Occupy Hong Kong
30 September 2014
I reflected extensively on wether I should write to you now about the bamboo clams I ate at Hutong, or a vegan beetroot tartar I tried at Sepa, or where to get the best foot massage (10 feet tall) - but how can I write about some dim sum, when outside people are occupying the streets wearing goggles and raincoats to shield themselves from teargas? Its the philosophy of Sylwina to find the beautiful things in life - but not at the price of ignoring the ugly. I can't turn my head, and pretend that I did not see.
After my first day of arrival in Hong Kong - having just eaten a fantastic lunch at Joël Robuchon and tried that prized footmassage - I realized on my way back from the hotel that there was no taxis - or cars in general - on the main streets of central Hong Kong. Instead, the streets where filled with people - sitting on the floor, eating, playing games, dancing, playing music. I decieded to walk the 2 kilometres along the waterfront to my Hotel - on my way filming the crowds of people covering the streets, seaming the sidewalks and subway entries. As I pushed further the peaceful mood changed. I saw more and more people wearing goggles and pellerines.
It took me a while to realize the purpose of this set up. The crowds became so dense that I could barely pass by foot anymore and a column of 20 police officers walked past me in the opposite direction. Most of the officers did not make eye contact - but 2 or 3 of them looked at me and shook their head, barely visibly. One officer made a sign with his hand urging me to turn around. The attitude was not of a threatening nature, more of a warning, a silent hint that I should better not be there. All the officers and protestors around me where wearing protective clothing for teargas - with goggles and masks covering their faces. Standing there unprotected, panick was starting to creep up my neck.
I called my hotel concierge, asking to be picked up - the answer was a shock:
"We are very sorry Madam - no cars can get through to your area, all of central Hong Kong is completely blocked. This is a very special day in Hong Kong, I am very sorry"
The crowds had so effectively blocked the entire city, that it was impossible to get access by car. The only method of transportation still functioning was the subway.
I do not have the insight on the motivation or justification for this protest, I am not familiar enough with the political structures or the political situation in Hong Kong to express an informed opinion. What happened in Hong Kong that day, did however let me reflect about the nature of protests in general; what are their legitimation and what are their limits?
I believe that personal freedom is our right until it breaches the freedom of others. Voicing an opinion or demonstrating, even protesting for a cause, is legitimate, as long as it does not block the functionality of a system which serves all of us. Blocking streets by filling them with a crowd of people leads to the same result as dropping a bomb in it - its function becomes lost. A city breathes and lives through its paths of communication - to ensure supply in food, electricity, water and to ensure the transportation of its people. Roads build vital channels which the city needs in order to function and stay alive.
There are many ways to solve a conflict or to make a change - force is not one of them, passive aggression isn't one either. Imagine the situation that someone breaks into your home and performs some act of violence - not a nice thought. What about if someone enters your home peacefully but without permission and simply refuses to leave? At some point you will consider force - you will think of ways to remove the intruder of your private space. Sometimes, violence is not needed for an assault to take place. The strongest role in society is the victims role - because its human nature to feel compassion for the weak - and this compassion results in support.
When I had made it back safely to the hotel, I sat in my room on the 27th floor and could watch the protests taking place right beneath me. At the same time I watched the news on different news channels on TV - the divergence between reality and media coverage is astounding. It reminded me of last year when I was in Istanbul during the time of protests. I sometimes saw scenes of 50 demonstrators versus around 300 armed policemen in the streets - the media, again, showed a different picture. Travelling teaches me many things; to be critical of the media, to appreciate my home, and to not take the things I have for granted.
I took this incidence as a reminder that there are many ways to deal with a situation - from world politics, to everyday life decisions. That we have been given the choice, on which standards we want to live by. That injustice may have many faces, and that the easiest way may often not be the most honourable one.
Sometimes we are required to loose, in order to win.
Sending Love to everyone who is faced with conflicts, and wishing you the strength to solve them virtuously.