defrog: (license to il)
Recently we lost another bookstore chain in Hong Kong: Page One, whose home base is in Singapore. The last one in Singapore shut down last year. The last one here in Hong Kong shut down last month.

Last week, word circulated on the Facebooks that Page One was having a receivership sale in one of the old industrial warehouses in Kwai Hing, with 40% discounts on everything. Of course I had to go check it out.

Here's what I thought it would look like.



Here’s what it actually looked like.



It’s literally books and magazines piled randomly onto pallets, with barely enough aisle space to walk around even before you fill it with people.

Which explains the crowd-control queue out front when I arrived.



It was not a good experience. I enjoy scavenging for books, but it’s a drag when there’s no logic or order, most of the books are buried and the venue is really crowded, so you basically end up skimming the tops of the piles and go for pot luck.

My expectations weren’t just set by the flyer photo. Years ago, when Borders closed shop in Singapore, I was lucky enough to be in town when they had a similar clearance sale in a rented warehouse space. All the books were arranged in boxes with the spines facing up so you could at least see what they were. They weren’t organized by category, but you could at least see what was available.

That wasn’t the case here.

Anyway, I was damned if I was going to go all the way to Kwai Hing, brave the crowd and come away empty-handed.

So here’s my booty.



The one about Kim Jong Il is actually one I’ve wanted to read for awhile. I’ve read Priest and McCarthy before, but I’ve never read Umberto Eco, and while I do plan to read The Name Of the Rose next year, I thought this book of essays might be worthwhile.

Living in chaos,

This is dF
defrog: (sars)
As some of you may know, I fly a lot. And one of things I do to kill time waiting for my flight is check out the airport bookstores. It’s rare I actually buy a book, since I usually carry one with me wherever I go. But I have been in situations where I needed one. So I like to visit the bookstores just so I can see what book I’d end up buying if I truly needed one.

I was in Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok airport last week for a flight to Jakarta, and I couldn't help noticing a lot of the bookshops seemed to be gone. There used to be two big ones and a bunch of smaller ones. From the check-in counter to the gate, I only saw one small kiosk, and I started to wonder, am I imagining things or did they really close down most of the bookshops?

They really did.

There are – or were – two main bookstore chains in Chek Lap Kok: Page One and Relay. According to the South China Morning Post, Page One is out, and Relay has been cut down to five small kiosks.

The official reason from the Airport Authority is “change in reading habit and advancement in technology” – in other words, most flyers read Kindles or watch videos or play games on their smartphones. (I don't, but then I'm not "most people".)

The unofficial reason (i.e. the unsubstantiated rumor) is that Page One was carrying some of the books that were connected to those disappearing booksellers – i.e. the books saying not so nice things about Xi Jinpeng. So Beijing wants HK to police its airport bookstores. Maybe.

There’s no proof, of course, and personally I doubt that was the reason. The leases did expire this month, and all bookstore chains are going through similar pain points when it comes to book sales. Page One said they bailed for business reasons, and given that they’ve closed other shops (even in their home base of Singapore, they closed their last bookstore a few years ago), it’s not hard to believe they’ve decided to give up on their airport stores.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that a new bookstore chain has been granted a contract to take over some of the vacated bookshop space – Chung Hwa, which is based in mainland China.

See what they did there?

Read all about it,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
Here in Hong Kong, Sam Hui is generally recognized as one of the founders of what’s known as Cantopop, as he was one of the first and most successful singer-songwriters of the early 70s to sing pop/rock songs in the local Cantonese dialect instead of Mandarin, as was the tradition beforehand.

One of my favorite songs of his is “Students”. I don’t understand much of the lyrics, but I love the chord progression and key changes.



Turns out it’s actually a cover version of this song, which was a big hit in South Korea in the mid-60s and still gets a lot of tribute/karaoke action to this very day.



And it turns out that that song – the title of which translates to “Washington Square” – is actually an adaptation of this instrumental recorded a year earlier by "folk-Dixie" outfit The Village Stompers.



It’s an interesting evolution. Someone in Korea basically took an American instrumental and wrote some original Korean lyrics for it, then ten years later Sam Hui took that version and wrote some original Cantonese lyrics for it.

(I’m assuming he swiped the music from the Korean version rather than the US version. My conclusion is based on the fact that the Korean version contains one minor chord change from the original, and the Sam Hui version uses the Korean chord changes.)

Isn't this interesting?

All around the world,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
Previously on Senseless Acts Of Bloggery:

ITEM: Hong Kong bookstore employees are disappearing.

Or at least five of them have. Four went missing in October last year. The fifth disappeared last week.

All five worked with the same bookstore – Causeway Bay Bookstore, which just happens to specialize in books that are banned in mainland China (but not HK) because they’re critical of the central govt, especially President Xi Jinping.

That was as of January 8, by which time one of them – Lee Bo – was said to be in China (but without his travel document) helping the police with “an investigation”.

Here’s what’s happened since then:

1. Lee Bo has met with his wife and written a couple of open letters telling HK to stop investigating his disappearance, he really is helping with an investigation and it’s not really a big deal anyway.

This week, Lee appeared on Chinese TV explaining how he got into China without his travel document:

"I was worried that upon reaching the mainland and taking part in the lawful investigation, and testifying against others, it would lead to them and their families getting angry with me and this would not be good for me and my family, so to guarantee our safety, I chose to be smuggled in," he said.

Lee also took the trouble to publicly renounce his UK citizenship – which may or may not have something to do with the fact that the UK government has expressed grave concerns over one its passport holders being abducted into China, which would be a breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong that defines the current “One Party, Two Systems” arrangement. By sheer coincidence, Beijing does not appreciate this insinuation. So it’s nice of Lee to voluntarily settle the issue for them with no coaching whatsoever.

