No choice


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Here’s a line from a letter to the editor in the South China Morning Post:

“When a government does not allow the free selection of its leaders and is not willing to respond to the wishes of its people, it leaves its people no other choice. ”

Here’s the headline of an opinion column:

“What choice do Hong Kong protesters have when the options are the PLA or dictator-in-the-making Carrie Lam?”

The idea that the protesters, even the violent ones, have “no choice” is oft-repeated. These are only two of the most recent examples I can recall, but I read something along these lines every day. What these two pieces have in common are authors who are highly educated – doctoral degree holders. Yet, their arguments are disingenuous.

In the first case, the people actually do have another choice – they can accept the situation as is, and get on with their lives. Lives that in some cases are not ideal, but are largely above the standard of people in many parts of the world. Or they could continue to press their views through different channels, waiting for a more opportune time.

There are many problems in Hong Kong, but a lack of choice is not one of them. Yet.

In the second case, the (Hobson’s) choices are even spelled out in the headline. In fact, those are not the only two options. The spectre of the PLA in the streets is ever-present but has not become a reality, and is not expected to become one, unless violence is sustained and escalates further (it has actually surprised everyone why China hasn’t sent in the army yet, especially after their October 1 national day celebrations finished).

Again, there are choices other than violent confrontation and fighting to the end – compromising and negotiating hard would be one (understandably, no one wants to stick their neck out to negotiate with the government individually because the last time around the government went after these “leaders” and prosecuted them, but surely there are ways to negotiate as a collective).

Till yesterday, there were young protesters holed up in a local university refusing to come out because they believed that they would be arrested, beaten by police and even killed by police (the idea that police are killing protesters  wily nily is very prevalent, and repeated even by people who went to graduate school with me though I have seen no evidence of this). In fact, they were offered the option of being escorted out by university staff who would make sure they were treated fairly by police. But they believe they have no choice but to fight to the end.


It’s not just protesters and their supporters spouting the “no choice” mantra. The police have been at it too. Here’s a line from and RTHK article:

“I hereby warn the rioters: stop using petrol bombs, arrows, vehicles or any other lethal weapons to attack police officers, and stop all acts of assault. If they continue these dangerous acts, we will have no choice but to use the necessary minimal force, including live ammunition, to hit back”,

No, sir, actually you do have a choice. You can always choose not to shoot. You can decide that this battle is not worth fighting. In fact, famously, when the protesters broke into and trashed the Legislative Council building, the police did exactly that.

They retreated and let protesters do their worst, demonstrating to the public what they would do if left alone. Unfortunately, they have proved themselves capable of worse than trashing buildings.

The police were roundly criticised from both sides for not confronting protesters sooner – by protest supporters who said they had laid a trap and by ex-police officers who said they should have acted sooner – thereby proving that you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Regardless, they are hardly without choices.

The police “no choice” shtick reminds me of my early days in journalism when I naively decided to rewrite a little piece a crime reporter had filed on criminal who had opened fire on the police leaving them “no choice” but to gun him down. Having read at least two pieces that read almost exactly the same in the recent past, I decided to make it sound less formulaic at least.

The crime reporter rushed over and told me I absolutely must not change the wording. Apparently, newspapers are expected to run the police propoganda narrative as is.

No choice indeed.



When Hong Kong went to the polls


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You’d think it was a head of state election and not a municipal one. When was the last time a local election on a dot on the map made international headlines? But the international media is inordinately interested in Hong Kong these days.

This was a district council election, essentially to vote for the person who sees to small problems in your neighbourhood (admittedly paid handsomely for this as all government officials are).

But given we’ve seen nearly six months of protests this election was (again) being seen as a referendum. I say again because I’ve voted in a few and each time the pan-democrat camp touts it as a referendum.

Well, I’m sick of it. I’d like an election for once to be about what it’s supposed to be about and not a vote on whether Hong Kong wants democracy or not. Because the fact that people are voting already indicates that right (However, note that the number of registered voters is about 50% of the population and this is an ageing population, also that usually only about 40% of that 50% turn out to vote so let that tell you what you need to know about enthusiasm for democracy).

This time was different though. There was a record turnout – 71% of the registered voters. I usually go to vote early and it’s usually me and five oldies. This time there was a queue stretching all the way down the street.

