Uniform

Hong Kong Democracy Protest

Of course, I am talking about the police. This argument is brought up over and over again. Is it fear that makes us defend the police? Or arrogance to only uphold the unpopular view to create controversy? Whatever the reason, in a fight for rights, “uniform” is not a happy term.

There is nothing uniform about covering the faces of demonstrators with pepper spray.

There is nothing uniform about throwing cans of tear gas into crowds of young teenagers, students and the elderly.

There is nothing uniform about hiding behind uniforms and riot shields while crowds of people cower behind umbrellas.

There is nothing uniform about barricading citizens of a country from land, that is their own.

There is nothing uniform about calling yourself a civilian, when you hurt, imprison and demonise pioneers of a much-needed protest.

There is nothing uniform about creating the need for thousands to stand in sweltering heat for over 86 hours.

Your blue ribbon is proof that you do not even realise your privilege. Your blue ribbon shows your disregard for humanity. Your blue ribbon tell me that you are literate, but not educated.

Last year, research found that 20% of Hong Kong citizens are in poverty. That’s roughly 1.3 million people. There are people earning less the HKD 12,000 a month. Meanwhile, in 2012, there was a 35% rise in millionaires in Hong Kong. In our city, the predominant problem is the gap between the poor and the rich. We have made the poor invisible. We have made their suffering unheard of, so the rich can flourish. We have made it harder and harder for families to exist in comfort over the years.

A yellow ribbon symbolises the sun rising on the horizon. It is symbolic of the poor who will no longer take the leftovers of the leftovers that are handed to them. The government can send their uniforms, and their weapons, but in the end, they can’t kill us all.

A yellow ribbon is sign that inequality is a dormant volcano, and when it awakens, the lava doesn’t care if it is an inconvenience to the police who complain of sore feet. They have faced the unjustified wrath of the rich and the government for far too long. It all stops now. You can try to minimise their impact with your weapons and censorship, but they will only come back angrier, with more passion, with more supporters.

Because unlike you, blue ribbons, rich or poor, the majority of us have the common human reflexes to empathise, to understand the very basic nature of this fight. And above all, fight, if anything, for improving the conditions of the 1.3 million people. Unlike you, blue ribbons, we recognise that there is no one human life more important than another. Uniforms will come and go, but our humanity will not falter, unlike yours, blue ribbons.

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The problem with democracy

Ribbons

When the pepper spray and the tear gas dissolved, and people slightly relieved of the pain, the so-called violent mobs of protestors started doing something magical. They started cleaning up the streets. They separated the recyclables. They collected the empty cans of tear gas that were hurled at them hours ago. They shared supplies, they tweeted photos of their defensive tools against the pepper spray and the tear gas – umbrellas. Thus starting the #UmbrellaRevolution on Twitter. They took photos of boxes of umbrellas that vendors and other members of the public were handing to them to keep themselves safe, and protected, under a flimsy sheet of waterproof plastic supported by thin strands of metal, from the guns full of rubber bullets, backpacks of tear gas and pepper spray nozzles in the hands of the riot police.

On any other day, Hong Kongers will spew slurs at each other for not queueing properly, or taking up too much space on a crowded train. Acts of kindness are rare in a normal Hong Kong. We’ll tell you to go fuck everybody and their brother, but when you hurt one of us, the rest of us will not be on your side. The protestors aren’t bothered by your tear gas, because it’ll sting, but the pollution in Hong Kong kills them already. Your pepper spray might blind them temporarily, but they’ll only appreciate their sight more when it returns. You can hit them with your batons, but they will ice their bruises and continue telling you to find your morality.

At the end of the day, dear police officers, you, too, are civilians. In your uniform, you are not authority, you are the physical manifestation of a corrupt government. You are just dancers to whatever tune they set for you, and at the end of the violence and tears, you too, will be suppressed in the darkness. But the difference between you and us, will be that we won’t be alone. Whether we supported each other on the ground in Hong Kong or in London, New York, Malaysia, or Brazil, we will be together.

This small difference is why you can’t break the protestors. You can suffocate the protestors into a corner, but you will suffocate them together, and they will retreat knowing you have lost for violence is not a sign of strength, but a sign of weakness. Weakness that stems from fear. Fear of the unarmed civilians, who stand stronger than you will ever feel. Fear of the students, who shook an entire political system. Fear of the power of education, that despite language barriers and physical pain, shone through every single person standing on the roads of Hong Kong.

Blocking Instagram and censoring other media shows the protestors that you, the government, are afraid of its people. It shows us that you realise that we have broken your bubble. Governments do not control people. People control the government, and we will not let you forget that. You, the government, have failed your people. You have failed the very foundation of your existence. You have failed the ones who will love their city unconditionally, but are not afraid of you, or your guns and your vague official comments. You have realised that we don’t need you.

You need us.

