Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Carrie Lam is Like a Broken Record

Carrie Lam (with an new hairdo) hoping for a better 2020 for Hong Kong
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has observed 2019 was a tough year and hopes to restore order and harmony in the new year in a three-minute video the government released on New Year's Eve.

Protesters battled tear gas, pepper spray and violence in 2019
"In 2019, we experienced challenges not seen before. The unrest triggered by the introduction of the extradition bill has lasted more than six months," she said. "We all want to see an end to this predicament. This situation has caused sadness, anxiety, disappointment and even rage.

"As chief executive, I will not shy away from my responsibilities. I will listen humbly to find a way out," she said, adding the government will handle the problems at hand and acknowledge the shortcomings in the system as well as deep-rooted conflicts in society.

 

The video includes footage of protest marches, some damaged street signs and walls with graffiti, but not violent confrontations between protesters and the police.

She ends by saying: "I believe we can once again overcome our current challenges and rebuild Hong Kong. Let's start 2020 with a new resolution to restore order and harmony in society," Lam said.

Did she seriously procrastinate until the last day of 2019 to again pledge to find a solution to the political crisis that has plagued the city for seven months?

Millions of people came out to protest the extradition bill
It just demonstrates how Lam still has no brilliant ideas to break the impasse in this political crisis that has seriously impacted the city's economy.

Also featured in the video are financial secretary Paul Chan Mo-po, Law Chi-kwong, secretary for labour and welfare, and Frank Chan Fan, secretary for transport and housing.

Law pledges the government will "substantially improve" the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) and Working Family Allowance Schemes without many details, while Frank Chan says his department is working hard to find land to boost land supply and reduce the time it takes to build houses.

The latter promise is a broken record we have heard over and over... there have been so many suggestions to use brownfield sites to redevelop, and forcing developers to help build social housing. What are they waiting for? And ways to build homes faster? Architects and designers have already created various pre-fabricated homes... why aren't these tried out yet? Or at least engage these experts and pick their brains on creative housing solutions?

Will the government really help the poor this time?
And what is Law's pledge of an improved CSSA? They are typically pathetic handouts that are difficult to qualify for and the financial amounts aren't very much to live on considering Hong Kong is such a wealthy city (and expensive to live in).

When the government finally acknowledges that most people in Hong Kong want political reforms and establish an independent inquiry then we can really begin to mend the massive rift. Otherwise protests will continue for sure in 2020...


Monday, 30 December 2019

HK Police Force's "Alternate Facts"

A man with a bloodied face tries to run from men with sticks in Yuen Long
As discussed in an earlier blog post, the Hong Kong police force lives in a parallel universe which makes it practically impossible to come to some kind of mutual understanding with the protesters.

It is, as the Trump administration would say, presenting "alternate facts".

Case in point. Today the public face of the force, senior superintendent Kong Wing-cheung, says the vicious July 21 attack in the Yuen Long MTR station which resulted in at least 45 people injured, was caused by "a group of people leading protesters" to the area.

Kong Wing-cheung claims protesters aggravated triads
What?

On that evening around 10.30pm, a large gang of men wearing white shirts holding steel rods and rattan sticks indiscriminately attacked people in an MTR train, on the escalator and in the entrance area. There are so many video clips of these attacks, even a Stand News reporter was attacked and she kept filming.

At the time people called 999 for the police to come, and finally after 30 minutes two officers arrived, but as soon as they saw what was going on in the MTR station, they fled. No arrests were made that night.

Then around 11.30pm, 30 police officers came, but the men in white shirts had already left.

Just after midnight, the white-shirted men came back again, managing to lift up the MTR station's shutters and attacked people again, and there was no police in sight again.

Eventually the police confiscated some metal rods, but didn't arrest anyone, claiming they couldn't identify the attackers.

People were attacked indiscriminately by men in white shirts
Today Kong was questioned during the press conference about why the two police officers ran away, to which he replied: "I wouldn't say the situation at that time was running away. Everyone needs to broaden their horizons a little... er... it's... by a group... a group of protesters brought to Yuen Long to cause the whole thing."

