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Wong Chun Wai
Sunday, Oct 19, 2014

Asia

One night in Mongkok

The Star/ANN | Wong Chun Wai | Sunday, Oct 19, 2014

Pro-democracy demonstrators stand their ground as a line of police separate them from anti-occupy protesters (not in picture) in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong.

It's already 2.30am Saturday in Mongkok in Hong Kong but tension is still very much in the air. A typical Friday evening in the world's busiest district, with its myriad of bars, brothels and mahjong parlours, would have been bustling with life.

But businesses have been hit badly. The entire area seems to have been taken over by thousands of protesters. Outnumbered by the protesters, the police are seemingly restrained and unwilling to use too much force.

Scuffles had broken out between the police and the predominantly young and angry demonstrators just hours earlier.

At the junction of Sai Yee Street, I saw protesters provoking policemen into a fight, with the hope of getting arrested. But the cops looked the other way, even when cursed and abused right in front of their faces.

Taking advantage of this, the protesters soon put up barricades at numerous road junctions in the area to bar traffic from entering the district.

Taxis and buses were stopped and tempers flared between passengers and the protesters.

Mongkok has emerged as the hotspot of the so-called Umbrella Revolution, so named because the protesters used umbrellas to shield themselves against the pepper spray used by the cops to disperse crowds.

Fights have broken out between the residents of Mongkok and the protesters as businesses are affected. Fingers have been pointed at the triads but listening to the taxi and bus drivers, they'll tell you that patience is wearing thin.

The youngsters have accused the counter-democracy protesters of being linked to the triads. They, in turn, have accused the leaders of the protesters of being agents of the Americans, who have been accused of financing the protests.

But talking to both sides, it boils down to simple livelihood issues in the pressure cooker environment of Hong Kong.

Hong Kongers are angry with the huge number of mainland Chinese moving into the island and the strain exerted on its health and education facilities. Not to forget, the competition for jobs. The resentment against the mainland Chinese has been building up.

Older Hong Kongers have dismissed the protests as youthful idealism, which would not bear fruit as the harsh reality is that Hong Kong is part of China and nothing will change that.

Over endless glasses of beer in Mongkok, I met a group of entertainment outlet operators who wanted their side of the story told.

"Mahjong parlours are down by at least 40 per cent and in some cases, 80 per cent. Rentals here are among the highest in the world," one operator said.

Rental for a 50 sq ft shop can reach RM70,000 a month.

"There are wages to pay too but we have been hit. We are not interested in politics. We just want the protesters to move away elsewhere."

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