No one was giving orders and communication was sporadic at best - but within hours of protesters being tear gassed beneath the shimmering towers of Admiralty two weeks ago a new front had opened in the fight for universal suffrage in an altogether different place. It was never supposed to be like this, but in remarkable times, remarkable things happen, and as Hong Kong Island took its first breath after that day of turmoil, the pounding heart of gritty, business-savvy Mong Kok was blocked by barricades at the intersection of Nathan Road and Argyle Street. It grew organically, as a few dozen citizens scrambled to move whatever objects they could find - from bus stop posts to rubbish bins and construction waste - to build barricades at either end of what is now a self-ruling protest site in the bustling district known for its coarseness and alternative culture. "We moved things around like ants, while others stood on the roof of nearby MTR exits, keeping look out for the police," said George Chu Ka Wun, who helped set up the Mong Kok protest site late on September 28, fuelled by indignation at the use of pepper spray and tear gas. "All along, nobody was taking the lead, we just instinctively knew what we should be doing." Video: Hong Kong's Occupy Mong Kok: A scene of political discourse, among other things Thirteen days on, the site has evolved from just a few barricades to a fully furnished settlement with self-made marquees, tents, beds and religious shrines. Its occupants have faced hostility and violence from opponents and what they believe to be "defeatist" calls for retreat from movement organisers. With a hardline stance that has left them feeling alienated from events across Victoria Harbour, the mission has taken on a life of its own. Unlike the crowds on Hong Kong Island, this mixture of students, grass-roots underdogs, self-styled rebels and occasional white-collar workers are transforming the site into a highly adaptive and resilient ecosystem. But one thing has not changed. They refuse to be led by anyone, even while in a fight that is ultimately about choosing a leader - just one not vetted by Beijing. "Originally, the purpose of setting up a site in Mong Kok was to help protect the students in Admiralty by stretching the police resources," said Chu, who was outside the government headquarters when the police tried to disperse the swelling crowd with pepper spray and tear gas on September 28. Interconnected by a maze of narrow streets and major arteries like Nathan Road, densely populated Mong Kok provided an ideal setting: "We felt it would be harder for the police to use excessive forces on us here," Chu said. Usually packed with mainland tourists and local shoppers, this is the sort of place Chu, a 34-year-old father of one and an accounting officer, would avoid during a day off. But since helping to set up barricades on September 28, Chu has come back almost every day, even when pressed with assignment deadlines for his part-time bachelor's degree in law. "This place is so different from other protest sites. It is independent of all organisations and political parties. It has many enemies, but it has the touch of heartiness you don't find in other places," Chu said. Since the site's inception, Chu and other protesters say they have not affiliated with organisers of the student protests and the Occupy Central movement. Many in the Mong Kok crowd support neither Occupy Central nor the student strikes. "We want true universal suffrage, but we think it's pointless to negotiate with the government. And the Occupy Central leaders had been talking about occupying for so long that you just thought it was never going to happen," Chu said. Yet, they felt compelled to come out and support the students when the police used force to disperse them. But now many said they were let down by organisers and various pro-democracy political parties repeatedly calling for protesters to retreat. Some of the retreat messages were directed at the Mong Kok site from the beginning, they said. "They put out various reasons, some said it's too dangerous here, some said we were thinning the Admiralty crowd and should fold our operation here to join them. But nobody listens to them, we believe this site's existence makes it difficult for the police to suppress the whole movement," said a 34-year-old IT technician who would only give his surname as Fan. Chu said some major decisions were made by majority votes but for the most part hierarchy appears to be non-existent here. Anyone with an amplifier can speak anywhere within the zone, sometimes debates ensue, sometimes arguments develop with citizens. Last Friday and Saturday, the Mong Kok protesters faced the most daunting challenge yet as a mob attacked them and tore down their tents. Protesters, journalists and police officers were injured. Protesters claimed the violence was organised and police presence was meagre. Police said some of 19 people arrested were linked to triads but refuted accusations that they were colluding with the thugs. Don, a 27-year-old man who declined to give his full name, was among those who locked arms to form a chain to protect the more vulnerable protesters last week. A week on and, although the crowd has thinned, tents have been rebuilt. Protest slogans have been plastered back on the walls. Many carry a simple message: "Never retreat". Don said the site had grown more resilient, largely thanks to the "Mong Kok spirit" and the lanzai - a word that translates literally from Cantonese as "rotten guy" and describes a punkish sense of defiance, not defined through violence but prepared to fight back hard when necessary. Mong Kok is a labyrinth of triad-run businesses, intertwined with small shops ranging from the trendy to the tacky. "The lanzai have to be flexible, adaptive and quick-thinking in order to survive in this kind of hostile environment," said Don, sitting with friends that make bold fashion statements, epitomising the gritty nature of the district - tattoos, long hair and piercings. "The barricades here have been removed, rebuilt and reinforced multiple times. Some people even placed a shrine of Guan Gong [a god that both the triads and police pray to] here." Chu, the accounting officer, agreed that the coarse "MK Guys" - an often derogatory term describing low-educated, tough-living denizens of Mong Kok - played significant roles in building the site. "I was just impressed at how united and determined they could be even in the absence of any leadership," he said. Don and some friends are in a 100-strong team that take turns to patrol the site. "We mainly keep watch for suspicious people, especially after what happened last Friday. If we find someone that we believe is instigating a fight, we will separate them from the crowd and prevent a brawl," he said. "We don't really have enough people, but we are wary of expanding because it's hard to prevent infiltration." A high-school dropout, Don said he received little support from his teachers, who regarded him as an underachiever. "So I think it's very important to give the students a chance, even though I do not want them to lead me," he said. Like many protesters in Mong Kok, Don, Chu and Fan all said they would not retreat without achieving what they had set out for - a withdrawal of the National People's Congress's proposed electoral reform that would allow only Beijing-vetted candidates to run in chief executive elections. "In Mong Kok, we are having a hooligan-style fight. We get back up after being beaten down. We don't have leaders, so we rely on our instincts, while in Admiralty they are still wondering whether to punch with their fist or kick with their foot," Don said. Two weeks and no end in sight South China Morning Post photographers Sam Tsang, Jonathan Wong, K.Y. Cheng, Chris Lau, Dickson Lee, May Tse, David Wong and Edward Wong captured all the key moments of the student-led protests over the past 14 days.