It’s been a crazy 24 hours. I’m writing this on my flight from HK to Hanoi. I was actually supposed to leave yesterday afternoon. I was on the plane and we were just about to depart from the gate. Then they announced that due to the virus, Vietnam just closed all flights coming in from mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan (Becuz Taiwan is a part of China? Lol…). No one, including the airline crew knew what was going on. Everyone was clearly surprised. The pilot said that in his 20 years of flying he’s never experienced something like this. All we were told was that we had to get off the plane. I was a bit annoyed, I had a whole booked itinerary planned from Vietnam, I had to figure out how I was going to get there and when, would I even be allowed to leave? Am I stuck in HK? Where am I going to stay for the night? For the week if I have to? I need to call my booking company in Vietnam, how do I do that if I can’t make international calls? Should I try to fly to Vietnam via a different city? So many things to figure out. But wow, what a crazy moment to be living in. A sudden foreign policy decision in response to an epidemic in a bordering nation, and I was caught in the middle of it. How exciting! (Wow nerd alert 😂)
But first I needed to get off this damn plane. After they told us the news it took maybe another hour or so before we could actually deplane. As I was walking off, I saw a young woman crying and talking to the cabin crew, she was saying how she didn’t have any money to buy another ticket and she didn’t know what to do. It was at that moment where I felt the deep gratitude I had for my situation. Grateful I had the resources to be able to search for a place to stay, to buy another plane ticket, to be able to leave the current situation. Grateful that I wasn’t in Hubei, or still in China for that matter. Grateful for the passport that I held.
It’s been a very emotional 3 weeks here in Hong Kong. A very interesting, some would say scary, time to be here – with the protests, the virus, and CNY all in the past 3 weeks. I’ve had a lot of happy moments, visiting old friends and family, making new friends, eating good food :D, but I’ve also had some scary moments, some sad. To be honest with you I don’t really know where or how to start. There’s so much to say, and yet I don’t quite know how to say it. So much on my mind but I can’t seem to form a coherent sentence when I write or talk about it. I guess it’s just really… complicated.
I arrived in Hong Kong after spending 3 months in mainland China. I was really having a nice time in China, seeing different cities, using the Chinese apps, speaking and improving my Mandarin. I kind of missed it tbh (wow, never thought I’d say that) Visiting my ancestral hometowns was also fun, not only to be able to meet one of my uncles for the first time, but also being able to distinguish between different pieces of my Chineseness – to understand which parts come from the Taishan/Guangdong side, which parts come from the Fujian parts. Before, I always just associated everything related to my Chinese identity as just that, now I am beginning to understand the regional cultural differences of my identity. It’s kinda fun! I’m not gonna lie, it took a bit of adjusting to be in HK. In the beginning, I would try to speak Cantonese but sometimes Mandarin words come out 😭 (or they’d be in Mandarin tones? Lol). I missed the convenience of being able to use my phone to pay for everything, to rent a bike anywhere on the street, to find good restaurants using Dazhong Dianping 大众点评 (basically Chinese Yelp but 100x better). I also missed eating different types of Chinese food, to the extent that (wow I’m going to get so much shit for this) I began to find Cantonese food kinda boring??!? But, despite this, I was happy to be in Hong Kong. Happy because yes, I was able to freely use the internet again! (Hooray!) Happy to know that I didn’t have to constantly watch my back with the Chinese government. But most of all, happy to be in a familiar place, a place which I often consider to be my Chinese cultural homeland.
I guess I say this because I’ve felt connected to Hong Kong since I was a child. When I was young, our family would listen to Hong Kong music, watch Hong Kong movies, speak Cantonese, go out to Cantonese restaurants, etc. Growing up, my dad would constantly tell stories about life in Hong Kong. Honestly, I don’t really remember the specifics of the stories, but I remember the feeling and sound of his voice when he’d talk about it. He sounded joyful, happy, nostalgic. “Back in Hong Kong, we used to do this,” “Back in Hong Kong, this tastes 10x better,” “Back in Hong Kong, etc etc etc,” Sounded like a great place to me! He was proud to be from Hong Kong. But he was also proud to be Chinese. I remember how excited he was the day Hong Kong reunited with China in 1997. Word on the street is that he was quite the little activist himself and would help pass out communist propaganda when he was in high school. Idk if this is true though or where I even heard it from (but I do remember hearing about it!). I remember one of the last conversations I had with my dad. He was clearly sad and depressed about his situation. I asked him what he was going to do. He told me he was going to move back to Hong Kong. He probably thought he would be happier there. Sometimes I wonder what life would be like if he did moved there instead. What would he think of the current situation? Obviously my father’s views of HK were romanticized and sensationalized by his growing up there and then moving away when he was 20. At that point it was 2011 and HK was a different place. But his view of HK had never left my mind. And his love for the place continues to be instilled in me today.
