Friday, August 18, 2017

Dark days in the SAR

at Hong Kong Park honoring medical workers who died 
helping to save others during the 2003 SARS Outbreak

The rainbow sculpture nearby looked to serve as a reminder
that even at the darkest times, one should continue to hope,
even expect, that there will be bright and beautiful days ahead

Less than a year ago, Nathan Law became Hong Kong's youngest ever individual elected to the Special Administrative Region (SAR)'s Legislative Council.  At the time, he was only 23 years old.  On this young man's 24th birthday, tragedy struck in the form of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo passing away while still in the custody of the Mainland Chinese authoritiesThe day after was plenty bleak too: with a legal ruling in a Hong Kong court paving the way for Law and three other pro-democracy legislative councillors being stripped of their political titles and office.  

And now any plans for him to contest the by-elections that are needed to fill the seats of those -- and two pro-independence -- popular representatives have to be cancelled in the wake of another Hong Kong court ruling: with this latest one sentencing the young man to eight months imprisonment, 26-year-old Alex Law to seven months in prison, and the youngest at just 20 years of age, Joshua Wong, to six months in jail; and adding insult to injury by including the stipulation that all of these convicted Umbrella Movement leaders are ineligible to run for a seat in the Legislative Council for the next five years.    

Although, few people will have found the conviction of the trio for the non-violent protest-related "crime" of unlawful assembly unexpected (including the trio at the center of the present storm), given the direction the political winds have been blowing and tides have been turning, the judgement rendered is still very upsetting all the same.  In view of all the wounds that have been inflicted on Hong Kong by Beijing of late, the creation of what may well be the world's youngest political prisoners can feel like the straw that broke the camel's back -- in terms of resistance for some, but maybe also tolerance for others.  

Put another way: I truly fear that there are people out there who will take this legal judgement as meaning that the time for civil disobedience is over; with some frustrated folks out there being far more seriously inclined now to resort to the sort of acts of violence and terrorism that thus far have not occured outside of the cinematic imagination in Hong Kong.  That's how dark a mood the news of the chillingly harsh punishment meted on the young pro-democracy campaigners put me in. 

Seeking some respite last night by going to a favorite bar (where good company is regularly to be found along with fine drinks and tasty food), I initially did my damndest to avoid any serious discussions there.  As the evening wore on, however, I found myself listening to a 30-something-year-old Hong Konger friend recount what he considers to be the darkest days he's experienced -- days when he felt like Hong Kong truly was doomed.   

Rather than fixate on a particular political event, he focused attention on that time in 2003 when Hong Kong fell victim to the SARS outbreak.  Over the course of a few months, the disease more formally known as the Severe Acute Respitory Syndrome infected 1,755 people in the territory (out of 8,098 worldwide) and killed 299 people in Hong Kong (out of 774 deaths worldwide).  The SARs epidemic also negatively affected the psyche of millions of people, causing them to live in fear and dread for what must have seemed like a hellish eternity.

Here's the thing though: Hong Kong survived this disaster (which, more than by the way, came out Mainland China).  Not only has it endured but it has flourished a good deal more than pretty much anyone could have expected that it would have back in the spring of 2003.  Also, during those dark times, heroes and heroines emerged.  I hope this will happen too while Hong Kong seeks to weather this latest storm; only without any fatalities -- like in the eight medical personnel who gave their lives to help cure others stricken with SARS 14 years ago -- this time around.  
          