There were clearly a lot of first time voters. While many of these were supposed to be young people, I saw a lot of confused older people who didn’t know which queue to stand in. (The queues were kinda confusing. You needed to line up based on your hkid number but the boards telling you this were at the front of the lines not the back so you might not realise you were in the wrong queue till you got to the front, like one furious grandma did.)

Speaking of grandmas there were rumours that the elderly were being allowed to skip the queue … and people were angry about this! Because the elderly tend to vote for the pro-establishment/pro-Beijing side. The latter parties are notorious for busing in elderly from care homes presumably on the understanding that they vote for the party that bussed them in.

Anyway the Election Commission denied elderly were being allowed to vote first and I didn’t see this either. I did feel sorry for the older peeps queuing up though.

Another rumour was that polling stations would shut early so people should vote early to make sure their votes are counting – hence the long queues at 8 am. This doesn’t make sense and the Election Commission clarified that if in case of violence or any other reason a polling station had to be closed the vote there would be postponed or redone on another day. But people clearly believed the rumours which just goes to show the public mood.

I was conflicted over whether to vote at all. I was disillusioned by how the pan-democrats were piggybacking onto the protests but were clearly too scared to counter the protest narrative in any way – even when a man was set on fire. Even candidates who are lawyers have fuelled the rumour mongering.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate the protesters. I just don’t condone everything they do and I think one useful thing the pan-Democrat politicians could do (because they are not actually out there protesting) is to sound a note of moderation when it’s needed (like when someone gets set on fire). But they dare not, because there’s some “with us or against us” thing going on that precludes any criticism (more on that in another post possibly).

I ended up asking V whether he thought I should vote. He said that since I’ve gone through all the trouble of being able to vote, I should. V, by the way, doesn’t vote because he thinks it’s pointless.

Which is a view I’m coming to. But I guess I’m a sucker for democracy. It’s like how in the worst times I pray even though rationally don’t believe in god. Except that I pray when I’m desperate but I’m not even remotely desperate now so I guess I’m more hooked on democracy than religion. Heh.

I finally settled on an independent because a) he’s actually done work in the area b) wrote a few lines on said work on his pamphlet IN ENGLISH.

That’s another pet peeve: how the democrats (except perhaps in fancy HK Island type constituencies) never make an effort to make even the smallest attempt to address a non-Chinese audience.

So, once again, I end up voting not for the person that takes the trouble to promise me something but on some abstract ideal. In Hong Kong, it’s democracy. In India, it’s the hope that you will be not be burnt alive for not being Hindu.

And I’m sick of it. Not sick enough to vote for the BJP in India or even a pro-Beijjng candidate in Hong Kong (thoughd I might countenance a pro-BJ who writes something in English in a less crucial election, if there ever is one).

In this case, the pan-Democrat was finally seen on the street on election morning, where he actually thanked me for my support in English and I wavered briefly but then decided it was too little too late.

Anyway the independent I voted for won, pro-Beijing guy was second and the pan-democrat came a poor third. So it appears I my district there is actually a silent majority, who are not screaming in support of the protests at 10 pm.

My district is clearly an outlier though. Hong Kong voted overwhelming in favor of the Democrats, telling Beijing and our local government to stuff it. I can’t say I’m displeased with the result.

Flying the coop

On Tuesday, I took a mental health day and went to office.

I felt guilty, of course, for abandoning my children at home to two helpers and a husband, but after eight days of being a stay at home mom – albeit one with the full load of office work – I was ready to bolt.

I feel like those famous Japanese men who are bereft when they have to retire. I need to go to the office as silly as it sounds. I need to space out on the MTR. I need my two screens and desk and office coffee mug. I need to make polite chatter with my colleagues and go out to lunch. I need to need to dress up.

Two things I learnt this week:

1. Apropos the above, I’m not an extended work from home person

2. Homeschooling is better than school:

After disappointing results of an entrance tests in Bangalore and a not-so-great parent-teacher meeting, we realised we have to take matters into our own hands. I’ve been functioning under the illusion that having carefully selected a school, paying quite a steep price, I would leave the teachers to do what they presumably know best. So if this means, no homework, so be it. Heck, no homework is what I think education should be, in an ideal world.

The problem, I discovered, is that no homework and no textbooks coming home on  weekends means that you have no idea what your kid is up to at school, what they are learning and how they are doing, until two months into the term when you meet their teacher and he says, “er, not so great.”

And you realise you need to do something, and again the teachers are not much help. For example, I have known for a while that Mimi is atrocious at spelling but all of last year her teacher told me not to worry. Now, her teacher says, worry, but not how I can help her.