2. Gui Minhai – who was in Thailand when he disappeared – later popped up on CCTV (China’s state broadcaster) making a tearful confession that he turned himself in to Chinese police after he killed someone in China while drunk-driving – 12 years ago. While a friend of Gui’s confirmed the drunk-driving incident really happened, a lot of people are finding it hard to believe he just decided to go turn himself in – and just two days after two of his associates had also vanished.

3. The other three – Lui Por, Cheung Chi-ping and Lam Wing-kee – turned up in jail in China. They’ve also appeared on TV confessing crimes of “illegal book-trading” – i.e. selling their books critical of Xi Jingpeng on the mainland. Also, Lam took the trouble to point out that, by the way, the allegations in the books were all completely untrue:

"They were downloaded from the Internet, and were pieced together from magazines. They have generated lots of rumours in society and brought a bad influence."

The three were set to be be released on bail sometime this week.

So.

As you might expect, few people outside of the Chinese govt are taking the TV confessions seriously, as China has a long history of making examples of critics via public confessions that seem strikingly tailored to back whatever specific points Beijing wants to make by arresting them.

In any case, unofficially (i.e. this is according to other sources, not the official police line), a narrative is starting to unfold: Gui Minhai allegedly set up a distribution outlet in Shenzhen to sell banned books in China. The other three in jail were allegedly involved somehow, and Lee Bo – who allegedly had no knowledge of any of this – was allegedly recruited to allegedly help investigate the case.

Allegedly.

There’s still plenty we don’t know yet, and what we do know seems dubious. And we may never know the whole story. There are three things we do know for sure:

1. Two of the four people who ended up in jail were not in mainland China when they disappeared. And we know Lee Bo somehow got into mainland China despite not having his travel document with him – possibly even volunteering to be abducted (which seems like an odd thing to agree to after working for a publishing company and bookstore highly critical of Beijing – to say nothing of giving up his British passport).

Which again raises the central question of the whole affair: how did the three of them who were outside of China suddenly end up there?

Because there’s only a few possible options there, and one of them is this: the Chinese police are kidnapping people who are not Chinese nationals that they want to put in jail.

Which is, needless to say, alarming.

2. The HK government is very unlikely to pursue the matter. The HK Police Commissioner has met with Lee Bo, and has said he doesn’t believe that Lee is telling the whole story, but with Lee unwilling to press charges or make any accusations and basically telling them that there is no case, the police don’t have any choice but to drop it.

So, as usual, it’s a case of two governments – both of which have gone out of their way to undermine HK public trust in them – saying, “Trust us, there’s nothing wrong here.”

3. Local delivery companies are a lot more nervous about shipping banned books to mainland China than they used to be. Which I'm sure is one of the desired results of all this, as far as Beijing is concerned.

Developing …

Would I lie to you,

This is dF
defrog: (sars)
Or at least there was, on the first day of the Lunar New Year.

The short short version: in Mong Kok, the police decided to crack down on illegal hawkers selling street snacks. (By “crack down” I mean “tell them firmly to get off the street and stop selling their food”.) Some people in the crowd complained. The crowd grew larger, and when the police tried to clear them out, they were pelted with water bottles, garbage cans, wooden pallets and bricks ripped up from the sidewalks. Things got violent enough that one cop pulled his gun and fired a couple of warning shots in the air. From there it got ugly.

You can read the details here and here.

No one was shot or killed, but it was easily the worst episode of violence I’ve seen in the 20 years I’ve lived here. 

A few points from me:

1. For people wondering about the #FishballRevolution tag that’s been circulating on the social medias, let be clear: this wasn’t about the street hawkers.

2. For a start, the street hawkers didn’t initiate the protest against the police. That was apparently the work of at least one radical political party, Hong Kong Indigenous, one of several radical “localist” parties that emerged from the Umbrella protests. Their basic line is: fuck you Beijing, stay out of our affairs, and since the HK Govt won't listen and we know peaceful protests don’t get results, we’ll take it to the next level.

3. To an extent, the radical parties themselves are symptomatic of bigger problems in HK. Their membership is mainly angry young people whose prospects aren’t all that great – the education system is letting them down and it’s getting harder to get by as salaries don’t keep up with the cost of living and property/rent prices reach increasingly insane levels. And on top of that, they’ve realized that HK democracy is a rigged game, and the current HK leadership has been no help at all. Which is another reason why I don’t think the riot was about street hawkers. That’s simply not big enough of an issue to justify this level of violence.

4. Even if localist parties did care about the right of street hawkers to operate without a license, it’s unclear to me how beating the shit out of the police is going to further that cause. Even the hawkers have condemned the violence, saying it probably cost them more money and business than if the police had just told them to go home. So either HKI is a bunch of thugs who are using street hawkers as an excuse to start a fight, or they’re idiots who aren’t smart enough to think their political plans through. Either way, it’s not very flattering.

5. There’s little doubt from the video that the radicals were ready for a fight. Those surgical masks, hoodies, pointed sticks and such didn’t materialize out of nowhere. And you simply cannot claim self-defense when you are seen on video actively chasing the police down and bombarding them with rocks, pallets, glass bottles and metal garbage cans.

6. People who hate the current HK Govt (largely because of the Umbrella thing) are making excuses for the protesters rioters by saying the police started it by trying to shut down the hawkers and then clearing out the people trying to stop them from doing so. Which is like saying that when a cop pulls me over for speeding and my response is to kick his ass, it’s the cop’s fault for pulling me over in the first place like he has a right to do that and anyway speeding’s not a major crime or anything. Which is a stupid argument.