What?

The senior superintendent didn't name any names, but his claim echoes a similar allegation by pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho Kwan-yiu, who in a December 12 motion in the Legislative Council, accused pro-democracy legislator Lam Cheuk-ting of leading "a number of black-clad people" to Yuen Long on the MTR.

Ho said the protesters "repeatedly provoked a group of white-clad residents gathering in the station".

In response to Kong's claim, Lam accused the police of completely distorting the truth about the mob attack on July 21.

Lam Cheuk-ting was injured July 21
"Mr Kong publicly told lies and tried to shift the blame from the police force to the victims of the Yuen Long attack. It is extremely shameless and horrible. I doubt whether the police force can conduct an investigation against those attackers. Most of them are probably triad members," Lam said.

Some locals in Yuen Long claim they had heard the triads were going to mount some kind of attack three days earlier and were warned not to go out that day.

How come the police didn't know about this, or they did know and looked the other way?

This is why (along with many other incidents) we need to have an independent inquiry into the police handling of the protests for the past seven months.

There needs to be an understanding of what has been going on and to rectify the situation.

Hongkongers cannot live in continued mistrust of the police. But sadly the damage has been done, and with the force presenting its "alternate facts", how can we ever mend the ever-widening rift?

Saturday, 28 December 2019

HK Police Step Up Violence


Police dressed as protesters hit people with extendable batons in the mall
The "shopping protests" have changed tactics to focus on shops catering to parallel traders, those who buy goods in Hong Kong and then take them across the border to sell at higher prices for a profit.

This has been going on for years and this was particularly egregious in 2012 to the point where districts near the mainland border ran out of goods like milk powder and it had to be rationed to two cans per customer. Back then parallel traders were called "locusts" for taking everything and leaving nothing behind.

People protest against parallel traders in Sheung Shui
So to put more pressure on the Hong Kong government to resolve the political crisis that has gripped the city for seven months, protesters targeted several shopping malls, including Landmark North shopping centre in Sheung Shui, the last district before the border with China.

The protesters shouted, "Five demands, not one less", "disband the police force", and also "go back to the mainland", aimed at Chinese daytrippers and parallel traders. This forced almost all the shops in the mall to close down for fear of potential vandalism.

But the protests also attracted the police, who stepped up their tactics in a more brutal way.

They dressed up like protesters and then without warning whipped out extendable batons and began attacking and arresting people. The riot police in uniform were nearby and also had no qualms beating up protesters until blood spilled.

There is a video on Twitter showing a young man being excessively beaten by riot police in Landmark North, and there is blood on one of the police shields.

 

Is this really necessary? Why not just arrest them and save energy to catch the next protester? Another brutal tactic of unleashing pepper spray at point blank range is also uncalled for.

This stepped up brutality not only further contravenes the Hong Kong police force's code of conduct, but shows officers are willing to use more violence to subdue protesters.

Is shooting pepper spray really necessary at close range?
Since Beijing has endorsed Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor during her latest duty visit earlier this month, it seems her way of quelling the protesters is with more violence.

This is totally outrageous. 

This is how Lam and police chief Chris Tang Ping-keung think they can end the protests?

While wounds may eventually heal, trauma does not go away and these shocking images will infuriate more people to come out to yet another large-scale protest march on January 1.

The people are not cowering. It's going to be a long fight.


Review: The Sound of Music

A multicultural-looking family singing Edelweiss in the Vancouver production
What's the Christmas holidays without The Sound of Music?

I grew up watching Julie Andrews as Maria who charmed the von Trapp children with her fun songs and eventually won the heart of Georg von Trapp played by Christopher Plummer. Every Christmas we watched the movie on television, always knowing what was coming next but were still transfixed.

Synthia Yusuf is Maria in The Sound of Music
This evening my parents gave us tickets to watch the musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage in Vancouver. The production started in November and we were catching the tail end of it, as it finishes on January 5.

