Saturday, 17 August 2019

The Protest Spirit Marches On

Some 22,000 people stand in solidarity with teachers at Chater Garden
Finally 10 weeks into the protests the rest of the world is waking up the reality that Hongkongers are fighting to defend their city.

Today things were relatively tame. The weather wasn't cooperative this morning and there was a march organized by the Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union with the theme, "Safeguard the next generation, let our conscience speak".

The union says some 22,000 people showed up at Chater Garden in the pouring rain. That's a lot considering there are just under 30,000 teachers in the city.

Then they marched up to Government House, where Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor lives. Or symbolically lives.

Today's slogan was "Safeguard the next generation"
Later in the afternoon the march in Hung Hom from Hoi Sham Park to Whampoa MTR station goes smoothly and peacefully and officially ends at 5.30pm. Some of the protesters splinter off to Tokwawan, others to Mongkok, throwing eggs at pro-Beijing lawmakers' offices, or leaving graffiti.

They dared to deface the office of the pro-Beijing Hong Kong Federation of Unions, spray painting graffiti, throwing engine oil, eggs and leaving pineapples, that symbolize hand grenades.

Meanwhile at 6pm I try to get on the 101 bus to get to my relatives' place in Tokwawan for dinner, and the bus driver says he is only going as far as Hung Hom cross harbour tunnel. Strange since the situation in Tokwawan is relatively calm and the crowds are dispersing.

So I take the MTR to Tsim Sha Tsui, walk to Chatham Road to catch either the number 5 or 28 bus. When I get on the no. 5 bus, the driver says he is not passing through Tokwawan, but will take us to Choi Hung. How bizarre.

Gorgeous sunset view of Lion Rock in Choi Hung
But perhaps even more interesting is that no one is fazed -- no one complains about the protesters disrupting the roads.

The bus goes on the high way and this is a route I'm completely unfamiliar with -- consider it kind of city sightseeing. We end up at a bus stop near a bus terminus and I can see Plaza Hollywood, a shopping mall that includes Diamond Hill MTR station.

I walk towards it but not without snapping this picture of Lion Rock in the pink sunset. At least one good thing came out of this roundabout drive.

Thank goodness there's a massive taxi line and within 15 minutes I arrive at my destination.

Other than a tense standoff on Nathan Road near Tsim Sha Tsui, with police trying to chase down protesters, but they are weighed down by their heavy gear. Amazingly no tear gas was fired today. Perhaps, as some people joked, it was raining, which wasn't good conditions to use it.

A laser light show in front of Mongkok police station
Protesters called it a day around 8.30pm, saving their energy for tomorrow's big rally in Victoria Park.

It's expected to be the biggest rally yet, with organizers explaining in an ad hoc press conference that they hope people will stream into the park and then have to "walk" back out towards Central. Through this constant stream they hope to have a lot of people participating.

There are a lot of calls on social media and many seem to be heeding it. We will see what tomorrow brings.

Friday, 16 August 2019

Li Ka-shing's Cryptic Message

Li Ka-shing spent a lot of money on advertising in newspapers today
Everyday there are so many things happening it can be hard to keep track. Today was no exception.

First was seeing Li Ka-shing buy full-page ads in several newspapers -- but not Apple Daily -- and wrote a cryptic message that readers were keen to solve.

In each paper he bought two full page ads facing each other. On one side was the word "violence" with a red circle and line through it, and it was flanked with slogans about loving China and Hong Kong. At the bottom it reads: "stop anger and violence in the name of love".

The left one refers to melons, the right against violence
The other page was more curious. The header reads: "the best of intentions can lead to the worst outcome" but he did not clarify what he meant or who he was referring to.

Then below were eight characters that literally translate as: "The melon of Huangtai cannot bear the picking again", referring to a Tang dynasty poem. It basically means something that has suffered so much, that any further attack would ruin it.

The poem was written by Li Xian, the crown prince of the Tang dynasty who lived between 654AD to 684AD. The sixth son of emperor Gaozong and the second son of empress Wu Zetian, Li Xian was an intelligent and capable prince.

His brothers were killed one by one by his ambitious mother until Li Xian was installed as the crown prince and heir apparent. She became suspicious of him and put Li Xian under house arrest. In desperation he wrote the poem to his mother as a subtle protest.

