HK protester defies cop dad for his beliefs
AS A SON
As co-founder of Hong Kong protest group Scholarism, Mr Ivan Lam is no stranger to the police.
But the protest leader's links with them are closer than you think - his dad is a senior police officer.
Sometimes the 20-year-old's actions exasperate his dad.
On June 19, he was arrested at home, in front of his dad, for illegal assembly, after occupying the Legislative Council building, in a protest against funds used for the North East New Territories Development Project.
"Of course he was pissed!" Mr Lam told The New Paper last Sunday from his favourite spot at the Legco building - just outside the entrance, where he had parked himself on a plastic mat.
As his only child was being led away - to be later released on bail - the former police academy instructor, who is now in charge of a firing range, curtly told his law-enforcement colleagues in exasperation: "I don't know how I have raised my son to be like this!"
It is now three weeks into Occupy Central, the ongoing protest that challenges China's decision to vet candidates for Hong Kong's next leadership elections in 2017.
And the situation at home can sometimes be tense, said Mr Lam.
He said: "These few weeks, I have been home only once to have a quick meal with my family and pick up some clothes. My mum is more neutral than my dad, but naturally she is worried.
"But I do drop my parents a text message every now and then to let them know I'm safe."
While he describes his folks as "annoying", Lam wishes to thaw the frosty relationship he has with his dad.
"I don't want to argue with him," he said. "I understand his position. Coming from the force, naturally he will side (with) the police. And all men have egos, I can't tell him straight in the face that the police are wrong to exercise violence. But I will continue to stick to my beliefs, whatever it takes."
AS A LEADER
The poster boy of the protest, according to international media, is 18-year-old Joshua Wong, the Scholarism leader with the bowl cut and heavy black-rimmed spectacles.
Few outside Hong Kong have heard about Mr Lam, who has played an equally significant role in the culmination of Occupy Central, which has featured a sizable amount of student protesters.
Mr Lam was one of three co-founders, alongside Mr Wong and Ms Winnie Leung, when Scholarism was formed in May 2011.
He has since left the group.
Back then, Mr Lam and Mr Wong were secondary schoolmates - Hong Kong students typically spend six years in secondary school before moving on to university - and became good friends when they ran for student council together.
Mr Lam laughed when he recalled the first protest they co-organised in school.
"The school canteen food was horrible," he said in a mix of Cantonese, English and Mandarin.
"We even found a cockroach in our meals. That was the last straw, and we organised a boycott.
"We had a qualified victory because the chef was replaced although the vendor remained the same. But the quality of the food did get better."
The anti-high-speed-rail campaign led by the Post-80s movement from mid 2009 to early 2010 left a deep impression on Mr Lam, Mr Wong and Ms Leung as the trio's political awareness led them to organise more protests before Occupy Central.
One high-profile episode was in 2012, when they campaigned against moral and national education, a controversial subject that praised China's communist and nationalist ideology and condemned democracy.
Along with his girlfriend, Ms Lily Wong, and another Scholarism member, Mr Kaiser, Mr Lam took part in a hunger strike for more than 50 hours. Eventually the government compromised and introduced a three-year trial run period instead.
AS A STUDENT
"We believe we are students, and also at the same time citizens of Hong Kong who have rights and responsibilities to take part in a democratic movement and fight for a better society," said Mr Lam, who is waiting to enter university in January, to study art.
In the local media, Lam has been noted for his creativity as he capitalised on popular culture to re-introduce terms like "bean-paste bun of honesty", "bread of memories" and "cake of lies" - props in Stephen Chow's old slapstick comedies - which were unleashed on the education minister.
But never in Mr Lam's wildest dreams would he have expected the student activist group he co-founded with Mr Wong and Ms Leung to be at the forefront of a movement that has mobilised possibly hundreds of thousands in a protest that has captured the imagination of the world.
Mr Lam left Scholarism in April this year, saying it had become too big and lost a common vision, but it did not stop him from leading protesters.
