I Carry A Card In My Wallet Everywhere
by Fi Five
I am from Hong Kong and I have been a student in Norway since August 2019. Two months before my departure, the anti-extradition protest began in my home city.
I carry a card in my wallet everywhere. It is pink and laminated. I got it from a stranger when I woke up on a Hong Kong street at around 5 a.m. the morning after the demonstration where 2 million people marched on 16 June last year. After the march, some people still lingered at Harcourt Road and decided to stay put. The reason was simple—we believe it’s always safer to gather in numbers and nobody wants to lose anyone. On that pink card, there were reminders about what to be aware of if arrested by police and a phone number for lawyers.
This card symbolises a sense of solidarity for me because it is like saying “We will try our best to help you if you are in trouble”. Though I was not so brave to stand in the front line, I helped pass supplies along the human chain, built barricades with other citizens and shielded fellow protesters from surveillance cameras with umbrellas. This notion of mutual support is crucial in our protest. That’s why I brought this card with me to Norway as a reminder of that sense of togetherness.
It has been a difficult year for all Hongkongers. It is certainly safer when we live abroad. However, we share the same emotional pain. There were countless days and nights when people kept checking the news online, refreshing their browsers for the latest updates, unable to sleep because what had happened was just unbearable. All these experiences and feelings have reached across borders; they are communal among us, Hongkongers.
When I left Hong Kong in late July 2019, the pink card was already getting less and less relevant to the whole situation. By then, the “7.21” Yuen Long attack had already happened on July 21. It showed us that security and order could no longer be guaranteed in our city. So, would the police follow the normal procedures of arresting someone? Would the rights of arrestees rights be respected? Probably not.
Sadly, many more tragic would take place in the following months in Hong Kong. Being away from home, for me, all those experiences were through screens. I watched a screen go all white with tear gas without smelling the pungent smoke itself and I heard the crowd’s screams without having the urgency to run. All this distant participation led, inevitably, to guilt. I remember clearly the day in November when numerous citizens were under siege on the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) campus. I kept going back and forth between checking my phone and schoolwork. That was the first time I felt like an outsider, having no idea what to say in chat groups or on social media while my friends and others in Hong Kong were discussing the rescue plan to save those people inside PolyU. I felt I have no right to suggest anything because I was no longer fighting side by side with them.
But of course, feeling bad was not helping the freedom movement. It is only constructive to understand one’s position and make the most of it. That’s why Hongkongers all over the world took it on themselves to bridge Hong Kong and the international community. Since June last year, over 100 overseas solidarity groups for Hong Kong have been set up. Explaining Hong Kong’s situation to foreigners is challenging because we cannot expect people from other countries to fully understand Hong Kong’s historical background. When I was at some rallies in Norway, we fielded quite a lot of unexpected questions. For example, a man couldn’t understand why I had to wear a mask at the rally. It was because some Hongkongers had been photographed and even attacked by Chinese nationalists in countries such as Australia and Canada. So, it was ultimately for our own safety.
Also, people often criticised the use of violence by Hong Kong protesters. It was understandable if they were judging on the strength of the most violent scenes reported in the international media. But for us, it was far more complicated than simply saying “the demonstration had turned violent and those protesters were wrong”. In fact, the vast majority of protesters have been non-violent in Hong Kong. The minority who became increasingly destructive did so in defence against the police’s excessively violent tactics and arbitrary arrests. Violence is definitely unjustified. However, we would encourage everyone in the world to understand the situation and to recognise the primary source of the violence, which was the Hong Kong government.
As we entered 2020, the freedom movement became even tougher in Hong Kong. Preventive measures for COVID-19 have provided a perfect excuse to prohibit political rallies. In the shadow of the pandemic, the even more devastating National Security Law came into effect on 30 June. When the tyranny escalates, we as the people should cherish our remaining privileges as much as possible. The path to peace and democracy is still long and uneasy but we will still walk with our home city, Hong Kong.
(Header photograph: Progressive Lawyers Group.)
Fi Five (pen name) was born and raised in Hong Kong. Currently studying in Norway, she digests everyday happenings with the gentle woods. Picture of an orange vessel is taped on her wall at home.