 

Secrets

I have a friend who is a professor at a community college. An ex-coach of several all-girls teams, who now focuses on mental and physical health along with other aspects of the human condition. She’s got a flawless score on ratemyprofessor.com and is loved by all, hated by none. This coach has dedicated her life to setting her students up for future success and stability all by assigning them far too much work that focuses on reflecting on their lives and experiences. She’s been doing this for over 20 years now and each and every year, her class has countless students on the waiting list, ready to do whatever it takes to get into one of her classes.

And every year when classes start up again, she tells me how affected she is by the experiences of their students, how surprised she is by what they are willing to share under the veil anonymity, how it seems like life never even gave some students a chance, how she hates the fact that so many perpetrators got away because her students were too afraid to ask for help and kept their sometimes vile experiences a secret buried deep inside them.

Today, she told me a story of a young girl in her class, who identified herself as someone who trusts too quickly, which leads her to get hurt just as fast as well. The student wrote about her old personality, comparing it to her new one which is steeped in anger and violence. All because she had trusted a boyfriend, who later drugged her and raped her. She woke up covered in blood, along with the realisation that she could not trust anybody in her life. Out of shame and disgust, she kept her story a secret, until this teacher came along, and the student wrote out her soul on a piece of paper. She wrote about the fact that she has taught herself to no longer trust anyone. She has taught herself to be strong in the way of reacting with anger and violence during unwanted, albeit sometimes harmless encounters – like someone touching her arm by accident. This young girl’s shame has mirrored every experience she has had since this crime was committed onto her body, soul and mind. In fact, all of this young girl’s future experiences will be a reflection of her rape. She has never gotten help, she has never told anyone. She has never had the chance to be a victim and see her criminal be punished for his actions. She may never get closure of knowing that she has not done anything wrong by trusting another human being.

Her previous of faith and trust in humanity is not a weakness, but a strength. Her previous understanding that her trust in people was possibly her greatest strength. The fact that she placed trust in another human was also not a mistake, but a show of courage and strength that she truly believes that as humans, we can expect each other to not intentionally hurt one another. Perhaps if we had managed to create a world and society where she felt right in the knowledge that having this happen to her meant that she would not be criticised or shunned or need to feel ashamed, but use her strength to bring down her rapist. If anyone deserves to feel weak, hurt and ashamed it is her rapist, because in an ideal situation, as a society, we would have created an environment where he is punished for his vile crime, where he has full understanding of the fact that no one, except him, is in the wrong and that his punishment would be an accurate representation of the trauma he forced onto somebody else. His punishment might have never made her pain go away, but it would have reiterated the fact that she is safe, that she has the support of her entire world, and that there was no way in hell anyone would be critical of her traumatic experience.

Her secret has shaped her current life, and will continue to shape her future. No matter what words come out of her teacher, no matter how hard she is urged to seek help and discuss her problems, she will live with the knowledge that her rapist has walked away from a truly heinous crime.

We can have an argument and yell at each other about how not ALL humans should be trusted, and that MOST men are in fact, not rapists. But all the MOSTs and the ALLs and the MANYs are just veils to cover up the dirty grime that live beneath the surface. Every use of MOST men or MANY women is ignoring the ones that do perpetuate violence, rape and anguish onto others. Looking at the whole picture means recognising the discrepancies in how we choose to avoid the negative, how we avoid the small corners of distress so we don’t have to deal with it. Looking at a whole picture does not mean ignoring the sum of its parts.

Until the next rant.

Letting go

It starts with that one extra cigarette, sitting on your window sill, staring out into the clouds, the rain, the sun, the blue skies, whatever you’ve got, you just stare. Why lie about it anymore? It was never going to happen. You go round and round, in neat circles, in messy unspoken words, every possible scenario already played out in your head. There is nothing new left there. Nothing except your constantly oblique eyebrows that are now giving you a headache. The smoke collects around your lips, clouding your lungs and mind at the same time, every drag closing you up some more. 

One last cigarette. Can you look at yourself for more than a second in the mirror? Probably not. You just stare at the love handles, the imagined wrinkle, those weak knees and you’re pretty sure your feet aren’t the same size. Your breasts are too small, too big, too average, too normal. Your hair is too damp, too wet, too long and too short, all at the same time. You glance away, wrap yourself in a towel as you swear you’ll never leave the house showing those knees again. 

You refuse to let go. Because why would you? 

Another cigarette, you have nothing better to do. That five seconds of fresh air stabbing your throat or an explosion you can’t explain, your head dizzying. There’s clearly something in the air. A swift crack of the lighter later, you take your third first drag at which point you remember all the words he had said about your smoking. “You are killing yourself.” Why couldn’t you see that? Have you any regard for your health? He’d tell you to stop. He’d not say a word, he wouldn’t even look at you while you smoked, but your cheeky grin would stay. Oh, the disapproval cracked you up, didn’t it? Just the thought that someone, however important, could tell you to do something. But the funniest part was that they expected you to follow along, stub out the cigarette. Don’t they know it’s the only time you can breathe? What happened to him? What happened to you? How did you get here? You’ll start wondering where he is, who he’s with, if he’s happy, because after all, that’s all you ever wanted. You realised you had expectations of him. It scared you off miles away, all because you couldn’t, you wouldn’t talk. Everything is fine, you’d say. He got tired of waiting, tired of being rejected and abandoned. It was best for him anyway. But you can’t let go, can you? 

