Skip to main content

Worst of Times, Best of Times 最壞的時代 最好的時光

It was Day 3 of Occupy Central, now known across the globe as the Umbrella Revolution. Umbrellas and raincoats, the humblest of household objects, had been thrust onto the world stage, as had the tens of thousands of students who used them to fend off a police crackdown on Sunday. Tonight, their trusty rain gear would be needed once again – the Hong Kong Observatory had issued a rain and landslide alert for a coming thunderstorm.

A transformative experience for Hong Kong

I changed out of my work clothes in my office in Central and walked to Admiralty, the de facto nerve center of the student-led movement demanding the right to choose our leader. I spotted my brother Kelvin and his wife deep in the crowd. They were listening quietly to a student speaker on the podium. It was a small miracle that I was able to find them, as they were swarmed by people as far as the eye could see, all dressed in black. No one knew how many more had come out tonight — nor did anyone really care. Public turnout normally mattered a great deal to protest organizers because it was a measure of public support. Tonight we didn’t need a number to tell us that.

A few minutes into our sit-in, volunteers carrying plastic bags stopped by and offered us water, cookies, paper fans and wet naps. Others were cooling down the crowds with mist sprayers and distributing cooling patches to be placed on the forehead. I felt parched and asked for water. Five people must have heard my request and came charging toward me with water bottles. I took one from the student nearest me, who then thanked me for accepting his offer. He also reminded me to recycle the plastic bottle at the drop-off tent near the KFC restaurant.

Hong Kong has never been more beautiful

There was a renewed sense of neighborhood in Hong Kong, something we hadn’t seen since the city transformed from a cottage industry economy to a global financial center. All over the protest zones — in Admiralty, Central, Causeway Bay and Mongkok — micro-communities had emerged where the air was clean (traffic had all but vanished), people smiled (replacing that permanent frown from big city stress) and everyone helped each other without wanting anything in return (we had a bad rap among fellow Asians for being calculating). This was the Hong Kong we loved and missed. This was the Hong Kong I grew up in.

Suddenly, we heard loud claps of thunder and it started to pour. Umbrellas popped open like a time-lapse video of flower blossoms in a rainforest. Everyone stayed where they were, as raincoats and more umbrellas began to circulate among the crowds. Someone joked that the gods were coming for C.Y. Leung and we all laughed. After the storm passed, volunteers spontaneously deployed brooms and squeegees to remove water puddles. There were no leaders to give orders, because none was needed. Since the Sunday crackdown, Occupy Central had evolved into a bottom-up campaign based on the self-discipline and volunteerism of individual citizens. No wonder the foreign press called this “the most civilized street protest in the world.” The tourism board spends tens of millions every year promoting Hong Kong as “Asia’s World City.” Ironically, all it took to put us on the world map was a bunch of teenagers doing what was natural to them. This place was much more than just shopping malls and restaurants – we now had our young people to brag about.

The world's nicest protesters

At the urging of student patrols, we left jam-packed Admiralty and walked back toward Central where there was more space. All the cloud-hugging skyscrapers, those modern cathedrals of glass and steel, looked strangely out of place tonight, as were the shiny sports cars trapped in the nearby City Hall parking garage. This latest turn of events had forced all of us to take a long, hard look at our way of life, and to challenge the conventional wisdom that social progress is achievable only through greater affluence and more development. But affluence for whom and development for what? Have any of these 80-story buildings made us better people, people who are half as generous and benevolent as the student protesters? Or half as happy?

At the Pedder Street and Chater Road intersection, a crowd gathered to listen to a crash course on treating pepper spray burns. Standing on a soapbox, the speaker was a young girl who looked about 18. “Don’t douse water on your face or else the chemicals will drip down your body and irritate your skin,” the teenager warned. “Do this instead.” She expertly demonstrated how to tilt the head to one side and rinse one eye after the other using water poured into the tiny bottle cap. “And one more thing,” she continued, “you are now at the westernmost frontier of the Central occupation. It is my duty to warn you about your liability should you get arrested for illegal assembly.”

After the young girl finished, the audience clapped and broke up into small groups. There were conversations about the Sunday crackdown and the government’s next move. What were once talk-of-the-town topics like the release of a new iPhone 6 or a soap opera's season finale became completely irrelevant. Even Facebook walls received a facelift: food porn, selfies and narcissistic rants had all given way to protest updates and stories of random acts of kindness.

Three days in, the Umbrella Revolution had already elevated the intellect of an entire generation. In all, it took 87 canisters of tear gas to jolt our youths out of their political apathy. Many realized that politics affects them personally and directly, and that the subject is not as untouchable as their parents and peers made it out to be. They also realized that video games, karaoke and television shows might have been social anesthesia prescribed by the ruling elite to divert their attention from what really matters. Awoken, they are now armed with a new sense of purpose and ready to make up for lost time.

