I wrote the majority of this in my journal, a year after it happened, in Autumn 2020, triggered by hearing the song ‘Lost’ by Dermot Kennedy on Spotify shuffle. Many of his songs remind me of the Hong Kong protests. Him, and First Blood were my soundtrack – opposite ends of the musical spectrum; one fight music – angry, empowering – the other, sad, contemplative, but also powerful. Both needed – to get me up, shouting, marching, and the other to cry too, hugging my pink soft toy shark, Gai Yau, to sleep. Once I started writing I couldn’t stop – even though I wanted to, because it was so painful. With the situation in Hong Kong getting worse and worse, it’s not yet a time to look back and attempt to process it all – but I clearly had a lot I wanted to get out. I initially called this ‘A week in my Broken City,’ but it’s not broken – it’s under attack, it’s breaking – but it’s fighting back, and it’s so, so, strong.
‘Shit. Just listening to ‘Lost’ – it brings me back to early October. The dark streets in Price Edward. Graffiti – broken traffic lights – smashed banks – the MTR on fire, water dripping, running down the stairs – left to burn, left to flow. People out on the streets, some aimlessly, some with purpose. Most of us there because we wanted changed. We were there for democracy, justice to be served against the violent, brutal police.
When I flew back to Hong Kong after an incredible 9 days in Jordan I was utterly, utterly exhausted. Whilst I was away it been China National Day – 70 years ‘commemorating the formal establishment of the People’s Republic of China on 1 October 1949.’ In Hong Kong it had been a day of mass protests, more violence, more police brutality. An 18 year old protester was shot (the first time live rounds had been used.) Whilst I’d been away I turned off my phone for the majority of the day – I was in the most magical country, with wonderful people, on a trip I’d been dreaming of for years – I felt I had to do all I can to embrace it, enjoy it. But each day I allowed myself time alone to check up on Hong Kong – for the tears to flow, for my heart to continue breaking.
From the airport I couldn’t get the bus straight home to where I was staying at my friend’s house in Prince Edward. Streets were shut off due to protests, road blocks and general destruction. I sat on my favourite bus seat, top deck, up front – feeling dazed. I think I cried. I think I cried a lot. I spoke to two ladies sat near me, I assume they were Domestic Helpers; they were expressing how awful they thought it was what was happening – that Hong Kongers should have democracy, their human rights. How what the Police were doing was wrong. I didn’t instigate this conversation, but how I was so grateful for it. I think I got off around Mei Foo, wheeling my bag back – took about an hour. I do remember crying most of the way. But unlike on the bus, I didn’t try to hide it. It hurt, but it was cathartic.
After dropping my bags off, I headed out to walk around, to be with people, to protest, to see what was happening, what had happened. I didn’t care about the property destruction. People are worth more than property. But it hurt seeing the destruction, not because I cared about the property or the companies, but it hurt seeing my city broken. I welled up reading the graffiti. I stared at the bricks all over the roads, looking like art installations. Barricades made of bamboo and of mental railings.
What was the point you might ask? To show disgust, to show that it’s not okay to side with the triads, with the police brutality against citizens. To do something, be active, to disrupt. No rights, no autonomy was given from peaceful, undisruptive protest. Sometimes the historical narrative pushes for this, but it’s not the truth. It’s written this way so people think it’s possible, and therefore, stay in their place – don’t do too much, don’t shout too loud. Hong Kongers tried to keep it peaceful. Two million marching, with no destruction. The parting of the packed crowds, slowly, carefully, to allow ambulances through – the handing out of water, food, medical supplies. Two million people and no looting, no vandalism – week after week, but things got worse – the Hong Kong Government and the CCP came down harder, so the protesters had to change tactics, fight harder. And there was even more to be angry about – the Police and Govt collusion with the triads – shown most obviously on July 21st attacks at the MTR (subway) station in Yuen Long, the daily reports of Police brutality & assault, on the streets, and when people were taken into custody – scary, horrific stories of sexual abuse.
Street signs on the floor, graffitied ‘Fuck Popo,’ ‘Hong Kong is the Land of the Brave, and We Are Brave’ – ‘Ideas are Bulletproof.’ The MTR was graffited and vandalised, ‘Empty R’ – ‘Murder Transit Railway’ due to the links and cooperation with the triads and the Police force. And amongst all of this were people just going about their business.
The next day I had plans to do a lot of things – but I slept long & late – rare for me, but clearly so needed. I had so little energy, but wrote a mini-song ‘Where do we go from here? Where do we go from here? Heavy hearts heavy eyes, heavy mind. Where do we go from here? Where do we go from here?A battle for the soul, a battle for the mind…. Where do we go from here? Open eyes. Broken hearts. Where do we go from here?’
I moved slowly, but eventually made it down to Tin Hau for a Muay Thai class at my old gym, Warrior – and I sat in Victoria Park eating some dim sum from the little veggie take away across the road from my old flat. Arriving back in Prince Edward I was greeted by a sea of Riot Police. People were milling around and not sure why they were thre, as there was no obvious protest going on, and it was only the presence of the Police that made people gather.
