Hong Kong protests: Many return to work, but a hard core of protesters continue the struggle

‘I’m tired. When I think I’m fighting for Hong Kong, I get power again’

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The Independent Online

Is it all over in Hong Kong? Kwok Yung, a 20-year-old college student says not.

On Monday night she and a handful of fellow protesters were manning the very first barricade across the main road that has been the main focus of the occupation for more than a week. Hundreds of yards of empty road separated this barricade from the much shrunken heart of the protest. It was her first day back at school after the ‘Golden Week’ holiday.

Soon she will go home for dinner with her parents, then come back to the barricade. Then home to sleep. “I’m very tired,” she admitted, “but when I think I am fighting for Hong Kong I get power again.”

Numbers at the protest on Monday were down steeply compared to the weekend, one reason being that tens of thousands like Ms Kwok were back at school or work. But by late evening thousands again filled the main road.

 

So how long will they stay? Talks with top civil servant Carrie Lam are under way. If she demands that the roads are opened for negotiations to proceed, would you go home?

“No, we don’t trust her,” Kwok said, “she and the government are the same.”

What about the dire warning by former chief justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang, urging protesters to go home for their safety?

“That was his kindness, reminding us we are in a dangerous situation,” said Chris Chen, 29, a digital journalist at the barricade. “But we wouldn’t be here if we were not prepared to be arrested.”

The focus of the protests has been on demanding open nominations for chief executive of Hong Kong – effectively governor – in 2017, instead of the pre-selected, Beijing-approved nominations that  were proposed on 31 August.

Mr Chen explained why this dry demand has elicited such vast and sustained support. 

“Rich tourists from the mainland are making the prices in Hong Kong’s shops rise,” he said. “Hong Kong people’s wages are going down, fares on public transport are going up, our standard of living is going down.

“In Causeway Bay [Hong Kong’s Oxford Street] you only find luxury shops for the tourists selling jewellery and Chanel. We are just normal people, we can’t afford these things. You see old ladies who should enjoy their lives still working, collecting old newspapers and drink cans. The government should take care of the people. They are not fair. They don’t even do the basic things well,” Mr Chen said.

This experience of unaccountable government connects with their parent’s bad memories of communism. “My parents fled from the mainland to escape from the Cultural Revolution,” said Mr Chen. And now communism is coming to get them. His family fully supports him.

At another outpost of the uprising, the mood was equally angry and defiant. One of the student groups announced on Monday that the Mong Kok occupation was ending. He was promptly contradicted by other protesters, and on Monday night the occupation of the area was a surreal circus, a knot of protesters under tents surrounded by a few dozen sympathisers.

In Mong Kok too, the main grievance – the electoral stitch-up – is fuelled by a welter of down-to-earth resentments. “Young people can’t afford to buy or even rent a flat,” said John Law, a 20-year-old solicitor.

Faye Lai, 22, who graduated in economics from an Australian university and now works as a clerk, said: “All protests in Hong Kong end with negotiations and a nonsense solution. We don’t trust our so-called leaders. We are being betrayed right now. That’s why we are still sitting here.”

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