7. As for the claims that the police used excessive force, I’ll admit I’m biased here because I’m from the US, where the bar for “excessive force” is way, way higher. But given what the HK police were up against, I’d say they acted with far more restraint than may have been warranted. I’ll add too that of the 124 people who were injured enough to require hospital treatment, 90 of them were police officers. So if anyone was excessive, it wasn’t the cops.

8. Yes, there’s anecdotal evidence some of the cops got a little indiscriminate with their batons and pepper spray. They’re probably true. But that's not policy – that's happens when yr outnumbered and in the middle of a riot fighting for yr life.

9. The same goes for the cop who fired his weapon in the air. Irresponsible? Probably – those bullets go somewhere. But that still doesn’t justify the violence on the side of the rioters – which incidentally had achieved riot-level by the time that cop decided to pull his gun.

10. As always, reason and facts don't matter – HK politics is so badly polarized right now that people will inevitably twist the facts to fit their narrative or pet conspiracy theory. Same as it ever was – excessive violence is always justified as long as it’s directed against people you think deserve it, and even when it’s not, it’s the fault of the goddamned irresponsible political opposition. The same will likely be true of the subsequent investigation.

Which means we’ll probably see more of this. We’re already seeing exploding garbage cans outside LegCo, and we’re already seeing students forming mobs over the appointment of University presidents who don’t pass their political litmus tests. In their minds they're justified in taking any measures necessary to get what they want, and they’re oblivious to the real-world consequences of their actions. It’s a sad and stupid state of affairs.

If you listen to fools, the mob rules

This is dF


defrog: (sars)
ITEM: Hong Kong bookstore employees are disappearing.

Or at least five of them have. Four went missing in October last year. The fifth disappeared last week.

All five worked with the same bookstore – Causeway Bay Bookstore, which just happens to specialize in books that are banned in mainland China (but not HK) because they’re critical of the central govt, especially President Xi Jinping. In fact, the bookstore – which publishes its own books as well as carrying others – was about to publish a new book about Xi’s private life.

As you can imagine, the case has raised all kinds of eyebrows in HK. The idea that Beijing is enforcing mainland Chinese censorship laws (where criticizing the govt is no different from actively plotting to overthrow it) in Hong Kong, where they technically don’t apply, is not exactly a comforting one.

Of course, we don’t know for sure where the five have gone. The fifth one, Lee Bo, supposedly phoned his wife to say he’s in Shenzhen across the border “helping with an investigation”. But the permit card he needs to get into China is still at home, so it’s doubtful he went there voluntarily. And in any case, I doubt it’s a coincidence that all five are associated with the same company that just happens to be publishing books critical of Beijing – that also just happened to be popular with mainland tourists visiting HK. It’s unlikely that Chinese authorities are unaware of this.

That said, books like this have been around for ages. So the other question is: if this is some kind of quiet crackdown, why now? Possibly the Umbrella events and resulting political fallout – in which everyone found out that HK democracy will always be rigged in Beijing’s favor because that’s how it's supposed to be, kid – is a factor.

Meanwhile, it’s worth noting that local bookstore chain Page One – which also carried some of the same books – apparently pulled them from the shelves after the first four people disappeared.

Which I’m sure is just fine with Beijing authorities. In fact, it’s probably the reaction they were banking on.

Developing …

Book ‘em Danno,

This is dF

==============================

EDITED TO ADD [8 Jan]: Pro-Beijing HK legislator Ng Leung-sing has a theory: the five missing guys all went to China to hire some prostitutes for fun and got busted. 

Ng has no actual proof of this, but says he read it online, so he thought he'd share it. You know, to be helpful. 

He's since apologized. Lee Bo's wife has not accepted it. Meanwhile, local broadcaster TVB is in hot water for broadcasting Ng's remarks without bothering to verify them. 

Also, while Page One removed the books in question, other shops are still carrying them
defrog: (sars)
We’ve had an embarrassment of riches in terms of public holidays here in Hong Kong this week. Monday was the Mid-Autumn Festival (with special guest star Hugh Jackman!). And tomorrow is National Day, in which we celebrate the 66th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic Of China.

Salute!

Unofficially, there’s another anniversary this week: the first anniversary of the start of the Umbrella Kids/Occupy HK protest. The Umbrella Kids did some speechifying, but there’s been no further occupying – at least not yet. You never know. This time last year no one expected them to block traffic in three districts for 79 days. And really, anything is possible when you develop a taste for the heady combination of righteousness and cheap theatrics.

On the other hand, turnouts ain’t what they used to be. The word is there were more cops than protesters at the rally. One of the People Power radicals wanted to occupy Harcourt Road for 87 minutes (one minute for each of the 87 tear gas canisters fired by police). No one else volunteered.

Naturally, there has been a lot of the discussion about Occupy HK’s accomplishments – or lack thereof. The Umbrella Kids still praise themselves and thump their chests with the kind of self-important grandeur that ensures them a future in politics. For the non-believers, it’s hard to put a positive spin on the fact that the Umbrella Kids made numerous demands regarding the HK Govt’s political reform package, and the HKG did not cave in to a single one of them.

Even the fact that the political reform package ultimately failed can’t reasonably credited to the Umbrella Kids – that was largely an own goal by the pro-govt DAB. And even if that hadn’t happened, the package didn’t have a big enough majority to pass anyway – and that likely would have been the case regardless of whether the Umbrella Kids occupied the streets or not.

Still, politics is the art of never admitting that you lost fair and square, so everyone will believe what they want to believe. So the Occupy HK crowd will keep speechifying from Hell to breakfast as though it matters.

That said, if we’re going to talk about “accomplishments”, I will say the Umbrella Kids did manage to accomplish two things:

1. They helped to polarize the city into angry, non-compromising “us vs them” factions that will define Hong Kong’s political landscape for the next 30 years.