Standing on the side of the road I had two interesting, but hugely contrasting conversations. Firstly I overheard an American expat talking with a German tourist.. I took a deep break and walked toward there. As a white, English speaking Hong Konger I always questioned my role in the protests, what was most useful, what would be most appropriate. Talking to white privileged patronising, ignorant and often racist (though they would never see themselves this way) people was one major role. I interrupted their talk and questioned their comments of the protesters not knowing what they wanted, how naive they were, how the Chinese, the Asians, are not built for, and don’t want democracy. I argued that their, our, demands were pretty specific. How the ‘Founder of Modern China’ Sun Yat-sen, believed in, and wanted democracy for China. How Tiananmen Square was not so long ago, how many people in Mainland China are imprisoned for speaking out for Democracy, for Human Rights. How the existence of the pro-democracy political parties, how the millions of people out on the street, of all ages – with differing socio-economic backgrounds, shows what they were saying is bullshit. They talked about the effect on the economy. Always straight back to money. The American said if it continued like this – he would move to Shenzhen, where he could continue his life peacefully, doing as he pleased, using an illegal VPN of course.
The other conversation was with a local Cantonese man. He came over just to say hello, and ask if I knew what the protests were about (this often happened.) I explained, as I did, that I was out protesting to. The response, always, was ‘Thank you’ – with my response, ‘I’m a Hong Konger too.’ We chatted together about what was happening. We laughed at how many Riot Police were there, and zero frontline protesters. We swapped numbers, and as we were saying goodbye I could see the Riot Police getting ready for action. Tear gas started being fired and so I jogged away, with people asking me if I was okay. I was given some water for my eyes, and some saline spray. I then went home to curl up with Gai Yau, my pink shark from the Hong Kong Shark Foundation.
The next morning I got up early to meet B to drive up to the Tsz Shan Monastery in Tai Mei Tuk, with the massive statue of Guan Yin that I had cycled past and admired so many times in the last two years. First, we stopped off at to buy some Latvian Rye bread from Mayse Bakery then wondered around the beautiful, peaceful monastery. Standing underneath her I felt so beautiful small, so peacefully insignificant. Surrounded by the bright, vibrant New Territories Countryside, I felt energised, calm – at least for a little while. Cleansing for the soul. There is also no one I would have rather been with, sharing that experience with than B – my absolute rock in Hong Kong – for all the rants, all the giggles. It was truly, truly special.
I wasn’t sure what to do that night, but I realised I was staying right next to the Wing Chun Centre (Ving Tsun Athletic Association) that my brother, and my friend used to train at, which was linked to Ip Man and I believe his sons used to teach there. I’d always wanted to take up a Martial Art (and did take up Muay Thai in Hong Kong) but I’d wanted to try Wing Chun, in all honesty because my brother used to do it. As a teenager I was a recipient of man, many one inch punches. Looking back, like with many things (skating, football, surfing) I don’t know why I just didn’t go with him – insecurity, being female, self doubt – But, it’s never too late – I started doing all these things in my 30s. After walking around and around the building, trying to find an entrance, which I remember doing decades before, I spoke to a security guard who told me the Sifu was out, but called him for me – and animatedly, told me to wait. Sifu showed up, huge smiles, and despite being unable to speak each others languages we managed to laugh, understand each other, and agree that I would turn up that night for the 7pm session. I was so nervous, and had no idea what to expect.
And what happened, was that I had the most incredible 3.5 hours (and oh my were my thighs sore the next day from the basic fighting stance.) When I arrived I was greeted with huge smiles, and a thumbs up on my black bauhinia and umbrella tattoo. Another Sifu was fluent in English and helped me out massively. There were only two other students, both beginners and we laughed, concentrated, pak sau’d lap sau’d (and many others…) It was mentally exhausting, but utterly, utterly wonderful. I left with my heart soaring – wiped out, but rejuvenated. No doubt it was one of my favourite top, top Hong Kong experiences (I know, I know… there are many…) I swopped numbers with Ivan. I think I may have even gone to sleep smiling that night.
The morning I was up early to meet B to head up to the top of Lion Rock – one of my favourite places, with one of my favourite people. It was actually Lion Rock that brought us together in the first place when I contacted her after reading her info-blog on how to hike up to the top. Sore thighs were ignored by non stop chatter and of course, even though we’d done this hike a few times together (B did it almost every day) she showed me some new historical relics – absolute best guide.
Just to note Kowloon Tong Station. It was normal now that at many stations exits were shut, and many machines covered up due to ‘ not working – vandalism.’ It was found out, that a lot of this was bullshit – by people actually trying the machines, and being able to use them, and seeing they clearly weren’t damaged underneath the fabric. Clearly this exit was damaged though!
Back in Jordan I went on a mission to find my own GuanYin Statue (she is now tattooed on my back as well.) I wondered the streets, popped into the Temple near my old work (Eaton House) – ate a burger at Green Common, and eventually found a shop with the most perfect, perfect statue. A cramped shop full of beautiful figurines, vases and statues, the super friendly, excited shop keeper had to climb up on a table to get the one I wanted. I walked home, exhausted – emotional – full of joy, but also full of sadness. It had become the norm since June – such hugely heightened extreme emotions – living side by side – yin and yang.
That night I met up with three of my other favourite ladies – Lauren, Katie & Allie – for a gorgeous dinner at Veggie Family in Moong Kok. I went up to the Prince Edward memorial, lit some candles, and did my final pack for Indonesia. Leaving the next day for a 6 week DiveMaster course. I didn’t want to go. I was exhausted – I thought I had nothing left in me. I wanted to stay home, in Hong Kong, to be there – to protest. To sleep. To stop for a few minutes. But I knew I owed it to myself to do this, and to all those that had helped me get to a place where I could do my Dive Master – to at least get on that plane, and stay two weeks – then I could leave. I stayed the full six, and am now a PADI Divemaster.
I don’t know how to end this. It was a hard, emotionally draining week, but a beautiful week, I wouldn’t change any of it – full of love, experience, solidarity. The fight for Hong Kong is still far from over.