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“We are formless, we can flow, we are like water!”: Hong Kongers invoke kungfu superstar Bruce Lee

Sense And Nonsense by Tan Bah Bah

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My respect for Hong Kong people grows by the day. This time, hats off to the South China Morning Post for covering the discontent in the Special Administrative Region over CEO Carrie Lam and the extradition bill in a very educational and illuminating way. I have learnt about the nuances and the emotions of Hong Kongers from it far more than from any so-called “special coverage” by our local mainstream media.

The problem with local MSM is that, not wanting to overplay the stories so as not to offend the authorities who have put a lot of their eggs into the PRC basket, it has to couch its language when reporting on the protests in such a manner that some of the more interesting and revealing stories are not reported.

Those who have been following the Hong Kong protests – whatever news sources you turn to – know that there have been three phases. The protests started off as anger over the extradition bill which allows fugitives to be extracted to face trials on the mainland and other jurisdictions with which Kong Kong does not have any extradition arrangements. Then, the protests became protests against the unpopular Chief Executive Officer, Carrie Lam, who has been a despised hardliner sympathetic with Beijing.

Next – this is what I am surprised to learn – the protests have morphed into a battle by the havenots against the wealthy. During the protests, a struggle took place between an older man and a masked young man who shouted bitterly that he has not been to school for a long time. This was interpreted as the angry voice of Hong Kong’s marginalised millennials against the city’s elites. Very familiar scenario to Singaporeans irked by the elitist policies of the People’s Action Party. If you are not book-smart, you will not get far.

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From extradition bill to Carrie Lam to social divide. How swiftly the story has changed. As if this was not enough, Umbrella or Occupy 2.0 resurrects all the old frustrations, that Hong Kong should not be part of China. Some are seeking independence no less, however impossible and unrealistic since the territory was supposed to have been handed over by the British to China in 1997, with the provision that the territory’s way of life would remain unchanged for 50 years, until 2047. When it was signed, in 1984, the year 2047 seemed impossibly far off, but the proposed extradition law brings 2047 much closer too soon. The sense of desperation and fear is growing.

Necessity being the mother of invention, Hong Kong protesters have not been anything if inventive. They have adopted kungfu superstar and Bruce Lee as their source of inspiration.

Lee’s famous “Be water, my friend” which was famously uttered in Enter The Dragon has become a clarion call among the young protesters. His words have also inspired a new form of guerilla tactics that has outfoxed the police and given the government headaches, with protesters moving in unexpected waves, rolling from one spot to another, according to the South China Mornng Post. Spontaneous road blockades and the circling of buildings have replaced the prolonged mass sit-ins of the 2014 Occupy movement, creating a “formless” protest.

“We are formless, we are shapeless, we can flow, we can crash, we are like water, we are Hong Kongers!” read one protester’s sign channelling Lee’s philosophy. Protesters were also wearing T-shirts and clothing bearing Lee’s words and likeness, with the martial arts icon becoming a symbol of the movement.

Simultaneously, Hong Kongers have also shown their displeasure with another Hong Kong kongfu superstar, Jackie Chan, who has been seen as being pro-Beijing, obviously because he is still alive, unlike Lee, and has to be more circumspect in his attitude towards the mainland – he has films and albums to promote and sell. After all, Chan is also a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference which is largely made up of members of the Chinese Communist Party.

But what has irked Hong Kongers is that he has been dismissive of the democracy movement. The SCMP quoted him as saying in 2009:

“I’m not sure if it’s good to have freedom or not. I’m really confused now. If you’re too free, you’re like the way Hong Kong is now. It’s very chaotic.”

Organised chaos (peaceful, of course) is exactly what Bruce Lee’s philosophy advocates. Hong Kongers, in adopting Lee’s “formless” protest, have shown their innovativeness and their ability to think and act out of the box. Do Singaporeans have the same dexterity to turn adversity into advantage?

Singapore is in the wrong century and place, linguistically

Before the Indonesian presidential debates kicked off earlier this year, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo was challenged by his rival Prabowo Subianto’s campaign team to conduct one of the debates in English. The president politely declined, TODAY reported.

And last week, a Parti Islam delegate called for Arabic to replace Mandarin as the language of instruction in Mandarin-medium schools in Malaysia. Salamiah Md Nor, vice-chief of the Islamist party’s women’s wing, said she did not want to see Mandarin taking position as the country’s second language.

If English is not widely spoken in Indonesia and Mandarin is not welcome in Malaysia, Singapore seems to have no business to be part of this region.

Tan Bah Bah is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a local magazine publishing company.

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