Sunday, November 23, 2014

Into week nine of the Umbrella Movement

The road right in front of the headquarters 

What the section of the Admiralty protest area looks like
about five minutes walk eastwards along Connaught Road 
from the PLA's headquarters

 According to this census report, there have been
over 2,000 tents at Admiralty since October 25

More than once since September 28 (i.e., slightly more than eight weeks ago now), my friends and I have wondered "What would first time visitors to Hong Kong make of this?" when hanging about the Umbrella Movement's protest areas.  This afternoon, I got an idea via a conversation I had with a first time visitor to Hong Kong from France while he and I waited for the designs we had printed gratis on a  sweatshirt of his and a t-shirt of mine to dry.

As I suspected, he had little idea of how truly unusual the sight he was witnessing was -- one that few Hong Kong residents ever could have imagined that Admiralty (and for that matter, the occupied areas of Mongkok and Causeway Bay too) could look like prior to September 28, yet actually may have themselves come to think of as no longer all that extraordinary!

It's not just that major roads are bereft of cars and other motorised vehicles, and there are lots of tents and other designed-to-be-temporary structures on them.  Rather, it's also that there are people casually doing stuff like strolling about on these officially pedestrian-free areas, sitting and lying about, having conversations and discussions, even reading and studying -- some in an area specially designated for such, to boot -- on them, printing designs on T-shirts, etc., etc. -- and that many of these people, prior to September 23, probably had never ever engaged in acts of civil disobedience before.

Something else I gathered from the conversation was that this visitor -- -- who had just arrived in Hong Kong today -- was impressed by the number of people out today.  Part of me wanted to say to him, "Aah, but there had been so many more protesters here some weeks back" (as can be seen on this wonderful Youtube video that also has English subtitles for Beyond's Boundless Ocean Vast Skies)But the truth of the matter is that even I am touched by how many people remain out there in what is now the Umbrella Movement's ninth week.  

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Staying, going, returning?

is still at Occupy Admiralty!

 Gone, however, is the little Totoro (seen here with Puppet Ponyo) 
that used to stand in front of the Legislative Council Complex :(

But the big Totoro with the wide grin is still 
standing by the bus stop on Harcourt Road!

Pretty much ever since the Umbrella Movement got going, there have been people saying that the protesters should give up and go home.  Early on, those demanding that the protesters stop their Occupation were either those who either were virulently hostile against the pursuit of (full) democracy for Hong Kong or were sympathetic but feared -- and didn't want -- people dying for the cause. 

Increasingly though, there also are a significant number of people who feel they have been unfairly inconvenienced for too long by the Occupation of major streets, and those who feel that the current protest techniques are not working, so maybe some other tactic should be attempted -- including withdrawing now of one's own accord (rather than because one had been forced to by the police or whoever else) and then regrouping later. And as much as some diehard Occupy protesters would want to deny it, there's a sense that those who want the protesters to leave are now in a majority.

At Admiralty today, however, the signs seem mixed -- even as far as the fates of certain inanimate characters that have come to be associated with it go.  For instance, the Umbrella Man has left the area -- reportedly, temporarily for maintenance purposes -- but a smaller version has turned up as proxy.  And while the small Totoro origami figure appeared to have been a victim of the clashes between police and those people who tried to break into the Legislative Council Complex early on Wednesday, the large Totoro cutout is very much still around -- and popular with photographers and other visitors to the protest site.

Then there's the case of the Minion that had been standing on Tim Mei Avenue until the area around the entrances and exits of Citic Tower were cleared by court order on Tuesday.  When I visited on Tuesday night and failed to spot it, I feared that it had been destroyed and thus gone forever.  But this afternoon, I was pleased to find it standing near the Lennon Wall!

Perhaps therein lies a lesson for the Umbrella Movement in general: that is, that people could act and look like they have withdrawn but, instead of giving up completely, it could just be a case of retreating and then regrouping and reappearing at another time and place.  Put another way: by all means don't give up the fight but perhaps the time has come to try a different tactic -- one that's more akin to Bruce Lee's famous "be water, my friend" injunction?

Friday, November 21, 2014

Free cool print screenings on offer at Occupy Causeway Bay!

Being offered free of charge at Occupy Causeway Bay

Yep, screen printings on T-shirts!

