Though no doubt it was the violence and police brutality on Wednesday 12th June that caught the world’s eye it was the protest march on Sunday 16th June that showed real Hong Kong; what I know as the real spirit of Hong Kongers.
If you believe the police 380,000 people marched. The organisers, Civil Human Rights Front, stated it was two million and one. The one; being the yellow raincoat man, who fell to his death protesting on top of Pacific Place, a mall in central Hong Kong, near the LegCo Govt Building. A mall, I spent most of my teen weekends just hanging out at (when it was much less fancy!)
Despite a pause on the proposed extradition bill the March was to go on. We wanted a full withdrawal. We wanted an apology from Carrie Lam (the Chief Executive) for how this bill has been handled and tried to be pushed through. An apology for so arrogantly dismissing the voice of the people after last Sunday’s March and to promise there would be enquiries into the unnecessary and excessive force used at the protests on Weds 12th, as examined and verified by Amnesty International.
On the 6.12 (6th June) march the colour was white. Generally seen around the world as a colour of truce, peace and hope, for the Chinese it is a colour of death, worn at funerals. I thought taking from both these meanings, it was a perfect choice for last week. The sea of white flowing through the streets of Hong Kong made for a very impressive and inspiring scene.
The colour for this Sunday (6.16) was black. No explanation needed. The organisers suggested we bring a white flower to place at the memorial of the yellow raincoat man. So I, along with another two million people, dressed in black, flowers and placards in hand, marched again from Victoria Park to Admiralty.
It started well – in that we were moving.. but after 15 minutes, like the week before, grid lock. We couldn’t believe that again, they hadn’t opened both the main roads. But, we were wrong – they had.. but this week, it wasn’t enough to get us all moving forward. There were too many of us.
We stood gridlocked for almost two hours. It was hot. It was humid. But did people complain? Did people get agitated? Did people leave? No.We were all there to march to Admiralty and to lay our flowers down in memorial, in solidarity, so wait patiently we would.
Finally they opened Lockhart Road, another main thoroughfare parallel to Hennessy Road – the main and original route I was on. Still, only moving forward slowly, some people also started walking forward on the smaller roads to the left.
And then, for the first time ever during a protest march they opened Gloucester Road, another similar sized road, parallel to Hennessy and Lockhart. But still, we moved slowly. There were – so – many – people. But no panic. No vandalism. No looting. No scuffles.
We walked on together. I again, same as the week before, had a few people come up to thank me for coming out to march with them – the thanks, because I am a gweilo. (translation, white ghost, common slang term for white person in Hong Kong, originally derogatory.. now it depends I guess! Gwei mui is the female form but rarely used.) It stung, I am a Hong Konger, of course I would be there… but with a few deep breathes and reflection I understood. I was in the minority of my privileged non Chinese minority. So their surprise made sense. Of course there were other gweilos out, but in my eyes, everyone should have been there. And this praise made me very uncomfortable and embarrassed. And the gratitude? I suppose for helping to put the Hong Kong protests on the world stage. And I’m trying. Trevor Noah* still hasn’t responded to my request tweets to show this amazing people power on the Daily Show! So, I just responded, ‘Thank YOU. I love Hong Kong. I’m a Hong Konger too.’
But no doubt, I am one of the lucky Hong Kongers; who can live somewhere else, whose other citizenship government would care if I went missing, if I was at threat of extradition. Millions of Hong Kongers don’t have these choices or protections. So, I march with them – for them – for us – for this city to preserve its unique place in the world, and to fight for democracy. I know many think that is naive of me, but as a daughter of a Latvian refugee who fled the USSR.. I know the unthinkable can, and does happen.
(*Edit – he did a short segment on his show, and truthfully, it was really lame, and misleading too.)
Whilst marching we continually spoke of how in awe we were of the peacefulness and calm around us. I’ve been on many protests before, but there’s generally always a couple of pockets of tension, sometimes people getting a little mouthy at each other, restless; and a few people there purely to try FSU. Here, there was only unity and respect – for each other, and why we were there.
