CAVEAT: I usually write fiction, or about fiction. But while in Hong Kong over the past few weeks visiting family and working on a couple of projects, I ended up experiencing a real life story that I wanted to help tell, of the protests in the streets and the people taking part in them.
It was a rainy friday in Admiralty, the cars that usually filled the streets replaced with pedestrians and protestors. Yellow ribbons fluttered in the breeze, as did posters ranging from supportive statements to subverted ads on bus stops to zombified caricatures of city officials.
The tall tan wineglass shape of the PLA Forces Hong Kong building towered over people walking down the middle of the street. Most of the protestors sat out of the occasional drizzle in tents, or in clusters under elevated walkways lined with banners.
The protests had a rhythm like the tide, with relatively few people out in the morning, others slowly gathering over the course of the day to form large rallies in the evening. Police kept watch from the barricades of tangled portable fences the protestors had pushed together across the roads. Rows of open umbrellas decorated most of them, symbols of the movement since protestors used them to block police pepper spray several days before.
Around noon things were relatively quiet. The city appeared rigidly split between areas where life continued on as normal and territory totally disrupted by the protests. Office workers ate seemingly ordinary lunches at a 2nd floor Fairwood fast food place just a few feet away from a supply tent on a highway overpass. Two women sat among cases of water bottles and canvas bags. I didn't get their names, only their ages, 19 and 21.
"I want true democracy." The 21 year old woman (on the left) said, "We were promised true democracy when the British returned [Hong Kong] to China...that's why we're here...to have what we were promised."
Further on, at a first aid tent under a pedestrian bridge, a man in a teal shirt with two pieces of red tape making a red cross on his shoulder jumped up to answer questions. His name was Ivan.
"I'm a nursing student, so I think I am responsible for helping people here." Ivan said when asked why he was part of the protests. As to why the others were here, he replied, "I think they can't stand the government any more...they want the government to listen." He added, "We're still waiting for the government to respond. I don't think there will be a very good result, but it's good to be pulling people out here, to let the government pay more attention to how we think and what we want."
Towards the eastern edge of the protest area, at one of the last tents before Wan Chai, a 23 year old legal student named Tony had a similar assessment of the protests, "Even if this doesn't go further, I think it's a good experience this time, next time we have something to ask for or something to pursue, we will do better."
Tony requested that I not photograph him, because he didn't want his grandparents to see him at the protest.
The drizzle became a steady downpour. Reporters and protestors alike found shelter under an overpass. Just across the road and over another barricade, police officers stood in the rain, water streaming down their dark blue jackets and uncovered faces. Camera operators snagged shots from a trio of tripods.
A jaunty young protestor named Libby stood next to me as we both watched the police at their exposed posts. I asked her if she felt bad for them, being out in the rain like that, "For some of them," she replied, "Some of them probably agree with us, and are just doing their jobs.
She'd been involved for two weeks, from before the protestors had taken over the streets outside city hall. "Originally we were Occupy Central, but we don't use that name anymore. We're the Umbrella Revolution now."