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VPN: Chinese people's window to the outside world

Turning on the laptop, connecting to Shadowsocks, and then accessing Google. These are the necessary steps for some students in mainland China to complete their homework every day. During the outbreak of the coronavirus, many mainland students enrolled in colleges in Hong Kong have to stay in the mainland. In order to take online classes and complete course assignments, they need to scale the so-called Great Firewall, a virtual online barrier that keeps people in China out of specific foreign websites. Using Virtual Private Networks such as Shadowsocks, is a way to gain access to the uncensored Internet. Since the early 2000s, China has gradually blocked a large number of overseas websites including Google and Facebook. In recent years, the government has turned up the heat in its  control of the network so that VPNs have become more and more vital for people to cross the Great Firewall. Here is a guide to what you may want to know about VPN in China. What is VPN? VPN routes your device's internet connection through a private server rather than your Internet Service Provider. That way, it masks the identity of your device because all of your data will appear to come from a private server and enables you to operate data that can only be operated through the private network. By using VPN, software running on a computer or a mobile phone can gain some rights that only a private network has, such as security and some specific function such as internal resources of an organization. Take The Young Reporter for example, as a student publication the portal of TYR can only be logged in and managed when the user's device is connected to the university's network. In order to operate the portal remotely, editors need to use a VPN so …

Health & Environment

Calls for improvement in online learning

Ignoring the piles of unfinished assignments on his desk, Michael Shum, a form two secondary school student, sits in front of his computer to play video games all day. Since the government announced the suspension of  classes, spending hours in front of the computer has become his new normal. Amid the coronavirus outbreak, schools in many countries, including Italy, India and the United Kingdom, have closed down in order to slow down the pandemic transmission. Ahead of the other countries, two months before it turned into a pandemic, schools in Hong Kong already stopped  face-to-face classes and shut down the schools indefinitely. Most teachers have since transferred to remote teaching. Students can turn their homes into classrooms with one click on their computers and get on to their schools' e-platform. Zoom is a popular web-based video conferencing tool for many universities worldwide, whereas eClass is often used in secondary schools to provide digital learning resources. Since the SARS epidemic in Hong Kong in 2003, the government here has been using the slogan "Suspending classes without suspending learning". The aim is to encourage schools to adopt eLearning in classrooms and offer digital content for students' self-learning outside the classroom. Apart from enabling eLearning during emergencies, the government also wants to build up an interactive way for students to participate in class actively. "E-Learning is a leading trend today and beyond, therefore the Hong Kong government has been promoting  eLearning for almost 10 years," says Dr. Li Ka Kui, the chairman of the Hong Kong Publishing Federation.   But Michael Shum has his reservations on eLearning. He thinks the only benefit of eLearning is that he can stay at home all day, without rushing to school. "I simply don't like eLearning especially when we are forced to suspend all our classes,"Michael says with …

Business

Fitness video games under home quarantine

Staying fit while under home quarantine because of the pandemic is a challenge for some, and not doing exercise may only worsen the cabin fever. So turning to Ring Fit Adventure maybe one solution. The fitness video game from Nintendo, a Japanese games and electronic company, topped the sale charts in Japan, America and Europe, with over 170 million copies sold in late February, after being released for five months. Ring Fit Adventure was launched at a price of 7980 yen, which is approximately 577 Hong Kong dollars. However, as demand soared since the coronavirus outbreak, the price jumped more than threefolds to around 2100 Hong Kong dollars at its highest point in February. The price of the game has risen rapidly since mid January in mainland China as well. According to Daniel Ahmad, a senior analyst at a gaming market research company, Chinese sellers are buying overseas game sets at the list price and reselling them for around 2200 Hong Kong dollars. He thinks that the huge price difference is due to global shortage. In Weibo, there are 10.2 million discussions under the topic of Ring Fit Adventures. Short videos and thoughts regarding the game are shared. Nintendo even had to apologize for the shortage, as shut down of factories in China affected the supply. On Nintendo's official website, the game experience is described as "Explore fantasy adventure worlds to defeat monsters using real-life exercises". In the adventure mode in Ring Fit, users are required to mirror the poses shown to defeat monsters. The poses are sorted into four main categories, each meant to train a specific body part. For example, under the "leg" category, users need to do squats, mountain climber and side steps. Claudia Cheng, 24, bought the game after the start of the epidemic. "As I …

