The inexorable descent to hell of the “Umbrella Movement”

Yesterday, the leaders of the 2014 movement called “Occupy HK” or also the “Umbrella Movement” went down yet another rung into what seems to be an inexorable descent to hell.

Old man protesting at oathgate
The “Oathgate” protests of November 2016.

After wonderfully squandering a unique leverage and negotiation position afforded by 3 months of continuous occupation of the streets of Hong Kong, the “Umbrella movement” faced, in the subsequent years, a determined push by Beijing to terrorize any independence wannabes.

The Legal Case

Originally, you have the “historic leaders” of the Occupy movement spearheaded by such figures as the law professor Benny Tai and then you have the “kids” who took over, such as Joshua Wong and the rag-tag group of students who ensured the occupation. The criminal case decided upon yesterday focused on those historic leaders, whom the judge convicted of “public nuisance”.

On a strictly legal standpoint, the case is probably justified as the initial movement launched by those activists has brought the city to a standstill for three months with little to show for this movement in terms of result. What Hongkongers do not exactly realize is that generally, the right to protest is always strictly kept under control, especially in democracies. Blocking a whole city was something exceptional, to the measure of the stakes at hand.

There is no doubt that the leaders convicted did encourage the public to occupy the streets in an attempt to pressure the HK government. As such, from a strictly legal standpoint, the judge stood little leeway when deciding on their outcome. Nevertheless, looking at the legal case is only looking at half of the issue.

The political undertones

It is widely known that after the huge alarm set out by the “Occupy” movement in 2014, and its ignominous ending in failure, Beijing set out to mete out a special brand of punishment on everyone involved from close or far with the movement. Lawmakers were disqualified (to be honest after making a disgrace of themselves), the “kids” were sent to prison or shut out of any professional career in Hong Kong, and the HK government has set out to enforce more diligently the heavy hand of China on the city.

But all of this could be expected. The unrealistic goals, the childish and immature manner in which the “Occupy” leaders behaved when trying to fix their goals, or even when they got elected to the LegCo, the legislative assembly of Hong Kong, ended up harming their public image.

Oathgate protests
The oathgate protests in November 2017

Over the three months of the protests, and later over the past five years, public support dwindled particularly among youth. Those who were at the forefront of the movement in 2014, learned that they should live the Chinese way, meaning just try to make money, and hold no ideals or hopes.

In a way, the Umbrella Movement was given an extraordinary chance to change the political destiny of a city. But because the “kids” of the Umbrella Movement were naive and because they seriously underestimated Xi Jinping’s China, they just ended taking the movement down all the rungs of Chinese hell. Although it has become mainly a mouthpiece of Beijing, the SCMP published one editorial which truly reflects the feelings of most of the population.

A discredited movement

To add to the discredit of the Occupy leaders, the antics of some people such as Howard Lam who invented some “torture” by Chinese agents (he later admitted self-inflicting injuries), ended up precipitating the movement into irrelevance.

Nowadays, the only persons who believe democrats still hold any relevance in Hong Kong are the Western journalists who played a great role in the international echo of the photogenic movement. The majority of the population moved on and probably even hates the democrats for failing to make good on their promises.

A perfect sign of this was in the public present at the court to support the leaders of the Occupy movement: only middle aged people were present. The youth that was at the heart of the Occupy movement in 2014 did not even bother showing up.

This was already true in 2014, but time has proved this even more: China won the political battle and is about to win the battle of minds. All Hong Kong’s youth has left is either the pursuit of money or the pursuit of leaving Hong Kong.

Farewell to Karaoke street

Sunday night was the last occasion on which Sai Yeung Choi South street was open to pedestrians. At 22hrs, the police invited performers and crowds to leave. On this last hooray, a huge crowd had come to bid farewell to karaoke street.

Neighbor and business complaints

The end of “karaoke street” is not totally unexpected as performers had kept on increasing their professional-level sound systems to drown competition under the decibels, leading to regular complaints by local businesses.For some performers, it was the occasion of making some nice money.

Cantopop singer
A singer performs on Sai Yeung Choi South street receiving banknotes as thanks for her performance.

Despite these inconveniences, the whole street exuded a formidable vibe that best embodied the spirit of Mongkok, and its grittiness. Hong Kong may have become more orderly today, but it certainly lost a part of its soul.

Some performers, when faced with some technical issues already left on Saturday: “I do this because I like it, not for money”, said a man with a big portable sound system. “Clapping is enough for me”.

At the same time, many other performers were much less generous with their time, receiving a lot of envelops ladden with cash on their last days. Despite the greed (which was ultimately the downfall), Karaoke street also provided entertainment for older HongKongese lacking places of commonality in the city.

