July 1 – Hong Kong SAR Establishment Day

Starting them Young - this girl knows exactly what to do with her protest sign!

Starting them Young - this girl knows exactly what to do with her protest sign!

Unfortunately the blog has been silent for much longer than I would have liked, not for lack of ideas or the desire to post but rather illness. Been fighting off what became a very bad case of tonsillitis over the past week and a half. Ironically, I think my issues started on July 1st. As today has progressed I’m finally feeling somewhat well enough to poke my head out of the rabbit hole and do something more than sleep. I’m going to start off with a bit of a history lesson, but I’m bolding my own impressions at the bottom….

1 July is a big holiday in Hong Kong as it’s the anniversary of the British handover to China – hence, Special Administrative Region Establishment Day. The reason Hong Kong has the “SAR” tag is because it was negotiated that the colony would be accepted into China as part of the country but would keep the political system it had already in place, the mantra being “one country, two systems.” A big worry with the impending handover was that China would strip away much of the mechanisms that make Hong Kong a laissez-faire economy and some of the greater freedoms that Hong Kongers have. This is still a worry, though “one country, two systems” ends in 2047, causing democracy activists to feel the need to cement the differences of Hong Kong even more by introducing democracy.

There are a number of events that mark HK SAR Establishment Day, the two biggest being the Pro-China parade in the morning and the Pro-Democracy parade and protests in the afternoon. I did my best to take in as much as possible, going out early in the morning with my friend Alex while she interviewed Filipinas and domestic workers.

Ended up catching most of the Pro-China parade, which was a wonderful combination of acts – including many traditional (my assumption) Asian dances, dragon dancers and even an International Latin formation team. I was approached by two young girls who asked to interview me. Not sure what it was for, but they seemed happy that I obliged – they asked me where I was from, why I was in Hong Kong and if I knew what the celebration was about. I was silently thankful for the curriculum we were required to familiarize ourselves with given I could tell them the significance of July 1!! I told them I was really enjoying the festivities, and was also looking forward to the Pro-Democracy parade later in the day. The interviewer wrinkled her nose, and I wasn’t sure if this was because she didn’t know what I was talking about, or because she disagreed with my sentiment. Regardless, I found the exchange amusing, especially the end.

I think what stood out so much to me was that despite all of the Chinese protesters who carried things advocating for a political system of universal suffrage and democracy in addition to more rights, it makes me sad that they seem to have so little interest in the issues that domestic workers face, many of whom were marching at their side. The rights they are looking to attain will not extend to domestic workers, as the immigration system is crafted to keep them separate from society. It also makes it incredibly easy to violate the little rights they do have – I have gone with domestic workers to “court” only to witness all parties pressure them into settling for less than what they are legally entitled to. The methods they must go through to get legal recourse are a series of steps that put them in situations like this again and again. It makes my blood boil.

“Hong Kong Ruled by Hong Kong People” – Universal Suffrage Protests

Protester Wearing "V for Vendetta" Mask

Protester Wearing "V for Vendetta" Mask - was excited to see these as it's one of my favorite movies.

Hong Kong is a fascinating place. While on the one hand, it is a very global city (One of its mottoes is actually “Asia’s World City”), on the other it feels very insular to me. I buy the South China Morning Post everyday and try to keep up on the news as part of my program. Then I walk past the Legislative Council (LegCo) on my way to work and see the very protests about democracy legislation that the paper covering. The debates regarding the legislation were happening on Wednesday and Thursday. As LegCo it is only a few blocks from where I work, I was lucky enough to be able to check out the protests on a few occasions throughout the day. (See previous post regarding running around taking pictures in torrential rain.) I was planning on trying to document the protest some more on Thursday, but unfortunately I stayed home due to swollen glands – the pictures I did get on Wednesday are pretty subpar given my camera’s temperamental behavior as of late.

I can’t stop thinking about how the protest went down, as there were two different “sides”. The two camps were pro-government (or “pro-ourselves” as one interviewee claimed) and pro-democracy and subsequently, there were two different “protests” on either side of LegCo. At first it was really confusing listening to what sounded like a celebration, as well what was a much more organized portion of people, but I was given a run down later in the day and it made a lot more sense.

The Pro-Government Camp

The pro-government rally was cordoned off and you could only get in if you had special documentation. It was an area full of tents and seating, with a large stage for speeches and such. People were being bused in to attend. When the torrential rains came down they were a lot more comfortable than the other camp….

Pro-Democracy protesters continuing on despite torrential rains.

Pro-Democracy protesters continuing on in torrential rains.

Donald Tsang, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, also came through the Pro-Government crowd and ending up speaking to them at some point. As the legislation eventually passed 46-13, he proclaimed it a “triumph.” I believe that’s his face on the “Devil” shirt below:

Pro-Democracy Sign and Shirt

The pro-democracy rally was on the other side of the building. Anyone could access it and there was no seating or tents. Lots of handmade banners as opposed to the slick pro-government banners. When it rained, they were out in the open, save for their own umbrellas and such.

I think in the States the government openly (The word I should probably be using is blatantly, as I’m sure there are lots of examples one could come up with that may be working with the same sort of mechanism.) supporting a certain camp of protesters would be viewed as an anathema, and I wonder what people here think of it.

Pro-Democracy Activists creating a banner.

Pro-Democracy Activists creating a banner.

Legco from the Pro-Democracy side.

LegCo from the Pro-Democracy side.

Crazy Girls with Cameras Need not Apply….

Exhibit A: A policeman stationed outside the protest in absolutely crazy torrential downpour rains.

Today I found myself running around Central in my best business clothing, trying to get shots of the LegCo (Legislative Council) pro-democracy/pro-government protests in monsoon-like torrential rains. I was having a blast, but I also had to be at a meeting at 6. To further complicate matters, my 8 year old Nikon D100 camera is slowly dying on me. Of course, this was the exact time the autofocus gave out for many hours, as it has been doing since I got to Hong Kong. Trying to get proper focus in manual mode while holding an umbrella between shoulder and chin is not easy. Especially when the rain is mucking up one’s vision.

I must have looked truly mad to any onlookers, but I’m used to that, and the occasion was certainly worth it. The combination of two of my favorite things – ridiculous weather conditions and people coming together to make a statement – made it worth sticking around despite the difficulties. The energy in the air just couldn’t be beat. I only wish I could have really documented it properly.

I think my camera is finally starting to go and I’ve been scrambling to try and get a new one. Unfortunately, it’s just not that easy – my regular camera shop in NY was of no help to me at all (sorely tempted to take all further business elsewhere) and I’m not sure it’s worth the potential issues to buy one in Hong Kong. July 1st, the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China, is fast approaching. I’ve been looking forward to shooting the parades and protests that will be going on on that day for the past six months, and I’m at a loss about what to do concerning my increasingly temperamental camera. This is what I get for trying to be financially smart and holding off on buying a new camera before my trip…. Needless to say, I’m pretty upset about this issue at the moment.

To top things off, I think I’m getting sick. Oops. More on the actual protests soon.