A Day in the Life

5:15 AM – Today is Monday, which means early shift. I went to bed around 9:00 last night, but around 2:00 I woke up and checked the clock, wondering if I should let myself go into a deep sleep. With 3 hours left, I tell myself that I should just let myself sleep. Near the end, I wake up again and keep worrying that if I fall asleep, the alarm will go off. Finally, it does and I stay in bed a couple more minutes before getting up.

5:30 AM – I grab a few extra moments of sleep in the shower.

5:53 AM – I kiss JC goodbye and walk out the door, wondering whether it might be the last time I ever see her. It does seem a little paranoid, but it’s a good way to make sure you say goodbye to your loved ones the right way.

6:05 AM – For coffee I stop at McDonald’s, since it’s the only place that’s open. It comes with a Filet-O-Fish and a hash brown, valuable protein and carbs for later in the morning. I still have a few minutes so I sit at the bar table and open up my coffee, taking a few sips before covering it back up and inserting a straw into the little sippy hole. It will be useful for when I’m on the MTR.

6:20 AM – I’m sitting on the MTR, watching people reading their papers and playing with their phones. Sometimes I wonder if I’m wasting my precious time by just sitting or standing on the MTR doing nothing, but at the same time it’s too early in the morning to be craning my neck down to look at my phone. I prefer to keep my mind quiet and my neck unstrained.

6:35 AM – Now on the Tung Chung line, I see 3 of the same people that I saw last week. One of them turns out to be a cleaner in my building. It’s interesting how if you repeat the same patterns, sooner or later you’ll run into someone else who shares the same pattern. When I’m on late schedule I often run into the same girl heading in the opposite direction.

6:43 AM – Two escalators take me all the way up to the open square above, which I only discovered recently (not a loss though because the weather became walkable only recently). It’s a lot better walking in the open air than inside the shopping mall. The LVs, the Shanghai Tangs, the Piagets, the Piguets, boy it does get stuffy after a while. It’s monsoon season so the wind is strong this morning. The air is pretty clear, too, and I can see IFC across the harbor haze-free. Compared with last week, it’s darker. Pretty soon it will probably still be completely dark at this time.

6:53 AM – I get in to work and eat my hash brown before sending the first report of the day. It’s a weekly check of machines to make sure they’re all running OK. Everything checks out so I begin my rounds. It will take me over an hour and a half to do 5 floors, but in the end if it saves a flurry of calls later on, it’s worth it. As it is every week, a conference call starts playing on the phones. Words like earnings, outlook, and quarter accompany me on my walk. At the end (or actually, the beginning) of the day, it still is all about the money.

8:10 AM – Now I’m on the top floor, the penthouse. The decor is different up here. I rarely see the faces that occupy the seats and offices, because usually no one is in yet at this time. I walk into the office of the CEO, and it’s pretty bare, suggesting that she probably spends most of her time elsewhere. I wonder how someone becomes a CEO. The first thing that comes to mind is you know somebody. Of all the abilities people have, of all their Ivy League educations, the most important ability is to be able to interact with people, to get them to want to put you in a position of leadership. It probably helps if you inherently enjoy being around people. I think to myself that I’ll probably never become a CEO because of this one thing.

8:20 AM – That’s OK though, because now I’m finally done and I get to eat my Filet-O-Fish. I scarf it up (down) while I record the results of my walk. Now, my normal workday begins.

12:00 PM – Just like that it’s been a few hours. I’ve spent most of the morning multi-tasking: reviewing emails after being gone for the Thanksgiving holiday, responding to user queries, and following up on existing cases. Now it’s time to finally close out an old case, to switch out a user’s loaner machine for his real one. He’s a British guy and says “Cheers!” to me when I’m done. I answer “Cheers!” back, but I doubt I’ll ever get used to using this term in this manner. It belongs with a drink in my hand.

12:30 PM – Lunch time, but today we are understaffed so I stay at my desk to monitor the queue. I had brought my laptop to work so I could update my journal, too, carrying it in a big, bulky backpack. No matter, I do enjoy closing out tickets, and coming back from 4 days off it’s a little easier. I’ll call it a working lunch.

4:25 PM – The afternoon has been a whirlwind, dealing with tickets and users left and right. With 5 minutes left in my shift, a user desperately needs my help. I scramble trying to find him a solution, and finally I find what I’m looking for. I bring it up to him and connect it to his machine, and it works. Wow. It is there that I realize that it’s not just for him, but for his entire team as well. The moment of genuine gratitude from the users is the best part of the job.

