition-less Legislative Council passed amendments to the film censorship law to allow film censorship on the basis of national security considerations), I've yet to feel compelled to pay a visit to M+.
To be fair, this museum of 20th and 21st century visual culture did receive a number of positive reviews, including from Ilaria Maria Sala, a Hong Kong-based culture writer who's openly pro-democracy.  Writing in The Art Newspaper, she noted, among other things, that: "In scale and ambition, M+ possesses all the qualities needed to take its place with other major art museums around the world, while contributing different points of departure by asserting and amplifying Asian voices and concerns."     
In her review's concluding paragraph, Sala stated that "In M+, Hong Kong has gained a truly magnificent museum, whose existence manages to remind the more inward-looking members of the political establishment that Hong Kong is, and has always been, a place of encounters and multiple cultural influences."  She also expressed that hope that: "Its prestige might help it to navigate these troubled times—in the hope that greater openness will not be seen as a threat, whether in Hong Kong or in China."  
Alas, I think that upon its reopening (after a temporary closure due to social distancing regulations being tightened as a result of Hong Kong's fifth Covid wave) yesterday, that hope looks to have been dashed.  For it was found that three politically charged works have been pulled from display, notably Chinese artist Wang Xingwei's New Beijing, a work which references a June 1989 photograph that Hong Kong photographer Liu Heung-shing took of two injured, bloodied young men being transported on a bicycle cart to a hospital from Tiananmen Square (that, more than incidentally, also is part of the M+ Sigg Collection and was in display at Artistree back in 2016 but doesn't seem to be on display at the M+ itself).
As someone who is an avowed museophile, this all is very sad and upsetting.  And maybe there are people who will continue to support M+ because there "is still good work on offer" there.  (Note though that the quoted Tweet was made before the revelation of M+'s latest action.)  On the other hand, there are many folks out there who feel, like a friend succinctly put it some months back, that "M+ was dead on arrival". 

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

A tale of two sentencings: one involving a man who bit off part of another man's ear; the other involving a man found guilty of speech crimes

