19 December 2014

15 Minutes with Mr. Lau 與劉師父的對話


I finished dinner in Causeway Bay and hailed a taxi outside the Excelsior Hotel. The driver was a middle-aged man with grizzled hair and a penchant for small talk. Small talk is not my thing, much less with a stranger at the end of a long day. As I was disentangling my earphones to signal my desire for a quiet ride, the driver said something that piqued my interest.

Conversation with Mr. Lau


“Look at this mess,” he complained, pointing at the snarled traffic on Gloucester Road. “We had 79 days of heaven and now we are back in hell.”

I wasn’t sure if I had heard him right. My impression was like everyone else’s – that taxi drivers were upset with the Umbrella Movement because thoroughfares like Harcourt Road and Nathan Road were occupied. And for those who are in the business of moving people around, blocked streets mean bad business.

“How do you mean?” I probed, glancing at his ID on the dashboard. His name was Lau.

“I mean business was much better during the protests,” Mr. Lau declared.

“I was told your income fell by 15 to 30% because the streets were blocked.” I remembered reading those figures in the paper.

“That’s a load of crap,” he said. “For 79 days, I worked less and made more. Who doesn’t like that?”

Taxi drivers demanding Harcourt Road to be reopened


“You need to explain to me how that worked, because that’s not what we were told happened.”

“It’s simple. Traffic was way better during the protests. There were no double-deckers taking up multiple lanes, and more people took taxis because buses and mini-buses were re-routed.”

“But wasn’t it a big hassle to have to go around the protest sites?”

“It was confusing the first couple of days but people quickly adapted. Say, if I were to go eastbound from Sai Ying Poon to Causeway Bay, I would take Lung Wo Road and bypass the protest zone in Admiralty.” He proceeded to give me a few more examples of how drivers would dodge the occupied areas by taking alternate routes, both on the Hong Kong side and in Kowloon.

“And there’s one more thing,” Mr. Lau continued to enlighten me. “With so much police presence everywhere, we had fewer idiots double-parking or unloading stuff where they weren’t supposed to. Drivers were on their best behavior and many people simply left their cars at home to avoid trouble.”

Taxi drivers parked on tram tracks to protest against protestors


“Exactly how much better was business?” I pressed, wanting details.

“On average, I made about $300 more every day.”

“What percentage is that compared to what you made before or after the protests?”

“Well, I pull in roughly $1,200 on a good day and $800 on a slow one. So my income went up by more than 30% during those 11 or so weeks.”

“You said you had worked less to make more. It doesn’t seem to add up.”

“Why not? With better traffic and a constant flow of customers, my meter jumped faster. I could finish my shift two to three hours early on most nights.”

“Was it just you or was it the case for everyone else?”

“We all drive on the same streets. Why would I be any different from the next cab driver?”

After 79 days, things are now back to "normal"

I shook my head in disbelief, shoving my still tangled earphones back into my bag. I recalled images of irate taxi drivers charging at student protesters and dismantling their barricades by force, all because their livelihood had been ruined by traffic disruptions.

“If what you said is true, then who were those angry cab drivers filing for court injunctions and punching their fists in the air?”

“Even my wife cringed when she saw that on television. Those were hired guns, of course. The whole thing was staged. Those guys were paid $1,500 for a day’s work. I’m too old to do that sort of thing, and so I didn’t take the offer. If I were younger, perhaps I would have considered.”

“How did they ask you, by Whatsapp or SMS?”

“Heck, no! That would be too obvious. One of the large taxi companies made verbal offers to us.” Mr. Lau mentioned a company name I had not heard of. Taxi companies aren’t exactly household names.

“I had no idea. I thought it was just a conspiracy theory,” I confessed.

“That’s what the Communists do best. Lies and more lies.” Mr. Lau made his first political statement in our conversation. It would also be his last.

“I’m not a political person, you see. I just want to make money to pay off my mortgage and send my children overseas for a good education. I want them to be as far away from this rotten place as possible.”

