‘Vanished’ entry from Monday, Feb 16…
For a second week, Hongkongers protest against the influx of Mainland smugglers/traders by converging on a New Territories shopping mall.
I was a regular customer at this one, Shatin’s New Town Plaza, way back in its early days. It was famous for the tacky musical fountain, with water spouts swaying from side to side in rhythm, accompanied by coloured lights. It also had a wide range of local chains and independent outlets selling shoes, clothing and household and consumer items (vendors in adjacent housing estates offered really cheap basics like kitchenware, bedding and, I recall, mosquito netting). Most of all, the mall boasted a Yaohan department store, with an exotica-laden supermarket and a food court of cheap ramen places.
Nowadays, the mall is full of the exact same three or four dozen jewellery, cosmetics, fashion and milk powder brands found in every other shopping centre, reflecting the peculiar consumer monoculture of Mainlander traders. New Territories residents hate the mainland shoppers because of the intolerable overcrowding on the streets and public transport. But it might just be a little bit less unbearable if the visitors could expand their horizons and try some new products, instead of endless tons of more Yakult, more Ferrero Rocher (RIP), more Sa Sa, more Burberry, more Chow Sang Sang, and on and on. The constant mind-shredding repetition of specific brand names everywhere adds to the mental cruelty heaped upon local people.
The Word of the Day is ‘forced’. In the Standard, the police were ‘forced’ to use pepper spray and shops were ‘forced’ to close. In the South China Morning Post, police were ‘repeatedly forced’, which saves ink. Anyone reading Twitter commentary from participants yesterday would get the impression that the cops’ role was to deliberately add to the chaos (using pepper spray ‘like air freshener’ as one wit put it). Certainly, the pre-2014 HKP would have handled such gatherings without such frenzied freaking-out. Is this over-reaction calibrated to portray protesters as violent (and cops, mainlanders and shop owners as victimized)? Or have the cops just been psyched-up to appease Beijing officials demanding toughness? The Police Commissioner’s recent appointment with the nation’s Public Security Minister suggests more the latter.
According to the official pro-Beijing narrative, the authorities and public opinion defeated the forces of darkness when the Occupy/Umbrella protesters packed their tents and dispersed in December. Now, a weekly Occupy Shopping Mall manifestation pops up out of nowhere.
Are the participants demanding democracy? No, it’s a lost cause. But this goes beyond Mainland smugglers. It is about the whole tide of Mainlandization: the influx of people, the displacement of local businesses, the slide in press freedom, the use of the police force as a political tool, and things like the recently propaganda campaign against Hong Kong University, which coincided neatly with Beijing’s new ideological war on Western ideas in education. It will be interesting to see how the Hong Kong government tries to squash this one back into its bottle and – assuming it finds a way to banish people from malls – what pops up in its place.
The government has a Get Out of Jail Free Card: slash the number of Mainland shoppers allowed over the border. Administratively simple, but apparently too humiliating and politically incorrect to contemplate. So far.
On a related matter: the unattributable mutterings alleging foreign interference are now mentioning something called Code4HK. Never heard of it, but it seems to be a (not so secretive or sinister) bunch of geeks who helped out during Occupy. There’s a common thread to these behind-the-scenes accusation and insinuations: an inability to believe that young Hongkongers could do complicated grown-up things like organize supplies of bottled water or counterattack cyber-hackers without help from overseas forces. That is how remote and in denial Beijing and its local proxies and cheerleaders are.