A T-shirt I've not worn in years :S
The law courts resumed operations yesterday after the long Easter weekend and the verdict that grabbed the Tuesday headlines involved the sentencing of Joe Chen, the Putonghua-speaking man who -- in one of the most bizarre incidents of 2019 in Hong Kong -- attacked and bit off part of the left ear of then district councillor Andrew Chiu (and BITING OFF part of his left ear), slashed and stabbed another man with a knife, and wounded two others at the Cityplaza shopping mall in Tai Koo Shing one November evening.  
Five months after being found guilty as charged by a jury, Chen was sentenced to 14 and a half years in prison; the harshest penalty given thus far to a defendant in a case related to the anti-extradition bill protests.  In view of his being a pro-Beijinger and at least one, if not all, of the people he attacked being identifiably pro-democracy, the lengthy sentence imposed on Chen came as a bit of a surprise.  
But I guess even the authorities cannot condone his having bitten off another human being's ear.  And in full view of other people too.  Also, I'm sure it couldn't be swept under the floor that, as Chiu testified in court (and was duly reported in a Hong Kong Free Press piece), "an attempt to reattach his ear surgically had failed. The three other victims of the assault also suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder."
Two other sections from the Hong Kong Free Press article that I think worth pointing out: Firstly, "Chen’s lawyer argued that the defendant had no political inclination, but [the judge] said the attacks appeared to stem from arguments deriving from different political views"; and, secondly, "Chiu, meanwhile is also in custody. He is among the 47 democrats facing national security charges over the democrats’ primary election in July 2020".   More specifically, Chiu was one of the 47 activists and politicians arrested on February 28th of last year for having taken part in the July 2020 pro-democracy primaries, and has been denied bail and thus been behind bars all this time while waiting for his trial to properly begin -- in 2023.
Speaking of that 47: one of them, Tam Tak-chi, was found guilty of sedition and related charges (including the bizarre "conspiracy to utter seditious words") last month.  Today, the handpicked national security judge sentenced the former People Power vice-chairman to 40 months (i.e., 3 years and 4 months) in jail for what essentially are not much more than "speech crimes".  (Initially scheduled for March 31, Tam's sentencing was delayed after the Judiciary adjourned all court proceedings between March 7 and April 11 owing to Hong Kong’s fifth Covid wave.  A reminder: He has been behind bars since his arrest in September 2020.)
Because Tam was the first person in Hong Kong since the British colonial era to stand trial for sedition, under a little-used law reintroduced by the city's pro-Beijing prosecutors, his case received international coverage (including in Britain's The Guardian and Germany's DW) as well as was big news locally.  
As Helen Davidson reported in The Guardian: " Prosecutors alleged that [Tam] used anti-police slogans as well as phrases commonly heard at the 2019 protests: “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” and “five demands, not one less” on multiple occasions. His trial saw the prosecution and defence debate the meaning of “liberate” and “revolution” throughout Chinese history."  It thus appears to have been proclaimed that the phrase "five demands, not one less" is seditious, and therefore illegal, not just "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times"!
The article quoted Maya Wang, Human Rights Watch’s senior China researcher, as stating that Tam’s sentence "exemplifies the dizzying speed at which Hong Kong’s freedoms are being eroded."  On Twitter, she's also stated that "The sentencing of Tam illustrates the appalling state of #HongKong today: that previously widely accepted activities such as shouting slogans can now result in years of prison."
Meanwhile, the DW article includes the following observations: "Since the implementation of the contentious security law, there has been a massive growth in number of activists being charged for "seditious speech." However, Tam was the first defendant in 25 years to plead not guilty go through a full trial. His sentencing is expected to set precedent for a number of upcoming sedition prosecutions."
Because he is fully aware of this, Tam has stated that he will appeal the ruling.  As he put it in a social media post (that had to be posted with the help of friends as he has no access to the internet while behind bars), "my sentencing will affect Hongkongers' freedom of speech".  Like Samuel Bickett before him, I have a feeling Tam does not have high hopes that his appeal will be successful; but he still feels a need to make it on principle.  
Speaking of Samuel Bickett: he may be back in the US but he's still keeping his eyes on Hong Kong and commenting on legal events here.  Among his Tweets today was one responding to Timothy McLaughlin having reported that there were "[n]otable efforts in court today to keep observers from expressing support for Tam. The seating area inside the court was filmed at all times by two men using a video camera and court workers urged people to be quiet". 

Monday, April 18, 2022

Musings on Easter Monday about friends who have left Hong Kong in recent years

Photo taken while hiking with 
Today is the final day of a long Easter holiday weekend which I'm loath to see end.  My main reason is that, with the courts resuming their business tomorrow, I can imagine more bad news coming out of them in terms of such as guilty verdicts for and impositions of jail sentences on political protestors.  Such, alas, has become the sad norm on regular days in National Security Law-era Hong Kong.  
On a positive note: the weather really has been lovely these past few days.  Shiny and high visibility on Good Friday; and a spell of cool spring temperatures in recent days that have made it unnecessary to switch on the fan or airconditioning -- but also the heater too! -- in my apartment, and been very conducive to napping as well as other sedentary activities like watching movies on home video and reading in bed!  
Pre-pandemic, I'd have taken advantage of the good weather to venture out more this long weekend.  But I've actually spent the bulk of the past two days at home; with my sole venture outside in the past 48 hours being spending time with a friend who left Hong Kong this evening.     

Since the National Security Law was imposed on Hong Kong, I've seen 10 friends depart from the Big Lychee.  Among them are people who were born here, for whom Hong Kong was previously the only home they had ever known.  And even among those who were not, my sense is that many of them would not have left Hong Kong if they didn't feel that Hong Kong's gotten much worse since July 1st, 2020, but, also, is going to get worse still in the coming months and years.  