4:48 PM – Finally in the elevator on my way out now. I send a message to JC to tell her I’m on my way home. Since it’s early shift today there’s no free shuttle until 5:00. Rather than wait, I take the MTR. It’s nice to be able to get a seat again, even if it’s for one stop. I’m not so lucky when I get to the Island line.

5:15 PM – I don’t get why people never move into the center of the car. I don’t get why people don’t vacate their seats for an old lady. That’s people for you. It will never change. If you are a government or someone in a position of leadership, you’d better take this into account.

5:29 PM – Home in less than an hour, and still less than an hour from my official off time. Not too bad, and dinner is about to be served, too. Tonight’s dinner is vegetable pancake and miso soup. Good stuff. I eat two bowls of rice while checking out the news every so often. Wow, so Occupy has deteriorated into this. I just wonder, in any relationship, what would happen if one party decided to completely ignore the other’s expression of concern, and then use forceful action to get them to stop expressing those concerns. Or, in other words, JC tells me something bothers her, I beat the shit out of her, realize that it’s the incorrect course of action, ignore her for a month, then two, then get a marriage counselor to order JC to suck it up, and then get tired of her nonstop complaining and beat the shit out of her again, all the while claiming she’s violating our marriage vows. Wonder how long I’d stay married if that were the case.

7:00 PM – We watch a show about the Vietnamese refugee situation in Hong Kong in the 80s and 90s. We have some ties to this community and it’s interesting to see the old footage. We wondered if we might see anyone we know. The funniest thing heard was a refugee saying that he felt like he was being played by God. He left Vietnam to escape communists only to find Hong Kong handed back to them again.

8:00 PM – It’s only the first day back but I’m exhausted already. This is the worst part, the energy cost I mentioned in this post. Even if there’s time, there’s no energy. I decide to go take a shower hoping it will refresh me a little. Before I go I pour myself a bottle of wine from the box I got for Thanksgiving. The boxed wine is pretty awesome, it’s vacuum packed so it keeps for weeks in the fridge. I just have to let it sit for a bit before drinking it.

9:29 PM – I had a nice shower but it didn’t really rejuvenate me. I came in to the office and started typing this. I wanted to type it this morning after reading another “day in the life” of a celebrity over the weekend. I’m no celebrity, but I wanted to see how I spend my day. If anything, it might help me organize my time better. You know, do the important things rather than the urgent things. It’s 9:30 PM now. My absolute deadline for bedtime tonight is 12:15. I’ll review and post this and then call it a night.

9:49 PM – Going to post now. Good night.

Trekking Through Occupied Hong Kong

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

With JC out of town and today being a holiday here in Hong Kong, I have nothing better to do so I decide to do a little hike around town and check out some of the Occupy hotspots.

First up, King’s Road here in North Point:

King's Road, North Point
King’s Road, North Point – 6:41 PM

I may have posted a photo like this on here before, but of course that was when I was visiting. Now, this neighborhood is home and evokes a different feeling. Everything is familiar and the novelty is gone. It’s neither good nor bad, just different. Well, maybe it is kind of nice to be able to instantly recognize things. Looking back at photos from past visits, there are now lots of “oh, shit that’s just down the street!” moments when I identify familiar places from our neighborhood.

Everything appears normal tonight, though there does seem to be less traffic on the road and less people on the sidewalks for a “Saturday” night. I consider taking the tram at first but think better of it after waiting for a bit and seeing nothing coming on the horizon. I head west on King’s Road and pretty soon I’m at Fortress Hill. Yeah, Hong Kong is pretty small.

Fortress Hill
Crossing King’s Road at Fortress Hill – 6:51 PM

The reason I’m crossing the street is that one of my favorite restaurants, Café de Coral, is on the other side. Since it’s almost dinner time and I’m planning to do a lot of walking, I think that maybe I should fuel up first. Alas, ever since I started working I’ve eaten Café so many times that when I look at the menu tonight, nothing appeals to me. It could also be that I’m just getting started with the hike and don’t want to stop so soon. I continue on and head down to Electric Road.

Like King’s Road, I’m super familiar with Electric Road from all the times I’ve gone to play basketball. Unlike King’s Road, there’s less traffic (especially buses) on Electric which means less smog to inhale before stepping on the court. While all those late night post-basketball walks included walking on Electric Road, none of them included Genki Sushi, which opened after I started work and stopped playing basketball. 🙁

Genki Sushi on Electric Road
Genki Sushi – opened some time within the last 3 months – 6:57 PM

JC and I both enjoy Genki so maybe when she returns I’ll take her there.

