Monday, May 30, 2022

Hot weather and political hot air in Hong Kong (and the latter coming out of Beijing too)

It's heating up in Hong Kong!
For much of this month, it's been unseasonably as well as pleasantly cool.  But today saw the "very hot weather warning" issued a little after 11am and only cancelled close to 6pm; a sign that summer's arriving, if not arrived.  Coincidentally, today also saw a whole load of hot air coming out of the mouths of Xi Jinping over in Beijing and Carrie Lam here in Hong Kong.  
At a meeting with Chief Executive-to-be John Lee, the Chinese leader asserted that Lee's "incoming administration will “write a new chapter” for the city’s development" as well as "fully endorsed" the former police chief turned security chief.  In turn, Lee was inspired to spout the following: “I am deeply honoured by the appointment and fully aware of the great responsibility upon me. I will do my utmost to live up to the expectations of the country and the people of Hong Kong... Together, we will build Hong Kong into a city with long-term prosperity and a caring and inclusive society."  (See what I mean about a whole load of hot air?)
Meanwhile, here in Hong Kong, the outgoing Chief Executive had some words of her own to share.  Speaking at a legal forum on the national security law (which a senior representative of a prestigious US-headquartered international law firm felt obliged to withdraw from in the wake of international criticism), Carrie Lam described the passing of the draconian law (by Beijing, not by her, remember) as the accomplishing of a "glorious mission".  Hong Kong's most unpopular Chief Executive by far (to date) also "claimed, without pointing to evidence, that there were “local radicals” and “underground organisations advocating terrorism” who were still “lurking around.”
On the subject of disinformation: The Hong Kong government has been expressing its concern for some time now with "disinformation" and "fake news" being spread on the internet.  And it looks like it'll be making its move to stem what it perceives to be "fake news" and "disinformation" sooner rather than later.
A report in The Standard yesterday had Deputy Police Commissioner Edwina Lau stating that "Hong Kong should  step up regulation of internet security" and mount a "consultation on internet security law by the end of this year".   Zeroing in on the comments recorded in the article that "‘Suggestions include having service operators monitor content, keep records and inspect users and report violations… Hong Kong has no room for “lying flat” as the city may become a battlefield of geo-politics’, now Taiwan-based journalist Ryan Ho Kilpatrick was moved to state that "If that sounds ominous, it’s because it is."
All pretty doom and gloom, right?  So let's end on a positive note: The League of Social Democrats' Raphael Wong has been released from jail after serving time for extradition protest-related charges!  And the man who had bravely stated as his trial last August that "I have nothing to be ashamed of and no remorse for what I did on that day” affirmed today that he's still willing to fight the good fight.  

At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, Raphael Wong's stance reminds me of the following lines in Nelson Mandela's favorite poem, Invictus:

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Of Hong Kongers who have left but also those who are still here

May 2022 -- a month of goodbyes 
and departures from Hong Kong :S
VA Wong Sir is by no means the only, first and probably last Hong Konger to leave because of unhappiness with what's happened/happening to Hong Kong.  As per a CNBC report that came out just yesterday: "Residents of Hong Kong are leaving the city in droves in 2022 — not because they want to ... but because Covid restrictions and what they see as an erosion of democratic norms [no thanks to the enactment of the national security law] are pushing them to leave."
To put things into perspective (and to quote the same report): "For the past 60 years, Hong Kong’s population has grown nearly every year, from some 3.2 million people in 1961 to 7.5 million in 2019, according to Hong Kong’s Census and Statistics Department."   But "Hong Kong lost some 93,000 residents in 2020, followed by another 23,000 in 2021. [And] early estimates show this year will see far more people go."      
Among the people I personally know who are leaving later this year and have already left are creatives, teachers, journalists and university professors.  Re the latter: one look at this picture of the Democracy Wall at the University of Hong Kong and you should be able to understand why.  But if you require some elaboration, check out  this recent article in Foreign Policy by The Impossible City's author, Karen Cheung.     
Against the odds though, there are people who have remained -- and continue producing sterling work.  Among them are the illustrator pair who collectively produce work (like the one at the top of this post) under the moniker All Things Bright And Beautiful, a number of filmmakers who have not left (yet) (ranging from veterans like Ann Hui -- who turned 75 at the beginning of this week -- to relative newbies like Kiwi Chow and Amos Why) and a singer whose work I just discovered today who goes by Gareth T, courtesy of Tweets by K Tse about his latest music video, which features a still happily married elderly couple who are residents of a housing estate which was built in the 1950s (ancient, by Hong Kong standards!) and will be demolished soon and a multi-ethnic Hong Kong crew.  
Here's the thing to remember/realise though: "HK artists are still making art! But this is despite of, in spite of, the suffocating environment, not because of it."  Which makes me appreciate their work and efforts all the more, and want to support them.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Already thinking of June 4th despite it still being only May

