Sunday, January 28, 2024

Debutant director Sasha Chuk tells a very personal story indeed via Fly Me to the Moon (Film review)

The principal cast members and producer Stanley Kwan 
at a post-screening photo session and Q&A 
Fly Me To the Moon (Hong Kong, 2023)
- Sasha Chuk, director-scriptwriter
- Starring: Sasha Chuk, Wu Kang-ren, Chloe Hui, Yoyo Tse, Natalie Hsu, Angela Yuen

There is an achingly personal feel to this drama by first time feature film director Sasha Chuk who also wrote the screenplay for this cinematic adaptation of her (semi?) autobiographical novel and portrays the female protagonist as an adult.  Spanning two decades, Fly Me to the Moon begins its story in 1997 when the young Yuen (played by child actress Chloe Hui) and her mother arrive in Hong Kong to reunite with her father (portrayed throughout the film by Wu Kang-ren), who illegally immigrated to the then British Crown Colony, while her younger sister, Kuet, stayed behind in Hunan.
Able to only speak Hunanese, Yuen doesn't have an easy time at school and in other aspects of life.  And although her father has learnt to speak Cantonese and her mother soon gets a job as a waitress in a dim sum restaurant, life is not easy either for the adults in the family; as can be seen in the family living in a small sub-divided apartment, and her father turning to drugs for solace and ending up getting arrested and convicted shortly after the arrival -- to Yuen's delight -- of Kuet, who Yuen clearly adores.
Fast forward to 2007, and the girls are now at secondary school (with Yuen being played by Yoyo Tse) and successfully passing as native Cantonese-speaking Hongkongers; with Kuet (played as a teenager by Natalie Hsu) also being fluent in English and doing well at an elite school.  The sense one gets when watching them though is that they have consciously hidden not only the truth about their having come from Hunan from their schoolmates but, also, about their mother now working in a massage parlour and their father being a convict -- as all of these details would get them to be looked down upon, even ostracised, by even those who were supposed to be their friends.
If truth be told, the story of Mainland Chinese people moving to Hong Kong and finding life very hard in this city is one that's been told plenty of times before.  Ditto the notion that childhood experiences, including traumatising ones involving the father, stay with one into adulthood and affect the decisions one makes later in life -- with another recent Hong Kong film, Time Still Turns the Pages, showing that so very movingly and well.  (More than by the way, I do suspect that I would have been far more emotionally affected by Fly Me To the Moon if I hadn't viewed Nick Cheuk's standout offering only a few weeks ago.)  
Still, Fly Me to the Moon does undeniably impress at a technical level, with standouts in this regard including: Chan Hok Lun and Ho Yuk Fai's cinematography, whose images could often tell what a thousand words migh not; William Chang Suk-ping's production design which produced interiors that came across as authentic, be they cramped Hong Kong underclass dwellings, a Hunanese grandmother's rustic room or comfortable Tokyo hotel accomodation; and the acting talent on show, some of whom had to act in multiple languages on account of the film having Hunanese, Cantonese, Mandarin and Japanese dialogue!
The last includes Sasha Chuk -- who, in addition to her behind the camera roles, also appears in front of the camera as the adult Yuen in the scenes set in 2017.  There can be no denying that she is the heart and soul of Fly Me to the Moon -- and that she has laid bare her story as much as Yuen sought to hide her true identity, and often suppress her feelings, for much of her life.  As she told the audience at the film's world premiere at the Tokyo International Film Festival back in October, "I’m from Hunan and I moved to Hong Kong when I was a child. I spent all my life being treated as an outsider, including the time when I went to university overseas. So wherever I am, I am an outsider. And I really wanted to depict my experience."  And this she has done so, in spades.

My rating for the film: 7.0

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Cold day anniversaries and political prisoner birthdays

Attire appropriate for the cold weather we've been having
in recent days in Hong Kong!
The past few days have been unusually cold in Hong Kong.  Yes, it's winter -- but it really is not usual for there to be a frost warning in place, like is currently the case, and for there to be as much frost up Tai Mo Shan as was captured in photos yesterday!  So I feel entirely justified in having my thermal underwear as well as the Norwegian sweater I got in Bergen on in recent days; and even more so when checking and finding both last night and tonight that it's colder in Hong Kong than London!
As expected, there's been much talk on social media about the cold conditions; including by expats who one would expect to normally poo-poo local residents' remarks about how cold it is.  But there also have been a number of Tweets today about it being Chow Hang-tung's 39th birthday -- her third spent in jail -- and today also marking her 938th day behind bars.       