People were handing out water, people were manning water bottle refill stations. Extra recycling stations had been set up, and teams, mainly youths, were collecting the bottles and rubbish. There were also groups of young people handing out, and helping others fill in voter registration forms, stands with various political parties talking and I got quite excited seeing Nathan Law speak, the Demosisto Party member that was elected in but disqualified in 2016.
Hong Kong streets being back to back tea shops and restaurants, people were easily rehydrating and fuelling themselves along the way. Despite the heat and lack of breeze the atmosphere was generally upbeat, even when passing the offices of a pro-communist party newspaper in Wan Chai. Many middle fingers were raised in the air, and I couldn’t help laughing (a lot) when a 50ish year old lady next to me enthusiastically taught me to shout ‘Zhai hoi,’ at the building. Despite a semi decent Cantonese swearing vocabulary (and nothing else,) I didn’t know this phrase; ‘Fuck off.’
I was quite taken by this little puppet,and said ‘Hi Jesus!’ when passing by. Pete quickly corrected me, to which the puppeteer enthusiastically confirmed, ‘Yes! St Francis of Assisi!’ (Still need to look him up.)
We passed a group singing ‘Sing Hallelujah to the Lord,’ our unlikely protest anthem in a fairly apathetically religious city! It made me smile, I joined in a little. The words were sung on repeat for hours last Wednesday, and since then it has also been the main comment repeated over and over during any and all live facebook and internet streamed conferences whenever the police or Carrie Lam has been involved.
One of the most incredible experiences was the parting of the crowd anytime an ambulance needed to get through. With no fuss, and almost no time at all, we all moved to the side, with care for those around us, cheering on the vehicles. I have never seen anything like it. When coming back together, there was no pushing, no chaos, and one occasion when there was a small rush, a few other members in the crowd shouted ‘slow down, be careful’ and instantly people slowed down.
For a few other unusual things to see in a protest, showing the spirit of Hong Kongers, such as students studying en route… have a look at this post.
Walking up to Admiralty was incredible. A twinkling bridge up ahead, other protesters holding their phones up, waving from side to side, as the city started to get dark.
We headed towards the side of Pacific Place to lay our flowers down and take a moment of silence and reflection, thinking of the life lost, and the loss of liberty we were refusing to accept.
We walked slowly, reading the cards left, writing our own, admiring the candles flickering in memorial, watching people create art, and taking in the hugeness of what we were part of.
After this was written Joshua Wong, (check out the documentary, available on Netflix, about this incredible man, then teenager) was released the next day. There were more impromptu protests on Friday 21st outside the main Wan Chai Police Station that lasted until the early hours of Sat 22nd. No violence, no tear gas.
Though things are a little quieter right now, another march has been planned for July 1st, China National Day.
Hong Kong – we are small but we are strong. We will not be pushed around. We will not be stripped of our rights. We will fight on and on….
Sunday 9.6.19 – March of a Million.
I also went to the protest rally from Victoria Park to LegCo last Sunday. It took us around 90 minutes to move a few hundred metres thanks to the police’s unwillingness to close a few more roads. Or I guess they believed their own bullshit figures which tend to be about a fifth of the realist. It was a beautiful march; people stayed calm, despite the gridlock in small streets on a hot, hot day. Lots of chanting, lots of discussions, and so much solidarity. When we finally reached Admiralty and I left my group I went to the Harcourt Road flyover to watch the people just keep coming, and coming. A white mass of peaceful protest. I got very emotional, and just stood and watched for an hour.
Anyone that has heard me talk about Hong Kong knows I find it hard to describe my love for this city. The way I feel when I look at the water, the harbour, the trees (the roots!) the hills (the rocks!) the buildings, the old and the new, the huge contrasts everywhere – the creativity, the community, the uniqueness, the craziness, the anything goes ness. I’m smiling as I write this. It fills me with joy. My eyes can’t open wide enough to take it all in. I was born here, I grew up here. For a long time Hong Kong was all I knew. I explore the city as much as I can, but the excitement never gets old. When people speak to me they think British (or sometimes Australia, Swedish, German, American… haha – only once Latvian though, which I also am.. ) and I do love London – I grew to love London, my adopted home – but my heart, my soul.. ahh Hong Kong, you’ll always have that.