Monday, September 29, 2014

Pro Democracy Protests Continue

Following up on my post earlier today, these are the pictures during the day today when Michael and I went after lunch to take a look at the protests.

At first as Michael and I were walking through Central, including the HSBC building, we kept remarking on how ordinary the streets looked.  Except for a slightly more noticeable security presence in the atrium of HSBC, streets looked pretty normal.  It was only when we reached Chater Road, which was blocked off, that there was a hint that something might be going on.
Strangely deserted
Felt a little weird
This was right outside the intersection where I work.  Very incongruous.
The alleyway next to my office building had been turned into an impromptu food and drink station.  I wondered aloud where people were going to the bathroom, then decided I probably didn't want to know.

As we progressed down Connaught Road, it was still a very peaceful and organized group, with not very many people in sight.  I kept wondering if the crowds from the night before had dissipated as a result of the tear gas and riot police.
At this point Michael and I were steadily walking up a part of Connaught Road that is a hill (see picture above).  It was really surreal to be walking on one of the busiest thoroughfares of Hong Kong.  Usually these roads seem so small because they are viewed from the backseat of a speeding taxi or from the top of an impossibly tall double decker bus.  On foot, suddenly these roads in Hong Kong seemed incredibly broad, wide and expansive.

As soon as we crested the peak, we gasped collectively and understood why there was no talk of re-opening the roads.

Turns out the protest was not really in Central, but rather centered in the heart of Admiralty.  The key draw is the main Hong Kong government building.

That is a mass of people that is hard to disperse safely!
It was interesting to see how public buses and police cars were stranded.  They had been parked on the side of the road before someone had the time or foresight to move them.  In the sea of people, it also provided a sense of scale.

This banner says "Protect Hong Kong Reject Degradation":
I've mentioned before that the protestors are frustrated and feel threatened by the bullying tactics of the Communist Party (and rightly so - the Communist Party stubbornly refuses to give up sovereignty and independence - look at Tibet, Xinjiang, Taiwan, Inner Mongolia...) These protests are clearly directed at Beijing and the Communist Party, but they are in no small part also a message to the local administration of Hong Kong (such administrators are widely acknowledged and understood to be eligible for office only if they are backed by the Communist Party).
What struck me as incongruous about the current situation, however, is how the protestors at today's rally who were stationed outside the Hong Kong police headquarters were approaching the police and taking turns shouting at them.  The Hong Kong police are made up of local people, who in large part likely want universal suffrage, independence and sovereignty from the Chinese mainland as well.  

Here the police are uneasily manning the barricades outside the People's Liberation Army headquarters:
I suspect the police who had to don riot gear and spray tear gas and pepper spray last night were in no small measure conflicted by what they had to do.  But this probably explains the heavy sense of betrayal in the city today.  The locals consider the police and their government to be part of them, to stand with them.   Many of those interviewed expressed sentiments of disbelief, unable to believe that "our government would do this to us".  I thought this sign portrayed the sentiment very well: "We (the people) are your masters do not use violent force again".
I don't know about these guys in green though.  They may be part of some mainland forces, or maybe part of some militia.  They look so serious.  The guy in front did not move a muscle the entire time.  He must have really strong facial and jaw muscles to maintain such a permanent scowl!
A pile of just some of the many umbrellas that were used to stave off the pepper spray.  Umbrellas have become a powerful symbol of this protest.
The group of protestors were predominantly students and looked unbearably young.  The protest was very well organized.  There was no shouting, fighting or any appearance of conflict.  There were large groups and small groups, standing and (mostly) sitting.  While the students were mainly preoccupied with talking amongst themselves, looking at their phones, reading, and eating, it was still a very powerful scene nonetheless.  

We saw this large group of students sitting peacefully and quietly at a sit in.  I wish I understood what the student with the microphone was saying.
If I had to play political pundit, I would say that the Communist Party will stay far, far away from this pesky flare up.  I would not expect President Xi Jinping to give even a minor or token concession, much less acknowledge or accept the Hong Kong people's right to universal suffrage.
The official line from the Communist Party as of today is that the Hong Kong people are confused about the "One Country Two Systems" construct.  It will be very interesting to see how this all plays out.

Protests Continue in Hong Kong

For those of you following the news, protests in Hong Kong have increased in number and spirit as the student protests, along with Occupy Central, have continued over the weekend, spilling into Monday.  The Hong Kong police deployed tear gas for the first time in ten years.  Admiralty is nearly unrecognizable, the streets and avenues covered with mobs of people.

Hong Kong is usually such an indifferent place, full of people who mind their own business, heads buried in their smartphones, eager to be immersed in the cyclical routine of their daily lives, that these protests have really jarred a lot of the residents here.

