Humans of Hong Kong

Humans of Hong Kong

Translated version of feature stories and interviews by Stand News. 立場新聞專題、人訪的英文版本。

2019/11/22 - 15:05

The Parents’ Prayers: Waiting for Their Children in the Besieged PolyU

Humans of Hong Kong 為《立場新聞》新欄目,刊出由特約作者翻譯、英文版本的立場專題、人物專訪,方便國際讀者閱讀。

"Humans of Hong Kong" is a brand new column highlighting the English version of feature stories and interviews by Stand News.

Within the red brick walls of the besieged Polytechnic University (PolyU), people have left no stone unturned in attempting to find a way out. Beyond the wall, people have tried to get as close as they can to this blockaded fortress in order to save them––no matter the cost. 

In the afternoon on 18 Nov, gunshots rattled off intermittently around Jordan and Tsim Sha Tsui. The odour of tear gas lingered heavily in the air. Where the smell of tear gas was thickest and the supporting crowd largest, were places closest to PolyU. Some protesters tried to break the police’s blockade through a network of narrow alleyways in Tsim Shai Tsui to Chatham Road South, to save those trapped inside PolyU. Their attempts, however, ended in failure. Every now and then people yelled: “We’ve got to save them!” to boost morale. In spite of each failure, they would regroup, recharge and relentlessly press their way forward against the police’s defence line. 

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立場新聞圖片

立場新聞圖片

Only a block away, a group of parents whose children were trapped inside PolyU congregated in Urban Council Centenary Garden. No one was yelling out any political slogans; there were no songs. Here the parents knitted their eyebrows in worry, punctuated by spate of suppressed sobs. Sitting silently outside a footbridge which is linked to PolyU, they prayed for their children come home safe.

As the children caught in an embattled and besieged PolyU and were unable to come home, their parents stayed outside the campus and waited for them, staring absent-mindedly at their phones. Whenever their phone lit up with new messages or calls, they would check their notifications, full of hope. After realizing that those were not messages from their children, some despondently put down their phones, relapsed into a state of absent-mindedness, and continued to stare blankly at the bridge. Those who were lucky enough to be in touch with their children, looked momentarily relieved with a smile. Soon after, however, their foreheads would crease, and they would continue to wait in silence for their children’s next message, which might come in two-or-three hours’ time. Having waited for their children day in, day out, there were no outlets through which these parents could channel their anxiety. During their interview with us, they often burst into tears.

Photo: In the evening on 18 Nov in Tsim Sha Tsui East, the parents whose children were trapped in PolyU cried: “Save our Children!”

Photo: In the evening on 18 Nov in Tsim Sha Tsui East, the parents whose children were trapped in PolyU cried: “Save our Children!”

A note to his son in form 6: Do look after other kids

Miss Ng sobbed: “My beloved son, be good and do not lose hope… take good care of yourself and look after the other kids.” Miss Ng was aware of the police’s maltreatment of people in detention. She dared not to picture the scene of police storming into the campus, and arresting students at midnight on Sunday. “That night, my heart broke––the kind of wound that keeps bleeding.” She felt utterly helpless. She could only urge her son, a form six (year twelve) student, to stay safe and take good care of himself. “My greatest hope is you will come home safe and sound, that you will come back unscathed.”

She prayed the police would be able to empathize with her agony. “You have children too, and if somebody beat them, how would you feel? Why would you be able to do that––to (beat) our children?” She also hoped Carrie Lam, the head of the government, would be more understanding of parents’ emotions. “You are a mother, too. You are a woman; you must know the pain of giving birth and the hardship of raising your children. Why are you making our children suffer like this?” By this point, Miss Ng was sobbing with despair.

My two daughters are my pride

Sitting next to Miss Ng, Miss Chan looked calmer; in her heart, she was full of anguish. Her two daughters were students from other universities. They went to PolyU to provide back-up to the protesters on Sunday, and now they were trapped. They got in touch with Miss Chan via social media for help. “My daughters asked me to save them. They are desperate.” She lay in bed, wide awake, anxious for her daughters’ updates; yet she restrained herself from calling them too often in fear of getting in their way. “I know the conditions there are tense and difficult. I just want to know they are safe and sound now, that’s all that matters.”

Having witnessed how the current movement is unfolding, she understood why her daughters went to support the protesters in PolyU. She also understood her daughters’ determination to speak out against social injustice. “I cannot stop you from standing up for a just cause. I love you, and I am proud of you.” Her only hope, however, was that they would come home safely. “I do not want to become Chan Yin Lam’s mother. I do not want to be a mother like The Tiananmen Mothers.” Even if the price for her daughters’ safety was heavy, she would be willing to accept it. “Even if the price for their safety is that of a criminal record, I will opt for their safety.”

Photo: Miss Chan, a mother of two daughters who were trapped in PolyU.

Photo: Miss Chan, a mother of two daughters who were trapped in PolyU.

 “I believe the protesters can save my son.”

