Seven weeks in Hong Kong

So what happened?

Mandarin Oriental Hotel

Mandarin Oriental Hotel

I don’t even know where to start.

Basically, some student protests led to the sudden start of Occupy Central (which isn’t really in Central) which morphed into this thing called the Umbrella Movement.

Sogo

Sogo

I was swept up and absorbed in this thing that I’ve never seen before and spent the early days glued to my phone, hooked to Facebook, scrolling through never-ending feeds of what’s happening everywhere.

No one I know can say with any confidence they know what’s going on. But one way or the other, whether you’re for or against it, everyone seems to be in it.

Where to?

Where to?

Stories abound. Anything you can think of. Friends and family falling out due to disagreement over the events. It’s hush hush at work. Police beating protesters up. Tear gas. Old grannies sitting on the streets. High school students in uniforms distributing oranges, crackers, masks, and water in the protest sites. Banners. Slogans. Speeches.

News media on pedestrian bridge. Amazing crowd down below.

News media on pedestrian bridge. Amazing crowd down below.

If for my entire life I was never political and wasn’t even sure if I can call Hong Kong home, suddenly I needed to know what’s happening. Even the gweilos I know here have changed their Facebook photos in support of the movement. I mean, seriously, when was the last time expats were interested in Hong Kong politics and social issues?

I’m not sure why I’m writing right now. Perhaps this is me taking a breather from all that’s happened. If I was too absorbed to write, maybe this is me mourning. This is me feeling sorry that the movement is in its dying days.

Study area in what is normally a six (?) lane express way.

Study area in what is normally a six (?) lane express way.

Maybe I’m mourning the fact that idealism on it’s own doesn’t win. I’m an idealistic person (just ask my friends or my boss) – maybe that’s why I was so swept up in it. The passion! The fight for justice! For freedom of speech! For democracy! There’s a reason why the words idealistic and realistic exist.

Realistically, I don’t think anyone would think that the government would give in to the students’ full demands, but at the same time, I didn’t expect the government to not concede even just a little bit.

Camp

Camp

There are many things I still don’t understand. Why the push for civil nomination? Why not ask for something the government is more likely to give in to, such as the removal of functional constituencies or whatever other way to lower the voting rights of corporate entities and reduce their grip on our lives? Why the push for the Chief Executive’s resignation? I mean, yes, he’s a complete dick and can’t talk for shit, but not necessarily the real focus is it?

Was there ever an end game? Was there ever an exit strategy? Do we just fizz out?

Bus stop

Bus stop

I come away with more questions than answers, sad that we seem to have not achieved anything.

Street signs

Street signs

On second thought, that is not true. If anything, the students and the movement have waken the government, and just as importantly, the people up. It’s a long road ahead.

those phones

The iphone 6 seem to be the talk of the office these days.

I sat in a meeting while watching these two guys staring intently at their laptops, their fingers poised on top of the keyboards. The older management seem none the wiser and thought they were having an extraordinarily busy morning.

Meanwhile, a friend tells me her management is a lot more savvy – mostly because the people pounding at the local Apple website caused a crash in the company system, leading to one big company-wide telling off, and IT blocking the site.

Seriously? It’s a new phone. Do people in other parts of the world do it to this extent? I mean, by the end of the year everyone else will have one. Does getting it RIGHT NOW matter that much?

Sometimes, or rather, most of the time, I think I live in the wrong city.

A great morning in one of the world’s most densely populated cities…

…involve not feeling like you’re in one of the world’s most densely populated cities.

(Also involves realising the limitations of this phone camera. Viewed outside of a tiny phone screen, these just look sub-par. I’m developing this feeling that my good old Lumix point and shoot beats whatever things they keep packing into phones these days. )

June 4th and the man behind Tank Man

I attended the massive annual candlelight vigil for the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Masscare (aka “the June 4 incident”) on, well, the 4th of June in Victoria Park.

I know friends and colleagues who invariably attend every year. I started off being apathetic, then in the last couple of years started being interested but either busy or out of town or…just complaining that it’s too hot. Like most things in life, this year I just decided I should stop making excuses and go.

Yes, it was hot. I’ve never been to any sort of vigil or memorial event before but it was more or less what I expected. I didn’t much care for the political messages – I personally just wanted China to stop denying history. Although that is of course naive on my part. The people died for a social and political cause and China is censoring the entire event for political reasons. But hey, I’m the last person you’ll want to talk to about politics and everyone were there for their own reasons.

The Man behind Tank ManThen a friend found out about a talk and exhibition in HKU by Jeff Widener, the photograher who took the iconic Tank Man shot. Another first for me, and not entirely an artsy person, I doubted my interest but was intrigued. And you know what, Jeff Widener was a funny and engaging speaker. All he really had was a laptop with some photos on it which he simply just opened one by one, sometimes stumbling over which button to press or finding a photo or two out of order. Perhaps I’m too used to glossy corporate presentations and arsey corporate speak, but I find his no-frills tell-you-like-it-is style very refreshing. It didn’t hurt that he’s lived a life and career full of mishaps, luck, and adventure and could’ve gone on telling stories well beyond his allotted time.

The passion that people still have to make their voices heard for an event that occurred 25 years ago, and the passion for photo-journalism that Jeff Widener showed in his talk is quite emboldening. Living in Hong Kong, in very easy to fall into a routine and just go through the paces every day – a life that may be safe and comfortable, but lacking in fire. Or maybe, I’m just speaking for myself.

 

the musical world of egocentric assholes

We dug our rented beach umbrella into the sand, tied the runner onto the faulty spring clip, hung our sweaty shirts up on the ribs, spread out our sarongs and mats, and laid down to the sound of gently lapping waves and birds coasting high up in the sky.

And 80’s Cantopop.

For some mysterious reason, Hong Kongers seem to always feel the need to impose share their musical tastes on with others.

On the bus, on a trail in the mountains, at 4am on a campsite, on a secluded beach (by Hong Kong standards), I have the misfortune to constantly encounter people who play their music out loud like it’s as natural as gonorrhea.

In a crowded city where we try our hardest to pretend we are alone by virtually ignoring everyone and avoiding eye-contact, we’re now also walking straight through people, umbrellas and all, shouting at each other, and playing music like we’re each in our own space bubble.

Because there’s no other way?

We have descended into a mode of living where finding your own space means buttheading everyone else out of it. Who cares if everyone else’s ears are gutted and my beach view is ruined by your favourite whore anthem? Hey this is what I like y’all, so suck it.

In a city like Hong Kong, social civility have degraded so much so that caring about the feelings of others is no longer practical. If going out for a weekday lunch means fighting your way through piercing umbrellas, scowling at people who’ve randomly decided to stop in the middle of the sidewalk for no reason, and pushing through tour groups who thinks the city belongs to them, it seems like the only way to survive is to act like them.

So, in anger- and frustration-inspired fits of vigilante, we have all become egocentric assholes. Someone walks her umbrella into your head? Slap it away. Big mainland tour groups occupying the sidewalk and not making way? Slam into them with your gym bag. Want to get onto the elevator before I’ve had a chance to get off? I dare you to stand there as I walk straight into your face.

We become those we hate.

Have I mentioned umbrellas already? But really, it’s 6pm on a fine summer evening – WHY ARE YOU EVEN HOLDING AN UMBRELLA?! Given the width of our sidewalks, one single large umbrella is more than enough to kick me off into the path of some shirtless guy unloading a truck of LPG cylinders. So pardon me as I shove your umbrella into your friend’s pickle face.