Society

Confusing high-tech online classes during campus closure

Time has frozen in the hallways of the Department of Computer Science at Hong Kong Baptist University. All the lights on, but the empty rooms are almost too eerie to step into. A piece of paper that reads "Online Teaching  In Progress" is stuck to a door. Behind it, Lan Liang is sitting in front of his computer, facing a screen filled with the names of his students framed in a grid.  Due to the overwhelming spread of COVID-19, universities in Hong Kong and mainland China have suspended on-campus teaching activities since January. Resumption of classes before the Summer now seems unlikely. Teaching activities have moved online. But the high-tech teaching tools have caused some confusion. Some teachers are uncertain whether students understand the content while others aren't sure how to use the online teaching software. Dr Lan, a lecturer from the Department of Computer Science at HKBU is among them. He started teaching at the university two years ago but has experienced the suspension of on-campus classes twice so far.  Dr Lan started teaching using the video conferencing application, ZOOM, this semester. Teachers share their computer screens in real time with students.   Dr Lan found it difficult to teach that way. "At the beginning, I actually felt very weird just talking to a computer for two hours," said Dr Lan,  "I did not know whether the students really understood the concept or not. I just kept talking and talking." He asked his students to turn off their cameras because he was afraid that the network could not bear the traffic if everyone was on video. Dr Lan is not alone. Jean Lai is another lecturer at the Department of Computer Science. "I cannot see the students. I don't know if they are listening, or can understand what I am …

Society

Caught in the middle: how Hong Kong protests affect the mental state of mainland students in the city

Amy, not her real name, lives in fear of retribution by the Chinese government months after the anti-extradition bill protest in Hong Kong. She has been depressed since witnessing the siege of Hong Kong Polytechnic University back in November. "That day, I had a mental breakdown. I couldn't stop crying," Amy recalls from behind her mask, worn by most of those who took part in the protest. "Everything felt meaningless," she added. Last November, on-campus classes at universities around Hong Kong were suspended due to safety concerns about the continuous protests. Non-local students, including those from mainland China and abroad were advised by the universities to leave Hong Kong. The sudden change left many mainland students unprepared. During political tension between Hong Kong and mainland China, some mainland students were caught up in a quandary about their identities, according to a survey conducted by The Young Reporter. Q1: How long have you been living in Hong Kong? Q2: Why did you leave Hong Kong? Amy, the girl dressed in black, said that during the "most scary time," she was drowned in anger and sorrow, but she hardly trusted anyone when she wanted to share her experience. "Weibo (Chinese social media) is also one of my way out. If you can talk about it, you might feel better," she said. However, she told The Young Reporter that her Weibo account has already been blocked since she talked too much about politics. Those who didn't engage in the social movement as much as Amy also experienced mental instability. Sophia Sheng, 20, a mainland student studying at Hong Kong Baptist University, said that she has been affected by the "negative emotions" from the protests. "No one knew when it would end. The fear of the unknown caused anxiety," said Ms Sheng. Some of …

Health & Environment

Hong Kong's underprivileged face unequal access to healthcare

Fong Cheng-Mui, 75, relies on the government's old age subsidy of approximately $3,000 per month. She prefers to treat herself at home rather than go to a public clinic when she falls ill.  "I once went to Queen Elizabeth Hospital with severe abdominal pain and waited for over five hours, but never got treated. I went home and took care of myself," said Ms Fong. Ms Cheng is one of thousands of people in Hong Kong, who have not been getting adequate healthcare. A study by the Chinese University of Hong Kong in late 2018 found that 8.4% of respondents did not seek medical care due to financial problems. Others avoid public clinics because of overcrowding, according to a local non-governmental human-rights advocacy group.  While many in Hong Kong can afford private healthcare with minimal fuss, the city's lower and middle income residents face long queues and hours of waiting at public hospitals. Consultation for primary outpatient care costs $50 per visit with speciality services at $135 for the first visit and $80 for a follow-up, according to the Hospital Authority's website.  "When I found out that I had a lump in my stomach, I rushed to a private hospital because I could not wait at a public hospital because I was afraid that it might be cancer. But the charge was so high that I had no choice but to come back to a public hospital," said Fung Ho-Chu, 71. Last year, for non-urgent cases, waiting times to see a doctor at a public hospital ranged from a minimum of six months to nearly three years, according to the Hospital Authority's website. For semi-urgent cases, it could take up four to seven weeks.  Last year, Ms Fung had to wait five months to see a specialist in a public …

Society

 How Overseas Chinese students react to the coronavirus outbreak?

Two weeks before starting university in February, Nathan Ng was walking to church on an overcast Sunday morning. On his way, he saw a middle-aged Caucasian woman, with her young daughter, staring at him. Both then pointed and muttered foul language directed at him and two other Chinese people on the same street.  He chose to ignore them and continued walking to church.  Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak in China, there has been an increasing number of reports of discrimination against Chinese people around the world. In one case, Jonathan Mok, a 23-year-old Singaporean of Chinese descent studying in London, suffered facial injuries in a "racially aggravated assault."  "I was scared whenever I stepped out of my house. I wasn't sure how people would react and behave towards me because of everything that has happened in China and the rest of the world," says Mr Ng.  Nathan Ng, a Chinese student at the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, has gone through issues of anxiety during the coronavirus pandemic.  According to the Australian Government's Department of Health, the nation has over 2,300 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and eight reported deaths, as of March 25.   During the same journey to church, while Mr Ng was crossing the road, he saw an elderly man in his early 60s coughing. He initially thought the cough was exaggerated due to his presence. However, as he looks back at the incident today, he thinks it was just a regular cough and regrets the anger he felt at the time.  Following the incident, however, he nearly began to tear up.   "I don't think much about what happened now, but it definitely had an effect on me at the time," said Mr Ng.  Since heading back to university in early March, things have improved …

