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Sunday, October 5, 2014

Belligerence, Brawls and Bemusement in Mongkok

So this is my 'hood.

Filled with a warren of independent boutiques, chain stores, street markets, nightclubs, hourly-rated hotels, local cafes, restaurants, massage parlours and karaoke bars, Mongkok is unapologetically raucous, in-your-face, vibrant, and after all these years, still infused with a whiff of seediness that gentrification from the Langham Place complex had not quite successfully erased.

It is therefore no surprise (at least to me) that when the Occupy Central movement decided to branch out to Mongkok and, well, occupy the incredibly busy intersection of Nathan Road and Argyle Street, things got way more volatile and combustible there than at the other two protest sites at Admiralty and Causeway Bay.  For one thing, there are proportionately more economic activities, legal or otherwise, in Mongkok on a 24/7 cycle than in, say, the civil section of Admiralty, where most of the offices would be closed during public holidays and weekends.  And second, this is Mongkok, for crying out loud.  With all the tens of thousands of small business owners, residents, shoppers - and yes, since it's all out in the open in the media anyway - triads making their living in the neighbourhood, it's not a big stretch of the imagination to anticipate that any major disruptions in that very same space would at the very least bring about some heated discussions, if not outright brawls and smackdowns.

And that's exactly what happened, and unfortunately is still happening as of this post's update.

I didn't see some of the more violent fracas when I walked over to check out the scene at the Mongkok protest site but there were some sporadic tense interactions nonetheless.  Here are my snaps of my time behind the protesters' barricades.  
Looking eastward on Argyle Street toward the intersection at Nathan Road where the protesters were congregated with their tents and loudspeakers.

A closer view of the first-line defenders at their makeshift barricade.
View of another section of the barricade (the white car is part of it) from the back. On Argyle Street.

From top left photo: Anti-Occupy protesters were shouting over the barricade at the students on the right.  One of the anti-guys then shoved the barricade about a foot (top right photo) which prompted the students to surge forward.  Cops then had to step in to hold both sides back as the shouting matches around them escalated.
Making one's case. And vice versa.
The peanut gallery

This guy was making his heated arguments against the Occupy Central movement.......

.....directly to the bemused Occupy protesters across the barricade, one of whom dismissed him by shaking his head, laughing, and putting on his earbuds.

Giving an animated rundown on recent spats to other onlookers

A vigilant protester
Occupy protesters at the ready, manning the makeshift first-aid stall, giving interviews, arguing with anti-Occupy factions.

The divider along Nathan Road is a pretty good vantage point for onlookers.
Curious gawkers from the mainland.

Text 'em if you've got 'em

Taking some downtime in the middle of Nathan Road

More downtime on Nathan Road - this time, with style.

Food stalls and stores that are normally packed along Argyle Street and Nathan Road are seeing a discernible dip in customers and revenues
Posters on one of the several abandoned KMB buses on Nathan Road


Saturday, October 4, 2014

Strolling Through Occupy Central (Admiralty & Causeway Bay)

The Umbrella Revolution namesakes

Living in Hong Kong, there was no escaping the fact that Occupy Central was finally up and going as of last Sunday, 28 September 2014.  Even if I had managed to avoid the incessant local and international news coverage of the mass protests, I couldn't miss the fact that this historic occasion was underway as my office is sandwiched just a few blocks from two of the three targets of the movement: Central/Admiralty - the financial downtown core of the city - and Causeway Bay - an area popular with locals and tourists for its shopping and restaurants, and has the dubious recognition for commanding the highest commercial rents in the world.  In addition, my apartment is only a kilometre away from the third protest site - by far the most raucous and volatile - in Mongkok, Kowloon.

As it was a public holiday on 1 October (China National Day,) I took a stroll from Central to Causeway Bay (via Gloucester Road and a nearly deserted Hennessy Road in Wanchai) and later in the evening, to Mongkok, to see the protest sites for myself.  The scenes I witnessed were something not to be missed for to see the usually hectic, traffic-snarled streets of Hong Kong and Kowloon resembling a street festival filled with very young, idealistic protesters sitting on the asphalt, was certainly one for the history annals.

Here are some of the snaps I took on my stroll that day in Central, Admiralty,Wanchai and Causeway Bay:

This was the sight that greeted me when I came out of my Central MTR exit and started walking eastward along Gloucester Road.

This is the reverse view of the photo above.  Facing westward on Gloucester Road with the IFC building in the background.

There's no fear of going hungry or thirsty during the protests.  Here, cheerful kids (which is what they are, kids) man one of the many supply tents in Central.

Grabbing a perch wherever one can.

Want a towel? How about bottled water? Granola bars? Cream crackers? Salted peanuts? Sanitary napkins? At times, the scene was like a street market with locals hawking their wares, except these were all free.
Gloucester Road was not only filled with protesters but also curious locals, expats and tourists.  It was quite the convivial atmosphere (amazing how pleasant it was to be out there without the pesky pepper spray and tear gas.)

Just so we're reminded that Occupy Central is not all fun and games.

On the flyover near the Civic Square and the Central Government Offices - the hotbed of protest activity.

Picnic or protest? Sometimes it's hard to tell.

I took a peek inside - there were three generations of family members sitting in this tent on the flyover pass  with little portable fans to fend of the waning summer heat.

Like a scene from a zombie movie: Gloucester Road in Wanchai.  My office building is just to the right of this photo.

With most of the roads blocked, buses and trams stopped have stopped operating in Wanchai.

Occupy Central has so far been a pictorial study of contrasts.  On one hand, there's extreme chaos and stifling masses of people occupying every inch of an eight-lane highway; on the other, I also saw nearly abandoned streets devoid of vehicles and traffic noise just a few blocks away from the protest sites. 

All that relative quiet ended when I crossed from Wanchai to Causeway Bay.  These are the barricades at the intersection of Hennessy Road and Lee Garden Road.
One of the several "speaking corners" in Causeway Bay - this one was in front of the landmark Sogo department store
An earnest sign seen at Causeway Bay.
Protesters on the street making signs, doing homework, chatting, texting and surfing the web.
Close to the end of the "other side" of the barricaded area.  This one is on Hennessy Road and Pennington Street.

One of the last signs I saw for the evening before I left Causeway Bay and headed across the harbour to the third "occupied" protest site in Mongkok.

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