Like many Hongkongers everywhere, I carry a heaviness around these past days – a raging, aching, messy heaviness that is shaped like loss, but also feels like anger.
And before anyone helpfully explains that I should have seen this coming – that it’s hardly a surprise that the Chinese Communist Party would torpedo Hong Kong’s rule of law, let me say that knowing horrors will happen doesn’t help lessen the pain when they do.
When the State Council published its White Paper on Hong Kong in August 2014 – spelling out Beijing’s “complete governance” over Hong Kong, I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach and pulled away the ground beneath me.
It was argued the text did nothing to change the reality of Hong Kong’s status and relations to the centre, but the political intent was clear. The end of One Country, Two Systems as we knew it was etched in stone, there was no turning back.
Yet, time and again, Hongkongers have shown they are not ready to give up. They proved that during the Umbrella Movement, and they proved it again by emerging from the despondency and political malaise of the post-Umbrella years to protest against the extradition bill in unprecedented numbers in 2019.
Beijing’s latest move, the unilateral enactment of a National Security Law that could end up outlawing dissent itself, is its most brutal attack yet on the very concept of Hong Kong. How can it be anything other than a failure on the part of the CCP that it had to resort to the “laam chau” scorched earth strategy espoused by some of the very Hong Kong protesters it so detests?
At times like this, when we find ourselves consumed by the heaviness, it is the wisdom of the Hong Kong streets that reminds us that hope dies last. Over the years, I’ve found myself heartened, lifted and inspired by the conversations I’ve had and snippets of conversations I’ve overheard from the aunties and uncles of Hong Kong.
Their insightful and down-to-earth words can be heard on the streets, on buses and trains, at market stalls and in shops. Sometimes, they go viral, like this expletive-laden treatise on the extradition bill from a barbequed meat chopper in a Hong Kong-style diner.
Today, I read a post from a friend in which she documented her recent encounter with a purveyor of this brand of grassroots Hong Kong wisdom — a minibus driver uncle in Tuen Mun. I’ve translated the dialogue in full so that others may experience the wisdom and wit of a Hong Kong uncle.
“R” is my friend and “MBU” is minibus uncle.
R was the only passenger on the minibus and the driver was waiting to pull out of the stop because a car was parked in the middle of the street.
R: Hey, I didn’t know you could stop in the middle of the street like that.
MBU: You can’t, but these days people do whatever they want.
R: How come, won’t the police fine them?
MBU: (laughs ironically) They don’t have time for that.
MBU looked to be in his 60s, he was listening to classical music rather than 1980s Cantopop. Eventually, he turned the music off to talk to R.
MBU: It’s like that these days, might is right.
R: (Proceeding cautiously as she wasn’t sure of MBU’s political leanings) Oh, like a return to the 1960s?
MBU: Not much you can do about it, the meek are bullied and abused. I used to think this world was crazy, that it needed “sorting out”.
R was pondering what he meant by “sorting out”, so she didn’t reply. MBU continued:
MBU: It’s really crazy. Look at the mainlanders. Hey, it’s really too much. When I went back, all they did was berate me, said we were agitating for Hong Kong independence. Shit! What right do you have to berate Hong Kong independence? Hongkongers used to send millions upon millions in relief aid to the mainland. Even if we really were trying for Hong Kong independence, what right do you have to comment? If Hongkongers are Chinese, then Hong Kong independence is still Chinese people governing a Chinese place. What’s wrong with that?
R thought to herself, “Hmmm, there’s no countering that.” MBU carried on, undeterred.
MBU: I say I’m a Hongkonger wherever I go. If I go to Taiwan, Japan…
MBU then seems to want to encourage R as a young person.
MBU: As I say to my daughters, I’m afraid you have too much psychological pressure. I tell them “This world is crazy, but it will be better in the end, it will be better. Kindness will win in the end.”
R: But didn’t you say earlier that the meek will be abused?
MBU: Yes, but in the end, all will be good, God will save the world! Though I don’t believe in God! (laughs) I’ve experienced worse in my life. During the Cultural Revolution, I watched my classmates ‘struggle’ against people, beat people, beat them to a pulp. I couldn’t do it. How could I not flee? My mum told me not to come back. I told her to relax, “I will definitely live longer than the CCP!”
When R got up to leave on reaching her stop MBU said: “Trust me, it will get better!”
May we all live and may we all trust in Minibus Uncle.