Dancing ladies in Mongkok
Two ladies dance on Sai Yeung Choi street on the music of a karaoke singer

Dance and music

Some of the performances could often derive in full blown dances by dozens of people. This video I took last time is a perfect illustration.

It must be said that Mongkok is not an easy place to police and keep happy, as they were the theater of the”fishball riots” in 2015, in the aftermath of the umbrella movement.

It is possible that political and policing afterthoughts were not very far from the mind of the district council which asked for the removal of Karaoke street.

Karaoke street
A man performs on karaoke street

Most performers took it in stride, vowing to find another place to perform. However, Hong Kong will soon realize it lost a part of its soul, killing an entertainment that was famous with tourists worldwide. Where the farewell to karaoke street may have been bittersweet, another piece of vibrant culture has disappeared.

Bangkok, a cosmopolitan city?

Bangkok is at the crossroads of Asia and the Western world. As such, you would think that Bangkok would be the most cosmopolitan city in the world. Pictures such as those of local Japanese residents shopping in kimono and walking besides Thai locals would understandably make someone believe so.

A country very dependent on tourism and foreigners

An inconvenient truth for many Thais, is that their country has become quite dependent on foreigners, either foreign companies and foreign tourists. For  a country always proud of boasting they were never colonized , this can be an insufferable truth.

Tourists at Chiang Mai Bazar
Tourists at the Chiang Mai bazaar

Because Thailand’s economy is mainly based on production for export and because the population has a pretty low skills level, a foreign presence in Thailand is very visible. Admittedly, with time, the situation is slowly changing, but the Thai education system is not helping. With the exposure to travels and to foreign marketing, even foreign culture can impregnate the country (although mostly from fellow Asian nations). A sizable foreign population come in for teaching and to support business of foreign companies, in leadership roles. A less fortunate population of neighboring countries (mainly Burma and Cambodia) is more often called to work in menial or manual labor (and their condition is truly not enviable).

Nevertheless, the cosmopolitan impression of Bangkok is soon lost. Foreign residents, just like tourists, are always seen as an external body to the country, who are never bound to stay. The whole legal framework and practice around foreigners is so created as to discourage foreigners from staying or from ever being part of the population.

Foreigners are just temporary visitors

The visibility of this foreign presence often irks the more nationalist Thais.  Thais take some pride in thinking they are independent from foreign influence and don’t need foreigners. Police and immigration also considers roughly all foreigners as would-be criminals.

This practice translates in the Thai laws, which have installed some pretty irksome processes such as the obligation for foreign residents of Thailand to present their passports every 90 days at the immigration if they don’t exit the country in the meantime. The whole process makes no sense for people with dependent or business visas except as a vexatory reminder that they are just there on a provisional basis. Never mind if they have a business visa.

Nationalism will not stop at the administration. Some Thais can be so convinced of knowing better on local matters, that they will (at least in my experience) always try to do things their way (and often the wrong way!) just to prove they can take care of Thai affairs by themselves. Logic and common sense often lacks and explains why a foreign presence is required. Often, this is justified by saying that foreigners cannot understand “thainess”.

What is Thainess?

A central question is that of “Thainess”. Put shortly, “thainess” is an excuse Thais use to justify any behavior or practice they cannot rationally justify even to themselves. Thainess among other myths, also builds on the idea of a global centralized idea of a nation, which is only very recent in historical terms. Many ethnic minorities and tribes are being force-fed into the Thai mold and obliged to abandon their identity.

Interestingly, the case of the 13 youth rescued from a cave shows that the society might be slowly evolving as many of the kids are stateless.

Dependence on Chinese tourism has increased tenfold the last few years, but to some degree, this is not so alien for Thais, as a sizeable part of the elites are Thai-chinese.

Foreign cooperation is however vital for Thailand. It was never more acutely shown than in the case of the rescue of the 13 kids of Tham Luang caves. In that case, basically the whole country rooted for the kids, regardless of their origin or nationality. Somehow, even the army and Thai medias conscripted them as “Thais”. The big question now is whether the kids will ever get a Thai passport and once the media attention is gone, the focus on their ordeal will probably be also gone.

At any rate, despite its initial focus on nationalism, the Thai Junta has pursued a policy which is more of appeasing tensions and addressing real issues. There have even been some small attempt at making the country more welcoming to foreigners.

 

The Thai smile

So, is Bangkok a cosmopolitan city? Somehow, and despite the desire of the Thais, themselves, it is a huge hotch-potch of different cultures and populations with different cultures.

