Conversation with Mimi…
Mimi: All the Gifs are now Black Lives Matter (This girl has figured out how to make her own gifs which I am told is very simple but that I haven’t yet done)
Me: Do you know what that’s about?
Mimi: Yes, it’s about me
Conversation with Mimi…
Mimi: All the Gifs are now Black Lives Matter (This girl has figured out how to make her own gifs which I am told is very simple but that I haven’t yet done)
Me: Do you know what that’s about?
Mimi: Yes, it’s about me
I thought I had reached a state of zen about the
confininementworking from home arrangement. Then I went back to the office.
The blessed silence. The structure. The two screens. The restaurant food for lunch.
I began to recover my taste for life outside the cocoon. I was prepared to tell the boss I’d come in every day but just a little later than usual so I could get some work done with the kids first.
Then, a case was discovered in the office and it was back to lockdown once again. And I discovered all my zen had been leached away.
It was like I was back to the first week of this crisis when I found myself juggling both work and the kids and dropping both balls. I ended up losing it.
I decided that I needed to set boundaries. Work with the kids before work begins but don’t try to do more than IT troubleshooting thereafter. Do homework uploads after work and catch up on them over the weekend.
Also for my mental well being, do not stress about parents who are not taking this as seriously as one would like or about people who insist on going to their religious gatherings as if God has granted them some special immunity (when the reality is that religious gatherings have been the source of infection clusters in South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong). Try to avoid combusting over Indians exulting over how well the government is doing when the battle has only just begun.
I find myself exhausted at the end of the day and I wonder how that can be when I’ve cut a commute out of my routine. Instead, though, I teach my kids before work, track their work during and upload their work after. The freelancer I work with occasionally has suddenly been flooded with work and I find myself working on weekends.
Yet, I don’t feel entitled to be tired because I have adequate help and people like my sister have even more on their plate.
It’s been over month since we’ve been essentially grounded due to the coronavirus. The first week, as you might have gauged, were rough. Now we’ve settled into some kind of routine and, dare I say, that while I may not be loving it, I’m not losing it.
You know how foreigners keep coming to India to seek enlightenment? With the right attitude, they could save themselves the trouble and a fair bit of money and just stop at the visa application stage itself.
So I went down to the office that has been contracted to handle passport and visa applications for the Indian consulate. I had to renew Nene’s passport which meant that I had to take him along.
We went back and forth on this given the coronavirus outbreak and finally I decided to go ahead because who knows when this is going to end and there might be fewer people at this time.
Turns out I was wrong. The place was packed.
The contractor has moved to a smaller office which means people were more packed in that ever. There’s no place for signage so everyone crowds at the counters to ask anything. Even getting a token requires asking for one from a human being.
They also said on their website that the closest MTR to the new office is Wan Chai when it’s actually Causeway Bay so we ended up being later than I would have liked.
I had made the rookie mistake of checking the Indian consulate website and not the contractors website. Turns out (surprise! Not.) there are a whole lot of other documents needed, including one that required me to back to Wan Chai to get some affidavit done. Because god forbid there be an Indian bureaucratic process without an affidavit.
I admit that I snapped at the girl at the counter – and by counter, I mean she was manning the photocopy station as well as taking photos. To her credit she kept cool and explained to me everything and was very helpful. It’s hardly her fault that the Indian consulate doesn’t update their website or tell people to check elsewhere for the updated instructions or has ridiculous requirements.
So then we walked back to Wan Chai, huffing and puffing in our masks. Turns out the Indian consulate has happily outsourced this process to the Hong Kong government which provides this service free of charge. Basically you write your name and address on a form and that you swear the info is true. Then you wait half an hour and swear before someone that what you wrote is true.
How is this helpful? Why is this even a thing? Would this deter anyone from lying?
Who knows? Who cares?
Only saving grace is that the Hong Kong government is very organised about this. They even took my name and contact number in case anyone who visited was found to have contracted the dreaded virus.
Please note Indian office not only did not do this, there was not even a bottle of hand sanitiser in sight. Oh HK I will miss you.
Take all forms and go back to Causeway Bay. On the way, eye buses speeding down empty streets longingly thinking of throwing self in front of one. Think of children and desist. (By this time had sent Nene home)
Back in the Causeway Bay office, all the same people seem to be milling about. Turns out their computer system is down.