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Macau attractions temporary, permanent, old and new (Photo-essay)

The first few years after I moved to Hong Kong, I used to go to Macau at least once a year.  But after a December 2012 visit there with my parents (during we stayed at the Venetian Macau and did such as take in a performance of the House of Dancing Water), I stopped going to the former Portuguese enclave which is now a sister Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China

Thanks to watching Funassyi's amusing Macao Challenge videos (including one in which the Pear appeared on the House of Dancing Water stage and another in which it visited a spa) which were uploaded to Youtube last year, however, I got to thinking it'd be good to visit Macau again.  Now, within a space of some nine months, I've been there twice already.  And as I trust the following photo-essay (which includes snaps I took from my two recent trips) show, I've had a ball each time and came away thinking I really should return there sooner rather than later... ;b

As I mentioned in a previous blog entry, my primary reason
for visiting Macau early this week was to check out
 
...which I was delighted to find showcased
more than one Winkipinki item! :b
 
Outside the exhibition, I also wandered around town, as is 
my inclination whenever I'm in Macau -- and this time around,
I came across the beautifully set up Lojas de Conservas store
 
As the proverbial "they" say, time flies when you're having 
fun -- and all too soon, it was nightfall in the city!
 
On my previous visit to Macau, the casino lights also had 
entranced (though not enough to induce me to venture into 
the gambling parlors to throw my money away there!)
 
And especially during the day, the territory's heritage buildings 
(like this Portuguese-style structure that's part of 
the Taipa Houses Museum) actually charm much more
 
Considerable effort as well as funds have been devoted to restoring and 
conserving historic buildings such as the Chong Sai Pharmacy 
established by Dr. Sun Yat Sen and reopened to the public in late 2016
 
A good part of Macau's allure for me involves being able to serendipitously 
come across establishments such as the picturesque Fong Da Coffeeshop 
in Taipa Village (whose brews smell wonderful and are oh so strong!) :b

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Paradox soars when the focus is on the action but is mortally wounded by its lashings of lame melodrama (film review)

The super crowded scene at Hong Kong Station when I went to board 
the Tung Chung line train to attend a screening of Paradox! :O

No train woes for the film's director (on the far right), action director
(second from right) and stars (including Louis Koo at the far left) though!

Paradox (Hong Kong-Mainland China, 2017)
- Wilson Yip, director
- Starring: Louis Koo, Wu Yue, Tony Jaa, Gordon Lam Ka Tung, Chris Collins, Vittaya Pansingram, Ken Lo

The 2017 Summer International Film Festival got going earlier this evening with the world premiere of Wilson Yip's latest crime actioner.  Touted in the SIFF program as the third instalment of the SPL series (the second of which was largely set in Thailand and had Louis Koo and Tony Jaa in its cast, like this offering), Paradox actually comes across more for much of its running time like the Hong Kong version of the Taken movies starring Liam Neeson.

Although I'm most definitely not a fan of film remakes or rip-offs, I found myself wishing during the last 20 minutes or so of Paradox that its makers had cleaved more to the tried and true Taken formula involving a father (played in this instance by Louis Koo) desperately trying to rescue his abducted daughter.   Actually, I also got to badly wanting the movie to end some 20 minutes earlier than it actually ended doing.  

That way, viewers would have been spared having to sit through an ultra melodramatic scene that was more lame and laughable than moving -- though, given the dubious judgement of the voters for the Hong Kong Film Awards, I'm sure it will be what clinches Louis Koo the Best Actor prize next year.  And if you think that's bad (enough), even worse is a coda that clearly was intended to milk further emotions but only got me extremely upset at how physical considerations as well as plot logic got thrown out of the window for it to take place the way that it did.   

To be fair, one reason why I felt so frustrated at how terrible Paradox turned out to be when coming down the home stretch was because it actually had quite a few things going for it before it jumped the shark and went downhill with a vengeance.  In particular, Sammo Hung's action direction and Kenny Tse's cinematography are absolutely stellar to the point where what otherwise could have been rather standard chase scenes got freshened up with innovative touches and Louis Koo got made to look like he belonged in an action movie as much as the proven likes of Tony Jaa.