For the record: the one that stood for decades at the University of Hong Kong was dismantled and is still hidden from view in a Hong Kong location; so the one erected yeterday is Norway is actually "just" a replica. Nonetheless, the sense is that this new Pillar of Shame will help to shine a light on the events of June 4th, 1989, in Beijing -- but, also, what's been happening in/to Hong Kong in recent years, including the efforts on the part of the authorities to extend the People's Republic of Amnesia to Hong Kong from Mainland China.
Speaking of the latter: the removal of sculptures, statues and other physical reminders of the Tiananmen Square Massacre have not satisfied the powers that be.  They've also imprisoned people who have expressed their determination to remember what happened on June 4th, 1989, like lawyer-activist Chow Hang-tung -- the subject of a Wall Street Journal article just yesterday (go here to go behind its paywall) that pointed out, among other things, that: "Ms. Chow is serving two prison terms, totaling 22 months, for attending and inciting others to go to Tiananmen memorial vigils in 2020 and 2021, after city authorities banned the memorials citing pandemic restrictions. She is awaiting trial on a national security charge, for which she faces up to 10 years in jail, related to her work with the group that organized the annual commemoration."
Also from that article: "As the window for speaking out on the Tiananmen massacre is closing in Hong Kong, Ms. Chow has said that her will wouldn’t be broken by punishment. “You can even force me to shut up, but you can’t force me to utter what I do not believe,” she wrote from detention."
Fellow Catholic Chris Patten also touched on the wrongs wrought by the Vatican when it comes to China, including Hong Kong, in a recent piece entitled China's Cardinal Sins in Hong Kong, and noted that "Cardinal Zen’s real crime [in the eyes of the authorities in Hong Kong] is not only his regular defenses of religious freedom in China... but also his criticism of the #Vatican’s secret deals with the Chinese leadership"; deals that have tightened the Chinese Communist Party's grip on the Catholic Church in China, and now also Hong Kong.
Returning to the issue of the commemoration of June 4th: The Hong Kong Catholic Social Communications Office will not hold masses to commemorate the victims of the Tiananmen crackdown this year, citing fears over the Beijing-imposed national security law.  Masses have traditionally been held on the anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown at several of Hong Kong's Catholic churches but, sadly, it looks like the tradition may well have come to an end.
Another traditional June 4th event that will not be taking place this year is the once annual candlelight vigil in Victoria Park. From a Radio Free Asia article from yesterday: "The vigil has been banned -- ostensibly for public health reasons -- for the past two years and the leaders of its organizing group, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, arrested for colluding with foreign powers under a national security law imposed by Beijing from July 1, 2020."  And this year, "The Ming Pao newspaper reported that the Leisure and Cultural Service Department (LCSD), which administers the Victoria Park soccer pitches where the rally used to take place, has suspended any bookings on June 4, the 33rd anniversary of the Tiananmen [Square] massacre, although bookings are available on other days in the same month."
But while there may be no public events commemorating the Tiananmen Square Massacre in Hong Kong, don't think that people in Hong Kong will not be thinking about what happened on June 4th, 1989, on June 4th, 2022.  In the same Radio Free Asia article, "You Weijie, spokeswoman for the Tiananmen Mothers victims' group said it was a shame that the event couldn't go ahead in Hong Kong, but said people wouldn't forget the date, nor the three decades of vigils that had already happened.  "The candlelight vigil in Victoria Park went on for more than 30 years, and is deeply rooted in the memories of everyone with a conscience," You told RFA. "It's part of the desire to live a free life.""

