Thursday, September 25, 2014

Protests and Tensions Increase in Hong Kong

Yesterday I happened on a protest march in Central. 
It was very calm and civil as far as protests go.  The people progressed slowly and steadily on the sidewalk, anchored by police at the front and police at the back. 
Someone held a megaphone and the crowd repeated his slogans and chants in Cantonese.  Despite the relative tameness of the protest, I was heartened to see this kind of passion and interest in local politics.  It's about time the locals became active participants in the Occupy Central movement. 

Ever since Beijing dropped its bomb of a white paper earlier this year, there has been a noticeable increase of hostility toward mainlanders and an increase in dissatisfaction, disgruntlement, and fear in Hong Kong. I think local Hong Kong residents are finally waking up to the fact that they have never had a real vote in their governance. They feel greatly threatened by the increased presence of mainlanders in Hong Kong. There is the sense that the independence of Hong Kong is and always was an illusion, and that this is the beginning of the end. It does not help that the handover process was laden with compromise and masked in generalities.

I genuinely support these peaceful protests, however, it is difficult to reconcile these protests with how the locals take out their fears and suspicions on the people around them.  Some locals are...really really racist.  The hostility is breathtaking and, frankly, misplaced.  The anger should be directed at the Chinese (or British!) government and the lack of clear protocol that was implemented, whether now or at the time of the handover, and not at the Mandarin-speaking layperson who is living or working or shopping here.

My most recent encounter occurred when I tried to get a copy of a key made a few days ago in Central.  I spoke in Mandarin and the woman responded in a very brusque manner.  I went to check out a few other vendors for a price comparison.  When I returned to her booth, the woman wanted absolutely nothing to do with me.  She deliberately turned her back on me, ignoring me despite my repeated questions to her.  After ignoring me for a good bit as she pretended to be very busy hanging up her key chains, she finally responded to me in Cantonese.  When I said I couldn't understand her, she snapped at me in Mandarin, "why don't you speak Cantonese?!" 

I was so shocked I was literally breathless for a good few seconds.  I felt all of the heat rush to my face as I snapped right back at her, "Why would I speak Cantonese?  I'm from America and Taiwan!"  Then I switched to English and said, "Fine, can you speak English?  I'm happy to speak English."  Oooh, that definitely got her going.  She turned toward me fully then, and sneered in my face, "Yes, yes I can speak English very well!" 

I mean, is this ridiculous or what?  The whole situation was so ludicrous I could barely contain my laughter.  I calmly said to her in English, "I do not care what language you speak.  I can speak in Mandarin, I can speak in English.  All I want is for you, the storekeeper, to provide me, the customer, with a service, for which I am paying you.  I do not need your attitude.  I just need you to cut me a key." 

Well, she flat out refused to cut my key.  She was still sneering at me and yelling at me for being rude (what?!) as I walked away.  I could not believe it.  Service with a smile, Hong Kong, ever hear of it?!


  1. This is awful! People here can be nice, but when they are rude, they are really rude. New Yorkers don't have anything on them!

    1. I have found this to be true! It seems New Yorkers are rude but in a brusque and indifferent way, whereas people here are rude but can really be deliberately mean!