Mr. Lau continued with his searing indictment. “Hong Kong is a place to make money. Once you have made enough, you get out and never come back. That’s what all the politicians do as well. Look at C.Y. Leung – he sent all his children abroad.”

They've been framed

He was starting to veer off topic and I wanted to bring the conversation back to the Umbrella Movement. “If the protests were good for business,” I asked, “then does it mean you support the students?”

“I don’t support anybody. I’m just an ordinary person trying to make a honest living.” He heaved a sigh and continued, “I’m just telling you what I saw. Traffic was great for 79 days and now things are back to normal’ -- we are back to the kind of traffic jams that took me over an hour to go from Diamond Hill to Causeway Bay before I picked you up at the Excelsior tonight.”

“Then, Mr. Lau, you must tell every passenger what you have just told me! You should phone in to a radio show or talk to a reporter.” I urged. “Everyone believed what they saw on the news and blamed the students for things they didn’t do. That’s not fair to them!”

“Look, I’m not an activist and I need to be careful whom I talk to. You look like a nice enough guy and so I assume you aren’t one of those Blue Ribbons. I don’t want any trouble.”

That’s when I saw my apartment building and interrupted Mr. Lau: “Wait, sorry, turn left at the traffic lights please.” I gave him a better-than-usual tip and thanked him for the conversation. He thanked me in return and waved goodbye before pulling off.

I went home and turned on my computer. I decided to do what Mr. Lau did not want to do – I would tell everyone what he had told me. It was the right thing to do.

___________________________________

This article appears on SCMP.com under the title "15 Minutes with Mr. Lau: One taxi driver's take on his Occupy 'woes'."

As posted on SCMP.com


83 comments:

  1. Now Occupy is over; it's like a hangover without a hope of an end...just more vile bile from 'the authorities'. Hong Kong as we knew & loved it is over unless a game changer happens.

    Mumph

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  2. Quite fascinating account of the dichotomy between reality, perception and an unfree press. Makes me shiver.

    Fiona

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    Replies
    1. And you don't even live here, Fiona Campbell. Imagine how we feel!

      Jason

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  3. MUST READ! In fact, 4 out of 4 taxi drivers I met during the protests supported the movement.

    Shelley

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  4. Thanks, Jason Y. Ng for sharing this. Still owe you that drink, mate.

    Ying

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  5. Loved it. however I wonder, wouldn't you want to blur identifying info to protect Mr. Lau...or am I being too paranoid?

    Isabel

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    Replies
    1. I was thinking the same thing, Isabel.

      Ying

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    2. Not to worry, Isabel, that's just a picture I Googled.

      Delete
  6. I just love reading the first hand accounts of what people feel/think...thanks Jason for the updates....they are always thoughtfully written and definitely worth reading.

    Isabel

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  7. Your conversation reminds me of one I had last week. My cab driver, 60-year-old Mr Ho from Sha Tin, lamented that the Hong Kong government used to listen to every level of society, but these days the city is run only for the benefit of the tycoons; the current leaders are a waste of space; and the student protesters are the only good thing about the future. He had interesting stories about living on Lantau Island in the 1960s too, so I ended up giving him a name card and asking him to contact me if he ever feels like writing about it!

    Pete

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  8. ((( (( (((( (....sigh........) )))) )) ))) // following tyrannic HK Govn't's democracy could merely lead to China Govn't's communist hierarchy, that's all..

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  9. Woah, that was a complete opposite from what I've heard...thanks for sharing!!!

    Jenny

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  10. Jason, the conversation you had with Mr. Lau is priceless. It is just too bad Mr. Lau would not do the right thing...speak the truth. Ah...communist truly rely on these people who are afraid of the consequences to speak up and to tell the truth. Ahhhhh...this is driving me insane. Anyhow, thank you so much for this story, I am enlightened too...I will spread it out. Thanks.

    Peggy

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  11. Unbelievable yet believable. I had such a challenging time catching a cab, they seemed to be picking & choosing their fares so this now makes total sense!

