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.