This was now my fourth time in HK. Mass protest, demonstration, and civil unrest have been occurring throughout the city for about six months now. Before I arrived, everyone told me to be careful. But at first glance, everything seemed pretty business as usual. No real disruptions to daily life. People out and about, going to work, traveling on the MTR, etc etc. I guess IDK what I was expecting. The media made it seem like HK was a war zone. But taking a deeper look, I began to see some small pieces of disruption – MTR exits/machines closed, business storefronts vandalized, posters/graffiti/writings on walls and streets throughout the city. And then I began to see the factions, “yellow” businesses and supporters of democracy, “blue” businesses and supporters of the police/government. Slowly began to understand why my HK friends told me that, “Hong Kong is a sad place now.”
Went to one of the protests today. I don’t know if I’ve been that scared in a long time.
I felt myself getting emotional multiple times. There were speakers in the beginning. I wish my Cantonese was better so I could understand more. Fucking A. Felt calm and peaceful in the beginning. There was a fucking stupid American bro with a muscle shirt and mask who spoke too. He said nothing substantial. Just kept screaming. He’ll die for Hong Kong he yelled. He said death to the Chinese Communist Party. He said America supports you. What a fucking idiot. I’m surprised they gave him a platform, but I could understand why they did. He just sounded like an idiot. Like some anarchist bro. Even people in the crowds were laughing at him. So many Americans here and this is who’s representing us? Cringe.
Then we started marching. I think we were supposed to march somewhere, but those plans seemed to end quickly. As people were marching, easily thousands, others wearing all black were out vandalizing, spray painting walls, etc. The police came immediately and people started going in all different directions. We were being surrounded. I felt scared. But also still curious. Def didn’t seem like a “family friendly” march. Lot’s of young people, mostly under 30 I would say. Few elderly or children. Everyone seemed to know the signs though. Lot’s of experienced protesters. Police were chasing down the vandalizes everywhere. In a way, the protest felt like a cover up for people to go out and vandalize but idk. There were dogs. Well people kept saying there were. I heard multiple shots fired, it was unclear what was shot, tear gas, bullets or what. It did feel a bit dangerous. In the crowds there were US flags, Taiwan flags, British flags, German flags, I didn’t really understand them. Show of support?
The young people are inspiring. The fight they are in is inspiring. What they’re up against is incredibly scary. But what do the people of HK want? There are five demands, none of them are actually independence from China. They just want the freedom to elect their own government. Is that too much to ask?
It was starting to make sense – the sense of hopelessness, of despair, of sadness. I could see and hear it in people’s voices at the protest and beyond. And also their anger. People are angry as fuck. And that’s showing up not just as peaceful protest but as vandalism, destruction, and violence. The people of HK have no trust in their political and government institutions. The police are unhinged, have killed multiple people, and beaten countless more with no repercussions. They have no hope for what their futures will look like in 2047 (when “One Country, Two systems” is set to expire). Beijing continues to pull all the strings.
What’s also interesting and complicated to me is the social, political, economic context of it all. High living costs, income inequality, stagnant wages. There’s always this ever so looming threat of China. Chinese companies now dominate the HK market. Rich Chinese are buying up real estate in HK, which some say is causing even higher housing costs. More and more people from the mainland are immigrating to the island. Beijing continues to hold influence and power within HK’s governing body. All of this has created a sense of fear, anxiety, insecurity about the future of HK. It’s created a sense of tribalism and divisiveness as well, where yellow vs blue camps argue and fight (sometimes literally). It’s why there hasn’t been any sort of settlement of any sorts. It’s also, in my opinion, created a sense of xenophobia within some Hkers towards mainlanders. And of course the Chinese and western media loves to play off this divisiveness for their own gain.
Now add on top of all this, the Coronavirus. Hkers are angry that the government isn’t fully closing off their borders to prevent more mainlanders from coming in. Hospital workers are going on strike because of it, saying there aren’t enough resources to help mainlanders and Hkers. Again, it’s complicated. I don’t know all the details about everything. But I guess this adds to the sense of anxiety in Hkers, which again to me, is coming from a place of fear and xenophobia. IMO, the fear of the virus across the world is a bit misguided. Yes, those of us close to China should be vigilant, yes we should watch out for our health, but really I think that if we’re not in China we’re pretty ok. So far only two out of all deaths have been outside of China. But all I see in the news is how the virus is impacting the economy, how other governments are reacting to the current situation, the rising death toll. What I wish we were talking about is the life of the people of Hubei province. The people of Hubei province are trapped, the hospitals are overwhelmed, conditions there are poor, there are not enough medical supplies, beds, nor space. Staff are overworked and have been working 24 hours a day since the virus hit. People are waiting extremely long hours for the hospital, many are being turned away. Hospital staff are being infected. Elevators in buildings are being shut off so people could not leave their buildings. People are dying in their homes. Residents who are infected in Wuhan are now being rounded up and sent to quarantine camps where… what exactly will happen to them? With this quarantine China is essentially sacrificing the people of Hubei Province in order to prevent the virus from spreading across their nation and the world. I guess you could say it’s working? As of Feb 8, Hubei accounts for a whopping 97 percent of all reported deaths from the illness. In Hubei, the mortality rate is 4.1 percent as opposed to .17 percent in the rest of China. I’m sure these numbers are deflated, but for certain, a drastically higher number of people are dying in Hubei, and we also know for certain that only two people have died outside of China. Here’s some more perspective, Hubei has a population of about 58 million people. The west coast of the United States – California, Oregon, and Washington – has a combined population of about 50 million. That, is how many people are under quarantine. Definitely an unprecedented feat by the Chinese government, but I wonder, if the entire west coast was under quarantine by the US government, would we allow it to happen? I think there would certainly be more outrage and news about it. So I guess that’s my long way of saying, yes we should be vigilant, we should think about our personal health, but I think we’re worrying about the wrong thing. We should be worried about the people in Hubei province, who desperately need all the help they can get, whose lives are essentially being sacrificed to save ours.