On the evening of Sept 28, he was in the frontline when police used pepper spray and launched tear gas in a bid to disperse crowds near Tamar Park as protests began to occupy Admiralty.
He insists there are no hard feelings and he still remains friends with Mr Wong, although it is inevitable that their relationship is not as strong as before.
"We were better friends then, but we grew distant because we did not see eye to eye on certain issues," said Mr Lam.
"Of course he was pissed!"
- Mr Ivan Lam, on how his father, a senior police officer, felt about his arrest.
Getting in the face of the Polite Protest
I had been in a public protest as a kid.
I was seven then, and I cried my lungs out at a packed toy exhibition at Raffles City shopping centre, figuring in my little devious mind that I could threaten my mother with public humiliation, and she would buy me the Crash Dummy I wanted.
It took some time, it felt like an eternity actually, but I got what I wanted and I was happy.
Somehow there remains a tinge of shame more than two decades on.
And that shame intensified when I walked through the Occupy Central protest sites in Admiralty, Mongkok and Causeway Bay in Hong Kong.
The stars of the show have been the Hong Kong youth, though it is a somewhat unfair statement to make - there were also senior citizens who played their part by being voluntary builders, cleaners, carpenters and sentries.
Even as the generally peaceful demonstrations have become as much of a tourist attraction as it is a social movement, a walk around the protest sites is thought-provoking.
Occupy Central has been billed as the Polite Protest, and it is not difficult to see why.
It was a hive of creative activity at Admiralty, where the most destructive damage was done when police launched a tear gas and pepper spray attack to disperse protesters at its peak.
The young people have imported the Lennon Wall from Prague, Czech Republic, by pasting millions of colourful Post-it notes with their democratic wishes on the walls of the Hong Kong Central Government Offices.
They hang banners quoting lyrics from legendary hits such as John Lennon's Imagine and Beyond's Boundless Ocean Vast Skies.
At major intersections, they conjure complex formations of barricades, not forgetting to plastic-wrap the ends of bamboo poles so that no protester or police would get hurt if things get chaotic.
Every time a barricade gets cleared, another more elaborate one is erected.
At the foot of the Legislative Council building, students collect food waste to convert into detergent.
Girls bake umbrella-shaped biscuits - the brolly has become a rallying icon after being used to repel tear gas and pepper spray attacks - and hand them out to protesters.
Just outside the MTR station, boys and girls man a charging station where hundreds of cables diverge from a mini-generator, allowing anyone trusting enough to leave behind and recharge their mobile devices, after registering on a basic exercise book.
Portable toilets are set up and mobile toilets are equipped with generous donations of toiletries such as shampoo and moisturisers.
People who were in a heated argument just seconds earlier can calm down to politely explain what is going on to curious overseas visitors before gently asking them to stay safe.
Over in Mongkok, a group of youngsters draw up a map to encourage passers-by to support shops located in disadvantageous nooks and crannies.
"Rent is so high in Hong Kong, the local shopowners are forced into the back lanes where traffic is poor," said Ray Chan.
"Look at how many jewellery shops and branded goods stores there are on the main road. I think the losses they suffer as a result of the protests are not unbearable for these big international corporations.
"In contrast, the authorities complaining that business has taken a hit are the ones who keep increasing the rent such that the small shopowners find it untenable to survive here."
Like the bawling seven-year-old me, the protesters are a nuisance.
Unlike the selfish seven-year-old me, their personal convictions matter as much to them as their consideration for others.
The Polite Protest has to end one day and it is highly unlikely they will get what they want - a truly democratic election and the resignation of their Chief Executive.
But they can still walk with their heads held high, knowing they gave it all they had, within reasonable boundaries, to fight for the future they want, while being generally nice people.
Share your views with David at email@example.com
By the numbers
The number of Hong Kong police officers involved in clearing tents and barricades set up by protesters from a Mong Kok road early yesterday.