While it is often talked about “tolerance” of Thais for the weird behavior of some foreign tourists, such a tolerance is only skin deep. Deep below, there is a huge feeling of misunderstanding between Thais and foreigners. Just like the reputed “Thai smile”, “tolerance” is only in appearance and only as long as it is linked to a source of money for the Thais.

Bangkok may look cosmopolitan because of the various populations that cross themselves in the city, but it is not a place where cultures intermingle and enrich each other. Thais stay in their own “Thainess”, foreigners stay among themselves, and both populations live aside, but never really assimilate or influence each other.

 

The death of “Karaoke Street”?

It was announced and it finally came: it seems all but certain now that the Sai Yeung Choi south street in Mongkok will be closed to entertainers. In fact, in a previous post, we mentioned that the decibels were causing a lot of complaints. In a recent vote, the District Council of Yau Tsim Tong passed a motion to close the pedestrian area of the famous Mongkok “Karaoke Street”.

Performer on Sai Yeung Choi south street
A singer performs for her mainly mature audience at Sai Yeung Choi South street on Saturday 2 June

A predictable outcome

In fact, complaints about the noise and disturbance in “Karaoke street” are not new. Local businesses have been complaining about the impossibility of carrying out business with increasingly louder karaoke installations.

The complaints reached a new threshold as the performers kept bringing out louder speakers and more professional material, such as TV’s, generators and mixing tables.

The “professionalization” of the peforrmers and their competition meant that you had people placed at just ten meters of each other, competing to be heard by passersbys witih increasingly louder volumes of sound.

Despite this, the vibe of “Karaoke street” was absolutely contagious, as can be reflected in this video and several periscopes I made at the same place over the years.

 

 

Political consequences

Sai Yeung Choi South street in Mongkok, is known as a hotbed of local popular culture, but also the last refuge of localists. In fact, among the performers, the last remnants of the “Umbrella Movement” found a refuge on that street. The famous Mongkok riots of 2015 also took place in that area. As of today, the area has become one of the last places to observe the typical Hong Kong culture and mostly older residents who enjoy their free time on week-ends.

Suppressing this area might thus trigger other political consequences. That is probably the reason why the HK government was not in a great hurry to offer a timetable for the eviction of the pedestrian zone.

In fact, the district council has no power to edict legislation, and it can only offer recommendations to the HK government. The said government promised it would act “as soon as possible” on the recommendations.

Nevertheless, the conflict of interests and the complaints of local businesses have given rise to an interesting situation in Hong Kong. How to reconcile the desire for entertainment and the needs of local businesses?

Karaoke street performer
A performer pushes up the decibels to get the attention of passerbys

A middle way solution?

As always, the solution might be in the middle. Why not enforce a tougher regulation of sound levels among performers? Why not continue allowing this lovely entertainment area and participate in giving this extra vibe to Hong Kong?

Performers must be reined in, but it is certain that if Sai Yeung Choi South is closed as a pedestrian area, a lot less people will be circulating there. Some editorials have tried suggesting such a compromise, but given how high tensions can rise in that area, it is not sure what approach the HK government will retain, but more than ever, Mongkok promises to be a tricky area to administer. So, as long as they are still there,  I will keep documenting the performers of Sai Yeung Choi South… Hoping to see them still for a long time.

Cantopop singer
A singer performs on Sai Yeung Choi South street receiving banknotes as thanks for her performance.

 

Recreational drones and the regulatory crackdown

A recent trip to Canada and the USA was the occasion of discovering that the explosion of the number of drones has triggered increasingly stringent regulation.

After very mediatized incidents of drones being flown near to airports and other unsafe conduct from recreational drone pilots, the calls were general for more regulation. This, while drones continue being a hot market item (easily bought at Best Buy in Canada, or even on the web site of DJI).

It is true that the explosion of recreational drones has had as consequence a lot of irresponsible behavior by unprepared pilots who do not take enough precautions a). to avoid disrupting major aviation activities; b). to avoid endangering others while learning to master their machine.

It is also true that there are not enough schools to learn how to fly safely a drone, short of taking piloting courses. So, most novice pilots are left to their own devices, and if they lack some obvious common sense, they can become dangerous for others.

From one excess to another

 

Nevertheless the regulatory answer to these excesses and this mass market explosion of drones (most coming from China, by the way) has been marked by another excess.

Taking the example of Canada, for example, no flight can take place within less than 9 kms from any airport (in Hong Kong, it is just 5 kms). And given some areas of Canada are literally littered with airports or seaports, this makes it almost impossible to fly legally. Let’s not even mention the natural parks where flying drones is also restricted. You cannot fly above 90 m, you cannot fly within 75 m of a house, a person or an animal. So, to find a place to fly a drone, you should just go to the middle of a forest far from any civilization. Oh, and your name, address and phone number must be present on the drone.

