Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Two Systems

Lily & I both had the day off today, so we went to Central to observe more than participate. Neither of us can vote in Hong Kong whether the elections are democratic or not anyway, but we are both sympathetic to the protesters’ cause. Since we are from Canada and the United States, we see voting as a basic right. Other than losing face, I can’t see any reason for the Beijing government to oppose Hong Kongers voting for their own leaders. It’s not like the Chief Executive can make Hong Kong independent from China. The most he could do is disagree with official state policy.

I can’t say if Sunday was more crowded than Tuesday. There was a considerable crowd both times. Sunday was the more eventful day with the tear gas and everyone expecting something very big to happen. It was in the air. You could feel the anticipation. I think a lot of people thought the Chinese government was going to Tiananmen Square this thing. No one seemed to expect anything to happen on Tuesday.

Despite the enormous crowd, it was all very peaceful for a protest. There were some minor scuffles with the police over the weekend with a few minor injuries, but everyone – protesters and police – remained remarkably calm. We could walk across the street and feel safe the entire time we were there. It took a lot longer than usual to move around. This is Hong Kong, so it always takes too long to get anywhere with all the crowds, but this street was wall to wall people. It was even worse than the MTR on Saturday night.

I would be hesitant about walking through a protest of this size in other parts of the world. In the United States, you have to think about getting shot. In Egypt, you have gang rape. Protesters in too much of the world have to worry about pepper spray. The big concern in Hong Kong was whether or not the police would bring out a water cannon. I’m sure that’s not so fun when you’re near the front of the crowd and take the full force of the high pressure stream, but everyone else just gets a little wet. Considering the options, I’d vote for the water cannon. A spray of water in Hong Kong in September is not the worst thing in the world.

By the time we left, it was still going on. No one seems to know when or how it will all end. Unlike most protests in Hong Kong, this one does not want to simply evaporate.

Some of the experts and people who talk too much on TV are worried that China will bring in the military and end it Chinese style. That would be a mistake. Hong Kong might not be as important to China economically as it was 10 years ago, but it is still very important. Hong Kong is important to financial markets all over the world. The communist leaders in China are some of the most capitalist people in the world. They are very aware of money and what it can do for them. It seems unlikely that they will want to throw so much of it away just to save face. Losing face is a big deal in China, but they always seem to find a way to rationalize it when it happens and make up excuses that explain why they did not, in fact, lose face. Saving face is important in China, but saving money is even more important.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

One Country

Earlier this year, the Chinese government decided that from now on, candidates for Hong Kong’s Chief Executive would have to be pre-approved in Beijing. This outraged more than a few people in Hong Kong, even though the Chief Executive has never been elected by the people. He is elected by a committee of people who are appointed and elected by other committees, almost like the American Electoral College.

A lot of people have been trying to get democratic elections in Hong Kong for some time now, and this new policy only makes that pretty much impossible. Previous Chief Executives could have theoretically been in favor of democracy and tried to pull Hong Kong away from China. Now that Beijing has to approve all candidates, that is far less likely to ever happen.

People are supposedly going to be able to vote directly for candidates in 2017, but all of those candidates have to be selected by Beijing. So China is giving Hong Kong the right to vote, but not the right to vote for whoever they want.

The protests started pretty much right away, but they were small in the beginning. Chinese people are used to being told what to do by their government and it takes a while for any indignation to set in. But Hong Kong has freedom unlike any other Chinese city, and the people of Hong Kong are very sensitive when it comes to China trying to take any of that freedom away.

After about a week of student protests, it all came together on Friday. Student groups and other protesters set up camp outside the Central Government office on Connaught Road and vowed to stay there until their demands were met. Barricades and temporary fences were set up to keep the protesters from interfering with business as usual. That did not last long. When more people showed up on Saturday, Hong Kong police came out in full force with riot gear and rubber bullets.

This only enraged the protesters more, and probably made more moderate Hong Kongers sympathetic to the protests. Someone is always protesting something in Hong Kong, but riot police on the streets are a very rare sight.

