Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The day that Typhoon Hato visited Hong Kong

You know something's amiss when 
Hong Kong roads get this quiet...

Further signs that a typhoon swept into town today

One of many umbrellas bent out of shape
and no match at all for a typhoon's strong winds

A couple of days ago, the mercury soared to 37.7 degrees Celsius in some areas of Hong Kong.  Worse was to come the day after, when Hong Kong experienced its hottest day since records started being kept in 1884: with the temperature reaching as high as 39 degrees Celsius over at the Hong Kong Wetland Park -- and people's physical discomfort when outdoors being exercerbated by air pollution having hit "serious" or "very high" health risk levels.  All this was due in no small part to a major typhoon approaching Hong Kong.     

For much of today, Typhoon Hato brought Hong Kong to a standstill.  For the first time in five years (i.e., since Typhoon Vicente blew into town in July 2012), Typhoon Signal Number 10 (T10) was raised by the Hong Kong Observatory.  Even more astoundingly, Li Ka Shing's Force Field failed during the day (rather than during nightfall); resulting in the vast majority of businesses along with the stock exchange, schools and such remaining closed for much of the day, if not all of today!

For much of the day, the majority of folks here in Hong Kong stayed at home while, outside, gale force winds blew, lots of rain fell and the sky stayed dark and gray even at noon.  Every once in a while, I would hear something come crashing down outside -- with the loudest noice having been caused by a hunk of wood the size of a door falling from several floors on high onto my apartment complex's podium garden!  

Amazingly, a couple of friends reported feeling their buildings swaying during T10, prompting me to be all the more grateful once more for my having elected against living on a high floor in one of Hong Kong's many high-rise residential buildings!  But for a taste of the power of Typhoon Hato, it's hard to beat checking out the scenes featured in this video and hearing the sounds in this other video captured from a 25th floor flat.  Scary but also awesome, right? ;b   

Monday, August 21, 2017

No Face, a broom, and misbehaving Studio Ghibli fans?!

Spirited Away's No Face posing on stage 
with a broom and a fake tree 
A sign nearby in English and Chinese with instructions about
how to treat (or not, as the case may be) No Face and the broom!
With time to spare after dinner, and our mood considerably brighter and lighter than it had been earlier in the day (thanks in part to having received a boost to our morale post seeing so many Hong Kongers still willing to stand up for others who they believe have been wronged), I decided to drag my friend -- who is not unfamiliar with things Studio Ghibli -- into the Donguri Republic store located within the mega-mall.     
The large, familiar figure of of O-Totoro greeted us at the entrance to this very attractive character goods store.  As I told my friend (and also promptly demonstrated to her), I find it well nigh impossible to pass by what is effectively a giant plushie without stroking it a few times; something which -- as far as I know -- is not discouraged by the Donguri Republic personnel!

A new feature at the store (or, at least, one which wasn't in place on my previous visits) is a stage area on which can be found Spirited Away's No Face along with a broom that people can pose with and have their photos taken if they so choose.  During my time at this branch of Donguri Republic, no one seemed all that inclined to do such -- or, for that matter, interact in any other way -- with this Studio Ghibli movie character and its broom prop.  But it seems some kind of mischief must have occured in the area since, in their vicinity can be found a sign in both English and Chinese asking people not to hit or climb No Face, sit or bounce on the stage -- and generally be nice to No Face and the broom!
Upon seeing the sign, my first reaction was to laugh incredulously at the need for such a sign and, also, at the way the requests were worded (especially the first line of "Please be nice to No Face and the Broom").  My second reaction was to try to figure out who would actually misbehave at a Studio Ghibli character goods store!  
I suppose the most logical suspects would be young children with parents who haven't taught them how to behave appropriately in public, etc.  But looking around me, it's actually the case that adults predominate at pretty much every Donguri Republic store I've visited, be they in Japan or Hong Kong; and those individuals who are fans of Studio Ghibli don't tend to look like they have anger management issues or hooligan tendencies!  (And for the record, it's been similar with Funassyilands and also outlets showcasing Sanrio products!!) ;b   

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Marching to express solidarity with the youngest group of political prisoners in the world