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

A tale of two court cases in Hong Kong, both involving internationally known pro-democracy activists

Cyd Ho (on the far right of the foregrounded group)
in what we now look upon as better days
The day before the appointed court date (i.e., yesterday) though, it was learnt that the charges against Cardinal Zen and Co (who include eminent lawyer Margaret Ng and singer-actress-activist Denise Ho) had been changed to a lesser one of "failing to register the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund with the government".  And this morning, came the further report that the maximum penalty for this charge is "just" a HK$10,000 fine.  
As lawyer Kevin Yam was moved to Tweet upon hearing of the revised charges against the fund's trustees and secretary: "#HongKong to the world: if we couldn’t get dissidents by the Mainland China way (eg National Security Law), then we will get at them the Singapore way (pissy little administrative technicalities dressed up as criminal offences)."   At the same time, one also can't put it past the authorities to level more charges in the future, including the original national security law one, against the trustees of this fund set up to provide humanitarian relief to people injured, arrested, attacked or threatened with violence during the extradition bill protests.  And that's the rub.
In addition, the fact of the matter remains that all the people charged with this "offence" have nonetheless had to surrender their passports and not be allowed to travel outside of Hong Kong.  Put another way: one could say that they have been left immobile despite not having been convicted.  Also, they -- who have all pleaded not guilty as charged -- surely can't help feel like they have a sword hanging over their head for at least the next few months as their trial won't actually start until September 19th.    
Here's leaving it to Kevin Yam again to cut to the chase, this time by way of the following Tweet: "Let’s be clear. Benny pleaded guilty to everything and took it all upon himself to save others who were also ridiculously threatened with jail…"  And for the record: The charges against his two other co-defendants – Ip Kim-ching and Sek Sau-ching – were indeed dropped, albeit conditionally, after Tai "pleaded guilty to everything".  
Responding to Tai’s 10-month sentence, human rights NGO Amnesty International stated that: "The jail term handed today to fired Hong Kong scholar Benny Tai is another politically motivated attack based on his pro-democracy activism. Hong Kong authorities and universities must stop silencing academics critical of the government."  If only the Vatican would release a similar statement in support of Cardinal Zen and other Hong Kongers persecuted by the authorities.  Sadly, based on Pope Francis' record with regards to Hong Kong (and China as a whole), I don't think we can count on that happening any time soon.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Everything Everywhere All At Once is a mindblowing film for the ages (Film review)

Hong Kong poster for Everything Everywhere All At Once

- Daniels (i.e., Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert), directors, scriptwriters and producers
- Starring: Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu, James Hong, Jamie Lee Curtis 
Several months ago, I viewed the trailer for an American independent movie that I thought looked pretty insane.  Since then, I've tried very hard not to read too much or view any interviews with the stars and/or directors of Everything Everywhere All At Once because, very early on, word got out that this was a "must see" movie best seen "cold".  And after viewing this film, I would heartily concur  that this absolutely outstanding as well as thoroughly unusual cinematic offering from the outstanding directing (and scriptwriting) duo collectively billed as Daniels is best viewed without knowing much about what its plot entails.
Consequently, this review will reveal very little about the movie's plot.  At the same time, I want to write about this super entertaining film because, among other things, I want to share how much it left me gobsmacked, in a good way, and that, more than 48 hours after viewing Everything Everywhere All At Once, my brain is still trying to process what I saw, heard and experienced over the course of the 140 minute length effort!

