In 2011 I sat on the right side of a large lecture hall in the upper levels of the BA (Brown Administration) Building at Utah Valley University. For the past year or so, I had been studying photography and was still finishing up generals, to where I was in Biology 1010. As I sat in class, one that I couldn't care less for, I scrolled through twitter, and news stations alike learning about the Egyptian Revolution of 2011. My 24-year-old self jumps at the idea of flying halfway around the world and documenting history. However, my pocketbook couldn't support such a rash decision, leaving me to watch history from afar.
A few years later, I was sitting in yet another lecture hall. Ukraine was currently undergoing a similar development known as the "2014 Ukrainian Revolution." I sat and looked at flights, researched where I would stay and what the best way to go about documenting such a historical event. Again, I reeled myself back in by checking my finances and responsibilities only to outweigh the sporadic moments of a 27-year-old.
In all honesty, it would have been ludicrous if I were to act on such an impulse. I'm not a trained journalist. I've never documented anything. I barely make notes within my journal to where how would I ever manage to take notes in telling a story of such weight. Ridiculous and bizarre. Not to mention completely irresponsible.
Fast forward to July 17th, 2019. Chloe, my wife, and I are having a light discussion on what are the most significant regrets are, from before we got married. Note: This was a growing exercise provoked by a deck of conversation cards to where Chloe responds with a desire to have traveled more by herself. When you are as driven and focused as her, it would be rough for anyone in her situation.
As for me, it doesn't take much thought on where my mind went to; documenting civil unrest, an uprising of a sort. However, I'm still not a journalist, and nor did I ever really pursue any channels or opportunities to put myself in a career of such nature. I produce commercials, and although it's still within the overall media industry, it's an entirely different world.
To my surprise, this doesn't phase Chloe. We continue with the conversation, coming to a decision, that marriage doesn't mean that we can't live out our dreams, or in this case, regrets. Now, with my wife's regret, it has to be planned out, due to some factors of our life. Mine, on the other hand, can't be planned. For Paul Revere wasn't ever foreseen riding down the road, yelling, "The British are coming." No, my dream, like much of my life moves pretty fast to where it's by the edge of my seat do I need to act and react, to overcome what life throws at me.
Little did I realize that halfway around the world, there was already a heated struggle for democracy, and an evil empire threatening millions way of life and freedom, but opportunities will always arise.
July 24th, 2019.
As I await my flight back to Salt Lake, from a location scout, I see on the news that Hong Kong, is currently going through somewhat of civil unrest. Men in white shirts, who are believed to be members of the Triad took to the streets targeting civilian/protestors and attached them with iron bars and wooden clubs. The reasoning for such violence in Hong Kong is in its eighth week of protests to where Pro-China demonstrators began acting out against those supporting the AntiELAB (Anti Extradition bill). A law that would act on a recent murder in being able to detain and extradite criminals, and or those wanted within Hong Kong, and other areas of China, to areas that do not have extradition agreements with, such as Taiwan, and or Mainland China.
With an upset within a nation that is under one country and two systems of government, communism, and democracy, it's only a matter of time until you have civil unrest. Bringing me back to a curiosity, and desire to see such events, however this time, I'm no longer in my biology class, and after the current job I was working, I wouldn't have another gig lined up, therefore a lack of responsibilities, and a wife who would be willing to let me go, I began my research, and following the story as it built.
Again, I will say this I'm not a trained journalist, and yet still up to this point have never really documented anything… Sure, I've documented adventures I've been on, but nothing like this. It is as I said wholly ridiculous and bizarre, that anyone in their right mind would do something like this, and even more-so someone with any responsibilities.
Over the next two weeks, things begin to escalate in Hong Kong, and as I watched, I begin to think I could see these events unfold. Then on August 9th, 2019, demonstrators march on Hong Kong International Airport and end up canceling some 250 flights out of a daily average 838 flights. It's finally hit the point to where I could see myself going.
Tuesday, the 13th.
While I lay in bed, I turn to Chloe and quietly say "I'm going to decide by the end of the week if I'm going to do this." The next morning, I have the idea to call Tanner Frost, one of my climbing partners, who is currently in the Photography Program that I was years back. As I spring the harebrained, question, "do you want to go to Hong Kong next week and photograph the protests" his response is questionable as preposterous, "yes." Now, as much as I didn't expect a response so quick and not expecting as his, I was glad I would have someone to keep me level, and company while living out this event. Two days later I purchased our flights, only to leave the following week.
Friday, August 23rd, 2019.
