Monday, July 31, 2023

Viewing the 4K restored version of "The Wild, Wild Rose" at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre last night

At the Hong Kong Cultural Centre last night
I really needed -- and enjoyed -- this. This being a screening last night of a 4K restoration of Wong Tin-lam's The Wild Wild Rose at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre's 1,734 seater Grand Theatre that was packed with an appreciative audience comprised of young and old (and including veteran entertainment personalities like Teddy Robin Kwan and Shu Kei).
It's not just that I've not viewed a Hong Kong film in more than two weeks.  (Unlike this time last year, there doesn't seem to be as many Hong Kong films screening in local cinemas -- something which I hope will be rectified soon.)  But, also, there the past couple of weeks or so have seen quite a few upsetting developments in Hong Kong (for e.g.s, see here and here).  So it was nice to take a break from contemporary Hong Kong by viewing a Hong Kong film first released 63 years ago for a couple of hours or so.
This was my 3rd time viewing The Wild, Wild Rose, my 2nd time on a big screen and my 1st at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. The very first time I viewed this 1960 musical drama was on a DVD shortly after the Cathay Organisation released its archive of MP&GI classics.  The second time was at the Hong Kong Film Archive. Even that second time was so long ago that much of this film felt new to me (though, of course, I remember well the iconic Jajambo music sequence!).
I can't imagine this film with a singing and dancing lead character who's like a rose with thorns to be able to exist, never mind be so good, without Grace Chang in the lead. And last night's audience were utterly won over by her Si Jia, a nightclub singer with a heart of gold, and strong mind and will of her own.  
It was interesting to see though that, more than half a century on, parts of The Wild, Wild Rose are so foreign now to Hong Kongers that they can get laughed at.  Speaking of foreign: those unfamiliar with the history of Hong Kong cinema might find it jolting that this Hong Kong movie is a Mandarin rather than Cantonese language work; something that stems from many of its cast and crew being refugees of Shanghai's film industry -- refugees who left China to then British-ruled Hong Kong in the wake of the Communist revolution and takeover of the country. 
More on the Shanghainese in Hong Kong: decades ago, I was dining with a family friend that I call my tai tai aunt at an old school Shanghainese restaurant when she pointed to an elderly woman at another table and told me, "That's Grace Chang!"  At the time, it was a shock to me as I had only ever previously seen Grace Chang in movies and in her prime, and I hadn't quite processed that the MP&GI films that I had been viewing were that old.  But, yes, well... and, for the record, Grace Chang is now 90 years of age!       
Returning to the discussion of the segments that brought on quite a bit of laughter at last night's screening: Unlike with Grace Chang's wild, wild rose, the audience did not take kindly to Dolly Soo Fung's "goodie two shoes" teacher character -- who is the fiancee of the film's male protagonist (played by Chang Yang), who lost his job as a music teacher and went to work as a nightclub pianist.  This especially since her character's seemingly only response to any adversity was to turn away and cry; something that was greeted with derision and amusement by the audience!   
I guess from this, we can tell that contemporary Hong Kong women are made of much stronger stuff!  Something I can confirm based on the Hong Kong women friends and public personalities I know!  (More than by the way, Far Far Away is one of those contemporary Hong Kong movies that I reckon shows very well the strong personalities of contemporary Hong Kong females.  Though, to be fair, The Wild, Wild Rose also does have its share of strong female personalities, including Si Jia's friend portrayed by Wang Lai!)  
Another wave of laughter emanated from, and washed over, the audience at another point in the screening. In one scene, a couple decided to flee from being captured by the police. The woman suggests to the man that the police would be less likely to get them if they headed over to either "Yuen Long or Tai Po". First there was a gasp as the connection was made, and then hysterical laughter.
For yes, this was a truly Hong Kong audience watching the film. One with obviously still very strong memories of what happened in Yuen Long on July 21st, 2019. (So, yes, well, the evening was primarily escapist entertainment... but, at the same time, there really are times when I really f**king love Hong Kong, not least because of the community and solidarity I feel and have with complete strangers who, nonetheless, share many of my experiences and memories.)

Saturday, July 29, 2023

The Hong Kong government doesn't always get its way -- in Hong Kong, never mind other parts of the world!

