October 4, 2014

Standing up against violence and thugs

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For those of us in Hong Kong, the combined protests by students and other citizens under the banner known as Occupy Central (with Love and Peace) / Occupy Hong Kong / Umbrella Movement has been going on for about a week now.  Things escalated last weekend when the Hong Kong Police decided to fire teargas on the crowd, which only served to galvanize public support for the protests.

Since then the protests have spread outside of the original area known as Admiralty (which is adjacent to Central), first to Mongkok and also to Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui.  There has always been debate about whether the protests should focus on the central business district of Hong Kong as originally intended, but there was no stopping the spontaneous actions without a central command for this movement.

On Friday this took a turn for the worse as what some of us feared turned into reality.  Mongkok has always been an area tainted by triad activity, and scuffles broke out throughout the day.  Different factions who opposed the blockade began arguing with the protesters, and some of that led to violent confrontations.  Tents were torn down, people were physically beaten, a few people even ended up bleeding.  Emotions ran high throughout the evening and into the next day.

I wasn't anywhere near Mongkok, and I couldn't tell you what really happened.  I looked to a variety of sources - both from traditional and social media - for news about what transpired.  There seemed to be a mix of agitators.  While some were probably neighborhood citizens who were angered by the disruption caused to their lives - not to mention the negative economic impact - there seemed to be more than a fair share of unsavory-looking characters who, shall we say, may have more colorful backgrounds and "associations".

While the Umbrella Movement protesters have mostly remained peaceful and non-violent, these new people who arrived in the area were clearly looking for trouble.  Fights broke out, and from the very narrow viewpoint afforded to me in the comfort of my chair, there seemed to be a conspicuous absence of police on scene.  According to some reports - which admittedly may be biased - police made little effort to intervene and halt the spread of violence.  There certainly wasn't the same level of crackdown and use of force as was witnessed on September 28th.  Hell, looking at the number of arrests made on the two days, it would be easy to draw the conclusion that the police was letting the thugs off the hook.  Numerous reports surfaced regarding instances where police arrested violent thugs, walked a couple of blocks away from the crowd, and subsequently released them.  Charges of collusion between police and triads quickly spread.

Well, I don't have any evidence proving any linkage between the police and triads, and I certainly won't make that accusation here.  But even the police admitted that the agitators moved into the area hard and fast, and that they couldn't respond quickly enough.  So it would seem reasonable to suspect that this wasn't simply the spontaneous acts of random individuals, but rather more "organized".  Of course the explanation from police only led to more accusations of biased handling of the situation, as a distrusting public wondered why it took as long as an hour for police to bring in reinforcements.

Regardless of who was behind Friday's violence, it was simply unjust.  I had seen enough, and was determined to stand up against it.  I had hitherto not lent my support to the protesting public because I did not agree with their methods, but this was something else.  There was a call to rally against violence tonight, and I gladly answered that call.

I had spent the better part of the afternoon - OK, ALL of the afternoon - holed up in the comforts of an air-conditioned building attending a wine auction.  After the auction ended, I made the short walk between the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre.  I wanted to see the scene of protest with my own eyes and take in the atmosphere.  I didn't have any of the so-called "five treasures of protest" with me, but I did have one of my SLRs, a very foldable umbrella, and water in my own thermos so I wouldn't generate more waste.

I started seeing road barriers around the intersection of Lung Wui Road (龍匯道) and Fenwick Pier Street (分域碼頭街).  Surprisingly I saw no police officers there - just an empty stretch of road leading past Citic Tower towards the roundabout in front of the collection of government buildings.

I came to the entry gate of Legislative Council Complex, and went inside to the entrance foyer.  There was no security guard on hand.  A group of students had camped out there and probably has been for days.

Next I moved up from the street level to Tamar Park, past the Central Government Offices and onto one of the footbridges linking the complex to Admiralty Centre.  I'm now looking at the main body of the protesting crowd, who have camped out on Connaught Road Central and Harcourt Road.  This was a sight not usually seen in Hong Kong.  There was still an hour to go before the 8pm start of the rally, but the crowds have already flowed back.

The local and international media have staked out strategic positions on the various footbridges, stationing their cameras there and using them as makeshift reporting booths.  From there I can look down at the crowd with various tents acting as medical, supply and other stations.  The crowd stretches toward both Central and Wanchai.

There are posters, flyers, and all kinds of signage EVERYWHERE.  This particular series stood out.  Spoken like true revolutionaries.