That’s not nearly as bad as the USA, where, if you are not registered with the FAA, you cannot legally fly a drone at all. The consequence was that I carefully avoided taking out my drone while in the US. In France, no flight is allowed above cities and areas you can fly a drone into are very reduced.

Consequences of over-regulation

The fines, in Canada are pretty hefty, reaching up to 25,000 CAD if Air Canada finds you in violation of its regulations. “No drone” signs are now found even on some bridges, and flying in a city is basically impossible. I did however see a Chinese guy taking his Mavic Pro up in the airs at English Bay, for a very short while. The picture that was basically the same as he could have taken with a DSLR. Still, he was in violation of the Canadian laws.

While the sale of drones has not been regulated, the profusion of these prohibitions has as practical effect: it clips the wings of anyone wishing to try these gadgets. Drones are lovely tools to take spectacular photos, but they must be used responsibly and with care. The problem is that everything has been focused on prohibition and banning whereas the real answer would be education. On the other hand, drone pilots are always looking for the most spectacular footage, sometimes taking absolutely stupid risks. This footage being an example in point.

In the USA, “education” has been answered under the form of obliging every drone pilot to register themselves after following extensive courses and to pass an examination to become a drone pilot. The positive side of this is that basically you are taught a job and can get one after this course. The negative side is that such courses are very expensive.

A middle ground?

While flying my drone, I am often approached by amateurs who wish to purchase a drone too. I do notice that there is some surprise when I advise them that I must take some precautions when flying, check wind speed etc. So, education is definitely a must for drone pilots, even if many rules are simple common sense. For instance, asking bystanders to stand clear of the landing area, checking for electric wires, etc, having an idea of where you are going to fly your drone. I also see some drone pilots flying dangerously (out of line of sight, near electric masts, etc). At the same time, not every recreational drone pilot needs to be versed into UAV piloting rules.

A simple obligatory course in elementary flight safety rules, piloting course and emergency procedures would be sufficient for the vast majority of recreational drone pilots. The problem is that with every stunt pulled by an irresponsible drone pilot, we end up closer to extreme regulation and prohibition.

Hong Kong: the “kids” get their comeuppance at local by-elections

It was a conclusion written in advance, but Joshua Wong and his friends refused to believe it until the end. The “kids” got their comeuppance at the Hong Kong local by-elections. As a reminder, these by-elections were called after the disqualification of several Wong sympathizers for improperly taking their oath at the Legislative Council (the “LegCo”).

History of a failure

In September 2016, two years after the umbrella movement, the pro-democrat kids who had been the “leaders” of a headless movement decided to launch themselves into politics. Surfing on the wave of discontent that arose from the Umbrella movement, the protest leaders turned apprentice politicians field very young candidates, hence grabbing six seats at the LegCo.

Hailed as a challenge to Beijing, the election thrust the inexperienced kids into a dangerous limelight, where they confused politics in an elected assembly with the gimmicks that won them support for their “Occupy” movement. It is thus, that each one of them launched into an incomprehensible mix of protest and of theatrics at their oath-taking ceremony. Yau Wai-Ching, the baby-faced girl inserted an obscene interjection in her oath, while she and her fellow protester cum politican, Sixtus Leung wrapped themselves in flags saying “Hong Kong is not China”.

Not unsurprisingly, both were disqualified from their functions and barred from either retaking the oath (as they pathethically suggested) or from even running for the election again. Probably the most funny part was that they complained having to refund the LegCo for their salaries (which they had already all spent).

The “Oathgate” protests

Oathgate protests
The oathgate protests in November 2017

This triggered a short-lived protest, but once the emotions fell down, people started realizing that their apprentice politicans had actually let them down.

The incoherence of the group of kids further discredited them, when they first offered to retake the oath, then complained about having to refund their salaries.

In fact, if they wanted to just use their election to stage a political stunt and walk away from the LegCo, they should have prepared to do so. Instead, it seemed that the kids totally misjudged their opponents’ readiness to pounce on their mistakes. It seems they genuinely thought they could have remained as LegCo members, despite making their oath a farce. Even in a normal democracy, not one held in a stranglehold like Hong Kong, I highly doubt they could have carried out this stunt and remained in the parliament.

A legal battle lost in advance

In the meantime, Beijing issued a ruling on the interpretation of Hong Kong basic law, stating that individuals who did not take the oath with the required solemnity could not be a LegCo member, nor be allowed to retake an oath. Even without this ruling, their case was already well doomed, and they lost every instance of their legal fight.