Many expressed shock, saying they never expected these protests, in conjunction with Occupy Central, to take on this kind of energy or support.

These pictures from the South China Morning Post are really stunning.  In the first picture of this slideshow, you can see my office building in the back left (lit up in rainbow).  So I guess it is no wonder that we received an email last night saying not to report to work and to please work from home.

I admit I am one of the residents who would have never expected to see riot gear and gas masks here.  It is such a fascinating time to be in Hong Kong.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Incredibly Foul Weather

Augh, the air here has been unbreathable as of late.  Smog, smoke, haze, dust particles...whatever it's called, it is causing me to be seriously worried. 

I don't run outside anymore.  What started as a convenient excuse to forego exercise (it is more hazardous to run outside in this weather than not to exercise at all), is, I am 100% convinced, legitimate.  The air quality has been so so bad this past week.

A screenshot of the air pollution in Hong Kong.  Yep, that would be a bright red "Unhealthy" across the board.  Ugh.

This is the view from my office.
You would be concerned too, right?
Come on Hong Kong, start DOING something about this!  I've heard that the air quality is so poor here because the government imposes no restrictions on the idling tankers and ships in the harbour, and imposes no diesel or gas or fuel emissions standards on the taxis and minibuses that zoom ferociously all over the city. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Protests and Tensions Increase in Hong Kong

Yesterday I happened on a protest march in Central. 
It was very calm and civil as far as protests go.  The people progressed slowly and steadily on the sidewalk, anchored by police at the front and police at the back. 
Someone held a megaphone and the crowd repeated his slogans and chants in Cantonese.  Despite the relative tameness of the protest, I was heartened to see this kind of passion and interest in local politics.  It's about time the locals became active participants in the Occupy Central movement. 

Ever since Beijing dropped its bomb of a white paper earlier this year, there has been a noticeable increase of hostility toward mainlanders and an increase in dissatisfaction, disgruntlement, and fear in Hong Kong. I think local Hong Kong residents are finally waking up to the fact that they have never had a real vote in their governance. They feel greatly threatened by the increased presence of mainlanders in Hong Kong. There is the sense that the independence of Hong Kong is and always was an illusion, and that this is the beginning of the end. It does not help that the handover process was laden with compromise and masked in generalities.

I genuinely support these peaceful protests, however, it is difficult to reconcile these protests with how the locals take out their fears and suspicions on the people around them.  Some locals are...really really racist.  The hostility is breathtaking and, frankly, misplaced.  The anger should be directed at the Chinese (or British!) government and the lack of clear protocol that was implemented, whether now or at the time of the handover, and not at the Mandarin-speaking layperson who is living or working or shopping here.

My most recent encounter occurred when I tried to get a copy of a key made a few days ago in Central.  I spoke in Mandarin and the woman responded in a very brusque manner.  I went to check out a few other vendors for a price comparison.  When I returned to her booth, the woman wanted absolutely nothing to do with me.  She deliberately turned her back on me, ignoring me despite my repeated questions to her.  After ignoring me for a good bit as she pretended to be very busy hanging up her key chains, she finally responded to me in Cantonese.  When I said I couldn't understand her, she snapped at me in Mandarin, "why don't you speak Cantonese?!" 

I was so shocked I was literally breathless for a good few seconds.  I felt all of the heat rush to my face as I snapped right back at her, "Why would I speak Cantonese?  I'm from America and Taiwan!"  Then I switched to English and said, "Fine, can you speak English?  I'm happy to speak English."  Oooh, that definitely got her going.  She turned toward me fully then, and sneered in my face, "Yes, yes I can speak English very well!" 

I mean, is this ridiculous or what?  The whole situation was so ludicrous I could barely contain my laughter.  I calmly said to her in English, "I do not care what language you speak.  I can speak in Mandarin, I can speak in English.  All I want is for you, the storekeeper, to provide me, the customer, with a service, for which I am paying you.  I do not need your attitude.  I just need you to cut me a key." 

Well, she flat out refused to cut my key.  She was still sneering at me and yelling at me for being rude (what?!) as I walked away.  I could not believe it.  Service with a smile, Hong Kong, ever hear of it?!

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Diner

Back in Hong Kong, but nostalgic for things that are quintessentially American... the Diner seemed like a good place to go this weekend to get a quick fix.  They have a nice website here.

 Their menu offerings are pretty extensive.

They have open air seating on Arbuthnot Road (which is quite pleasant until the buses roar by with their fumes).  But I tried to ignore that.  Unlike a lot of other restaurants in Hong Kong, the diner is very large and spacious.