Society

An invisible wound: mental illness is troubling Hong Kong after anti-extradition bill protest

A recent study found that one-fifth of Hong Kong adults have suffered from mental illness after experiencing the half-year long anti-extradition bill protest, but few are seeking psychological counselling. The study, published by the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Hong Kong in The Lancet on 9 January, looked at mental health in Hong Kong between 2009 and 2019. Researchers randomly sampled Hong Kong people aged 18 and above. They found that roughly one in five Hong Kong adults reported symptoms of probable depression or suspected post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) since the anti-extradition bill protest started in June 2019.  Among 18,000 respondents, those who suffered from probable depression went up five times from approximately 2% to 11.2% by the end of 2019. Only 5% of the respondents said they suffered from PTSD in March 2015, but that rose to more than 30% by the end of November 2019.  "The increase corresponds to an additional 1.9 million adults with PTSD symptoms," the research indicated. "This is definitely abnormal," said Gabriel Leung, Dean of the School of Medicine at the University of Hong Kong who took part in the research.  Hong Kong was embroiled in the protest movement for seven months, triggered by the now withdrawn extradition bill. The protest has since turned into a mass anti-government movement, with protesters insisting on the four remaining demands – independent commission of inquiry into the police force, retraction of the classification of "rioters", amnesty for arrested protesters and dual universal suffrage. "Seeing people suppressed by the government while there's nothing much I can do made me angry and upset," said Felicity, a university student who did not want to reveal her full name for fear of cyberbullying. She reported feeling mentally distressed during the protest.  As a student from mainland China, Felicity found …

Health & Environment

Chinese health care system facing extreme shortage of medical supplies during coronavirus outbreak

In a Wuhan gymnasium that has been transformed into a makeshift cabin hospital, nurse Ms. Shen, who does not want to give her full name, said her team of 10 nurses treats more than 100 coronavirus patients every day. Patients scramble for free supplies, sometimes tearing off health workers masks, she said. "It's impossible to manage the distribution by myself," said Ms. Shen. "The only thing I can do is stand by."  She said she often cries, and at the end of the day, her protective suit is soaked with sweat. For the last day of the Chinese New Year, she did not return to her dormitory until 11pm. "It was almost 12 after I disinfected my clothes and I hadn't had my dinner," said Ms. Shen. "It feels bad being away from my family and seeing others celebrating the Lantern Festival on social media." Ms. Shen is one of thousands of overworked health workers in the heart of China's coronavirus outbreak that has seen more than 68,000 infected and 1,665 dead as of mid-February. Medical workers from 16 provinces, including Ms Shen's group from Kunming,  have travelled to Hubei to help sick patients. But as a shortage of supplies as well as staff continues, hospitals are forced to appeal to the public for help. In Xiaogan, 60 kilometers away from Wuhan, Cinderella Yang said her aunt, who works as a nurse at Yingcheng People's Hospital, had no break during the Chinese New Year. "We didn't learn the lessons from SARS 17 years ago," said Ms. Yang. "Emergency measures aren't efficient at all." Zed Guo, whose father is a doctor in Zhongshan, where 65 cases have been diagnosed, is not allowed to leave the city. His father told him that hospitals are in short supply, especially masks and antiviral drugs. …

Health & Environment

Free period products in the UK. How about Hong Kong?

LONDON - A woman's period happens every 28 days, each time lasting about five days. According to the National Health Service in the UK, most girls would have their first period at around age 12 and most women reach menopause at 51. Throughout her life, a woman has her period for around 2535 days, that is, roughly seven years. Starting from 20 January, free sanitary products will be made available to all schools and colleges in England to combat period poverty.  The Department of Education in England launched an £11.4 million ($114 million) scheme to support campaigns to break the stigma around periods and raise awareness of menstruation. It enables more than 20,000 schools and colleges to order a range of period products for their pupils. Period poverty, the social issue concerning limited access to safe sanitary products and comprehensive menstrual hygiene education, affects more than 800 million girls and women around the world, according to a United Nations study. "It is a step in the right direction," said Priscilla Oshuremi, founder of ConveHERsation, a women empowerment platform, "if that means one girl can come to school (to) participate instead of having to make an excuse, that's great." Plan International, a development and humanitarian organisation, released its research in 2017, saying that one in ten girls across the UK has been unable to afford sanitary wear and that 49% of girls have missed an entire day of school because of their period. Unlike the UK, where the tax on tampons was once as high as 17%, Hong Kong as a free port has no customs tariffs on imported menstruation products. Therefore, sanitary towels and tampons tend to be affordable and accessible to most. A box of 12 sanitary pads costs around $23 (£2.3) in London, while in Hong Kong it …