Occupy Hong Kong Day 5: Art, art, art

I’ve gotten into a bad habit of staying awake and waking up late, so on Thursday I didn’t head out to Admiralty until early evening. Across the street from my apartment, I spotted this sign strung across a street rail; and when I got off the bus to switch to the MTR I saw the second sign with stickers.

There was a public lecture at a “Mobile Democracy Classroom” that a friend of Henry’s was speaking at; about thirty people were crowded around two women speaking on a canonical Hong Kong writer’s work (Xi Xi’s “Marvels of a Floating City”). I stayed for a bit and then wandered around, taking photos of the explosion of art, graphics, and expression.

Directly opposite from the lecture, students were organizing a recycling system. One young man was smashing aluminum cans with his foot, yelling playfully with each stomp, “689死啊!” (“Die, CY Leung!”) To the side of the lecture a group of slightly older folks were holding a prayer session and singing in front of a tall, thin white cross.

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[Badcanto’s translation of poster with eyes here – it’s quite offense, telling people to watch out for “leftards” (leftist retards) who might try to convince people to leave (“leftard… leftist retar [sic]… 60s hippie junkie = Chinese spies!!!”). The argument is that there is no leader of Occupy Hong Kong, so no one should tell anyone what to do until they get “real democracy and fair election.” I have a sense this is another means of warning people against non-Chinese and foreigners…]

2014-10-02 18.59.30I’d seen on Twitter calls for more support at Tim Wa Avenue, near the PLA building, in case there was a confrontation between the protesters and the police there. I went up to the raised walkway to check what the situation was, and, noticing it was calm, decided to go down and take a quick look.

The scene was, indeed, calm – but also tense. People were seated in groups on the street and standing at the barricades, watching the police, who were watching them back. I spotted an old woman at the front lines, ready for action. You can see the police in blue their shirts behind the metal barricades.

2014-10-02 19.30.48I ran into a pair of men talking in English, so I stopped and introduced myself. It turns out they were journalists for Time Magazine, and they showed me the cover for the next day’s issue. Suddenly an elderly man in a pink shirt and grey vest standing on the highway above us began to shout messages of support to the crowd. He called on the people not to lose hope, that they’d already won a great battle by occupying the streets. But as he continued to speak, young people on the ground began to shout back at him. Thank you, thank you, that’s enough, we’ve got the message, they yelled, trying to shout over him and stop him. If you support us so much, another person yelled, why don’t you come down here and [he pointed at the police] get on the front lines? Eventually the old man shouting from above disappeared.

One of the journalists, who wasn’t ethnically Chinese, was translating for his colleague. I asked if he’d learned Cantonese or grown up speaking it, and he said, “Yes.” I replied, “Sorry, which one?” And he explained that he’d grown up in Hong Kong, and that his family had been in the city for 130 years. “I have more right to be here,” he said, looking around at the crowd, “than any one of these people.”

He was extremely nervous as he explained the interactions between the old man and the crowd. “The first thing he’s got against him is his age,” he said. He criticized the tourists (both Mainlanders still on National Day holiday and other foreigners) taking photos and the families with young children and dogs, saying that they didn’t realize how truly dangerous the situation was. And indeed, I felt very nervous seeing the police and protesters so close to one another, and decided to get out of that area.

2014-10-02 19.13.19As I headed out, I saw, taped to the side of the highway, a sign reading, “We Are NOT Enemies 我們不是敵人.” The old man reappeared on the ground to the crowd’s applause, and he continued to shout support of the students in defiance. It was a horribly ironic and tense scene, to see an old man forced to show his “loyalty” to the crowd while a sign overhead – the yellow sheet in the top right corner of the photo – proclaimed trust among one another. Having been accused of being a Communist spy just a few days earlier, I could imagine how horrible it felt. It’s like being accused of being insane – it’s almost impossible to accept it, and yet if you deny it, you look even more so.

2014-10-02 19.21.12I walked east, toward Tim Mei Avenue and toward Civic Square, the site where the student strike had really escalated. This was the first time I’d gone there, since in previous days it had been either too crowded, sealed off, or too dangerous to go. More and more art – more and more expressions of frustration, anger, solidarity, hope. A curving flight of stairs was covered with post-its. I read a few until loud singing interrupted me – a line of Christians holding a paper cross and a portrait of Jesus was walking down the stairs. I followed them toward Civic Square, which was still fenced off, but now the fence was covered in posters and yellow ribbons.

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Across from Civic Square was the Wall of Messages/Democracy Wall, which had been started by a group of secondary school students. They were still at the wall, shouting out the purpose of the wall and welcoming more messages. The wall was made of plastic barricades, and the messages taped directly onto it had been wrapped up in plastic to protect them from the rain. A new layer of messages was beginning to form on top.

The centerpiece of the street was an Umbrella Tree sculpture made by students from the City University of Hong Kong. At the base of the roundabout, people had posted more things and played with the street signs to create new messages.

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Henry and I decided to grab dinner at KFC, and I was extremely fortunate – and ridiculously excited – to be eating at the same time as the group of ethnic minorities who’d been seen a few days earlier marching through Admiralty, singing Cantonese songs (see a video of the group here). I went over and fangirled for a bit, then exchanged contact info, before returning to finish my fried chicken and mushroom rice.

We were about ready to leave when I remembered that I wanted to find out where I could get one of the yellow or black stickers that I’d seen on walls and on people’s shirt sleeves. I asked around and people told me they were on counters somewhere, so we wandered the street a bit more but didn’t find them. I did take more photos, though.

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Finally there was this precious graphic art posted near the Admiralty MTR entrance:

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