By Sunday, there were far more people. I don’t know how many people filled the streets, and I’m sure each side will claim a different number. The protesting groups will aim too high while the government aims too low. But there were a lot of people on the streets outside those government offices and the thought of them shutting down the city on Monday led the police to action.

No one expected the tear gas. This is Hong Kong, after all, not Missouri. That only outraged people even more. Hong Kong police generally keep their distance when people protest. This new active role has a lot of people wondering if this is the shape of things to come.

I had to work Saturday night and Sunday during the day, so I could not go and check it all out until Sunday night. I got there after the tear gas incident, so I never saw any of that. What I saw was a very large crowd of people completely covering the street. Connaught Road is pretty big and there are wide open spaces in front of the government buildings. It was all filled with people.

What struck me was how civilized it all was. If this was any city in the United States, there would be a lot of bodies on the ground right about now. Protesters were chanting, but no one seemed to hold any animosity toward the police. The protests were against the government in Beijing, not the police officers from Hong Kong. Likewise, the police were exceptionally restrained considering how many people were out there. The police were seriously outnumbered by the protesters, yet none of them panicked and started shooting, American style. I don’t think anyone even had any guns without rubber bullets. Hong Kong riot police seem to operate on the belief that people will generally obey the law. This is a highly unusual city.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

San Francisco 1

We stayed at the Argonaut Hotel near Fisherman’s Wharf. Despite being very close to the most touristy part of the city, it was a nice hotel and surprisingly quiet at night. The hotel is across the street from the Maritime Park, so there is less traffic than you’d expect.

Even though most of the area’s attractions – Pier 39, the aquarium, Madame Tussauds – were east of the hotel, I often went west. The park was a nice place to walk around and has a pedestrian pier with great views of Alcatraz and the bay without all the tacky souvenir shops. There is also a very small beach that always seemed to be crowded. Just south of the park is Ghirardelli Square, the one place in San Francisco where every chocolate lover has to go. Right after we left, they had their annual Ghirardelli Square Chocolate Festival. Talk about bad timing.

The Argonaut is a boutique hotel with a nautical theme. The area used to be San Francisco’s main fishing village and the hotel is close to the working part of the wharf, so that makes sense. Some of the rooms have views of the Golden Gate Bridge, but ours faced the ships in the marina. There are a couple of old World War II ships and some even older 19th century ships that you can visit nearby, but we never had enough time.

One of the best things about the hotel was that they had free bicycles for guests. San Francisco probably isn’t the best place in the world for a bike ride, but the Fisherman’s Wharf area is flat and the Golden Gate Bridge is a reasonable – and beautifully scenic – ride away. Between the hotel and the Golden Gate Bridge was the Palace of Fine Arts. It was built for the World’s Fair, but doesn’t seem to have any real purpose today except as a nice place for a picnic.

Even better was the service at the hotel. Living in China, I’ve gotten used to some pretty lousy customer service. This was the first time I went back to the United States since Ryan & I went to Minnesota in 2012. We stayed at his mother’s house that time. So I have not actually stayed in an American hotel in a very long time. I think I was expecting it to be just like a Chinese hotel, for some reason. I was pleasantly surprised. The staff at the Argonaut was genuinely friendly – as opposed to the usual pretending to be friendly – and they not only knew what they were doing, but they actually seemed to want to do their jobs. Chinese hotel managers should take a class or two from this hotel.

My only complaint with the hotel was that we had to leave so soon after we arrived. The main point of the trip was Los Angeles. San Francisco was essentially a long layover. If I ever go back – and I hope I do some day – I’ll definitely try to stay at this hotel.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Los Angeles Audition part 2

Going to Los Angeles was probably the most unusual trip ever. We supposedly went for an audition, but most of the time we looked around and took in the sights. We even went to Disneyland. Before Los Angeles, we stopped in San Francisco for a couple of days. That had absolutely nothing to do with the audition at all. This was more of a vacation with an audition thrown in.