Gweilo man at counter keeps asking how long it will take and grumbles that he has to go to work. Arre Mr, you want to go to India no? This is India only. Learn zen and the art of twiddling your thumbs.
Indian aunties who I asked what was going on got very agitated at the thought that I might be trying to cut the queue when I went up to the counter to inquire and kept hovering behind them. O aunties, take a leaf out of the Buddha’s tree and chill.
I was curtly told nothing would get done that day and I left quietly. Hopefully the aunties were satisfied.
I had an epiphany of sorts on my journey from the notary (or whatever it was. The woman at the counter got a bit agitated when I said “notarized”) and the passport office. The ridiculousness of being shoved off to a different office to stand and say I was telling the truth just seemed too much to bear.
What are we doing really in this life? Just shoving around pieces of paper and trying not to die till we die.
Honestly, I’ve had enough. I turn 40 this year and I feel like I’ve had my fill of life’s delights. I sure there are more left to sample but I’m not greedy. I’m sure it doesn’t get exponentially better than this. Everything we do is just our genes trying to survive by convincing us that we must stick around.
I mean, yeah, I’m going to because I brought two people into this world to do more of the same paper pushing (my bad). But it all does seem rather pointless.
I suddenly stopped caring if I got the passport done or contracted the coronavirus while doing it.
Speaking of which, the streets were lined with people queuing up for some “necessity” or other. I was willing to understand the quest for masks (up to a point) but now people are stockpiling toilet paper and rice. In one of the richest cities in the world with an almost 100% literacy rate. Still at the slightest hint of trouble, people seem to lose all sense of reason. It quickly devolves into me me me.
If this is Hong Kong, then fuck it, I have no hope for anywhere.
I floated home listlessly, didn’t bother with my son trying to do his homework or trying to correct his substandard answers to some poetry analysis (poetry analysis! At age 9!) and played a board game with my daughter, going along with her attempts to give herself the greatest advantage.
Obviously this state of mind will not last. But who knows?
A couple of days ago, I wrote about how it didn’t seem like there was much cooperation on the Indian mums Whatsapp group on the hunt for face masks. Today, I’m happy to eat my words.
One of the mums who travelled to Mumbai brought back a large quantity of masks and distributed 20 pieces free to anyone in the group who wanted them.
It’s a small gesture but restores ones faith in people.
I mentioned in my post yesterdaythat Hongkongers tend to be qucik to get their masks on.
Masks became a bone of contention during the protests and the government pissed off many people by invoking the colonial-era Emergency Regulations Ordinance to ban the use of masks in public places. This was then contested in court and ruled unconstitutional.
The fact is Hongkongers take their right to wear a mask seriously and ever since the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2003, it has generally been public commonsense that if you’re ill, you put on a mask. A person coughing in an elevator without a mask on is often the target of at least a few dirty looks.
Even as the government was appealing the high court ruling that overturned the mask ban, the coronavirus descended. And it appears the government doesn’t have a leg to stand on anyway.
Or nobody cares if it does. Masks are flying off the shelves. People have been queuing up overnight. Store employees were surrounded by angry mobs.
My helper inquired one day and was told they give our tokens at 8.30 so she went down to queue at 7.45 am. By 9 am, nothing had happened except the queue getting even more crazy – it later turned out that about 50 tokens had been given out but my helper was too far behind to know this. Finally, I went down and it turned out the remaining people were queuing up for disinfectant.
For the first time ever, I snapped at someone in Hong Kong instead of just getting silently pissed. I was trying to talk to my helper who was queuing up and this woman behind us kept trying to push ahead and then tell us that only one person was allowed to queue up. We told her once that yes, only one person would but she kept insisted. I literally told her to “keep quiet” and finally “are you fighting with us just because we’re not Chinese?” She may or may not have understood but she quieted down.
Weirdly, she then began to give us some information about what was going on.
The problem with not speaking Chinese is that we are out of the loop a lot. But I later realised that it’s probably even harder for older people, like the woman in the queue, because they can’t access the internet. So, when the shop put up a note on its Facebook page saying it was out of stock, they didn’t know. There was a near stampede outside the shop that morning.
