29 September 2014

Six Hours in Admiralty 金鐘六小時

I gathered a few essentials – cell phone, notebook, pen, face towel and eye goggles – and left my apartment. I met up with my brother Kelvin at Lippo Centre and we walked to the section of the Connaught Road expressway that had been taken over by protestors and regular citizens who supported them. We were about 50 meters from the government offices, the epicenter of a massive student protest and the frontline of a police standoff.

It was 3:45pm. By then, there were throngs of people all around us, many wearing goggles and raincoats to guard against pepper spray. Some put saran wrap around their eye-gear for extra protection. Tanya Chan (陳淑莊), vice chairwoman of the Civic Party, was speaking into a bullhorn. A student wove through the crowd with a loudspeaker broadcasting her words. Chan asked citizens to hold the line outside the Bank of China tower to stop police from advancing. She also warned us about undercover cops collecting intelligence from the crowds. “Strike up a conversation with anyone who looks suspicious,” she said.

The tank-man of Hong Kong

From afar, someone yelled “Saline water! We need saline water!” Other supplies were needed too: face masks, umbrellas and drinking water. My brother and I went to see what we could do to help. We joined the human chain passing supplies from one side of Connaught Road to the other. They were for student protestors who had been pepper-sprayed by police. The girl next to me, who was about 15, shoved a carton of fresh milk into my hand. “Pass it on,” she said. Milk is supposed to sooth the eyes because it neutralizes the chemicals in the pepper spray. There was order in this chaos: everyone was a commander and everyone was a foot soldier.

We hit a lull in the calls for supplies. I told Kelvin I needed to use the bathroom and we walked to a nearby shopping mall. On our way back, I proposed to grab a few supplies for the frontline. My brother had overheard that saline water was most needed, and so we spent the next 45 minutes scouring Wanchai for pharmacies, because other volunteers had already emptied the shelves in the vicinity.

It started so peacefully

As we were paying for saline water at a local drugstore, we saw a text message on our phones. “Police has just fired tear gas into the crowds!” The text was from my sister-in-law who was monitoring the latest developments from her home. We sensed the gravity of the situation and began running with our purchases back to Admiralty. As we approached Connaught Road, we heard harrowing accounts from students who had retreated from the frontline. A young man said, “The police hoisted a black banner, and we had never seen a black banner before. Now we know: black means tear gas.” The girl next to him chimed in, “It stung like hell.” Many started cursing at the police officers standing guard by the sidewalk. “Have you all gone mad?” shut one person. “How could you do this to our defenseless students? Don’t you have children of your own?” asked another.

Over the next hour, we kept hearing shots being fired, boom boom boom, like fireworks in Chinese New Year. The use of tear gas had caught the city by surprise. If you follow local news, you would know about the famous episode at the 2012 chief executive election, when the then-candidate CY Leung was accused during a televised debate by his opponent Henry Tang of once proposing that riot police and tear gas be unleashed on protestors. Leung vehemently denied it at the time, but it looked like he had just fulfilled the prophecy.

"You lie! You said it!"

Tear gas might have been commonplace elsewhere in the world, but it isn’t in Hong Kong. Leung’s decision to deploy it, despite the political price he must pay, suggests that he has been given direct orders from Beijing to do whatever it takes to clear the streets before citizens return to work Monday morning. In so doing, however, he has irreversibly redrawn the relationship between people and government. There is no turning back now – neither for him nor for us.

As night fell, tension rose. My brother and I moved to a footbridge outside the Police Headquarters on the ominously named Arsenal Street. There, high above the ground, we saw a formation of armed riot police advancing steadily from Wanchai toward Admiralty. Lit only by the amber streetlights, the scene was eerily reminiscent of the streets of Beijing on that fateful June night 25 years ago. Many on the bridge spontaneously screamed at the people down below: “Run! Riot police is coming! Run!” That’s when I saw one of the police officers unfold the infamous black banner. Moments later, shots of tear gas began arcing through the dark sky, before clouds of white smoke billowed from the ground. It smelled like something between burned rubber and a very pungent mustard. Pandemonium ensued. A stranger came up to me and my brother and said, “You two need these,” and handed us two face masks. My eyes started to sting and I put on my eye goggles. We ran with the retreating crowd and took shelter from the nearby park.

