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.

 

Victoria park on Chinese New Year eve

Yesterday night was Chinese New Year eve. It is a tradition for honkongers to go to Victoria park on Chinese New Year eve. Mainly because of the local flower and plushes market taking place there. Chinese New Year eve is the last day of the market, so vendors are hard pressed to sell their goods as soon as possible to avoid having to throw or to give them for free after midnight, when the market closes.

Learning business “on the job”

Victoria Park is also the setting of a real life “business school” for high school students. In fact, many students use the CNY market as an occasion to learn the basics of doing business. From starting a business plan, to pricing, sourcing, setting price, marketing and then adapting to competition on the market;

High school student selling plushes
A high school student texts while selling plushes with her comrades in Victoria park

Highly valuable, the experience sees the teenagers throwing themselves into the fray, rivaling with ideas to attract customers. Some even tried the idea of hanging plushes with sticks above the heads of the crowd!

Victoria park hanging plushes above the head
Students try to attract customers by hanging plushes above their heads

The Flower market

The other big attraction of the Victoria Park CNY market is, of course, the flower market. Replete with mandarin trees and various other plants or flowers, it is an occasion for Hongkongers to come and find cheap flowers to decorate their house.

On Chinese New Year eve, you can literally see “live” vendors discounting their wares as the hour advances.

Discounted plants
A merchant holds signs to attract customers for his discounted plants

As the hour advances and it gets closer to midnight, customers also hurry to get their shopping done. After midnight, the vendors must throw or donate their flowers, as they cannot be sold anymore.

Buying flowers on CNY eve
A mother and her daughter are buying flowers at a stall in Victoria Park on Chinese New Year eve

It must be said that the flowers look magnificent and are a welcome decoration.

Flowers on sale
Flowers on sale as hongkongers pass by.

Finally, if you are not there to buy flowers, then maybe you just go there to take pictures and selfies. It is a bit what these three pretty girls were doing in Victoria park, with their smartphones.

3 pretty girsl on CNY eve
Three pretty girls stroll into Victoria Park on Chinese New Year eve

In conclusion, although it was quite crowded, going to Victoria Park on Chinese New Year eve is an experience to try! You can also read about my similar experience with Chinese New Year in Bangkok, here.

Another hiker dies in Hong Kong

It has become a sad litany this past month, with this being the third time a hiker dies in Hong Kong in under a month. This time, however, tragedy hits closer to home, as I had met the deceased hiker on Suicide cliff during a previous hike.

 

Presuming of one’s strength

Apparently, Albert Poon, the hiker, had been hiking in the geopark of Sai Kung. He then tried to swim to an island and was overcome when returning from that island, according to records in the media.

Local water temperature must have been around 15°, which would be easily conducive to hypothermia. Furthermore, starting a swim in cold water after the stress of a hike, must have taken an additional toll.

Albert was not hiking alone. He was with a group of hikers, but he presumed of his own strength. Hiking groups are often flaunted as a solution to reduce the danger of hiking… But if someone presumes of his strength and/or is pushed beyond his limits, they offer no security. However, the friends of Albert were able to call for help to get him evacuated.

 

Why does it hit close to home?

As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, I met Albert during one of my hikes up on suicide cliff. At the time, he had even asked me why I was hiking alone. I took a picture for him, and we exchanged our phone numbers. Albert came across as a friendly and cheerful guy and from the looks of it, he was extremely fit.

In a way, when we lose someone we knew personally, it is always a reminder that we are mortal. And since we are both hikers, it is an additional reminder to be careful when hiking. Hiking is a stressful experience for the body. So, when you do that, you should always be taking care of not pushing your body too far.

So rest in peace, Albert, and thanks for that brief encounter on suicide cliff.

 

Flight to Kaohsiung: it all starts with a delay…

Last Sunday, I was flying to Kaohsiung, in Taiwan. This trip took place thanks to a promotion of American Express and Zuji, which both offered tickets to various destinations around the world for 30,000 pts on your credit card. The offer was too good not to enjoy (although flights are always on inconvenient dates, but not a big deal if you are taking vacations anyway).

HK airport lounge

As you never know what you might find on the plane as food, I had my dinner at the Premium Lounge of the airport (which you can access with a priority pass card (often given for free by some cards issuers).

Chicken, rice and vegetables as well as mushroom soup were on my menu. Nothing to talk home about, but certainly more tasty than on the plane.

China Airlines nice staff, but chronic delays

China Airlines is the largest airline in Taiwan and is part of the Skyteam alliance (uniting some older European airlines such as Air France or KLM). I didn’t know that company or had never flown on their planes until now. In economy, the service is quite ok, even if the flight attendants had to be scrambling around to feed everyone given the short duration of the flight.

