I returned to Hong Kong on Friday, August 9th after a month away and spent the weekend photographing in several districts throughout the city trying to keep pace with the movements of protestors. Clashes between protestors and police occurred in several districts on Saturday and Sunday. While, rumors of gangs from Fujian province in China descending on North Point circulated. The nature of the protests have changed and protestors have adopted a Bruce Lee inspired philosophy referred to as ‘be water’. Bruce Lee’s thoughts on water are “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend. “ Protestors spring up throughout the city usually around police stations and government buildings and in most cases retreat once gas has been fired by police. The strategy works and is also effective at losing journalists. Saturday, I photographed in Tai Po and Tai Wai and attempted to drive into Tsim Sha Tsui but encountered road blocks at every approach. On Sunday I worked in Causeway Bay, North Point, Sham Shui Po, was blocked out again at Tsim Sha Tsui, and ended my night back in North Point. I’ll change my transport strategy this weekend and stick to protestors as they use the subway (MTR as its known here).
Having been away from the protests since July 01 I had the opportunity to see the evolution of the protests and tactics deployed by both sides. Aside from the obvious escalation of violence widely covered by the media I was struck by the preparedness of the protestors and how weeks of confrontations with police have tempered them. The intensity in their eyes were compelling. It was striking to be amongst a group of protestors as they waited for tear gas and police to move in and attempt to arrest them. They were calm and composed as they took cover and waited, offering me water, saline to wash gas out of my eyes, plastic wrap, and encouragement to take cover myself and run when the gas was fired. In fact when the gas was fired I was attempting to make pictures of their retreat but protestors physically grabbed me and pulled me back with them. Shaking my arms loose I made a few pictures, somewhat unsuccessfully capturing the drama of the moment. Police tactics have included the use of tear gas, bean bag rounds, sponge grenades, tear gas pellets which are fired from paintballs guns, batons, and of course arrest including from undercover officers pretending to be protestors. Disguising themselves as protestors, police will sow discord and distrust amongst the protestors and perhaps unintentionally be accused of instigating violence. In fact, on Tuesday at demonstrations that shut down the airport, protestors held captive and assaulted two Mainland Chinese men accused of being spies. It turned out one was a journalist for the Global Times, a Communist mouthpiece publication and the other is still rumored to be an undercover Mainland agent.
The previous weekend in North Point protestors were attacked by men with bamboo poles who ultimately seem to have gotten their asses properly kicked by the protestors. The video of the attack is here in this article. https://www.scmp.com/news/china/politics/article/3022093/hong-kong-police-warn-north-point-violence-will-not-be . On Sunday, as I was preparing to leave Causeway Bay I photographed a group of police conducting bag searches on the street. Local residents cursed and shouted at the police to leave their neighborhood. When it was over I was approached by a young well dressed Chinese man with a proper British accent who quietly asked me if I was aware of the situation unfolding in North Point. I explained I was only familiar with the rumors, he told me they were true and told me where I could locate the gangs, on King’s Rd. near the Metropolitan. I thanked him and told him I was going to take a look. He asked for a ride. As we were driving over, we exchanged names and he shared, he was a teacher but that he also worked on maps of the protests. He produced a map on his phone marking groups of protestors, police, and the gangs from Fujian. He explained there were a small group of them who work on these maps. The situation and young man struck me as unusual and caused the hair on my neck to stand up.
This was my first time working with a gas mask on. It was hot and frustrating. I tried to use live view mode on my camera but I was far too slow with it. I mostly missed everything on Saturday night during clashes in Tai Wai because of it. On Sunday I worked without the gas mask on in Sham Shui Po until I got gassed and then retreated to the mask again. The pain dissipates after about 10-15 minutes but no matter how hard I try I can’t bear it and need to move to fresh air. I found its best to sort of move around the thick plumes of gas as much as possible. I’m sure I’ll have another chance to use the mask this weekend.