'Occupy' activists make themselves at home

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 November, 2011, 12:00am


Beneath the glass and steel of the HSBC tower, life has settled into a steady rhythm for the Occupy Central movement. A month has passed since the protesters set up camp, and it seems they are not going anywhere soon.

What began as a brash and noisy protest has become a contemplative enclave of idealism slap-bang in the middle of some of the world's most recognisable temples to capitalism. Its inhabitants are comfortable with their alternative way of living.

On a recent day last week, a girl in a school uniform arrived at 4pm, kicked off her shoes and crawled into a tent, rucksack still attached to her back. Another was taking a nap on the couch, while others in a small circle shared wine, cigarettes and company on the floor.

Jojo Wong Kei-ching, 21, a former graphics designer who works in a second-hand bookstore, has been part of the occupation since day one, going home twice a week. The first two weeks were hectic - a rally of hundreds on the first day, and then serious discussions about anarchy, capitalism and revolution that carried on each night until the sun came up.

The conversations continue these days, but the group is trying to find a balance. 'I told them I don't want to start a conversation about capitalism after 3am,' Wong said.

She paints, draws and makes music here, too. 'We also need enjoyment,' she said. 'This is what life is, and if you don't 'live' here, you won't stay too long.'

Paintings now stand alongside banners advocating saving the Central Government Offices, instituting a so-called Tobin tax - a tax on financial transactions - and generally railing against the banks, the Securities and Futures Commission and the Hong Kong Monetary Authority.

The message, still about anti-capitalism, has become no more refined. And without clear or easily attainable goals, it is difficult to know when the protest will end.

But to the protestors, that does not matter.

'In the past, social movements in Hong Kong pointed to an individual topic. But here, we point to a system,' said Iris Yau Ka-yue, 19, a secondary school student who returns home once a week to see family.

The occupation is a long-term experiment, rebelling against what the protesters see as a long-term problem. In Occupy Central, Yau has what she calls a 'small society'. There are more tents than when the movement was in its infancy - 27 on Thursday - but only about 20 people sleep there each night, down from 70 at its peak.

Regular events are still posted on a whiteboard: a gift share, a film screening and a presentation by a local magazine. And the occupants still draw quizzical looks from passers-by and daily heckling from businessmen who tell them to go get jobs.

Participants insist that communal living has not put a strain on their relationships. They cook for one another; everyone takes what they need from the communal stores and they still make decisions at nightly meetings, at which discussions and compromises are preferable to voting.

It is a stark contrast to another encampment last week, outside the IFC Mall, where more than 1,500 consumers stayed for days outside the Apple store to get their hands on the iPhone 4S.

Yet the camps share similarities: both are part of movements inspiring devotion all over the world; both attract a mostly post-'80s, gen-Y crowd; and both are taking place in symbolic centres of capitalism.

But while new Apple products come and go, four weeks in, those at Occupy Central are more interested in maintaining their new lifestyle.

For them, attaining their cause is a marathon, not a sprint.

'I think, 'I'm 21, I should give it a try',' said Wong. 'There might be nothing to lose.'