Back to basketball, though. I’ll always look back on that phase of my life with fondness: staying at the courts until lights-out, walking home with a natural endorphin-induced high (and all those random thoughts in my head!), taking a shower, and then enjoying a meal while watching Iron Chef. Man, that was the life.

Fairwood - Electric Road
Fairwood time – 7:00 PM

Speaking of enjoying meals, I round the bend where Electric Road changes direction from southwest to south and am happily reminded that Fairwood is here. Someone once told me that Fairwood and Café de Coral were started by a pair of brothers. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case because their Chinese names (大家樂 vs. 大快活) and food are pretty similar. I have already been thinking about trying their baked pork chop rice (after seeing this Chapman To TV commercial) so I stop to see if they have it. They do, and although it hasn’t been that long since I passed on Café, I’m wary of getting weak from hunger so I stop here for dinner.

Baked Pork Chop Rice - Fairwood
Baked pork chop rice with iced milk tea – 7:03 PM

I can’t remember if the last baked pork chop rice I had from Café had any pineapple, but I do remember that the pork chop was pretty fatty, which made it taste good. Tonight’s pork chop isn’t as fatty so it’s not as tasty, but I suppose it is healthier (and it comes with a little plate of beans and tomatoes, too). There is also more tomato sauce. Of course, I have to pair the rice with an iced milk tea or else the meal feels incomplete.

The portion size is pretty big, and I leave a few spoonfuls of rice in the dish. My mind flashes back to when we were kids and our aunt and other elders would tell us how difficult it is to grow a grain of rice, how when there was no rice during World War II people had to scrape discarded rice off of the sidewalk, and how we should never waste food as a result. While I try not to waste food, given the choice between overstuffing myself or leaving a little food on my plate, I’ve learned to choose the latter. Of course, if it’s feasible to take a doggie bag, I’d pick that option, too.

Fairwood
Eating at Fairwood – 7:15 PM

I take a break to watch some of my fellow diners. On the most part it’s a normal weekend evening, with people keeping mostly to themselves, some watching shows on their cell phone, others talking about the Occupy protests. I see another guy eating the same thing as I am, and he’s actually using the extra plate (baked rice always comes with one), meticulously transporting the pork chop and rice to the plate and mixing it up before eating. Is that a better way of eating baked pork chop rice? Maybe it is, but I don’t try it. I like keeping everything together, thank you very much.

Electric Road
Electric Road – 7:22 PM

Now, I’m back on the road and back on my usual route to Victoria Park and the basketball courts. I remember walking past Texas Burger (pictured above) when it was still a Korean restaurant. Restaurants don’t last very long in Hong Kong due to the high rents and plentiful alternative options. If you’re going to open a restaurant in Hong Kong, you’d better make sure you’ve done your homework and have a killer dish or strategy, because otherwise you might as well forget about it. Surprisingly, the Texas Burger seems to have been around for some time (months!). I remember picking up a menu after they first opened and scoffing at the offerings (burgers with exotic toppings and nothing that you’d actually find in Texas), not to mention the high prices. It’s a typical thing in HK, pricing an ordinary product ridiculously high and putting a bunch of zero-value trim on it (in this case exotic toppings) in an attempt to pass it off as luxurious.

Victoria Park Weather/Time Display
28.9˚C at Victoria Park – 7:27 PM

I arrive at Victoria Park. It’s 28.9 degrees Celsius and there is some decent activity on the courts. I think about all the time I’ve spent here over the past year-and-a-half. Some of the guys look at me curiously when I photograph them. At one of the courts, I see the guy that I was trying to show up when I badly sprained my ankle back on Halloween 2013. My natural reaction is to lash out at him, but I know it won’t change the fact that my ankle is still not fully healed and that it was my own stupidity that caused the injury (what would I do to him anyway?). Better to just count my blessings and keep walking.

Victoria Park Basketball Courts
My home away from home before work started – 7:28 PM

Continuing on, I’m now at the soccer grounds where it appears that a celebration was held earlier in the day. There are two rows of display tables with descriptive labels spaced about a foot apart, but the objects being described are now gone, probably taken home by the kids who created them. At the end is a circle of flags which reminds me of the UN, except instead of flags from around the world it’s all flags of the People’s Republic of China (if you look really hard at the photo below, you can make them out). Nearby, men with tattoos take apart some of the structures.