The Umbrella Movement is alive still!
Make no mistake: there were tens of thousands of people
out marching on the streets of Hong Kong this afternoon!
A measure of today's protest crowd size can be seen in its literally 
stopping traffic (including buses and trams) along the way
Showing solidarity with Hong Kong's young political prisoners
people protested Hong Kong's wheels of justice now looking to be 
attached to a vehicle being recklessly steered by Beijing
Earlier today, I took part in my fourth protest march of 2017.  This is pretty amazing when you consider that until July 1st, 2012 -- the 15th anniversary of Hong Kong's being handed over by the British to China and, more pertinently, Leung Chun Ying becoming the SAR's third Chief Executive -- I had never taken part in a protest march in Hong Kong.  (And for the record, before I moved to Hong Kong, I only had ever taken part in one solitary protest march, back during my student days in the USA!)
Contrary to what some people might think, I don't actually enjoy going on protest marches.  It's not fun getting rained on (as was the case last month during the candlelight march in memory of Liu Xiaobo), or hanging about in swelteringly hot and humid conditions waiting for the police (who are supposedly there to maintain order but often seem to invite disorder by frustrating folks) to allow you to get moving.  
Far more seriously and importantly: I wish it didn't seem as though the best -- and maybe only genuine -- way for Hong Kongers to ensure that the powers-that-be and the world-at-large know their concerns at what ails the territory is through street protests (as opposed to, say, elections in which there is genuine universal suffrage). 
I know people who, especially after the Occupy sites were vacated back on December 2014, with genuine universal suffrage not (yet) achieved, have decided that it's useless to take part in public protests of any kind.  However, I remain of the opinion that protest marches in support of causes I believe in, and memorial vigils such as that which takes place annually in Victoria Park, still are very much worth taking part in; this not least since they clearly upset Beijing (and their lackeys within the supposed higher echelon of Hong Kong society) so much that, say, when Xi Jinping came to town a few weeks ago, an absolutely ridiculous amount of effort was made to ensure that he didn't come across any local political protests.
In the wake of Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow's imprisonment for their actions leading to and during the Umbrella Movement, one of the judges which ruled on their case effectively said that the decision was meant to deter others from engaging in civil disobedience.  But rather than cow other Hong Kongers as intended, their actions look to have prompted even more people than before into defiance and to go march on the streets! 
More specifically, this afternoon's march to express solidarity with what is now the youngest group of political prisoners in the world looks to have been the largest protest in Hong Kong since those that were triggered by the Hong Kong police using tear gas on unarmed and peaceful protesters at Admiralty on September 28th, 2014.  And seeing the tens of thousands who turned up today, many holding (yellow) umbrellas in their hands, I got to feeling more than ever that the Umbrella Movement is (still) alive and there is a lot of fight left in many Hong Kongers after all!  

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Feasting (and some political point-making?) at the 2017 Hong Kong Food Expo

Kumamon helps draws crowds to the Kumamoto 
products booth at this year's Hong Kong Food Expo
"Stick foods" ready to be eaten at the site!
Some of the food stuffs on sale (including the fish maw 
hanging in bunches at this booth) were on the pricey side!
Back in 2015, my favorite Pear (Fairy) made appearances at the Hong Kong Food Expo to help promote food products from eight eastern Japanese prefectures (including its home prefecture of Chiba).  Sadly, it was nowhere in sight when I attended this year's edition of the gastronomic fair, though I did spot other mascots (including one for a milk powder product) prancing about and portraits of Kumamon, Funassyi's senpai from Kumamoto, adorning more than one Japanese products booth.
In view of the general popularity of Japanese food and drink in Hong Kong, I actually don't think their presence was needed to boost sales at the food expo's Japanese booths.  In any case, it was quite noticeable -- especially in those sections of the exhibition halls where the booths were set up close to another -- how large the crowds were at the Japanese and South Korean food and drink booths, in contrast to those hawking food products from Mainland China.
Given what's taken place on the political front this week (with strong suspicions that the hand of Beijing is most definitely behind the blows dealt to Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement), the possibility can't be entirely ruled out that there was an element of protest involved in the decision of some of the local visitors to the Hong Kong Food Expo to give the Mainland Chinese booths a wide berth.  Something else that also can't be ruled out (and, actually, is probably more likely) is that there continues to be widespread worry among Hong Kongers over the safety of Chinese food products in the aftermath of the many major food scandals that have come to light in recent years.    

Whatever it is, Hong Kongers most definitely aren't turning their backs on Chinese food products bearing the imprint of Hong Kong and Taiwanese companies ("just" those from Mainland Chinese companies).  For, like those representing Japanese and South Korean companies and regions, many of the booths of those from Hong Kong and Taiwan -- and be they selling ready-to-eat foods or food products to be cooked post returning home -- attracted many eager buyers too.
While a good portion of the food fair goers ended up being laden with shopping (some of them packed up in trolley carts given to them by those companies whose products they bought a lot of -- either in quantity monetary terms, or both!), I ended up only taking one small bottle of yuzu-flavored honey (from Japan's Sugi Bee Garden).  This may seem like extremely paltry returns, considering that I ended up spending more than five hours at the Hong Kong Food Expo.
But, then, in that time, I also ended up sampling, outright eating and drinking quite a bit, including Japanese fruit-flavored honey drinks, melon, unagi kabayaki and green tea, Korean seaweed and (super) spicy rice cakes, a stick of grilled pineapple from a Taiwanese booth, a good-sized portion of abalone-flavored noodles (topped with two tiny but tasty abalone) and Malaysian Musang King durian ice cream.  Oh, and the feasting began with a raclette dish featuring melted cheese on boiled potatoes, a pickled gherkin, pickled onions and a generous slice of ham -- since there actually were lots of non-Asian foods available at the Hong Kong Food Expo too! ;b

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