Another visual plus comes by way of the film being mainly set in Pattaya, Thailand -- though, paradoxically, the choice of setting also gets the ball rolling in terms of the "stretch the limits of credulity" game in that there's a surprisingly large number of Cantonese speaking Thais among the southern Thai city's police force (including the characters played by Wu Yue and Ken Lo), prostitutes and even political advisors (with Gordon Lam excelling once more as an oily villain, even while actually mouthing quite a number of lines in Thai). Either that or the Hong Kong policeman who flies to Thailand after his teenaged daughter goes missing while visiting a friend working as a tattoo artist there is remarkly fortuitous at rooting out such individuals -- a couple of whom become his allies, and others his enemies.  

The fact that his daughter was in Thailand in the first place ends up causing the cop much angst.  Added emotional baggage comes by way of his being a widower who's raised his daughter pretty much single-handedly ever since his wife was killed in a car accident some years back.  But while scriptwriter Jill Leung did also seek to give one of the Cantonese-speaking Thai policemen an engaging back story, pretty much every other character in the movie are mere ciphers -- even that played by Thai action superstar Tony Jaa (who, not incidentally, is tragically under-utilized in this film, as is Ken Lo; particularly when considering that Paradox is an action movie featuring sackloads of unarmed combat).

The movie's makers also appear to have sought to give it some more dramatic heft by way of having the story include criminals who procure organs from individuals deemed less socially valuable for transplant into those who are politically important and financially well-off.  To my mind though, Paradox would have been a far better film if there had been less point-making and histrionics, and more of the featured action that's not just eye-catchingly spectacular that it will make you gasp and can take your breath away.

My rating for this film: 5.0

Monday, August 14, 2017

Our Sanrio Times, featuring Winkipinki as well as Hello Kitty and other favorite characters!

Within a large room full of Sanrio plushies...

 ...the sight of one particular kitty plushie got me squeaking with joy! :b
  
For the second day in a row, I went on ferry rides that took me further than just across Victoria Harbour.  While I went over to Lamma Island to take part in an emergency beach clean-up yesterday, today's trip to Macau was far more pleasurable in nature.  More specifically, I went with a friend who's a fellow fan of Hello Kitty to check out Our Sanrio Times, an exhibition cum nostalgic stroll down Memory Lane that's running from July 28 to September 3 at the Studio City Macau resort!

Before we walked into the exhibition area,  I told my friend that I'd consider my admission ticket and trip all the way to Macau to be worth it if we found enough at Our Sanrio Times to interest and occupy us for even one hour.  As it turned out, we ended up spending more than two hours in what's a pretty mega fun as well as mega-sized exhibition which features, among other things, 15 Sanrio-themed installations and a 3.5-meter-tall Hello Kitty!

Best of all, for me, was my sightings of my Sanrio first love, a brown cat with cute eyebrows and a tendency to blush named Winkipinki in various rooms within the exhibition, including one with hundreds, if not thousands, of plushies adorning its walls!  Part of me is embarassed to admit it but another part is unabashed about the fact that every time I caught sight of my absolute favorite cute cat character, I couldn't help out but squeal as well as smile with utter joy; this not least because every sighting of her was so unexpected! 

You see, some time ago, Sanrio appeared to have discontinued production of items bearing Winkipinki's visage but my Winkipinki adoration has never died.  So even while I nursed a hope that she'd be included in Our Sanrio Times, since the exhibition promised to shine a light of many other Sanrio creations besides the iconic Kitty Chan, that hope was actually so faint that I hadn't dared to voice it out aloud to anyone!

Perhaps it's my Winkipinki obsession influencing my judgement but, as it turned out, it felt like there actually was more attention given to the brown feline in this exhibition than, say, Badtz Maru or even Gudetama (though not Hello Kitty herself and Pompompurin (aka "Pudding Puppy", as a fan of his I know took to calling him)).  Does this mean that Winkipinki is coming back into favor at the head office?  I, for one, would be a super happy camper if that were the case! :)   

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Taking part in a beach clean-up while pleasure seekers seem oblivious to the pollution around them!

Some people enjoy a day out at the beach while others
go about taking part in an emergency beach clean-up
 
I find it hard to understand how some people can seem
so very oblivious to the presence of gunk like this!
 