It basically translates as:

Growing melons beneath Huangtai,
Hanging heavily, many grow ripe,
Pick one, the others will be fine,
Pick two, fewer are left on the vine,
If you want to get yet another one,
That’s where we must draw the line,
For if there is any more reaping,
You will end up with an empty vine.

However, the poem did not move his mother and she sent him to exile, and in 684, forced him to commit suicide.

Alain Robert with his strange banner on Cheung Kong
As a result, melons have become a metaphor for suffering in the face of persecution.

On Friday Li issued a statement through his spokesman, saying Hong Kong's prosperity hinges on "one country, two systems", and the most important priorities now were to stop the violence and maintain rule of law.

"We need to cherish ourselves, our identity as Chinese and a Hong Kong citizen, just as we treasure freedom, empathy and rule of law," the statement said.

And then we also got a visit from "French Spider Man" Alain Robert climbed up Cheung Kong building -- Li's office -- to unfurl a banner that had the Chinese and Hong Kong flags along with a handshake below and a smiling sun.

Robert said he hoped the protests could be resolved with peace.

He seems to have a simplistic understanding of what's going on... but we're glad he didn't fall or injure himself as he doesn't climb with a harness. Please just stick to climbing buildings....

Former Cathay CEO Rupert Hogg resigned today
Then finally in a shock announcement in the late afternoon, Rupert Hogg resigned as CEO of Cathay Pacific, along with Paul Loo, the chief customer and commercial officer. Even more surprising was that it was first reported by Chinese state media CCTV and the airline hadn't yet issued a formal statement.

It appears they were taking the responsibility for the pressures China has imposed on the airline in the last week or so, from supplying lists of the crew flying over Chinese airspace, to state-owned companies ordered not to fly on Cathay, and the shut down of the airport on Monday and Tuesday that caused the cancellations of hundreds of flights on each day.

But it also seems they were forced to resign by Beijing, as Cathay chairman John Slosar said in a statement: "This is regrettable as we have always made safety and security our highest priority... We therefore think it is time to put a new management team in place who can reset confidence and lead the airline to new heights."

Did Cathay compromise its safety and security? Seems like that was a self-criticism there meant to appease the powers that be. At first the airline flip-flopped on its employees supporting the protests and now is "harmonized" to say they can't do any of that without the risk of being fired...

Hope that's enough to keep Beijing happy for now.

Thousands gathered at Chater Garden to Stand with HK
Tonight there was a rally at Chater Garden organized by the Hong Kong Higher Institutions International Affairs Delegation, made up of students from 12 local universities and colleges. Some of the speakers via video message included democracy academic Larry Diamond and Brian Leung Kai-ping, the only protester on July 1 who removed his mask in the Legislative Council after the protesters stormed the building.

Several thousand people attended the event that spilled out onto Chater Road and the cenotaph a few blocks away.

This weekend brings another round of protest marches and rallies. So much going on...

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Government Doles out Carrots... then the Sticks

Financial Secretary Paul Chan doles out sweetners, but hardly substantial
This afternoon Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po announced a raft of economic measures worth HK$19.1 billion (US$2.4 billion) in what he claims are meant to prepare for the possibility of a technical recession (two successive quarters of negative growth) in Hong Kong.

The relief package includes a reduction in the salaries tax, extra allowance for social security, old age, disability and working family allowance recipients, students from kindergarten to secondary school will get subsidies, and low-income tenants will get one month of free rent.

The announced sweetners won't benefit protesters much
Perhaps even more interesting is that Chan can't even bear to say the word "protests" and instead says "recent social incidents".

It's just as well Chan is talking in euphemisms because he can't even face the reality that Hong Kong is in the midst of 10 consecutive weeks of serious government discontent.

But sorry Mr Chan -- the protests aren't about the economy.

And if the government doesn't get that, or doesn't want to recognize that fact, then we continue to exist in parallel universes.

The one bright spot today was the release on bail of 2014 Occupy co-founder Benny Tai Yiu-ting.

Will Sunday's rally be as big as this congregation?
He was given a break from jail by the appeal court after serving three months in jail.