Hong Kong in 2023: still really beautiful but also far more
repressive (and under surveillance) than many of us would like
Yesterday saw two interesting decisions made involving Hong Kong.  The first, made half a world away over in the U.S.A., involved that country's government announcing that it would not be extending an invitation to Hong Kong’s chief executive to visit San Francisco during November’s Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.  As the report on this in The Guardian stated: "John Lee, Hong Kong's top official, was placed under US sanctions in 2020 because of his role in implementing what Washington deems a “draconian” national security law when he was the city’s security secretary."  
For those who need reminding: China imposed its national security law on Hong Kong on June 30th, 2020. And although John Lee only became Hong Kong's Chief Executive on July 1st, 2022, he was the Chief Secretary in Carrie Lam's administration (i.e., her deputy between June 25th, 2021 to April 7th, 2022) and Secretary for Security (between July 1st, 2017 and June 25th, 2021) prior to that.
Put another way: John Lee occupied a senior role in the Hong Kong government when what's sometimes referred to as "Hong Kong's second handover" occured and, also, in 2019, when Carrie Lam  attempted to introduce an extradition bill that led millions of people to take to the streets in protest for much of that year and into 2020 too. Oh, and before that, he was the chief of police -- and, in 2014, when the Umbrella Movement came into being thanks in no small part to the police firing tear gas onto unarmed Hong Kongers, Undersecretary for Security under Leung Chun-ying!
Back to The Guardian article:"In its 2020 designation of Lee, the US treasury department said he had been involved in the “coercing, arresting, detaining, or imprisoning” of people in the Chinese autonomous city who had protested against the national security law.  A state department spokesperson said the participation of all delegations in Apec events will be “in accordance with US laws and regulations and on the basis of the spirit and principles” of the organisation."
And that's that -- or is it?  Because the Hong Kong government doesn't want to accept that decision; stating that "The US should “fulfil its duty as the host” and invite Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in San Francisco"!  
Here's the thing though: the Hong Kong government doesn't always get what it wants.  Even in Hong Kong itself.  Witness the second interesting decision of note that was reached and announced yesterday -- involving the injunction it has sought to block the dissemination online of popular pro-democracy anthem, Glory to Hong Kong.  After delays (the first hearing date for this application was back on June 12th (of this year)) and a change in presiding judge (after the first one, Wilson Chan, got involved in a plagiarism scandal!), judge Anthony Chan ruled against the Hong Kong government in a landmark decision!
As noted in an AP article: "The development was a setback for Hong Kong leaders who are trying to crush a pro-democracy movement.  They have been embarrassed when Glory to Hong Kong — written during mass protests against the government in 2019 — was mistakenly played at international sporting events instead of China’s national anthem, March of the Volunteers."
This development and news was greeted with surprise and also relief by many, including those, like me, who feared that the granting of the injunction would push Google, and other internet platforms and companies to pull out of Hong Kong -- and, in so doing, cause the Great Firewall of China to encircle the territory.  To Eric Lai, visiting researcher of King’s College London’s School of Law, "[t]he ruling reflects that the court still wants to defend the integrity of the city’s legal system".
To be sure, there is a sense among many that the respite may only be temporary as, frankly, the Hong Kong government still has many weapons up its sleeve.  As the AP article goes on to note, "some analysts cautioned [that] the court’s decision on Friday does not mean that foreign tech giants can from now on let down their guard in Hong Kong, and said that political challenges surrounding their operations in the financial hub still linger."  
Some quotes from George Chen, former head of public policy for Greater China at Meta, sum up what lies ahead.  “Now the ball is back to the government but it doesn’t mean platforms can relax”.  Also: since "the city is now a “highly political place", Friday's development "may feel more like Season 1 of a long series”.   
So it'd be good for people who care about what's happening to and in Hong Kong (if not for itself, then for what it portends for the rest of the world) to stay tuned rather than tune out, thinking it's all over!  All in all, I think it worth pointing out that the Hong Kong story actually is far from over and, also, is not always as predictable as some people are too inclined to think it is!

Thursday, July 27, 2023

The arrests of two 29 year olds today makes it two more national security law and sedition law arrests in Hong Kong to date :(

