If you only had one source of news about reality, you had better not make it government authorities in China. Their view of what is happening in Hong Kong these days makes it seem like the city is absolutely tipping on the verge of mayhem and anarchy. Even the two mainstream English news outlets should be taken with a grain of salt, as their standard lines seem to be the lines delivered from government press conferences.
So what is happening in Hong Kong? I am a resident of Tsuen Wan – the scene of internationally televised violence where Triad thugs set upon innocent citizens, seeking their own brutal solution to the weeks-long demand for rights. Tsuen Wan is one of the old working class textile neighborhoods in the New Territories. My walks every evening with my wife through the neighborhood have revealed that while there certainly has been violence against police stations and riot cops, the underlying energy of the whole thing seems to be the natural needs of a civic society: hear what we are saying; solve problems with us; set up systems of accountability to reduce manipulation and ignorance, and ego, in government.
Walk 500 meters from the front lobby of our apartment building and the first lines of graffiti appear on the pillars holding up the overpass that leads into Discovery Park. Turn the corner before the mall and it rises above you — walls of spray painted slogans calling the police triads and “black police;” dogs and other more vulgar terms.
Small posters call on authorities to “set up independent commission to investigate police.” Next to uprooted fencing, small fragments of paper and balloons litter the sidewalk. Daily commuters stop and pull out their phones to document the vulgar graffiti on the police station wall, which seems to be correlating police work with pimps.
Bricks and broken pavement are strewn about. Two or three detectives mill outside to let in a couple of officers and people in suits. Then they quietly lock the parking lot gate behind them. The streetlights do not work. Traffic seems to be building up like a normal commute day before 8 am.
But are things that dire?
If you listen to the folks in the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, the Chinese government’s liaison to the territory they are concerned that this is the beginning of the color revolution. The odd thing — revolution or not — is that this city seems to be operating just as it was before June, when there had not yet been two million people marching in the streets. Even Sophia Chan, the food and health secretary who was doing the rounds earlier this week with Chief Executive Carrie Lam, was photographed with her mobile phone displaying stock prices for that day’s market, Just like the kind you find on an auntie’s phone during her MTR commute. If things were really that bad, would it really matter how CLP was doing at 2pm?
This is not a city on the verge of collapse. This is a city demanding to have given to them what is innately theirs — the right to voice their opinions and have people of like mind and like interest make political decisions with them to make life bearable and rewarding.
You can still queue up for a minibus ride to the grocery store. You can walk down the street and get bubble tea at one of the five outlets in Tsuen Wan’s Lo Tak square. You can get your hair cut. You can visit the eye doctor in Nam Fung Plaza and not have to risk your life.
The attacks that have been waged against the police are the personal expression of people who themselves feel attacked, and also ignored. They are the outpourings of anger about being bullied and beaten.
While the government would have you believe that Hong Kong people should rise up and defend their homeland, most of the people I see at the bus stop every morning don’t seem to be quaking with rage to thwart evil doers. They seem pretty focused on rubbing the sleep out of their eyes and getting to work.
They seem to be doing what they have only ever been able to do — eat breakfast, get a paycheck and fight a personal struggle to survive in the world, since nobody else is going to help them.
Douglas Crets is a teacher and writer in Hong Kong and a contributor to Asia Sentinel. He tweets at @douglascrets.