That was the stereotype until this week

These past few days had been my happiest in the nine years since I repatriated to Hong Kong. I visited the protest zones every day, alternating between euphoria and tears of joy, gratitude and amazement. Who would have imagined that one of the city’s darkest chapters could bring out the absolute best in us? Protesters occupied city streets, but by displaying exemplary discipline and world class charisma, they also occupied our hearts. What they were doing was neither an act nor a ploy to manipulate public opinion – it was genuine goodness emanating from within. I felt sorry for friends and family who weren’t in Hong Kong to experience it themselves, because so much of what went on here had to be seen to be believed. Whatever the outcome of the movement would be, Hong Kong had already won.

Protecting those who attacked them just days before
________________________

This article also appears on SCMP.com under Jason Y. Ng's column "As I See It."

As posted on SCMP.com

Popular Posts

Book Review: "Generation HK" 書評:《香港世代》

Unpacking the young generation in Hong Kong is a tall order, not least because a singular, archetypical “Hong Kong youth” does not exist. The cohort is as diverse and divergent as it comes, from socioeconomic background and upbringing to education and exposure to the wider world, to values, ideals and aspirations. It defies stereotypes and generalisations.

Ben Bland, a British correspondent for The Financial Times, is in a unique position to take on that ambitious project. Whereas Bland’s extensive experience reporting in Asia—including stints in Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam and Myanmar—has given him a broad field of view, his relatively short tenure in Hong Kong—just over two years—allows him to look at its people through a long-range lens.
It is that unadulterated objectivity and his unquenched curiosity that make Generation HK: Seeking Identity in China’s Shadow a discerning and refreshing read. Released last summer under Penguin Book’s inaugural “Hong Kong series” to mark the 20…

About the Author 關於作者

Born in Hong Kong, Jason Y. Ng is a globetrotter who spent his entire adult life in Italy, the United States and Canada before returning to his birthplace to rediscover his roots. He is a lawyer, published author, and contributor to The Guardian, The South China Morning Post, Hong Kong Free Press and EJInsight. His social commentary blog As I See It and restaurant/movie review site The Real Deal have attracted a cult following in Asia and beyond. Between 2014 and 2016, he was a music critic for Time Out (HK).

Jason is the bestselling author of Umbrellas in Bloom (2016), No City for Slow Men (2013) and HONG KONG State of Mind (2010). Together, the three books form a Hong Kong trilogy that tracks the city's post-colonial development. His short stories have appeared in various anthologies. In 2017, Jason co-edited and contributed to Hong Kong 20/20, an anthology that marks the 20th anniversary of the handover. In July 2017, he was appointed Advising Editor for the Los Angeles Revie…

From Street to Chic, Hong Kong’s many-colored food scene 由大排檔到高檔: 香港的多元飲食文化

Known around the world as a foodie’s paradise, Hong Kong has a bounty of restaurants to satisfy every craving. Whether you are hungry for a lobster roll, Tandoori chicken or Spanish tapas, the Fragrant Harbour is certain to spoil you for choice.
The numbers are staggering. Openrice, the city’s leading food directory, has more than 25,000 listings—that’s one eatery for every 300 people and one of the highest restaurants-per-capita in the world. The number of Michelin-starred restaurants reached a high of 64 in 2015, a remarkable feat for a city that’s only a little over half the size of London. Amber and Otto e Mezzo occupied two of the five top spots in Asia according to The World’s Best Restaurants, serving up exquisite French and Italian fares that tantalise even the pickiest of taste buds.

While world class international cuisine is there for the taking, it is the local food scene in Hong Kong that steals the hearts of residents and visitors alike. Whatever your budget and palate…

Media Attention + Upcoming Events 媒體關注 + 最新動向

Upcoming events and speaking engagements in 2018

Launch of new website: jasonyng.com
Date: late September

Speaker at Wimler Foundation legal workshop
Topic: Know Your Rights
Venue: Philippine Consulate General, Admiralty
Date: November

Book launch of Hong Kong Noir published by Akashic Books
Venue: TBD
Date: November

Release of 2018 anthology by Hong Kong Writers Circle
Contribution: short story (title TBD)
Date: December


2018

Speaker for Enrich HK's “Ask the Experts” series
Topic: Understanding Hong Kong Culture
Date: 11 June

Speaker at Movies that Matter Film Festival 2018
Location: The Hague, The Netherlands
Topics: TBD
Dates: 23 - 31 March

Speaker at Wimler Foundation legal workshop
Topic: Understanding Hong Kong Culture
Venue: Philippine Consulate General, Admiralty
Date: 18 March

Book launch of 《香港二十: 反思回歸廿載》, Chinese translation of PEN Hong Kong anthology Hong Kong 20/20: Reflections on a Borrowed Place
Venue: Kubrick, Yau Ma Tei
Date: 4 March

Moderator at screening of documentary “T…

Past Events: 2017年活動

Media coverage and speaking engagements in 2017


Interview with Apple Daily 蘋果日報
Title: "下月8日提訊 料親身上庭 [Patrick Ho] to be arraigned on 8 January, expected to appear in person"
Publication date: 22 December

Interview with Ming Pao Daily 明報
Title: "依法限提訊後70日開審 律師指變數仍多 [Patrick Ho to be tried within 70 days of indictment, but timing is subject to change" Publication date: 21 December