I've never seen it on stage before and this was a great production all round. And what's also interesting is that it's very multicultural, which is very Vancouver.

The lead role of Maria Rainer is played by Synthia Yusuf, and many of the children -- so good! -- are Philippine ethnicity, while some of the nuns are African-Canadian. Austria in 1937 didn't look like that!

The set quickly changes from abbey to the von Trapp home
Most of the story in the musical was similar to the movie, though a few things were different. I loved the scene in the film when they sing The Lonely Goatherd and have an elaborate puppet show put on for the Georg and Elsa Schraeder, but alas it was not here on stage; nevertheless the performance was still lots of fun.

The break up of Georg and Elsa was different in the film too, while in the musical it was sped up for time purposes. The climactic ending when the young boy Rolf Gruber finds the von Trapp family in the abby garden is not what was portrayed in the movie and quite surprising. Maybe again it was to hurry the story along to its conclusion, but it was still satisfying in the end.

The talented children are the best part of the show
The whole production was fantastic. The set design was very flexible -- one minute it was the abbey, another the home of the von Trapp family, and there were backdrops to show the alps in the background.

Direction was great too, using all aspects of the theatre, from the nuns filing in from where the audience sat, to the von Trapp family singing Climb Every Mountain and walking out of the theatre area.

Right from the beginning we were impressed by the excellent voices, not just Yusuf, but also The Mother Abbess played by Annie Ramos and Jonathan Winsby as Captain Georg von Trapp. But it was definitely the kids who really stole the show, very poised and played their parts well. You could tell they really enjoyed being on stage, in particular Jolene Bernardino as Liesl von Trapp.

At the end you really want to sing those songs too. When's the sing-along version coming out?


Friday, 27 December 2019

Police Mistrust Continues

RTHK has found four police officers wearing the same call signs
It seems the Hong Kong Police doesn't care to regain the public's trust anymore.

The latest case in point? For over six months the police have not worn their individual ID numbers while managing the protests.

Police had said their uniform had no space for ID numbers
The complaints resulted in Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu telling the Legislative Council earlier this month that the police officers wore call signs on their left chest that could be used to identify individual officers.

However, RTHK has found at least four officers wearing the same operational call sign on their uniforms during protests in Tsim Sha Tsui on Christmas Eve. Three male officers and one female officer had blue tags on their chests identifying them as YT T3 (TF).

Lee had told lawmakers that these operational call signs are just as effective as unique identification numbers, and strike a balance between ensuring the public can identify the individual officers, while protecting the officers from doxxing, or having their personal details shared online.

During protests on December 24, four officers had the same ID
Edwin Cheng, a former member of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), told RTHK that officers sharing the same number is obviously wrong.

The police's response to RTHK's findings is that the use of call signs does not undermine the public's demand to be able to identify officers.

But if more than one officer is wearing the same call sign, obviously this is a ploy to prevent the public from being able to report on individual officers, as in this case three of them can deny being at a certain place at a certain time.

This is just as ridiculous as when in mid-June, the police said there was no room on the riot police's uniform to have their ID numbers on there.

On Christmas Eve police arrested many protesters in malls
Did the police think they could get away with this latest ploy of having multiple officers having the same call sign?

How are we ever supposed to mend the rift between the police and protesters when the former refuse to be honest with how they do their work?

Thursday, 26 December 2019

Turkey Time


The roasted 20lb turkey after over four hours in the oven!
This year I had the task of roasting a 20lb turkey. Usually we wet brine it, a trick I had learned from a chef over 10 years ago while working on a radio show. He said it was the best way to ensure the turkey was moist after roasting in the oven for several hours.

Almost an hour into roasting the turkey
But in recent years dry brine is the way to go and in our case it was a necessity, as the massive bird barely fit into our giant stock pot.

I looked up a few dry brine recipes online and they all basically said the same thing -- use kosher salt, pepper and add a few herbs like rosemary, thyme, orange or lemon zest and be sure to season the cavity too.

