Last night, Chang had a dream. Carrie Lam was giving a speech of resignation at the Legislative Council attended by a huge crowd of protesters and big-time democracy activists. In her speech, Lam was apologizing for police brutality during the protests and assured an independent commission of inquiry would be established to investigate the matter. In addition, she promised all the arrested pro-democracy protesters were to be released immediately. As Lam stepped down from the podium, the crowd burst into wild applause of pure exhilaration. Next, the microphone was passed to an unknown protest leader who said the people’s voice had been heard and next step would be the implementation of universal suffrage. Chang was witnessing events from a bird’s-eye view and couldn’t help tears of joy rolling down his cheeks. Shouting out slogans of free and democratic Hong Kong, the crowd flocked out in the street.
The Chinese flag was taken down from a pole in front of the Legislative Council Complex, leaving a lone white Hong Kong orchid tree flower fluttering in the wind. No more a colony of Britain or the mainland. From that day on, Hong Kong was going to decide on its own future.
Obviously, the moment Chang had woken up, he knew his dream was dead. There hadn’t been any major demonstrations since last year as participating in such an event was made illegal by the implementation of national security law. New Year marches and the anniversary of Tiananmen Square massacre were forbidden and prevented by police, ostensibly due to the COVID-19 restrictions. Hundreds of pro-democracy activists were continuously being arrested and charged while organisations, such as Demosisto, were forced to disband. Changes in the electoral system were forced through that guaranteed an overwhelming majority for pro-Beijing “patriots” in the Legislative Council and Election Committee. Et cetera. Et cetera.
Enter the mainland-style police state. All out.
Chang was sitting again in the train, off from work. It was half past six. Hilly woodlands of the New Territories crept by as he gazed blankly out of the window. Dark clouds had gathered all over the landscape, it would be pouring at any minute now. Other passengers kept their eyes fixated on the screens of their smart phones as in an attempt to escape the grave reality. It had all happened a thousand times before. Chang dozed off for a moment while they were plunged together into the bored rock tunnel underneath the city.
Shattering of the Sino-British Joint Declaration. The collective trust of people in the system broken. Use of force spreading hatred and mistrust. Violence leading to more violence. And what about the future of Hong Kong? Chang saw the imminent influx of mainlanders seeking right of abode—a trend that had been continuing for decades already. Kids being forced to recite the Supreme Leader’s ideology in school. And any voices of opposition extradited straight to the Chinese backwoods, or worse, some Xinjiang-inspired internment camp. No wonder then, more than 89,000 residents had left the region within the last year alone.
At this point, there was no way around it really. Hong Kong was rapidly turning into just another big city in the People’s Republic—a sad fact already announced in many Western countries, such as the United States and Britain.
Chang noticed the train approaching his station but strangely he found himself unable to move. It was like his buttocks were glued to the seat. He remained on board for several stops until finally getting off in Diamond Hill. Heavy rain beat against his face as soon as he exited Plaza Hollywood, a shopping center incorporated into the train station. Other people rushed past him, holding tight to their umbrellas and trying to seek shelter from rainstorm. Chang strolled down the road underneath an elevated divided highway. He knew where he was going.
By the time he reached the garden’s low wooden gate, his jacket was already soaked through. He followed a stone path leading deeper into the Tang Dynasty-style garden. The light of small brown lampposts flickered in the rain. Chang walked up the stairs and entered a red paifang that opened into the front yard of temple. He hadn’t visited the place since breaking up with his ex-girlfriend. Dozens of penjing in gray stone pots were scattered across the large yard which was surrounded by decorated wooden walls on three sides. Chang stepped by the lotus pond and leaned against the railing. Rain pattered on the temple’s curved roofs, a few skyscrapers gleamed in the distance. There was no one in sight except for the guard who was sitting by the main entrance.
“Where are we headed?” Chang whispered softly, staring attentively at the pond.
A sculpted dragon’s head kept shooting water steadily into the pool while a cluster of sacred lotus leaves floated on the surface of water, still and ghostlike.
“Where are we headed? Where are we headed?” he repeated, this time considerably louder.
Then he grasped the railing with both hands and began rocking himself violently back and forth while chanting the very same sentence over and over again. Like some weird mantra. He kept at it for a good while, soon practically shouting his words of confusion at the temple’s yard but the noise of rainstorm drowned most of it anyway. Finally, Chang fell silent and hunched over the railing, letting go of all the tension in his body. Just feeling raindrops dripping down his nose and chin, counting reddish lotus leaves down in the pond…
An unspecified amount of time later, he was woken from his trance by the guard’s assertive voice. Chang felt like he had been dreaming for hours.
“Why won’t you go home, mister? The visiting hours over,” the guard said and then returned to the comfort of his post under the paifang.
On his way back to train station, Chang took a detour and walked past the Golden Pavillion. Ethereal and serene, it was a striking sight in the dark Kowloon evening. He appreciated the scent of rain and kept walking, soon leaving the last of purple-flowered trees behind.
Give me liberty or give me death.
There was a graffiti on the underpass’ concrete wall. He hadn’t noticed it before.
Curled up on the train’s seat, Chang headed back to Whampoa Garden. A puddle of water slowly formed next to his patent leather Oxford shoes.
At home, he took off his wet clothes and hung them in the bathroom to dry. Then he prepared a portion of Korean instant noodles, not because he was hungry but out of force of habit, and sat naked at the kitchen table to enjoy his dinner. He skipped shower and hit the sack instead. That night, Chang slept like a baby. The rain had purified his being, in and out.