Even poor Paddington Bear was accused of being a violent thug (presumably by the police hiding behind plexiglass shields)... since he was carrying an umbrella in the color that has come to symbolize the student movement, and also a roll of cling wrap.  Dangerous offensive weapons indeed.

What was really impressive was the stretch of stairwell from the street level to the upper level courtyard which leads to the entrance to the government offices.  Somebody started by putting up messages written on multi-colored Post-its about "Why We Are Here", but this stretch has now been renamed "Lennon Wall Hong Kong".

There are literally thousands of little Post-its and other pieces of paper stuck here.  Pads of Post-its are left on a stand here, and anyone can pick one up and leave their own very personal messages.  Taking a few steps back and getting the full view of this "installation" is quite a sight to behold.  Believe it or not, similar messages are not just left here, but stuck on walls of barricades left in the middle of Tim Mei Avenue (添美道).  These have been covered in plastic to shield them from the rain that has hit Hong Kong sporadically over the last week.

News about the protesters picking up their own trash has circulated around the world, and there were indeed many signs around reminding people to be mindful.  I actually didn't see too much garbage lying around in the center, but I did see piles of it on the outskirts.

I guess I spent most of my time in the middle of the protest areas, so I really didn't see heavy police presence.  In fact, I can count the number of occifers I saw on one hand.  All of the protesters I came across were peaceful.  No one was shouting at anyone else.  They just wanted to come out and show the rest of Hong Kong (and the world) what they stood for.

The rally officially started around 8pm, and various speakers started to get up on the makeshift platform to talk about their own experiences of facing violence yesterday.  It was then that I noticed something... while the city has faced the turmoil brought about by the Umbrella Movement, the brain-dead owners of buildings in Central - including Cheung Kong Center, the Bank of China Building, AIA Central and naturally the People's Liberation Army Hong Kong Building - all continued to participate in the Symphony of Lights.  Multi-colored lights still flashed around these buildings as if it were just another ordinary evening.  Admittedly, the angle of the video didn't really show how ludicrous this was, but you get the drift.

I left the main protest area not long after the rally started, but as I made my way towards Exit A of the Admiralty MTR Station, I decided to get myself some dinner at the Spaghetti House.  What did I choose to have for dinner?  Why, spaghetti carbonara, of course!  No, it ain't gonna be the most authentic carbonara I'll ever have (the best version in town used to be found at 8½ Otto e Mezzo Bombana), but I love it anyway.

On the way out, I thanked one of the staff for keeping the restaurant open during the week-long protests.  I knew it would have been management's decision, but the staff still had to work hard and put themselves in potential harm's way.  He mentioned that it hasn't been easy, and much of the supply had to be manually pushed over from Wanchai since the main roads leading to the restaurant remain closed.  But "people gotta eat, and they can't survive on dry rations [like biscuits and crackers] alone".  Notwithstanding that restaurants in Admiralty Centre are probably doing brisk business, I still applaud the staff for their dedication and doing their bit to help Hong Kong.

By the time I left around 9:30pm, people were still streaming out of the MTR station.  I dunno what the attendance numbers were tonight, but I'm proud of those who took a stand against violence tonight.  I truly hope that there is a resolution soon, and that there will be no more violence and bloodshed.  I hope my prayers are answered.

My collection of pictures from tonight can be seen here.


Singapore said...

Thank you for sharing. Outside of HK we're keeping watch with hopes that things get resolved for the better soon and no one else gets hurt. Stay safe

Camemberu said...

Fascinating detailed report, Peech! Yeah, there are even Facebook photos showing guys who are "policemen by day; thugs by night" ...hope there will be no more violence.

But in a way, it's admirable that HK can have protests of this scale. This would not be tolerated in, ahem, certain other countries.

Take care and stay safe!

Peech said...

Many thanks to our friends from Singapore for wishing us well. I hope things will pass after tonight...

Anonymous said...

I feel very similar towards the students. While I was not keen on their action before, I have been very moved by their passion, organization and their non violence approach. They won me over. I saw many HKU medical students in CWB (wearing Med school Tshirts) running the first aid booths), I know of HKU law students out at Admiralty. The best and brightest of HK students (except for finance kids I suppose) are risking it all for their dreams. My heart goes out to them and their families. I fear for them not so much of physical injuries but that their dreams would be brutally crushed. May a resolution be arrived soon.


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