Thankfully, the internet exists, though it turns out there are a lot more resources for teaching pre-schoolers spelling than kids in grade three. So I’m having to invent my own method and I’m actually having some success.

It feels a bit like groundhog month because I went through this in their final year of kindergarten when I realised the much vaunted Jolly Phonics was quite ineffective in teaching my kids to read (and now I recall that epiphany was prompted by the need to do primary school entrance interviews, so I guess I never learn). Finally, the internet, common sense and some kind people here who suggested Starfall helped me get them on the right track, and now I’m wondering again, what the point of expensive schooling is when I end up doing the groundwork?

But so it is. This episode has taught me that I need to tiger parent it up a bit and teach my kids at home. My ideal would be reinforcing what they’re doing at school, but that’s only possible if the teachers cooperate and send their books home on weekends (Mimi’s teacher has agreed to, I’m still waiting for a response from Nene’s).

In the meantime, we took the opportunity of the kids being home a whole week to print out worksheets and basically drill them. Again I knew this, but they forget everything over the holidays, so there was a lot of refreshing of basics to do.

Thankfully, there’s a fair bit of free material available online, but it needs to be sifted through and because I’m not a professional teacher, I’m not sure what to teach when.

Unfortunately, V and I have sort of fallen into the gendered daddy is the math person, mommy is the English person and even more unfortunately both my kids prefer maths but it is what it is.

Onwards and upwards.

But by day eight of this I was exhausted (and the kids insisted they don’t do this much work at school, even though they were essentially doing just three hours or so put together, while they spend six hours at school) and after losing it on Mimi for refusing to take a bath, I decided I needed to get out and “adult” again.

So I fled, took the MTR, schlepped to my own desk and breathed a sigh of relief.

The next day, there was transport chaos again, and I found myself working from home, but sometimes all you need for your mental health is a day at the office.

Public service announcement

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Last week in Hong Kong

1. The police shot two protesters. My opinion on this is not popular.

2. The two protesters were putting up barriers to block a road. They were doing so because two days before that a young man had fallen to his death, while the police were doing a clearance operation nearby.

After weeks of claiming people had died in a railway station, that a young woman found dead in the sea had been killed, finally, an incontrovertible death linked to the protests.

3. The protesters were shot near my kids’ school. My helper had just dropped them when it happened. We had decided to send them because Mimi had a camp scheduled and the school didn’t cancel it that morning. I asked our helper to wait around for a while and told her to leave. 15 minutes later, the school announced why it was closing and asked us to pick up the kids.

I must say I’m not impressed with them. Our MTR station and bus services had shut down, and it was nigh impossible to get a taxi. But the school not so subtly pressured us to “come as soon as possible” (as if we wouldn’t) by calling.

Finally, I requested Nene’s friend’s mum who lived nearby to take them home.

It took V three hours (taxi + ferry + train + bus) to get to them and another couple of hours to get them home.

Since then school has been closed and we’ve been working from home.

4. A man tried to argue with the protesters and was set on fire

5. An elderly man got hit by a brick during a clash with protesters and people trying to clear their barriers. He later died.

6. The police stormed a university campus. The protesters’ side is that they did not nothing; the police’s is that protesters were throwing stuff onto the highway below to block it from the university. Over subsequent days, there was touching footage of protesters setting up their own canteen and organising food in the university. There was also footage of protesters making petrol bombs in the university.

Right now, the police have surrounded another universities from where protesters were throwing stuff onto the highway. One can only hope that the police don’t go in guns blazing, but one also hopes protesters could just come out.

7. The Western media portrays this as a democracy movement. Universal suffrage is one of the demands, but this is only by-the-way a democracy movement. At its heart, it’s an anti-police movement. What people are most angry about is perceived police brutality. If you read local reports, the police gets mentioned all the time as a reason for public anger, then perhaps China. Democracy comes in a poor third, if at all.

Simmering beneath is mistrust of China and an (impossible) desire for independence. The distrust of China is supposedly about high ideals and fear of authoritarianism, but is really fuelled by more petty concerns such as “mainlanders” overruning Hong Kong.

None of this fits the Western narrative, many esteemed outlets calling the (local) police Chinese police. For however long it lasts, the Hong Kong police are not (yet) the Chinese police. Heck, they aren’t even the Indian police or the American police. (one line of argument goes that the American police would never shoot protesters. But they would shoot unarmed black kids, but that doesn’t count I guess.)