For our 20lb turkey, I used five tablespoons of kosher salt, liberal amounts of ground pepper, about half a tablespoon of brown sugar to help the skin turn golden brown, as well as fresh rosemary, thyme and some dry oregano.

We added a bit of oil to the mixture, but it wasn't really necessary -- it helps get some of the moisture out of the turkey, which means more turkey flavour.

After over two hours in the oven it is browning nicely
After 24 hours we put the massive bird into the oven at 375 degrees and checked it every hour. The legs started to turn brown first and then we turned it down again to 350 degrees and kept checking on it.

At around the 3-hour mark we had to flip the turkey around to breast side up, which was a two-person operation, one actually doing the heavy lifting, the other scooting it into place in the roasting container. Phew!

Over four hours later the bird was done and we let it rest for almost an hour. The end result? Very moist, though the skin wasn't particularly crispy. But we were glad it was completely cooked through.

We flipped the turkey with the breast side up, almost done
Meanwhile the cranberry sauce was made from fresh cranberries, very liberal spoonfuls of brown sugar, the last few drops of Tia Maria and a good dash of white Zinfandel, which resulted in a complex flavour! Delicious! Perfect accompaniment to plain yoghurt...

Gravy was also made in advance with carrots and celery and the turkey neck.

So it's a wrap! Hope we remember the turkey recipe for next year...! In the meantime we'll be having lots of turkey leftovers, congee and soup for the next week...


Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Hong Kong's "White" Christmas

Tear gas was fired at protesters in Tsim Sha Tsui on Christmas Eve
 
What is the Hong Kong government's end game with the protests that are into its seventh month?

The day before Christmas police clashed with protesters who took their demonstrations to shopping malls around town.

Protesters feeling from the tear gas on Nathan Road
Protesters dressed in black and wearing masks didn't want to be arrested for illegal assembly so they went "shopping" to continue to push for their five demands to be met, including the withdrawal of the extradition bill.

Things got more tense when undercover police officers confronted protesters and started beating up people with extendable batons. Others were pepper sprayed and riot police fired tear gas in Tsim Sha Tsui prompting someone on social media to sarcastically remark it was a "white Christmas" for Hong Kong...

Apparently the protests were so unruly that the MTR stations in Tsim Sha Tsui and Mongkok were closed down in the evening.

A day earlier Cardinal John Tong Hon issued a video message, urging for a truce during the Christmas holiday and to use the time off to cool down and reflect.

A protester being beaten by undercover police in a mall
Tong also called on the Hong Kong government to listen to the people and set up an independent inquiry into police handling of the protests, saying this would "help to re-establish mutual trust between the government and the people and pave the way for a dialogue of reconciliation".

As a Catholic herself, it's strange that Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is not heeding these words of wisdom that he has repeated a few times over the past half year.

Similarly the Archbishop of Hong Kong's Anglican Church, Most Reverend Paul Kwong urged the government and protesters to use the holiday as an opportunity to "start a dialogue with courage, sincerity and humility, and to admit their own inadequacies and shortcomings".

"The government should not limit themselves to rigid thinking when they respond to voices from society, but should instead take practical measures or actions that are relevant to the needs of the citizens," Kwong said.

Cardinal John Tong called for peace during Christmas break
So how what is the end game? Lam keeps saying the violence has to end, but the police, more specifically the riot police, ratchet up tensions and violence and then people come out again the protest the violence... it's a never ending cycle.

Meanwhile the government does nothing except repeat its condemnation of the violence.

How is this productive at all?

This does not solve anything, making everyone more frustrated and stressed, angry and sad.

Perhaps the government is living in a parallel universe, unable to fully comprehend let alone empathize with what is going on in the streets of Hong Kong. Maybe it is still in denial about the November 24 district council elections where 17 out of the 18 districts turned yellow.

Riot police in Harbour City shopping mall in Tsim Sha Tsui
The people have spoken! The government should be responding to this quasi referendum of what people want.

Instead Hong Kong supposed leadership is hiding behind the police in the hopes that tear gassing people will make the problem go away...