They have a really nice and well stocked bar, with leather stools along the bar and big, comfortable leather booths along the far wall.
We opted for the sausage scramble and the egg white omelet, respectively, both of which were pretty tasty.  The portions were actually decent, though still a little bit small when viewed from the perspective of just returned from America.  And I very much appreciated that they gave free refills of brewed hot coffee.  I mean, what is a diner without that, right?
 Next time I come I want to try the Limey, which looked very tasty with sausages, baked beans, two poached eggs, bacon, and roasted tomatoes. I like how they serve a lot of the dishes in skillets.
 We ordered a side of fries as well - that was a bit more on the paltry side of things...
Otherwise, nothing too exciting to report here... I spent almost all of my weekend watching videos and learning arcane facts about unauthorised building works and load bearing walls and legal charges and title and waiver of restrictive covenants, none of which helped my jetlag.  Conveyancing in Hong Kong... truly a unique form of torture.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

At Home

When Michael and I were both in NY, we ate at a restaurant in Flushing with some of my relatives.  These were some of the dishes that we had:

  I probably ate most of this crab plate by myself:

On one of the other nights, we ate with my immediate family at a nice sushi restaurant in Great Neck.  This was my deluxe sushi plate:
My eyes are soooo much bigger than my stomach.
Finally, quite a few of my nights at home (when I could manage it at least) consisted of rousing games of lightning speed mahjong with my parents, sister and grandma.  I found that I just loved sitting around with my family, chatting about anything and everything, joking around.  I didn't even mind not winning (though maybe I say that because I am the worst mahjong player in my family...)
This is the pretty remarkable hand played and won by my sister.

Friday, September 19, 2014

A Fort Worth Collage

I am so behind on my posts!  Here are some of the fun things we did in Fort Worth:

check out the Fort Worth water park, a really amazing urban park of water and rock and more water:

What a cool park huh?  More cities should do this stuff with their open or empty or abandoned space.

(it was at this point, as I clambered over these slippery stones and watched others do the same, that I could ignore my awfully persistent brain no longer.  The potential torts that this water park possesses!  The liability!  But it's still really cool...) 

eat a lot of good food:

visit a remarkably charming wine tasting room, the Barrel Room, where I pretended to know what I was talking about (acidity, tannins, dry, chocolate sublayers with a hint of toasted almonds and lavender notes...):
and no pictures of this one, but we also talked a lot!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Onward to New York… And Back to Hong Kong

This had to have been the most action packed "vacation" I have had in a while.  I looked up today and realized that it had been a week since I last blogged.  I've not only left Fort Worth long ago, I have spent some time in New York and come back to Hong Kong!  I am not sure where the time has gone.

My time in Fort Worth came to a very quick end.  It seemed in no time at all that I was packing my bags and heading to the airport. While in New York, I was on a mad dash to see as many family members as possible.  I also had to go into the New York office for work a few times.  I was also trying to fit in wedding dress appointments and wedding venue visits.  It amazed me how time consuming and tiring it all was.  Yikes!

But look at that view… this is the city that I know and love:
 including these gritty shots from the 7 train:
 The good news?  I accomplished nearly everything on my hefty list.  The bad news? We still have no wedding venue or wedding dress.  Call me picky or call me indecisive, but neither seems to bode well…

Now that my crazy hectic trip is over, I am back in Hong Kong, jet lagged (I never see this side of 6 AM otherwise!) and pretty homesick.  It's actually much easier when I don't go back to the U.S., because I can forget about not seeing my family or missing out on friends'  baby showers or, well, the joys of New York pizza (I can wax rhapsodic about that for many minutes).

In fact… look at those beautiful slices - is there anything better?  A regular slice doused with garlic pepper, oregano and chili flakes, paired with a soda fountain coke… this stuff hits the spot.

While dress shopping my sister and I stumbled upon the Bedouin Tent, a spot she used to frequent when she lived in the neighborhood.  We ordered their babaganoush and a pita (which they rolled out and cooked in their brick oven on demand)… it was so hot and finger licking swoon worthy good.  The goods didn't even last to the corner of the street, we gobbled it down so quickly.
Ok so frankly, I was pretty depressed at the thought of returning to Hong Kong... probably more because I knew I would have a lot of stuff waiting for me upon my return (the OLQE being just one of the looming and seemingly insurmountable items).

My plane (so big right?):
My seat on Cathay:

The amuse bouche they served:

I probably should have been more strategic about my sleep pattern but I figured trying to outsmart jetlag never really works any way.  Knowing that I would be returning to madness at work, I just tried to sleep as much as possible for as long as possible.  Not sure if that was the best strategy, however, because I woke up at 5:43 am today after having woken up at 3:25 am...