Victoria Park Post-National Day Celebrations
After the party – Victoria Park Soccer Pitches – 7:29 PM

Initially, I thought I would walk through Victoria Park in its entirety, exiting from the other side directly into the main Causeway Bay shopping area. As I walk, however, I notice the footbridge that leads to the Central Library. From up there I can have a better vantage point of Causeway Road and see just how bad traffic has been affected.

Causeway Road
Causeway Road – sparse of traffic – 7:35 PM

There are still some buses and taxis emerging from the shopping area eastbound, but westbound traffic is completely gone. The tram stop is now the tram terminus, with operators and staff congregated there and seemingly in good spirits (they were laughing about something the whole time I was watching them). It’s a novelty seeing a white “Victoria Park” destination sign on the tram.

Now, I’m getting closer to the protest area. On the Olympic Bridge, someone has tied yellow ribbons to the railings. I see a kid inside a hotel having some fun with his family, probably oblivious to what’s going on outside just a couple of blocks away. A piano player bangs out a tune while the kid jumps around.

Jumping Kid in Hotel
Having a good time – 7:41 PM

After crossing the Olympic Bridge, I’m finally at Yee Wo Street. I get my first glimpse of the protest. To get a better view, I get on to yet another bridge, and now I finally see with my own eyes what I’ve been seeing on television for the past few hours.

First Glimpse of Occupy - CWB
From here, can’t really see the scale of the sit-in – 7:43 PM
Occupy CWB
The bridge offers a better view – 7:45 PM
Occupy CWB
A wider view – 7:45 PM

Some signs from the bridge:

Make Love, Not War
Make love, not war – 7:48 PM
It Wouldn't Be Love
It wouldn’t be love if it disappeared with time – 7:49 PM
Vive La Démocratie
We are one! Long live democracy – 7:49 PM

In the wide-view shot 4 photos above you can see that a lot of stores are actually open for business. If one listened only to news reports, one might think that everything was shut down. This was actually one of the reasons I came out, to see for myself what was going on. In 10 seconds of standing on the street I’ve already gleaned more about the situation than days of watching and reading the news.

McDonald's Causeway Bay
McDonald’s is open and filled with customers – 7:46 PM
Wilson
As is Wilson – 7:50 PM

I think some stores made the decision to close fearing that there would be violence. IMHO that was a bit extreme because there are still lots of tourists in the shops that are open. Yes, overall there are probably less people around, but isn’t it better to do a little business rather than none at all, especially when considering sky-high rents and dirt-cheap labor? It definitely makes me wonder whether the reasoning behind some choices is political and intentional, designed to promote certain agendas. Yes, in my old age I’ve learned to read between the lines. 😉

I continue on through the crowd, reminding myself that I am here more to observe than to participate, remembering a protester saying on the news that this is a protest and not a party. Though I sympathize with them, my feelings are not strong enough to drive me to join their ranks. I walk through the crowd and take more photos.

Sleeping Protestor
A tired protestor takes a rest – 7:50 PM
Sitting Crowd
Occupying the streets – 7:51 PM
Public Lecture
A public lecture and discussion – 7:53 PM
First Aid Station
First aid – 7:56 PM
Sogo Crossing
The famous Sogo crossing – seems less crowded than usual – 7:56 PM
Umbrella Movement
Support Hong Kong – 7:56 PM
True Elections
I am a Hong Konger, I want true elections – 7:57 PM
Hennessy Road
Sit-ins on Hennessy Road – 7:59 PM
Well Wishes
Wishing HK the best – 8:00 PM
Hysan Line
The sit-ins extend to Hysan although Hennessy Road continues to be closed off all the way to Wan Chai – 8:01 PM
Crowds on Lee Garden Road
Looking down Lee Garden Road, there are shoppers and tourists – 8:01 PM

It’s definitely something to be walking from Causeway Bay to Wan Chai in the middle of Hennessy Road. I see people going to and leaving from the protest area. I see people eating in restaurants. I see people haggling with a taxi driver. Sadly, I don’t see any ladies hitting villains under the Canal Road Flyover.