Dogs Versus Cockroaches


Protesters call the police "dogs", while the police call protesters "cockroaches"
During the protests in Hong Kong that are sliding into the seventh month, the police and protesters have called each other names.

Right from the start when police were being heavy handed, protesters began calling them 狗 "dogs", a derogatory way of calling them not human. Police cars are called "dog cars" and police stations are "dog houses".

Some graffiti at the police station or "dog house"
Protesters have even thrown dog food at police.

Meanwhile a few months ago some police officers began calling protesters, volunteer medics and the media 蟑螂 or 甴曱 "cockroaches" which is hardly complimentary.

While it's also dehumanizing, it's several levels below a dog...

It may have started in a letter in August written by the chair of the Junior Police Officers Association, which denounced protesters as "no different from cockroaches".

For history buffs, this is similar to World War II, when Nazis called Jews rats, and Hutus involved in the Rwandan genocide called the Tutsi minority cockroaches.

 Chief inspector Tam Yu-hei says "cockroach" is a compliment
Earlier this week, on the RTHK program Hong Kong Connection, chief inspector Tam Yu-hei referred to the insults traded between protesters and police in these past seven months.

"Aren't cockroaches full of vitality and can survive in times of difficulties?" he argued.

When it comes to protesters using the word "dog", Tam says they police would rather see it as meaning loyal and obedient, adding his colleagues in the force were very professional and vowed not to be hostile towards anyone.

Uh-huh.

However in a regular press briefing, Tam's superior Superintendent Kwok Ka-chuen conceded: "It is not ideal to label a group of people as cockroaches. Tensions have risen between police and protesters, in the last few months... We hope members of the force can control their emotions in the field," he said.

In July, the Junior Police Officers Association started referring to protesters in its official statements as "cockroaches".

Cockroaches are known to be resilient in the face of adversity
When Superintendent Kong Wing-cheung from the Police Public Relations Branch was asked about this in August, he said the language was "not ideal", but added that all parties were "under a lot of stress".

That same month, Tsuen Wan district assistant commander Simon Southgate had to issue a reminder to his colleagues not to call protesters "cockroaches".

While the term "cockroach" is not an endearing one, maybe one could look at it as a sign of what's to come -- because regardless of what happens, cockroaches seem to survive just about anything.

Maybe protesters will be called yellow cockroaches?

Or would people just rather get the bug spray out?

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Winter Solstice Wontons

Wontons wrapped "envelope" style that are ready to be boiled...
The shortest day of the year has come and gone with winter solstice.

It's also a day for families to gather for dinner.

I was inspired by a friend who posted pictures of wontons he had made a few weeks ago and I decided to do the same.

The end result is delicious wontons!
He used minced pork with watercress and mushrooms, but suggested I could make whatever filling I wanted.

Tonight I made one by combining minced pork, finely chopped cabbage, chives, mushrooms and shrimp. They were mixed with some salt, soy sauce, sesame oil and Shaoxing wine.

I didn't really know how to wrap wontons and did it the "envelope" style... but taste-wise they were delicious, the crunchiness of the cabbage and chives and the shrimp added more texture. They were light and not hard to eat a lot of them!

I've just Googled other ways to wrap the wontons and can't wait to try to wrap them again...

Review: Parasite

South Korean film Parasite has reverberated among critics and viewers
I finally saw the highly acclaimed Korean film Parasite by Bong Joon-ho with much trepidation. It was the first South Korean film to win a Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival this year.

It's not an easy film to watch and leaves you thinking about how this story is any different from how people in reality function: Are we all parasites in one way or another?

Director Bong Joon-ho winning the Palme d'Or for Parasite
The story starts off showing the Kim family in dire living conditions, in a sub-basement and trying to use the wifi from the upstairs occupants. They eke out a living folding cardboard pizza boxes, but even this simple task they can't do well and their pay is docked. How will they ever survive?

