Sunday, 20 August 2017

Strength in Numbers

Thousands of people at Johnston and Luard roads waiting for march to start
It turns out there weren't only a few people outraged about the jailing of the three Occupy leaders, Joshua Wong Chi-fung Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang -- there were tens of thousands of them.

Police estimated there were about 22,000 people who started the march at Southern Playground in Wan Chai -- which probably means there were many, many more people willing to be outside in the hot sun, pouring with sweat.

We were stuck on Luard Road for an hour --  in the shade!
I took the MTR from Admiralty to Wan Chai and there were so many people getting on the train that I knew already that lots of protesters would show up. That was the biggest concern of my friend YTSL who worried that only a few people would show up like on July 1.

One would think the 20th anniversary of the handover would be enough to spur people to get out into the streets, but it was this hot button issue of jailing what the foreign media are calling "Hong Kong's first prisoners of conscience" that got people out.

YTSL and I managed to find each other and then headed out the to the Johnston Road exit where it seemed everyone else was heading, but after we got out of Southern Playground, we barely moved for an hour.
Some confused tram riders refused to get off...

We speculate the police underestimated how many people would show up and so the march was halted from starting in order to get enough manpower to close the streets and stand along the march path.

Or they were trying to make protesters annoyed enough that they would leave before it began. A few elderly people did -- it really was quite hot -- but other than that the rest of us stayed put and shouted "hoi lo!" or "let us march!"

At around 4.15pm we finally made our way up Luard Road and then turned left onto Hennessy Road. A few people tried to pump up the crowd with slogans, but for the most part we just wanted to show our presence.

Many yellow umbrellas reminiscent of the Occupy protests
One elderly protester seemed keen to pick fights with anyone, police officers in particular with verbal slurs, but his friends dragged him away or told him to calm down. We're just here to march, mister! No need to start a fight!

From Hennessy Road onwards to the Court of Final Appeal in Central, it was pretty smooth sailing and we could walk at a decent pace. Tons of buses going west were stopped in their tracks, along with trams going in each direction. We wondered why people would stay in the trams because they wouldn't be moving for quite a while...

It was kind of bizarre how we had to wait for an hour at the starting point, but it took less than an hour to march to Central. When we got to the end, volunteers were soliciting donations for the three pro-democracy groups that organized the march: League of Social Democrats, Demosisto and Civil Human Rights Front.

Afterwards people rallied at the Court of Final Appeal
They asked for a minimum of HK$10 but I saw several people put HK$100 and even HK$500 bills in the boxes.

We didn't stay behind for the rally, as there were thousands of people behind us who had yet to arrive, but we were just pleased to voice our opinion with our feet!

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Picture of the Day: Bamboo Scaffolding

Skilled labourers making bamboo scaffolding, much like spiders making webs
The other day as I was walking to the bus stop, I saw some men putting up bamboo scaffolding on a building that looks slated for major renovations.

How they put the bamboo up so quickly and safe enough for people to work on is amazing and you have to wonder how they do it.

This practice, which apparently dates back 1,500 years, isn't even done in China, where construction companies there prefer to use steel when building the frame around new buildings.

However, the bamboo scaffolding guys here are like spiders, creating these "webs" of scaffolding several times their size and weight, and making them very quickly and at a relatively lower cost.

There are about 1,700 registered bamboo scaffolders in the city, but like many traditional industries, fewer people are entering the field because of the low pay, adverse weather conditions, particularly in the summer, and regulations have meant younger recruits need to pass tests to get a license.

We can only hope the tradition of bamboo scaffolding continues in Hong Kong -- that's what makes the city of skyscrapers even more astonishing.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Joshua Wong's Mom Hits Back

Nathan Law, Joshua Wong and Alex Chow before sentencing yesterday
 When Joshua Wong Chi-fung was in the spotlight for his activism starting back in 2011 to protest against national education, his parents were media shy. But following Wong's sentencing yesterday, his mother could not help but make a statement.

Grace Ng Chau-mei wrote a letter to her son before the sentencing that was only released afterwards on Wong's Facebook page.

Wong is now staying at Pik Uk prison near Sai Kung
In it, she said Wong, 20, had sacrificed personal and family time since first entering political activism in May 2011, for the sake of "building a more beautiful Hong Kong".