Also, here's noting for the record that last week saw Emily Lau celebrate her 72nd birthday (on January 21st) and Claudia Mo her 67th birthday (on January 18th).  Both journalists turned pro-democrat politicians whose names and faces are easily recognisable to many Hong Kongers, their lives have become so very different since February 28th, 2021, when the latter was arrested (for taking part in pro-democracy primaries that the former had not).  
Back in June 2022, there was a Financial Times article about Claudia Mo entitled "She was loved for standing up to China. She may die in jail".  Something which I hope will not be the case!  Though, if truth be told, things really are not looking good; this especially since she's one of the Hong Kong 47 who have lodged guilty pleas, presumably because she hoped for clemency and a shorter jail sentence than if she pleaded innocent, then was found guilty by the three national security judges presiding over the trial (rather than because she actually believes that she has committed any national security law crimes).

Something else I find sad (and yes, I'm guilty of this too): although there were "Happy birthday, Claudia Mo" messages on Twitter last year, there doesn't appear to have been  any this year.  I'd like to think that it's less a case that people have forgotten about Claudia Mo and more that we "just" forgot when's her birthday.  In any case, for my part, here's noting it belatedly -- better late than never, right? :S  -- and wishing her, Emily Lau, and Chow Hang-tung well in the coming year and years to come.   

*Update: The Court of Final Appeal overturned Chow Hang-tung's acquittal over the over inciting people to take part in an unauthorised assembly in 2021 to remember the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.  Not unexpected but sad all the same. :(

Sunday, January 21, 2024

A strange week for me, and quite the rubbish week for Hong Kong!

A reminder (from a member of the Yellow Economic Circle
that self care is important
This has been a bit of a strange week for me.  One evening saw me so very upset by something I read that I could feel my blood pressure rising, my actually feeling hot in the head and my hands literally shaking.  Another saw me feeling reflective and depressed post viewing a film looking at traumatic family experiences and how their effects are felt for decades.  And a third had me so affected by a late night discussion about what's been lost in Hong Kong in recent years that I ended up literally having a dream in which I detailed to my mother all the the things about pre national security law Hong Kong that I now miss so much.
Hence my not having been in the right frame of mind to do any blogging.  And all this while, life goes on and events like the national security law trial of Jimmy Lai continue to take place; with this week seeing the first witness for the prosecution take the stand.  Here's the thing though: I can't quite figure out from the reports what Cheung Kim-hung, the former publisher of the now-defunct Apple Daily, has said of his former boss that is actually incriminating!

For example, on Wednesday, Cheung said of his old boss that "“Mr. Lai has a very clear image. He advocates for democracy, freedom, and opposes totalitarianism".  Doesn't that sound more like an endorsement and praise than condemnation?  Also, what's illegal about that?!
Cheung also "said Lai, in 2019, told his senior editorial staff that the government proposal to amend the city’s extradition arrangement was an “infringement of Hongkonger’s democracy, freedom and human rights,” and the Chinese Communist Party would use the amendment to send “thorns in their side” to stand trial in the mainland."  Again, what's wrong and illegal about that?
And there's this: “Mr. Lai’s instruction was to use Apple Daily to encourage people to take to the street, to put up resistance [against the government],” Cheung said."  A reminder: not all street protests are illegal; especially those which are non-violent and got letters of no objection from the police -- which was the case with the vast majority of the anti-extradition bill and pro-democracy protest marches and rallies that took place in 2019, the year that Jimmy Lai gave those instructions.
As for this: "On the international level, Mr. Lai wanted to draw the attention from western democratic countries, hoping that they would offer some help, even some stronger measures such as placing sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials.”  Again, this doesn't sound illegal or criminal to me.  Especially before China's imposition of the national security law on Hong Kong on June 30th, 2020!