Demosisto's stall in different times -- specifically,
Tomorrow might see a decision made on whether the government's injunction to ban protest anthem Glory to Hong Kong will be granted by a Hong Kong Judge Anthony ChanAfter this happens, Google (who owns Youtube) will be asked to remove 32 Youtube videos of the song.  
For now though, the videos are available to view and listen to in Hong Kong and elsewhere in the world.  As is a 60 Minutes Australia segment on Kevin Yam and Ted Hui Chi-fung, the two Australin residents -- and, by the way, Kevin Yam also happens to be an Australian citizen to boot -- among eight Hong Kong dissidents who have had a HK$1 million bounty put on their head by the Hong Kong government.     
Thus far, the Hong Kong government are not able to get their hands of those eight individuals, all of whom currently are based outside of Hong Kong.  So it has turned its attention to relatives and friends of some of them.  Earlier this week, the eldest daughter, son and daughter-in-law of Elmer Yuen -- the last of whom happens to be pro-Beijing politician Eunice Yung -- were questioned for a number of hours by the police.  The same fate had already befallen the brother of former legislative councillor Dennis Kwok, the elder brother, sister and nephew of trade unionist Christopher Mung Siu-tat, and parents and elder brother of Nathan Law.     

I'll be honest: unlike Nathan Law or Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, I wouldn't consider Lily Wong and Chan Hok-kin to be household names.  So it can feel like the authorities really have it in for Demosisto -- in that they are going for quite a few layers of that former political party's leadership.   
"Their cases receive little public attention as they are swiftly convicted as national security threats by the city's lowest-level courts.  Their "seditious" acts have mostly involved criticising authorities -- the government, police and courts -- through posters, stickers or on social media platforms.  The trials are also handled by judges picked by the government to rule on security cases, and bail for defendants has become the exception, not the norm", the article has highlighted.  
"Prominent activists and journalists charged with sedition have put up high-profile legal defences, but most residents accused of the crime choose not to fight after they are denied bail, due to the perceived slim chance of success, former defendants and lawyers told AFP."  For those who've wondered why so many Hong Kongers whose prosecution has been seen to be political in nature have pleaded guilty, it's additionally worth noting that "Sedition carries a penalty of up to two years in prison, but a guilty plea can reduce the sentence by a third."  
Still, a legal admission of guilty does not necessarily mean that the individuals who pleaded guilty actually think they are guilty of a crime.  A 68-year-old homemaker charged with uttering seditious words "eventually gave up on her appeal [of innocence[ and served out her three-month sentence so that she wouldn't have to report to the police three times a week -- a bail condition stipulated for her appeal process.  After all that, "I still don't understand what sedition is about," she said.  "I have only learned that the red line can be very wide."" :(

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

On an emotional rollercoaster in recent days thanks to Twitter (or should it now be X?)!

A blue (and black) bird I briefly spotted in Victoria Harbour (So 
briefly that I couldn't get as clear a shot of it as I would have liked!)
I've been on an emotional rollercoaster over the past 72 hours thanks to Twitter (or, X, as it looks to have been rebranded by the man who referred to himself for a time as the Chief Twit).  Things were as usual (or, at least, as usual as they have been since Elon Musk's takeover) when I logged out of the platform on Saturday night.  But when I logged in on Sunday morning, I got a notice that my account had been suspended!
Some time back, my account had been temporarily disabled.  In that case, seconds after I Tweeted what was alleged to be an offensive Tweet, I was informed of that decision and, also, of which Tweet had specifically triggered it.  Because of the specificity of that information, I was able to quickly ascertain what had happened: i.e., that Twitter had mistaken a Cantonese surname I had typed out (Ho) to be an American slang that is a pejorative (as in the shortform of whore!).  And after I appealed Twitter's disabling decision by pointing that out, I received an acknowledgement within minutes that I was indeed correct (and had not been offensive!) and my account was quickly fully operational soon after.
This time around though, I wasn't informed of what Tweet had triggered the suspension.  So in the email exchange with regards to my appeal, I couldn't be as specific and merely stated that there must have been a mistake in suspending my account since I didn't think I had done anything wrong!  And the automated reply I received seemed rather vague too: a "we will look into it" and "it might take around 3-5 days to make a decision" kind of affair!
For those who haven't realized: I got a Twitter account back in August 2021 -- and/but even though I've been on that social media site less than two years (and for far shorter time than I've had a blog and Facebook account), it's been the place where I feel like I'm shouting into a void the least.  After Elon Musk took over though, I have had moments when I feared that Twitter would (suddenly) die; so I've now also established an account over at Bluesky.  And for a couple of days, I've felt like I experienced what it's like to have Twitter dead -- with my not having been able to access Twitter on Sunday, and all of yesterday too!   
While there are a number of people/accounts that I interact with only on Twitter, there are some who I now also interact with on Bluesky (and others on Facebook, or/and *gasp* in "meatspace" (as opposed to cyberspace)).  On Sunday, I alerted the latter group to my Twitter suspension predicament.  Many of these friends and allies then went and spread the word on Twitter, and (even) appealed to Twitter Support to unsuspend my account on my behalf!
Late on Sunday, and also at various points on Monday, I got word (on Bluesky primarily) that I was far from the only person who had had their Twitter account suspended during that 24-48 hour period.  The more I heard about this, the more I moved away from my initial suspicions that my account suspension had been the result of mass reporting by wumao and/or tankies (as has been the case for some "yellow" (i.e., pro-democracy) Hong Kongers) or that I somehow had caught the attention and incurred the ire of the Chief Twit -- and more towards the idea that Twitter was experiencing its equivalent of Instagram's account suspension glitch last October.  