Luckily the adult son Ki-Woo (played by Choi Woo-shik) gets a recommendation from a friend to tutor the daughter of a rich and successful couple, Mr Park (Lee Sun-kyun) and his pretty wife Yeon-kyo (Cho Yeo-jeong).

Ki-Woo proves to be a good tutor and discovers the Parks' younger son needs an art tutor and recommends his sister (Park So-dam), but of course doesn't say they are related. Soon they con their way into getting the chauffeur job for their father (Song Kang-ho), but replacing the Parks' longtime housekeeper with the Kim matriarch Chang Hyde-jin) takes ingenious planning.

The Kims' ability to seamlessly slide into the Parks' lives and take advantage of this wealthy family shows not only the immense gap between the rich and the poor, but also how desperate people can be to get ahead.

The Kim family survives by folding cardboard pizza boxes
It is an amusing, but also pointed observation that turns to a shocking and sad ending. The reality is, becoming rich can only be a dream for most of us.

Bong explained to the New York Times that father Kim (Song) is a very famous actor in South Korea, while the son Choi is an up-and-coming actor. And so the scene where the son rehearses with the father about what to say to Mrs Park is amusing for South Koreans to watch -- like watching a young novice telling someone like Robert De Niro how to act.

But what also got a lot of buzz in South Korea about Parasite was how the wealth gap was portrayed in the movie. Remember in 2014, Air Korea CEO Cho Yang-ho's daughter Heather Cho Hyun-ah and vice president of the airline flew into a rage when nuts were not served to her on a plate on a flight from New York to Seoul.

The Park family holds a lavish birthday party for their child
The "nut rage" incident also echoes another one that was more tragic that year -- the Sewol ferry disaster in which 304 people drowned, of which 250 were students on a field trip. The ship was owned by the Yoo family, which investigators later found had siphoned off millions of dollars while encouraging its managers to cut corners and flout safety rules.

While Parasite does not directly refer to these incidents, they came to mind afterwards while analyzing the film, in that it mirrors reality, though with a macabre twist.

Another way to emphasize the rich-poor gap is through the excellent cinematography by Hong Kyung-pyo. Notice the Kim family is always together in the frame to emphasize not only their cramped conditions, but they are a close-knit group, while the Park family members are hardly together in the same shot, their home on the hill so large and spacious.

Bong (in grey suit) with the cast of Parasite at Cannes
Parasite is a film that makes observations about how money affects human nature, and is this the kind of world we want to live in?

Parasite (2019)
Directed by Bong Joon-ho
Screenplay by Bong Joon-ho and Han Jin-won







Friday, 20 December 2019

Police Try to Stop Funding to Protesters

Protesters were angry at HSBC for shutting down Spark Alliance's account
The Hong Kong Police are further cracking down on the protests by shutting down a HSBC bank account that has about HK$70 million (US$9 million) set up for protesters, claiming it was laundering money.

Police officers claim the money, given by private donors, was being used for illegal activities, including rewarding protesters for participating, which the group in question, Spark Alliance HK, strongly denied.

Lunchtime protests were held around town
Four people were arrested between the ages of 17 and 50, according to acting senior superintendent Chan Wai-kei of the Narcotics Bureau's financial investigation unit.

In addition to seizing cash worth HK$130,000, there was also a receipt of HK$165,000 in supermarket coupons as well as protest gear like gas masks and helmets.

Spark Alliance was set up after the 2016 Mongkok riots to help arrested or jailed activists, and had crowdfunded about HK$80 million in the past six months. But the police claim it had come across suspicious transactions.

However, veteran criminal defense lawyer Christopher Morley said such arrests on the grounds of money laundering might be a "bit of a stretch".

"If police want to proceed with a prosecution, they would have to establish that the persons being charged had reasonable grounds to believe that they were handling money from crime proceeds," he said.

Veteran criminal defense lawyer Jonathan Midgley said prosecutors would have to establish that the accused knew or reasonably believed the money they used were the proceeds of a serious crime.

Margaret Ng, a trustee of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund
Spark Alliance is the second-largest crowd-funding platform for protests, the largest one being 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which was established by the likes of former lawmaker Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, Canto-pop singer Denise Ho Wan-sze, and retired cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun.