Mr. and Mrs. Cheng’s 19 year old son is a volunteer first-aider. He was not able to leave, like other protesters in PolyU. After learning from the news that numerous first aiders had been arrested, with their hands zip-tied behind their backs. Mrs. Cheng was deeply disappointed: “You are arresting all the doctors and nurses. You are in fact forbidding them from saving the injured.” She spoke to her son, tears welling up in her eyes: “We are behind you. Please look after yourself, when you help other kids.”

Apart from the first aiders, the starved and wounded protesters were also trapped. Mrs. Cheng prayed everybody who was trapped on campus would be safe in the end. She looked into the camera steadily and said words of encouragement to those who were trapped and feeling desperate: “Many people are supporting you. Do not ever lose faith. Faith matters! Remember that!”

After nightfall, clashes between protesters and police at the outer edge of the university were getting fiercer, and shootings became more frequent. The air was teeming with tear gas. Parents with only a surgical mask on had to leave. The Chengs planned to find shelter in a nearby MTR station, to continue to wait for their son. 

“He is expecting us to save him, so here we are, staying and waiting for him.”

The protesters’ incessant calls to “March to Poly U and save our fellow protesters”, their unflagging resistance to the water cannon trucks and tear gas, and their resolution to press their way towards the campus––all of which echoed the spirit of ‘Advance Together, Retreat Together’(齊上齊落) ––moved Mr. Cheng deeply. It never occurred to him that Hongkongers could be that united. 

He said firmly: “I believe protesters have the power to save my son, I have faith in them!”

One rule for Chinese University, Another for the PolyU

However, other parents were dispirited. PolyU had been besieged for hours by police, yet no one had been allowed to go inside the campus to talk to the protesters and find out what they thought. One mother took the view that the government had no desire to find a solution. Lawmakers, the Principal of the university, and other organisations were unable to offer substantial help, let alone the protesters outside PolyU. “This is excruciating for us (both protesters within and without campus). How on earth could you break your way into PolyU when it is heavily guarded by police? Now they even say they are going to use live rounds.” There was nothing she could do, but to stay and wait for her son to come back near PolyU. When she was asked if she had a plan to leave, she told the reporter in the midst of tear gas: “I will stay till the end.”

During the police’s press conference on Monday, the police declared that all protesters who left the campus would be arrested on suspicion of rioting. May’s 16-year- old son was still trapped in PolyU. May thought the government never gave the students a fair hearing throughout the siege, simply resorting to brutish force to drown out dissenting voices. She also questioned the drastically different manner in which the government handled the Chinese University crisis - a crisis of a similar nature to the PolyU siege. The government’s approach to the PolyU crisis was utterly unacceptable and beggared belief. 

“Why can't the government handle the PolyU’s protest as they did with the Chinese University one?”

A secondary school teacher and his old student

Mr. Chow, a teacher, was amongst those waiting around Tsim Sha Tsui. He told the reporter: “I am not their parents, but I see them as my children.” Mr. Chow was a secondary school teacher. When he learnt about his old students being trapped in PolyU, he rushed to the vicinity of PolyU, waiting for her news. He described his students as well-mannered and kind, and that they began to participate in the movement out of a sense of justice. “They might have overstepped the line on certain things, but they are still young, and society should definitely give them a second chance.” He wanted to say this to his students: “Life is precious, so long as you stay alive, there is always a way out.” He also hoped that they would not be injured or arrested and come back safe and sound.

Photo: Mr. Chow, a teacher.

Photo: Mr. Chow, a teacher.

Not everyone has their loftiness

A father told our reporter that, although they are a ‘cursed generation’, today’s young people  bring out the most noble side of human nature, even with their backs against the wall. He referred to the strangers who offered help to those trapped in PolyU; as well as his son who was injured but nevertheless rushed to the university to support the protesters. He believed that this new generation of young people, would alter the conventional ‘money-is-everything’ mentality in Hong Kong, and teach people how to cherish the people around them and to care for one another. 
Whether this resistance movement will be able to alter this deep-rooted, ‘money-is-everything’ Hong Kong mentality or not, remains to be seen. One thing is for sure––our reporter was convinced by the steadfast gaze of the interviewee, that he was very proud of his son and the young generation of Hong Kong. 

Photo: Hundreds of people were holding their social workers’ registration cards high.

Photo: Hundreds of people were holding their social workers’ registration cards high.

Waiting for good news in dark

As the evening set in, parents left the sit-in area, which had been shrouded in smoke. Almost a hundred social workers held their registration cards high, carrying bags of supplies. They marched toward the police’s cordon line, demanding to bring their supplies into PolyU. Meanwhile, protesters continued to confront the police in Jordan, Tsim Sha Tsiu and To Kwa Wan, in a bid to push back the police officers’ defence line, to move closer to their fellow protesters trapped within the red-bricks walls, seizing every opportunity to try and rescue them. However, time and again they were dispersed by tear gas and water cannons. Many were arrested.

After midnight, protesters still did not give up. An army of cars and scooters continued to wait in To Kwa Wan; meanwhile, parents continued to keep watch by their phones, waiting for the dark screen to light up, for an assurance from their children that they were safe. 

Original version: 〈【特寫】當孩子仍在理大 圍困者父母的心願