By Assunta Ng
Northwest Asian Weekly
I watched on live television about how the Hong Kong (HK) government shut down students’ <!–more–>protest-for-democracy camps last week. The conversation I had with the students in HK in November was still vivid in my memory. Ironically, I was in HK for my high school reunion. To be defiant was the last thing that came to our minds as students four decades ago.
We behaved like robots, carrying out every task the teacher asked us to do. We never dared to utter one word to fight the teachers and school authorities even when we knew they were wrong sometimes. We had to accept and swallow every single injustice that happened to us in school.
Now, one of my high school classmates has accused the protestors of being used by America’s CIA.
I did receive one of those emails about the same subject with sources created by HK’s China-supported newspaper.
“Where’s the evidence?” I asked my classmate. Without any hesitations and raising her emotional voice, she insisted that it was true. “I know a friend who knew that the CIA gave $20 million to Jimmy Lai (a HK media mogul) to stir up things,” she explained.
I was not impressed with her argument, and I wasn’t interested in arguing. I am a journalist; I couldn’t just accept hearsay as fact. The only question I wanted answered was if the students knew what they were doing and it was based on their own free will.
So my husband and I ventured into Admiralty, one of the three main protest sites (this used to be a busy part of town, a hub that connected many roads between downtown and other parts of the city). The blockage created hours and hours of traffic jams especially during weekdays, which deeply offended and annoyed thousands of drivers. It disrupted and hurt businesses and people trying to get to work. We met another couple, like us, former HK residents, but now visiting from San Francisco. There were many curious tourists and bystanders walking into the camps.
We visited the camps, in the middle of a freeway on a Sunday at 11 a.m. Layers and layers of fences surrounded the camps to ensure cars and invaders couldn’t break in. A few students were still sleeping inside the tents. I supposed the youth stayed awake at night to watch for intruders and any sign of danger.
It was surprising to see the sophisticated organization of the camps—divided into living quarters, food supplies and resource sections and even a “study” section with chairs and tables just like a regular classroom–except it was in a road. One student was reviewing her work. My other classmate, a public relations executive, told me that she did tutor the protestors once. Professionals and teachers had volunteered as tutors too.
The protestors’ slogan, “We stop school, but not learning.”
We were allowed to take pictures, but the female adult told us not to film the students’ faces.
I met a young male university student majoring in art, who was part of the protest. I told him I was once a Hong Kong resident, but now a U.S. citizen. My point was, I view them with objectivity, and he could share with me.
Yes, the protester wasn’t some naïve kid who had no clue what he was doing. He had both guts and heart. I asked him his parents’ reaction. “They are OK with it,” but not necessarily liking it, he said.
At the time, he didn’t think the protest could continue much longer due to the loss of the public’s support. “We don’t want to increase public outcry any more,” he said.
Then we encountered a pair of French students who happened to travel to HK, and decided to sleep in one of the camps. Why were they there?
“It’s free,” they said, so they don’t need to spend money living in hotels. And free food too. They seemed to be enjoying living on the street. The only inconvenience was that, they had to travel quite far to use the restrooms. Of course, they supported democracy.
Back at my hotel, I talked to one of the employees. How did the two-month protest impact her life?
“It was horrible,” she replied. “The road was blocked so customers and cars couldn’t come to the hotel. Business just dived. Our occupancy rate dropped to 10 percent at one point. Management was afraid that we couldn’t come to work so they told us to stay in the hotel overnight. It’s hard for us who have families, and we couldn’t go home.”
I thought she and her colleagues would be treated in the hotel suites.
“No, we had to sleep on the floor where our work station was,” she said. “Just this month, management told us our pay would be cut 10 percent. I know they will not increase our pay even when the protest is over.”
“Are you mad at the students for creating the mess?” I asked.
“No, I didn’t say too much because I know what they are fighting for. I want democracy for Hong Kong too.”
My HK relative who was against the students, said, “What will happen to these young people, will be disaster. They will not be able to get their certificate of no criminal conviction with a (protest) record. Without the card, they won’t be able to get jobs in HK.”
My classmate who was a sympathizer, said, “With these students’ guts and voice, they can get into any American, Canadian, or European universities. Did you hear how they articulate on TV?” (end)
Assunta Ng can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.