Dinner
Protests or not, still gotta eat – 8:01 PM
Hennessy Road from WC to CWB
Hennessy Road – 8:03 PM
No Villains, No Ladies
Are villain-hitters here at night usually? – 8:04 PM
Taxi Haggling
Hope they didn’t get ripped off – 8:04 PM

I continue walking to Marsh Road, where the blockade ends and traffic flows as usual. At the corner is a 7-Eleven, so I use the opportunity to re-hydrate. I turn right on Marsh Road and head towards Lockhart. If I’m to be completely honest, I’m hoping to see some of the ladies who hang around outside the bars and beckon you to go inside (not that I’d actually go), but it turns out I’m still far from where that happens. I settle for a neon sign instead.

Sunny Paradise Sauna
Sunny Paradise Sauna – 8:09 PM
Novotel Causeway Bay
We stayed here in 2006 – 8:11 PM

Soon, I reach the hotel where JC and I stayed in 2006. At that time we were just starting out, and coming to Hong Kong caused enough problems to almost end our relationship. Luckily, instead of breaking us apart the drama brought us closer together, and now we’re married and living in the very place where it could’ve been over. Thinking about this, I think better of continuing on Lockhart and go down Jaffe instead, passing by the Wan Chai police station. The entire block is devoid of activity and the police station is completely quiet. I guess the police are all out covering the protests.

At Fleming Road I turn right and head for Gloucester, which at this point is already blocked off to vehicular traffic. It’s really strange seeing people walking on one of the closest things Hong Kong has to a freeway. Has it ever happened in Hong Kong’s history?

At Gloucester and Fleming
At Gloucester and Fleming – 8:17 PM

I go through Central Plaza and Immigration Tower, and now I’m finally “on the ground” and close to Admiralty. Although it sounds crazy to walk from North Point to Admiralty, it’s actually not that big of a deal. I imagine it would be like walking from the Mission to Van Ness; you wouldn’t normally do it, but as a hike it’s definitely not that challenging. From the timestamps you can see that it’s taken just over an hour (7:15 to 8:17) to get here from Fairwood. It would have been even quicker if I hadn’t stopped to take photos.

Coming and Going
Coming and going – 8:17 PM
Roadsigns
8 minutes to Kowloon – is that by foot or by car? – 8:21 PM
Enter Here
Enter here for Occupy – 8:24 PM
Roadworks
Roadworks – really? – 8:24 PM

The sign above reminds me that there were supposed to be fireworks tonight for the National Day celebration (hey, “roadworks” and “fireworks” are similar words!). I can’t help but be cynical about the government’s decision to cancel the fireworks show. It seems more like a punitive action than one taken because roads are occupied. I mean, the waterfront area in TST East hasn’t been occupied. Harbour cruises that have been booked to give people a front-row view haven’t been occupied. More likely, it’s a great way to create anti-Occupy sentiment by doing something you don’t really have to do and then playing the victim and blaming someone else for the consequences of your own actions. It’s yet another example of how the government places its own interests first, throwing tour organizers, cruise operators, and other vendors who stand to benefit from the event (not to mention regular citizens who just want to see a good show) under the bus in a political maneuver. Like I said, I’ve learned to read between the lines.

As I get closer to Admiralty, I start to see more signs of the protest other than closed roads.

Recycling Area
The world’s most polite protestors – recycling area – 8:30 PM
Democracy
Democracy – 8:31 PM

At this time I’ll reveal my conservative side and say that democracy is not the miracle solution that will solve Hong Kong’s problems. After living here for almost 2 years, I’ve found that Hong Kong and America are similar in many ways. The biggest thing that comes to mind is the wealth gap. In America we have free elections (though America is not exactly a democracy), yet we still have the problems of a wealth gap, a shrinking middle class, and corruption (it may not be as overt as it is in some countries, but it is there). In a nutshell, the government serves the rich, and the rich controls the government.

At the same time, at least it’s not completely hopeless in America because theoretically if we tried hard enough and were organized enough, we could vote corrupt politicians out of office. Hong Kong, as it is now, is completely hopeless in terms of controlling its own destiny. Maybe that’s what the occupiers are fed up with. If people could nominate their own candidate and vote for him/her, then at least they can say they controlled their own destinies even if nothing changes.

The crowds really starts to pick up as I pass the Red Cross into Admiralty.

Approaching the Hong Kong Red Cross
Approaching the Hong Kong Red Cross – 8:31 PM
Hong Kong Red Cross
At the Red Cross – 8:32 PM

It is here that I get my first interaction with occupiers. A kid with a spray bottle is asking passers-by whether they want Chinese style (中式) or Western style (西式). I ask him what it is exactly that he is offering, and he tells me that he’s offering water sprays to people to help them cool down. Since he is Chinese, his is 中式, while his Caucasian friend’s is 西式. I can’t help but smile, and ask him to give me 中式.