    Debi

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  12. This is consistent with what I saw and heard during the protests. I'll share.

    Marshall

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  13. As usual, fascinating coverage from Jason.

    Dominic

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  14. Someone told me similar stories. Apart from those hired guns who have received payment or advantage, the other group are those who have been brainwashed reading censured newspaper and TV. I guess it's even more disheartening to see the latter group, they are just muppets and firmly believe they are being truthful with themselves.

    Margaret

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    Replies
    1. I can't agree more. It is the sentiment of most HKers...

      Ken

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  15. Fascinating and well worth sharing. Thanks for this.

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  16. From my discussion with Mr Lee, Mr Chan, etc. up to about 10 cab drivers, even towards the last few days of the "turbulent" period in early December, I'm afraid I just heard a totally opposite side of your story however.

    It's good to hear various stories from real-life interactions and I appreciate your sharing, but maybe one single interaction can't use to represent or generalize the overall phenomenon.

    And being a frequent commuter between Central and Sai Ying Pun, there're a few bottlenecks with slow and hardly moving traffic during literally any time of the day in the period near Wing On in Sheung Wan and the junction outside Jardine House -- no matter by tram, bus, minibus, or taxi. Of course my observation can't be representative for all HKers, but I'd like to offer a different perspective by personal experience -- i.e. even my c.10 conversations with cab drivers can't be a meaningful enough sample size.

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  17. Its unconvincing that all traffic was better but I am not challenging your story nor what Mr Lau was experiencing. Traffic elsewhere was definitely better but that's because 3 major bottlenecks were already blocking the majority of the traffic. This is most likely the reason in a bigger picture.

    1.) Hennessy Road East Bound, right turn onto Percival Street. As all the buses are re-routed to take Percival Street and Leighton Road. Its an easy 30 mins there.

    2.) Gloucester Westbound ... traffic merges rom 4 lanes into 1 lane before the blockage.... but of course this depends on the time of the day ... but definitely traffic on daytime.

    3.) Harbour Road/Expo Drive/Fenwick Pier Street / Lung Wo Road .. both East and West Bound ....


    I had the same experience as Debi above when I needed a cab in WanChai. They all refused to take me and the only cab willing to take me asked for an outrageous premium.

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  18. I live and work near both occupied areas in HK Island. I agree with Mr. Lau totally!

    Royden

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  19. Thanks Jason. I chatted with a few taxi drivers and got the same stories. It is sad to see how easy people could be bought. From local taxi drivers to a whole nation, they knee down in front of financial benefit, sadly, the so called "strong nation" has the upper hand in lots of aspects these days. Hats off to those who dare to stand up and fight for their own right!

    Augustine

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  20. Big likes!!!!

    Christine

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  21. Same went for a few of the drivers in the Chiu Luen (sic) mini-bus who imposed the injunction. They said the Occupy Mongkok did not affect them at all. In fact, the owners increased their profit margins.

    Big kudos, mate, for writing this. No more headphones when you get into a taxi next time...

    Ying

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  22. Quite the story - but not surprising.

    Ivor

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  23. Yes, and pigs can fly.

    PPVoice

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  24. Fascinating and well written Jason!
    Doron

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  25. I spoke to quite a few taxi drivers who attested to the opposite. Most said the business has been down. One said he couldn't make back the cab rental two hours later than before OC. He was very precise with his income dropping by 20-30%.

    Paul

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    Replies
    1. A letter by Evan Auyang, deputy managing director of KMB, admitting there are too many buses ****www.scmp.com/comment/letters/article/1323082/too-many-buses-inefficiently-serving-hong-kongs-urban-areas

      Nick

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  26. OC was also a great time for tent manufacturers who earned hundreds of thousand of dollars of it, I believe tent manufacturers would like to see the whole HK is occupied by tents. How about letting another SAR epidemic happen again in HK ? so surgical mask producers can make a fortune of it?

