On the ground in Hong Kong: noodles and tunes

Apartments in Hong Kong

Community musician Pete Moser blogs from the protest-heavy streets of Hong Kong where he is working with local partners on the latest instalment of his Long Walk Community Music project

It is midnight and I am back in my hostel room with a can of San Miguel and some cashew nuts listening to Arturo Sandoval!

A long day of various parts and many people. Conversations about cultural impact on individuals, parades as a one man band, reflections on a long term programme of Community Music work and endless questioning about protest and revolution.

Breakfast at Mei Ho House is a pretty dispiriting affair for a vegetarian but I ate my rice noodles and cabbage and drank lemon tea while reading my current book about the Middle East in the mid 20th century! A strange mix of times and stories.

A van then took me across to the hospital centre in Shaukeiwan with guitar, accordion, trumpet and one man band case and Stanley (art therapist and local host) ran out with excitement to greet me. Really looking forward to my days here!

Hospital centre in Shaukeiwan, Hong Kong
Hospital centre in Shaukeiwan, Hong Kong

The building here has 9 floors with 4 different ‘wards’ housing elders and people with special needs as well as 2 day centres for elders and a floor housing NGO’s who go out into the community to work. All part of the huge Tung Wah Hospital Group – a privately run group that works across all the districts of the city with centres like this as well as mainstream hospitals.

My residency project with them involves my own sessions each time I come as well as various other local musicleaders and performers coming in on a regular basis to bring music to different groups. It was inspired by a three-month residency at a different Tung Wah centre with Makoto Nomura from Japan in 2018.

I start the day planning my six days with Stanley which today will include a one man band tour of the whole building! I am excited at the various options open, especially a sound installation project!

For lunch we walk round the corner past this great stall selling eggs, sweet potato and chestnuts.

Every time I am here we go to a favourite noodle shop round the corner and today we meet Chuen who has been working with elders at the centre this morning. He has been my friend and co-worker here for over 10 years and we have travelled all over together in Southern China as well. A great communicator and songwriter.

Street food in Hong Kong
Street food in Hong Kong

As we eat we talk about the protest movement and the arrests. He says how now it is so dangerous to be out on the streets at all because the police are arresting all the time and have taken so many people. If arrested it is then impossible to go out again without extreme risk of long detention if caught again so the arrest policy is decreasing the number of potential people on the frontline. (Later on, my friend Paper tells me of a group of 70 people who are his friends who were on the frontline and who now only number 5 – all the others have been arrested.)

Chuen then goes on to talk of the boycotts – especially of the MTR (the mass transit system). The MTR authorities are very connected with police and the government and there are so many bad stories about the collusion that many people now either go by bus or dodge fares. The whole system also now shuts at 10pm (ostensibly for repairs) meaning that it is very hard to get home after protests and there is a de facto curfew. He is so hopeful that the negative effect on business will force the government to take notice and make some changes – it is a long war of attrition … more on this later.

Unpacking the kit
Unpacking the kit

Meanwhile, back in the centre I unpack and put together my one man band kit. This travelling version is much lighter than my regular UK kit and I am hoping that it will by kinder on my knee! We set out round the building and 2 hours later have covered every floor and office and entertained hundreds of people. Older people copying my leg kicking, others singing along and clapping, cramming into tiny offices and doing a show for a mass of people in the floor one day centre. I have arrived !

Packing up we decide to catch the bus back across the city … and it is a slow slow ride through traffic to Shek Kip Mei where we have our evening gathering of musicians. Before the meeting we walk through the bargain high tec streets of the district looking for new sound equipment for the TW centre and spot these cats!

Tonight we are talking about last years show from the huge Remixing Communities programme across the city. Reflecting and learning so that the second year grows and develops well. Musicleaders are out working in 10 week blocks with groups of elders connected to NGO centres in 15 districts and it is giving new people a chance to develop skills in musicleading as well as bringing activity to hundreds of elders. The show last July featured 10 great new songs in a show with high production values at a great city centre venue (see June/July blog posts). The discussion tonight is very rich and interesting, hopefully a little challenging for everyone as I am keen that this programme lifts the quality of engagement and takes everyone on a journey that will have a long term legacy here. We talk about developing conducting and choirleading skills, about new recording and production methods for the CD and about how to make the culmination this year a different kind of event.

One Man Band
One Man Band

Then out for a beer with Chuen and Paper and the conversation about the movement goes on in a typical local restaurant.

Chuen talks about his role and how, although he goes to protests he stays out of the frontline. He is now working with a group of young protesters to make a drama that will help consolidate the learning.

Earlier, Stanley talked about how visual artists all over the city are making posters and artwork that is shared online. This helps to develop solidarity. Everyone finds a role and  many of Chuen’s social worker friends who are supporting and counselling young people are suffering from burn out. He and Paper talk about the new tear gas that is now being used and how it is less pungent and spreads less far than the gas that came from France. However the new tear gas is from the mainland and is more poisonous.

Then there are so many personal stories like the one of the pigeon that was caught by the gas and how people helped it and wiped its eyes with water. And of the street dogs and cats who have suffered and been helped by protesters.

They both say people are tired now and that there is so much information everywhere that you cannot escape. Energy is fading, people are exhausted physically and mentally. Everyone needs the next step and I end talking about citizens assemblies and the need for localised discussion and debate – not just online.

Yesterday Mok talked about the four sides of the political equation – where the top is totalitarian, the bottom freedom, the left collectivism and the right private ownership. In that picture top right is facism and the top left is typified by North Korea. He talked about the bottom right being the dominant view on the streets – a continued capitalism dominated by business. No vision for an alternative future… and then he added the environment and green issues to the square and it has to become a cube because everything changes… hmmm. He says really to go green you have to go anarchist because everything has to be rethought and reimagined. He also talked about the male chauvinism of the current protest and how this is also becoming an issue with the female perspective ignored. There seem so many battles to win.

Save HK
Save HK

Today, in the van, David talked about how the protests are connecting people from different sectors and bringing in people from the ethnic minorities after the attack by police on the mosque two weeks ago. Samson talked tonight about his university being closed after the discovery of a dead female student in the water and the anger of the students when CCTV footage would not be released so the story of her death cannot be uncovered.

Two weeks later the students are still stopping the reopening. This crisis is so far reaching – so many people affected. These stories will go on.

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