Where I Stand
I have never felt as internally challenged as I do now.
Earlier this afternoon, I went up to Central to observe what was happening with the Occupy Central movement. The experience was nothing short of surreal: seeing the roads I so frequently traveled filled with members of all stratas of Hong Kong, their wrists bound by yellow ribbons as symbols for solidarity, it felt so foreign to see what I have known for 12 years become something… I wouldn’t have thought of as possible.
And that’s the thing. What’s been happening in Hong Kong has been affecting us in ways I never thought would have any relevance to me. As a debater, I talk about the rift between doing what’s right and what’s legal, where the boundaries lie between the two, and what it means to be ‘unlawful’ – so much to the extent that I could come up with some pre-packaged spiel if you asked me on the spot. Occupying the roads of Hong Kong’s busiest economic hub – in the way that it is being done now – is, by law, illegal, and yet I feel as if that almost ceases to matter. When teachers are allowing their students to go on the streets for whatever they feel to be right, when professors feel guilty enough they find themselves unable to teach, when schools are hosting day-long prayer sessions and discussion forums in lieu of everyday academic life, it is at this point I realize that what matters in life are the things that cannot be answered.
I feel unqualified to speak about democracy in the way so many of my peers are doing now. As someone who grew up in an isolated, protected bubble – which some may even call a place of privilege – I have no means of gauging what democracy means. I have never known what it is like to live without democracy, and although now, in the 21st century, global news ricochets into our own living rooms right into our faces, I have always felt detached.
But I know democracy, as a concept, means so many things there are not enough words existent to describe it at all. It is a question that cannot be answered linearly when one asks what it means. My parents talk about democracy, because as students in 1987 Korea before citizens were granted the right to vote for their own leaders, they knew what it was like to live without it. With democracy comes so many connotations, too: many hold freedom to be an ideal that can be achieved through democracy, and there have been countless examples in our past that illustrate the journey democracy has made to the present day. Democracy is not black and white but comes in many shades, and for that reason it is one of the concepts of human society that will constantly be morphing, but not by itself – for when our perceptions of it change and perspectives shift, the meanings, the definitions, the feelings will change with it too.
And although I am by no means qualified to discuss politics (and, frankly, quite disinterested too), I believe concepts like these matter. Concepts like these are what give substance to human life, our thought processes and our rationality. I read in a book the other day that ‘if nothing matters, there’s nothing to save’. And this is absolutely true. To be honest, even if Hong Kong did have universal suffrage, I feel as if the difference it would make internally would not be colossal. But Hong Kongers fight for it anyways. Why? Because it’s the first step in upholding what they believe to be right. If all of us were apathetic, if no one had been going out onto the streets – possibly sacrificing their livelihoods – then nothing would have changed at all. Although I am ambivalent on the means by which Occupy Central is being conducted (through civil disobedience), one has to recognize that modern-day America wouldn’t be what it is now if it hadn’t been for the non-violent direct action campaigns held by students in the 1960s. You know what I mean?
As humans, we give ourselves meaning. Many things don’t have meanings, or definitions, at all. But that’s why people strive to create something for themselves.
Coming from where I sit, where I deem myself unable to talk about these issues without faltering and questioning my own judgment, I guess this may even come off as a little hypocritical. But then again, sometimes hypocrisy – in its rawest, non-malicious form – is the human condition. There are so many things in this world to believe, sometimes you don’t know which idea to believe in at all. At this point I don’t know where I lie on the Occupy Central spectrum, if I may even call myself as being on it in the first place. I’m still trying to work out how I feel and where I stand in relation not only to the rest of Hong Kong, but also to the world.
If there’s one thing I do know, however, it’s that this whole situation has caused me to realize that my life has been hinged upon very superficial structures. I live day to day feeling as if whatever I come across in a certain moment – be it a test or an assignment – is the most important, immediate thing on the agenda. But tests and assignments? They can be answered; they can always be answered. They’re very black and white, with hardly any shades in between. And tomorrow? I’ll forget; we’ll all forget.
And that’s why I admire those who can step beyond this superficial frame of mind and realize that what really matters in this world, despite all the current pressures and whispers that plague our student minds, are the things that cannot be answered.
And for that reason, although I admit that I am clueless as to where I am, I have just finished writing a blog post that may lack cohesiveness but contains the confessions and confusions of my mind. Thank you for reading this far.