Among the latest to go has been a friend who announced on social media on July 1st, 2020, that he and his wife couldn't live in a place with no freedom of speech and expression, and thus would have to leave Hong Kong.  It actually took him (and his wife) longer to depart than I had thought would be the case.  But, then, it's not easy practically as well as psychologically to remove one's ties to a place that one loves.  And, in the case of those who have only ever called Hong Kong home, to find and settle on another part of the world to start one's life anew.

For those who are wondering where my friends who have left Hong Kong since July 1st, 2020, have resettled: the majority have gone to England; with the decision made "easy" for them in that they have British National (Overseas) (BNO) passports.  Then there are those friends originally from the USA and Canada who have returned to their countries of origin (even while leaving a substantial piece of their heart in Hong Kong).
With regards to age: we're talking 30-something- to 60-something-year-olds.  With regards to professions: they include journalists, academics, filmmakers, someone who worked in a legal practice that specialised in dealing with refugees, a graphic designer, an accountant and, also, a dog groomer.       

With regards to the last two: they're a couple who, when driving along a street in Yuen Long on July 27th, 2019, made a fateful decision.  Upon seeing a young anti-extradition bill/anti-mob/anti-police protestor being pursued by riot police running towards them, they decided to open one of their car's doors and shouted at her to get in; after which they sped away from the scene and took her to a public transportation stop far away enough from the scene to be considered safe.  After which, they looked at each other and decided that they should head back to near where they had picked up that protestor to offer rides to others in need.    

In the weeks and months thereafter, they ended up doing this over and over again.  Put another way: they volunteered to be "parents" who would "ferry" protestors away from the riot police when needed, including during the the Chinese University of Hong Kong siege in November of that year.  On the days that they themselves weren't marching in protest themselves.  

Although they never were arrested nor committed any act of violence, they still felt threatened when the National Security Law for Hong Kong was announced and then was imposed on the territory; and so much so that they decided they needed to leave Hong Kong.  And so, last year, they left the only home they had ever known for a part of the world they had previously never been to, even as tourists.  And while the likes of Leung Chun-ying may assert that "Hongkongers who have left the city haven't emigrated", I know they aren't coming back to this part of the world unless the political situation dramatically, miraculously improves.

As for the friend who left today: she may originally be from Canada but she had lived in Hong Kong for 18 years and had planned to live here for many more years.  Heck, she had even bought an apartment here (in which to live, not just for investment) to boot!  And yes, she took part in the anti-extradition bill protests too -- and, for that matter, the "Occupy" phase of the Umbrella Movement as well along with the annual June 4th vigils at Victoria Park.  (In fact, she was one of the friends I was at Victoria Park with the last time the candlelight vigil was allowed to be staged -- on June 4th, 2019.)

So, yes, a good number of people (mainly expats) have left Hong Kong in recent months because of Hong Kong's "zero Covid" controls.  But do not underestimate the number of people who have left because of the National Security Law that Carrie Lam had said would just target a small number of "troublemakers" but, in fact, has impacted the lives of so many Hong Kongers.  Just look at my friends who have left and trust me when I say that I doubt that the exodus is over; especially since the expectation is that Hong Kong will become even more of a police state than it already is with former police chief John Lee's ascendance to the post of Chief Executive come this July 1st pretty much assured!   

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Good Friday hike from To Tei Wan to the Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir (Photo-essay)

