Hong Kong at a crossroads

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Harbour Times departs from hard policy for a personal account that will help our older readers get into the heads of young people on the street. Michael Wong shares his July 1st – and 2nd.

Everything my parents had warned me against was echoing in my head.

Hong Kong is at a crossroads. So was I.

On the 1st of July, as I was getting ready to set out for the annual march, I heard my mother approach the door to my room.

“Do you have to go? You’re not going to change anything. Stay home! You’re flushing your career down the toilet if you get arrested,” she said through the door, evidently troubled.

I whispered under my breath, “I don’t care.”

“What did you just say?”

“Nothing,” I replied.

“I heard that!”

As the conversation ended, I wondered what would happen when my parents found out I had decided to join the sit-in at Tamar after the march. And, of course, I did care.

Not like last time
This year’s July 1st march was quite different from last year, the only other time I’ve participated. There were many more people this time – angrier and more vocal. It took a lot longer to get into Victoria Park, let alone start the actual march. Personally, I marched this year with a mission to report the event and the sit-in after. But this year, the stakes of participating seemed to be much higher. At least, they were to my parents apparently. They were never quite as concerned the year before or any other time I’ve expressed any interest in politics. I was quite conflicted leaving my home, having to resolve the conflict between obeying my parents’ wishes and carrying out what I saw as a Hong Kong citizen’s duty. My exchange with my mother was by no means a unique one.

Many of my friends were told they were forbidden from marching. Some fought with their parents, some conceded and stayed home, and some chose to keep it a secret until they were already on the pavement. I’m quite confident many faced the same internal struggle just being there.

That being said, not all parents were against their children participating on that day. Countless young couples were sighted marching with their young children. A particular boy made my day as we were stranded in a section of Causeway Bay due to a bottleneck further down towards Wanchai. This precocious child made a promise to his mother, saying he would interview five participants on the day. As his father looked over him and guided him, he pulled out his homemade cardboard microphone with “Faux-Reporter Civic Learning” (扮記者 公民學習) inscribed in black ink and started asking us questions. His questions were innocent and he took his time digesting our answers, but he and his family were an inspiration. As one of my friends remarked, if more parents were just as willing to groom their children to  care about their community and actively participate as a citizen, Hong Kong might have hope after all.

Family in conflict
When I finally let my parents know I was staying on after the march, via text, my phone remained curiously silent for a short period of time. But deep into the night, I received a flurry of long texts from my father telling me how I could end up ruining any chances of a successful career, or that my face might be recorded by certain forces. I said to him “I’ll be fine. Go to sleep. I’ll stay out of trouble.” His response broke my heart. “It’s easy for you to say. Both your mom and I can’t sleep.” I wondered to myself why I put myself in such a situation where I feel like the right thing was making my parents suffer. I looked around, observing the faces surrounding me. Most who stayed that night must have been around my age, myself a fresh graduate in my early 20s. How many parents were up that night worrying about their children? How many stomachs cringed at every text and phone call asking them to go home? I wished my parents were much more encouraging, but it was quite clear my parents were simply anxious about their child’s future.

Then again, so was I. I had decided this was my gesture of love towards this community I call home, whose future I am also deeply concerned about.

During the first two hours, I witnessed bus loads of police officers dropped off as they formed walls to surround the area. From what I saw, the crowd was extremely disciplined. Even when a small group of youngsters began provoking the police, others would ask them to stop and the night remained calm and peaceful. I felt confident that the night would turn out just fine, and I would be heading home unscathed at 8am.

We must make choices now.

To be completely frank, while I felt compelled to participate, I wasn’t all that brave when tensions arose that morning. At around 3:30a.m., news broke that the sit in at Chater road was being cleared out. Participants on our end began monitoring the news, whilst keeping a nervous eye on the police around them. Nothing happened then and security had actually loosened instead. But at around 6a.m. a torrent of police vehicles droppedoff large amounts of police squads and officers began marshalling the area. A wall was formed behind where I was standing, with police outnumbering bystanders at around 2 to 1. Were they about to crack down this side as they did Chater? I had no idea. I found myself constantly looking over my shoulder for any signs of action. I kept telling my friend who had stayed as well to keep calm, and if anything happens, don’t give them a reason to use violence against him. Those words were not for him at all, I kept repeating the same things to calm myself instead. Everything my parents had warned me against was echoing in my head.

Is this worth it
“Is this worth it?” I asked myself. Again, I looked around as if I was expecting someone would read my mind and give me an answer. Instead I found faces like my own, nervous, worried, and clueless as to what could happen next. I realised that all these people right here with me, were just ordinary citizens like myself. We all had a lot to lose. We were risking having a criminal record, being forever branded as a troublemaker, or like my father warned me, we were risking our futures. Why did these ordinary citizens, some older and some younger, make such a choice as to sacrifice the security of staying safely at home? To instead stay here at the risk of being arrested?

When morning came and the Chief Executive zoomed by, ignoring those protesting outside the office building, the group was dismissed. I texted my father, “Safe and sound. I’m coming home.” I was glad I had gone, but there was an empty feeling in my gut. Would I have felt the same if what happened at Chater happened in Tamar? I really have no clue.

More than ever before, Hong Kong is at a crossroads. We must make choices now and the stakes are higher than ever. We face a choice with regards to what kind of a future we want, and whether we are willing to pay the cost for it. My personal sense of duty was satisfied at the expense of my parents’ sleep, and the 511 protesters at Chater road face potential prosecution. As it becomes clearer and clearer that the Central Government’s idea of democracy does not align with ours, Hong Kong must choose whether it will take their offer. If the answer is no, ordinary citizens like myself must decide what costs they are willing to pay to make it right. Either way, we will most inevitably face the question, “Is this worth it?”