In business instead, I would be a bit more doubtful, as I saw them storing the food temporarily on the floor just outside the plane (all wrapped up, of course).

Food stored
Food stored on the floor for the flight to Kaohsiung.

Departing, we had a huge delay, so we arrived only at midnight in Kaohsiung, too late to catch any MRT. The worst part is probably that on the return flight, they were also delayed! In this case, however, the delay was less meaningful, as HK has plenty of transportation options until late at night (and even during the night).

I mentioned about the short duration of the flight? Well, given their seemingly systematic delays, China Airlines “pads” its flight time and for a flight time of 1h10, they announce actually 1h40.

Arrival in Kaohsiung: already welcoming!

I have had my share of experience with immigration authorities in various countries. However, Taiwan was one of the most welcoming immigration experience I ever had. You must just give your passport and affix your two indexes on a digital print scanner upon arrival as well as upon exit (and complete an arrival card). Less easy than the entrance for residents in Hong Kong, but still easy and fast. Of course, absolutely not comparable to the living hell that can be the Thai immigration.

Conveyor belt
Luggages were distributed pretty quickly from the plane to the conveyor belt.

I then had to catch an Uber which, of course, gouged me with a price of 429 NT$ for just six kilometers. My hotel was the Art Eyes Sunduo, a sort of serviced apartment, which, thankfully had someone on watch despite the late hour. Which pretty spacious as apartment for one person and with an excellent view, I was pretty put off by the sign warning not to dispose of toilet paper in the toilet…

Art eyes
The hotel room at Art eyes Sunduo.

The view from the hotel room was gorgeous, however.

Kaohsiung by night
The gorgeous view from the hotel at night.

The following day, I was getting ready to start a long hike…. Which I will relate in my next post!

Mongkok’s “karaoke street” explodes the decibels

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

The famous Sai Yeung Choi Street where performers show off karaoke performance and which is also known as Mongkok’s “karaoke street” came through as exploding the decibels. To counteract the noise level from the performers trying to outdo each other with louder volume, a shop decided to put a “noise barrier” on the street. City authorities have considered this “noise barrier” as a hindrance to public passage, but this triggered a debate on the noise on “karaoke street”. This youtube video might give you an idea of the atmosphere:

 

A traditional hot spot

To understand better this area, it should be known that Mongkok’s Sai Yeung Choi street featured prominently among the Mongkok Umbrella movement hot spots as well as during the infamous “fishball riots“. Today, while the calm has returned, it still is a very populous area. Young and older Hongkongese come to enjoy the karaoke and the atmosphere on week-ends and public holidays. Not to mention, it is the only place where the last few remnants of the Umbrella movement still hold a sit-in.

When fun becomes nuisance

The problem is that most karaoke performers come there to earn money. When money is involved, it is the guarantee things will run out of hand. And indeed, performers have started competing by raising the sound level of their installation.

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

Obviously, some people love the music and the fun like the ladies dancing to the tune of “Moon river” in the picture above. Other people (especially those who must live in the surroundings) tend to be bothered by the close proximity of those karaokes. In fact, they tend to literally almost walk on each other’s feet. To understand that better, watch my latest Periscope on that street:

Originally, that karaoke street was taking place every evening. As people complained of the sound pollution, they restricted it to week-ends and public holidays. If the sound pollution continues being a nuisance, it is highly possible this original cultural spot will be eliminated altogether.

For now, you may want to go and check it out yourself (Mongkok MTR, exit “D), look for “Sai Yeung Choi South Street”.

 

 

 

 

 

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Sunsets over Hong Kong: loss of hope

When there is no clouds, haze or fog, Hong Kong can provide some spectacular sunsets, just like the one featured in this post.

Somehow, a previous post of mine with the same title garnered some attention, but I believe it was more because of an understanding about the title referring to the political and economic situation. So, let us try to do the perilous exercise of combining a photographic post with some political and economic analysis and look at what announces sunsets over Hong Kong.

The 2014 turnaround

The consensus in 2014 was that, while Hong Kong grew more dependent of the mainland capital inflows, its economy fared pretty good for the situation.

Some special tax statuses such as the offshore status did a lot to attract capitals, not to mention the general view of the city as the doorway to mainland China.

But the influx of mainland capitals had as side effect of making everything more expensive for the locals, in particular cost of housing. As mainlanders grabbed everything for sale in HK, hongkongers were left with no option but to pay increasingly higher rent. For some categories, like the cardboard ladies, this precipitated the fall into poverty.