In all honesty, much of what's going on these days doesn't seem to make much sense to me at all.  A case in point: the waste tax fiasco that had much of Hong Kong in uproar in recent days.  As Ming Pao journalist Alvin Lum noted, only partly -- even if actually -- in jest, "Forget about Article 23. The biggest challenge for officials might be waste charging"!
Even more disturbingly, this week also saw the Hong Kong Arts Development Council (HKADC) withdraw its support for an annual drama awards ceremony, citing “inappropriate” arrangements last year and warning the organisers they must not breach the law; resulting in the Hong Kong Federation of Drama Societies (HKFDS) – which organises the Hong Kong Drama Awards -- not only losing its subsidy from the government advisory body but, also, being denied a venue to stage it after the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) also told the drama federation that it would not be offering a venue for the event this year!
Rather than accept the HKADC's decision though, the HKFDS actually decided to publicly challenge it!  On Friday morning, the HKFDS's chairperson, Luther Fung , called a press conference to “defend the theatre industry’s dignity.”  In response to the HKADC's objections to two of last year's awards presenters having been  political cartoonist Wong Kei-kwan, known as Zunzi, and journalist Bao Choy, Fung asserted that "Zunzi is a veteran cartoonist – are cartoons not art? Choy is a documentary director – are documentaries not art?"
Addressing the HKADC, he said: ""You made an official decision without giving us a chance to defend ourselves, and that came as a shock to us,”... adding that there had been no official meetings between the council and the federation over the funding issue.  “We demand a clarification, and for accusations to be retracted — we will not file a so-called appeal,” said Fung. “[We’re] poor, but we have a backbone!”"
To which I say "kudos"!  And long may Hong Kongers have backbones and not be as easily bullied as the bullies might think and hope!

Sunday, January 14, 2024

The 500 (actually "just" 499 now!) Rakans of Morioka's Ho-onji (Photo-essay)

Did you know that Morioka's on the New York Times' "52 Places To Go in 2023" list? I only learnt about it after making my hotel bookings for my October 2023 Japan trip -- and was actually a little horrified to hear this as I feared that this would mean that the prefectural capital of Iwate would be swarming with tourists.  But the only time I saw noticeably non-Japanese tourists in the city was over in the ruined castle grounds on my first day in Morioka -- a very loud Thai group, for the record -- and a couple of forlorn looking Americans looking for a place to shelter from the rain, like me, on my first evening in the city (I guess it's a city but it feels more like a small town by Hong Kong standards).  
And when I went over to that which I think is the most impressive of Morioka's attractions/sights, my experience was definitely accentuated by my being the only visitor to it!  I guess it "helps" that the 500 Rakans (Buddha's disciples) of Ho-onji aren't mentioned in the Morioka section of many Japan guide books. (One of the books I had listed just two actual sites in Morioka to check out that were not shops or restaurants!) But trust me when they are quite the sight -- and what an experience to be in a (large) room with them and other wooden carvings/sculptures and no one else! 
At the risk of blasphemy, I must say that it can make for quite an eerie experience -- but also a very cool one. And if one is able to resist running out screaming with fear after a few seconds and look closely at the Rakans (or, rather, the carvings of them), it really is very impressive how each and every one of them is distinct in look and, also, perceived personality! ;b
Not a Rakan (or Arhat) but Puppet Ponyo pointing at the
awesome gate of Ho-onji that gave me a clue that
this was a temple with some impressive sights within ;b 
Seriously, the carvings on the gate (including of this dragon
and another mythical creature) were pretty awesome!
Assorted statuary line the corridor between the main building
of the temple and that which is home to the  500 Rakans carved
between 1731 and 1735 in Kyoto by nine Buddhist masters
It takes the eye a few seconds to get used to the darkness
inside the hall of the 500 Rakans (and here's letting you
know that it also is eerily quiet in there!)
As your eye adjusts though, you'll notice the Rakans -- 
and how each and everyone of the 499 (one's not survived 
the centuries!) really does look distinct!
Look closely, and you'll see that the Rakans don't all have the
same clothing style; and that some have beards while others
are beardless, and some are bald but others are not, etc.!
They're also not also posed the same way -- and there are
a few that look like they're about to jump off the shelves! :D
All in all, I'm pretty proud of myself for staying as long as I
did in that hall -- and, in fact, making two complete circuits
of it to check out the Rakans as carefully as I did... before leaving,
and breathing a sigh of relief once I got outdoors into the sunlight! ;b

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Of "seditious" t-shirts and flags, and relatives "under suspicion" in Hong Kong