This is not the Hong Kong I knew

It was 9:30pm and Kelvin and I agreed that we should heed the student organizers’ warning and leave for our own safety, as there were rumors that riot police would start dispersing the crowds with rubber bullets. Kelvin lives in Wanchai and I Pokfulam. We said goodbye to each other and parted ways. By then almost every road between Wanchai and Central had been blocked, either by police or by makeshift blockades set up by students. I walked three kilometers to Sai Ying Pun, before finding a taxi to take me home. During my 30-minute walk, a single thought kept running through my head: this is not the Hong Kong I knew. Perhaps years later we would all look back on this night and tell ourselves that this was good for us. Like bitter Chinese medicine, what went down today has made us stronger and better. But like bitter Chinese medicine, it was very difficult to swallow.

I got home, which had never felt safer or quieter. I said a prayer for those who had chosen to stay in Admiralty – students who had nothing to defend themselves with but umbrellas and face masks. I took a shower and sat idly in bed. Suddenly, all that had happened in the last six hours hit me, as images and sounds finally sank in. I started to sob, and my hands shook despite myself. I wiped my eyes, turned on my computer and wrote this.

15 September 2014

Kindness of Strangers 陌生人的仁慈


It was around 9pm Sunday night when I received a frantic text message on my iPhone.
“Jason, I got a problem! I missed my flight and need cash to buy a new ticket. My ATM card doesn’t work in HK. Can you give me your credit card number? I’ll pay you back when I’m back in the Philippines.”
The S.O.S. was from Carlos, a young journalist from Manila visiting Hong Kong for the weekend. We had met the first time at a media event just the day before. My instinct told me it was probably a scam – earlier this year my brother got a phone call from a mysterious man saying that a distant relative of ours had been hit by a motorcycle and needed money for surgery. My brother hung up before the man finished talking.

I was about to delete the text message when another one buzzed in.
“This is for real. I’m stuck at the airport. I’ll pay you back. Promise!”
I decided to put my foot down.
“We just met. I don’t feel comfortable giving out my credit card number over the phone. Sorry and good luck.”
Carlos made it back to Manila that same night. The next morning he sent me an e-mail to explain what had happened at the airport and how he had managed to get home eventually. After contacting four or five people in Hong Kong, only his cousin who works here had believed him and was willing to lend him money. Everybody else had declined to help – I was one of them. “We aren’t a very trusting people,” I apologized to Carlos in my reply. Living in a big city, it seems, has turned us into Bad Samaritans.

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Bystander apathy in action


When it comes to dispensing kindness to strangers, Hong Kongers can be a bit schizophrenic. We rank 10th out of 135 countries on the World Giving Index, donating generously to anyone in need, from earthquake victims in Sichuan to starving children in far-flung corners of the world. Yet, for simple things like holding the door for a mother with a baby-stroller or pressing the “open door” button in a lift, we can be downright stone-hearted. Every now and then, I hear scathing accounts of urban apathy from friends and co-workers. A lawyer in my department recently complained to me that she had once slipped and fell in a crowded shopping mall but no one had gone to her aid. I have witnessed an elderly deliveryman tripping over an uneven sidewalk in front of a half-dozen men smoking outside an office building, none of whom had chosen to act.

But each time I am about to give up on humanity, a heart-warming Good Samaritan story will reel me back in. A few weeks ago, my hairdresser Herbert fell down a flight of stairs after a night of drinking at Knutsford Terrace. The fall left him with a blood clot in his brain and put him in the ICU for a week. “If it weren’t for this passer-by who stopped and called an ambulance,” said Herbert, “I wouldn’t be cutting your hair right now.” Anecdotal evidence like that tells me that bystander behavior is more complex than I think, and that there is much more at play than the easy conclusion that we have all become creatures of indifference.

Creatures of indifference?


In a chilly spring morning in 1964, 29-year-old Kitty Genovese was stabbed and killed in front of her New York City home while 37 neighbors watched but did not intervene. The Genovese murder shocked America and inspired social psychologists John Darley and Bibb Latané to begin their seminal research on bystander apathy. The team designed a series of experiments to analyze helping behavior and postulated that a bystander goes through a five-step process before intervention: he first notices the event, identifies it as an emergency, takes responsibility for helping, formulates a response and finally takes action.

Darley and Latané found that the presence of other people can disrupt the bystander’s decision process at the third stage (taking responsibility) and turn a Good Samaritan into a passive onlooker. They argued that the psychological cost of doing nothing is significantly reduced by the assumption that somebody else will help and by the sharing of guilt among the group. It is this “diffusion of responsibility” – rather than a lack of compassion – that led to the neighbors’ inaction during Genovese’s attack. Diffusion of responsibility also explained why I declined Carlos’ call for help. I had assumed, consciously or subconsciously, that he must have friends and relatives who are in a better position to bail him out than someone he has just met.