Now I’m not convinced of the utility of masks in this situation. At best, they help you not infect others, which I guess is fine. I’ll admit it, it’s peer pressure. Every single person is wearing a mask outside, and you don’t want to be filthy foreigner that isn’t. That’s pretty much my rationale.
Which begs the question – if there’s a shortage in the market, where is everyone getting their masks from? Admittedly, locals tend to have a stash at home. Or I suspect people are reusing masks which makes no sense.
The government acknowledges that there is a shortage in the market, and that it is trying to secure more supply, but is not intervening in how they are/will distributed. This means that even if shops do get more masks, they might be snapped up by whoever queues up earliest for them. Other cities like Macau and Singapore are ensuring citizens a price-controlled box, which at least eases panic.
It turns out that there are people selling them online. The prices are often inflated but there are still some good souls that aren’t going overboard. The problem is nabbing a box.
I also feel like there is a lack of cooperation. On our local Indian mums Whatsapp group, most people didn’t say anything when someone asked where to get one. I doubt none of the people on that group had not got their hands on any, but I was the only one that came up with a suggestion of where to get one, although it turns out that the ones I had got my hands on were not really effective against a virus. Finally, someone else posted a few ideas.
I took to my keyboard and contacted a whole lot of sellers before I found one. It became one of those things I needed to have just to relax – which is how the rest of the city feels too, I guess. I offered to buy others on the group if the seller could spare more, but in the end it turned out he couldn’t.
If you’re in Hong Kong and seeking masks, I found Carousell the most useful. Better than Facebook Marketplace anyway. I will probably use the site for other stuff after this saga is over.
We thought the protests had crippled Hong Kong. We hadn’t seen anything yet.
Just as the city seemed to have entered some kind of calm – not that the fight was over, but that the fighters were regrouping – news of the coronavirus broke. It came at the saddest time – Chinese New Year, which is normally a time for celebration.
In Hong Kong, to some extent, the city shuts down for at least one day (as far as its possible for anything to shut this city down, the days of the markets being shut for a week are over although people still clear the shelves the day before the big weekend). But there’s usually a huge flower market in the weeks before, there are lion dances, big dinners, lai see packets and beautiful decor. (You can tell how Hong Kong I am that this excites me).
Well, I guess the decor was already up. But everything else ….
We still met friends for lunch the first day. There were very few people about and we saw a lion dance. I’m glad we went. I went to office on Monday, the big boss came around handing out lai see packets and wished us good health three times, told us to put on masks twice (she had cancelled her own trip back to China).
By mid-week, schools had shut and we were told to work from home. It was protest house arrest redux except a) this time I had braced myself (I knew I would suck at house arrest but I was going to just give it my best shot, especially in terms of getting the kids into a routine) b) the fear was real.
Hong Kong had a really hard time with severe acute respiratory syndrome and any whiff of an epidemic has people stocking up on masks and generally panicking. We didn’t live through those dark days so our reaction was muted.
The good thing about Hong Kong is that having been through Sars, the government and the health care system are experts at this. They sterilize public areas frequently and people are hyper conscious about hygiene.
The bad thing is that the city is so dense that just stepping out of your door puts you in touch with objects that have likely been touched by thousands of people before you. And people who pride themselves on being civilised unravel quickly. People were queuing up overnight for masks. More on this in another post.
It’s hard to know how far to throw caution to the wind. We’ve been staying home, only venturing out for a walk. But I can’t imprison the kids, especially my son, who needs a certain amount of exercise daily to survive, so we only banned him from the indoor play areas (the building shut down the clubhouse so that problem was solved). He plays outdoors though and I think the fresh air is fine.
We had a scare one day when the police informed our estate that a man who had been to China and went to the hospital with the fever had run off without undergoing further tests. People be strange. That set off a massive steralisation project and my son becoming the only kid in the playground. The man has since turned himself in and hopefully his tests will come back negative.
In the meantime, I am resigned to being schoolmarm. I now have a routine. Every morning we do about an hour an a half of work, using worksheets I print off the internet. Math and English basically. Then I log in to work and it’s full on from there.
This means that my morning walk/run is out of the window, but I realised that that’s the only window in which I can work with the kids on a working day. If I can squeeze in a walk after dinner, that’s the best I can do.
Sitting at home, I get hungry more often and eat more. So I’m going to turn into the lump.