Ugh. Sorry, for the small digression. It was really on the top of my mind recently and I needed to write about it. Lot’s of this has really been challenging my personal worldview. As someone who supports HK’s fight for democracy AND believes that borders are generally shitty, I had to think twice when I heard so many Hkers want to close the borders to mainlanders (btw this sentiment existed before the virus too, just to a much lesser extent). But I actually disagree with a lot of the Hkers on this one. I think they’re placing blame on every day mainlanders when I think they should be blaming the rich real estate investors, Chinese corporations, the CPC, and the HK government. I also had to think twice when I heard the term leftist used to identify supporters of communism, aka the Communist Party of China. It made me think more deeply about left wing politics and my choosing to identify with leftist politics in the United States. I’m still thinking about it, but I question what exactly makes the Communist Party of China leftist, other than the name of its party? To me, it seems and feels much more like Authoritarian Capitalism. Some would argue it’s using Capitalism to achieve its socialist vision. I don’t know, I guess I’m still thinking about this. But what I do know, is that this isn’t the type of leftist vision of society that I believe in, with no free elections, one-party rule, state controlled media, no freedom of speech, no right to assemble. And then there’s also, as I was told, a strong American right wing base of support in HK. People who are connected to the American conservative movement who are financially and politically supporting the HK democracy movement. There are other local HKers I’ve talked to who like Donald Trump because they say he stands up to Chinese President Xi. All this has kinda fucked with my political ideology a bit. People who, at home, I would consider to be political adversaries who are now aligned in the same fight for Hong Kong. The political camps in HK definitely fall outside of my American left vs right framework.
So I guess it’s making me think about political stances that I believed in at home and now apply them in a different context – do these political stances still make sense to me? It’s making me question political relationships, does working together with your political adversaries make sense even when the reasons for your end goal are very different? Who exactly are my political adversaries, and have they already been predetermined because of my association with the left? Lastly, it’s making me really question what exactly a certain label means for me. Do I actually believe in leftist politics, or was it just the closest thing I had to cling on to? Do I associate myself with it because that’s what a young queer organizer of color is supposed to do? Does something left or right automatically make it good or bad? Are these just predetermined frameworks that we’ve all subconsciously bought into? But we actually don’t have to buy into it, do we? This left vs right framework is only helpful in that it continues to uphold the same power structures that keep f*cking us over. I want something else. I want something beyond this. I’m not saying my worldview has completely changed upside down. In fact, I think my worldview has has been strengthened. Knowing that I don’t have to abide by the rules of what our current political discourse has given us is comforting and liberating.
Lastly, I actually I don’t think HK’s social/political/economic situation is so different than what we’re facing in the US and in many other parts of the world. People are angry at institutions, systems, and government for failing them, for not responding to their needs. Economic anxiety is high and the wrong people are getting blamed for it. China’s power and influence continues to cause anxiety and fear (obviously more so in HK but this exists all over the world). Authoritarianism looms large. Police violence goes unchecked. Political divisiveness is high. And the media (social and traditional) continues to be plagued with fake news, political propaganda, and influence that only makes people dig deeper into their respective camps.
I told you it was going to be a big cluster, didn’t I? But this is very much indeed the world we live in. I guess what I’m trying to say is that HK’s situation isn’t actually that unique. It’s no surprise, nor mistake, that HK’s political/social/economic situation is so similar to ours in the United States and to many other places in the world. The one main difference is that HK had a trigger moment that set it all off, the government continued to make matters worse, and now people are just pissed off. But I think HK’s fight is also the world’s fight. They’re not only fighting for democracy but they’re fighting for a better world, and they’re doing it against the most powerful authoritarian regime on the planet. At this point it makes sense to feel the sadness and hopelessness that many HKers feel. But I’m actually inspired, by the young people particularly, for their relentlessness and dedication in fighting for the home they believe in. Activists on the ground are dreaming of new ways and systems beyond the current one. They’re asking questions like, What is beyond our current idea of sovereignty? What is beyond, ‘One Country, Two Systems?’ What is beyond Capitalism and Socialism and our current way of living? The old world order has brought us into this big fat mess and continues to fail all of us except the rich and powerful. But we can dream and think differently, for something better. That’s what Hong Kong is saying. A new world is possible. Yes. Yes it is.
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