Put another way: it's been eons since my mind was this blown away by a movie's creativity and originality.  Ditto re it having been a long time since I viewed a film and felt like I really didn't know where its story was going and how it would end right up until its final minute or so.  Ditto re it having been ages since I viewed a movie that so very seamlessly switched genres (in this case: action; sci-fi; comedy; drama; romance) and from one multiverse to another and yet others (yes, this is a film that involves characters occupying multiple -- and often incredibly different -- multiverses). 
At the right, left and center of this film which also touched my heart and had me shedding tears on more than one occasion is Evelyn Wang, the multilingual (English, Mandarin and Cantonese) American immigrant character brilliantly portrayed by Michelle Yeoh.  Just a few months ago, I was telling a friend that I was growing tired of watching the Malaysian actress I first saw as an action star playing dignified doyens and elegant establishment figures like the women she essayed in Crazy Rich Asians (2018) and The Lady (2011) and as far back as The Soong Sisters (1997).  And while we do get glimpses of that in this movie, one of the joys of  Everything Everywhere All At Once is that its lead actress is called upon to do so much more, and shows that she is well able to do so. 
Although he doesn't get as much screentime in this movie as Yeoh, lead actor Ke Huy Quan also has plenty of opportunities to showcase his talents.  And so good (too) is he in his role as Waymond Wang, Evelyn's better half in certain key ways, that it really is a shock to learn that that this actor, whose first two film appearances were in Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom (1984) and The Goonies (1985), had not had a starring role in a movie for decades prior to appearing in Everything Everywhere All At Once (and, in fact, only returned to acting after being inspired to do so by seeing the success of Crazy Rich Asians).

Not that Ke Huy Quan had not been entirely out of show business in that time.  Rather, he had ended up working more behind the camera, including as assistant director to Wong Kar Wai on 2046 (2004).  Speaking of which: Everything Everywhere All At Once has a scene whose aesthetics appear to have been inspired by Wong Kar Wai.  And, in general, I can't help but be convinced that at least one of the Daniels, if not both of them, are major Hong Kong movie fans; because I can see the influence of not only Wong Kar Wai but also wacky mo lei tau comedies along with the multi-/trans-genre, "everything but the kitchen sink" and "let's go on an emotional rollercoaster ride" tendencies of classic 1980s and 1990s Hong Kong cinema in this made-in-America movie.
Two other elements of Everything Everywhere All At Once that remind me of the movies that rekindled my love for Hong Kong cinema back in the 1990s are that the film very much benefits from having: a great ensemble cast (with relative newcomer Stephanie Hsu admirably holding her own against, and along, the likes of Yeoh, Quan, veteran actor James Hong and Hollywood royalty in the form of Jamie Lee Curtis); and incredible editing (courtesy of Paul Rogers).  I know it's early days still but I will be shocked when come awards season next year, many members of this remarkable film's crew and cast don't cop nominations, and maybe even wins, too!  At the very least, it sure did capture my heart as well as mind; not least by possessing so much soul as well as offering up so much incredible invention and imagination.
My rating for this film: 9.5

Thursday, May 19, 2022

A hike in unseasonably cool weather that still was warm enough to yield plenty of cool critter spottings (Photo-essay)

 Last year was the hottest May on record in Hong Kong.  And the whole summer of 2021 was so hot that I didn't feel up for going on a single hike over the course of it.  In contrast, this May might well go down in history as one of the coldest Mays on record in Hong Kong.  At the very least, Hong Kong saw its coldest May day in almost a century earlier this month -- with the Hong Kong Observatory recording a minimum temperature of 16.4 degrees Celsius in Tsim Sha Tsui!
With temperatures that seemed eminently suitable for hiking, I decided to go into the great outdoors for my first May hike in years.  And, of course, it helped that one doesn't need to wear masks while in country parks and/or engaged in outdoor physical exercise once more thanks to the lifting of that unscientific and frankly pretty assinine anti-pandemic restriction!

