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Sn 3 - Ep 8

THE CITY I MET
by
Elvia Wilk
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News photographs of the current protests in Hong Kong are incapable of conveying how the cityscape has been transformed over the last five months of civil disobedience. I arrived in the city for a six-week stay on September 24th, a week before what would end up being a significant turning point for the movement. China’s National Day, a holiday for nationalistic fanfare across the mainland and the territories alike, is October 1st – and this year it coincided with the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. With Hong Kong’s political autonomy at the heart of the current struggle, protestors turned out in the hundreds of thousands that day.

On the afternoon of the 1st, I joined friends in the neighborhood of Wan Chai and we followed the march in a slow procession from east to west down Hennessy Road, one of Hong Kong Island’s main arteries. There is nothing typically pedestrian-friendly about Hennessy and the rest of the city center. One is endlessly traipsing up and down stairs, over walkways and through malls, detouring around movable barriers arranged to block sidewalk access in favor of traffic.

However, the day of the protest, the six-lane thoroughfare was completely shut down to cars by bodies. The movable barriers were now being carried by protestors toward the front lines to form new barricades against the police. Citizens were quite literally dismantling and reassembling the city into a protective covering. No cars, no buses, just bodies. The tram tracks had become the guidelines for a human chain to pass containers of water and saline solution. The overhead walkways were now coveted tactical vantage points for cops and protestors alike.

By now, what’s happening is impossible for even the most oblivious tourist to ignore. It was my first time in Hong Kong, and I learned to navigate the city not according to a top-ten list, but by checking a crowd-sourced map on protest actions and police presence. I didn’t seek out nightlife; I followed friends into bars known to have sympathetic owners willing to shelter protestors from the cops. I ended up spending an hour in a beautiful church on a hill, not for sightseeing, but to escape the plumes of teargas coming in from the street.

As a newcomer and an onlooker, I felt the best way I could enact solidarity was to meet the city as it is right now, on its own terms. The city I met was one evolving a new set of spatial priorities, reflected in the ways the streets and buildings are continually being repurposed to accommodate the needs of the people. The city I met was a malleable one, in the process of deliberate, careful, and dogged reconfiguration. The city I met, whose citizens still do not have the right to govern their territory, was being claimed by those citizens, not only in speech and behavior, but through an architectural re-appropriation, brick by brick.

NOTES 🚘🏀🐤🍏🌎🍇

Images: Taken at Hong Kong University / From Carson Chan's Instagram @chan.carson / November 2019.
 
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