Who really killed Genovese?


Half a century after the Genovese murder, the debate over bystander apathy has reignited once again, this time in the Wild Wild East of Modern China. On 13 October 2011, a two-year-old girl named Wang Yue (小悦悦) was playing on the street when she was run over by two separate delivery trucks. A surveillance camera showed that 18 passersby ignored the victim; some even skirted around the blood. Wang died at the hospital a week later. Within days, the video went viral on social media and sparked a nationwide discussion on the erosion of social conscience. Wang’s tragic death is a wake-up call for China not only because of the shocking callousness of the passers-by (a textbook case of diffusion of responsibility), but also because it reveals a far more troubling factor that affects bystander behavior: fraud.

I’m not talking about phone scams – like the one my brother encountered – or identity thefts – what I feared when I was asked to give out my credit card number. I'm talking about victim’s extortion, a burgeoning social phenomenon in China. It all started in the morning of 20 November 2006, when Peng Yu (彭宇), a college student in Nanjing, aided an elderly woman who had fallen off the bus. Instead of showing gratitude, the woman accused Peng of pushing her and filed a lawsuit demanding RMB45,000 (US$7,000) in medical expenses. Siding with the “victim,” the judge wrote: “According to common sense, the defendant wouldn't have helped the plaintiff if he weren’t in some way responsible.” Since then, several judges in other provinces followed the same line of reasoning in similar rescuer-turned-culprit lawsuits. In one case, a storekeeper accused of knocking down a customer whom he had helped was exonerated by a closed-circuit television. The footage showed that the storekeeper was nowhere near the victim when she fell.

Poor Wang Yue


China is no stranger (pun intended) to the persecution of do-gooders. Social advocates like Ai Weiwei (艾未未) and Zhao Lianhai (趙連海) are routinely harassed, beaten and jailed for speaking out against injustice and government corruption. That, combined with the presumption of guilt in Peng Yu-type lawsuits, has taught ordinary citizens to mind their own business – as did the 18 bystanders who left Wang Yue for dead on the street. An opinion poll in Beijing found that 87% of respondents said they would not aid old people who have fallen for fear of being sued. These days, bystanders have learned to self-protect by taking pictures on their smart phones before lifting someone up or performing CPR. Likewise, the only way for some senior citizens to get help is to declare aloud “I fell by myself. I won't sue you!” This is a country with some serious soul-searching to do.

Facing a mounting public outcry, Shenzhen passed China’s first Good Samaritan law in August 2013. The new law punishes false accusers and absolves from liability anyone who renders assistance to those in need. In November 2013, the Beijing government launched a pilot accident insurance programme for the city’s three million senior citizens in an attempt to discourage injured elders from turning Good Samaritans into ATM machines. The hope is that the combination of carrots and sticks will go some way to mend a social fabric ripped apart by corruption, income disparity and old age poverty. 

"Will anybody help?"


Despite legal measures in test cities like Shenzhen and Beijing, victim’s extortion has shown no signs of letting up. Just this past January, a garbage collector in Guangdong committed suicide after an elderly man he had rescued blamed him for the injury and demanded hundreds of thousands in compensation. It is a reminder that change doesn’t happen overnight, especially for a nation of 1.4 billion people. It will be some time before citizens will feel at ease again to be Good Samaritans, like the dozens of commuters in Perth, Australia who performed an urban miracle last week by tilting a subway train to save a man trapped in the platform gap. Until then, people may want to wear a GoPro camera whenever they go out. 

No diffusion of responsibility there

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This article previously appeared in the September 2014 issue of MANIFESTO magazine under Jason Y. Ng's column "The Urban Confessional."

As printed in MANIFESTO

27 August 2014

Ice Bucket Challenged 挑戰冰桶


By now you are justifiably sick of watching videos of friends and celebrities dumping icy water on themselves. Search the word #icebucketchallenge on Instagram and you will get over a million hits. The latest social media phenomenon, intended to raise awareness for ALS (also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease), began in June and had raged to an all-out Internet frenzy by mid-August. Gangnam Style is so two years ago.

Former President George W. Bush joined in the fun

The figures are staggering: in the U.S., the challenge has raised nearly US$80 million (HK$620 million) for the ALS Association in just a few short weeks. 2.4 million videos have been shared on Facebook and 5.5 million mentions have been logged on Twitter. Business schools around the world are re-writing their Marketing 101 course materials to analyze what many believe to be the most successful chain letter stunt in history. 