At the same time, the Hong Kong government appealed a lenient sentence pronounced against Joshuah Wong and his comrades for their occupation of the “civic square”. Speaking in strictly legal terms, the sentence and the motivation did seem sound. Where the kids, again, lost credibility was in their whining after being sentenced to prison for “civil disobedience”. Real civil disobedience makes of prison terms one of the tools with which to fight an unjust law, but the kids thought they would get away with just some symbolic sentencing. The shock was total when the Court of Appeal reversed the sentence and ordered them to prison. Despite international clamoring by medias, Hong Kong people just saw kids who got caught by the consequences of their own game. The improvement of the future of hongkongese was not in the cards.

The last fight

Fast forward to 2018, and the kids try a last comeback with some protests on the occasion of the visit of Xi Jinping. But it is there where their isolation is cruelly noticed. Besides Wong and his comrades, the public did not join them. Where the fears by the Hong Kong government and the Chinese authorities were that the 20th anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to China would be marked by protests, these fears were unfounded; nobody was willing to sacrifice their future for the illusions of a few fools.

Nevertheless, the sentencing of Wong and co to prison terms caused a major uproar, with up to 200,000 people descending in the streets of Hong Kong for the last show of support to the kids.

Protesters march
A long queue of protesters march towards Central Hong Kong on Sunday, 20 August.

Despite this last show of support, Wong and his co-accused ended in prison. After this last protest, the indecision and the hesitations on strategy by the headless “leaders” once again doomed the movement. Despite this, they tried again to rally for the next fight, trying to conserve the seats they had won at the byelections.

A calvary

From the start, their attempt to run again for the election appeared to be a calvary. Initially, the candidates of “Demosisto” the fledgeling party of Wong (in particular Agnes Chow), were disqualified because of their avowed position in favour of self-determination. Demosisto then revised its charter in  another ill-timed and stupid decision. Now, not only did they appear to be unwilling to stand by their principles, but on top of it, they failed to read the determination of the Hong Kong authority in stopping the childishness.

In the end, in an election marked by a low turnout, whereas the kids tried to make it a “referendum” about the Oathgate, the candidates supported by the kids lost two circumscriptions, barely maintaining a hold on the two others. The most marking defeat was probably the loss of Kowloon-West, a circumscription historically held by the pan-democrats. While ascribing the failure to a lack of “canvassing”, Edward Yiu Chung-yim the candidate in that circumscription also took full responsibility for the failure.

 

In a way, the end of the calvary was predictable. Those who tied their fate to that of the kids got also badly burned, leaving the city now firmly into Beijing’s hands. Other incidents such as the fake aggression invented by a pan-democrat politician, Howard Lam, also discredited the whole movement. Today, the Hongkongers just want to see their living conditions improve. The appointment of Carrie Lam, a less polarizing figure at the head of the government also helped to appease minds and hearts. Where Wong and co. failed was that they thought the Umbrella Movement was theirs to own. It was actually their parents and elders who descended then, to say that they did not want to see violence against their kids – and in no way to support either independence claims or even other weird propositions which the kids incorporated in their claims such as homosexual marriage. If anything, the mixup of social activism along with political demands definitely doomed the movement.

 

Running barefoot

Some of the readers of this blog may know from following my instagram or other posts that I run barefoot. As originally explained, this arises from a physical constraint. Indeed, I underwent an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) reconstruction in September 2016. Since then, unfortunately, my knee has taken quite a long time to recover – partly also because I have not been as rigorous as I should have been with exercises to strengthen my knee.

Barefoot running to… resume running!

In the end, after reading some online posts about the benefits of running barefoot for knee pain, I decided to give it a try. After all, my single attempts at running with shoes since my operation saw me stopping as my knee was hurting. Although the knee first felt the impact, past the first two laps (around 500 m), once the knee was warmed up, it became incredibly comfortable to run barefoot.

I took it easy at the start, running for 1/2 hr and not really focusing on time. To my surprise, I was running fast. In fact, running barefoot, you are somehow obliged to run faster if you wish to keep an optimum form. Despite this, at the beginning, there were some small issues, such as blisters and skin abrasion. From online forums, the general opinion is that it indicates bad form rather than anything else. Over time, blisters became something of the past.

Exploring the world barefoot

A logical extension of running barefoot was to start hiking barefoot. Indeed, I had already done several hikes in Hong Kong, with shoes. On the occasion of my trip to Kaohsiung, in Taiwan, I made a barefoot hike in Shoushan national park. While my skin was still tender, the variety of surfaces, and meeting other Taiwanese barefoot hikers was an excellent experience.

