Umbrella Movement Days 20 and 21

20141028_191415I really need to figure out how to write these posts faster – I’m so behind in terms of real life versus blog life. I want to note that the day before yesterday marked the first full month of occupation. It’s been an incredible month, with so much change happening socially, culturally, artistically. I couldn’t be more grateful to be here, fully funded. I don’t know of many people – especially in hard-working Hong Kong, where working overtime is so common that people regularly say, “So-and-so can’t make it, s/he’s OT-ing” – who have the ability to fix their schedule to their interests.

Last night, as I sat with a group of law students at Admiralty’s Umbrella Square, a pair of aunties came by and passed out red eggs in celebration of the Umbrella Movement’s first month. They adapted a Chinese tradition for a baby’s first month or first year to instead celebrate the birth of a new Hong Kong. It’s a feeling a lot of people in Hong Kong have – that this is the start of a new period in the city.

Jumping back to October 17…

Mong Kok was cleared early in the morning by the police with no resistance. They took out the beds, the bed frames, the altars, the barricades – by the end of it, there were about thirty people left seated in a small section of the street. Henry guessed that they would all be gone by the afternoon without much incident. Scholarism reposted a comic on Facebook of a balding man demanding, “I want my regular streets back!” until the streets are filled again with traffic, at which point, face red, the man says, “They’re back to normal now…” Some folks also tried to set up a scholarship for the Umbrella Movement at HKU, though it wasn’t immediately clear how they would donate the funds or manage the scholarship. This image began to circulate after Mong Kok was cleared. There are various translations, and this is my favorite:

My deadline to submit application materials to IRT was midnight. I decided to go work at the study area in Admiralty for the first time. I’d seen them set up a while back. At first it was just a wooden board arranged over a cement divide, with poles arranged on either side of the board to keep it in place and to hang a portable light. Maybe six people could use these makeshift tables by sitting on either side of the concrete divide. And gradually the study area began to grow.

2014-10-17 14.59.02Desks and chairs began to appear, and gradually the space enlarged alongside the concrete divide to include numerous tables, chairs, and stools, all cordoned off from the rest of the road with a few plastic pipes and other kinds of sticks. A free wifi connection was set up with a password, though it’s a pretty weak connection and very unsecure. On the 17th, most of the area sat under the wide sky. There were a few particularly rainy days after that, so people put tents up overhead to keep the area dry. The tents then allowed for more portable lights to be strung along the metal tent frames, creating a totally functioning study area for both day and night use!

2014-10-17 17.45.45I stayed for about three hours or so. It was just the absolute best place to study in all of Hong Kong (even with the horrible, practically non-usable Internet and the lack of a laptop charging station). I had a view of the classic “Everyone could be Batman” sign and other banners on the raised walkway. People kept walking by and offering food and drinks – I picked up a home-made curry bao. Off to the sides you could hear men sawing and hammering away at wood to make more tables and chairs. Every now and then they would argue with one another over what was the best way to put things together.

It was a wonderful experience for studying, too – in the past few weeks I’d often felt too preoccupied checking the news on Twitter and Facebook, but somehow studying right in the middle of the demonstration made me feel like I could concentrate much better.

I also finally got to see the umbrella canopy that had been strung up in the gap between the walkway to Tamar Park. It was put up shortly after the tear gas incident on September 28 and then taken down for a while (for repairs, maybe). It’s just beautiful. Apparently it took three days and nights for students from the HK Baptist University Academy of Visual Arts to sew together some 250 umbrellas that had been destroyed in that first day of conflict.

Al Jazeera just released this mini-documentary on the making of some of Hong Kong’s protest art, including the umbrella canopy.

I had thought that Mong Kok was over, but by night Argyle Street was completely reoccupied. Riot cops appeared. Henry walked by the area on his way home, and he said it felt like an American riot. There were no signs, no yellow ribbons, no umbrella paraphernalia, just angry people. He said the police would shove the crowd back until the traffic could continue moving through, then people would fill the street again. One group of people apparently started rocking a bus, but I don’t think that it was overturned or that anyone in the bus was hurt. That night the EMs started a henna booth at Admiralty, but I stayed home and kept working on my applications until three in the morning, almost making my deadline.