And yes, there's more than one design to choose from! ;b

Perhaps because it was the very first "Occupied" area of Hong Kong that I visited and did my first protesting at, I have a soft spot for the protest site at Causeway Bay.  Yes, it may seem like a pale version of what it once was, especially after it shrank so much so much that one side of Hennessy Road has been open to road traffic, but I do think that its existence still does serve a purpose -- and mean something to some people.  And yes, I still do make a point to occasionally check out what's going on there.

This evening, in addition to the posters and other items out on open view, and the speakers and their assembled audiences, there was something which I hadn't previously seen at the site before: volunteers print screening t-shirts with Umbrella Movement-themed slogans and imagery.  All people have to do is to buy and then bring their own (preferably plain) T-shirts.  Then they'll be able to have ones emblazoned with words such as "Everything will be okay in the end.  If it's not okay, it's not the end - John Lennon".  

And yes, seeing them got me ruing my not having a T-shirt on me -- and I do hope that this print screening offer will still be on this weekend, as I sure would like to avail myself of it! :)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The peaceful norm at Occupy Admiralty

A new creative installation I spotted 
at Admiralty last night

The scene at Harcourt Road last night
(it was drizzling a bit at the time that I took this photo)
 
I woke up this morning to news of clashes taking place at Occupy Admiralty as some radical protesters tried to break into the Legislative Council building in the wee hours of the night.  And while their first attempt at around 10pm (which I witnessed) had been quickly quelled, subsequent attempts had resulted in glass being broken and the arrest of four men.
 
When discussing these events with friends who support the Umbrella Movement, everyone was united in their dismay that property had been damaged and hoped that this doesn't reflect badly on the protests as a whole.  To put things in context: to my knowledge, this is the first time since the Umbrella Movement came about that any part of a building has suffered damage, however small -- such has been the non-violent nature of these protests.

Indeed, last night, as I walked through Admiralty (and part of "occupied Central), the scene seemed as mellow and peaceful as I've come to expect it to be.  And as I headed to the MTR entrance at Admiralty Centre, I came across the kind of scene that actually relaxed me and made me wish I could linger longer in the area: one featuring a singer-guitarist and his young (maybe not even seven year old?) son entertaining an appreciative gathered audience with dreamy, easy-listening numbers. As I told a friend, this was the kind of thing that hardly ever gets covered in the news -- not least about protesters and their protests -- and definitely not last night!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

At Admiralty tonight

-- with the help of protesters -- but others remain

Umbrella Man has left Admiralty -- 
but other creative installations remain 
(including small and big Totoros!)

Honestly now, does Admiralty look unoccupied to you yet?

It's late in the night and I just got back from Admiralty a few minutes ago, so I'll be brief here: Word was spread this afternoon that part of the protest area at Admiralty had been cleared While this is true enough, I think a lot of people don't realize how small the area that has been cleared is, as can be seen when looking at this map and comparing the cleared space marked in red vis a vis the still Occupied space that's marked in green.

Walking to the site from Central this evening, things looked pretty much like they were on Sunday and recent other days that I've been in the area.  It was only when I got to the site where the Umbrella Man once stood that I noticed a difference -- in that the Umbrella Man has been removed (for protection by its creator, from what I heard) -- and, a few meters on, the area immediately around Citic Tower.  And even in the case of the latter, only one lane of the side road has been cleared of barriers and tents and now open to traffic -- and the smattering of police officers who have been deployed to that space often find Umbrella Movement supporters walking all around them!

While I was in the area, I suddenly heard the kind of communal roar that I previously associated mostly with crowds at football matches.  These days though, I've come to associate it with (signs of) trouble in the protest areas.  From what I've gathered, some masked men had tried to remove barricades from the Legco Building entrance but were prevented from doing so by the large crowd that had quickly gathered.

On Sunday, a friend of mine had wondered aloud how many tents at Admiralty were actually occupied -- and, attendantly, how many people were actually in the area.  Judging from tonight, the numbers are higher than the skeptics may have thought -- and among those numbers are many who are very ready and willing to help to protect the claimed Umbrella Movement space when the need arises!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Art and protest are alive at Occupy Mongkok (Photo-essay)

At work today, a colleague (who's also a good friend) and I told each other of our having been to Mongkok over the weekend -- she on Saturday, and me yesterday.  I commented, and she agreed, that to hear some people talk, the protest area there is this super volatile, dangerous place.  And yet, on the occasions that we've been, we've both felt pretty safe in the main.