The number of new daily Covid cases in Hong Kong went down to below 1,000 for the first time in two months yesterday but my heart still missed a beat and sank a little when I saw the long queue for the number 9 bus at Shau Kei Wan yesterday (Good Friday). Things going back to normal as far as public transport's concerned though meant that buses (each of which can accomodate around 80 people, thanks to their being doubledeckers) were coming at a rate of around one every five minutes.  So the line moved pretty fast and the buses didn't need to be jam-packed with people.  And I soon was on my way to the day's trail head at To Tei Wan. 
After getting off, while everyone else headed up to the Dragon's Back, I crossed the road and headed the other way, along the section of the Hong Kong Trail that snakes over to Tai Tam. And yes, as I had hoped, just like that, I was away from the madding crowd!  Coupled with sunny weather that thankfully wasn't accompanied by high humidity, this made for a nice, relaxing and enjoyable hiking experience.  Oh, and the visibility was on the high side too, as I trust that you'll see via the following photos! :)    
Looking down to the beach at To Tei Wan 
and over Tai Tam Bay to Stanley
Looking across Tai Tam Bay to 
the Red Hill peninsula and beyond
I wonder if this stage of the Hong Kong Trail is the least popular
The range in housing styles (and quality) in Hong Kong
is extremely broad
...this even more so when one realizes that there are people in 
Hong Kong who live on boats, including this refurbished old Star Ferry!
Tai Tam Bay area sights include heritage buildings 
and a variety of leisure craft
Hike's end yesterday was a bus stop by the Tai Tam Tuk 
Reservoir's main dam

Thursday, April 14, 2022

On the eve of Good Friday, and National Security Education Day in Hong Kong

Banners up for National Security Education Day!

Tomorrow is Good Friday, the first day of a long weekend for Hong Kongers on account of it, the day after and Easter Monday being public holidays here and Easter Sunday being, of course, a Sunday.  It also happens to be National Security Education Day -- a day whose existence I (and pretty much the rest of Hong Kong) did not know about until last year, when it was commemorated for the first time in the territory.    

What with tomorrow being a public holiday and Hong Kong's fifth coronavirus wave not having fully receded (with 1,043 new Covid cases reported today, one of which is of the new Omicron BA.5 variant, and 54 more deaths), I imagine that this year's observations will be lower key in nature.  At the same time, Hong Kong's second National Security Education Day's not escaped the attention of Hong Kong Law Fellow, Eric Yan-ho Lai, who was moved to make Tweet the following earlier today: "The Hong Kong government marks National Security Education Day on Good Friday this year. Yea, Good Friday is about how Jesus was crucified because of an unfair trial and his conviction of sedition by the collaborators of Roman colonisers. Providence or coincidence?"

On the subject of education: The Hong Kong Free Press reported today that "At least 5,720 teachers have left Hong Kong’s local school system during the current 2021 to 2022 academic year so far, according to a Legislative Council document. That represents a more than 50 per cent rise in “drop-out teachers” from the previous school year."  This news follows "the news last Wednesday that the rate of teachers leaving the EDB’s native-speaking English teaching (NET) scheme had reached a five-year high."  So, clearly, there's been quite a teacher exodus in recent years out of the city.
The article ended with the following sentence: "Education secretary Kevin Yeung said there were “no substantive grounds” to link the departure of teachers to Hong Kong’s Covid-19 quarantine measures, which remain among the strictest in the world."  I actually am inclined to agree with him as far as local teachers are concerned, as I reckon many more teachers have left as a result of the national security law and censorship issues.
Just last week, a friend told me of her cousin, who is a teacher and avowedly "yellow" (i.e., pro-democracy), planning to migrate -- along with his parents -- before the end of this year.  (More than incidentally, my friend, who is a journalist by profession, is herself leaving Hong Kong next week.  And while another friend who was the first to leave Hong Kong in 2022 is not a teacher, she was a university professor.  So, yes, I personally know of people in the education field having left Hong Kong, and because of professional concerns that have cropped up in the wake of the passing of the National Security Law that National Security Education Day is supposed to educate people about.)
And on the subject of unfair trials: yesterday saw Allan Chung Kin-ping (AKA Max Chung) sentenced to 16 months in prison for organising a protest against the mob attacks at, and in the vicinity of, Yuen Long MTR station on July 21st, 2019.  In the off chance that you, dear reader, are unaware of or have forgotten about what transpired on the night of July 21st, 2019: here's a reminder that a horrific attack was undertaken by people seen as Triad gangsters at, and in the vicinity of, Yuen Long MTR station that, in view of Hong Kong being (hitherto) seen as a largely crime-free place, came as a massive shock to Hong Kongers. 
Adding to the shock of it all was that no police appeared for more than half an hour despite thousands of emergency calls having been placed by concerned individuals. Re how come there were so many phone calls: This being Hong Kong, a number of the people being attacked took to capturing on their smartphones images of what was happening and putting it up online via social media. There also was at least one "live stream" that ended up being viewed by tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Hong Kongers as a result of then Stand News reporter Gwyneth Ho having been at the train station (and, as it so happened, being one of the people beaten with long rods and other weapons).