    June

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  27. This was reported 2 days ago by an OC supporter on an OC site. Is that The new SCMP source of info? Who is the reporter that interviewed Mr. Lau?

    Lucien

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  28. What kind of freaking news commentator is this. taking advantage of every tiny bit info to support OC. Yes, ok, this particular taxi driver may be better with road block, how about others who are not as rich as writer Jason Ng. 95% use other forms of public transportation, not taxi. They have to use electric trolley, buses, mini vans for transportation , are they better off with roads blocked?? Kids had to wake up at 4:30 am by parents to get ready for catching school buses which needed to start early for detour, are they better off with road blocked?? Which gov't in west or east which does not consider road blocking as illegal??? Civil disobedience?? I don't recall martin luther king doing that! Typical myopic, illogical reasoning by OC'er /OC writer.

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    Replies
    1. I talked to many taxi drivers about OC. Some of them said the traffic is actually better during occupation and others said otherwise. Your comments indicated classical Chinese mentality - cannot accept contrarian view, a typical feature of a dictatorship.

      Delete
  29. While no doubt some Taxi drivers made a killing during OC, the majority couldn't get any business at all. OC is a curse for most especially the retailers that lost an estimated 3 Billion HKD.

    Mikado

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    Replies
    1. What you say is ridiculous written by a person with low IQ, incapable of reasoning. If this taxi driver can find ways to drastically improve his earning and efficiency, and you claim that "the majority counn't get any business at all", you must assume that majority of taxi drivers in HK are morons. No, they are not. They are clever business people and know enough where to go around traffic. Not everyone has as low an IQ as you, so you must accept that as truth and assume most people are much smarter than you are capable of being. Prat.

      Beaker

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  30. “It’s simple. Traffic was way better during the protests. There were no double-deckers taking up multiple lanes, and more people took taxis because buses and mini-buses were re-routed.”

    So basically the issue is that buses took up multiple lanes, and buses and mini-buses are a nuisance... I guess if we ban all buses everything will be fine in Mr Lau's world...

    Fung

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  31. Shame on the government. Solve the political problem not with law enforcement but with political change and development.

    Philip

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  32. It is the OC thugs and punks who turned a political issue into a law enforcement problem by illegally occupying the main traffic arteries in Admiralty, MK and CB in the first place. If they had occupied the Chater Graden, Tamar Garden instead, then there wouldn't be any traffic and hence enforcement problems. Don't put the cart before the horse, idiots! There is also why you OC punks crashed - a donkey into its cart!

    Kelvin

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  33. Wow, this was a really nice article to read. Thanks SCMP. It really shows how the CCP control the media, even in HK.

    Sie

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  34. I am told so by so many taxi drivers. Air was much cleaner too.

    Edvard

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  35. May I suggest HK ban all cars and ferries. That will do wonders for HK. Air will really improve. Only the MTR will be allowed to operate. HKers sure won't mind being packed like sardines in the trains, for the sake of cleaner air. Lets block off huge swathes of the road network, this will alleviate traffic jams (Don't ask me, I don't know that was achieved, even though the taxi driver insisted traffic was better). Best of all, hell with civilization, let's go back to the stone age.

    Julian

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    Replies
    1. When something's gone too far, there should be restrictions then.

      Angus

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    2. You don't need to ban all cars and ferries, but there are definitely too many buses. Even the Deputy Managing Directer of KMB admits that ;http://www.scmp.com/.../too-many-buses-inefficiently...

      Hector

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  36. Hector, Tell the bus congestion problem to the 'democratically elected' district councillors who are the only ones who object to cutting back of number of buses and routes, for fear of losing their handsome monthly stipends and seats comes the next election! Long live populist democracy!

    Kelvin

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  37. Sorry, some jerks want their 'normal' lives back. Let there be traffic jams!!!

    Augus

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    Replies
    1. Air pollution back to Chinese standards now.

      James

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  38. Traffic Jam and pollution, don't cast them away!

