Occupy Central

Few activists left on eve of Occupy Central closure

Movement's camp fills with foreign helpers, tourists and the homeless ahead of closure

PUBLISHED : Monday, 27 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 27 August, 2012, 9:05pm

Mandy Yeung stood in front of the tent, camera raised, peering at the Southeast Asian woman sleeping on a mattress within.

It was the afternoon before the tent-village and self-styled commune under the HSBC headquarters - the remnants of the city's Occupy movement - was slated for removal.

Like many camps inspired by the global movement that swept cities around the world late last year, Occupy Central has been a beacon for idealists and those disgruntled with the status quo. In Hong Kong, it drew those who wanted to put forward an alternative to banks' economic hegemony, and those who wanted to bring change to an increasingly intolerant society that is further marginalising the poor.

More than 10 months on, the place is littered with empty soft-drink and beer cans, tattered towels and furniture that has seen better days.

The tents lay empty without their original inhabitants. Instead, the current occupiers are domestic helpers, mainland tourists and a few homeless people seeking respite from the heat.

The once packed camp was down to just 10 people.

"They've gone home," said Yeung, 30, a products photographer who knows the organisers of Occupy Central. Yeung was visiting to see whether his friends were around. "They're preparing for tomorrow," he said.

For a firm supporter of the movement, Yeung did not seem overly concerned about the commune's imminent shutdown.

"Change is always inevitable. It's done what it's supposed to," he said. "It has spurred people to think about what's wrong with the system, about materialism, about working-class issues. It has made people come by and think, 'What are they doing? Why are they here?' I don't feel shame. It was good to see it happen."

But while Yeung seemed content with the fate of Occupy Central, it is believed that his friends and the few remaining residents would continue to hold out.

Fliers for a concert in the plaza tonight as part of plans to resist until the last minute were being handed out by Alan Chiu Chun-ming, the sole long-term occupier who seemed to be present that afternoon.

"For those of you who would like to support us until the end - come knowing that you run the risk of being arrested," read the flier promoting the event at 7pm today, which will feature bands such as Relaxpose, Dada Baba, Laura Palmer, and Heyo.

"I'll stay here as long as I can," Chiu, 48, who has been jobless for the past two to three months.

Chiu said: "[The number of people here] has dwindled; there were 200 of us before."

He blamed the diminishing number on the demands of examinations and summer work facing the students who once frequented the camp, but he said he imagined they would be back for a last stand.

There were rumours the movement would move elsewhere, but neither Chiu nor Yeung could confirm where.

Today, Occupy Central's venue will return to being an empty thoroughfare beneath the HSBC Building. It will only be filled on Sundays by some of the city's 300,000 foreign domestic helpers, who have been sharing the space since the tents sprang up on October 15.

But unlike some hecklers who have come by the camp to yell: “Go get a job”, the helpers do not begrudge the occupiers.

“We have no idea what they’re here for, but we also don’t mind them,” said Marjorie Degay, a 40-year-old helper who has been at HSBC every Sunday since she moved to Hong Kong more than two years ago.

“We are them,” she shrugged.