Witnessing Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

The simple umbrella became the great symbol of the youth-driven democracy protests downtown Hong Kong.
The simple umbrella became the great symbol of the youth-driven democracy protests downtown Hong Kong.

 

The Central Hong Kong Admiralty section and the Administrator's compound became the epicenter for the Hong Kong protesters.
The Central Hong Kong Admiralty section and the Administrator’s compound became the epicenter for the Hong Kong protesters.
The 24-hour vigil in Admiralty led the protesting youth to sleep wherever they found a flat surface, but mostly in the middle of the blocked highway.
The 24-hour vigil in Admiralty led the protesting youth to sleep wherever they found a flat surface, but mostly in the middle of the blocked highway.
It was easy to see why this protest against China's decision to vent local candidates before elections was dubbed the Umbrella Revolution.
It was easy to see why this protest against China’s decision to vent local candidates before elections was dubbed the Umbrella Revolution.
Even during the slow periods, protestors appeared to be quite prepared for any eventuality.
Even during the slow periods, protestors appeared to be quite prepared for any eventuality.
The wall leading to the Hong Kong Administrator's office buildings became a focal point for the expression of protestors' sentiments.
The wall leading to the Hong Kong Administrator’s office buildings became a focal point for the expression of protestors’ sentiments.
Everywhere you looked, you could see signs that would never be tolerated in any other part of country outside Hong Kong.
Everywhere you looked, you could see signs that would never be tolerated in any other part of country outside Hong Kong.

Like so many other visitors to Hong Kong, I was fascinated by this complex metropolis.  With one of the highest population densities in the world, Hong Kong is a sea of constant activity and a dynamic vibe that would make lots of major cities in America look like they are on life support.  And while I do intend to post a little more about this former British territory soon, I couldn’t help but start my Hong Kong posts with the most famous event taking place there during my recent visit.  Of course, this was not all that was happening in Hong Kong during this past week, but rather that if you read anything about the place recently, most likely it had something to do with the pro-Democracy demonstrations taking place at various places in the city.

It didn’t take long for the press to dub these youth-driven demonstrations “The Umbrella Revolution.”  The simple umbrella, which initially served to shield the protestors from the barrage of pepper spray that descended on them on 28 September, rapidly became the symbol of resistance against mainland China’s decision to require any candidate for the top post in the city during the upcoming 2016 elections to receive pre-approval from Beijing before qualifying to run for office.  To say that the young people in Hong Kong disagreed with this mandate would be a gross understatement.  To the streets they went, specially to the part of Central Hong Kong known as Admiralty, where the main government offices are located right along Victoria Harbor.  Having booked a hotel nearby, I couldn’t resist the temptation to check the demonstration out, praying all along that my visit would not coincide with the next pepper spray festival downtown.  What did I find when I got there?  For starters, some of the best behaved and friendly demonstrators I’ve seen anywhere.  There were teams organized to pick up garbage around the clock, for water and food distribution, and for communication.  People constantly approached me to see if I understood why they were out there and to make sure I fully grasped the seriousness of their concerns.  A generation that was mostly born after the British ended their authority over the islands wanted the world to listen to their defense of freedom and democracy–two words that are growingly taken for granted by so many, but which still fuel the dreams and aspirations of countless others around the world today.  And did they mind being photographed while protesting?  Not at all.  Their only concern appeared to be that the world would ignore their plight, but judging by what I have seen in the press over the last week or so, their story has received quite a lot of attention all over the world.  Whether their demands will ever amount to anything is perhaps a more challenging question.  I guess we will have to wait and see.