Even so, I was not prepared to be told (by a friend) when I got onto Facebook this morning that my Twitter account had been unsuspended/reinstated!  Cue disbelief at first, then relief upon getting confirmation that it was the case.  And after successfully logging (back) onto Twitter and seeing the "Welcome back" messages and those to Twitter Support on my behalf, I must say I'm feeling really happy -- and both appreciative and appreciated!  
It is really nice to know that I have friends and allies who really went to bat for me.  And while there are some who think their actions had no effect, I like to think otherwise.  At the very least, I think they helped Twitter to figure out that there were accounts being suspended for no good reason and got it to fix the wrongs (and, hopefully, the glitch that caused it all)!   

And yes, I'll draw an analogy there with what's happening in Hong Kong and the world in general.  In that I do think it's better to make some noise about injustices and things that are wrong.  Okay, they may fall on deaf ears (a lot of the time).  But sometimes they might not.  In which case, silence would not have been the answer or as much help as those who went about pointing out the wrongs, right? :)

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Visits to the 2023 Hong Kong Book Fair, and an alternative, "yellow" book fair (Photo-essay)

Earlier this week, I went to the 2023 Hong Kong Book Fair.  Having been to the book fair for a number of years now, certain trends are quite noticeable.  In addition to the obvious one of there being fewer and fewer "yellow" booths and books that are explicitly political on sale (even between 2016 and 2017, never mind after China imposed a national security law on Hong Kong), there also are way fewer English language books on sale -- and, actually, fewer exhibitor space for booksellers.  Also, maybe it's just me but there seems to be a lot more stalls hawking religious (more specifically, that which are Buddhist or Christian) books this year than any other year that I've been to the Hong Kong Book Fair!
On a brighter note: certain tomes that I was glad to see available for sale at the book fair last year remain available for sale this year.  Also, The Standard has reported that "a few small publishers [were] selling "politically sensitive" books that can no longer be found in public libraries, including books written by Au Ka-lun, a former columnist for the shuttered Stand News".  And while an alternative book fair for "yellow" book publishers and sellers was not able to take place last year, this year one organized by Hunter Bookstore's Leticia Wong did go ahead over in Sham Shui Po -- and when I went to check it out, I found that at least one bookseller that was among the smaller book fair's participants and also had a booth at the larger Hong Kong Book Fair! :)
Books I bought at book fairs I went to in recent days: 
Want to/can you guess which one(s) I got from the alternative 
book fair (as opposed to the Hong Kong Book Fair)? ;b
Yes, books by Xi Jinping and his ilk were on prominent display/for sale 
at the 2023 Hong Kong Book Fair -- but note that the booth attracted 
very few interested customers despite having a prominent location!
For comparison: note the crowd at a more "regular" booth 
(whose offerings included works by Nietzsche!) at the book fair!
Unlike last year, I didn't spot the copaganda booth this year
-- but I did see this for the first time at the Hong Kong Book Fair!
Also at the fair: a fair amount of Taiwanese representation
Two books that I found for sale at more than one booth:
Another book whose sale (or non-sale) I reckon is a good
weathervane for book fair censorship is this tome by 
Vaclac Havel, and, also, Timothy Snyder's On Tyranny
Probably the most popular national leader/politician this year -- 
books about Volodymyr Zelenskyy abounded, in both English
and Chinese (along with ones on Queen Elizabeth II)!

Friday, July 21, 2023

Hard to forget (and forgive those who perpetuated) the Yuen Long attacks four years on

No takers for this bus to Yuen Long today, it looked like!