So definitely more on the side of the dedicated 
volunteers rather than the heedless hedonists!
 
Two days ago, the Hong Kong government re-opened five of the thirteen beaches it had closed to the public earlier in the week.  And what with this weekend seeing what some people look upon as perfect beach weather, it probably shouldn't have come as too much of a surprise to see the likes of Hung Shing Yeh and Tai Wan To beaches filled with sun-worshippers, families with kids eager to play in the sand and frolick in the water, and other folks out to have a good time on a hot afternoon with beautiful bright blue skies.   
 
But, if truth be told, I was rather shocked to see so many people determined to have fun out there when I visited Lamma Island for the second time this week; this since my reason for going to Hong Kong's third largest island this afternoon around was, as was the case this past Tuesday, to take part in an emergency beach clean-up organized in the wake of thousands of tons of palm oil having been spilled into the sea and so much of it having washed onto Hong Kong's shores.
 
It's entirely possible that over-optimistic government reports and announcements about the potential dangers of the spilt palm oil and the clean-ups effected (including by hundreds, if not thousands, of volunteers) had given many of those leisure seekers who had ventured onto the beaches a false sense of security.  It's also highly probable that a number of individuals (notably tourists who don't check the news when they're on vacation) had not heard about the environmental disaster.   
 
At the same time though, you've got to think that such folks would feel some concern when they see hundreds of volunteers descending onto the beaches to clean up the gunk and other rubbish visibly lying on the sand, floating about in the water and coating the surface of the rocks nearby.  Sadly, however, like was previously the case when I took part in beach clean-ups over on Cheung Chau, it really can seem like there are a large number of people absolutely determined to have their fun come what may and content to subscribe to the philosophy that ignorance is bliss! 
 
Still, if the numbers of volunteers out there today (as well as on previous days) are any gauge, there's actually plenty of folks out there who care about the environment and willing to devote some time and effort to trying to make a difference.  And even while I definitely do worry about the dangers that the spilled palm oil has had -- and will continue to have for some time -- on the marine life, especially after bacteria collects and grows on it, I also take some comfort in there being considerably less of the palm oil on the beach relative to earlier this week -- so that today's beach clean-up felt like a more "normal" one in terms of my actually picking up lots of "regular" trash (including bits of plastics and styrofoam) rather than "just" the gooey semi-solid palm oil itself.  

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Food safety fears and related concerns in the wake of the palm oil spill disaster

Fishermen inspecting their nets off Lamma Island on the day 

In view of recent events, would you eat this in Hong Kong?

And this especially if it's served in places like this (which 
happens to be among my favorite seaside restaurants)?

The evening after I had taken part in one of those emergency beach clean-ups that have taken place in the wake of the massive palm oil spill in Mainland Chinese waters that has reached and messed up Hong Kong's waters and shores, I got to talking with a couple of friends about fears of what this disaster means for the local fishing industry.  Especially if fears that the decaying oil will trigger the growth of algae and consequently bring about the occurrence of red tides are realized, this will deal a big blow to what already is considered a traditional industry that's in major decline.    

While one friend was sympathetic and took the discussion seriously, another flippantly joked about how he'd just make sure to eat seafood that originated from far away waters.  Especially if you're the kind of person who prefers sushi to local seafood dishes, this actually can be surprisingly easy to do in Hong Kong, where some 90 percent of the food consumed in the territory actually is produced outside of it

Still, when one realizes that a substantial proportion of the food (especially those of the fresh variety) imported into Hong Kong come from Mainland China and Japan, some people may have even greater qualms and even feeling even more queasy about the whole affair.  After all, there are major concerns about the safety of food produced in Mainland China, and for good reason.  And I actually do know people (including Hong Kongers) who are still afraid to visit any part of Japan, never mind consume food from there in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster that may well have been the most major component of the triple whammy that beset the Tohoku area on March 11, 2011.   