Not everyone who has a boarding pass for a plane at Hong Kong
International Airport is allowed to board the plane... :S
Their relatives appear to have been harassed by the police because they happen to be the close relatives of these two activists: one of whom first made the news after he, who was then a British Consul worker, was detained and tortured by the Mainland police in 2019, and has since been granted asylum by the United Kingdom; the other of whom was the first Hong Konger granted asylum by the United States of America.  It doesn't sound like any of Simon Cheng or Frances Hui's relatives have been detained or arrested (though/thus far).  
Something that cannot be said of Chu Kai-poon, a 26-year-old Hong Konger who was arrested last November after a Hong Kong International Airport security guard spotted Chu wearing a long-sleeve top with the phrase “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” on it and now has been jailed for three months for that "crime".  Yes, really. I wish I was kidding but I am not.
According to a government statement at the time, Chu was arrested near a boarding gate by police who had “sped to the scene.” Note: Chu was on his way OUT of Hong Kong at the time of his arrest. Did the police (seriously) think that he was going to do something like hijack or bomb the plane while wearing his "seditious" t-shirt (i.e., the one with the words "Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of Our Times" -- which were often heard being chanted during pro-democracy protests in 2019 and 2020 -- on it)?
After he was apprehended, the police "also found three flags that bore the same slogan – as well as another t-shirt that had “Hong Kong independence” printed on it – in his possession." Note: he wasn't waving the flags around in the airport.  Instead, it sounds like they just were in his baggage.
As reported by the Hong Kong Free Press: "Designated national security judge Chief Magistrate Victor So said on Wednesday that the offence was less serious than in other sedition cases as it involved a small number of items and a relatively short period of time." More on the "relatively short period of time" bit: "The judge said that between leaving his residence and arriving at the airport, Chu only publicly demonstrated the protest slogan for five hours and 23 minutes."  
And yet he got a three month prison sentence for these "crimes"!  Something which I find pretty crazy; and so too does at least Samuel Bickett -- who, lest we forget -- is a trained lawyer (unlike me)!  Also, as he damningly pointed out in his Tweet about this sentencing and verdict: "Hong Kong law guarantees free speech in the Basic Law, bill of rights, and even the National Security Law. Yet every single judge who has heard these speech crime cases has ignored these guarantees."
For those of you outside of Hong Kong who've been thinking of visiting it: I know some of you may think that "Hong Kong politics are of no concern to me, I'm just here to eat/have fun/enjoy myself". And look, even I, who am very much concerned with Hong Kong's political situation, still eat and can have fun and enjoy myself here (and even take flights out of Hong Kong to spend time eating, having fun and enjoying myself out of it).  
But I also am very much aware of what is happening here, concerned with it and, well, yes, I have to admit that I sometimes wonder how much oppression/ludicrousness/curtailing of freedoms (including freedom of expression) around and also on me I'm willing to accept before I, too, will feel like I need to leave Hong Kong.:(

Tuesday, January 9, 2024

Eating jajamen and gyutan in Morioka!

What I ate at my first meal in Morioka
What I had for my final meal in Morioka
In my previous blog entry, I wrote about having had Akita jidori in Kakunodate and possibly also Morioka.  While in the capital city of Iwate Prefecture, I also had a dish that's associated with it -- and food associated with the capital city of the neighboring prefecture of Miyagi!    
Here's the thing: Morioka is famed for three very different noodle dishes -- but since eating one of them (wanko soba) seems more like a challenge than pleasure and another (reimen) sounds too much like Korean naengmyeong (AKA naengmyun), which I've eaten loads of (in South Korea and elsewhere), I elected to pass up on eating those two noodle dishes while in Morioka.  Instead, the one specialty noodle dish I decided I wanted to try while there was jajamen: which may sound like another Korean noodle dish, jajangmyeon, -- that itself is considered to be a Chinese dish by Koreans! -- but actually is quite different from it.
Among other things, whereas jajangmyeon consists of noodles in black bean sauce (and chunks of beef and radish or potato), jajamen is topped with niku-miso and thin slices of cucumber and negi (Japanese leek), and served at the place I ate it at with a slice of pickled radish and some minced ginger.  And then there's the fact that jajamen is a two-phase dish!  For after you've eaten the bulk of what you're first presented with, you give the bowl back to a staffer at the eatery that you have the dish at (which tend to be specialist eateries for jajamen!); whereupon they'll fill your bowl up with hot water, you crack a raw egg into it and turn the concoction into something akin to egg drop soup that you then are expected to drain for the complete jajamen experience!  
While a modest dish (that's meatless), I enjoyed it quite a bit.  And, in all honesty, if I lived in Morioka, I could see myself having it monthly, if not more often.  But here's the thing: I think that it's one of those regional dishes (like Funabashi's sauce ramen, which I'd never have heard of if not for Funassyi!) that's next to impossible to find outside its home region/city/town!  Which, really, is too bad!
Still, I also have to admit that in the (relatively) short time that I was in Morioka, I didn't eat it again.  Because, well, there were other things I wanted to eat -- including the regional specialty of Sendai: gyutan (grilled ox tongue); which, funnily enough, I didn't have when I visited that city back in 2019 (because, then, I fixated more on the area's seafood)!