The campaign has spread from a small coastal city in Florida to virtually every corner of the world – except perhaps North Korea and the Ebola-hit West African nations. The challenge now comes in many shapes and forms. In India, for instance, where drinking water is scarce, participants give away buckets of rice to feed the hungry. Palestinians in war-torn Gaza dunk rubble on themselves to spread awareness about Israel’s indiscriminate bombings.

Rubble bucket challenge in Gaza

In Hong Kong, where fads and crazes catch on faster than a minibus on the Tuen Mun Highway, ice bags are flying off the shelves at convenience stores and supermarkets. The lack of open space is no deterrent to trend-seeking citizens. Thousands have done it the Hong Kong way by standing in their telephone booth-sized bathrooms at home and getting doused next to shampoo bottles and hung towels. Even camera-shy government officials are showing an unusual interest in the publicity stunt, perhaps at the behest of their boss C.Y. Leung, who is grateful for any media distraction in this summer of discontent.

To date, the ice bucket challenge has raised HK$15 million for the Hong Kong Neuro-Muscular Disease Association (HKNMDA). The group, which provides support to ALS patients and their caretakers, has been caught completely off-guard by the craze. With only two full-time staffers, the small NGO outfit is inundated with a deluge of donors’ inquiries and an massive influx of new cash. It is nevertheless a problem that many charitable organizations wish they had.


Ice-bucketing in a Hong Kong bathroom

As is the case for any high-profile campaign, success is inevitably followed by a backlash. Naysayers ranging from regular netizens to newspaper columnists and medical doctors have come out swinging at the ALS challenge. They have focused on five main criticisms: (1) the waste of fresh water, (2) the waste of money on ice, (3) the health hazards of ice bucketing, (4) the potential cannibalizing effect on other charities, and (5) a 21st Century social phenomenon called “slacktivism.” Slacktivists are those who make a minimal effort to help a social cause, such as by sharing a Facebook post or signing an online petition, instead of donating money or volunteering their time. Recent examples includes the #StopKony online campaign against Ugandan war criminal Joseph Kony and the #bringbackourgirls petition to rescue the kidnapped school girls in Nigeria.

To show that these criticisms are all a bunch of sanctimonious baloney, I shall rebut them one by one.

Dumping water won't get you many "likes" in California

Waste of fresh water: No one ever complains about the annual Standard Chartered Marathon, which consumed bottled water by the truckload. Once the race is over, runners go home to take a long, well-deserved shower and throw their sweat-soaked clothes in the washing machine, which uses 40 to 45 gallons of water per load. By contrast, the ALS challenge requires an amount of water equivalent to merely an extra 30 seconds in the shower. It also seems somewhat hypocritical to pick on ice bucketers when so many wash their cars every day and leave the faucets running while they brush their teeth.

Waste of moneyWhy not just give the ice money to charity? asks the skeptic. By that logic, kids who bake cupcakes to raise funds for their school libraries should just write a check instead of spending money on flour and eggs. At least dunking ice doesn’t make you fat. And if you really want to talk about wasting money, think of all those benefit dinners held at five-star hotels, where fancy tai-tais spend more on their designer gowns than on the charity. So let’s not jump up and down over a $17 bag of ice.

Health hazards: Doctors have warned that a sudden exposure to icy water can in very rare cases lead to a cold shock, which can be fatal for people with pre-existing cardiovascular problems. Four fire-fighters in Kentucky were injured last week when the ladder they were using to dump water got caught in a power line. But no matter what activities we engage in, there will always be thin-skulled cases and freak accidents. We don’t stop cleaning the beach for fear of stepping on broken glass, and we certainly don’t cancel the AIDS Walk because some guy with a weak heart dies from a heat stroke. In the grand scheme of things, dumping water is pretty safe.

Cannibalization:  Charitable donations are not a zero-sum game. Just because someone sends a bit of money to the ALS Association doesn’t mean that he will give less to his favorite charities. Even if there is a bit of “robbing Peter to pay Paul” going on, donating is ultimately a personal choice. Who is to say that the HKNMDA is less deserving than the Red Cross, or that ALS research is less urgent than curing cancer? If you are unsure about supporting ALS, read up on Stephen Hawking and the staggering contributions the physicist has made to mankind.