Barefoot hike
Walking barefoot in Shoushan national park

I didn’t have much the occasion of running barefoot in Kaohsiung, mainly because I was biking a lot (barefoot, of course) and was traveling across the city to visit the various sites. Nevertheless, on my return to Hong Kong, I continued running barefoot.

On average, I run around 30 to 45 mins, averaging 5 to 6 kms. I managed to run by 8° to 10° C (while cold, as long as you cover up the top, it is fine, but it can be draining).

 

Barefoot running abroad

Running barefoot on a daily basis is pretty easy for me, as I do it in a park just in front of my condo, where the terrain is pretty much safe and level. In general, barefoot hiking is done on hiking trails, and, as such, always gives rise to comments or interrogations (often positive!). But as I grew in my training and level of proficiency, I was not shy about running barefoot abroad too. My best memory of this was running at 6AM by 12° C in Barcelona on the Paseig de Gracia, the main avenue of Barcelona.

Casa Battlo, barefoot running
Here, before the Casa Battlo of Gaudi.

Obviously, at 6 am, not a lot of other people around, so no big deal to face in terms of comments etc.

 

Running in difficult conditions

Another challenge which I had to face since running barefoot was that the weather quickly changed to winter. Temperatures of 8-10° C were common in Hong Kong, and while the cold is manageable even barefoot, when it gets wet and cold, then it gets tough. Feet and toes in particular tend to get colder with the water, and low-intensity running does not create enough warmth to keep you comfortable. Nevertheless, I managed to run several times with 10° or approaching temperatures. Below, a video of my running in the rain.

Running in the rain has been probably one of the most exhilarating experiences, as it is absolutely lovely to be splashing in the puddles.

Barefoot in the rain
Running barefoot in the rain and splashing in the puddles

 

Health advantages

The one, most direct benefit for me, has been to be resuming running painlessly, and as a side effect, to be able to strengthen my legs’ muscles. There are a lot of talks of the benefits of “earthing” among the barefooting community, but I don’t believe in these theories. I just do it because a). it allowed me to resume running; b). it is fun and healthy to do.

Running barefoot does demand the use of a different set of muscles and so, your feet and your calves and feet muscles end up dramatically reinforced as a result. The other advantage is that your sense of proprioception also develops and you feel more stable on your feet. Finally, on wet terrain, as recently, I did not slip at all, although I know that with my trail running shoes I would be guaranteed to have a straight fall on some slippery sections (granite pavement).

 

How to start running barefoot?

Maybe, after reading this article, you wish to start running barefoot too? It can do a lot of good, it can also be discouraging when starting. You will face a lack of understanding from other shod runners, social discomfort (depending on the place), your family may disapprove and finally, it may hurt (a bit!) at the very beginning. The best way is to focus on the positive aspects, namely the increased sensory feedback when walking, then running barefoot. At the beginning, walking on a twig in the park would cause discomfort, now, the feet have adapted to the feeling and just mold around the twig.

It will depend from person to person, but two general advice come out: firstly, to take it easy and not overdo it at the start; secondly, to learn to run forefoot. At the beginning at least, while your running form is not yet perfected, and when you are still learning, you will probably have blisters or higher abrasion of the skin. You must obviously avoid running too frequently or as heavily as before, at least for a period of time. Eventually, you will be able gradually to increase your distance. It must be however said that few people run marathons barefoot, if any. Indeed, the repetitive abrasion on the ground (especially cement) ends up using even the hardest bare feet.

Later, running will become more and more easy. And as you progress, you will not want to look back to the days you ran with shoes.

 

Where to find more information?

One main reference website is “Run Forefoot“. Written by a neurobiologist, Bretta Riches, it contains a good deal of arguments with scientific backing on the technique of barefoot running. Another main online (and current) resource is the reddit “barefoot running“. This latter forum is more based on practical experience by barefoot runners (although many write about minimal shoes versus “real” barefoot running. Nevertheless, the advice can be useful for novices, and those seeking to learn from the experience of others. Finally, if you are interested in barefoot hiking, the reddit “barefoot hiking” can be also useful (but mostly filled with the accounts of those who did it, like me, rather than advice). My own personal advice is to do at least once or twice the path shod before going for a barefoot hike.

If you did start barefoot running or hiking, drop me a word either in the comments or by mail, I would be glad to hear from your experience!

 

 

Talking about Gear: is the new Nikon D850 worth it?

As many photographers, I too have been somehow inundated in the flow of marketing and ecstatic articles about the Nikon D850. The big question nobody asks is whether this new camera is worth it?

Technical improvements

On paper, the camera looks a beast and is looking set to again beat Canon at the game of megapixels and features.

Nikon D850 specs from Nikon USA web site.