2. They made it 100% clear to everyone in Hong Kong and the world that Beijing runs HK, has always run HK since July 1, 1997, and will continue to run it for the rest of the century. The “full-on democracy” game has been rigged from Day 1, and it was never going to be any other way. China wants HK to develop in a certain way so that once our SAR status expires in 2047, we will slot in more or less seamlessly with the rest of China, which by then will likely be a federation of democracies where you can vote for any candidate you want, as long as they swear loyalty to Beijing, with HK serving as one of the country’s key economic engines. And it is leaving nothing to chance. If you didn’t know that in 1997 (and you should have, really, if you were paying the slightest bit of attention or at least noticed the expiration date on our SAR status), you know it now.

So, thanks, Umbrella Kids.

By the way, I made up that “2047 federation of democracies” bit. I don’t know if that’s what China is planning. But I do know that ever since the first economic reforms in the 1980s, Beijing has always been about the long game. And HK was part of that as soon as Thatcher signed the handover agreement. Maybe she and her team knew that. Maybe not. Either way, I think Beijing knew, and I suspect they have always seen post-handover HK as an experiment in controlled democracy. “Hypothesis: can we establish ‘democracy’ in a way that appeals to trade partners and makes us look less like a dictatorship to the West whilst ensuring that the Party stays firmly in control?”

Why not? Lee Kwan Yu did it for Singapore.

Whatever their plans, it’s clear that Beijing never intended for HK to be “one country two systems” forever. But it’s also clear that they’d hoped to downplay that while HK’s democratic evolution was ongoing, at least until it was way too late to do anything about it. Thanks to the Umbrella Kids, Beijing was forced to show their hand early.

Still, it’s fair to ask: does it really matter to know the game is rigged? Maybe. There’s a lot of dithering right now about what to do next, and whatever does happen next will be shaped by the knowledge that our autonomy will always be limited.

Chief Umbrella Kid Joshua Wong has said whatever the movement does next, it will do with 2047 in mind. That’s actually a good idea. If China is playing the long game, it only makes sense to do the same.

Boss Leung, meanwhile, is making speeches about bringing “illegal” protests to justice. 

There will probably be the usual protests tomorrow. They will probably achieve the usual results.

Interesting times.

Unoccupied,

This is dF


defrog: (sars)
Unexpectedly, it’s a holiday in HK today.

The purpose: to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the defeat of Japan in WW2 (or as it’s known locally, the Second Sino-Japanese War).

The probable actual purpose: to give Japanese PM Shinzo Abe the finger for not apologizing sufficiently for WW2 atrocities, and for trying to make Japan a major military power by making Constitutional changes no one wants except him and the right-wing nationalists who equate military prowess with manliness.

I might be exaggerating there. I’m not sure. The Chinese govt isn’t exactly above using its power to settle personal scores. And state media regularly describes Abe as a dangerous warmongering fascist.

Also, it’s not like we have a holiday to commemorate the surrender of Japan every year – indeed, this one has been officially described as a one-off.

Anyway, the HK Govt decided we would observe it as well, because you know, One Country Two Systems™ and all. So day off for me.

Interestingly, the local major TV station, TVB Jade – which has been airing some historical docs about WW2 and the defeat of Japan – has stirred some controversy for accidentally using the wrong flag to depict the Chinese army:

In a documentary about the 70th anniversary of the war against Japanese invasion of China, TVB used the flag of the People’s Republic of China, also known as “Five-Star Red Flag,” to represent the Chinese army in the Battle of Taierzhuang in an animation.

The “Five-Star Red Flag” did not exist then. Instead, the flag of the Republic of China was in use. The flag had Kuomintang affiliations.


Oops! (Perhaps.)

Hoist the colors,

This is dF
defrog: (sars)


Dozens of bra-wearing men and women have protested in Hong Kong after a woman was jailed for assaulting a senior policeman with her breast.

Ng Lai-ying, 30, had accused Chief Inspector Chan Ka-po of touching her breast during a protest in March. But the court had ruled against her, saying she deliberately pushed her breast against him so she could accuse him of assault.

She was sentenced on Thursday to three months and 15 days in prison.

Beats me how the police managed to “prove” that the defendant deliberately put her breast into the policeman’s hand. (Sounds like an obscure Victorian metaphor, doesn’t it?)

Either way, it’s a dumb ruling, and one that’s just going to further erode what little trust there is left between the public and the govt.

Also, there’s an “open carry” joke here, but it wouldn’t be funny probably.

I do have this GIF, though. 



Weapons of love,

This is dF
defrog: (onoes)
Been awhile since I’ve posted one of these – we haven’t seen much typhoon action in HK the past couple of years.

That ends tonight.



Yes, that’s two (2) typhoons there, though only one of them (the weaker one, not the Super Typhoon) is headed here. It’s been lurking offshore for the past week, and for most of that wasn’t more than a tropical storm. It wasn’t expected to come anywhere close to us, and now it’s beefed up and heading straight for us.

We go to Signal 8 at 1700.

Gonna be a long night.

Buckle down,

This is dF

EDITED TO ADD [13 July]: Never mind. Total fizzle. Linfa made landfall well before it got to us, so by the time it arrived it was more of a spirited rain shower than a typhoon. 

defrog: (sars)
Re: My previous post predicting that HKSAR Establishment Day would be uglier this year:

Never mind.

Turnout for the protests this year was around 48,000 – which is not only the lowest it’s been since 2008, but around 450,000 short of last year’s turnout.

That’s a big drop.