Although I did end up sweating enough to have to wipe myself a few times while hiking yesterday afternoon, the weather still was pleasant enough for me to enjoy my trek from Quarry Bay over to Tai Tam Road -- and, in fact, during certain parts of the hike, I felt like I was doing so in air conditioned comfort!  With the temperatures on the cool side, I wasn't expecting to be able to do much critter spotting.  But, as it turned out, this hike -- which once again got me thinking that Hong Kong is really beautiful and that I just really f**king love Hong Kong -- did have a fair number; including a wild boar that was on the shy side (and that I thus was unable to get a good photo of)! :)
My first critter spotting of the hike, which I suspect 
was a true bug (specifically from the genus dysdercus!)
A section of Mount Parker Road with a low wall
that I like to call the Not So Great Wall of Hong Kong ;D
Not your usual angle from which I've taken photos of
than I've become used to seeing

I see egrets a lot in Hong Kong but usually others species
rather than the Eastern Cattle Egret :)
Hong Kong really was looking so very green yesterday
(including the waters of the reservoirs, thanks to their
reflecting the surrounding greenery)!
My favorite spider spotting of the hike: argiope aeheroides
(as opposed to the far more common -- in Hong Kong --
and larger Golden Orb Weavers!)

The masonry bridges over Tai Tam Tuk Reservoir act
as good gauges re the reservoir's water levels :)

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

A reminder that things are bad in Hong Kong but it's still considerable worse over in Mainland China!

If walls could talk, this one would have such tales to tell...
but as it is, even the graffiti etched on it has been censored
Twenty seven years ago today, the Chinese Communist regime abducted the 14th Panchen LamaGedhun Choekyi Nyima was just six years of age then.  The Tibetan holy figure would be 33 years old now if he's still alive.  But no one (outside of the Chinese Communist regime) knows if that's the case.

One wonders what China's Covid death toll will end up being.  I doubt we will ever know, given the Chinese government's propensity to play with facts and statistics.  But, lately, we have been seeing crazy scenes unfold in the country -- some of which looks like they're out of some surreal movie, others of which do get people thinking that people have gone mad enmasse there once again.    


However, it's worrying to see that the campaign to shut down Hong Kong's freedoms shows no signs of abating.  A case in point: After targeting pro-democracy legislators and activists (including Cardinal Zen), Beijing mouthpiece Ta Kung Pao has turned its attention to pro-democracy taxi drivers.  
Another disturbing possible development reported today: Hong Kong's official (i.e., government) privacy watchdog is considering invoking anti-doxxing laws to ban instant messaging app Telegram.  Upon learning of this news, Charles Mok, the information sector's former legislative council representative who's now one more Hong Konger in exile, was moved to declare that "If they can ban [Telegram] they can ban any app" but also question whether they in fact are able to do so.  More specifically, how would one go about banning an app like it?  Would it actually be possible -- from a technical level?  (And as he pointed out, Russia apparently tried to but found that it couldn't!)
On the other hand, what the Hong Kong government is sadly all too capable of doing is to get its case against Jimmy Lai transferred to the High Court, and thus increasing the possible penalty for him and his fellow defendants in the national security law trial to life imprisonment -- as it did today.   In addition, it can do away with jury trials (which Jimmy Lai would undoubtedly stand a better chance of winning than a trial to be determined by government appointed national security law judges).
As much as I wish otherwise, the fact of the matter is that things aren't looking good for Jimmy Lai -- and for Hong Kong in general.  But, well, there are people who have been trying to push back against China for so many more years than those Hong Kongers who started doing so only in 2019 or a few years before, such as those Tibetans calling for the release of the Panchen Lama -- and even while their goals have yet to be achieved, they have not given up.  And as history has taught us: in the long run, persistence and resistance often is not futile!  Believe it!

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Much to see in Hagi's old castle grounds despite the castle having been long ruined! (Photo-essay)