Ng was shocked by the police crackdown and said there was not enough evidence to arrest the four people with Spark Alliance.

"The government cannot stop volunteer lawyers from assisting frontline protesters, so they go and freeze the fund that is used to pay the lawyers," she said.

The 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund said it has raised HK$97.1 million as of November 30 and helped 6,946 people, spending HK$23.3 million mostly on direct economic aid or legal and medical needs of protesters.

As a result of the police arresting the four people who have since been released on bail, people have come out at lunchtime in different districts to protest the police and HSBC for distancing itself from the Spark Alliance bank account.

The police are using whatever means it can to take down the protests, in this case financially. This seems to be over-the-top, but perhaps we should not be surprised, given the vindictive nature of the police these days.

Maybe this is retaliation for a recent survey shows nearly three-quarters of people have lost trust in the police, and that two-thirds of respondents want to have an independent commission on the police handling of the protests...



Video of the Day: Carrie Lam's Husband

Xi on stage with performers to celebrate Macau's 20th anniversary handover
Macau is celebrating its 20th anniversary today with a show that is reminiscent of stick-to-the-script happy-faced people in colourful costumes with broad smiles on their faces.

During the rendition of "Ode to the Motherland" that was broadcast on CCTV, lots of performers were standing on stage, with President Xi Jinping front and centre, clapping and singing along with his wife, Peng Liyuan.

 

Below watching the stage in the front row were some Hong Kong officials, like Zhang Xiaoming, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, Chinese foreign diplomat Wang Yi, and Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

Oh wait -- who's next to her -- it's her husband, Dr Lam Siu-por! We haven't seen him in public in ages!

 

And notice how he's not clapping or singing the patriotic song, instead holding his hands together in front.

If you didn't know the words, perhaps you would at least clap along, but Dr Lam didn't even do that. He seems to be the only person purposely not partaking in the song.

Observers immediately jumped on it and described Dr Lam as a "frontline protester".

Wonder what his wife thought about that, and also Xi?

Perhaps more importantly, when will we next see Dr Lam again?!






Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Curious Music Choice

The national anthem was being played as I walked towards the turnstiles...
Wednesday morning I arrived at the Kennedy Town MTR station to begin my commute to the office when I heard some music playing.

Usually the MTR plays classical music to calm people down, but not this one.

The MTR station was playing March of the Volunteers, otherwise known as the Chinese national anthem -- the instrumental version.

Just as I realised this, a man behind me said, "Diu!" and looked angry but didn't know who to direct his anger at.



What is going on? Is the MTR literally now a vehicle for soft power?

Not even the Beijing subway stations play the anthem... Does the MTR want to have another reason for protesters to hate the public transit system?



Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Nervous Trip to Macau


Chefs awarded three stars have their pictures taken in the Grand Hyatt Macau
Today was pretty nerve-wracking for me -- I had to go to Macau to cover the Michelin Guide announcement on who got stars and how many in Hong Kong and Macau. However, with President Xi Jinping coming over tomorrow to mark the 20th anniversary of Macau's handover to China, security measures have stepped up significantly these few days.

And on top of that last Friday a man was detained while trying to go to Macau via the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge. It turns out he was arrested on charges of phone smuggling in 2012... and they caught him now?

On the way to Macau with Lamma Island in the distance
There were also reports of people being turned away from the border to Macau too for not carrying their passport with a China visa in it. Chinese security insist these measures are temporary, but why should we be carrying our China visa with us if we're going to Macau?

Whatever happened to "one country, two systems"?

I took the 10.30am ferry to allow for enough time to get prepared for the 2pm announcement and already at Shun Tak ferry terminal. As soon as we passed immigration, we were subjected to a security check. Several booths were set up for our bags to be manually checked, while each passenger got wanded over.

Then we were allowed to go to our ferry.