What surprised me was how nice the hotels were. My agent booked us very good rooms in Santa Monica and San Francisco – and San Francisco was not even supposed to be part of the trip. We only added that later, and my agent still paid for it. I have to say, this guy really went above and beyond. When I become a big star and forget all the little people who helped me to the top, I hope someone in my entourage reminds me to send him a fruit basket or something.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Los Angeles Audition part 1

About a month ago, my agent got me an audition at MGM in Los Angeles. Even though I just got back from a big vacation in Tokyo, I’m taking more time off to go to California. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to go at first. If I get the part, that presents a serious problem. I live in Hong Kong, not Los Angeles. Taking a week or two off of work here and there is one thing, but to film in the United States, I’d probably have to take even more time off. Unless it’s a really small part. Then I have to wonder what’s the point in flying to the other side of the world for a one day walk-on part.

I decided to go because it seems like a bad idea to turn this down. It’s a pretty good opportunity. It could lead to bigger and better things. Even if it doesn’t, I’m getting a free trip to Los Angeles. That’s not too shabby.

My agent originally booked a flight for me and the 3 other girls I’m going with from Hong Kong to San Francisco to Los Angeles. I figured as long as we’re landing in San Francisco anyway, why not spend some extra time there. I don’t know the other 3 girls, but it didn’t take much to convince them. Two of them are Canadian, but they don’t need visas to go to Los Angeles. I don’t know if going to San Francisco first would have caused any problems, but if they get the part, they’re going to need work visas anyway.

Our agent already booked the hotel in Los Angeles, but then he had to find one in San Francisco after we changed his plans. He did it all a lot fast than I would have. If it were up to me, I’d probably still be looking at hotels. Hopefully, he didn’t just book the first hotel he saw. He says they’re both very nice hotels, so we’ll see.

Tomorrow I’m leaving for California. Today is the Moon Festival, so I didn’t have to miss it at all. That worked out conveniently. The holiday means nothing to me, but I like a good moon cake.

When I come back I’ll be an internationally famous movie star. Or not.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Moon Cake Day

Monday is the Moon Festival. This is a big party day in Hong Kong. It’s a national holiday and feels almost like Fourth of July in the United States. The origins are different, but it’s a day of eating barbecue and lighting fireworks. People can’t set of fireworks here, they let the government do all the heavy lifting, but everyone can light a red lantern. Those never explode, at least not if you do it right, but they look pretty good floating away into the sky.

Two Moon Festivals ago, Lily, Kevin and I were at the big house at Clear Water Bay. That was a great place to have a party. This year, we’re at our new apartment, which is a million times better than the old apartment, but not quite as good for parties as the big house. We have an enormous balcony, which is a great place to watch fireworks and light red lanterns, but we decided not to have a party.

Lily is working a lot right now and I’m leaving the country on Tuesday. I just unpacked from the Tokyo trip when I had to pack again for another trip. I’ll talk more about that later.

We might go to someone else’s party, but that’s still up in the air right now. All I know is I’m getting some moon cakes one way or another.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Tokyo Trip part 9

Just north of Yoyogi Park is Shinjuku, which is a completely different type of neighborhood. It might as well be a different city. We almost chose a hotel in Shinjuku before we found the Shibuya apartment. Ryan & Kevin liked the red light district in Shinjuku, but Lily & I thought it looked like some kind of cartoon neighborhood. It was more like some weird Disney Toon Town than a sexual haven. It was funny because other parts of Shinjuku were more of a serious business area while a lot of Shibuya was like a cartoon town. I thought they should have put the red light district in Shibuya and our apartment street in Shinjuku.

Shinjuku also has one of the tallest buildings in Tokyo, which is probably a great place to see views of Tokyo. Unfortunately, we went in between storms, so we never saw Mt Fuji. Supposedly, you can see it very well from that building’s observation deck, but only on a good day. We almost went to the Tokyo Skytree, which is the second largest tower in the world, but it was too cloudy to make it worthwhile. We would have had great views of fog.

We went to other areas of Tokyo, of course, but we spent most of our time in Shibuya and Shinjuku.