Hush falls as HK joins in sorrow
Hong Kong Standard
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Hong Kong came to a standstill at 2.28pm yesterday and for three minutes its seven million people remained silent, their silence broken only by the sound of car horns and the moaning of fog horns from ferries and ocean vessels in the harbor.
The silence was Hong Kong's response to Beijing's call for a three-day mourning period for the victims of the Sichuan earthquake. A similar silence was observed in Macau.
Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and his Cabinet, all dressed in black, faced the flags at half staff at SAR government headquarters.
Tsang, a Catholic, made the sign of the cross at the end of the tribute.
Flags on all government buildings and schools and many commercial buildings were at half staff yesterday and will remain so until tomorrow.
Customs and Immigration services such as automatic e-channels at all control points stopped for three minutes.
The only activity was tourists walking to join the queues at the airport immigration counters.
The big TV screen at Times Square attracted more than 800 white-collar workers and tourists despite the rain, with all standing silent and somber. All were touched by what they saw on the screen.
"Life is precious. It is a blessing to be alive," said an elderly man in tears.
A British tourist surnamed Baker praised Beijing's efforts.
Many vehicles responded to the calls to sound their horns. All MTR trains sounded horns for 10 seconds and announcements were made at all stations reminding passengers
to observe the silence.
The fog horns and whistles from ferries and ships echoed on both sides of the harbor.
"My heart aches as if my family members are dying," one passer-by at Tsim Sha Tsui Ferry pier said.
Many schools held assemblies for students.
Many entertainment venues are observing the three-day mourning period - Silver Theater in Kwun Tong has stopped screening until tomorrow; the singing stopped at karaoke chain California Red for three minutes; the Jockey Club canceled the race at Happy Valley tomorrow night.
At Disneyland and Ocean Park, all rides were suspended. Disneyland visitors were invited to join cast members in observing the silence, and the evening fireworks were canceled.
Ngong Ping 360 stopped for three minutes. The Symphony of Lights was also canceled.
All Television Broadcast artists and staff attended a mourning ceremony in Studio One.
Many large corporations in Hong Kong also held their mourning sessions.
Li Ka-shing's flagship companies, Cheung Kong Holdings and Hutchison Whampoa, flew their flags at half staff while some departments gathered employees to mourn in silence.
Chairman Ronald Arculli and chief executive Paul Chow Man-yiu officiated on the trading floor of the stock exchange in the afternoon, with some traders taking off their red-vest uniforms to show their grief.
Hang Seng Bank, Bank of East Asia and Bank of China (Hong Kong) suggested employees mourn at their desks, but counter services were not affected. The Chinese Gold and Silver Exchange Society also observed a minute of silence.
Before the Legislative Council's constitutional affairs panel meeting began in the afternoon, Secretary for Constitutional Affairs Stephen Lam Sui- lung, president Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, lawmakers, staff and visiting students marked the occasion in the car park.
Central Government Liaison Office director Gao Siren led his deputies in bowing in memory of the dead.
The Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has arranged one hall for visitors and diplomats to offer their condolences in a book. Diplomats from Australia, Mexico, Canada and Kuwait have signed in already.
The United States consulate-general along with the embassy in Beijing and all other consulates-general in the mainland flew their flags at half staff.
In Macau the national and regional flags at all government agencies were also flown at half staff, with Chief Executive Edmund Ho Hau-wah and his ministers leading.
In some casinos, including the Galaxy and The Venetian, gambling stopped for three minutes.
Over 10,000 people at Tiananmen Square in Beijing sang the national anthem, shouted encouragement to those in Sichuan and waved national flags.
The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong is hosting a memorial service tomorrow night at Chater Garden, Central.