Last night I spent the evening walking the Sham Shui Po district of Hong Kong photographing the area around Pei Ho market during the Hungry Ghost Festival (http://www.discoverhongkong.com/eng/see-do/events-festivals/chinese-festivals/the-hungry-ghost-festival.jsp) and police officers clearing a demonstration in the neighborhood. At 8pm Hong Kongers had planned to put on a laser light show using the Sham Shui Po police station as a back-drop. Laser pointers have become contentious. Police consider laser pointers offensive weapons capable of burning your eyes out of their sockets, while many Hong Kongers have found their position on the matter laughable and turned it into a running joke. Police have resorted to wearing bizarre looking red sunglasses which oddly-enough go well with any of their different outfits, walking a beat in blue or suppressing a protest in black. The police have been arresting people found carrying laser pointers. The use of lasers married with tear gas and the requisite gas masks has given the demonstrations a cinematic Star Wars vibe. Last night’s plan was to use the lasers to tease police and also to use the lasers to “light” shit on fire for the festival.
Prior to the laser light show, I scouted the neighborhood for rooftops and found a very nice one with a great view of the police station and the laser show. I also found an excellent chrysanthemum tea shop 惠隆號東莞佬涼茶 ( https://goo.gl/maps/YEX5B9676wUhyxpH6 ) that I think has been around since the mid-20th century and will visit this whenever I’m in the neighborhood for a laser show or tear gassing (it’s becoming a regular thing in Sham Shui Po). Later when the laser show began, I was joined by some neighborhood youth and even a granny who later practiced her calisthenics while teargas rounds were being fired. For perspective, a tear gas round ricocheted off someones A/C unit about 15 feet from where I was standing, 8 floors or so above the street. We were not sure if it was aimed at us or not because the police clearly knew we were there. They made sure we knew-they knew by lighting us up with flood lights randomly. The neighborhood residents I was camped with made it clear what they thought of the flood lights by shouting the colorful expression “Diu lei lo mo” ("Diu Lei Lo Mo!" (屌你老母or 𨳒你老母, "fuck your mother" it’s a highly offensive profanity in Cantonese. For more on DLLM check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diu_(Cantonese) ).
Lately I’m attuned to how the protests interact with the physical landscape of the city and her inhabitants. And how the site of mundane objects evoke a visceral reaction in me: yellow construction helmets, plastic wrap for a sandwich, and umbrellas. Each of those items being appropriated by protestors; yellow construction helmets to guard against batons and bean bag rounds, plastic wrap to protect skin from pepper spray, and umbrellas as shields and javelin like projectiles. I have been moved by the sight of riot police standing outside iconic buildings and landmarks, a granny who’s ambivalent about tear gas rounds popping off all around the streets below her, a yellow construction helmet I saw lying on the side of the road today where it clearly didn’t belong, and of course the exodus of thousands fleeing the airport after rumors of an imminent crack down coming during the peaceful protests there. I’m overwhelmed that Hong Kong is slipping away for good and how life here has been disrupted and altered, making chaos a normal part of our lives. Yesterday was also my sons first day of school.