Hong Kong MTR

Musical defiance: Hong Kong musicians play discordant notes in protest over MTR's large baggage restrictions

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 October, 2015, 3:25am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 October, 2015, 4:02pm

Instruments of change? Close to 100 musicians - many of them professional - yesterday orchestrated a protest in defiance of the MTR's ban on large instruments after a young player was stopped from entering a station carrying a cello.

But the protest inside Tai Wai station was at times overshadowed by demonstrators against parallel trading, who were playing a somewhat different tune.

"These instruments are tools of our trade. They should not be treated as 'goods' and should be exempted [from the rules] like bicycles," said double-bass player Charlie Wong Tsz-ho, 24, who has been playing the instrument since he was 14. Wong carried his bulky double bass on his back - one of the biggest instruments at the protest. He was stopped once last summer at Sha Tin station.

Professional clarinet player Jezreel Ng said the community had had enough of the MTR's selective prosecution for objects carried onto trains - with parallel traders let off the hook and students with instruments being denied entry to trains.

"They should not be considered as big luggage similar to what parallel traders carry around," said Ng. "Not everyone can afford to take taxis or order a van every time we have rehearsals or classes. Does it mean you can't learn an instrument if you're poor?"

However, a few dozen people from localist groups mounted their own protest, chanting slogans and waving flags and placards. Protest organiser and yangqin teacher Mavis Lung said she felt helpless over how localists had hijacked the protest.

"I hope the MTR understands what we are fighting for - and it's separate from the parallel trader issue," said Lung, who faced online protests from localists.

The two-hour protest featured several impromptu shows - including one by a bagpipe player. Protesters brought cellos, violins, double basses, guitars, hand drums, wind and brass instruments and different Chinese instruments.

Student associations from seven universities wrote a joint letter to the MTR, urging a review of its policy, stating that recent actions by MTR staff had "created immense distress among music students in Hong Kong".

Assistant cello principal of the Hong Kong Sinfonietta, Laurent Perrin, said members of the orchestra had been following recent developments despite being on tour in France and were "very concerned" over the treatment of the students. "We often say we want to be a world Asian city, but we behave like a village," he said.

MTR corporate affairs director Linda So insisted that the corporation treated everyone the same and did not practise selective enforcement of baggage restrictions. She said the MTR was reviewing its baggage restrictions, and members of the public could express their opinions before October 13.