Yesterday came startling news that China had withdrawn from hosting the Asian Football Confederation's Asian Cup because of Covid issues -- startling because that tournament's not due to take place until June of next year.  While Hong Kong is not subject to (all of) the same restrictions as Mainland China (e.g., there have not been reports of mass "clipping" of passports the way there has been over in Mainland China in recent days to prevent its citizens from travelling abroad), it does make me think and worry that Hong Kong will remain largely closed, with a minimum of one week's hotel quarantine being required upon people arriving in/returning to Hong Kong for some time to come.
As it is, it's quite the shock for me to realize that I've not been out of Hong Kong for some two and a half years... and, also, that I've not yet finished blogging about my most recent trip abroad -- to Japan back in October 2019!  So here's going ahead and sharing more photos taken from that trip: this time, focusing on ones taken while exploring the old castle grounds of Hagi; the Yamaguchi prefecture city which I spent a few days in after moving my base there from Hiroshima (which has come to be one of my favorite cities in Japan; from where I had made day trips to Okunoshima (AKA Rabbit Island), Ikuchijma, Osaka (mainly for the Funassyiland there this time!) and Akiyoshido)...
The first photo I took of the picturesque town of Hagi outside of my hotel 
there -- of the pier for sightseeing boats which I elected not to go on!
Puppet Ponyo (remember her?) posing in the grounds 
 of the long-ruined Hagijo (Hagi Castle)
Much of the grounds have a neglected feel even though
there's a still functioning Shinto shrine located within it
From one side of it, there are splendid views to be had
of the Sea of Japan, the coastal section of Hagi, and 
one of those sightseeing boats whose pier I had passed by earlier 
A Japanese garden within the ruined castle grounds
(which are formally known as Shizuki-koen (aka Shizuki Park))
With so few other people about the place, the park
turned out to be great for critter spotting (including 
of this grey heron) and nature photography! :)
One of those large spiders that I've only ever seen 
in Japan and Hong Kong :)
Spotted as I was leaving the old castle grounds:is that a hawk 
or an eagle?  I know for sure though that it's a bird of prey!

Thursday, May 12, 2022

Behold the state of Hong Kong: where a 90 year old Cardinal and other trustees of a humanitarian relief fund stand accused of being national security threats!

Cardinal Joseph Zen showing support for the people,
and being cheered back in turn in the summer of 2019
So many terrible things have happened in Hong Kong in recent years (e.g., police attacks of pro-democracy protestors in 2019, China's imposing a national security law on Hong Kong in 2020 and the mass arrest of pro-democracy figures last year) that many people have become resigned to bad and worse developments occuring over the horizon.  Still, what happened yesterday really shocked many of us; not least because it looked to have taken the prosecution of advocates of democracy in Hong Kong to another upsetting level.
Apart from having been a professor who mentored the likes of Nathan Law (Lingnan University class of 2018), Hui also was a trustee of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund set up to provide humanitarian and relevant financial support to persons injured, arrested, attacked or threatened with violence during the anti-extradition bill protests (and did help a whole lot of people before it ceased operations on October 31st of last year).  And with the arrests of three other of the fund's former trustees later in the day, it became clear that the authorities had decided to go after people associated with this fund.
Here's the shocker: one of the fund's former trustees arrested yesterday evening was 90-year-old Cardinal Joseph Zen.  And the charge thrown at him was "conspiracy to collude with foreign powers": a national security law offence.  Tell me: In what universe -- other than Hong Kong's crazed one -- can a 90-year-old man who happens to be a Cardinal be seriously considered a national security threat?!

Here are two other shockers: the two other 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund trustees arrested yesterday were eminent lawyer Margaret Ng -- who, more than by the way, is 74 years of age -- and singer-activist Denise Ho -- whose 45th birthday it was this past Wednesday.  Granted that Margaret Ng and Denise Ho have been arrested before; but their being charged with national security crimes (along with Hui Po-keung and Cardinal Zen) takes the seriousness quotient up several notches.
Perhaps because they didn't want too much of an international furor around these arrests, the police released Cardinal Zen, Margaret Ng, Denise Ho and Hui Po-keung on bail late last night (rather than deny bail to them the way that it's happened to many any other person accused of having broken the national security law -- including the bulk of the 47 politicians and activists arrested for organizing or taking part in the democratic primaries of July 2020).  But do not think for even a moment that the authorities are backing off in their prosecution and persecution of people associated with the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund. 

A comment by Samuel Bickett in the wake of this news that says so much about the situation in Hong Kong: "Among lawyers in Hong Kong, a popular topic of conversation has long been when—not if—the police state would begin imprisoning lawyers for taking on sensitive clients."  And of course people have been moved to wonder if the police also plan to go after the (tens, maybe even hundreds of) thousands of the fund's donors?!