Another dreaded question

There are many dreaded questions, spanning from your classic lover’s turmoil of “do you still love me?” to a phone call that starts off eerily silent and the receiver just asks “what happened?”

But there’s one question that came up time and time again over the last few weeks, and I have had to laugh it off, because I still have not come up with an appropriate response. Mainly because I feel any answer would create a unwanted certainty, or at best, a white lie with transformation capabilities. The question arose ever since I spread the news of my departure from London. The question generally takes the form of, “When will you be back next?” but sometimes, it is phrased as “When will we see each other again?”

I say it’s a dreaded question because I have no answer. There are perhaps a small handful of people I will see again in the next few years, but the sad truth, the majority of those people and I will never cross paths again. That was the end of an experience for both parties. With their own undecided futures, they ask so hopefully when I would be back, as if they were certain of their time in the city. The only life lesson you will never need to learn about cities like London and Hong Kong is that “staying the same” means something entirely different. The truth is, nothing is ever the same. In these cities, people glide in and out of your life like sneezes. Annoyingly present one minute… only to disappear and be forgotten in another.

Then, of course, there’s the soft call of death when older relatives ask you the same question. The reminder that all your pessimism is in fact, lethal to yourself and those around you, and that is probably why you spew bullshit about never seeing the majority of your friends in a city you could call home given different circumstances. And that is why you concoct lies about the uncertainty of the future and the vagueness of our lives and experiences, because putting in the effort to go and see someone would show that you care.

And we all know that we only start showing care on our deathbeds, when our loved ones have been misplaced from our lives for far too long at that point.

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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.

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.

 

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 

First day back

This is the longest I’ve ever been away from home. So my exceptionally long flight from London to Hong Kong actually went by quickly, despite the lack of sleep. I even committed the most un-Hong Kong (or un-London) crime of all and spoke to the individual next to me, saying “Oh my god! I’m home!” as the plane came to a halt at our gate. 

After spending a good several hours with the family, I’ve realise how quickly we adapt to new situations. I forgot what it day-to-day was like in this space, how different everything seems to my new day-to-day rituals. I forgot the short temper that binds everyone together. A temper that evaporates as quickly as it appears, thankfully. But above all, I forgot all the laughter. Oh, all the laughter at all the stupid things. There are no jokes, just a range of laughter from giggles to hysterical laughter, just because of the one thing that doesn’t belong in the norm of the household. 

I had forgotten how terrified I am of my father, so thank you world for bringing that back, I obviously couldn’t have lived without that. I can’t wait for this holiday. I could write an entire screen play based around actual events of this holiday, and it would be a success – even though it hasn’t even started yet. 

Oh, the joy of family.