An angry lump. Three days in and the cabin fever started taking its toll.
I miss the walk to office, the walk to lunch, the lunch, seeing different people wearing different clothes, wearing different clothes.
I suddenly realised that I always thought I like going to office to interact with people, but it’s possible that office is my escape from other people. I am apparently not cut out to spend 24/7 with no end in sight with my own family. Weekends and holidays are fine. My bad.
My own woes done with, please spare a thought for the people in central China under lockdown. The same world that criticises the Chinese government for authoritarianism breathed a sigh of relief when that authoritarianism was exercised to stop possible carriers of infection for flowing into the world, the fate of the people shut into a city that had not really prepared for shut down be damned. No one really cares about Chinese people, just the pleasure they get out of criticising the Chinese government.
May I also say how heartily sick I am about reading about the weird thing Chinese people eat?
Today, when I came down from my building, having decided to leave work early, not because it was New Year’s Day, but because of the threat of protest violence and MTR shutdowns, I saw groups of people in black with masks on, including some children, with huge Pepe the Frog plushes hanging from their bags.
While most people spend New Year’s Day lazing about and recovering from the night’s festivities, Hongkongers came out en masse to push their government to do the right thing.
And after six months of an emotional rollercoaster since the protests began, I came full circle, finding myself once again awed by their spirit.
When the protests started out in June, I was inspired by the sheers numbers with which people took the streets, largely peacefully. I was elated when they made what I thought was the impossible happen – the government backing down on a law it insisted it would push through, with the might of China at its back.
But as the protest violence escalated quickly, I grew disillusioned, not because I am against violent protests per se, but in the dishonesty with which violence was wielded. There was violence from day 2 onwards when protesters threw objects, including bricks, at the police but the narrative insisted for quite a while on not acknowledging this violence and then on not condemning the most egregious examples of it while turning Cultural Revolution-style against anyone who voiced criticism of the movement,
While the international media presented a uniformly highminded picture of the protesters, I saw at the ground level a great deal of pettiness and stupidity.
Then the protests in India began. From afar, my sympathies were obviously with the protesters. But then the uniformity of the narrative coming out of India began to make me suspicious. Reading newspaper reports carefully, including the liberal ones, I began to see a similar pattern to the Hong Kong protests. Conversations with friends also highlighted to me how people cleave to the narratives they are drawn to, refusing to admit inconvenient truths.
And yet, I supported the Indian protesters fairly unconditionally. Why? Well, for one, I’m more ready to believe worse of the Indian police than the Hong Kong police. But also, because I supported the cause behind the protests.
Now, in Hong Kong, I also initially supported the cause behind the protests – the withdrawal of a law that would allow the extradition of people accused of criminal activity by China. But when that law was withdrawn, I was not sure that the protests need go on with this level of intensity, including violence.
While the Western media insists on portraying the Hong Kong protests as a pro-democracy movement – and I don’t deny that a demand that Hong Kong’s leader be elected by universal suffrage has long animated Hong Kong, having been the core of the 2014 Umbrella Movement – the current protests are about something more … basic. They are a protest against police misconduct in dealing with protesters and that those who were targeted in the initial crackdown not be charged and jailed.
The logic is: when violence is the only language the government responds to, those using that language in pursuit of a just cause should not be criminally prosecuted. Moreover, that those tasked with upholding the law must be held to the highest standard of the law.
This is a more complicated logic than a simple demand for democracy or the freeing of the innocent. However, I do believe that except in the most extreme cases of violence, those that put their own bodies on the line in defiance of the state should not be allowed to go like lambs to the slaughter through the prison industrial complex.
We are not in Gandhian territory anymore (and may I say how sick I am of hearing the Gandhi-Luther King-Mandela triumvirate cited at every turn). We are in the territory of righteous anger that refuses to accept the unjust power of the state.
Since Hong Kong’s historic district council elections (Western media please note, these are held by universal suffrage so it’s not like Hongkongers never vote. Heck, I have voted more than once in a single year), I was unpleasantly surprised to see the Hong Kong government continue to pander to the pro-Beijing camp which lost heavily in the elections instead of using the opportunity for some kind of reconciliation through concessions to the other side. Again, the government made it clear that peaceful expression of the public voice counts for nothing.