Four yours ago today, I took part in an anti-extradition bill/pro-democracy protest march in the afternoon.  But, as it turned out, that turned out to be far from the most eventful thing that occurred in Hong Kong on July 21st, 2019.  
Rather, that date is now primarily associated with what unfolded in Yuen Long, mainly but not exclusively its (main) MTR station, that evening: specifically, attacks by white t-shirted thugs on regular folks (some of whom were on their way home after taking part in the afternoon's protests but others of whom had not actually taken part in the protests at all); and the failure of the police to turn up to protect the civilians and, after they belatedly did, their failure to not arrest the thugs.
Four years on, I am still psychologically affected by what I saw unfold via live streams and videos shared on social media by Hong Kongers -- to the extent that when I saw and heard parts of then Stand News reporter (and now political prisoner) Gwyneth Ho's live stream of the Yuen Long attacks again this evening, my palms literally started sweating and I had to take deep breaths to calm down.  And while the visuals and her screams are seared into my memory, I had forgotten that you can hear the blows that the thugs' rained down on her (and others) with their sticks in the audio.  I think I had wiped them out of my memory because they were so awful.
The makers of If We Burn, a Hong Kong protest documentary that I've not been able to view (as it's not been screened in Hong Kong, and the chances of it ever being so are pretty slim), shared on Twitter excerpts from it in which Gwyneth Ho tells of how the Yuen Long attacks were premeditated and talks about her wounds from that night (which included a gash that was some 30 centimeters long and at least one where she lost all on the skin in the area).  Should there be little doubt: this is a woman of courage who deserves our respect and admiration.  And, incredibly, she continues to show her courage and conviction -- in court giving testimony in the trial of the 47 (of which she is among) today, yesterday, and Tuesday.        
Back to today and Yuen Long: this evening saw many more police officers in the vicinity of the MTR station there than had been the case four years ago.  What an irony, huh?  Though no where near as ironic as the fact that some of the victims and heroes of the Yuen Long attacks are currently behind bars.  I think here not only of Gwyneth Ho but another member of the Hong Kong 47 (who stand accused of breaking the national security law), ex-legislative councillor Lam Cheuk-ting
By the way, I used to enjoy going to Yuen Long before July 21st, 2019 -- and I actually often planned hikes so that my hiking party would end up in Yuen Long for dinner.  But since July 21st, 2019, I've only visited there twice.  And although, surprisingly, I found establishments that were very openly "yellow" in that part of Hong Kong, I have to be honest and say that I didn't feel entirely comfortable while there. 
 Yet one more change and scar that is the result of not so much the political unrest that came to the fore in earnest in 2019 but, rather, the actions -- or, on the evening of July 21st, lack of action -- of the powers that be that have made it so that Hong Kong has (and many of us who live here and really f**king love Hong Kong have) not felt okay and "normal" for more than four years now. :(

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

China's tightening its grip on Hong Kong even as some dissent among the ranks comes to light

"China's appointment of a top intelligence official to run Hong Kong's national security regime underscores its determination to tighten its grip on the financial hub, according to diplomats and analysts." Thus began a Reuters piece out today, whose co-author (along with Greg Torode), James Pomfret, introduced on Twitter with a "This will send a shiver" quote.