Ng criticized the Hong Kong government for pursuing the stiffer sentences. "The justice department vowed to imprison them based on what they said... and to eliminate young people's passion and ideals, as well as their vision and commitment for the society," she wrote.

"Why is Hong Kong so depraved now to be treating this generation of children like this?" she asked.

In a reference to the biblical figure Joshua, who led the Israelites in the conquest of God's "Promised Land" in Canaan, Ng wrote: "Dad and I gave you this name 'Joshua'. So don't forget what God told Joshua: reflect on whatever you do, follow the truth, and you can be courageous."

While Wong's parents were not in court on Thursday, Ng visited him today at Pik Uk maximum security prison near Sai Kung.

A reminder in strength in numbers to create change
There he will have to study and attend vocational training, and as he is underage, he has to march military style to the canteen for meals, and clean his own toilet.

When he turns 21 in October, he will be moved to another correctional facility.

However, he may not have to be there long -- his lawyers are preparing applications for Wong, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang be granted leave to prepare for their appeal.

Last night and today on many people's Facebook feeds, they posted pictures they took during the 2014 Umbrella Movement as a reminder of what the trio (and tens of thousands of others) were fighting for.

Some felt it was yet another blow in the fight for self-determination, others a nostalgic reminder that we should not forget what happened almost three years ago.

No one knows how this will end, but it is important not to give up -- that's exactly what the Hong Kong government wants people to do.

This is about the city's future, and jailing the next generation isn't the solution.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Three Occupy Leaders Jailed

Joshua Wong in a police van before being sent to start his prison sentence
Joshua Wong Chi-fung hasn't been afraid to stand up for his convictions, but today he, along with Alex Chow Yong-kang and former legislator Nathan Law Kwun-chung will face their biggest test yet -- prison time -- for storming Civic Square, that led to the eruption of the Umbrella Movement almost three years ago.

Wong was sentenced to six months, Law eight, and Chow seven. Because their prison terms are longer than three months, they are ineligible to run for a seat in the Legislative Council for the next five years.

The trio were defiant before the sentences were handed down
Speaking before the ruling, and expecting to be behind bars, Wong said he wanted to see a "hopeful Hong Kong when I am out [of prison] next year", while Law declared he had no regrets about his activism.

While we know the trio are steadfast in their beliefs, are they physically strong enough to deal with prison life? Look at former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen -- he couldn't even handle two months and he had it really cushy.

Nevertheless we're deeply disappointed in the ruling. Wong and Law had already served their community service sentences that were originally handed down by trial magistrate June Cheung Tin-ngan, along with Chow's suspended three-week jail sentence.

The trio had testified they stormed Civic Square in the hopes of securing talks with then chief executive Leung Chun-ying over the restrictive framework set by Beijing over how Hong Kong would elect its next leader.

The storming of Civic Square led to the Umbrella Movement
Cheung had ruled the case was atypical, and that it called for a more lenient and understanding attitude since the three were young student activists who expressed their demands based on genuinely held political ideals.

At the time she said a deterrent sentence would not be fair.

However, the Hong Kong government wasn't satisfied with the punishment meted out and demanded a judicial review of the sentences, with prosecutors saying they were too lenient and sent the wrong message to young people.

Do those sentences send the wrong message? Are they too lenient? Or do they reveal the government's intentions to bend the law however it sees fit to punish those who try to defy it?

The three will already be punished for life anyway -- they cannot go to the mainland to travel or work, they will never be able to get a proper job in Hong Kong. Financially they are already stymied and they are less than 30 years old.

The government seems heavy-handed in this case, but it's meant to send a warning to others who may think they can take the trio's place to continue the fight.

"The freedom of assembly is never absolute," wrote Wally Yeung, a vice president of the Court of Appeal, who added the court must uphold the importance of public order even though "sentencing ambitious, idealist young people to immediate imprisonment" was not a judgment he made "readily".

Then why did the trio of judges decide on these sentences?

Fellow protest leader Lester Shum says the three plan to appeal their sentences.

On Twitter Wong posted this message soon after his sentence: "They can silence protests, remove us from the legislature and lock us up. But they will not win the hearts and minds of Hongkongers."