Interestingly, in conversation with a friend in India, she said that people were protesting not so much against the Citizenship Amendment Act but against the police treatment of the initial protesters, particularly university students. So a very similar logic there too.
After the siege of Polytechnic University, when thousands of students were rounded up after being holed up the university for days, many people thought the protest had fizzled out. But on the first day of the new year, Hongkongers showed us that this fight is far from over.
I can only humbly salute them.
Although the world might be under the impression that Hong Kong does not have universal suffrage, in fact, it does at the lower and mid-levels. When protesters say they are fighting for democracy, they mean at the highest level – the right of every adult Hongkonger to elect the territory’s senior-most leader, the chief executive. District council members are almost entirely directly elected. The legislature is half directly elected and the other half indirectly elected.
I spell all this out because I recently edited a piece by one pompous Western dude who was in Hong Kong as an independent observer of the recently held district council elections who seemed unaware of the facts. Did I mention how sick I am of Westerners arrogantly commenting and even coming in to judge in a semi-official capacity things they know little about?
So on November 24, Hong Kong went to the polls. There were fears that the government would cancel the elections and, of course, it would then be seen as the enemies of democracy, if that wasn’t clear already. I wonder what people would say if the pan-democrats had seen their offices burnt down and received constant death threats as the pro-establishment did this time? Would they have insisted on an election? Oh well, all’s fair in love and politics.
Anyway, the result of the election was a resounding votein favour of the pro-democrats and essentially an expression of support of the ongoing protests. Election Day was peaceful. The people did make their views known in a non-violent manner as the government has being saying they should.
What does government do? Nothing. Then:
1. Withdraws funding proposals for two universities involved in the violence because the pro-establishment camp (which lost heavily in the election) said they wouldn’t vote for it. Agreed, the proposals would have been voted down, but why not let that be a matter of public record?
2. Announces it will include more pro-establishment advisers. When the whole problem is that their were too many pro-establishment advisers to start with.
Hard not to conclude that:
1. The government only responds to violence and peaceful means of expression receive only a pat on the head and run along reaction
2. The only way forward is to burn everything to the ground.
That said, I don’t see why the protest movement increasingly cannot accept even a modicum of critique, such as perhaps publicly condemning the burning of a man who tried to remove their barricades. Claiming that a fair bit of discussion goes on on online channels used by protesters is not enough; there should be some sort of ethical baseline and an apology/condemnation publicly made if this is violated. Surely the protest movement is not as fragile as the communist party which functions on the belief that any critique should be quickly neutralised because it threatens the entire country.
Perhaps it’s time I eat my hat and agree with those who said that if Hong Kong had democracy, none of this would have happened because the government would be too afraid to push through unpopular policies (which to me is problematic in itself but let’s leave that aside).
But then we have India.
Watching the unrest in India from afar, it might not be immediately clear that the entire thing has been sparked by a democratically elected government doing exactly what they promised the electorate they would do.
The scary thing about being a minority in a democracy is that one is essentially at the mercy of the majority being nice to you. Unfortunately, the majority really isn’t nice or even thoughtful. At some point, the quite rational human instinct to protect one’s own interests kicks in.
In that sense, India had quite a good run of being collectively brainwashed by a handful of charismatic and well-intentioned upper-caste Hindu leaders that it was best for everyone to take the minorities along. Sadly, that could only last so long.
One might argue that Hong Kong, with its educated citizenry and well developed economy, will do better. But will it? Hong Kong is a homogenous society, and the recent protests have tended dangerously towards ethnocentrism. There have been encouraging gestures towards minorities but also less publicised tendencies to blame minorities when some among them behave in less than ideal ways.
Although English is an official language, it is increasingly disappearing from public life and one would be hardpressed to find an election leaflet that explains candidates plans and positions in English except in the most tony constituencies. Strangely, it is the pro-establishment politicians, not the pan-democrats, who tend to have at least some election material in English. Yet, we are expected to trust when the much vaunted democracy is achieved, pluralism will be upheld. More likely we are not considered at all.
While it is often argued that democracy/capitalism/marriage is not perfect, but it’s the best we have, left-leaning liberals have pointed out that this is not a good enough reason to keep capitalism. If the (politically not economically) liberal argument is that we should be able to think beyond capitalism and communism, then surely we should able to think beyond democracy too.
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.