Chang had been feeling low lately. He had just finished another day’s work at the office and was walking down Kin Wing Street in Tuen Mun District. It was 6:11 p.m. Chang kept his eyes on the ground as he marched past the gray concrete high-rises. The off-duty crowd greeted him with idle appearances. Once tender and enthusiastic; now full of lethargy. Continuing on his way under the sturdy beam bridge, he came to the busy train station just like a thousand times before. Two minutes later he was sitting in the train, stiff and weary.
It was a forty-one-minute ride to his neighborhood in Kowloon City. And from the station a brisk eleven-minute walk to his apartment. Plenty of time to contemplate one’s life, or the past years’ dreary shift in political climate of the region. Chang glanced at a woman wearing a medical face mask opposite him. She was apparently absorbed in her phone and paid no attention to him. Chang leaned his head against the window and closed his eyes. Thoughts about an offer made earlier that day were still spinning in his head. Twenty percent off from the next shipping of high-quality soybeans, some 10.000 kilos in total. Take it or leave it! But Li from marketing was afraid the deal would jeopardize company’s relations with a trusted supplier for past twenty years or so. The final word on the matter was yet to be said.
Chang shook his head, barely noticeably. The idea of discount beans seemed so vain in the current societal turmoil but still, strangely, he couldn’t help thinking about it over and over again.
Abruptly a familiar figure appeared on the TV screen, causing Chang to snap out of his trance. Carrie Lam giving another interview in which she praised the national security law for making Hong Kong’s streets safe again. Face of the much hated regime. The train slowed down until coming to a stop at the station. A swarm of people marched in the car, most of them successfully ignoring the chief executive’s speech. The recent years had seen an increasing number of pro-democracy voices being silenced, knife attack on Kevin Lau, a growing financial and political pro-China influence on the media… Mainlandization of the South China Morning Post. A plummet in the freedom of press. And today would mark yet another milestone on the gloomy path as the last issue of Apple Daily was released, setting a crowd of up to one million Hong Kongers to line up in the streets to get their copy. Of course, there was always much talk about “a threat to national security” on the part of the establishment as an excuse for their own overtly thuggish acts.
Chang sighed in discomfort, looking again at the screen. And this was the shit they wanted you to watch instead?!
The train rushed through the green, mountainous landscape. A few passengers were resting their eyes, some twenty-year-olds staring vacantly out of the window. Chang noticed the woman sitting opposite him had dark circles under her eyes too. The battle for the spirit of Hong Kong had really set the streets ablaze about two years earlier. Mass gatherings of hundreds of thousands of protesters were held regularly from June onward, the largest event bringing a quarter of the overall population together to oppose the growing Chinese control over the city. The Umbrella Revolution. Storming of the Legislative Council. People getting their message out for the whole world to hear, loud and clear. But the police reacted with sheer brute force. Mass arrests, beatings and shooting live rounds that ultimately led to death of fifteen citizens. The shattering of authorities’ credibility in the eyes of the public. Introduction of the mainland-style authoritarian “rule by law”. Since then, the people’s uprising had been largely repressed by double shock treatment of COVID-19 restrictions and the notorious national security law.
Darkness surrounded the train as it drove into the Tai Lam Tunnel. Suddenly, Chang found himself exhausted. He clenched his fists and squirmed in his seat, unable to relax. It was like the whole train, along with all the passengers, was heading straight into the deepest abyss of South China Sea. All you could do was to hold on, really. An enormous, omnipotent enemy with a million faces. And the passengers were slowly suffocating. Paralyzed by their lack of faith in future. So went the rest of Chang’s trip home.
Leaving the train station behind, he walked into the warm, humid Kowloon evening. He crossed the Bridge of Blessings and kept a steady course past the bustling streets. People navigating hastily between work and home while others still tried their best to attract passers-by to their business. Chang looked most of the way at the tip of his brown Oxford shoes and blatantly ignored a guy handing over discount vouchers for a Canadian-style fast-food outlet. A preoccupied, frantic crowd. Finally, he reached the door to his apartment building in Whampoa Garden. He took the elevator to the fifteenth floor, turning his back on the mirror on the wall. Back in the condo, Chang prepared himself some spicy Korean instant noodles for dinner. Afterward he took a brief cold shower, shaved and then lay down on the bed. Continuous, resonant noises of traffic came in through the window; otherwise it was silent in the room.
He exhaled heavily, staring at the ceiling. So much for the beloved “one country, two systems” principle. Farewell to the freedom of people of Hong Kong as we once knew it.