Day 49: Background to the Protests

I thought I would be writing about a day spent visiting Big Buddha and a stroll along the Path of Wisdom…

But tonight I met an organiser of the Hong Kong protests and I’m going to summarise what we talked about.

It is related to a lot of what I discussed in yesterday’s post so I could have called it ‘Real Life Stories in Hong Kong – Part 2’.

Since arriving in the city, I’ve seen a lot of materials in subways and on cross street bridges covering the Hong Kong protests.

I’ve also seen one banner opposing the protesters.

Each evening the Metro systems ceased operating after 10pm. Several station exits are also closed throughout the day.

The official reason for this is vandalism.

This is Prince Edward Station where there is a memorial for two reasons: for a 15 year old girl whose body was found in the Harbour and to condemn the violence that occurred in the station when, I am told, police officers walked on passengers’ heads.

I’m staying in Kowloon close to the waterfront and each evening I’ve had a wander to see the Hong Kong skyline lit up. It’s stunning.

Last night, there was a protest taking place.

I walked alongside the protesters in order to reach my hotel, as they formed a human chain, holding hands up the road. It was peaceful. It was good natured.

And they were delighted the number of passing cars that were beeping their horns in support.

Tonight, I found this exhibition taking place.

This has been organised by volunteers of the protest to raise awareness about what is happening and to address some of the criticisms of themselves.

I spoke with “Stephen” who addressed the crowd at the start of the exhibition.

He outlined the dehumanising tactics that have been used by the police and the administration in suppressing the protests.

Language such as referring to the protesters as cockroaches to render them as less than human has been used. Extreme violence has been used against people, including those who are not protesting.

Stephen thinks this may be a result of the police not trusting the judiciary – they expect the courts to release protesters, so if the police beat them up, they won’t come out on to the streets.

I asked him about the average age of the protesters: “As young as nine and well, my mother is 72 and she is out shouting. So I couldn’t give an average age.”

At that point, a lone man smashed a bottle and stood silently staring around at people. Several protesters wearing face masks wandered over to speak to him and he moved on.

“There’s always an idiot who wants to kick off,” said Stephen.

So is the protest violent? I hadn’t seen any sign of this.

“People are angry. People are really angry. Previous protests have always been very quiet and nothing has changed.

“My dad regrets not taking action in the 1970s and 80s when Thatcher and the Chinese were negotiating the handover. Hong Kongers should have stood up then.”

We talked about the poverty and gentrification in Kowloon (that I had seen the day before) and how this contributes to the current situation.

Our conversation also covered mistrust of mainstream politics and how unengaged people are, until their daily lives are affected.

I asked Stephen about the vandalism on the Metros – how real is this, I wondered, because closing down the transport system at 10pm is a very effective way to impose a curfew.

“Well. Yes. There has been some. I personally know people who have been involved.”

I asked him what being tear gassed feels like.

“Like having a tampon soaked in vinegar forced up your nose. And there is nothing you can do about it. You just have to get out.”

The protests are likely to continue and the members are trying to draw attention to the plight of the population in Hong Kong. They are concerned about human rights being undermined on a daily basis.

The photographs in the exhibition were stark. The reports make for difficult reading. There is no trust in the police or the administration of the city.

Their ask is that the world stands with Hong Kong.

If you want to see what I got up to for these rest of today, check out my Instagram account – this blog links to it.

Categories: Hong Kong, TravelTags: , , , , , , , ,
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