International media have prided the ongoing street protests in Hong Kong as the most orderly and unconventionally peaceful. It’s all true—protestors (mainly university and high school students) set up supplies stations in streets with bottled water, biscuits, surgical masks, fruits, towels (in case of another teargas assault), raincoats, and, of course, the iconic umbrellas. Though we are all gear-conscious, we technically can arrive at one of the protest venues empty-handed and find what we need to survive the night.
On Oct 3, protestors stationed in Mongkok and Causeway Bay were raided by a big number of Pro-government thugs and triads. They all arrived with a claim that they lived in the neighborhoods and decided to step forward to take back the streets to restore order. Their voice was full of agenda and rage. They said that the Occupy movement had already caused serious obstruction to their everyday life and businesses. Then, they headed to the supplies stations and dismantled the tents donated and set up by Hong Kong citizens and the students who had boycotted classes and sacrificed so many hours of sleep.
The police have learned the lesson. After an attempt to clear the big protesting crowds, they were condemned by the mass public for using excessive violence (including tear smoke and pepper sprays) against unarmed protestors. Now, they choose to mediate by separating crowds of different opinions and calming disputes. The sudden arrival of thousands of Pro-government thugs, I bet, has also caught them by surprise.
Soon after the action of the thugs, people started posting messages like “Police, Shame on You!” for the second time in a week on Facebook. Let’s think. Two important occupied areas in Hong Kong were attacked almost at the same time. The thugs arrived in big numbers (even outnumbering the police). Some wore surgical masks to hide their faces. Their actions appeared pre-planned and their arrival organized. Even after the raids, after most of the students involved in occupying the area left, they still stayed behind. Who are these people? What do they really want? And more importantly, who is the one behind them?
Since the Umbrella Revolution began, social media, especially YouTube, has played a crucial role in dispatching ‘pedestrian information’ that is not accessible in the few free TV channels in the city (which are also, sadly, pro-government). Protestors and witnesses circulate video clips and photos on Facebook a few hours after the raids. The contents are shocking: Go to Occupied Mongkok, Causeway Bay, $100. Go to Occupied Admiralty, $300. Bonus if you: tear down supplies stations ($500), successfully create chaos ($1000).
This is not news to most Hong Kong people, because a few pro-government political parties have been caught on tape bribing the grassroots and elderly (sometimes even Chinese tourists in transit) to join protests on occasions such as the celebration of the annual Hong Kong Handover (July 1) and National Day (Oct 1). All these parties care about is if the crowd is big enough as ‘backup’ on TV, so as to create an illusion that the HKSAR government and its policies are well-embraced.
In another video, a pedestrian has successfully videotaped a man talking on his phone and saying “$300 for removing the protestors’ barricades.” If greed should be condemned, what about declining moral standard? Numerous female protestors, mostly students, reported that they have been sexually harassed, both physically and verbally, in the mayhem. Evidence of such is still abundant on YouTube. The police are blamed for siding with the pro-government thugs and triads.
One has to remember that what is now called the Umbrella Revolution is not quite part of the original plan of Occupy Central, though both movements share the common ideal to fight for true universal suffrage. Many Hong Kong people (myself included) now are willing to sacrifice a few hours each day and support students in the streets, mostly because we are against the excessive violence used by the police and, from now on, their role as a bystander in subsequent riots.
It is also hard to imagine that these riots were initiated by Hong Kongers against Hong Kongers. They have always been here, among us. But today, they surface and most of us need time to re-negotiate what true Hong Kong citizenship entails.
As an extension of “Before enduring it we will not endure it” that first appeared in Hippo Reads and New American Media, the poem below is a cento inspired by Facebook comments on feeds published by The New Yorker, BBC and CNN, and other online writings about the Hong Kong protests (which, to me, is a collective experience), with the aim to capture a poetic space that works against the absurd critiques by government officials and pro-Beijing political parties in the fight for true democracy.
Notes from the Hong Kong protests II
“we accept humor as it can’t stop us from touching the sky”
“you got three choices. A. Chicken. B. Chicken. C. Chicken”
“these little masks have holes everywhere”
“those are school uniforms”
“those two girls look like Vogue models”
“did you mean to say triad members”
“the story goes that she told the stories”
“to handle or manipulate is a question”
“I’ll take the seasonal fat”
“I have directional dyslexia”
“history says so”
“I wanted to be seen”
“theory simply does not work”
“tonight is a little unstable”
“instead of ‘spoken’, I think ‘murmured’, ‘made a sound’ might all work”
“maybe after class, maybe”
“microphone setup was pretty good.”
“that’s a very strong symbol”
“if you cut an onion and keep the remains for a week it becomes poisonous”
“thanks to Mark Zuckerberg”
“my first time ever to taste, to smell”
“the medieval age when kings still exist”
“especially things that are visible.”
“we will prove them wrong”
“IKEA beds are in great demand”
“the age he had, the knowledge he gotten”
“occupy her leg”
“love this unlocking thing”
“this woman is getting crazier every day”
“we are all yellow”
“do you actually have to tell someone that”
“she is not with me now”
“that’s impossible with small kids”
“I thought they were funny”
“he looks diabolical”
“my nails will recover”
“we are on our way”
“we need to protect ourselves from ourselves”