I don’t usually look back at the end of a year to review bygones. I find year-end reviews, popular as they are, futile like new year resolutions. But one night in late November, I saw protesters passing a sign on Nathan Road in Mong Kok that says “what does your revolution look like?” It was a campaign by Eaton Workshop. But what a coincidence! I wonder if the protesters, who were busy fighting and escaping the riot police, saw it, and if they did, what they thought of it, and more importantly, what they think of the social unrest since June 9th, which certainly is the biggest political event of Hong Kong in 2019 and one of the city’s greatest historical events in decades. I remember standing opposite the road and staring at the sign as protesters ran past it, feeing surreal. That moment I found myself sigh, “Ah, Hong Kong, 2019.”
Weeks later, I was in Hong Kong Disneyland for a portrait shoot, and I was, once again, fascinated by the human need of fantasy. I saw a family of four entering the land of fancy. Father, mother and two young children – a toddler and a two-or-three-year-old. The mother, wearing a Mickey’s headband, sunglasses, a black sweater and a bright, colorful long skirt, seemed to be the only one lost to the imagined world. Her toddler, on the father’s chest, looked at her as if watching Mickey in a TV. The older child pushed his own baby cart behind her. And she strode forward, her face radiant in the winter sunlight, with a smile of a child’s who believed she was the triumphant Mickey ready to win another battle against Donald Duck. It was quite a scene and, strangely, one that reminded me of the sign I saw in Mong Kok. “what does your revolution look like?” I couldn’t help but wonder if revolution is another form of fantasy, a need to break the reality in which we are stuck.
That was also the moment I became aware of the parallels between Hong Kong’s political movement and the city’s mundane life that goes on and on despite the protests. So began my review of the year of 2019 in Hong Kong, in the format of diptychs.
In these diptychs, you see –
Umbrellas: What can be more symbolic and prevalent than umbrellas in Hong Kong? Umbrellas against the rain, against the sun, against the police.
Afternoon sunlight: Pedestrians walk down the street in the afternoon sunlight, so do the protesters – at the opening of a letter V. V for vendetta, for victory, for vandalism, or for violence? But this V is not really a letter, but a part of the zigzag lines on the road, singled out by my lens at a low angle. It is a subjective suggestion, not a fact, nor truth.
Bamboos: They are used as a scaffolder for construction workers and made into a catapult by protesters.
Crowds: They gather at Man Mo Temple in Sheung Wan making their annual wishes for success at work and in school; They march from Causeway Bay to Central, shouting their wishes for democracy. In the temple, incenses are lit. In the march, cell phone torches are turned on, making a river of light in the slow shutter speed.
Dogs: A Halloween party goer, wearing a top with a Dalmatian’s pattern, drops her toy Dalmatian to play with a real Dalmatian; A protester pauses to play with an Akita. Protesters or not, we humans are mostly dog lovers, aren’t we?
“Drinks”: When I photograph a sommelier, my strange mind roams to a scene where a molotov cocktail exploded above a protester. By the way, I’ve seen a lot of molotov cocktails thrown at the police, but I’ve never seen one successfully hitting its target. They are useless. On the other hand, pepper spray, tear gas, water cannon and bean bags never miss their targets. Live bullets, when fired, rarely miss their targets, too.
Masks: Protesters wear creative and fun masks, particularly after the mask ban. They remind me of a mask worn by a busker in Central earlier of the year.
Naps: A restaurant worker takes a nap after lunch hour is over; at HKBU, a protester takes a nap after an exhausting day and night preparing for a battle with the police which didn’t happen. Don’t we all need sleep? !
Grounded: A baby crawls on the ground; a protester and district council election candidate is nailed to the ground.
Plants: An urban farmer shows off a dill plant he grows with a proud smile; protesters pull plants out of their pots and used them as weapons against the police. Like Molotov cocktails, they are barely effective as weapons.
Sandwiched: Pedestrians are happily sandwiched by lion dancers on Chinese Spring Festival, months later they are nervous when sandwiched by the riot police.
Smoke: Smoke is seen at a cathedral, and on the streets, or the battle ground between protesters and the police.
Wishing: A reindeer is touched for good luck in Man Mo Temple. Pepe the Frog is held high as a gesture for democracy. Pepe the Frog, a symbol of white nationalism and an icon of hate in the United States, is the ideological ambassador of the political movement in Hong Kong.
Walls: They are media for advertisements, both commercial and political.
Forests: Not too far away from the city center of Hong Kong, in Sai Kung, tourists and locals practice forest bathing, to seek peace and harmony. At Festival Walk, a shopping mall in Kowloon Tong, a painting of forest witnesses vandalism and violence.
Christmas: Domestic helpers celebrate Christmas at Edinburgh Place in Central where a Silver Hair rally is going on; At Festival Walk, Christmas decorations are destroyed along with mall facilities.
As I watch this movement develop, I seem to see what is described and analyzed by Gustave Le Bon in his book, “The Crowds: A study of the Popular Mind.” On at least two occasions, I met men who I suspect were infiltrators, who might provide hormonal youths illusions disguised as truths or ideals, who might be a tool to manipulate the crowd psychology – impulsive and mobile and lack of conscious personality, and transform suggested ideas into acts. I think I see the disappearance of conscious personality on both sides, yellows and blues. Which brings fear. Nightmares sometimes tiptoe to my bedroom. I fear for Hong Kong. Would it eventually become an “Animal Farm” of “1984” ?