Now, I’m at Admiralty near the Admiralty Centre and the Piaget billboard that’s been on TV so much over the past few days. As I walk through the crowd, I feel a knot in my stomach thinking about the teargas, riot police, and shotguns that occurred here just a few days ago. It seems incredible that nobody got seriously hurt. Tonight, the atmosphere is calm and peaceful, almost idyllic, like a village in a storybook where everyone lives happily ever after. People are looking out for one another, offering each other food and water, teaching each other how to protect themselves in case of another teargas attack.

Piaget Billboard, Admiralty Centre
Piaget got their money’s worth – 8:34 PM
Packed
Tons of people everywhere – 8:36 PM
Banners Unfurled
Banners and slogans – 8:39 PM
People Everywhere
It’s completely packed – 8:42 PM

I continue on towards Central, where the crowds start to thin out. My plan is to take the Star Ferry over to TST, where another Occupy sit-in has sprouted up. Near City Hall, there is a makeshift shower area. A sign says to bring your own soap and towels. A few more steps over, I’m at the Cenotaph. Normally a monument to the war dead, tonight it also demarcates the Occupy zone’s western entrance.

Towards Central
Still crowded, but much less so – 8:49 PM

Curiously, Connaught Road is closed off to vehicular traffic from the Cenotaph all the way to Pedder Street. The underpass/tunnel is also blocked off. I climb on top of the divider to see if I can get a better view of the crowd but it’s not high enough.

By now my jeans are stuck to my legs, making it more of an effort to walk. Passing through Chater House to get to the pedestrian bridge, the A/C provides a much-needed cool-down before the long trek to the “new” Star Ferry.

View from Pedestrian Bridge
The pedestrian bridge is high enough – 9:00 PM

Previously, the Star Ferry was situated right outside City Hall, near the post office. For me, this was the Star Ferry from childhood, the original. My father once went on a hunger strike here in the name of democracy. Some years ago, the government decided to reclaim the area and the Star Ferry (and Queen’s Pier) had to be torn down. There were protests then but in the end the government did not listen and “progress” was made, and a cheap imitation of the Star Ferry was built out in the boonies. It’s interesting to speculate that the Occupy movement (and general dissatisfaction with society and the government) has been a long time coming, fueled over the past 17 years by incidents like the Star Ferry demolition.

I pass by the walkway to the IFC mall, where men with suitcases are scalping the iPhone 6. The price tonight is HKD$8,000, or over a grand in USD. That does seem to be the going price at the moment. It seems fitting that this blatant act of capitalism is happening right outside the International Finance Centre.

International Finance Centre
International Finance Centre – 9:07 PM
Waiting for the Star Ferry
Waiting for the Star Ferry – 9:09 PM

The Star Ferry ride is pretty nice. My mind always flashes back to childhood when I’m on it. We used to take the 13 (back then, the destination sign read “Star Ferry” instead of today’s “City Hall”) and transfer to the ferry to get to TST, no long walk required. I’d sit in the front and look out the window at the pier getting closer and closer, fragrant gusts of wind hitting my face. When we got there, the engine rumbled and the reverse-propeller churned up the water. I loved watching the green seawater turn white and bubbly and then calm back down. There might be a term for the smooth water at the end but it escapes me at the moment.

Star Ferry Life Vests
Remember the Titanic – 9:18 PM

The row of lifevests in front of me reminds me that two years ago tonight, a ferry crash claimed dozens of lives. Were the vests there before 2012? I’m not certain but I know for sure they weren’t there when I was a kid.

Now I’m walking up the same exit ramp at the Star Ferry pier that I used to walk with my parents 30 years ago. It’s good to see that this part of the Star Ferry hasn’t changed. The bus terminus, Star House, and even Ocean Terminal are still where they were before. Even Toys “R” Us, where I’ve bought many a Sega game, is still there. Sadly, this is no longer a place for locals, unless you work in retail or foodservice. Happily, this place brings in tons of revenue for the Hong Kong tourism industry. I guess it all depends on how you look at it.

