On a day the government of Japan mobilized teams of rescue experts and workers to search for survivors on the slopes of Mount Ontake where about 250 hikers were trapped by an unexpected volcano eruption, the government of Hong Kong mobilized 7,000 strong riot police to suppress tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters, wielding batons and shields, deploying pepper spray, and unleashing round after round of tear gas as its citizens watched in stunning disbelief.
No matter how many years one has left Hong Kong – in my case 32 – and how remote the days of living there may seem as memories grow old, it’s impossible to watch the violent scenes and widespread unrest breaking out on the familiar streets of Hong Kong without any emotions.
“This is no longer the Hong Kong that I used to know!” muttered a protester, sobbing uncontrollably as swirls of tear gas continued to drift visibly in the background. I must echo the same sentiment, not because the city has changed so much in its outlook, but because the trust and respect between its government and its people, rooted in many years of fighting adversities together and strengthened after several decades of growing prosperity, just don’t seem to be there anymore. While a colony, Hong Kong was never at ease with Britain, its imperial ruler. Now that it’s under the wings of a country that shares its cultural and ancestral roots, one would expect the trust and respect to grow into fraternal love. Unfortunately for many Hong Kong people, Sunday, September 28, 2014 was a day of rude awakening.
The day ended with the Japanese government calling off its rescue teams, promising to intensify its rescue effort as soon as the first daylight crept over the horizon of the Sea of Japan to allow the workers to search the smoke-obscured paths. Further south where the Victoria Harbor met the South China Sea, the Hong Kong government threatened to step up its suppression should the protesters continue to refuse to disperse – a threat widely speculated to mean the use of plastic bullets.
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