To be fair, I didn't expressly seek out gyutan while in Morioka either.  But while scouting out places to eat for my final meal in the city, I passed a place serving up gyutan that had such great smells wafting out of it that I decided that was what I wanted to eat there and then!

And so hungry was I that I went for a deluxe option that consisted of gyutan served on a hot plate and covered in a sauce that appeared to be a blend of tomatoes and garlic and was very yummy indeed; a (smaller) dish of conventionally grilled ox tongue; a bowl of mugi gohan (barley rice); and a bowl of clear oxtail soup.  Happily, I was able to do it all justice and polish off the lot!  Oh, and all this was nicely washed down with a bottle of nicely crisp and refreshing Kawatabi Cold IPA, produced by the Kibou no Oka brewery in Iwanuma, over in the neighboring prefecture of Miyagi! :)

Sunday, January 7, 2024

Eating jidori in both Kakunodate and Morioka!

Oyakodon lunch set in Kakunodate
Bonjiri -- my favorite yakitori cut -- in Morioka
A friend and I were talking about dining strategies while in Japan.  He and his wife appear to be fans of Tabelog and target restaurants that have high scores on that crowd-sourced restaurant rating site.  I told him that I tend to be far more casual in how I decide where to eat while I'm in the Land of the Rising Sun; having few "must eat at" restaurants on my list and, instead, going for "want to eat" items based on what I've learnt that a region, city/town or prefecture is famous for.
In the past, I've done such as searched out specialist crab restaurants in Hokkaido, okonomiyaki in Hiroshima and sauce ramen in Funabashi.  And I targeted trying Hinai Jidori in the short time (i.e., less than a day) that I'd be spending in Akita Prefecture.
On a visit to Nagoya back in 2018, I had been introduced to jidori -- the chicken equivalent of craft beer (jibiru) vis a vis regular beer or craft ,micro-brew sake (jisake) vis a vis industrial-scale brewed sake.  And, truly, it was a relevation how much tastier and juicier the Cochin chicken I had there was than, well pretty much any other chicken I previously had in my life!  Like, say, Jeju black pig vis a vis normal pork.  Or, well, prime wagyu (like the Hida-gyu I had in Takayama) to regular beef!  
So when searching for a place to have lunch soon after I got to Kakunodate from Tazawako, despite the Heavens having opened shortly after I arrived in that historic Akita Prefecture town, I made sure to keep an eye out for places that served Hinai Jidori.  And after having found one, I actually went ahead and waited in line for about half an hour (much of it outdoors in the rain; albeit under an umbrella) for the privilege of eating an oyakodon (mother and child -- i.e., chicken and egg!) lunch set at a popular eatery where I was seated in the more traditional section where one was seated at a low table set on tatami flooring!
If truth be told, that seating arrangement was less comfortable than I'd like.  But it sure was nice to get out of the rain for a bit!  Also, the food was delicious -- though I must admit that I'm not sure if it was because I was ravenous at that point or because Hinai Jidori really is so much yummier than regular chicken!  At the same time though, the portions were quite a bit more generous than I expected or was used to -- and I must admit to struggling towards the end to finish it all; though, for the record, yes, I was indeed able to do that, albeit with a significant amount of effort!
And although I didn't plan for it to be so, it turned out that my dinner back in Morioka that evening also featured some more jidori: this time, in the form of yakitori sticks of chicken skin, liver and -- my favorite yakitori order, which is easily found in Japan but less so in Hong Kong -- bonjiri (Pope's Nose, aka chicken tail, aka chicken butt!)!  I must admit though that I'm unsure if the jidori in question was Iwate jidori or Akita's.  (It didn't help that the restaurant in question didn't have an English menu!)  Still, I do know though that it tasted good -- and hit the spot before I headed back to the hotel and hit the metaphorical hay after one of the earliest starts to the day I've had in a while! ;b    

