James Franco, you lucky bugger


I’ve gone AWOL on you folks. Been lax on spreading the love. But big things came up this week: the Ferguson verdict, climate change, my landlady’s ongoing struggle with power outages on our street (apparently squirrels get fried as they run carefree along Bangkok’s ancient wires and trip the power). Then there’s the eviction of the OccupyCentral movement in Hong Kong. After skirmishes with police brandishing pepper sprays, over 100 protesters with student leaders Joshua Wong and Lester Shum were arrested Wednesday in Mong Kok.

James Franco was lucky he did his bloody catwalk a few days early.

And here’s more breaking news: Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying urged the public to get out there and shop. Yes back to the old past-time because Hong Kong’s small businesses are in dire straits in the aftermath of OccupyCentral.

I left Hong Kong for Thailand six months ago for work reasons. But even with the years, there was quite a bit about the city that I could never get used to: the tiny flats, the high cost of living, the stifling preponderance of luxury brand stores when nearly half the population can barely hang on, and I won’t be PC and leave out that the Chinese are some of the rudest people you will come across. They can’t be bothered being polite. But– and this is a crucial but– if we took the stresses they absorb on a daily basis, we’d probably be no different. Go walk a mile in their flip-flops.

The Hong Kong Chinese are conscientious folks. They work long hours, long fucking hours that make you feel like a dilettante. Some hold down two jobs. They give money to their parents as a sign of respect and gratitude, which cut into their household income. And then they go overboard when it comes to their kids’s education (Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mother, my Chinese mates tell me, is their life story). The kids have their after school hours filled with piano/cello/violin, dance, art, language lessons, anything that will make them look good when they apply to universities abroad. At a ridiculously young age, they are intimate with ambition and stress.

That being said, the Hong Kong Chinese have a rebellious streak. Put up a sign anywhere and at some point you’ll see it hidden under a rag, street graffiti, or just ignored. Ooops, I didn’t know you couldn’t sit/smoke/hang your clothes here. And why not? Hong Kong has the widest rich-poor gap of any developed country. There is little incentive in being a dutiful citizen.

Which brings us back to OccupyCentral. On the surface, this protest that erupted in September is about universal suffrage. At its core though is a crushing wealth gap and a system skewed towards the elite.  Alex Chow, leader of the Hong Kong Federation of Students– the most popular political organization in the city according to recent polls– asked: “Is this system that serves the tycoons democracy? Will it lead to a fair society?”

The logic driving Hong Kong’s OccupyCentral movement is simple. If the city were granted democracy, its citizens might be able to choose leaders that can drive genuine social reform. I wonder about democracy though. It’s the silver bullet that’s failed to cut through thick skin. I can’t imagine that the entrenched Hong Kong elite won’t find a way to make even that work for them. In too many countries– where I was born, where many of you come from– democracy has been hijacked by corporations and the extremely wealthy. In Thailand, the junta is supposedly ushering in a new Thai-style democracy. Irony anyone?

This point seems moot now: only a few hundred protesters remain at the sites in Hong Kong. According to the latest Hong Kong University poll, 58% of 18-29 year olds think that the OccupyCentral protests should end and only a third of Hong Kong’s citizens support it. Even controversial Jimmy Lai, owner of Apple Daily newspaper (pro-democratic camp), urged protesters to retreat, re-energise and re-strategise.

Ok, so this post isn’t really about James Franco. It’s about a flagging movement that a city badly needs to succeed. Because it’s not just an Occupy movement, it’s about old people not having to collect trash or work in dim sum restaurants to survive, graduates having jobs, young families being able to afford a place to live. While many predict its demise and a return to status quo, I believe OccupyCentral managed to do at least this: get Hong Kongers to coalesce around the idea that it’s high time this former British colony ceased being just another playground for the 1%.

Good in-depth story on Occupy Central here.

Many never get to see the uglier side of Hong Kong. Curious? Click here and here.

About listentothebabe

writing is the teeth that gnaw on my bones.


  1. “get Hong Kongers to coalesce around the idea that it’s high time this former British colony ceased being just another playground for the 1%.”

    This is a very powerful statement… it’s disheartening to hear that the movement is losing support from it’s people. We only see the touristy image of HK through vacation and travel advertisements but those links show the reality of that place. Great post, very evocative.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I travel to Hong Kong next week, to spend a few days as a tourist in passing. Since it is a much-needed holiday, at first I was a little torn between what I would find there – a protest free environment so I can relax and soak up the city (and Chinese rudeness) without the stress of the scuffles; or appreciate the pluck and courage of those who stand up and resist oppression of their lives. That is silly, no? Me being worried about what would amount to a minor inconvenience to me, versus potential generations of change imposed upon a city. How selfish of me …

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Excellent post. Hong Kong sounds a lot like the U.S. The gap between the super-rich and the poor and middle class ever-widening; the U.S. is now a plutocracy, no longer a democracy. The Ferguson verdict is only one symptom of an ailing nation, a fallen empire. I hope the people in Hong Kong continue the Occupy Movement.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I thought the Ferguson opinion piece I linked to made a good point about violent protests… UK is in the same boat. Pissed off at this wealth gap and the nerve to call it democracy. And no, I don’t agree with Churchill, that for all its imperfections, it’s the best out there. Not a very imaginative species then the human race…


  4. I missed seeing you around here and actually worried about your health – sorry if I sound ‘grandmother-lish’!
    You wrote an in depth post that serves to reflect about many similar issues occurring around the world, as inequalities and power play, are a universal game, played within democratic and dictatorial political systems.
    I beg to disagree with you as I side with Churchill – as bizarre as it can be -, for in a so-called democracy, people still have more freedom than in capitalist-comunist countries like China.
    Social inequality though is a hard reality, and you touched serious points here. At the heart of the conflicts, in HK or in Fergusson, we can always find that the 1% – who can even be part of the same group of blacks, students, etc. – will always defend their own interests to remain in power, regardless of these ‘idealistic’ view of a world where everyone is equal.
    Welcome back! And love the swarm of bikes’ pic, by the way!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post – beautiful writing and good use of pictures. I usually only care about myself but this post made me think about other people and even take interest in them. Looking forward to your post on capitalism.

    Liked by 1 person

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