"Dong Jingwei, 59, is the highest-level Chinese security official to be appointed to a senior role in the former British colony since Beijing imposed a national security law on its most international city in 2020."  He was formerly vice-minister in the Ministry of State Security, China's most powerful intelligence organisation.
"Dong's appointment comes as Hong Kong prepares to bolster its national security regimen with a new law, called Article 23, that Hong Kong officials say will encompass espionage and treason among other offences not covered in the 2020 legislation." Adding to the ominousness of it all: "In an essay published last July in a journal dedicated to President Xi Jinping's thinking on the rule of law, Dong said "Western forces" had been instigating a "colour revolution" in Hong Kong, and the security law had been vital to restore order."  So, yeah, he's one of those who (officially) buys into/perpetuates that "colour revolution" view of the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests and movement.
Further along in the piece is this: ""The appointment of such a powerful intelligence figure as Dong to take charge in Hong Kong is a bit of surprise," said one Asian envoy."  That same unnamed envoy also said this: "The government is trying to show it is open for international business but this will send a shiver and raises fresh questions about the future operating environment."
Ironically, just a few days ago, Hong Kong Twitter was abuzz with speculation -- and, hope in some quarters -- in the wake of "A political blogger in Mainland China [having] published an article criticising the arbitrary and widespread use of National Security Law threats in Hong Kong, even to deal with legitimate criticisms of officials' incompetence." (Link to the original text (in Chinese), which is still up, here.)  And at the beginning of this week, the Big Lychee, Various Sector's Hemlock brought to attention a Union of Catholic Asian (UCA) News piece that also discussed the piece by Jinghaihou, a mainland Chinese blogger who's a former columnist for a Beijing-backed newspaper in Hong Kong. 
The UCA News article's main story was actually about the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) eyeing "full control" of Hong Kong and that its Hong Kong "work office" will "deploy of the governing power of the central government" in Hong Kong, "maintain national security," under the Beijing-imposed National Security Law and ""supporting" the integration" of Hong Kong with the rest of China.  But sections of it were devoted to reporting that there appeared to be a (growing?) sense, even within the pro-Beijing ranks, that the repression in Hong Kong has gone too far.
"Jinghaihou alleged that “Hong Kong is losing its uniqueness under the national security law… there are fears the city has lost its luster. It is neither special nor a particularly attractive destination and has been marginalized on the international stage... "Since the implementation of the National Security Law in Hong Kong, a small number of people have gotten into the habit of overdoing the implementation of some policies... of mechanically implementing the government's decisions”, he wrote.
And, the UCA News article pointed out, Jinghaihou's was not the only critical voice. For: "Even the pro-Beijing Sing Tao Daily newspaper on July 11 published an article hitting out at local officials for their "excessive leftism" and calling for a balance between national security, and the need for investment, human rights, and freedom."
Of course, there are people who think all this is irrelevant. As Johnny Lau, a current affairs commentator, sees it: "Unless there is a long period of easing back, one or two articles are hardly going to change anyone's perception of tightening controls".  For the most part, I see his point.  At the same time though, it's interesting to even see such articles appearing.

It's not so much that their contents are startling.  As Bloomberg's Matthew Brooker (now based in England but still keeping his eyes on Hong Kong) Tweeted"What [Jinghaihou] is saying [is] what everyone who loves Hong Kong has been saying for three years now - that over-zealous application of the national security law is destroying the city’s uniqueness"

As Brooker goes on to speculate: "Will [Jinghaihou's piece] be scrubbed from the Chinese internet, and will there be consequences for the writer? If not, it will appear that [those ruling Hong Kong are] being given a coded message - to tone down the Cultural Revolution rhetoric…" "And actions that are doing so much damage to the city".   Re that last bit: of that we sadly are certain.  Which is why the news of Dong Jingwei's appointment will have sent a shiver around many sectors of, and quarters in, Hong Kong. :(

Monday, July 17, 2023

Dark clouds over Hong Kong (literally!) as Typhoon Talim came close to the city (Photo-essay)

Typhoon season is here!  On Saturday morning, the Hong Kong Observatory issued its first Standby Signal Number 1 (T1 as it's popularly known) alert of 2023.  Strong Wind Signal Number 3 (i.e., T3) was raised early yesterday.  And before the day was over, Hong Kong saw its first Tropical Cyclone Warning Signal Number 8 (T8).  

I went to bed expecting it to be back to a T3 by the time I got up this morning.  But the T8 actually stayed in force until 4.20pm today!  Strangely though, it was pretty calm and quiet -- and not that wet -- in my part of Hong Kong for much of today.  And, in fact, it didn't get really wet and windy until this evening (after Typhoon Talim's threat had been downgraded to a T3)! 

Indeed, the biggest sign that there was a typhoon in the area for much of today was how much darker the sky was than normal.  To see what I mean, check out the photos I took this afternoon (close to the time that the Hong Kong Observatory changed the warning signal from a T8 became a T3)! :b
No way as bright as it normally would be on a mid afternoon
Not as busy (and noisy) as it would be on a mid afternoon too!
A far grayer view across Victoria Harbour 
than would normally be the case too!
It's not just that the sky was cloudy but also that
so many of the clouds were on the dark side this afternoon
(especially over on the Dark Side (i.e., Kowloon)!)
It may look like doom and gloom but, actually, the
atmosphere felt calm and rather peaceful!