8. The protesters have successfully won the media war by claiming to be peaceful and wrongfully targeted long after they had begun throwing bricks at police, trashing public premises, setting fires and roughing up the odd soul who dared challenge them. I get it from a PR perspective, but the dishonesty still rankles.

Guess I’d be useless as a politician or an academic, because academics seems quite comfortable cleaving to the version of events that suits the narrative that suits their theory.

9. The writer Haruki Murakami once said, “If there is a hard, high wall and an egg that breaks against it, no matter how right the wall or how wrong the egg, I will stand on the side of the egg.” It’s a precept that’s appealing in its simplicity, and one that protesters occasionally quote.

This series of events has taught me that I’m not cut out for that kind of simplicity.

The saga continues.


October reading list


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Lethal White, Robert Galbraith

Robert Galbraith is JK Rowling’s detective-writing pseudonym. I quite liked the first book in this series, but it’s increasingly going downhill. This one took the cake.

The rather cliched attraction between Strike and his assistant Robin has been getting terribly annoying. Sometimes this kind of chemistry works; in this case, I just wanted to slap the two of them and get on with the mystery.

I’m beginning to wonder whether I have just turned into a grumpy old crone because I find descriptions of romantic angst stupid. For example, at the last of this book, Strike shows up at Robin’s wedding, and Robin just has to know whether she’s getting her job back or not, thus basically disrupting the proceedings. And I’m like, FFS get a room. Or not. But get on with the mystery please.

Even more annoyingly, Strike keeps thinking about his ex Charlotte, making one long for the days of Hercule Poirot who barely had a personal life. And then, we are constantly told how much they all drink, as if we are teenagers and this is of interest.

The mystery itself was decent, but this book can be one third shorter without all the romantic mooning around.

Die A Little, Megan Abbott

Abbott’s forte is creating a dense creepy atmosphere, and she does this in 1950s suburbia as well as she does in her teen novels.

The One Memory of Flora Banks 

Is it me or do a lot of these YA books (except Megan Abbott) have kids with some kind of disability? This one is about a girl who has no short term memory. Ultimately, though, it is about parents of teenagers needing to let them go.

The twists were quite unexpected – except the one related to the boy.

The Dry, Jane Harper

Finally a well plotted thriller featuring good old detective work. The mystery here is intensely personal – the detective goes back to his roots and must face his own past. The narrative is set amid Australia’s drought that makes its rural areas a tinder box and shatters then image of village life as kumbaya.

I’ve found another thriller series yay.

In a Dark Dark Wood, Ruth Ware 

The title itself tries too hard, and I can’t say I loved this one. I kept reading it to know what happens, but I didn’t really care about the characters, partly because they struck me as stupid. Here are some ways not to be stupid:

Don’t go to a hen weekend if you haven’t seen or been in touch with the bride in years

Or if you didn’t get a wedding invite

Don’t play stupid drinking games if you don’t want to (why do people play drinking games in their 30s?)

When you’re cautioned by the police, don’t keep talking without getting a lawyer

Meh. Anyway, I read a few reviews because I was astonished at how bad I felt the book was, and I have to say that the resolution was not unexpected but not as expected as a the critics said either.

The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer 

Wolitzer is not the opposite of Sally Rooney but the synthesis of Rooney and some chick lit writer, say Sophie Kinsella (or someone who writes about entirely ordinary people). She tends to write about precocious kids, but in a self-aware way without taking them entirely seriously.

Take the title itself. The group in the camp decided to call themselves “the Interestings” because each of them was in some way. While they tried to be ironic about life, they also believed their own hype at some level.

When Jules was inducted into their midst, she wasn’t sure what her thing was. This pressure to find one’s thing ,do we all feel it? I certainly did.

I loved this book. Maybe I will return to it as Jules returned to her camp.

Anthony and Cleopatra,Colleen McCollough

My general knowledge of this pair came from the Shakespeare play. What Shakespeare makes out to be a great love story is basically politics.

It’s a massive tome. I learnt a lot, but skimmed through the wars.

One curious character in the novel was King Herod, who those of us steeped in Christian lore know of as the baddie who ordered the first-born sons of Jews to be killed so that he could weed out the future messiah. Turns out – surprise surprise – he too was a complicated character, and not necessarily the bit player I had thought he was.