"I am very proud that I can stand with you all together at this very moment. So many people love Hong Kong so much. But, the road ahead is very unclear and very tough," Tai said outside the court.

"But I am still confident that Hong Kong's future is bright. The golden era of our city is yet to come. And I believe that time is not too far away."

Tai and another Occupy co-founder, sociologist Chan Kin-man were both sentenced to 16 months in jail after they were convicted for the unprecedented civil disobedience movement five years ago when several areas of Hong Kong were occupied for 79 days.

Benny Tai fresh out of jail earlier today
During his time in jail, Tai said he was particularly touched reading the news about the protesters who came into the Legislative Council at the last minute to collect their four die-hard comrades out before the police cleared the complex on July 1.

"I cried when I read the news," he said.

While there are several marches planned for this weekend, the police have again refused to give them the green light, restricting them to only rallies. In the case of a march that was planned from Victoria Park to Chater Garden, how is the park going to be able to hold so many people at once?

More frustration is just going to build...

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

The Struggle Continues

Two protesters apologize about what happened last night with eye patches
Today protesters apologized for their horrific behaviour in Hong Kong International Airport.

The heartfelt apologies don't forgive what they did, but at least they admit their mistakes and are willing to do some self-reflection unlike a person we all know.

The airport had to be shut down due to overcrowding
Last night was shocking and hard to understand and accept. After a three-day peaceful protest at the airport on the weekend, it escalated to another occupation on Monday after Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor continued to condemn the protesters, while reporters were frustrated she had nothing new to say, or would she directly answer questions.

The entire airport was covered in people wearing black and the sheer numbers of people overwhelmed the Airport Authority who shut down the airport for the rest of the afternoon. Reporters said the chanting was non-stop and loud. They were very angry.

Another occupation of the airport was decided for Tuesday from 1pm onwards, but for some reason the protesters would not allow people to enter the departures area. They physically blocked them, restrained them, and shouted at them.

Travelers were desperate to make it to the departure gate
Going to the airport is stressful enough and yet the added layer of protesters made many travelers desperate and freaked out which is understandable. People had to force their way to the departure area or even beg protesters to let them through. It was shocking and embarrassing. Why were protesters doing this?

And then it escalated into paranoia when they saw two men who were mainlanders in their crowd and assaulted the first one, thinking he was an undercover Chinese police officer, when in fact he was there to see his friends off at the airport.

He fell unconscious and the protesters even prevented emergency services from collecting him. What is going on?

The second one apparently smirked and said he supported the Hong Kong police and dared protesters to beat him. Again he was roughly treated and even hog tied with plastic ties. It turns out he was a Global Times reporter and Editor-in-chief Hu Xijin confirmed the young man worked at the paper.

This young man turned out to be a Global Times reporter
This was the perfect storm for state media to pounce on these two incidents, claiming that the protesters had terrorized these two men, the latter one already declared a hero only an hour after the incident ended.

But that's not all.

There were tensions between the riot police and protesters. At one point a woman was just tear gassed in the face and crouched down when a riot police officer literally pounced on her about to beat her with a baton. Others rushed to her defense and the scuffle resulted in one young man grabbing the policeman's baton, that left the police officer terrified and reached for his pistol and point it at the crowd.

Thank God he did not shoot. He slumped to the ground, probably relieved.

In self-defense a police officer brandished his pistol
Eventually the Airport Authority got a court injunction to legally remove the protesters out of the airport.

Today all of us were trying to make sense of what had happened and why.

The protesters themselves are doing some massive soul searching too. They were probably paranoid that police may have been undercover around them, but cooler heads must prevail from now on. This cannot continue.

At the airport, some protesters held handmade signs profusely apologizing for what they did and said they were desperate after having exhausted all means to get through to the Hong Kong government.

But the must continue the fight.

An acquaintance posted a quote from Frederick Douglass, an African-American former slave who became a social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer and statesman. Douglass championed equal rights for people of colour -- including Chinese immigrants, as well as for women.

Abolitionist, social reformer, and orator Frederick Douglass
He said this on August 3, 1857:

"If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favour freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

"This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress."

Thank you for the reminder that the struggle must continue.