As regular readers of this blog will know, I never thought to stop eating sushi after the events of 3/11/2011.  In fact, I probably ate even more sushi in the first few months after the disaster because I felt a need to support my favorite Japanese restaurants in Hong Kong (for fear that they'd close down as a result of experiencing a marked drop in business) and also have come to visit Japan more frequently since March 2011 then previously (not least because Japan has considerably relaxed its visa restrictions in succeeding years).

However, especially after seeing dead fish filled as well as coated with palm oil on Tuesday, I must admit to thinking it might be best to not eat seafood that (most likely) came from local Hong Kong waters for at least a few weeks.  Put another way: considering that I've continued to eat seafood even after seeing dead fish that had been washed ashore as well as floating in the nearby waters over the course of previous beach clean-ups, that surely is a good gauge of how terribly I think last week's palm oil spill has affected Hong Kong's environment (including its aquatic life). 

In addition, as I pointed out to that person who has remained my friend despite his never having hid his lack of concern for the environment (and whose disengaged ways can sometimes irritate and frustrate): he may not be the kind of person who spends much time in the countryside appreciating the creations of Mother Nature but, since he does love seafood, he needs to care more about the quality of our waters and realize that pollution is something that he may try to not think about but, actually, does affect us all.  And while I don't expect him to take part in a beach clean-up any time soon, I do hope that he will at least get to realizing that all this really is no joke; and, in fact, the disregard and maltreatment of the environment by our fellow humans can be so very sad indeed.   

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Emergency beach clean-up on Lamma Island

Not a pretty picture but one that needs to be documented

Volunteers cleaning up palm oil spilt onto 
Hong Kong beaches and waters

Quite a lot collected and bagged but still so much to do

Pretty much whenever I've been over to Lamma Island, it's been to get in some hiking.  Occasionally, I've also gone all the way there to have dinner at the Rainbow Seafood Restaurant.  But while I've not spent all that much time on its beaches, it's not like I haven't been tempted; including on a visit there last summer when the sands of Hung Shing Yeh Beach and the waters off it looked beautifully clean and extremely inviting

As it so happens, I spent a few hours at a beach in Lamma yesterday afternoon.  But rather than relaxing out on the sands of -- and/or waters off -- Ngau Kau Wan, I took part in an emergency beach cleanup organized in the wake of hundreds, if not thousands, of tons of palm oil having washed ashore onto it and many other Hong Kong beaches; an environmental disaster that came about after a collision in Mainland Chinese waters caused a ship to leak some 9,000 metric tons of the semi-solid liquid and the Mainland Chinese authorities delayed informing their Hong Kong counterparts of what had transpired for a couple of days.

Yesterday was not the first day that I had taken part in a beach clean-up and also by no means the first time that I saw garbage which had come from Mainland China over in Hong Kong.  But this was the first time that I had come across palm oil on a beach, and dismayingly large quantities of the  substance at that.    

At first glance, the semi-solid oil can resemble snow or my (previous) beach clean-up pet hate, styrofoam.  However, it definitely doesn't feel like either of those materials and, instead, is much closer in touch and general appearance to lard.  Greasy in feel, it easily seeps into the smallest openings and turns everything it coats -- including, sadly, fish which then die and wash ashore -- into a pretty unholy, sticky and slimy mess.  Furthermore, it's really hard to get off your clothing and shoes as well as invariably gets onto them when you're going about trying to do such as clean up a beach.

Truly, trying to get rid of the palm oil that had spilled onto the beach can seem like an impossible task as well as seriously dirty work.  And this all the more so in high heat and humidity, as is the case on a hot summer day in Hong Kong like yesterday very much was.   

In all honesty though, if you care about Hong Kong and/or the environment (or even just enjoy eating seafood), you'd feel obliged to pitch in and help clean things up.  And even though the work is demanding and tiring as well as leaves one feeling absolutely filthy for at least a few hours, I'm definitely up to take part in more beach clean-ups in the days to come (even while hoping very much so that the day will come when people truly get that prevention is better than cure, including with regards to the environment).