Some photos I took while at Admiralty:

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The next morning, I heard that Mong Kok was still occupied. The police were in control of the main intersection at Nathan and Argyle, but the tents on the roads were back up. I felt strangely proud of the Mong Kok protesters for taking back what they could. A documentary was uploaded to Vimeo on “The Battle for Mong Kok,” which I didn’t come across until much later in the month. Here’s a video from SCMP that I did watch. But that day as I watched the news online, I saw a clip of police dogs – not sure where exactly they were or when, but it seemed to have been at Lung Wo Road (definitely not Mong Kok).

I worked at Admiralty again, admiring all the new posters and art emerging every day. The one in bright red and yellow refers to this moment during the clearing of Lung Wo Road on October 14, where a young man with his hands up as a mark of non-violence had his goggles pulled down by an officer who then sprayed him in the face. (Here’s another similar video, where an older man gets in front of the protesters to speak to them before a police officer taps him on the shoulder, he turns, and gets sprayed. Horrible.)

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The banner saying “You’ll never walk alone” refers to the Liverpool FC anthem that pro-Beijing lawmaker Tam Yiu-chung used to give support to the police on October 16. This made local Liverpool fans furious – they know that the song is associated with the deaths of 96 fans by crushing in the 1989 disaster at the Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield, England. The police blamed fans for causing the deadly overcrowding, but after a legal battle, the failure of police control was identified as the main cause; they were found to have also altered statements and allowed people to die without medical treatment. So clearly it seems very wrong to use this song to bolster the police, when the police were found responsible for people’s avoidable deaths in that instance.

2014-10-18 18.37.13I dropped by HKU to print some things and finally decided to take a photo of this little flyer: “Justice vs Attendance.” It’s been up for a long time, referring to a struggle many students have had over their duty as students to attend class, and the call of their peers to go protest and boycott classes.

I wanted to go to Mong Kok but not by myself, so I met up with Henry there, since he knows the area so much better than me. It was incredible. The entire area was packed tight, probably with the most people I’d seen since the very first time I went to Mong Kok. Yet it was also extremely strange, as you can tell by the photo.

2014-10-18 21.24.47The entire intersection was empty, patrolled by police, even though the rest of the area was jammed. It felt defiant. I might have talked about how different Mong Kok feels from Admiralty, and it definitely had that sense then. Young and middle-aged men made up most of the protesters in the area. Far fewer women were present, or otherwise just moving through. The shrines were gone, but on the side of one of the MTR exits someone had posted their images. Other posters were there as well. Interestingly, a lot of the text in Mong Kok was in simplified characters (such as the text under the poster of CY Leung photoshopped as a Communist leader (not sure if Stalin or Mao), and the text quoting Lu Xun). Not sure what this is about, considering that National Day and the large tourism wave is already over.

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"你的「出現」就改變了整個「世界」Your Presence Will Change the World!"

“你的「出現」就改變了整個「世界」Your Presence Will Change the World!”

At one of the barricades, someone had plastered a number of umbrellas with large images of CY Leung. Some of the photos had Hitler moustaches scribbled in pen above CY’s upper lip. I think they had been arranged in the barricade, and someone was moving them one by one to form a pile on the ground. Several of the advertisements on the bus stops lining the packed roads had been scribbled on as well, creating makeshift walls of messages. Many of these messages had been covered up by other posters, such as the one on the left. On the road, a group of young women had spread out a series of blank profile templates, letting passersby fill in the faces and hairstyles to represent themselves.

There were also a number of horribly cute tags tied to the shrubs planted in the dividers that one of them had drawn. The one I found most interesting was drawn on the back of one of the tags, showing the Goddess of Democracy with set against Tiananmen Square. She holds a banner in her left hand that reads 6425. 64 refers to June 4, the day of the massacre, and 25 refers to 2014 being 25 years since 1989, and also to the fact that 25+64=89.

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2014-10-18 21.58.32There was also a small table with a cross set up where the chapel on the street had stood. A man was standing nearby with a Che shirt, so of course I had to take a photo. The barricades had also been rebuilt. One was laced with umbrellas. Another was reinforced with what looked like every trash can in the area. Someone had put a sign in one of the barricades facing the outside of the encampment, reading, “警察哥哥姐姐,我們不是敵人,而是站在你對面的戰友。當你們執行職務時,請溫柔~點 (high-five)” (Police older brothers and sisters, we are not enemies, we are fellow comrades-in-arms standing on opposite sides. When you are carrying out your duties, please be gentle and caring).