All is quiet on the Eastern front, and I begin to question the decision of flying halfway around the world. However, it's too late. Tanner and I just passed through TSA Security at Salt Lake City international airport. It's 5:45 am. At this point, I still don't have the slightest clue of what's going on in Hong Kong, yet, I'm going in with an open mind. Part of me wants to get right in and get in the action. Part of me is telling me to stay safe and don't do anything stupid. I just passed through security to board a plane to Hong Kong. I've already done something of questionable intelligence. For the next eighteen hours, I wait.
Upon landing in Hong Kong, we slowly make our way to our hostel. A small little 2-bedroom room in Mong Kok, Hong Kong. Honestly, it was overwhelming. I mean, I've been to Thailand, I've lived in New York, but nothing could prepare me for this. It was as Cartier Bresson described, sensory overload. As I processed our little flat and area of living as standard living, we set out to explore the city around us. We then get wind of an acting protest; however, due to the nature of just arriving in a city of 8.5 million people, we haven't a clue of its whereabouts. Not to mention, there are other reports of protests in closer proximity to us. As we lose ourselves on the subway, we finally land at Mei Foo Station and begin the search for an active demonstration. However, it's too late, and as we trailed a local journalist, we realized it's a lost hope for our first night in Hong Kong for the streets were empty, and we began to feel more in more alone. We returned to our home away from home and ended up retiring for the night (Note: there was a torrential downpour to where we really struggled in finding our way that night).
Now, before I continue, I must restate that I am in no way a journalist. The events that follow are from an onlooker, nothing more. There are far too many variables to tell this story accurately, within a 3-and-a-half-day visit. However, I went on this trip to grow and to see history in the making. If the most I can do is share what I saw and tell it with as much truth and accuracy that I can recall, then my account has done its part.
Sunday, August 25th.
Tanner and I begin to plan out what we're going to see. We hadn't talked about the full agenda in going to Hong Kong, no, it was too rash of a decision to do such things. We hadn't even thought about how we wanted to photograph the protests? We're too inexperienced and distant from the situation to have given it any real attention. All we knew is that we were here in Hong Kong, during a protest… on a whim…
Look what has society has done to us?
We agree that one thing we'd both like to do is visit Victoria Peak. We also hear that there will be another protest, a long march, that will start at a local soccer field, and move its way to a mall a few kilometers away that will be happening in the afternoon. We decide we'll first make our way to the Peak, and then head down to see the demonstration.
As we finish hiking down from the top of the mountain in heavy rain, we learn that we will be cutting it close in catching a train to Sham Sui Po, due to an MTR closure of the station as the city was trying to cut off attendants to for the event. Now, at first look at this, It doesn't bother me. Ignorant me. I've always had the freedom to assemble, to where I don't realize these people are having that taken away. So, while protesters start to assemble at the MTR station, the police began to band together to shut the doors and escort people outside the station Tanner, and I observe the chaos of the media searching for the next big story.
While the conflict cools off at the MTR Station, we begin to follow the people towards the soccer field. At the current state and having no understanding of what's going on, we follow the crowd into a single-entry gate to join together in hearing from protestors. We have no idea what they're saying. Nor did my ignorant self-care. I was there to photograph this riot for what I believed was history. It was never the plan to be so oblivious to all that was going on. #ammature.
During the next three hours, we marched alongside the people through the streets of Hong Kong. I never thought that during my life I'd march for freedoms that my father before me and I had received, while others are still fighting for the same liberties, 250 years later, I never realized I had. Only when I take a step back, in writing this out, do I recognize one of the real aspects of this trip, in the self-growth made, and the freedoms overlooked.
As the march begins to disband, we open up Telegraph, an App that has us linked into a few protestors text channels to see if there are any heightened areas of unrest. To be expected, there were talks of a demonstration a quarter-mile away.
This is it. This is what we came for!
Comparably while we began to walk towards where to the protests, the police came silently by the busloads. Full body armor, riot shields, warning flags, tear gas and all, they moved into a standoff position with the people of Hong Kong. Having never seen a riot before, or anything close to a revolt towards the government. I don't know how to put it into words. While I had no real understanding of what was going on, we were in it.
What happened next, there are no words for, movies and a world of make-believe can try to emulate it, but what I was far beyond full understanding. Nor do I think the people there understand their impact on the world for what is happening — either way. There's the patriotic way of saying what happened, or there's the way I at the time understood it. The people pushed and pushed their way forward towards the police. All the while, police shout warnings, and state the protest violates the law. Sooner or later there's a breaking point. These are the images leading up to that point the hours to come, and the aftermath.
If you would like a full account of my thoughts on what I saw, please feel free to contact me.