Macau and China flags decorate the city for Xi Jinping's visit
On the other side, as soon as we walked into the Cotai ferry terminal we had to wait in line, first to have our bags screened by an X-ray machine while we went through a metal detector, and then my handbag was manually searched again. If people had luggage, they had to be checked over in the customs declaration area before they left the terminal.

It turns out I was lucky to be allowed in without an incident.

At least three reporters were barred from entering Macau today to cover Xi's visit. One from the SCMP who took the ferry was detained for three hours, and then asked to fill out a form including not only his personal details, but that of his parents, marital status and the purpose of his visit, even though he had received accreditation for the visit before he came to Macau.

This reporter had also been detained last week while on assignment, questioned in the same room, but let go after two hours.

A lot of people were on hand for the Michelin announcement
On today's occasion, they sent him back to Hong Kong with a written statement that there were "strong signs" he was trying to engage in activities that would "jeopardize the public safety and public order" in Macau.

Separately two reporters from Now TV who took the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge were also detained and were not given an explanation why they were not allowed to enter Macau.

Why were these reporters not allowed into Macau? They are only doing their jobs, to cover Xi's trip to the city.

Meanwhile for me, leaving Macau was no problem and I even managed to catch an earlier ferry, and get to Sang Kee in Sheung Wan for the last bowl of fish congee before it closed at 8.30pm.

What a day.

Monday, 16 December 2019

Carrie Lam's Report Card

Lam and Xi are colour coordinated, but do they agree on how to end protests?

Today must have been a nerve-wracking one for Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor today, meeting her two bosses, President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang in Beijing.

In pictures and footage she tries to look eager to please, but Xi seems uninterested in having to attend this meeting. Li's face looks grim too...

While both senior leaders praised Lam for her courage in dealing with the protests in Hong Kong that are stretching into its seventh month, they reminded her to finish her task of ending the violence.

Li looks grim-faced shaking Lam's hand today in Beijing
That puts Lam between a rock and a hard place. How can you end the violence if you give no leeway for political reform or even entertain an independent inquiry?

It seems like the senior Chinese leadership still don't understand the issues in Hong Kong (or aren't being briefed properly), or they are still in denial about the reality of the situation.

Political commentator Johnny Lau Yui-siu said the two state leaders' remarks showed the central government was not fully satisfied with Lam's performance in stopping the violence, but still chose to continue to support her.

"Xi Jinping's appreciation of Lam sticking to the bottom line of the 'one country, two systems' indicates that Beijing puts the chief executive's political loyalty as a top priority," Lau said.

"Beijing has not changed its tough stance on Hong Kong, despite the pro-establishment camp's humiliating defeat in last month's district council elections."


He said Beijing was still holding on to its long-standing view that the deep-rooted problems in Hong Kong stemmed from failure to boost the city's economic development and address the wealth gap.

Johnny Lau says Beijing hasn't changed its stance on HK
"Beijing still skirts Hong Kong people's calls for political reform as reflected in the anti-government protests since June," Lau said.

Meanwhile Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of the semi-official think tank The Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said it is unlikely Beijing will meet the protesters other demands.

"Beijing holds the view that Hong Kong's ongoing crisis is the result of foreign influence, so they reiterated their support for Lam and the police, believing that a hardline approach is best to end the street protests," he said.

But giving the police license to crackdown further on the protesters is not going to solve the situation," says opposition lawmaker and Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu.

"It feels like the central government is not entirely connected to what's happening on the ground," he said.

Alvin Yeung says the police may crack down harder on protests
So today's meeting is just a continuation of before, and so the protests will continue.

The central government needs to understand that for the violence and the protests to end, concessions need to be made. 

While this might seem like a big loss of face to the government, surely the ongoing protests and violence and economic recession is an even greater loss of face?

Meanwhile we hear from some China sources that the real reason the Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah was diverted from London to Beijing for a few weeks was to "get a bollocking" from senior Chinese officials about how the government was handling the six month-long protests in Hong Kong.

It definitely wasn't for medical treatment for her arm. Or maybe she did get medical treatment after her bollocking?