No entry to the breakwater because of the typhoon though!
At the same time, things were so calm (and cool compared
to the past couple of week's heat wave) that people were happily 
occupying spaces in what might be called the lounge area! ;b

I, meanwhile, was content to walk around taking 
dramatic looking photos like this :)

Saturday, July 15, 2023

Fears and suspicion of a Hong Kong ban on Japanese seafood that's triggered by politics rather than genuine safety concerns

Tuna from Shiogama at a high end sushi-ya in Hong Kong
may soon be a thing of the past :( 
Back in May 2019, I spent time in the Tohoku region of Japan.  I had such a great time there that I've been telling myself that I want to go back there again on my next Japan trip.  And while visits to places like Geibikei, Hiraizumi and Matsushima were trip highlights, I also loved the trip because of the great food I had, including over at a sushi-ya in Sendai and the seafood wholesale market in Shiogama, a port-town famed for having the largest catch of tuna in all of Japan

Flashforward a few years later when I was having dinner at a high end sushi restaurant here in Hong Kong.  Dinner that night included some tasty morsels of tuna (including prime otoro).  After having a particularly delightful piece of sushi, I asked the chef where the tuna was from.  After he said Miyagi (prefecture), I asked him whether he had got the tuna from Shiogama and mentioned that I had been there and, specifically, its seafood wholesale market.  Whereupon the chef rushed to the kitchen and came back with the chunk of tuna pictured above -- to proudly show me that the tuna we had eaten had come from Shiogama!
So imagine my horror upon reading this week that Hong Kong's Secretary for the Environment and Ecology, Tse Chin-wan, said this past Wednesday that "the Hong Kong government would immediately ban food imports from Tokyo, Fukushima, Chiba, Gunma, Tochigi, Ibaraki, Miyagi, Niigata, Nagano, and Saitama prefectures if the 1.33 million cubic metres of groundwater, rainwater and water used for cooling at the Fukushima site are released".  And by the way, Miyagi isn't only famous for Shiogama and tuna but also oysters!  As for the other prefectures on the list: Ibaraki is famed for its natto, Nagano for its apples, Niigata for its rice, Chiba for its nasshi pears (think Funassyi!) and so on, and so forth!

And finding out that it was "only" the seafood (“live, frozen, refrigerated and dried products or those preserved in other ways,” as well as sea salt and seaweed) that Hong Kong planned to ban from these 10 prefectures didn't make me feel better.  This because: for one thing, the tuna and oysters of Miyagi still would be included in such a ban; and for another, this revelation made the proposed decision seem even more preposterous on account of four of the ten mentioned prefectures (Nagano, Saitama, Gunma and Tochigi) being landlocked (and therefore having no seafood, right?).  

A closer look at this decision shows that Hong Kong would be following Mainland China's lead in banning food products from the 10 prefectures.  One key difference though is that whereas "the mainland... has banned all food products from the 10 prefectures", Hong Kong is limiting its ban to seafood.  Great, except whoever has made the decision for Hong Kong didn't seem to look all that carefully at what the 10 prefectures that the Mainland Chinese have decided to ban food products from and just went with their selection... and/or didn't seem to lack knowledge of Japanese prefectural geography!
This kind of carelessness and ignorance should be inexcusable given that the decision made affects a great many people.  "Among 18,000 licensed restaurants in Hong Kong, about 10 percent - or 1,800 to 2,000 - are Japanese, federation president Simon Wong Ka-wo told The Standard" this week.  
At the very least, the Hong Kong government should think carefully what they actually will be implementing.  In the same The Standard piece, Martin Chan Keung, a member of the board of directors of the Hong Kong Federation of Restaurants and Related Trades was reported to have stated that "trade may slump by half once the ban actually takes place, and 30 percent of Japanese eateries in Hong Kong may fold within two to three months".  
He also urged the authorities to provide more -- and presumably more detailed -- guidelines, as more than 80 percent of Japanese food products are exported via Tokyo -- where Toyosu, the largest fish market in the world (not just Japan) is located. ""If goods come from outside those 10 prefectures but via the port in Tokyo, will they be allowed into Hong Kong, or what? We want more information on that," said Chan, who owns a Japanese restaurant." 
And then there's the question if this proposed ban is a political act (one intimidated to be so in a Nikkei Asia piece entitled "Hong Kong becomes China's 'wolf warrior' in Fukushima water fight") or one that truly is the result of food safety concerns. The case for the former includes it being so that "hours after [International Atomic Energy Agency] Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi defended the agency's approval as scientifically sound, [John Lee] said he believes "there is not enough evidence on the reliability and legality of discharging that contaminated water into the sea at this point."  As the article opined: "Lee sounded very much like the Chinese General Administration of Customs"!  
If the latter, check out this explainer (also produced by Nikkei Asia) on how the Fukushima power plant will release its radioactive water.  (In short: with greater care than one might expect would be the case in *cough* certain other countries.)
Incidentally, I found this bit from the "Hong Kong becomes China's 'wolf warrior" article to be interesting indeed: Hong Kong currently is "the only place outside Japan where fresh catches brought to Tokyo's Toyosu market in the morning are served as sashimi the same night."  So the sense I've long had that Hong Kong is second only to Japan with regards to the freshness of its sushi and sashimi is indeed correct!  But for how long more will this be the case?  Especially if the Hong Kong government decides to ban seafood shipped from Tokyo (one of the prefectures on its 10 prefectures list) -- something which, remember, Martin Chan Keung feels that the government has not (yet) made clear!

Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Unable to get their hands on Nathan Law, the authorities in Hong Kong went for his friends and now also his family :(

Gone (as in covered up) but still not forgotten
"Hong Kong police searched the family home of exiled pro-democracy activist Nathan Law on Tuesday morning, taking relatives away for questioning, the city’s public broadcaster RTHK reported, citing sources.  It came just a week after police placed HK$1 million bounties on information leading to the arrest of Law and seven other prominent activists in self-imposed exile wanted for national security offenses, in a move strongly condemned by rights groups and Western governments."  Thus began a CNN piece on the latest development in a saga that is threatening to run and run -- and, in the process, drag Hong Kong's international reputation further down.  
I'm referring, of course, to the move by the Hong Kong government to put HK$1 million bounties on the heads of eight self-exiled pro-democracy activists -- four of whom had previously been elected to the Legislative Councillor (with far more votes than the likes of John Lee, Carrie Lam and Leung Chun-ying have ever received in over the course of their political careers); related actions of which have included arresting five individuals who used to belong to the same now defunct political party, Demosisto, as Nathan Law (and had been working on/for the Mee Yellow Economic Circle shopping app which now also is no more)
For those who didn't know: Nathan Law is a former Legislative Councillor -- Hong Kong's youngest ever when he was elected to office in 2016 -- who went into exile days after China imposed a national security law on Hong Kong on June 30th, 2020. He was granted political asylum by the British government soon after.  Also, in August of that year, he publicly cut ties with his family -- presumably because he feared/foresaw that the Hong Kong government would try to use them to get him. But that has not prevented his parents and elder brother from being effectively harassed by the police, with the possibility of being arrested by them.
The CNN article also reported this: "Responding to the police action, Law issued a statement on Facebook denying any financial support from his family.  “I can say this with certainty. Those relevant people and I have no financial ties. My work has nothing to do with them,” he said. “Any suggestions of ‘assistance’ is purely absurd.”" 
And this: "The Hong Kong government has repeatedly denied the national security law is suppressing freedoms.  Instead, it insists the law has ended chaos and restored stability to the city."  To which I'll say: I'm going to stick my neck out and suggest that if you were to be able to get people in Hong Kong to speak their minds, I'd wager that far more reckon the former rather than the latter with regards to the effects of the national security law on the city.  And the fact that it's harder now than pre-June 30th, 2020, to get people freely speaking their minds already tells you a lot about Hong Kong's loss of freedom in the past three years or so.
On a personal note: Back in 2021, I met up with a friend who had, prior to the coming into effect of the national security law, divided his time between Hong Kong and the US.  I was surprised/shocked when he said he couldn't discern any sign of protest or major repression then (compared to when he was in the city in late 2019).  Even so, he did feel then that things would be taking a turn for a worse; so didn't know when he'd return to Hong Kong -- and when we said our goodbyes, I wondered whether I'd ever see him again, particularly in this part of the world.  
So I was quite surprised when he told me a couple of months back that he'll be returning for at least one more visit.  Well, he's back again now and/but this time around, he definitely notices the repression: as in some of his (other) friends are now apparently leery of meeting up with him -- and he shared that one of his friends has had her place broken into twice, and he suspects it now may be bugged!  This experience has made him more nervous and jittery than when I met him in just two years ago.  And I suspect that he really will be disinclined to return to Hong Kong again after he departs this time around.
Returning to Nathan Law, who I hope will not return to Hong Kong until it is truly free, and the recent CNN piece about him: "Last week, Law said in a statement that while the news of the bounties was stressful and meant he’d have to be more careful while traveling, it didn’t come as a surprise. He criticized the national security law as being used to “suppress dissenting voices,” and reiterated his hope for Hong Kong to one day gain full democracy.
"“I am just a Hong Konger speaking out for Hong Kongers – that’s all,” he said, and urged the public not to cooperate with the bounty offer. “We should not silence or limit ourselves, we should not be politically intimidated or blackmailed, or live in fear.”"  To which I'll say: "Hear, hear!"