In particular, as we are still in a game of megapixels, 45 MP looks like a formidable resolution for a camera. Video with 4K looks also interesting for videographers. It is certain, from the first pics (probably insanely retouched) put out by Nikon, that the camera looks able to produce magnificent pictures.

The question out there is how it performs in real life. While the jury is still out on knowing whether there will be some teething issues, I guess we can expect the camera to be still worth the 3,000 USD it will cost to purchase.

Game changer or consumer changer?

An article posted earlier railed at Nikon for creating a hype around the camera and pushing users to consumption and to “upgrade” their cameras.

If you already read my page “gear“, you know that I don’t advocate necessarily purchasing more and more gear. Nevertheless, purchasing my Nikon D750 eight years after my Canon 40D brought about a significant evolution in my photographic output and practice. In low light, I must say that the D750 beats the 40D from all points of view. New lenses gave new dimensions to my photography too.

Similarly, the increase in megapixel allowed me to improve the overall quality of my pictures.

HOWEVER, the evolution and the “upgrade” was after such a period of time that technology made leaps and bounds. It came also after I progressed personally and artistically, where my old camera felt limited. Getting the D750 a few years back would have been a waste to be quite candid.

The question when it comes to considering an upgrade is whether you are going to change YOUR game with the upgrade, or whether you are just being a consumer going with the flow.

What are your needs?

The big issue is whether you need this camera from a professional point of view. To answer that question, let’s put this differently: are you making money out of your current gear? If the answer is “yes”, then, by all means make a financial analysis of the cost vs return expected. The investment should only be justified if there is a positive equation at the end.

 

In Hong Kong, the D850 retails at 27,800 HKD body alone!

However, if you are just buying cameras and practicing photography as an amateur, spending for new gear should be a careful and considerate decision. All the more as purchasing such an important piece of gear is going to detract money from other important posts in your life.

For example, if you already have a D800 or a D810, the improvement with the D850 is just incremental. You are not going to suddenly expand your horizons, so I guess you can pass on this camera.

With a D750, the evolution is already more significant. You move from 24 MP to 45, which is almost the double. Yes, the improvement will be more significant and your pictures could be marginally better. However, unless you are shooting professionally, the expenditure is not justified, and especially not when the camera just came out (and is sold at its highest price tag). If you don’t have a camera and are hesitating between D810, D750 or D850, then just go for the D750 or D810. Both cameras are excellent and right now, should sell at a discount (even new) as the new big brother just arrived. But there is also another way.

A third way?

Looking at it differently, you may see the second-hand market being flooded by D810 in the coming months. The D810 is an excellent camera and would be an excellent addition if you absolutely need another camera.

While brand new, the D810 was quite expensive, with some luck, you might come across some low shutter-count camera held by a guy having enough money to upgrade (or being foolish). In which case, you might both, satisfy the desire for better gear, and at the same time, avoid purchasing depreciating gear without an income generated by this gear.

Conclusion: upgrade for professionals

In conclusion, for professionals, the upgrade may be quite justified. The camera does progress and offers new interesting features. However, for an amateur photographer, I would say that buying a second-hand D810 might be the wise decision at this moment.

 

Of death, ghosts and haunted houses in Hong Kong

Obviously, supernatural is never very far from hongkongese, even if most profess they don’t believe in anything… Hence topics such as death, ghosts, death or haunted houses are quite taboo in Hong Kong.

Why talking about this subject? Over the week-end, a crime took place in Hong Kong, at a luxury condominium called the “Coronation”. From the first facts shared by the investigators, a husband stabbed his wife, threw her from the apartment and then jumped in turn, committing suicide.

This is a tragic event, per se, but a twitter commentator pointed out that the only thing some local medias focused upon, was the fall in property prices resulting from the murder-suicide.

Haunted houses

It has been reported for a number of years now, “haunted houses” sell at a discount on the overheated real estate market of Hong Kong. By “haunted houses”, it is referred to those flats or houses where a crime happened or a death took place. Some real estate companies found an interesting niche by providing a search engine dedicated uniquely to finding those “haunted houses”.

Westerners might wonder what’s wrong with owning a house where someone has died. In fact, death is an event of life in Europe, where old houses have probably seen countless births and deaths. For Chinese, the word of “death”, or anything approaching death like cemeteries, etc, are all extremely taboo. This article is quite informative on the subject if you wish to understand more about it: Unexpected Chinese Customs.

From ancestors to ghosts

Because Chinese believe in the cult of ancestors and, as in many parts in Asia (think Thailand!), believe in bridges between death and living, the fear of ghosts is pretty common. Hence they shun anything even remotely linked to it like the number “4”. In Chinese, it sounds a lot like the word “death”.