Ferry Trash
You’d think they could add another trashcan – 9:25 PM

I wonder why I feel the need to point out places from my childhood all the time. I like history, and I am fascinated by the longevity and continuity of historical places, but there’s probably some vanity involved as well. It’s like we’re the originals, able to trace our family history in Hong Kong back to at least the early 20th century. At work I often find myself asking (or challenging) my coworkers (who all happen to be around my age) whether they remember something from 1980s Hong Kong, from our childhoods. It’s like a badge of honor, or being in an exclusive club. Admittedly, it gives me a sense of belonging that I’ve never found elsewhere, despite the fact that we actually did settle permanently in elsewhere. In some ways we should have forfeited our badge when that happened, but that’s the uniqueness of Hong Kong people and its culture: we have people all over the world, and on the most part those of us who moved away are always welcomed when we return.

Entrance to Ocean Terminal
Enter through Lane Crawford on the right to get to the bathroom – 9:27 PM

I make another pit stop at 7-Eleven and then stop by the Marco Polo hotel to use the facilities. There is a public bathroom close to the hotel’s entrance near Ocean Terminal. Walk in, go up the stairs on the left, then head right and go all the way down the corridor, and there it is. The restaurant at the hotel is another one of those places that I’ve frequented since childhood. One time, I got really sick after eating too much at the buffet and threw up just outside the restaurant. Another time, we were going to go to the buffet but I had diarrhea and had to go home. These are not exactly pleasant memories but they are precious childhood ones. Gotta write them down, sorry. 😛

I pass through Ocean Terminal/Harbour City and emerge on the other side, at Canton Road. This is the 4th Occupy site that has sprouted up, and also the smallest.

LV TST
LV still looks somewhat crowded – 9:34 PM
Canton Road
Canton Road, closed off – 9:34 PM
Occupy TST
These occupiers are taking over Canton Road – 9:40 PM
Brands
Just like these luxury brands – 9:41 PM
Frontal View
A view from the other side – 9:42 PM
Rest Area
Only a couple of tents here – 9:42 PM

Canton Road is pretty much just occupied from Peking Road to Haiphong Road, and soon I find myself on the latter, walking in the middle of the street again. Still, I don’t think Haiphong being closed is any big deal because I kind of remember it does get closed occasionally for special events.

Haiphong Road
Haiphong Road – 9:46 PM

At this point it’s been almost three hours, so when I see the TST MTR station at Nathan Road, I head down to take it to Mong Kok. It would be too ambitious to try to walk all the way there as I had already planned. Three stations later, I’m back above ground and once again in the middle of an area that I’ve been seeing on TV all day long. Unlike Piaget in Admiralty, in Mong Kok it’s Citibank. Damn those foreign influences.

Argyle Street
Stepping out of exit D2 – 10:00 PM
Citibank
Citibank got its money’s worth – 10:01 PM

As with the other Occupy sites, Mong Kok has its own personality and feel. The crowd here is the most diverse, with people of all ages crowded in the intersection of Argyle Street and Nathan Road. One of the first things I spot is a car parked in the middle of the street with the words “你用車撞 我用車擋” written on the windshield. Referring to a 50-something who tried to run over occupiers with his Mercedes, the literal translation is “you use car crash I use car block”. I definitely get a kick and a chuckle out of that.

你用車撞 我用車擋
In MK even cars get in on the Occupy act – 10:01 PM
Cars Can Occupy Too
Cars of all kinds – 10:03 PM
Mong Kok Occupy
People of all kinds, too – 10:05 PM
Do Not Forget
Do not forget why we’re here – 10:07 PM
Peace Love Respect
Peace, love, respect – 10:08 PM

I make my way through the crowd towards Nathan Road. A man speaking Mandarin stops me to ask if I know of any hot pot restaurants nearby. Apparently, he and his family are caught in the middle of Occupy. I don’t know Mong Kok too well, but coincidentally as I’m talking to the man I see a sign for Little Sheep (it’s in the 3rd photo above), a hot pot place across the street. I point to it and the man then asks me how he’s supposed to get across because the intersection is so packed. I direct him down the way I just came, through the MTR station and then back up on the other side. He seems happy and goes off into the subway with his family. I hope they had a good meal.

Nathan Road
Looking south down Nathan Road – 10:09 PM

Me, I’m now smack in the middle of the intersection of Nathan Road and Argyle Street. This is it, ground zero in Mong Kok. I’m probably on TV at this moment. Nearby, a number of buses are frozen in place in the middle of the road. I try to imagine how they ended up there. Did people just decide to run out onto the street and the bus drivers had to stop, and then abandon, their buses? Did it happen in a split second or was it long and drawn out? Regardless of how it happened, it is eerie seeing the buses in mid-pulling away from their bus stops-pose. If something ever happened to the human race and we all vanished from the Earth in a split second, this is what it’d be like.