An increasing part of the populatino is impoverished

A constriction of the future

At the same time, wages and perspectives for future did not follow for the locals. The increasingly self-centered education system of HK, became more and more a hindrance, as its products came out of school with maybe a good academic training, but severely lacking in language mastery, both in English and in Mandarin. Only Cantonese survived, but was increasingly relegated to a useless role, as mandarin or putonghua is becoming the business language, and obviously, foreigners expected English in a former English colony.

The accumulation of these factors resulted in a constriction of the foreseeable future for the local HongKongese. While costs increased, wages did not follow suit and neither did the perspectives for future. Once able to move easily from country to country in the English-speaking world, the Hongkongese are increasingly locked down in their city. T

hey are part of China, but China imposes upon Hongkongese the same restrictions that they impose on foreigners. At the same time, Hongkongese are not terribly excited to go and live in what is for them (and many foreigners) a lawless and arbitrary land.

Umbrella movement: an economic as well as political protest

The issue of democracy was not the only one worrying the 2014 protesters. They wanted also to have the guarantee that the city would look out for their economic interests and invest into its population, not only facilitate the Chinese takeover of the economy. This side was pretty much occulted both by Western medias and by China.

People feel increasingly left over on the rails of progress

Similarly to Thailand, as long as the economy would have been handled in a fair manner, and they would have felt being protected and invested into, I believe the population would not care much about democracy. The Legislative Council was always a game among few leaders. The powerful conjunction of political and economic unsatisfaction gave rise to the umbrella movement… Before it fell again into oblivion thanks to its leaders.

Nevertheless, China’s reaction to the movement was blunt and to some extent dumb. They have an opportunity with Carrie Lam to regain hearts and minds, but only to the extent a real social politics is implemented in HK.

The real sunset: becoming part of China

Hongkongese might have been able to accept becoming part of China if they were guaranteed their freedom and their unique character would be preserved. Unfortunately, the Chinese reaction went right to the opposite of protecting the unique nature of Hong Kong. Beijing is going to tear away its last embers of independence and focus innovation and investments on other cities, like Shanghai.

From that point of view, the increasing opening of the Chinese economy to foreign capitals may finally be the last blow to Hong Kong. With no foreign capitals, a housing market out of control and no hopes for social mobility or evolution, hongkongese might resort to the last possible exit strategy: immigrating before they become fully Chinese.

The last protest in HK

Harrowing rescue on Suicide cliff during Typhoon Pakhar

The past week-end, while typhoon Pakhar was approaching Hong Kong, two hikers had to be rescued on suicide cliff.

Suicide cliff: asking for trouble!

Contrary to the routes I described in an earlier post, these hikers took it the reverse way, going down through the cliff. Now, in normal time, going down a very steep cliff is already an exercise fraught with danger, but these hikers went down during torrential rains and typhoon-strength winds.

In the story described by the South China Morning Post, the woman fell and injured her leg. Having been on Kowloon peak several times, I can confirm that even with a slight shower, the rocks and more particularly the floor is very slippery.

To compound it, from the pictures taken by the rescuers, the hikers seem to have mistakenly taken the route towards Jat’s incline, which is one of the toughest and most dangerous to climb, let  alone to descend.

Rescue efforts mobilized around 150 firefighters which is truly overkill for the situation. 10 hours later, the woman’s stretcher was finally brought to the top of the cliff then taken down through the stairs to Fei Ngo shan road. The man descended by his own means. So, this time again, nobody got hurt.

Suicide cliff, too famous for its own good?

Nevertheless, the whole suicide cliff hike is becoming a bit too famous for its own good. In the past month alone, I saw at least 2 different helicopter rescues on suicide cliff, and this was by nice weather (see pics below).

You can clearly see a person being carried up into the helicopter.
The helicopter hovers very near to the mountain walls.

So, once again, as I mentioned here and here, please be very careful if you don’t know a route. It is prudent to take it, at the very least the first time, with a group and not to do it alone. Furthermore, never mind your level of fitness, beginning hikers should never start without more experienced hikers when it involves any degree of climbing on cliffs.

Typhoon Pakhar blasts Hong Kong

After typhoon Hato, earlier this week, it was up to typhoon Pakhar to blast Hong Kong. One life was lost when a truck driver got ejected from his cabin in a road accident near Shenzhen, but except that, the city did not report heavy damage beyond the habitual fallen trees or branches.

A couple of hikers had the luminous idea of getting stranded on Kowloon Peak on Saturday evening, obliging 150 firemen to rescue them over the night from Saturday to Sunday. As a reminder, it is this tricky route here.

The aftermath

Cleaning the streets started as soon as the alert level dropped to 3, with street cleaners taking to tidy up the damage, despite the ongoing rain.

However the elements claimed another victim: a little bird seems to have been killed when a branch fell.

A bird killed by the typhoon