Summer Fun At The Potomac

Area youth enjoy their sailing outing along Daingerfield Island near Reagan National Airport.
Area youth enjoy their sailing outing along Daingerfield Island near Reagan National Airport.
It could not have been a more perfect day to go sailing along the Potomac River.
It could not have been a more perfect day to go sailing along the Potomac River.
Even if you have never done it before, the colorful sails splashed against a blue sky made you want to take up sailing as a sport.
Even if you have never done it before, the colorful sails splashed against a blue sky made you want to take up sailing as a sport.
The youth sailing camp was a clear reminder that summers are also meant for fun and not just for working behind a desk.
The youth sailing camp was a clear reminder that summers are also meant for fun and not just for working behind a desk.

Remember the fun days of summers from your youth?  Well, they’re still there, even if these days we are mainly occupied with work, achievement, and all sorts of other important things.  However, after watching this summer youth program along the Potomac River yesterday, I started to think about a conversation I once had with my college professor brother.  Having asked him why he had chosen to remain a college professor for life in the place he did instead of entering the corporate world to make the big bucks, his reply kind of took me by surprise.  He pointed out that while he recognized the earning potential of those who toil at their work all year round, he had made the conscious decision to choose a career where he “had not worked a single summer since his high school graduation.”  Summers were his to engage in all sorts of personal projects and activities, and that long-term freedom must certainly have a value that cannot be measured by dollars alone.  Fun?  Summers off?  Freedom?  You can only imagine what was going through the head of yours truly, a never-summer-off dedicated public servant who spent most of his professional life in the United States Marine Corps.  So here I was with my camera at the Washington Sailing Marina recording how much fun summers can be, thinking about how few of them we will have in our lifetimes, and realizing that my brother was a genius for the choices he made.  It took a bunch of laughing, giggling, sun-drenched youth fumbling over sails and choppy waters to remind me of that.

The Young Make Their Mark During Chinese New Year Celebrations

Chinese Americans kicked off local celebrations for the year 4711, known as The Year of the Horse.
Chinese Americans kicked off local celebrations for the year 4711, otherwise known as The Year of the Horse.
The colorful celebrations in the Chinatown section of Washington, DC included traditional costumes and a local parade.
The colorful celebrations in the Chinatown section of Washington, DC included traditional costumes and a local parade.
Young Chinese Americans continue to celebrate their culture while the older generation becomes a lot less visible at these events.
Young Chinese Americans continue to celebrate their culture while the older generation becomes a lot less visible at these events.
Cultural changes were readily evident at the parade, as a younger generation communicated in English while the elderly population spoke only in Chinese.
Cultural changes were readily evident at the parade, as a younger generation communicated in English while the elderly population spoke only in Chinese.
A young woman wears the so-called paddie straw hat that is so common in rural parts of Asia.
A young woman wears the so-called paddie straw hat that is so common in rural parts of Asia.
A young, vibrant, new generation of Chinese Americans are beginning to make their presence known in the Washington, DC area.
A young, vibrant, new generation of Chinese Americans are beginning to make their presence known in the Washington, DC area.

You wouldn’t know from the young, vibrant faces of a new generation of Chinese Americans that this past weekend they were actually celebrating 4711 years of Chinese cultural history.  As the Year of the Horse dawned on us all, a small but proud Chinese American community in the Penn Quarters district of Washington, DC took to the streets to celebrate the cultural traditions that the elders surely experienced back in the old country many years ago.  In spite of the fact that DC’s Chinatown is a mere shadow of what it once was (the 2010 DC census shows 24.84% of the local Asian population as ethnic Chinese), year-after-year the dwindling community goes through great efforts to keep this colorful event alive.  With the relentless encroachment of the business community in the area, it is hard to say what the future holds for these types of events, specially as the ranks of the older generation continue to dwindle and a new generation looks to the suburbs to plant their roots.  Even local newspapers have a tendency to point you in the direction of the Virginia suburbs and Maryland if authentic Chinese food is what you are after.  That’s a pity, but perhaps somewhat typical of the realities being faced by similar communities around the country.  Nevertheless, I am convinced that notwithstanding this reality, as long as we keep supporting events like these in the various ethnic communities around the country, something very precious will be preserved for future generations.  And that, my friend, would be a good thing.