New Hong Kong: Part Two, The Trigger

Picture: Sina Wittayawiroj

Causeway Bay station. Two figures were marching side by side through the busy East Concourse, both in their early twenties. They were looking for a place to sit down and catch up. Faye, wearing a white T-shirt and pink knee-length skirt, was a fourth-year sociology student at the University of Hong Kong and secretary of the student’s union. Her companion in gray button shirt and black jeans, Tony, had just graduated in international relations and was working part-time for an American media outlet. The two had befriended years ago in a protest during the Umbrella Revolution.

They got up to the street level and found themselves in the middle of a bustling scene. Colorful neon signs advertising luxury brands, a hundred people wandering in the humid, vibrant evening. By the crossing, six officers were standing on guard—a familiar sight in the current tense atmosphere of the city. They headed to Yee Wo Street.

“Where you wanna go?” Tony asked, taking the lead.

Faye shrugged.

“Not anywhere too expensive. I’m pretty much broke,” she said then.

“Well there’s a McDonald’s,” Tony suggested, half-jokingly.

“Cool by me.”

They walked through the open doorway next to a little electronics store and climbed up the stairs to second floor. Faye ordered a Pepsi Max while Tony went for a Big Mac meal. They sat down on a couple of barstools by the window.

“So, how’s things?” Tony asked, digging into his burger.

“Same old, I guess,” Faye said. “Gotta keep a low profile in the current… you know, situation.”

“Well, obviously. It’s gone to shit around here lately,” Tony smirked. “Have you still been vlogging?”

“Not much recently. I mean, what’s the point when you can’t say anything that matters anyway? Reviewing different kinds of bubble tea is no fun really. I think I’d better soon try and find a new job at Chatime or something.”

“Why give up so easily? You should stay strong in times like these.”

“Just take a look around you,” Faye replied, lowering her voice a bit. “Agnes Chow and Joshua Wong, jailed. Jimmy Lai, jailed too. Nathan Law, exiled. Apple Daily, busted. What can you do about it really?”

“Yeah, it’s fucked up. Totally. That’s why I’m leaving town. Probably to Britain. Or maybe Canada. I’ve seen enough, alright. The government can go and fuck their mothers for all I care.”

“Watch your mouth,” Faye hushed and glanced behind her. “You never know who’s listening.”

“See how it’s all affecting you already? That’s exactly what I mean. Stay too long and you’ve changed for good. So I’m leaving. And you should too. The cold fact is this ain’t the place where we both grew up in anymore. We gotta take our culture and values with us and cherish ’em in some town abroad where they’re appreciated like they should be.”

“I don’t know,” Faye shook her head slightly. “Most of my friends and family still live here. I’m not ready to throw it all away either. Of course I hate what’s happening to my city and know it’s only getting worse from here on. But I also want to tell the kids what they’re missing out. How will they otherwise ever know? Even if you can’t do that openly.”

“Well, that’s up to you,” Tony said. “Just keep in touch with the outer world and don’t let them brainwash you. And if you decide to leave, better do it sooner than later. Before they put you behind the bars or take away your passport, you know. Remember Gwyneth? She was charged with attending a protest last year and can face six months in jail. And a friend of mine was prevented from leaving the city just last month. All was supposedly good but at the airport they told him he couldn’t go. No further explanations.”

“Who knew it would end up like this?” Faye sighed. “Just two years ago we had so much faith in future. Everyone thought we were really gonna change things.”

“Yeah, we lost the battle. Time to retreat or switch to guerrilla tactics.”

Faye raised an eyebrow and slurped down her Pepsi in silence.

***

An hour later, the two friends left McDonald’s and stepped out into the lively street. They walked back to the train station. Groups of youths loafing around in front of trendy fashion outlets, lone men in suits hurrying to get home; the classy and the common alike lost in their thoughts. A late-Thursday-evening big-city crowd. Faye and Tony were just passing Sogo, a grand sixteen-storey department store, when suddenly something so bizarre happened that it caused time to flow as if in slow motion.

Faye saw the events from the corner of her eye. An older man wearing black T-shirt and backpack approached one of the patrolling officers from behind. Without warning, he raised a knife and stabbed the Police Tactical Unit officer in the back. There was a muffled yell of surprise and the young man fell on the ground. Then came the terror. Vile shrieks of passers-by, blood spurting on the sidewalk. The old man pushed the knife into his own chest. More blood, more screaming. In a matter of seconds, six officers had forced him to ground.

People gathered around the department store’s entrance to see what was happening, others were fleeing the scene in tears. An officer called ambulance, someone was shooting the events with her phone. Soon, another police squad arrived on the spot. They quickly started to seal off the area and drive citizens away. Faye noticed an officer pointing a gun at an elderly woman.

Let’s get out of here. She heard a distant voice coming from somewhere behind her. Firmly, Tony grabbed her arm and they left the crowded street together. Bodies of the victim and perpetrator lay immobile on the sidewalk, watched over by two dozen officers.

The suicide attack marked the first full day of Hong Kong national security law being in force.

***

On the next day, Faye returned to Causeway Bay. As she walked past Sogo, she saw a bunch of white flowers placed by the handrail at the subway station’s entrance. She went to a nearby cosmetics store and bought herself a tube of deep red lipstick. On her way back, Faye noticed that the flowers were gone. A Police Tactical Unit officer had picked and tossed them into a trash can.

***

A few days later, Faye paid another visit to the assault site. There were several officers constantly on guard and more patrolling in the nearby area. Faye came to a high-rise next to the department store and quickly pulled out a sprig of Hong Kong orchid tree from under her hoodie. She dropped it by the building and immediately rushed off. The purplish red flowers were bathing in sunshine a hundred feet away from the spot where a man had stood up against the system.

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