You look around your room, jump off the window sill and onto the floor. Just staring at the emptiness in your room, the meaningless clutter that you wouldn’t miss for a second. All the to-do lists but no photos, all the lamps, but none of the lightbulbs work. You take a peek at the lists, decide that’s for another day. 

I live in the clouds

Image

Literally. I also think that’s the most clever title for a blog post ever – so proud of myself. I just really want to put that photo out there. Living on the 61st floor has its perks, especially with crazy weather. 

Anyway, so what I really wanted to think through was the lack of discussion surrounding the truly massive gender issues in Hong Kong. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Hong Kong needs a serious injection of feminism. I’ve had several conversations in the mere six days that I have been here where women and men have displayed a seriously disturbing understanding of “equality” and “gender rights.” I would love to pinpoint where, how and why this originated, with debates regarding China’s communist principles (read: one child policy), and discuss the portrayal of women on Chinese TV shows and movies (still heavily stereotypical) and the normalization of these stereotypes under the belief that it is all biological. I won’t even mention this assumed knowledge within (what seems to be) the majority of youth in Hong Kong that it is indecent for women to be outspoken, loud and opinionated (read: me) and that it’s possibly the most anti-feminine thing one could do. 

Okay, I digress. so, yes, this is obviously quite serious. And it’s such a shame because universities and other organizations have been pouring a great amount of effort into gender issues, however, it is simply not as apparent here. In London, I will see a feminist poster at almost every street corner, or every other tweet will be highlighting the need to address gender issues in London’s schools, workplaces and so forth. But it’s just not the same. I just don’t see it. 

Instead, I see extremely regressive advertisements that are somehow deemed appropriate all over Hong Kong’s train stations – scantily clad women as a method of advertising plastic surgery and “natural” boob-job advertisements for women and muscular men as a representation of fitness, and good health. Anti-smoking campaigns dictating with a picture of a smiling woman that she will be “prettier” if she quit smoking. The binaries of masculine vs. feminine are very much alive, and are being perceived equally by the tiny, young and old. Once you point out these issues, everyone suddenly jumps at their feet in criticism of these advertisements, and yet we are just letting it happen. 

All because it is still at a grassroots level. It’s taking too long for this to become a bigger deal, as it rightly should. We have succumbed to being a happy level of superficiality, and it’s time to change. It’s one of those things where I have no idea where I could even begin helping. There are some truly great individuals helping to change this disappointing status quo, some excellent feminist research being produced right here in Hong Kong, but we really need to up the scale of attention these are given. I’d honestly love nothing more than seeing these individuals become academic celebrities for their (in some cases, truly innovative) work. 

I figure I’m going to let these thoughts tumble around in my head for a couple of days, but I’ll get to a conclusion, eventually. 

-SR 

Jetlag

Well, in all honesty, it’s a mixture of jetlag and just general irregular patterns of sleep – and let me just say that I’m not exaggerating even slightly when I exclaim “IT’S BAD” in horror. It’s real bad. 

This is what happens. I will roll into bed between 11pm and midnight, then around 2am (or if I’m lucky around 3am) I’ll be wide awake. Then around 6am (if I’m lucky), usually 7am, I’ll fall asleep again. This has been happening since I arrived, included the night I got in. I can’t begin to explain the various levels of frustration one goes through with this kind of a sleep pattern. 

Anyway, so I’ve been listening to shit music, reading Virginia Woolf – all bad choices in hindsight because the music riles me up and Virginia Woolf makes me want to desperately dismantle the patriarchy and find a more equal way of existing. Casual goals, as obvious. Again, in all honesty, I don’t know if I can have another feminist debate with someone who clearly knows jackshit and is completely disinterested in politics and the ways of the world, but of course, that doesn’t stop them from pretending (or worse, claiming). At the same time, I feel the need to stick with it, fight the food fight, whenever and wherever possible, even if it means conversing with individuals who are stubborn enough to have their minds made up before a discussion can take place.

It’s really weird being back home. I don’t want to indulge in family politics, but I feel compelled, as a part of the family. But things are just so much happier when we do the unhealthy thing and ignore them – for the short term, which is exactly how long I’m here for.

In other news, I am currently in Hong Kong, at 6am, going over a conversation with a really good friend who said I am goal-oriented and quite the “diva.” And we discussed the negative connotations attached to the word “diva” and how, of course, it’s yet another word related to women. I think I’ve decided that I’m not a diva, I just know what I want, and how to achieve it. I know it was meant entirely in good spirits, which is why there’s no rage. I have been trying to think of male equivalent of the word “diva” but the first thing that popped into my own head was “drama queen” which ashamedly, shows the internalization of my social conditioning. But if there’s a will to fight it, that will will succeed, so I am not going to beat myself over it.

Okay, I need to stop and sleep. Or make some coffee, stay awake all day and maybe, just maybe, I’ll crash in the evening.