Skip to main content

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.

My 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 was published on under the title "15 Minutes with Mr. Lau: One taxi driver's take on his Occupy 'woes'."

As posted on

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:
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


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…