When university students in the U.S. were preparing for finals, exams for Hong Kong students Kelvin Li and Chuen Hei Wong were the least of their concerns as demonstrations had closed colleges and canceled classes.
“You smell it first,” said Li, recalling his experiences being tear gassed. “Like something spicy but in smoke.
“After a few seconds, you can’t breathe and you keep coughing,” he added. “Your eyes feel hot and in pain, and your body is telling you, you cannot stay anymore.”
Wong recalled his experience being tear gassed. “You can’t really breathe and your eyes can hardly open. My skin turned red and felt like it was burning,” he said.
“I just feel I will never forget that feeling,” Wong added. “This whole thing will not be solved easily because people like me are not going to forgive the police or the government.”
During the summer of 2019, citizens took to the streets of Hong Kong to protest a bill Carrie Lam, chief executive of Hong Kong, was putting forth that would allow for extradition to mainland China, according to The New York Times.
“Critics are worried the authorities will use [the bill] to send dissidents, activists and others in Hong Kong, including foreign visitors, to face trial in mainland courts, which are controlled by the party,” according to the article.
This has aroused fear among Hong Kong citizens that they are already losing the autonomy they were promised in the “one country, two systems” policy set to last until 2047.
This agreement was put into place when Great Britain returned Hong Kong jurisdiction to mainland China. The policy was supposed to allow Hong Kong to practice Democracy despite being part of Communist China.
Protests persisted since the summer and extended their reach to the universities Nov. 11. Almost immediately, multiple universities closed their doors for the semester.
Students Li and Wong were interviewed in the weeks following their universities’ closure via HelloTalk, a language-learning app, and Instagram, respectively.
Li is a second-year computer science student at City University of Hong Kong.
“On Nov. 11, protesters planned to block the traffic system to express their appeal,” Li said.
“They only blocked at MTR station,” he said. Mass Transit Railway (MTR) is a subway company in Hong Kong.
“They block it because MTR allowed the police to use their subway to travel to any station, but it was closed to the public,” Li said. “Most Hong Kong citizens rely on MTR.
“Protesters continued to block the transit system nearly all week, and the school announced its suspension,” he added.
Initially, Li’s university did not issue any announcements about what would happen to his classes, but in the weeks that followed, his university resorted to online classes. However, exams were canceled for the semester.
“I don’t think the universities should have closed,” Li said. “Although most of it will open again, it’s not only affecting local students, but some overseas students can’t do anything while the school is closed.”
Wong is a second-year criminal justice student at the Community College under Hong Kong University.
“When they suspended class, I was so confused about the assignment as there is no postponement,” Wong said.
Wong’s classes would also be conducted online. Unfortunately, this required a computer which Wong did not have access to.
“I told my dad I needed a computer, and then we went out to check one out at a store, but it didn’t open – the whole mall, actually,” he said.
The stores had closed for the week due to the protests, he added.
Wong explained he had to ask a friend to help upload the assignment for him on their computer.
“I was kind of mad, honestly. I felt bad because I needed someone to do it for me and they were busy, too,” he said. “But I never blamed the problem on the protesters.”
Wong had participated in a protest June 12.
“I heard that many people were going to protest in Central Park because Carrie Lam ignored the voice of the peaceful protest the day before,” he said.
The intent of the protest was to block the entrance to the council building, but the police tried to stop them by firing tear gas, according to Wong. “The protesters tried to charge inside and then [the police] fired rubber bullets. It changed my mindset of the government and police,” he added.
“It made me see how your friends can be,” he said. “When it is a tough time, you can tell who is your real friend.”
Because of this “I don’t talk to those guys [former friends] anymore [due] to their mindset and behavior,” Wong added.
He said the most striking moment for him was when “police used their motorcycles to push into protesters.
“It’s like the police don’t give a s*** about the standard of how they work,” he said. “It is more like a personal thing.”
Li shared his experience as a protester.
“I was a protester in June, but after that, things just changed,” he said. “I’ll never do it again, mostly because police have gone crazy.”
Li felt the police in the front lines have “lost control.”
He added, but in that moment, “All the people wearing black and shouting our appeal, made me feel we have hope.”
On the subject of those who have lost their lives while protesting, Li said, “It makes me feel sad. They shouldn’t die because of this protest. They used their life to fight for something and we’re just sitting at home.”