There’s plenty of speculation as to why the numbers were so low, but the two main reasons being given the most credence are: (1) after the Occupy protest last year, lots of people are just burned out with protests, and (2) there was no central theme to come out and support. July 1 protests tend to attract just about every group with a particular grievance or issue to promote, but there’s usually one core message, and traditionally it’s been related to universal suffrage. But the political reform package is done and dead and it’s not going to be revisited until at least 2017 (if ever), and the pro-demos have no clear strategy as to what their next move will be, so why spend the day in the baking sun beating a dead horse?

Of course, another way of looking at it is this: all of the pro-democracy protests held over the last couple of years accomplished pretty much nothing in the end. The govt didn’t listen and refused to compromise even a little, so what’s the point in screaming at a brick wall?

The die-hards who did turn up rolled out the usual “CY Leung step down” demands, and tried a new tack on the democracy debate – “If yr excuse is that the Basic Law doesn’t allow civil nominations, then let’s change the Basic Law!” Which is technically possible, but seeing as how that requires the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC) agreeing with any proposed changes in the Basic Law, I wouldn’t get my hopes up.

Interestingly, one theme that didn’t generate a lot of support was HK independence from China. The localist movement brought that one into the mix, and the march organizers were quick to point out that they don’t support that particular meme. They’re still very much about “one country, two systems” and aren’t interested in creating a separate country.

The localists probably failed to notice the irony that “one country, two systems” enabled them to openly demand independence in the first place. If they tried that anywhere else in China, they’d all be in a basement jail getting whipped with rubber hoses and we wouldn’t know about it because none of the TV stations covering the protests would be allowed to air footage of them – or if they did, the newscasters would be denouncing them as terrorists (and the newscasts would be used as "evidence" in their trial).

Anyway, no fights broke out, even with pro-Beijing groups holding counter-protests along the route. So all in all, I was wrong about the ugliness. And I’m happy to be wrong about such things.

Still, the organizers are right about one thing – the big drop in attendance isn't a vote of confidence for the HK Govt or an admission that they were right all along. On the other hand, here’s hoping the pro-demo groups listen to some of the reasons people have given for staying away – they perceive the pan-demos as an anti-everything group who resort to extreme cheap theatrics that don’t actually accomplish anything.

Fair call, at least for the more radical groups. If the pan-demos want to achieve anything in the next few years – and get the public behind them – they need a change of tactics. We have empirical evidence that occupying the streets and throwing fruit in LegCo won’t work. It’s time to try something else.

Staying home,

This is dF


defrog: (Default)
Tomorrow (July 1) marks the 18th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover back to China. As is tradition, activist groups will celebrate by taking to the streets and bitching about the HK govt.

Only this year it’s probably going to be uglier than usual, thanks to the Umbrella Kids, the failed political reform package and a growing number of people who want China and everyone in it to fuck off.

The latter bunch is particularly toxic. So-called “localist” groups have been organizing angry mob protests at mainland tourists, screaming at them to get the fuck out of Hong Kong and stay out. Lately, pro-Beijing groups have been fighting back. It’s pure horrid ugliness. Patriotism will do that.

Both sides justify their actions via free speech and righteousness, but really they're just pissed off and spoiling for a fight. I mean honestly, only an idiot would go verbally harass a group of people and insult them, and have the nerve to act surprised if he gets punched.

And it could get uglier. Earlier this month the police uncovered a bomb plot, allegedly involving a radical anti-Beijing group calling it the National Independent Party. Predictably, localist groups are denying any connection (which is probably true) and pro-Beijing groups are using it to paint the entire Umbrella Kids movement as the local equivalent of ISIS (which is of course demonstrably not true), while pro-democracy groups think the whole plot was invented by the police to frame them.

And so on.

So yeah, happy Reunification Day.

Un-reunited,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
As you may know, for the last couple of years Hong Kong has been arguing ad nauseum over political reform in order to establish full-on democracy here – with “full-on” meaning “everyone gets to elect the Chief Executive, and you can vote for anyone you want as long as they’re all pre-approved by Beijing”.

Which is why Occupy HK and the Umbrella Kids happened last year, because the students said “Fuck that.”

Anyway, the govt’s reform package went up for a final vote yesterday, with both sides making a final pitch by basically repeating everything they said before.

Pro-govt: “This is a big step forward, everyone finally gets to vote like you always wanted and you can always fix what you don’t like later.”

Pan-democrats: “Fuck you and yr fake democracy.”

The pan-demos won. By a large margin: 28-8.

But that margin is misleading, because there are 70 members of Legco. Just before the vote, some 30 legislators – all of them from the pro-govt camp – got up and walked out.

Apparently they were attempting to halt the vote by not having enough legislators present to form a quorum (allegedly to buy time for one of their colleagues who was stuck in traffic and running late). Turns out their math is terrible – after the walkout, LegCo still had a quorum with the remaining legislators. The vote went ahead, and the pan-demos pwned it.

Which they were expected to do anyway, by the way – not because they had enough votes, but because the pro-govt parties didn’t have a big enough majority (two thirds) to pass the reform package.

Still. What a way to lose.

The lesson: maths is important.

Also, it pays to pay attention during the LegCo debate instead of watching sexy billiards videos on yr iPhone. (Kidding.)

Needless to say, Beijing is not amused.

But then they have a nerve to be surprised. I’ve been critical about the way the pan-demos and the Umbrella Kids have conducted their side of the debate, but the pro-govt parties, the current admin and Beijing itself have all been just as idiotic. President Xi Jinping decided to play the hard line with HK on political reform, letting us know in no uncertain terms that Beijing gives the orders here and has every legal right to give them and if you don’t like it, that sucks for you. The pro-govt camp went right along with that, and the CY Leung admin has collectively gone out of its way to alienate the pan-demos and the Umbrella Kids instead of handling the situation in a way so that everyone got what they wanted, or felt better about what they were getting.

But no.