Friday, January 5, 2024

Jimmy Lai's national security law trial dominates the Hong Kong news on the first week of the new year

Never not feel shocked at seeing Jimmy Lai pictured 
in chains on the front pages of his own newspaper -- 
this from back in May 2021, when Apple Daily still existed
Jimmy Lai's national security law trial has finally got going in earnest this week.  On the first working day of 2024, the former media mogul formally "pleaded not guilty to conspiring to collude with foreign forces and publishing “seditious” materials".  "Wearing a dark-coloured jacket and a white shirt, the 76-year-old founder of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, addressed the court for the first time on Tuesday since the trial began on December 18" and effectively confirmed that he's not going to go down without a fight even though the odds are clearly stacked against him thanks to his trial being jury-less and presided over by three judges handpicked by the authorities.

The prosecution begun delivering its opening statement after Lai had submitted his not guilty pleas.  And pretty soon, it became obvious that some -- if not all -- of the aspects of the arguments it seeks to make can seem very questionable from the viewpoints of many observers.

For example, the court was given a list of people named as “co-conspirators” that included a former US consul-general to Hong Kong (James Cunningham), the founder of the Global Magnitsky Justice Campaign (Bill Browder) and a former Japanese Member of the Diet (Japanese Parliament) (Shiori Kanno).  This even though Jimmy Lai had never met or spoken to some of them -- this according to some of them (E.g., Bill Browder)!  And here's this from another person named as a co-conspirator -- Hong Kong Watch's Benedict Rogers: "People who simply campaigned for democracy deemed "co-conspirators" with Jimmy Lai[.] People who simply spoke with him are "collaborators"[.] Who next? Everyone who bought Apple Daily?"

Then, on Wednesday, the prosecutors sought to make a big deal out the fact that Jimmy Lai "Followed" a number of foreign politicians on Twitter(Note: This was actually mentioned back in December 2020, and thought to be absurd then!)  In a sign of how weak such a charge is, even at least one of the three national security judges presiding over the case, Alex Lee, didn't find this all that damning. “He’s interested in international affairs, so?” was apparently his reaction!

Rather understandably, Caoilfhionn Gallagher, the British King's Counsel who's the leader of Jimmy Lai's international team, was moved to Tweet that: "Today’s developments in [Jimmy Lai’s] trial are ludicrous. It is now clear he is being tried for: conspiracy to commit journalism; conspiracy to talk about politics to politicians; & conspiracy to raise human rights concerns with human rights organisations. This farce must end."

But continue, it has.  And so has the pointing out of holes galore in the prosecution's case.  For example, yesterday (Thursday) saw Samuel Bickett (who, remember, is a trained lawyer as well as a political activist) pointing out that "the prosecutor [had] focused on ads Lai allegedly funded calling for the world to support Hong Kong’s [extradition bill turned pro-democracy] protests. They were published in Aug 2019, almost a year before Beijing imposed the [National Security] Law under which Jimmy is now charged".  

Here's the issue: "It is a fundamental principle that laws only apply to future acts, not past ones. For Jimmy, the court is simply choosing to ignore that principle. Beijing said in the lead up to the NSL’s passage that the law would not be applied retroactively." (See this for the record.)

Yesterday also saw Jimmy Lai's international legal team file an urgent appeal with the United Nations special rapporteur on torture regarding one of the key prosecution witnesses in Lai’s trial; pointing out that "there is “credible evidence” that Andy Li, a 33-year-old former pro-democracy activist, was tortured while in prison in mainland China before he confessed to allegedly conspiring with Lai to collude with foreign forces." (For more details, see this Washington Post piece by Shibani Mahtani, and the book by her and Timothy McLaughlin that it's excerpted from, Among the Braves: Hope, Struggle, and Exile in the Battle for Hong Kong and the Future of Democracy (Hachette Books, 2023) -- which, against the odds, there are copies of here in Hong Kong.)  