The thing about these Roman books is that I didn’t realise – silly me – how much Christian history was intertwined. I mean, the Roman emperor is mentioned a lot in the Bible, heck it was a Roman governor who ordered the Crucifixion, but again, I didn’t realise how significant Judea was, or maybe it’s made out to be because these novelists are, like me, steeped in Christian lore and can’t resist playing up that connection.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Becky Albertalli

Why did I read this? Because a girl posted on an FB group about its sequel (coming up next) which I wanted to read, so I picked this up.

Of course, I enjoyed it. But questions.

I’ve been wondering about YA as a category. What is a young adult?

I’ve always categorised YA as books 13-year-olds read but 13-year-olds are not even close to being adult. Or even 16-year-olds.

But the voice in these books sounds about that old, or rather young. Is this how adults think kids sound?

Also is it necessary to be into music if you’re in a teen? Because I’m going to fail to relate as a parent.

Leah on the Offbeat, Becky Albertalli

Obviously, I loved this, but perhaps because I read it right after Simon, I was a little less enamoured of the teen angst. Also, the obsession with coming out – what’s with that? I get that telling and who one tells is significant especially to teenagers but making that the plot point of two novels in succession is a bit much. And all the need to have everyone happily paired off.

The End of Everything, Megan Abbbott

I speed read this in one evening, not in a good way. I did not love it, I just wanted to know the end.

There were twists but they were not entirely unexpected.

I love Abbott’s spooky writing but I felt this one was trying too hard.

Love in the time of Affluenza, Shunali Shroff

Read my thoughts on the chick lit blog here.

Fear of Flying, Erica Jong

This is the first in a triumvirate of feminist novels from the 70s that have long been in my list. This one’s claim to fame is its concept of the zipless fuck. I quote:

The zipless fuck is absolutely pure. It is free of ulterior motives. There is no power game . The man is not “taking” and the woman is not “giving.” No one is attempting to cuckold a husband or humiliate a wife. No one is trying to prove anything or get anything out of anyone. The zipless fuck is the purest thing there is. And it is rarer than the unicorn. And I have never had one

Lovely. Thing was this concept was the best thing about the novel and it came early. It’s ostensibly about a single woman trying to find herself, but the way she seems to do this is to have lots of no-strings-attached sex (even as she sorta wants a string) and I don’t care to read about sex that much in novels (except in Judith Krantz novels, she does sex so well). Also, I get the whole sex-as-liberation thing, but seriously it cannot be the only thing, can it?

Read Vogue’s take on whether the zipless fuck has become quaint in our era here.

Valley of the Dolls, Jacqueline Susann

Feminist 70s novel no 2. Liked this one a lot better. It’s surprisingly contemporary. Three women take Manhattan, then LA, trying to make it and find love as they go along. Sound familiar? Except that this novel makes no bones about how difficult it is to do this while being female, even if you’re pretty.


Flying solo

Since my boss is being a pain about letting me have leave during Christmas in December, I decided to do our annual pilgrimage to India in October this year. Then we realised we had to be in Bangalore in December for my in-law’s golden wedding, so it became an Mumbai-only trip, with a very short stint in Bangalore.

Unfortunately, I came down with a stomach problem that has still not been resolved, even if it is more manageable now. I was really nervous about falling ill, because V wasn’t going to be in Mumbai with me to pitch in with the kids. Depressingly, I had to resolve to eat very carefully, which takes away a large part of the fun of going to India at all.

We are now seriously looking at schools in Bangalore (if any of you have suggestions, do tell) and had to make a short trip there for two entrance tests. I was not optimistic about these given that my kids do not have exams at school and we had no idea how to help them prepare. One of the schools didn’t have space anyway, but the other ridiculously gave them an end of year test when they are only a couple of months into this school year. So that situation is in limbo.

I did get more sold on the idea of moving to India – mainly the prospect of family (more for the kids than me), bigger houses and being closer to, if unfortunately not in the same city as, my parents whose health has declined.

The Bombay trip was as good as it could be. I now only have one close friend in the city, but we only managed to meet for a very early morning coffee. I did not eat out at all, save for a sandwich at the Taj (more on that later) and some dumplings that had been ordered in.

Because V wasn’t around to chauffeur us, I didn’t take the kids out as much as we might otherwise have. We visited our neighbourhood and fed kittens, made a trip to Juhu beach that has become an annual highlight (in which I let the kids play in the water, something I think people living in Bombay refuse to do), walked down our local shopping street and did a drive into town that I have been wanting to do for a while.