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I finally spotted the giant map of Occupy-friendly businesses. It’s quite encouraging to see this positivity. There was also a large group of people gathered around a tent, where a woman was giving instructions on how to fold an origami umbrella.

I was wavering over whether to stay the night at Admiralty again, but finally decided to go. Something about the Mong Kok protesters having retaken the street made me feel like it wasn’t right to stay at home. I’ve been trying to maintain my observer/researcher role, and to think about the protests from multiple points of view, but to see this kind of spirit and community action is so inspiring – regardless of what side you stand on about democracy, re-routed traffic, and so on. I mean, even for those businesses who have been hit hard, there are tons of signs in Mong Kok urging people to support small establishments. It’s incredible. Flawed, as anything is, but amazing.

Henry said that a friend of his, another poet, would be staying with a bunch of her students. The EMs were also planning to stay the night, but ended up leaving a few hours after Ansah was interviewed by Al Jazeera. I left my apartment at about one in the morning, not even sure if I would catch a bus to Admiralty, and managed to run to the street just as the last bus was leaving. The driver scolded me a little for not being clear that I wanted to get on board, but let me on anyway.

I finally met up with Henry at Faith Street at Admiralty, which is what the flyover connecting Admiralty and Central has been named. Yes – there’s now street names and tent numbers! I forget when, but I think the Democratic Party reported on Facebook that a letter was successfully delivered to one of the tents through the Hong Kong Post Office. I’m also starting to really love all the chalk art on the ground, but it’s so hard to capture it all when it’s night, and there’s the threat of rain to make it so impermanent.

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Most of the barricades built with bamboo had already been taken down a while ago, but when Henry mentioned that there was still one left at Admiralty, I couldn’t wait to go take a look. It was simply amazing – tall, sturdy, well built, and decorated (of course) with a pair of umbrellas.

2014-10-19 03.32.48We were walking back toward the center of the encampment when I stopped to point something out on a tent to Henry, and a girl sitting nearby called out to us and invited us to join her and her friends. It turned out that they were a group of law students, and they’d put up a sign on their tent inviting people to talk about legal matters. But it was useless, the girl said, because everyone who was there already agreed with their legal point of view anyway, so there was no use trying to start a debate. She was folding an origami umbrella, so I asked her to teach us. It was a very long, difficult process, and we ended up staying at the tent for over an hour as we went through fold after painfully small fold until we finally succeeded! It rained halfway through, so we thanked them for inviting us into the tent just in time to avoid getting soaked. Finally, one of the boys said he needed to get a bit of sleep before getting up for something early the next day. We exchanged Facebook contact, wished each other good night, and then left. By then it was about four in the morning.

Henry and I went back up to Faith Street to find a place to sleep. We had to find a tent because the ground was too wet to lay a blanket down. One of the boys had told us that there were plenty of tents that were open for “renting,” and he’d tried to explain the process of figuring out which tents were open or occupied, but we still weren’t quite clear on it. As we walked up and down trying to figure out which tents we could use, a young man from one of the supply stations nearby asked if we needed help finding a place or with any sleeping materials. He pointed us farther down to look for tents, since they didn’t have any. We ended up finding a half-open tent that people had put up sideways to dry. We took it back to Faith Street and set it down, decorated it with one of our umbrellas, and fell asleep.

  • Michael Chugani publishes an opinion piece in SCMP, and the EMs find him “useless” for having written “a very disappointing piece” [link]
  • NY Times article on Beijing’s control over the government’s response to the protests [link] – “It’s a political problem which is not being solved politically.”
  • Hong Wrong reports on an anti-Occupy ad in SCMP [link]
  • SCMP story on foreign interference [link] – “The statesmen urged Obama to speak out personally in support of the “umbrella movement”. The letter reminded Obama that he is empowered to impose economic sanctions on China. “The US-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992 states that it is US policy to help preserve Hong Kong’s unique status and to support democratisation in Hong Kong. As you know, the act also authorises you to suspend trade and economic provisions should Beijing not provide sufficient autonomy for Hong Kong as outlined by the Joint Declaration.””
  • Here’s a fun link: The best photo of Joshua Wong depicted as Batman.

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