Skip to main content

Seeing Joshua 探之鋒

“We are here to visit a friend,” I said to the guard at the entrance. 

Tiffany, Joshua Wong Chi-fung’s long-time girlfriend, trailed behind me. It was our first time visiting Joshua at Pik Uk Correctional Institution and neither of us quite knew what to expect.

Joshua Wong, behind bars

“Has your friend been convicted?” asked the guard. We nodded in unison. There are different visiting hours and rules for suspects and convicts. Each month, convicts may receive up to two half-hour visits from friends and family, plus two additional visits from immediate family upon request.

The guard pointed to the left and told us to register at the reception office. “I saw your taxi pass by earlier,” he said while eyeing a pair of camera-wielding paparazzi on the prowl. “Next time you can tell the driver to pull up here to spare you the walk.”

At the reception counter, Officer Wong took our identity cards and checked them against the “List.” Each inmate is allowed to grant visitation rights to no more than 10 friends and family members—anyone not on the List will be turned away. Tiff was confidant that both of our names had been added; she had triple-checked that with Joshua’s attorney ahead of time. 

“Miss, you’re okay. But the second visitor, Mr. Ng, your name doesn’t quite match our record. The inmate submitted a slightly different Chinese surname,” said Officer Wong. I knew about Joshua’s dyslexic tendencies. 

“But don’t worry,” the officer assured, “I can fix that for you if you would just give me a minute.” 

I thanked him and asked if I could bring pen and paper with me. 

“Sorry, but no phone, no notebook, no nothing—you can’t bring anything in other than your ID card. Rules are rules.” 

Pik Up Prison in Sai Kong

Tiff and I exited the reception office and headed straight to the main building, almost sprinting to evade the two relentless paparazzi. Once inside, we deposited our belongings in a locker and walked through an X-ray gantry much like the ones at the airport. Tiff held on to a bag of personal supplies for Joshua. 

Visitors are permitted to bring basic items for inmates, but they must meet stringent prison requirements. Tiff knew the only way to guarantee compliance was to purchase everything—from notebooks to batteries and undergarment—at the general store near Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre, where Joshua and the other two convicted student activists, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang, spent their first night after their sentencing. 

We were told to take a seat and wait for our number to be called. There were a half-dozen other visitors in the waiting room. Tiff and I entertained ourselves by watching the news on the overhead television set. Paul Lam, Chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association, was telling reporters that the jailing of Joshua and other activists was not politically motivated. Tiff rolled her eyes and focused on something else. 

15 minutes later, an officer called out several numbers including ours. Everyone in the waiting room got up and walked in a single file towards the narrow visiting area. Tiff and I located Joshua’s booth and there he was: the same scrawny boy with a different haircut. He flashed a Cheshire cat smile, clearly elated to see his girlfriend. In an instant, I went from second visitor to third wheel. 

Tiff picked up the handset and started to chirp. I saw Joshua’s lips move but couldn’t hear him. The thick glass walls separating prisoners from visitors were certifiably soundproof. What did come through, however, was his good spirits—none of the prison weariness had rubbed off on him. 

Tiff spoke in rapid-fire spurts, updating Joshua on personal and political matters with determined efficiency. She also referred to the notes scribbled on her palms. Joshua alternately nodded and spoke, all the while smiling like a kid seeing snowflakes for the first time. If it weren’t for his brown prison clothes, I wouldn’t have guessed that he was serving a six-month sentence.

While they talked, a smiling prison guard saw me standing behind Tiff and walked over to offer me a chair. I declined but thanked him profusely.

As seen on TV

“Your turn,” Tiff said, handing me the handset after some 10 minutes. Mindful that every second I took would be one fewer for the two of them, I rushed through what I needed to discuss with Joshua. I also told him about Typhoon Hato and Chris Patten’s article in The Financial Times condemning his imprisonment. He nodded—I suspected he already knew all that from watching the news on TV.

I was most concerned about Joshua’s living conditions and bombarded him with questions. He told me the juvenile ward was surprisingly airy, and that most nights he could barely feel the summer heat. “I even need a thin blanket at night,” he said. “It’s much better than sleeping on concrete during Occupy.”

The food is nothing to write home about: plain rice, chicken wings and steamed vegetables. He shares a tiny cell with another minor inmate, who was convicted for illegal drug use—as most juvenile delinquents at Pik Uk were. 

I asked him about any abuse, and he assured me there had been none whatsoever. He had just completed a seven-day “orientation” and a new routine would begin next week. He was expected to begin language and maths classes with other young inmates. He worried somewhat about the physical training—jogging and marching—as he isn’t the athletic type and doesn’t answer well to strict commands.

