HONG KONG-- Happy New Year. The protesters are back again, fresh off the heels of New Year's Eve countdown the night before. Fresh from the fireworks in Hong Kong's Victoria Harbor to ring in the new year. On New Year's Day they packed Causeway Bay, one of the biggest shopping districts in Hong Kong and one of the most packed -- protesters or not.
In squirrelly nervous speed they handed out paraphernalia -- stickers, posters, signs, pins, and even watercolored drawings that either supported or mocked C.Y. Leung, Hong Kong's Chief Executive. A friend and I tried to muscle our way through the crowds. In the end, roughly 130,000 people joined the anti-Leung protests while an estimated 80,000 appeared from the pro-government groups. I wondered if they might be the same serial protesters who had been camped out under the HSBC Building for Occupy Wall Street or maybe the same from the anti-national education crowds? Hard to tell these days in Hong Kong, where protests are becoming as popular as horse racing.
"I think it's wonderful that Hong Kong people come out and voice their opinions," my friend said as we collected the paraphernalia like kids at a candy store and pushed our way through the chaotic and festive atmosphere. In principle I agreed.
Indeed it is wonderful that Hong Kong people spend a major public holiday protesting rather than the usual shopping. It's wonderful that such protests are still permitted in this city. Although I'm not a fan of the Falun Gong, it's a good sign that the Falun Gong can still express their viewpoints in an open space and not be swept under the rug.
At the end of the pro-government and anti-government protests, a government's spokesperson said that the protesters views would be listened to "in a humble manner." Hong Kong's political talking heads said that Leung should be worried about the protests, and needs to get his popularity up.
But the cynic in me that wonders whether such protests covers up the reality or simply mean Hong Kongers are in denial. Perhaps in the end protests don't matter enough to make a difference and change leadership, not in a city whose fate is decided by the parenting country. Beijing had annointed Leung as the leader a long time ago, some Hong Kongers say.
So on New Year's Day I marveled at the energy of the protesters, but didn't think much else of it. As the cab driver grumbled this morning, "The protests only started after 1997, most of them rich people with nothing else to do with their time, in the end does it really matter?" And surely in the new year they would definitely surface again.