This article appeared in the South China Morning Post’s Post Magazine
What happens when you disobey someone in a uniform in Hong Kong? Have you ever seen anyone at it? Cops are beheld with grovelling respect, due or otherwise. But it’s the other kind of uniformed Hongkonger I mean: the orderly, the security lackey, the anonymous yellow-jacketed steward, all of whom reckon themselves to be entrusted with some degree of authority over us. What happens when you disobedy their ilk?
Well, from my limited experience, I should think not very much: it’s the uniform, rather than any power invested in it that cows people. (All the same, they are cowed: Hong Kong is not mainland China but quiescence seems almost a given wherever there are walkie talkies or fluorescent clothing.)
The other day I was waiting to meet a friend outside a mall in Central and had happened to find a perchable spot on which to remove myself from the flow of pedestrians when I was approached by what I took to be an airline pilot: a chap in epaulettes and a headset. “Cannot sit”, he announced. When he was gone I sat down again, but it bothered me that I had not thought to ask him “why?”.
Partly what is at play here is the misguided notion, post-9/11, that “security” staff simply must be obeyed, else there will be chaos. But secondly, the piecemeal privatisation of public space means we are unsure as to where we stand vis a vis men with radios, or indeed who and what they represent. We are not quick enough to tell them to “eff off”. We lie down.
Try as I might, I could never work out quite what the Occupy mob camped out under the HSBC building wanted or stood for. But staying put for so long in their tents under the noses of so many jobsworths merits a little respect.