Mass protests amid the smell of onions and garlic

By Roger Watson | 06/18/2019

Hong Kong not business as usual these days.

Roger Watson's Connecting Continents blog

Roger Watson has visited Hong Kong more than a hundred times, and he wasn’t sure if he would have anything new to report on this trip. He was wrong.

Roger WatsonHONG KONG SAR, China—I have been to Hong Kong often and, usually, don’t have much to report, so was concerned the same would be true on this visit. How wrong I was! This time, from my hotel room I could see throngs of protesters surrounding the Legislative Council building—LegCo­—as Hong Kong residents demonstrated against the proposed extradition bill. (Organizers say nearly 2 million have taken part in the mass protests, which I’m sure you’ve noticed on the news.) As I emerged from the MTR (Hong Kong’s underground train system), I detected a pungent odor—onions and garlic—that took me back more than 25 years. Initially, I wasn’t sure if I was smelling what I thought I was, but CNN reports later confirmed it was tear gas.

When I did my military service, we used tear gas to test the integrity of our respirators and perform self-protection drills against nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. Rubber bullets have also been fired to disperse the Hong Kong demonstrators. Rubber bullets sound innocuous, but these hard, plastic cylinders—also called baton rounds—can inflict serious damage. So, history has been made in Hong Kong.

In all the pro-democracy protests that have taken place here over the years, including the “Umbrella Movement,” such force had never been used against its citizens—until now. With its copious numbers of armed police, row upon row of police vans, and roadblocks shutting down the island’s main artery, Hong Kong—for one day—had the feel of a police state. Things calmed down for a time, but before I left for home, protesters were again gathering in the streets. I wasn’t in personal danger but was glad to get out. 

Will I be back?
It’s the first time in more than 15 years that I have departed Hong Kong without knowing when I would be back—without knowing if I would be back. In one way or another, I have been associated with all of the nursing schools in Hong Kong. I am still an honorary professor at the University of Hong Kong, but, so far, the position has not involved any specific duties. I doubt very much that this is goodbye to Hong Kong for me. I’ve been here in various capacities more than a hundred times, and I have no complaints.

This visit was my swan song at the University Grants Council (UGC), where I’ve served on the Research Grants Council (RGC). Three terms of two years each is the maximum allowed. The RGC has disbursed around 50 million Hong Kong dollars (approximately US $8 million) to successful General Research Fund applicants. We also disburse funds to the Early Career Scheme and the Prestigious Fellowships Scheme.

In addition to our funding responsibilities, we also undertake a visit on behalf of the RGC to local UGC-funded universities. This year, it was Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU), where we learned about their ambitious plans to increase research activity. We also visited various schools at the university related to our personal areas of interest.

Chinese medicine
I spent most of my time in the School of Chinese Medicine, where they are making genuine efforts to identify active ingredients, test them, and produce standardized and reliable medicines. They are also looking for novel compounds and uses for existing Chinese medicines. I was tempted to ask, if they could identify and properly test compounds, would these drugs remain Chinese medicines—if they worked—or would they be moved into what they refer to as Western medicine. Currently, HKBU doesn’t have a nursing school, but they plan to develop one. I wonder if they want a visiting professor.

Apart from work, I met with many longtime friends in Hong Kong and on the RGC panel. The saddest part of these visits was bidding farewell to fellow panelists, who are some of the most prestigious people in their fields, and to Cindy Fan, PhD, vice provost for international studies and global engagement at UCLA, who has chaired my subpanel with good humor and efficiency.

Despite coming to Hong Kong for so many years, I am always pleased to find something new to visit. A fellow panelist enthused about the Nan Lian Garden, which is maintained by a Buddhist nunnery. It really is beautiful with bougainvillea in bloom, fabulous water features, and typical Chinese buildings. The nunnery is out of bounds, and the main hall was closed for refurbishment, but the atmosphere was conducive to writing haiku, so I wrote a sequence based on some of the things I saw there. 

Creating and editing Wikipedia pages
In a previous entry, I mentioned my interest in creating Wikipedia pages for nurse leaders and identified a page I had made for Hugh McKenna. I have also generated pages for Parveen Azam Ali, Brendan George McCormack, Majda Pajnkihar, Loredana Sasso, and David Robert Thompson. Some of these require improvement, and anyone is welcome to edit or add material. The compete list of my Wikipedia activities can be found here, including many other pages I edit that also feature nurse leaders.

Next, in rapid succession, come two visits to Genoa, Italy. The first is a short visit to speak at a conference and the second to perform my role as visiting professor at the University of Genoa. The long-suffering and often neglected Mrs. Watson will accompany me on the first trip and says she is looking forward to it. I thought she was coming because she wanted to be with me but it’s because of the terrible weather we are experiencing in the UK. I know my place. RNL

Roger Watson, PhD, RN, FRCP Edin, FRCN, FAAN, professor of nursing at the University of Hull in the United Kingdom and a frequent visitor to Australia and China, where he has visiting positions, is editor-in-chief of JAN and editor of Nursing Open. Click here to access Blogger-resident entries posted before 2017 in Watson’s former blog “Hanging smart.”

You can also listen to this post as a podcast.

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