But modern society brought a twist to that belief. Nowadays, housing has become less disposable than it was before the industrial area. Before, just as in Japan nowadays, it was easy to get rid of the “spirits”: just destroy the house and build a new one instead. See this comment on the article “why are Japanese homes disposable”:

Some Japanese talk about “memory of the walls”…

As destroying condominiums is not possible anymore, most of the people tend to shun those places where someone died (even if it is not obliged to reveal that someone died in the house, as in Japan).

In the case of the murder/suicide at hand, some tenants who lived on the same floor where the murder took place wished to leave anticipatively (Chinese). The landlords only consented to lower the rent as they are probably aware it will near to impossible to rent the units in the future, without a heavy discount.

Paradox of an advanced and superstitious society

This shows us that Hong Kong, while being an extremely advanced society, still kept elements of old Chinese beliefs firmly anchored. Somehow, ghosts and their beliefs are prevalent in the history of Hong Kong, with a high number of these occurrences linked to tragic accidents or to the Japanese occupation during WW II.

A list of the most famous “haunted” places has been compiled by this web site, but there are many more. A very famous one even is on Lugard road, called the “Dragon’s Lodge”. Here also, a history of deaths and executions by Japanese during WW II.

The fact is that belief in ghosts is so prevalent in Hong Kong that it can also influence the interpretation of normal health issues, such as sleep paralysis. It does also influence the way you want to conceive a “haunted manor”.  In fact, for Chinese, “haunted” is not a concept to be trifled with. Hence, when building its attraction park in Hong Kong, Disney had to tweak a bit the haunted into “mystic” (not scary at all).

To a degree, superstition replaces the lack of religious belief, and even in an “officially” atheist society, human soul cannot function in void. It needs some belief to cling to.

A selfish society?

The twitter commentator lamented the lack of compassion or concern for mental health of the victim/perpetrator in the story related initially. It is true that the other facet of superstition is often extreme materialism, and that is a plague affecting Hong Kong at an extreme degree.

Some Hongkongese justified that “lack of compassion” with impatience of the public towards people who are seen as the “have” vs the have nots. The “Coronation” condominium is one of the high-end condominiums built in Yau Ma Tei, one of the poorest areas of Kowloon. For locals, struggling to survive in “coffin houses”, someone killing his wife and committing suicide and driving down property prices by his act must have been truly selfish to the extreme. It may appear callous, but those people struggle through much worse in their daily lives.

At any rate, in the meantime, about 1,300 people showed up to participate in a lottery to award the right to purchase 4 units at a housing project…. So ghosts or no ghosts, real estate in Hong Kong does not give any sign of cooling down.

Going further…

I would invite you to take a look at the various articles I linked to in this post.

If you are further interested about some aspects of death in the Chinese culture, you can watch my periscope on the Aberdeen Chinese cemetery below.

 

Montane Mansion: HK architectural claustrophobia

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A famous spot for tourists Montane Mansion is located in Quarry Bay, on Hong Kong island. It has become famous for illustrating Hong Kong’s architectural claustrophobia and is a favorite spot for urban explorers.

Hong Kong’s paradox

For most foreigners, that place is claustrophobic and nightmarish to live into. For some Hongkongese, it is still home. That’s why, according to the record of recent transactions, houses are still sold up to a maximum of 5 million HKD for 490 ft.²!

The location of Montane mansion is on King’s Road, with tram and MTR nearby, so nobody will dispute the convenience of the place. However, the cost of the housing seems delirious given the claustrophobic atmosphere.

The pricing of housing in HK

Let us compare with another condominium, located in Ngau Chi Wan, where I am currently living. It was originally commercialized at about 7 million HKD on plans. It is a high-end luxury building with about 1,000 ft.² for my apartment.

However, that building was completed in 2010, and probably initially sold towards 2005-2007. At the time, the housing market was still recovering. Today, that same apartment is worth 12 million HKD.

If need be, it is a living illustration of the runaway Hong Kong housing market, under the influx of Chinese capitals over the last ten years.

Architecture witnessing the cramped conditions

Montane mansion  serves as a visual reminder that Hong Kong deals with three economic constraints: greed of investors in real estate, limited space, and a growing population. So far, the Hong Kong government has not found a miracle solution, short of alluding to opening natural parks of Hong Kong to construction.

In the meantime, visitors and tourists still flock to Montane Mansion to see this visual illustration of Hong Kong’s evils.

How to get there?

In terms of ease to reach the place, you can get down either at Quarry Bay MTR station or Taikoo station. Both are very close to Montane mansion and you can reach the place on foot.