What happens now? We’ll see. Certainly the pan-demos will start again and angle for a better deal, but Beijing’s official response to the vote has suggested that the only deal they’ll consider is the same one they offered the first time.

So it will probably be more of the same for now.

Oh, and of course the 2017 CE elections will happen under the current rules, which means we’ll have another Beijing-appointed CE until at least 2022. There will be a lot of dithering over that, most of it overblown. Despite claims from the local ruling class that defeating the reform package would be bad for business, HK as a functional economy will probably get along just fine without democracy for the next 10 or 20 years.

The bigger problem is how badly the populace has ripped itself apart over this issue. Both sides are to blame for that, but neither will admit it, and it’s going to take years for them to get over it.

Developing …

Epic fail,

This is dF


defrog: (sars)
I usually do a June 4 post about the annual candlelight vigil in Hong Kong commemorating the students who were massacred in Tiananmen Square.

It’s now June 13. I’m a little late, because I was traveling on business in Singapore during June 4 and was too swamped with actual work to do a proper post.

Anyway, the vigil did happen. As you can see.



And everything went as planned.

Almost.

This year the turnout at Victoria Park was 135,000 – impressive, but actually somewhat lower than the past few years, and far lower than the record 180k from last year. The reason?

Factional politics.

Basically, the Victoria Park event is organized every year by a group called Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China. Their aim is to force Beijing to acknowledge the massacre even happened, and to support the establishment of democracy in China.

However, many of the student unions responsible for the Umbrella Revolution have zero interest in supporting democracy in China because, basically (and I'm paraphrasing here, but this is the basic sentiment) fuck China, we’d rather establish democracy here in Hong Kong, the rest of China can go get fucked.

So they staged their own June 4 vigils instead.

The HKASPDMC has said they don’t mind if people want to have separate events, so long as it sends the basic message “Never forget 6/4”. But it does highlight the schism between the older activists and the younger ones when it comes to mainland China. The HKASPDMC wants to engage with China and instigate change for the good of all Chinese people. The Umbrella Movement wants nothing to do with China, and sees it solely as an obstacle to getting what they want. If people in mainland China want democracy, they can fucking well get it themselves.

Kids today, eh?

Admittedly, it’s probably unrealistic to expect the Umbrella Kids to have the same emotional connection with June 4, since almost all of them were born after 1989.

Still, I think they’re missing the point of the June 4 vigil. The objective is mainly to demonstrate to Beijing that we remember what happened on June 4 and we won’t forget. That message works best when everyone is unified. You can pretty much bet that Beijing would love nothing more than for the HKASPDMC to start squabbling among itself and disintegrate into splinter groups that can’t agree on a course of action.

Still, it has to be noted, the Victoria Park event was by far the bigger draw. This year. We’ll see about next year.

Splitters,

This is dF


defrog: (Default)
The big local news is the passing of Lee Kuan Yew, whom most people in the US have never heard of. You can read probably the best summary of his life and times here, but the short version is this:

He founded the modern nation of Singapore, ruled it for four decades, and single-handedly transformed it from a podunk island in southeast Asia into one of the most successful economies not only in Asia, but the world. And all he had to do to accomplish that was curtail personal freedom, control the media, cane wrongdoers and generally stifle anyone who didn’t like the way he was running things. Now his son runs the joint. And the people love him for it.

Mostly.

Anyway, I’m not particularly a fan – I’m not from Singapore and he was a little before my time in Asia. But I do have a few comments:

1. All of this will seem foreign and weird to anyone who grew up with the idea of liberty and democracy and so on. But Lee is essentially the modern model of a benevolent dictator – not as ruthless as Fidel Castro or as batshit insane as Kim Jong-Il, but with the same strong-willed vision to lead his country to greatness. You may not approve of his methods. But it’s hard to argue with the results.

(To clarify: Singapore is a democracy in the sense that they have elections, and voting is mandatory. But that doesn't mean you have to play fair, especially when you already have control of the govt.)

2. William Gibson once described Singapore as “Disneyland with the death penalty”. Having traveled there on a regular basis over the last 19 years, I can verify that assessment. I can also tell you that for all the propaganda about social harmony, there is discontent simmering here and there, whether it's based on economic factors, race differences, ideology or whatever. Sooner or later I think that's going to backfire on the govt, if only because sociopolitical stability in any country usually has a limited shelf life, though you can stretch that if you manage it properly. 

3. It’s telling that a lot of the coverage of Lee’s death here in Hong Kong is focused on (1) his accomplishments as described above and (2) his comments over the years (before and after 1997) regarding HK’s handover to China and the future of democracy. Lee understood the Central Govt’s strategy fairly well, and pointed out in several interviews and public speeches that HK’s future will always ultimately depend on what Beijing wants – and which is for HK to serve as an economic model for the rest of China, not a political model.

Put another away: Lee pointed out all the way back in 1992 that HK’s status as a Special Administrative Region expires in 2047 under the handover deal, and Beijing won’t allow HK to have any kind of political system that doesn’t conform with its plans for the rest of China by that time.

So it’s interesting that the HK media is replaying those interviews now and pointing this out as if to say to the Umbrella Movement: “The game really is rigged – time to cut yr losses, and anyway is a lack of ‘true democracy’ really such a bad thing because look at how great Singapore is doing, I mean just pretend Beijing is Lee Kuan Yew and it’ll be alright, right?”

Possibly.

4. I wouldn't say that Singapore’s benevolent-dictatorship-disguised-as-democracy model is suitable for other countries, especially America. But it does get me to thinking about the concept of term limits.