Slacktivism: Let’s face it, if people weren’t sharing videos of the ALS challenge, they would have been watching cat videos or posting food porn on Facebook – at least the campaign has given us something a bit more meaningful to divert our attention to. Even if only 5% of the participants actually end up donating money to ALS or learning about the disease, that’s 5% more than before the campaign took off. Slacktivists or not, ice bucketers should pat themselves on the shoulder for giving an overlooked and underfunded disease the global awareness it deserves. The challenge has done to ALS what Yul Brynner did to lung cancer and Mohammad Ali to Parkinson’s Disease.

UK teenage Cameron Lancaster drowned after taking the challenge

My rebuttal notwithstanding, there is one criticism for which I do have some sympathy. William Foxton of The Daily Telegraph describes the ALS challenge as a “middle-class wet T-shirt contest” and a “ghastly narcissistic freak show.” Indeed, few things are more off-putting then 15-minutes-of-famers who make the challenge all about themselves. Make no mistake, men who take off their shirts or women who put on skin-tight yoga tops are automatically suspect. And any video that lasts longer than 90 seconds or that is self-narrated in two or more languages crosses the line into self-promotion territory. I know at least one friend who is so desperate for attention that he badgers everyone he knows for a nomination. That said, none of these minor annoyances can negate all the good the campaign has done.

When it comes to neurological diseases, ALS is as bad as it gets. There is no known cause or treatment, period. In many cases, the patient is left physically incapacitated  other than eye movement and bowel functions  while his mind remains sound as a dollar. Second to finding a cure, the ice bucket challenge is the best thing that has happened to the tragic illness. And if we happen to get a little wet or indulge in a few minutes of self-gratification while telling the world about it, then so be it.

Justin Bieber was so desperate to show off
his abs that he did the challenge twice


20 August 2014

Pint-sized Heroes 未夠秤



They used to live in the same residential complex, attend the same school and ride the same bus every morning. They both grew up in devout Christian families and were taught to take an interest in society.

But 17-year-old Joshua Wong Chi-fung (黃之鋒) and 20-year-old Ma Wan-ki (馬雲祺) – better known as Ma Jai (馬仔) – can’t be more different from each other. Joshua is a household name and his spectacled face has appeared on every magazine cover. He is self-assured, media savvy and can slice you up with his words. Ma Jai? Not so much. He gets tongue-tied behind the microphone and fidgety in front of the camera. He is a foot soldier who gets up at the crack of dawn to set up street booths and spends all day handing out flyers for someone else’s election campaign.

Lessons in Dissent by Matthew Torne


The two young men were the subject of a recent documentary by first time British director Matthew Torne. Lessons in Dissent (《未夠秤》), an official selection at this year’s Hong Kong International Film Festival, centers around the “Moral and National Education” (MNE) controversy in 2012 that drew hundreds of thousands of protestors to the streets. The watershed moment jolted citizens out of their political apathy and taught them that social movements, if properly run, can bring about real policy changes. For if it weren’t for activists like Joshua and Ma Jai, students today would have been sitting in MNE classes and learning how to praise the Communist Party and why they should guard against Western-style democracy.


Boy wonder

Joshua is a pint-sized force of nature to reckon with. He was just 14 when he founded Scholarism (學民思潮) to promote civic participation among the youths. In the fateful summer of 2012, the self-described “middle class kid” mobilized scores of like-minded teenagers and staged a nine-day sit-in and hungry strike at the government headquarters demanding MNE be scrapped. It was his charisma and tenacity that captured the imagination of his peers, inspired many more and eventually cowered C.Y. Leung into retracting the curriculum. Since then, the 17-year-old has been using his new-found fame to fight an even bigger cause: universal suffrage. In the recent Occupy Central poll on electoral reform, Scholarism and its ally, the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS; 學聯) put forward one of the three proposals on the ballot. Over 300,000 citizens (nearly 40% of those who voted) sided with the students in the end. There is little doubt that Joshua has already earned a seat at the table next to heavyweights like Anson Chan, Benny Tai and Emily Lau.

Joshua Wong takes the lead


Joshua loves the media, and the media love him even more. On any given day, the school boy may start the morning with a telephone interview with The Times, meet the camera crew of a Dutch television network before lunch and finish a 1,500-word op-ed piece for The Apple Daily by sundown. He carries an iPad to keep track of his back-to-back appointments and taps his stylus on the smart phone screen at a frightening speed. While his friends are busy playing video games, Joshua is debunking political myths on radio talk shows or challenging the establishment on televised debates. “I was in Form 2 [eighth grade] when I started. No one else has ever done what I did.” said Joshua. It wasnt arrogance; its simply a fact. The teenage boy is a prodigy, a savant and a Hollywood child star wrapped into one.