We had watched a documentary on the Taj Mahal Palace hotel and since then Nene has been fascinated with it. I also thought it might be worth seeing the Gateway of India, and “town” in general, so I planned to have a bite at the Taj cafe. Unfortunately, Nene behaved like a brat in the cafe, insisting that he wanted his own plate of pasta while I tried to convince him to share with Mimi, and I had to give him a talking to, which rather spoiled the mood. And then, we had to rush out of the Gateway area due to rain.

But I did enjoy the rather nostalgic drive through town, past the route I used to take to college, even if my children were not similarly enthused.

My mum organised a dinner for close family so I could meet them all in one place though my cousins from my mum’s side were out of town.

The most fulfilling thing about the trip was that, because we were housebound a lot, the kids spent a lot of time with parents, especially my dad who seems able to relate to them better now that they are older. There was a lot of TV watching, but my dad who has either the news or sports on every waking hour, at least makes it interactive. So, on day one, they were all poised on the couch for the counting of Maharashtra poll votes, and ready to support grandpa in his aspirations for his (unfortunately losing, but you wouldn’t know it to hear him) team. They are now aware of the BJP and the Congress party, and possible merits of kabadi.

The sad thing was that literally zero kids were seen playing in our building’s very generous playground. I had to take Nene down myself and bowl to him every day. It seems more kids congregate downstairs in our estate in Hong Kong.

I must say flying without V was rather peaceful. It meant I had to be in charge of all documents but it also meant that I could set the agenda without secondguessing myself. And if that meant each child chose to buy food from a different outlet, so be it.

On the flight back, we travelled premium economy on Cathay Pacific, and it was really good. There has been some debate on the merits of premium economy with kids because the handrests do not move, which means the kids cannot lie across. However, with kids my age, the wider seats and the leg rests that come up worked well, and I could sleep without having two little people sprawled over me.

The other advantages are that the food service starts from that section first and you also disembark right after business class (and so do have to contend with the annoying people who jump up and form a tight queue).

So that was that. I survived, we had some good times and unfortunately some tears.

We got back and I basically crashed the entire morning, rousing myself only to go out Halloween shopping with the kids. That evening some parents had planned a trick or treat route, and I followed twenty candy-filled screaming children down numerous corridors. There was a barbeque after that I didn’t plan to join as I thought the kids wouldn’t be up to it and also because I wasn’t sure I wanted to socialise with sundry parents, over hot flames, but I ended up hanging out there a bit, and it seemed like it would have be nice.

It also struck me that we do have a community in Hong Kong, at least the kids do, and this could be expanded, and so Halloween in Hong Kong dispered the ghosts of my India longing.



The browns

This birthday was probably my worst birthday in memory.

My illness in September never quite went away. For over a month, I’ve had a stomach upset that’s just … there. I’ve been existing on the blandest, most basic food possible. Thankfully, Hong Kong knows how to do this food well.

Initially, I enjoyed the weight loss that came with this, but now I’m fed up. The idea of never eating anything spicy, or just so little food, for the the forseeable future, kills me. Not to mention the timing – I am scheduled for a trip to India, which means not only would I have to stay away from all the food that would otherwise have been the highlight of the trip, but I would be in mortal fear of coming down with diarrhea in India, as I am prone to at the best of times.

The most depressing thing was being told a day before my birthday that my test results came back negative for infections. You’d think that would be a good thing, but I was hoping something would be detected so it would be easy to prescribe something targeted to knock it off.

Now, it’s pretty much a guessing game of dealing with symptoms. I actually teared up at the doctors. Fortunately, he’s sympathetic and tried to give me something to help the symptoms.

I’m not a fan of a big shebang on my birthday but I was scared to even eat my own birthday cake. I allowed myself a can of coke because that actually calms my stomach, though it’s not something I want to live on because that would undo all the weight loss that is the only silver lining to this whole saga. Okay, and my facialist said my skin is much better. Obviously, on a diet a congee. Meh.

Oh, and I’m now an expert at dealing with shit. I mean literally. I have done a stool test once in my life as a child and have avoided one ever since. Just the logistics of collecting poo – a substance I should have made my peace with considering how much of my life is spent dealing with it – kill me. But just when you think you can only sink so low, you realise, there’s a bottom under the bottom and this one involves scooping excreta of the solid kind.