And for the record: this is the same Gwyneth Ho who turned political activist and was one of the candidates in the July 2020 democratic primaries for the Legislative Council elections. For her sins, she -- along with 46 others -- was arrested on February 28th, 2021, on national security law charges. Denied bail, she has remained behind bars since; awaiting a trial that now is being seen as not properly starting until next year.
As for Max Chung: In societies where thug attacks on train passengers, journalists and such would be condemned, he'd be lauded for organizing a protest march against mob violence. Instead, this is Hong Kong; and he's considered a criminal and, indeed, is now a convict, and will be so for the next 16 months. How unjust and sad is that?     

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

A bad start to the week mitigated somewhat by the release on bail of Allan Au, and release from prison of Yeung Sum

I'm one of those people who starts the day by reading the news.  This even though, more often than I'd  like these days in Hong Kong, this means that I'm hit with bad news early in the morning.  Such was the case yesterday morning.  Talk about an unhappy start to a new week!

Somewhat unexpectedly, Allan Au was released on bail shortly before midnight.  While he did acknowledge the journalists who had been waiting for him outside Kwai Chung Police Station with a "Thank you everyone for your concern" message, he declined to answer any questions.  His reticence is understandable, given that he will have to report to the police again in July.  
In recent months and years, prominent political activists who have been released from jail have been similarly quiet(ened).  I think of the likes of Agnes Chow (who has hardly been heard from since her release from prison last June) and Edward Leung Ting-kei (who officially got out of prison in January but many people suspect is effectively under house arrest now), not just those out on bail on national security charges (like Helena Wong and Clarisse Yeung) or issued suspended prison sentences (like Martin Lee).

So it was a pretty big surprise to read that veteran politician Yeung Sum had given a short speech upon his release from prison, also yesterday, after completing his 14 month sentence for "participating in an unauthorised assembly on October 1st, 2019".  His statement included the following observation: "Hong Kong has become an authoritarian society, in which the government stresses social stability, obedience, loyalty and hard-line governance".  
The Hong Kong Free Press also reported that: "He said that, under the city’s authoritarian governance, liberties such as academic and press freedom will be restricted and dissenting views will be limited, but he urged Hongkongers to “hold fast,” continue to “speak the truth” and preserve the core values of democracy, human rights, freedom and the rule of law."  Brave words in contemporary Hong Kong indeed!
Of course, just because other people aren't so direct, it doesn't mean that they aren't still resisting and caring about the fate of Hong Kong.  A case in point: Allan Au wrote a beautiful social media post about what, on the surface, appears to be about tide pools last New Year's Eve which has been translated into English by his friend and fellow journalist/journalism professor, Yuen Chan.  Its evocative concluding lines: "When the tide comes in, the giant wave is merciless, but do not be afraid.  One day, we will meet again in a certain tide pool."
Another friend and fellow journalist, Kris Cheng, shared that "Allan Au has a daily ritual of posting “good morning” on Facebook and writing down some thoughts. Many would respond with “good morning”. Sort of a way to tell everyone, hey, I am ok."  Hopefully, he's back to carrying out this daily ritual, and that he will have good mornings -- and rest of the days -- for several days, weeks and months to come. 