Interview with Ming Pao Daily 明報 Title: "何志平案1月8日提訊 或3月中開審 料獄中過農曆年 Patrick Ho to be arraigned on 8 January pending trial in March, expected to spend Chinese New Year in prison" Publication date: 21 December

Interview with Apple Daily 蘋果日報 Title: "起訴書:何志平倘罪成須充公財產 Indictment says Patrick Ho's assets to be seized upon conviction" Publication date: 20 December
Radio Interview with BBC Radio Title: "Censorship and freedom of expression in China and Hong Kong" Show: The Cultural Frontline Presenter: Tina Daheley Broadcast date: 11 December
Moderator at Enrich HK panel …

Join the Club 入會須知

You have reached a midlife plateau. You have everything you thought you wanted: a happy family, a well-located apartment and a cushy management job. The only thing missing from that bourgeois utopia is a bit of oomph, a bit of recognition that you have played by the rules and done all right. A Porsche 911? Too clichéd. A rose gold Rolex? Got that last Christmas. An extramarital affair that ends in a costly divorce or a boiled bunny? No thanks. How about a membership at one of the city’s country clubs where accomplished individuals like yourself hang out in plaid pants and flat caps? Sounds great, but you’d better get in line.

Clubs are an age-old concept that traces back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans. The introduction of coffee beans to England in the mid-17th Century spurred the proliferation of coffeehouses for like-minded gentlemen to trade gossip about the monarchy over a hot beverage. In the centuries since, these semi-secret hideouts evolved into main street establishments t…

Let the Tanhua Bloom 曇花再現

When I moderated Kevin Kwan’s book talk for China Rich Girlfriend at a Hong Kong literary event in 2015, the Singaporean-American author was in the process of casting for the Hollywood adaptation of his first book.
Three years later, Crazy Rich Asians the movie—a cross between Cinderella, Pride and Prejudice and The Bachelor—is a runaway hit in North America. The romantic comedy topped the U.S. weekend box office in its opening week and proved to Hollywood studios that a film featuring an all-Asian cast can be just as bankable. 

For Asian audiences everywhere, CRA is more than a feel-good summer blockbuster. It is the coming out party a long time coming. If the people we see on the big screen look cool and sassy, we feel we all do. But god forbid if they come off as dorky or lame, we all do too.
It’s not just the moviegoers who get the jitters. The same is true for actors, directors, screenwriters, and novelists of Asian descent. Whether CRA is a hit or a flop may jumpstart or cut sh…

Who is Agnes Chow? 誰是周庭?

It was roughly six months ago when Nathan Law, chairman of Demosisto, lost his job. He and five other pro-democracy lawmakers had strayed from the prescribed oath during the swearing-in ceremony, and were ousted from the Legislative Council (LegCo) after Beijing issued a reinterpretation of the oath-taking provisions in the Basic Law. Many saw the unseating of six democratically-elected lawmakers, dubbed “Oathgate” in the local press, as a calculated political move to purge the legislature of the opposition.

The time to fill some of these vacated seats is finally upon us. Four by-elections will be held simultaneously on March 11, in Hong Kong Island, Kowloon West, New Territories East and for the Architectural, Surveying, Planning and Landscape sector.
Barely old enough to run, 21-year-old Agnes Chow (周庭) of pro-democracy party Demosisto has thrown her hat into the ring hoping to win back Law’s Hong Kong Island seat. Her decision to run has not come without a price: she has deferred …

Seeing Joshua 探之鋒

“We are here to visit a friend,” I said to the guard at the entrance. 
Tiffany, Joshua Wong Chi-fung’s long-time girlfriend, trailed behind me. It was our first time visiting Joshua at Pik Uk Correctional Institution and neither of us quite knew what to expect.

“Has your friend been convicted?” asked the guard. We nodded in unison. There are different visiting hours and rules for suspects and convicts. Each month, convicts may receive up to two half-hour visits from friends and family, plus two additional visits from immediate family upon request.
The guard pointed to the left and told us to register at the reception office. “I saw your taxi pass by earlier,” he said while eyeing a pair of camera-wielding paparazzi on the prowl. “Next time you can tell the driver to pull up here to spare you the walk.”
At the reception counter, Officer Wong took our identity cards and checked them against the “List.” Each inmate is allowed to grant visitation rights to no more than 10 friends and fam…

The Joshua I Know 我認識的之鋒

When I shook his hand for the first time, I thought he was the strangest seventeen-year-old I’d ever met.
It was 2014, and considering how much Hong Kong has changed in the last three year, it felt like a lifetime ago.
Joshua sat across from me at a table in the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, with his iPhone in one hand and an iPad in the other. I ordered him a lemon iced tea with extra syrup.
He was eager to begin our conversation, not because he was excited about being interviewed for my article, but because he wanted to get it over with and get on with the rest of his jam-packed day.
During our 45-minute chat, he spoke in rapid-fire Cantonese, blinking every few seconds in the way robots are programmed to blink like humans. He was quick, precise and focused.

He was also curt.
When I asked him if he had a Twitter account, he snapped, “Nobody uses Twitter in Hong Kong. Next question.”
I wasn’t the least offended by his bluntness—I chalked it up to gumption and precocity. For a te…