Because of course when you need to collect poo, your body goes into panic mode and it refuses to come. As if you hadn’t spent every second hour on the potty these past few weeks.

We had booked a body check – at which I discovered I have slightly low blood pressure (and I am now convinced it’s a PMS thing) – and I had been firmly said I was not going to do a stool test. But then I decided to do it, considering that is my main problem. Then my gastroentrologist asked me to do another one.

Meanwhile, Mimi has fallen ill with similar symptoms – three times in the past month – and we had to do a stool test for her to.

So I’ve basically been carrying shit in little bottles here and there. This is my life now.

So, yeah, I had not agenda on my birthday except to not spend it primarily on the pot, and for that I have the gastro to thank.

So what do I want for the coming year? For my gut to get it’s act together.






Hong Kong is in its fifth month of increasingly violent protests.*

I am not averse to violence if the cause is big enough. Opposing the extradition bill, which would have allowed China to claim people it deemed criminals, was a big enough cause. Unfortunately, getting the government to shelve that bill required violence on the part of the people.

The current protests are largely an anti-police movement, demanding an inquiry into police use of force on the protesters (both sides have become increasingly violent) and an amnesty for those arrested. I am undecided if this is a big enough cause or even a justified one. Those who break the law for a cause, especially who do so violently, should be admired but perhaps willing to take on the consequences of breaking the law, especially if rule of law is one of the things they seek to defend?

More worrying, the protests which began idealistically have degenerated into something rather hysterical, ethnocentric and strident. There is the tendency to believe the most stupid rumours, and almost desperate need to invent martyrs.

The most troubling aspect is the bullying of anyone who disagrees with the protesters. One of the abiding legacies of China’s cultural revolution were the “struggle sessions” in which people accused of being the bourgeoisie were publicly castigated and humiliated. Ironically, today in Hong Kong something similar is happening to people who disagree with the protesters or refuse to condemn the police. This while the protests purport to defend freedom of speech.

Perhaps being too close to a movement always involves disillusionment.

The surprising personal consequence of the protests is that I have lost my faith in democracy. Universal suffrage is a demand that has been tacked on to the protest agenda, unlike the Umbrella Movement of which it was the central demand. There are some, particularly Western commentators, who argue that full democracy (Hong Kong has a form of limited democracy but not for the highest levels of government) is the answer and that people are rioting because they have no other outlets.

Erm, by that logic, half the world should be rioting and there would never be riots in a democracy. No, people are rioting because violence has proved to be effective and short-circuits the system. They are frustrated and the government pushed its luck in trying to curry favour with Beijing, but some of Hong Kong’s problems are intractable and a democratically elected government would not help.

My sad realisation during the protests is how venal the pro-democracy politicians are. It is so obvious that they are stirring up violence or hesitant to rein it in with an eye on their vote banks. I actually prefer the existing civil servants, who know how government works, to the band of loudmouths who have not really offered any workable solutions to Hong Kong’s problems themselves.

In Michel Foucault’s theoretical framework, agency (the idea that individuals have the power to act and make choices and move events) is a function of an all-encompassing and generative power. Voting in a democracy seems to be just that. You feel like you’re doing something, but you’re not doing much beyond moving the status quo incrementally while feeling like you’re doing something. A sop, basically.

Between India, the US, the Philippines, the UK and now Hong Kong, I don’t feel like the “majority wins” schtick that democracy inevitably becomes is for the best.  Charismatic people, the kind that get elected, are rarely good at governing and increasingly they are too full of themselves to listen to people that can.

Whether one gets a good government seems as much a function of luck as anything else. Democracy, like religion, gives us a sense that we are in control. And, okay, it adds an additional layer of accountability, but the cost seems to be populism.

Hong Kong does not have democracy, but a leader who loses popular support – and there are enough ways to make popular discontent known – will not be reappointed by Beijing. But that leader, being not popularly elected, has a bit more leeway than she would had she been responsible to a particular vote bank.

What Hong Kong, and perhaps most places, need is something of a mix between democracy and leaders who do not have to answer to “the people” who sadly often do not know best.

*Despite which, I don’t feel particularly unsafe, just slightly inconvenienced. The protests necessitate staying out of areas where protests are ongoing but even if one did, the larger fear is being caught up in police reprisals or being caught in an MTR service shut-down than the protesters beating one up, which is my fear during riots in India, for example.