In the weekdays, you work, socialise, relax. On the weekend, you're a disciplined protestor. Hong Kong's Alter Natives
Our Alter Natives category gathers together personal testimony from those who are putting their inner and outer lives on the line, to find or to embody an “alternative” to our current consumerist, carbon-heedless, machine-challenged order. What and who do we need to be on the inside, to fuel ourselves for transforming the outside?
To that end, here’s a few extracts from a piece we’ve found in the New York Times, where a young Hong Kong protestor muses on her completely divided life - one half raising against the Chinese authorities on the streets of her city, the other half working, socialising, and curling up with a good book at home. Though sometimes, the divide can’t be maintained:
In August, the air in Hong Kong takes on a life of its own. The winds weep with so much moisture that it often feels suffocating. On one of those stifling days, I welcomed a sweaty handyman into my flat. The tanned, smiling, 30-something stranger, whom I had found on a local household-repair version of “seeking arrangements,” was there to dismantle a spare bed that I was hoping to sell.
As he removed the nails from the bed frame, he asked, “So you’ve been out on the streets, eh?”
I took a step back, immediately suspicious. “What gave it away?”
“There’s a yellow hard hat by your sofa,” he said, laughing. “Don’t worry, I’m out every other week too. I’m with the first aid. Just doing what I can.”
While he smoked a cigarette in my kitchen, we chatted about the protests that have swept across the city, seeking to secure the promises made by our leaders for checks and balances on Hong Kong’s government and for certain democratic rights and freedoms. “My son keeps asking me to explain why the police are beating people up,” he told me. “Even the children know there’s something wrong.”
Before he left, he told me to call him if I ever needed anything else around the house fixed. “We’re allies,” he said. And if I was ever on the scene and needed help, he added, I had his number.
That encounter epitomizes an uncanny sensation I’ve been experiencing for months. My “real” life — the one where I show up to work every morning, have a drink in the evening with friends, hide underneath the covers reading a book at night or call a handyman for odd jobs — exists in a parallel universe, one in which the city isn’t burning. On the weekends, I enter that other world — the one in which I head out wearing safety gear, my hard hat and face mask in place — to witness the thousands marching and then go home to watch live feeds of the news late at night.
The writer, Karen Cheung, goes on to explore how social media maintains this boundary:
The looming threat of prosecution, for taking part in what the Hong Kong government calls “illegal protests,” has forced us into anonymity. In the online forums where protest strategies are discussed, we adopt weird handles and real names are never used. A popular saying among the protesters these days is, “One day, we’ll be able to take off our masks, embrace and finally see each other.” The Hong Kong government has arrested over 800 people since the first major anti-extradition protests in June, including several prominent pro-democracy activists on Friday, so that day seems further and further away.
Even the online world has fractured into different planes. While forum discussions are anonymous, regular social media has become a way for Hong Kongers to express their positions on the protests. Many of my friends are journalists, so perhaps I live in a protest bubble — most people I know on social media are posting about nothing else.
Some of my friends, who experienced their political enlightenment during the Umbrella Movement in 2014, have now completely dedicated themselves to stalling the rapid undermining of Hong Kong’s remaining freedoms. Even those who never used to follow politics — as if politics were separate from our everyday lives — are suddenly posting about the protests on Instagram.