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Covid testing and Covid theater in Hong Kong

When a negative result is a positve thing! 
At one of her close to daily press conferences a few weeks ago, Carrie Lam announced plans for a three day mass Covid screening exercise which would be entirely voluntary.  To encourage people to take part, the government sent out "anti-epidemic kits" ahead of the exercise (scheduled to take place this past Friday, yesterday and today) containing 20 sets of rapid antigen test (RAT) kits, about as many packs of KN95 masks and two packs of Lianhua Qingwen Jionang, dubious "Chinese medicine" whose stated function [on the packs] is "to clear scourge; remove toxin; diffuse the lung and discharge heat" (what. the. hell?!).
Although I've been known to take 24 herbs tea when I feel a tickle in my throat (as I've found that it can help lessen my cold and flu symptoms), five flowers tea to help digestion (and to help alleviate bad breath!), and chrysanthemum tea or turtle jelly to help refresh and cool me in hot weather, I'm giving the Lianhua Qingwen Jiaonang a hard pass.  Quite aside from my feeling sceptical that there are actual cures for Covid out there, this particular Chinese "medicine" also has been known to cause liver failure -- so I reckon it's far more of a health hazard than help!
Also, while N95 masks give a good amount of Covid protection, I must admit to thus far eschewing wearing them in this pandemic.  The reason is because they are pretty uncomfortable to wear for significant periods of time.  Instead, I prefer wearing KF94 masks, which have close to the same level of filtration and protection, but which I find them more comfortable to wear while still fitting far more closely to the face than surgical masks (which I was fine wearing until the super infectious Omicron variant came to Hong Kong). 
As for the RATs: I wish I had been sent them earlier!  As it is, I already had 9 of them: seven bought last month with my own money, some of which cost HK$75 each; and two sent gratis by my neighborhood association.  And, actually, because I now had so many of them, I figured I might as well take a test or two over the weekend; which I was already prepared to mainly stay at home (as has become my wont during Hong Kong's fifth Covid wave). 
In all honesty, I did this less to comply with government wishes and more to give taking a Covid test a try.  As it so happens, even while the Hong Kong government has put out orders to millions of people to get tested during the pandemic as a result of their having symptoms associated with Covid, being close contacts of infected people, flying in and/or out of Hong Kong, being residents buildings that were subject to "ambush lockdowns" or whathaveyou, I'd actually never taken one before this weekend -- and I wanted to get some knowledge and experience of how to take a RAT for should I really felt a need to (i.e., if I turned out to -- touch wood! -- be a close contact of someone infected with Covid and/or started having symptoms associated with it).
So, on Friday, I prepared to do this by going grocery shopping to make sure that I had at least one week's worth of food for if I tested positive and thus needed to self-isolate until I had recovered.  And then, on Saturday and again today, I took a deep breath and tested myself.  And tested negative both yesterday and today.  Which was a relief, because I really didn't want to test positive and have to lock myself up in my apartment for a week!

But here's the thing though: it all feels a bit like Covid theatre because the fact of the matter is that my testing negative yesterday and today is no guarantee that I won't test positive tomorrow or the day after and the day after that.  Etc.!  Put another way: the tests only tell the taker whether they are negative or positive at the point they take it -- and one's Covid infection status could change within a few hours, never mind days!

Which surely is at least one reason why the majority of people who responded to a poll on Twitter about whether they planned to take part in this "mass exercise" responded in the negative.  Another reason is, of course, that people are disinclined to do anything the government asks -- but doesn't require -- them to.  And then there's Carrie Lam having said that this exercise will have no bearing on the easing of social distancing restrictions and is not a substitute for a mandatory mass testing which the government still appears intent on implementing at some point in the future.  Put another way: she's not exactly giving people incentives to carry out the voluntary exercise, is she?

A reminder re the mandatory mass testing: it would involve the locking down of large sections of Hong Kong for some days.  And one can but hope that when (rather than if) it happens, the lockdown will not be as botched as the one currently going on in Shanghai is.  Because the utter misery, never mind chaos, unleashed onto/in that Mainland Chinese city has been shockingly horrific to behold (and has shown how false are the Chinese government's claims that it knows what it's doing, never mind knows best)!