Sure, Occupy Mongkok does look somewhat worse for wear than the equivalent site at Admiralty.  Also, more people can be seen smoking there than at Admiralty or Causeway Bay (and once -- but just once! -- I saw a few empty beer bottles lying on the street).  But in many ways, that's par for the course in terms of Mongkok's general image as a place that's grittier, more grimy and/but also more "real" than many other parts of "Asia's World City".  And here's also providing proof through my photography that there's not to say that art and culture are missing from it!

   Not so long ago, it would have been well nigh impossible
to imagine Nathan Road looking like this

Even these days, it's easy to think that nothing's
seriously amiss when seeing scenes like these

In the meantime though, behind the barricades
can be found artistic works like this one depicting
various Umbrella Movement protesters 

Causeway Bay (and, in smaller forms, at Admiralty)

Click on this image (and also the Angry Totoro) to see
and be wowed at the work's details

As at Admiralty and Causeway Bay, there are lessons
as well as items that people are volunteering to give

Still, it's most definitely not all fun and games there
-- as these signs serve to remind people

An encouraging sign, and thought to bear in mind

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Occupy Mongkok this afternoon (and a bit of Hello Kitty too)

At Occupy Mongkok earlier today

...there are direct messages being communicated

 ...but also some whimsical Umbrella Movement inspired images ;)

Today has been one of those Sundays in November here in Hong Kong that usually would have had me raring to go out hiking -- what with the humidity having dropped considerably compared to in the spring and summer, and there being relatively high visibility and beautiful blue skies in sight.  But since the situation hasn't been exactly normal in "Asia's World City" since September 28, seven Sundays ago now, I forewent my favorite outdoor activity for the eight consecutive Sunday since returning from my wonderful Japan trip (which I still have yet to devote a single blog post to!).

To be fair, today, I also wouldn't have gone out hiking because: firstly, I am nursing what's hopefully the last dregs of a cold that's been bugging me all week; and secondly (and yes, I'm freely admitting this), I felt compelled to go check out the Hello Kitty Go Around event at KITEC whose final day this was!  Still, it's true enough that a large part of my afternoon -- and quite a bit of the evening too -- was spent in "Occupied" areas of Hong Kong.

More specifically, I went directly from KITEC to Mongkok, where -- again, to show how abnormal things are these days -- I ended up taking more photos than at the Hello Kitty Go Around event; this in part because I felt a need to record the scenes there in what could be my visit to the Mongkok protest area due to the courts having cleared the way for bailiffs to end the "Occupation" there

Something I definitely noticed compared to when I previously visited the area (and also compared to the situation at Admiralty) was the presence of a significant number of uniformed and non-uniformed police officers (the latter of whom could be seen conversing with and moving about close to the former) strolling about in the area, not just standing about at its edges. Maybe I'm reading too much into their behavior but it looked to me like they were effectively conducting recces and scoping out the area in advance to figure out how best to clear the area in the near future.

However, no one confronted any police officers or tried to impede their movements while I was there.  And while I witnessed one loud discussion among a bunch of mainly elderly men in the area, things actually generally felt more mellow this afternoon than when I visited three weeks ago. Also, from what I was able to observe myself, I can't believe that the businesses along the "Occupied" sections of Nathan Road and associated streets are suffering that much as there were quite a few patrons in many of them, including those mainland tourists who buy so much stuff in Hong Kong that they cannot go shopping without their wheeled luggage in tow.

Some of the mainland tourists actually ventured into the protest areas to take snaps of the scenes but in the main, the Mongkok protest area crowd were Cantonese-speaking and also came across as pretty local.  Interestingly though, I noticed more signs written in English as well as traditional Chinese characters compared to three weeks ago too, and also the large Totoro image that the blogger behind The Fragrant Harbour had spotted at Causeway Bay on Friday.  Also, while I had felt on my previous visit that Mongkok didn't have much interesting artwork compared to Admiralty, it seemed too like that had increased in number and quality over the past three weeks!

Among the creative pieces that particularly caught my eye this afternoon were a whimsical illustration which put the now infamous Xi Jinping carrying an umbrella image in the scene from My Neighbor Totoro when O-Totoro has fun in the rain while waiting for his (cat)bus to arrive, and a yellow umbrella image made out of at least one hundred post-its with messages handwritten on them.  Re the latter: some bits of it have gotten waterlogged and come close to disintegrating.  On one hand, it's a shame -- but this also gives a good sense of how long something that few people thought was going to last so long already has gone on for.