I asked him what the hardest part was about being behind bars. “Passing the time,” he sighed. “Time crawls in here. Every day I rack my brain to keep myself occupied.” He had nearly finished the six books that visitors are allowed to bring him each month. 

Joshua's cell, drawn by him

I wanted to know if he had a message for his supporters. 

“Please tell everyone I’m doing fine and not to worry about me. Instead, ask them to help Demosisto in any way they can,” he said, referring to his pro-democracy political party.

“The majority of our core members are, or will soon be, in jail,” he added, shaking his head in frustration. “We need to keep our party running and get ready for the upcoming by-election to fill Nathan’s Legco seat.” Weeks before Demosisto’s chairman Nathan Law Kwun-chung went to prison, he was striped of his lawmaker title for straying from the prescribed oath when he was sworn in.

“Among all the opposition parties in Hong Kong, we have come under the heaviest attack. But we won’t give up.” There was indignation and defiance in his voice.

The rest of the 30 minutes went by quickly. We knew time was up when several uniformed officers suddenly appeared to escort the inmates back to their cells. Joshua got up and waved goodbye, training his eyes on Tiff and still smiling from ear to ear. It was sweet and heartbreaking at once. 

On our way back to town, I replayed the visit in my head. All things considered, Joshua has adjusted well to the new environment. As much as he struggles to pass the time, his timetable will fill up once his habit of journal keeping and letter writing takes hold and he gets his radio and newspaper subscription. 

What’s more, based on my limited interaction with the staff, everyone in the juvenile ward seemed to be courteous and helpful. Nothing suggested Joshua was being treated with anything but respect and professionalism. That’s a marked departure from the many horror stories about youth incarceration I’ve read in the local press. Perhaps his fame had afforded him some protection.

All that may change after Joshua turns 21 in October, when he will be transferred to the adult ward. There, he will be required to work every day—be it carpentry, laundry, kitchen duties or repairs and maintenance—to earn his keep. And he will have to adapt to a new routine all over again.


A shorter version of this article appeared on under the title "Behind bars, Hong Kong political activist Joshua Wong remains in good spirits." 

As posted on

Popular Posts

Who is Agnes Chow? 誰是周庭?

It was roughly six months ago when Nathan Law, chairman of Demosisto, lost his job. He and five other pro-democracy lawmakers had strayed from the prescribed oath during the swearing-in ceremony, and were ousted from the Legislative Council (LegCo) after Beijing issued a reinterpretation of the oath-taking provisions in the Basic Law. Many saw the unseating of six democratically-elected lawmakers, dubbed “Oathgate” in the local press, as a calculated political move to purge the legislature of the opposition.

The time to fill some of these vacated seats is finally upon us. Four by-elections will be held simultaneously on March 11, in Hong Kong Island, Kowloon West, New Territories East and for the Architectural, Surveying, Planning and Landscape sector.
Barely old enough to run, 21-year-old Agnes Chow (周庭) of pro-democracy party Demosisto has thrown her hat into the ring hoping to win back Law’s Hong Kong Island seat. Her decision to run has not come without a price: she has deferred …

“As I See It” has moved to

As I See It has a new look and a new home!!
Please bookmark for the latest articles and a better reading experience.

Legacy articles will continue to be available on this page. Thank you for your support since 2008.

Off to a Rocky Start 香港中箭

Hang Seng Bank has frozen its deposit account. Cybersquatters have occupied its domain name. Its hastily organized press conference, held last Sunday night in a subterranean auditorium, had all the trappings of a student council meeting: it started several hours late and the live streaming on YouTube was interrupted so many times that the number of viewers hovered around 300 and at times dropped below 20.
If that is any indication of the challenges facing Joshua Wong’s new political party, then it is in for a bumpy road ahead.

Demosistō, the grown-up version of Scholarism – which Wong founded four years ago to oppose C.Y. Leung’s patriotic education plan – is meant to help the 19-year-old and his posse shed their school boy image to better position themselves for a serious Legislative Council bid in September.
Wong is hoping that the new party with an intelligent-sounding name will wipe the slate clean and allow pro-democracy activists of all ages to join without looking like they ar…

The Moonscape of Sexual Equality - Part 1 走在崎嶇的路上-上卷

There are things about America that boggle the mind: gun violence, healthcare costs and Donald Trump. But once in a while – not often, just once in a while – the country gets something so right and displays such courage that it reminds the rest of the world what an amazing place it truly is. What happened three days ago at the nation’s capital is shaping up to be one of those instances.