    Cantonese Translation:
    有得塞, 真係唔塞?
    有廢氣, 真係唔吸?

    Sora

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    Replies
    1. @Sora, nice one huh haha

      Angus

      Delete
  39. I wonder how Didier, Kit and Co will spin this one. On a serious note, I hope the Triads/Blue ribbons don't "lean"on "Mr Lau" after this.

    Hector

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    Replies
    1. I leave all the spinning to you guys!

      Kit

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    2. No spin needed. Just one guy speaking his mind. Personally I thought it was nice to have some fresh air, especially in Mong Kok.

      Hector

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    3. Hector, One doesn't need to spin. One just needs to make you stare straight into the price of democracy, vide my post above.

      Kelvin

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    4. I don't like your hateful language, Kelvin, and neither does anyone else. Which is why very few people take any notice of what you say. You should try to divorce emotion from your arguments and put forward logical reasoning, then you may be taken seriously.

      Hector

      Delete
  40. Not to mention walking from Wanchai to Admiralty...

    Darlene

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  41. In other word the protesters were disrupting people's livelihood.

    Long

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    Replies
    1. You read it totally wrongly or you did not even read it at all.

      Edvard

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    2. No, I don't. It is the fact.

      Long

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    3. You only choose to believe what you want to believe, too bad.

      Edvard

      Delete
  42. Traffic Jam and pollution, don't cast them away!

    Sora

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  43. Traffic jam and pollution mean that people are working, while sleeping on the street mean you are ready to prevent them from working.

    Long

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  44. So working means what? Being the slave of money?

    Angus

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  45. No, it only means more people are driving their own car to work.

    Sora

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  46. Live in the city needs money, don't like it go live in the forest.

    Long

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    Replies
    1. More people are driving their own car means a disruption for bus drivers

      Long

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    2. 1 question, do you know what you are talking? Or may be its my problem not getting it.

      More people are driving after protest -> disruption for bus driver -> should continue to protest?

      Sora

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    3. Ever visit Beijing?

      Takahiro

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    4. His last name is Chen, don't argue with fools.

      Ryan

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    5. It goes on like this retard protest on the street => disturb the traffic and the livelihood of the bus drivers, truck drivers etc =>and because people who usually take bus cant do that during the protest they use their own car. see what kind of logic do you have??

      Long

      Delete
  47. This came to mind at once: 死雞撐飯蓋

    Henry

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  48. I actually hear similar views before.

    Leung

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  49. I suspect more people took the MTR, not taxis. The traffic was not better in all parts, and decidedly a lot worse in others...

    Melissa

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  50. Next time you should take a bus and have a small talk with bus drivers. Or talk to those workers who have to pay more for their commuting. I am looking forward to read those reports South China Morning Post SCMP.

    Xiao

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    Replies
    1. That's the funny thing Xiao, many people have and the drivers are either ambivalent or supportive of the Democracy movement. I find it quite surprising actually.

      Hector

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  51. Oh the irony~

    Takahiro

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  52. We all knew that taxi drivers made better living with OC, it were the pros-government camp forced the taxi-cartels made the fault accusations.

    Douglas

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  53. Let's try the easiest: odd and even number days based on your license plates for private cars. That will reduce all other vehicular traffic by half and force peeps to share their rides.

    Henry

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  54. It seems the issue of the driver is not with OC or anything political.. He has issues with busses and minibusses... How about banning those first?

    Terence

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  55. 佔中之後我碟飯 do 細左... 我要佔中, 我要佔中!

    Henry

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  56. Thank you, Jason!

    Chaz

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  57. The same freak who declared the first few days of OC to be the happiest days of his life (www.scmp.com/comment/blogs/article/1607845/worst-times-best-times).

    Most taxi drivers I have spoken to claimed business was down. I am more inclined to believe my own ears.

    Ray

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  58. Is this for real? It goes against total logic and common sense. Perhaps it's an isolated case, but the writer is clearly grasping at straws in his attempt to support his "cause".

    Sharon

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