Bulletin Board
Who knew that a bus could make such a perfect bulletin board? – 10:10 PM
Bus Graveyard
Eerie, empty buses – 10:11 PM
Freak Show
Gather round for the freak show – 10:12 PM
Nathan Road Again
Nathan Road belongs to the people – 10:14 PM

Continuing down Nathan Road, I reach another place that JC and I frequent, King Wah Centre. We love getting Japanese BBQ at Gyu-Kaku here.

King Wah Centre
Gyu-Kaku, here we come – 10:17 PM
Sai Yeung Choi Street
Sai Yeung Choi Street – 10:19 PM

I go down Shan Tung Street so I can check out what’s going on on the “back” streets like Sai Yeung Choi and Tong Choi (aka Ladies Market). I end up getting a bit lost and disoriented, thinking I’m heading north when I’m really continuing south. I get back out to Nathan Road and keep walking until I hit Dundas. I think it’d probably be best if I sat down to take a rest.

Dundas and Nathan
Taking a rest at Dundas – 10:30 PM

It looks like Dundas Street, with vehicular traffic flowing on it, is one of the borders of Occupy MK, but which one? I’m still lost. I see a sign for the MTR and head in that direction, thinking I’ll hit Prince Edward Station. Instead, it’s Yau Ma Tei. I’ve been going south all along. It’s now been over 4 hours since I started and getting close to my bedtime. I’ve completed my trek and been to all four Occupy sites in one night. Time to wave the white flag and head home. I hope you’ve enjoyed tagging along.

Yau Ma Tei Station
Last photo of the night – 10:38 PM

Best Hope for Mankind?

At the Republican National Convention last week, John McCain said:

I trust Mitt Romney to know that good can triumph over evil, that justice can vanquish tyranny, that love can conquer hate, that the desire for freedom is eternal and universal, and that America is still the best hope of mankind.

As I watched the speech live on television, I cringed every time Senator McCain used one of those oversimplified buzz-terms that make Americans look so foolish: “good can triumph over evil”, “justice can vanquish tyranny”, “love can conquer hate”. But best hope for mankind? Man, that is over the top.

My family moved to the United States when I was at the tender and impressionable age of 10. I attended middle school, where we learned American History, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, how all men are created equal and how we all have the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I learned and believed that America could do no wrong, that we were the best country in the world. I would have wholeheartedly agreed if you told me back then that America is still the best hope of mankind.

Then, September 11 happened. Or, to be more accurate, the aftermath of September 11 happened. I cheered when we sent troops to Afghanistan to hunt bin Laden. We were going to get him. It was going to be an in-and-out operation. I defended my country when people I knew attacked the United States and its policies, telling me how much they hated the country. I thought they were hypocrites to be living in a country they hated.

Things began to change when I was told “you’re either with us or you’re against us”, when not supporting an attack on another sovereign country became “unpatriotic”, when Sikhs in turbans were mistaken for Muslims and attacked with no rebuke from the government, when enemy combatants were held indefinitely and tortured at Guantanamo Bay. I wondered what happened to those values that we supposedly held so dear. Did they only apply when we wanted them to apply? Perhaps, after all, those people I had defended against weren’t the only hypocrites.

I don’t know why it took so long for me to see the hypocrisy. It wasn’t like I hadn’t learned of the eradication of Native Americans, Manifest Destiny, slavery, or women’s suffrage (or the lack thereof). Maybe it is because the notion of a society based on the Founding Fathers’ ideals is so appealing that it’s easy to overlook the warts in our history. Or, maybe I just grew up and realized that there is no such thing as a masterpiece society.

There is no doubt that America is a great country. People still want to move to America in droves. Where America could use some help, however, is in how it tells other people what to do and then doesn’t follow through itself. Not leading by example. Do as I say, not as I do. When other countries and cultures, some of which have been around for thousands of years, hears an American telling them that 200-something year-old America is still the best hope of mankind while America is still mired in so many problems of its own, it is understandable if they do not listen. I’d even forgive them if they laughed at us.

At the end of the day, we are all citizens of Earth and we are all in it together. This has never been truer. In the past century, technology has made the world much smaller. Sovereign states are no longer as sovereign as they once were. No longer limited to just goods, information and ideas also flow across borders; if the information or idea is sound, no one needs to be told to adopt it. And if we really are the best hope of mankind, then we can do it with a little less arrogance and a lot more humility.