One of the tradeoffs of the 22nd Amendment (the one that limits Presidents to two terms) is that no President has the time to execute a long-term vision, which results in short-sighted strategies, or at least long-term strategies that can be derailed or dismantled by the next POTUS before they have a chance to work. If no POTUS really thinks beyond the next election cycle, is it really possible – or desirable – to move forward without knowing what your destination is, let alone how to get there or even where the map is? And if a POTUS had the ability to execute a strategy over the four decades that Lee had, would we be further along than we are?

Hard to say. It depends on the POTUS, of course. Liberals shudder at the idea of 20 years of George W Bush or Nixon, and conservatives shudder at the idea of Clinton and Obama even getting one term, let alone four or five. (Christopher Buckley’s Supreme Courtship makes a nice running gag about this, with Republicans in the story moving to limit presidents to one term just to prevent the sitting Democrat POTUS from running for re-election.)

Anyway, America has done okay with two-term presidents pre- and post 22A. And historically the public gets sick of Presidents after eight years anyway, so future FDRs would be rare even without the 22A. That said, with political debate in America increasingly polarized and framed as a winner-takes-all proposition, where the objective is to seize control from the Evil Opposition permanently and prevent them from winning ever again(for the good of the country), maybe it’s better to have a 22A than to not.

In fact, applying it to Congress might not be such a bad idea, either.

And that’s all I got on Lee Kuan Yew.

Someone to rule us,

This is dF


defrog: (sars)
Have some random sheep-related material.



‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Happy Lunar New Year.

The Lord is my shepherd,

This is dF
defrog: (Default)
But not for much longer.

And then we came to the end.


[Background here]

It’s probably as well. After 50+ days, the protesters have accomplished more or less what I presumed they would – namely, bubkis.

Which shouldn’t surprise anyone. Neither side has been willing (or able) to compromise, and it’s clear now the only thing they ever wanted to accomplish with “dialogue" was to explain their position more clearly – as if the problem this whole time was both sides not fully understanding the other’s position. It’s sort of like that t-shirt slogan: “I’m not arguing with you, I’m just trying to explain why I’m right”.

And let’s admit: when yr tactics have shifted to pointless, dumb publicity stunts like trying to fly to Beijing to meet with China officials and explaining to THEM why yr right – and having the nerve to act surprised when HK Immigration doesn’t let you on the plane – yr pretty much out of ideas.

Whatever one thinks about universal suffrage, civic nomination or Boss Leung, the fact of the matter is that the Umbrella Revolution was doomed to fail the moment they started barricading the roads, and only really got the momentum they did because the HK Police went overboard with the tear gas on Day 1. The novelty has long since worn off, and the protesters have never been in a position to make the demands they’ve been making – worse, they’re the only ones who don’t know that.

That’s not to say the HK Govt hasn’t brought a lot of this grief on itself. It has. And none of is to say that pro-democracy activists don’t have other options to press their cause forward. They do. But they won’t accomplish them by staying in the streets. They were never going to anyway. It was a cheap tactic with no tangible payoff. And I wouldn’t be surprised if their main accomplishment is setting back full democracy in HK another 20 years.

Still, that does depend on what happens this week when the bailiffs show up to start clearing them out. The smart move would be to help them clear the road, pack up and either recamp someplace where they’re out of the way of traffic, or (preferably) go back to class and rethink their strategy. If they fight back, they’re going to lose support from everyone except the radicals. And the radicals have even less of a chance to change anything.

In any case, the worst possible outcome for HK in terms of democratic reform is probably going to be universal suffrage with no civil nomination, but with the possibility for future reform later on, to include making the Nominating Committee more representative of all political parties.

Which, incidentally, is exactly what we were probably going to get even before the Umbrella Revolution started. Which is the strongest possible message the HKG could send the Umbrella movement right now – “You changed nothing. You made no difference. Go home.”

Developing …

Close yr umbrellas,

This is dF


defrog: (sars)
There is trouble in Hong Kong.

Which you probably know about by now.



If you don’t, you can read a summary of events here. I’d write them up for you, but I’m pressed for time. (I've already covered the background here.)

The short version is this:

Occupy Central is on, and the HK Police tried to bust it up with tear gas. Which is noteworthy because the HK Police generally don’t do that to protesters, ever, even when they’re being idiots and blocking traffic.

The story is developing, of course, but the impression I get is that the HK Govt – which has had at least a year to come up with a contingency plan for this – evidently decided their strategy would be to bust up OC with Shock & Awe™ and scare everyone back home before OC had a chance to get a foothold and inconvenience the financial sector.

That plan has backfired in spectacular fashion. Not only has it encouraged even more people to show up in support of the protesters – because evidently using tear gas and batons on people who generally aren’t kicking in shop windows or flipping over cars or being an actual danger is a very unpopular thing to do here – it’s also summoned the attention of The Entire World thanks to this thing called Social Media.

Even protesters in Ferguson are taking time out from their own protests to send shoutouts to us.

What happens next is anyone’s guess. Earlier, I predicted that should Occupy Central go ahead, it would be a futile exercise because they want two things they will never ever get: (1) Chief Executive CY Leung’s resignation and (2) full-on democracy where we get to actually choose our own candidates instead of Beijing picking them out for us. Beijing won’t stand for either.

On the other hand, the wild card now seems to be the HK Police drastically overplaying their hand on a demonstrably non-violent crowd, and the subsequent attention it’s attracted. If this lasts long enough, they might actually force Boss Leung to the negotiating table – something that never would have happened otherwise.

Or not. No one really knows right now. It depends how the next couple of days go, and whether the police deploy any more tear gas, or break out the rubber bullets. They’d be stupid to do so now. For a start, the crowds tonight are much, much bigger than they were last night. And for another, as I said, the world is watching (to coin a phrase). People are already comparing it to Tiananmen Square – it’s not a very good comparison, but I don’t think anyone on the HK Govt wants it to start bearing a closer resemblance, especially with all the international attention.