Last Friday, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a 5-to-4 decision on same-sex marriage, the most important gay rights ruling in the country’s history. In Obergefell v. Hodges, Justice Kennedy wrote, “It would misunderstand [gay and lesbian couples] to say that they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find fulfillment for themselves… They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.” 
With those simple words, Justice Kennedy made marriage equality a constitutionally prote…

Join the Club 入會須知

You have reached a midlife plateau. You have everything you thought you wanted: a happy family, a well-located apartment and a cushy management job. The only thing missing from that bourgeois utopia is a bit of oomph, a bit of recognition that you have played by the rules and done all right. A Porsche 911? Too clichéd. A rose gold Rolex? Got that last Christmas. An extramarital affair that ends in a costly divorce or a boiled bunny? No thanks. How about a membership at one of the city’s country clubs where accomplished individuals like yourself hang out in plaid pants and flat caps? Sounds great, but you’d better get in line.

Clubs are an age-old concept that traces back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans. The introduction of coffee beans to England in the mid-17th Century spurred the proliferation of coffeehouses for like-minded gentlemen to trade gossip about the monarchy over a hot beverage. In the centuries since, these semi-secret hideouts evolved into main street establishments t…

Generation Shift 換代

For months, fierce political campaigns, vicious personal attacks and sporadic allegations of electoral irregularities had filled the airwaves and fueled social media discourse in Hong Kong. One candidate was forced to drop out and flee to the U.K. after receiving threats of physical harm.
That is because the stakes had never been higher.

On Sunday, in the first election in Hong Kong since the Umbrella Movement was spawned in 2014, more than two million citizens – nearly 60% of all registered voters – went to the polls. 40 seats on the Legislative Council, or Legco, the region’s parliament, were up for grabs by candidates representing a wide spectrum of political parties. They ranged from diehard Beijing loyalists to pro-democracy veterans and younger, more radical newcomers calling for autonomy and even independence from China... __________________________
Read the rest of this article in The Guardian under the title: Hong Kong pro-democracy activists grab foothold on power in assembl…

The Art of Profanity 粗口藝術

We react to life’s little vicissitudes – nicking the car door, dropping the phone on a concrete pavement or losing hours of work to a computer crash – with a curse word or two. If some brute walks by and knocks the coffee right out of our hand, the appropriate response is: What the fuck? 

Swearing is one of those things that we do everyday and nearly everywhere. But like breaking wind and picking our nose, profanity is only bad when someone else does it. Most of us are too squeamish or sanctimonious to own up to it. Rarely in the human experience has something so universally shared been so vehemently condemned and denied.

Profanity exists in every culture. Curse words are the first vocabulary we learn in a foreign language and the only one we remember years later. The linguistic phenomenon can be traced as far back as Ancient Egypt and Babylon. Literary giants like William Shakespeare, James Joyce and George Bernard Shaw were known to use obscenity inventively in their works, as did …

From Street to Chic, Hong Kong’s many-colored food scene 由大排檔到高檔: 香港的多元飲食文化

Known around the world as a foodie’s paradise, Hong Kong has a bounty of restaurants to satisfy every craving. Whether you are hungry for a lobster roll, Tandoori chicken or Spanish tapas, the Fragrant Harbour is certain to spoil you for choice.
The numbers are staggering. Openrice, the city’s leading food directory, has more than 25,000 listings—that’s one eatery for every 300 people and one of the highest restaurants-per-capita in the world. The number of Michelin-starred restaurants reached a high of 64 in 2015, a remarkable feat for a city that’s only a little over half the size of London. Amber and Otto e Mezzo occupied two of the five top spots in Asia according to The World’s Best Restaurants, serving up exquisite French and Italian fares that tantalise even the pickiest of taste buds.

While world class international cuisine is there for the taking, it is the local food scene in Hong Kong that steals the hearts of residents and visitors alike. Whatever your budget and palate…

Major Yuen to Ground Control 自「袁」其說

Seven years after Donald Tsang’s administration rammed a funding bill through the legislature to bankroll the cross-border rail link, the SAR government this week unveiled a long-awaited proposal to resolve the border control conundrum. At issue is whether carving out certain areas at the West Kowloon terminal station where mainland officers are given broad criminal and civil jurisdiction will run afoul of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution. 
It is an 84-billion-dollar question that can make or break the controversial infrastructure project. If the government’s proposal falls through, then every time-saving and convenience advantage to justify the rail link’s dizzying price tag is put at risk. But if the plan prevails, it may create a foreign concession of sorts in Hong Kong and open a Pandora’s box of extraterritorial law enforcement.

The central question is a straightforward one: is the joint checkpoint proposal constitutional?
The answer can be found in Chapter II of the…