But there is always something sad about Hollywood child stars. All that media exposure has taken away Joshua’s adolescence and his chance at a normal life. He runs on so much adrenaline that he comes off as robotic, if not altogether possessed. Being a public figure has also hurt his public exam results and dashed his hopes to attend a more sought-after university. Notwithstanding these sacrifices, he wouldn’t have it any other way. “So far the benefits have outweighed the costs,” he explained. “I’ve experienced so much and made so many connections within a very short time.” Still, fame can be a double-edged sword. Joshua feels the weight of the city on his shoulders, and that the future of democracy depends on him. Although not a big Spider-man fan, he remembers what Uncle Ben told Peter Parker about power and responsibility.


In a few weeks, Joshua will begin his freshman year at Open University. When asked if he was excited about starting a new chapter, he shrugged, “I don’t think I’ll be going to class much.” Here’s why. The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (全國人大) will convene in Beijing next week to discuss, among other things, the nomination procedure for the 2017 chief executive election. Whatever conclusion reached by the Standing Committee is expected to involve some mechanics to pre-screen candidates. As soon as Beijing throws down the gauntlet, Scholarism and the HKFS will fire the first shot of the Occupy Central movement by staging a student strike across all ten universities in the city. “We need to respond swiftly with action. Civil disobedience is the only means to achieving full democracy,” said Joshua, sounding more like Mahatma Gandhi than a freshman-in-waiting

The media love him


The other kid

Ma Jai was 16 when he was bitten by the social activism bug. In January 2010, he joined hundreds of students to besiege the Legislative Council to protest against the cross-border high speed rail link (廣深港高速鐵路), a wasteful pork barrel project that threatened to displace thousands of villagers in the New Territories. The movement opened his eyes to social injustice and political oppression. Armed with a new sense of purpose, the high school drop-out joined the League of Social Democrats (LSD; 社民線) – LongHair’s party – in 2011 and has been working there as a campaigner ever since.

Ma Jai represents the vast majority of social activists who work quietly behind the scenes. A typical day involves making banners and placards, phoning up social organizations and notifying reporters about upcoming events. He and his fellow LSD staff go in and out of courtrooms and police stations like they were public parks. If he isn’t bailing out another party member, he’ll be giving a statement to the police for an alleged illegal assembly. The work isn’t glamorous, but someone’s got to do it. That’s why Ma Jai felt uneasy about sharing top billing with Joshua in the British documentary. “I’m not famous and I don’t want to be famous,” he said. “I am just a cog in the wheel.”

Ma Jai is used to arrests



But activism isn’t only about banners and telephone calls. In 2013, Ma Jai was arrested for desecrating the city’s flag – a criminal offense in Hong Kong – and spent two days in a holding cell while waiting for an arraignment. He has had other brushes with the law. “I have two criminal records. Or is it three?” he couldn’t tell me for sure. Like a true revolutionary, he shrugs off convictions and considers them a badge of honor. He wears Che Guevara on his chest and has Karl Marx and Leon Trotsky on his lips. And when he is not fighting for universal suffrage or an old age pension scheme for all, he is speaking out for foreign domestic workers and new immigrants from Mainland China – groups that have long been considered politically toxic. “That’s why I belong here with LSD. We don’t compromise our beliefs for votes,” he said.

As for Occupy Central, Ma Jai and his comrades are ready for battle. All hands are now on deck to back up Scholarism’s citywide student strike in September and to occupy the financial district as early as October. Despite its reputation for being a lone wolf, LSD has little choice but to take its cue from other political parties. “We are not big enough to occupy Central on our own,” Ma Jai admitted. “We are counting on the rest of the pan-democrats to do the right thing.” He heaved a sigh, as he rolled a cigarette from a pouch of loose tobacco and lit it up.

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Happy to be in the background


I attended a screening of Lessons in Dissent at the Hong Kong Art Centre last Thursday. During the Q&A session after the show, one of the members of the audience shared her reaction to the film. “I moved here from the Mainland 10 years ago,” the 50-something woman said. “I like Hong Kong because I can speak my mind here without having to look over my shoulder.” She then turned to the film's two protagonists and said, “I don't want this place to turn into another Chinese city. We need you, both of you, to make sure that  doesn’t happen.” The woman was right. The future of Hong Kong rides on star leaders like Joshua  and unsung heroes like Ma Jai – not one or the other but both. We need thousands more like them.

For future screenings of Lessons in Dissent, visit www.facebook.com/lessonsindissentmovie. 

Post-film Q&A session