That said, I can't see the govt backing down from this either, if only because Beijing will be very displeased.

It’s always possible the protesters will blow it by getting impatient and resorting to violence. If they do, they’ll blow their best chance. They’ve got tons of public support and momentum right now. At this point, it’s their game to lose.

Developing …

BONUS TRACK: It’s called the “Umbrella Revolution” because protesters have been carrying them to protect themselves against pepper spray.





Out on the street,

This is dF


defrog: (Default)
There is trouble in Hong Kong.

The problem goes something like this:

We do not have universal suffrage when it comes to choosing a Chief Executive (CE). We have been promised by Beijing that at some point we can have universal suffrage as soon as they think we’re ready to have it. That time is theoretically 2017 (around ten years after the last time Beijing said we could have it, then decided we weren’t “ready”).

The past year has seen a lot of debate over how to implement universal suffrage in 2017, with several proposals being kicked around. This week, Beijing’s National People’s Congress (NPC) effectively picked one for us: we all get to vote for the next CE, but we don’t get to actually nominate who gets to run for CE. That will be determined by a “nominating committee” of 1,200 people who will, theoretically, represent all groups in HK, but in practice will pretty much nominate only candidates that Beijing likes.

That way, no matter who loses, Beijing wins.

The pan-democratic parties (i.e. political parties that have been pushing hard for democracy) find this unacceptable, not least because one of the criteria for nomination is being a “patriotic” person who “loves Hong Kong”. Which is as ominous as it sounds when Beijing is the one deciding who is patriotic and who isn’t.

And so now the showdown is about to begin. Possibly.

Activist groups have organized on both sides of the debate. Occupy Central opposes the NPC-approved framework and plans to shut down the Central business district with massive sit-in protests until the HK Govt approves a framework allowing the people to nominate their own candidates. Anti-Occupy groups like Alliance for Peace and Democracy argue that if we don’t take this deal, we’re not going to make any progress on universal suffrage for at least another decade, if ever.

That’s certainly how the HK Govt has been framing it with a PSA that suggest if Occupy Central goes ahead, the deal is off and we get nothing (and you can blame them gawdamn Occupy protesters for that). The HK Govt has also said that the planned Occupy Central protest would be illegal anyway, and they’re not in the business of negotiating with lawbreakers. So there.

What happens from here is a big question mark, if only because Occupy Central leader Benny Chan has already admitted support for his group has dwindled following the NPC decision (although he’s since backtracked and said the people backing out due to “pragmatism” will be replaced by unpragmatic college students pissed off about the decision, so game on).

So if Occupy Central goes ahead, it’s either going to be a poor turnout, or a bigger and much angrier turnout.

In which case this probably isn’t going to end well.

TL;DR )

I could be wrong. I have a feeling we're going to find out. 

Developing ....

The revolution starts soon,

This is dF

defrog: (Default)
The Hong Kong Book Fair has come and gone.

And despite this one being the 25th anniversary of the event, I don’t have a lot to report – partly because it wasn’t much different from last year’s (apart from seeing an awful lot of John Green books on the tables, and slightly more Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Hillary Clinton than usual), and partly because it was a rushed visit for me.

I didn’t even think we were going to go this year, due to incompatible schedules and recent developments at work and at home taking up more free time than usual. But I was able to wrangle about 90 minutes out of my morning yesterday (the last day of the fair), and by now I know which booths to hit and where to find them, and which ones are more likely to have anything I’d want to read.

(For example, if all you tend to carry every year is mass-market writers like Stieg Larsson, Sophie Kinsella, Stephen King, Jodi Picoult, Sidney Sheldon, James Patterson, Elizabeth Gilbert, Mitch Albom, Clive Cussler, Matthew Reilly, Dan Brown, Malcolm Gladwell, George RR Martin, JRR Tolkien, Stephanie Meyer and Donald Trump, then there’s really no need for me to check and see if you happen to have anything that interests me – and if you do, it’s likely to be Neil Gaiman, and odds are I already have that one.)

So that helped expedite things.

Normally I like to take my time and browse for new discoveries or writers I hadn’t paid much attention to before and see if there’s anything worth risking for a bargain price. But there was no time for that this year, so I basically kept an eye out for the more familiar names and titles.

And so here’s this year’s comparatively modest haul.



I’m pretty confident about that stack. I’ve read Schlosser, Mailer and Greenwald before, although I’ve read Greenwald’s online work, not his books. Also, I didn’t actually like Mailer, but that was Barbary Shore, which it turns out everyone agrees is far from his best work, and anyway I’m willing to give his non-fiction a try, and hey, it’s about the moon landings, so why not?.

I’ve been meaning to try Bolano for awhile now, so it's good to start with something slim and cheap. I've been less enthusiastic about trying Keigo Higashino, but mainly because the book's publishers describe him as "the Japanese Stieg Larsson". (Tip to publishers: when you try to promote an author by comparing him or her to someone popular and famous, I'm automatically going to assume he/she is actually nothing like that author because whenever you do that, I'm invariably disappointed if I read it with that benchmark in mind. Alternately, if you compare him/her to someone I have no interest in reading in the first place, that doesn't really motivate me to give it a try.) On the other hand, the bride has read a couple of his books, so for 50% off, I’m game.

And of course, lots of friends have namedropped David Foster Wallace as a must-read, so it’s probably time I tried him out.

As for the Big Data book, that’s somewhat more relevant to my day job (we cover that topic from the perspective of telecoms companies), but I saw Viktor Meyer-Schönberger speak at an event in Singapore last month, and was very impressed with his holistic view on Big Data and the pros and cons therein, so I’m interested to read an expanded version of that view.

And so much for the Hong Kong Book Fair.

Same time next year,

This is dF


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