As this farce proceeds, it's worth reading the following musings by Bloomberg's Matthew Brooker:  

In their quieter moments, do the more sensible people in Beijing ever wonder where the likes of CY Leung have led them to in Hong Kong. We are still waiting for the evidence of foreign black hands [behind the Umbrella Movement] that CY promised us almost a decade ago. And now look where we are…

They have destroyed businesses, jailed dozens of politicians and incarcerated 76-year-old Jimmy Lai on sedition and collusion charges — and still they have nothing to show for it, except the most mundane innocent contacts that are part and parcel of everyday life for journalists.

Lai is accused of doing what everyone else did in Hong Kong - including pro-Beijing politicians - in talking to foreign diplomats. And for this, they trashed Hong Kong’s international reputation and undermined trust in its rule of law. Do they think they got their money’s worth?

What they have produced so far couldn’t even be called thin gruel. It is nothing at all. All they have demonstrated is that they have no idea of how Hong Kong society functioned - no understanding of the distinct way of life they undertook to preserve.

Beijing always had the power to do this, whatever its promises. But was wrecking Hong Kong in this way really in China’s interests? It’s easy to see what it has lost, much harder to discern what it has gained.

Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Just two days into 2024 and I already worry that it won't be a happy new year!

I like the color of these flowers I spotted on a hike
yesterday (New Year's Day, 2024)
It's just the second day of the new year and I don't want to be a kill joy but I worry that 2024 may be worse than 2023.  Some portends that are not good: the killing of Palestinian civilians continuing on New Year's Day; ditto the war in Ukraine caused by Russia's invasion in February 2022; ditto the civil war in Myanmar which massively escalated in May 2021; etc. And to add to it, there being a massive earthquake in the Noto Peninsula of Ishikawa Prefecture in Japan yesterday -- though, thankfully, all tsunami warnings issued in association with it have now been lifted.
A reminder: China imposed a national security law on Hong Kong on June 30th, 2020, which remains very much in effect and has sowed so much fear along with actual political persecution in the city. Basic Law Article 23 would effectively be Hong Kong's domestic version of a national security law -- one which has been opposed for decades by Hongkongers. Indeed, back on July 1st, 2003, over 500,000 people took part in a protest march against it -- and in the aftermath, the then Chief Executive of Hong Kong, Tung Chi-wah, felt obliged to resign, as did the then Security Chief, one Regina Ip.
Back to yesterday's RTHK piece: "On social media, Chan said the upcoming legislation, together with the existing national security law, will more effectively prevent, stop and punish acts endangering national security." So... Chan thinks Hong Kong is still not... secure?! (In other words: Hong Kong is still not back (to normal)? Re that last bit: if so, he and I are in agreement; albeit for different reasons!) 
Another bit from that piece: "Meanwhile, the number of visitors to Hong Kong topped 30 million in the first 11 months of last year, Chan said, adding that the government will continue to hold different international events and drive the local economy." 
While at first glance, that sounds impressive, do bear in mind though that that's still just around half of the number of visitors attracted to Hong Kong in 2018; and that the vast majority of Hong Kong's visitors, then but especially now, are from Mainland China rather than the rest of the world. So I really am not so sure how valid Hong Kong's description of itself as "Asia's World City" is anymore.
One more quote from the RTHK piece: "He also called on new district councillors to respond to people's urgent needs and concerns." Note: That would the new district councillors who gained seats in the District Council "election" last month which only 27.5% of registered voters decided to take part in -- as opposed to 71.2% for the 2019 District Council election -- for whatever reason (e.g., they couldn't be bothered to take part in something they considered a sham, couldn't find any candidate they actually believed would help them/Hong Kong, etc.)
So... happy new year? I would love for it to be so. But I already worry. And I think I have good reason to.  Still, if I were to look for a good portend: yesterday saw Hong Kong beat China 2-1 in a football match; the first time Hong Kong's footballers recorded a victory over China's in 29 years (or is it 38? -- in any case, it's a pretty historic victory!)  And granted that China had two players sent off (and an assistant coach) over the course of the game -- so were handicapped by having two players fewer than Hong Kong for part of the game.  But in some ways, that makes the whole thing even more hilarious (and yes, it's indeed good to have something to laugh about -- and so early into 2024 too)! :)