You meet all sorts on the clean-up crews

Central Station | Nury Vittachi 20 Nov 2019

Everybody's doing it. Young and old, local and foreign, rich and poor - the adopt-a-brick movement is springing up everywhere.

The slim, white-haired gentleman spotted dismantling brick barricades in Tsim Sha Tsui East yesterday was none other than Robert Ng, billionaire chairman of Sino Group.

It wasn't just a publicity stunt - he and his children are already known for getting actively involved in "love Hong Kong" type rebuilding campaigns.

Reader Nick Wong, a financier, has also become a regular street cleaner, up early every morning to clear the barricades near Jordan. "I never thought I'd be a trash man," he said.

* * *

International journalists are waking up, readers tell me. For six months, foreign reporters have shoehorned every Hong Kong clash into an ultra-simplistic "Hero Teens Fight Evil Empire" narrative.

Finally, some are realizing it's not that simple. Reader Mark Steven Yong said he thought pigs would fly before the Western media gave a balanced view. "But now I can see a pig gaily flying past my window: Hurrah!" he said yesterday.

* * *

Australian journalist Hedley Thomas phoned a lawyer friend in Hong Kong - and found himself being shouted at.

"You're a journalist and you guys are responsible for a lot of this now!" the lawyer yelled. "Every camera is pointed in one direction to paint this false narrative of the police as brutal bastards and the protesters as heroic democrats with a noble cause."

Hedley did some reading and decided the lawyer was right.

Black shirt members set one man on fire and killed another with a brick but bizarrely "the protesters have suffered little damage to their brand," he said, amazed.

* * *

US journalist Rania Khalek made a similar mental journey. She made a map of protesters whom the international media presented positively - and then compared them with a map of the geopolitical interests of the US and allies.

It was a perfect match. Black-shirt gangs in Hong Kong "are guaranteed the hero treatment in the US media," she concluded. And that was true "no matter how much violence you inflict."

* * *

Hong Kong judge Russell Coleman scolded the international media for using words such as "protesters" and "pro-democracy activists" for vandals and arsonists. "Persons who commit such crimes are simply, and properly described as, 'criminals'," he said. Their politics should be irrelevant.

* * *

One Western journalist of my acquaintance got himself inside PolyU at the weekend. He was later surprised to hear that police had told everyone that they should leave before 10pm on Sunday or face the consequences.

The frontline radicals gave a totally different story to the people inside, he said. "They told us that police had sealed the place and no one could leave."

* * *

More puzzlement: The Hung Hom branch of Standard Chartered Bank was set on fire by black shirt arsonists on Monday. "Excuse me, but we're a British bank, founded by a Scotsman in India," a customer told me. "Hands off."

* * *

The Hong Kong situation is a total mess. Reader TF Liang said: "A friend who lives in Paris said: 'Even the French, who are the kings of going on strike, cannot fathom the Hong Kong riots.' "

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