A gas mask lovingly adjusted, a hand squeezed before approaching police lines and a frantic search through swirls of tear gas — Abby and Nick’s relationship has blossomed on the barricades during Hong Kong’s long summer of protest. Most of the frontline protesters driving the months-long pro-democracy demonstrations are students — so-called “braves” facing pepper spray, rubber bullets and arrest in defense of their city’s values.
Like Abby and Nick — who are keeping their real names under wraps — many are young, bookish and should be on the fast-track to well-paying jobs in the city’s financial services sector.
Instead a political awakening has thrust them onto the frontlines.
For endless weeks they have fended off tear gas and run from police baton charges, an unlikely band of rebels — labeled “rioters” by Hong Kong police and “terrorists” by China — who have forged tight bonds over a long holiday of demonstrations.
Nick, 20, met Abby, a year his junior, at university in June as debate on an extradition bill to China began to fizz. Opposition to the bill fueled mass rallies. Peaceful protest gave way to pitched battles with police.
The pair have since spent hours together on the barricades facing riot police — dates of sorts, spiced up by adrenaline and fired by the injustice at the city government’s refusal to give ground.
“We’ve been to a lot of protests since June, nearly every weekend,” Abby says. “It’s not about having fun, but it is very good to share the experience with someone ... it’s unique.”
The couple travel to protests together, transforming from ordinary, inconspicuous students into black-clad rebels in shopping mall toilets, faces covered by gas masks and goggles as they take up positions a few rows back from the hardcore demonstrators who throw bricks at the police.
“If I live long enough to tell my son, my grandson, this will be a great story,” says Nick, a diminutive humanities student.
At a recent demonstration in the district of Tsuen Wan, Nick held an umbrella over Abby while she double-checked the clasps on his gas mask — tender moments before a hail of tear gas, which saw the couple separated during the chaos. Enveloped in gas, Nick still pulled his goggles down, frantically trying to message his girlfriend.
“I was worried,” he told reporters later. “Normally I don’t go right to the front with her ... we lost each other when the police fired the first tear gas. I found her an hour later at a nearby shopping mall.”
The couple’s motivation is long-standing, both seeking to make right the failure of the “Umbrella movement” protests of 2014, which withered after two-and-a-half months.
This time protests show little sign of abating, with the extradition bill sharpening their focus. The bill, which has been suspended, but not formally withdrawn, is an emblem of Beijing’s creeping control over a city that enjoys unique freedoms.
“I’m one of the people who advocates democracy ... if the bill is passed, I may be extradited to China,” Nick says. “This movement has caught the attention of the Chinese government ... it’s now or never for Hong Kong.”
Nick and Abby are far from alone as politics and romance aligns. The weeks of rolling protests also brought Cindy and Charles, both 33, back together after a break-up.
Charles said he could not forget the first day when tear gas was fired at a protest that Cindy had attended without him.
“I couldn’t contact her. I was very worried,” he said.
“I realized she’s really important to me, I knew then we have to get back together,” he said.
As Nick and Abby reflect on another weekend of violence in Hong Kong, they profess they are ready to risk everything as they fight for their city’s future.
“If I am killed and it helps Hong Kong, then I will be OK with it,” Abby said.
While both are confident they are doing the right thing, the abnormality of life after three months of protest is starting to catch up with them.
“We’re exhausted ... fighting police, taking rubber bullets, it shouldn’t be like this,” Nick said.
‘CONFESSED’: A court in Beijing said that former CCP member Ren Zhiqiang abused his power at a state firm and embezzled almost US$7.14 million of public funds A Chinese tycoon who called Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) a clown and criticized his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic was yesterday jailed for 18 years for corruption, bribery and embezzlement of public funds. Ren Zhiqiang (任志強) — once among the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) inner circle — disappeared from the public eye in March, shortly after penning an essay that lambasted Xi’s pandemic response. His outspokenness had earned the former chairman of state-owned property developer Huayuan Group the nickname “Big Cannon.” Yesterday’s verdict said that Ren embezzled almost 50 million yuan (US$7.4 million) of public funds and accepted bribes worth 1.25 million
AUSTRALIAN SITE: China has had a contract with SSC’s Yatharagga station since at least 2011, but the last time it used it was in June 2013. No final date has been given China would lose access to a strategic space tracking station in Western Australia when its contract expires, the facility’s owners said, a decision that cuts into Beijing’s expanding space exploration and navigational capabilities in the Pacific region. The Swedish Space Corp (SSC) has had a contract allowing Beijing access to the satellite antenna at the station since at least 2011. The station is located next to an SSC satellite station primarily used by the US and its agencies, including NASA. The Swedish state-owned company said it would not enter into any new contracts at the Australian site to support Chinese customers after
OFF BORDER ISLAND: The fisheries official disappeared from a patrol vessel wearing a life jacket and leaving behind his shoes, indicating an intentional move, Seoul said North Korean soldiers shot dead a suspected South Korean defector at sea and burned his body as a COVID-19 precaution after he was interrogated in the water over several hours, Seoul military officials said yesterday. It is the first killing of a South Korean citizen by North Korean forces for a decade, and comes with Pyongyang at high alert over the COVID-19 pandemic and inter-Korean relations at a standstill. The fisheries official disappeared from a patrol vessel near the western border island of Yeonpyeong on Monday, the official said. More than 24 hours later, North Korean forces located him in their waters and
The scarcity of commercial flights landing at Sydney Airport has been a disaster for airlines and workers, but for hobby pilots the COVID-19 pandemic has provided the opportunity of a lifetime. The quieter-than-usual runways mean that private pilots have been given the chance to land at the international airport for the first time. When Sydney Flight College club captain Tim Lindley put out a call, he received an overwhelming response. He eventually organized for 14 light aircraft to fly into Sydney airport on Sunday. “For a lot of the pilots involved, including myself, it was a childhood dream to land in a big