HONG KONG – At first the students sat outside Hong Kong's government complex. Then the broader Occupy Central civil disobedience movement joined them to call for the right for the people in this Chinese territory to elect their leader. The protest spread and the police's use of tear gas at the weekend shocked more citizens out onto the streets.
Overnight into Wednesday, police were hardly visible and the tens of thousands of people roamed freely. Here are some snapshots showing the atmosphere on Hong Kong's streets:
By early evening Tuesday, student Gordon Lam had been in a standoff with police for 20 hours. Much of his time outside the police headquarters had been spent having discussions about democracy with other protesters sitting on the road leading to the barricade. At one point the night before, a protester with a megaphone had calmed some in the crowd who had been teasing the police on the other side of it. "We just want to stay on the street and state our view," said Lam, 20.
As people drift home for a rest and a shower, a call for reinforcements goes out on Facebook: "People are going, can people please come."
"I really hope that there will be a true democracy in Hong Kong," Lam said. "Of course the chief executive should step down but that's not the main issue; he's just a puppet of the central government. If he steps down there will be another puppet to take his place."
UNDER THE COBBLESTONES
Among the crowds sitting on the ground fanning themselves in the evening heat were two language students, Mathias Chan and Andy Cheng, who want the world to know what is happening in their city in hopes of pressuring Beijing. They made signs out of the sides of cardboard boxes in English — "Peace" on one side and "Democracy is our request" on the other; in German: "Enough is enough. We fight for democracy;" and French: "Sous les paves la plage," or "Under the cobblestones, the beach," used by French students in protests in May 1968.
They post photos on Facebook and Instagram and hope their friends who they met when studying abroad will "like" their posts and so more people in turn will see them.
"We don't want this movement to be something that happened, and nothing," said Chan, 23, who is studying European Studies and German.
"We're Chinese, yes, but we're a bit different from mainlanders and we still have a chance to fight for democracy. We may not have Facebook tomorrow. We never know what the Chinese government may impose on us. We have a saying in Chinese that when we are in a safe situation we have to be alert for a dangerous future."
They emailed their professors for permission to miss their classes. In one reply, the teacher said: "You have to take care of yourselves. No violence." Another tutor simply wrote: "Sous les paves la plage."
RAIN AND LIGHT
A brief respite from the night heat came with the thunderous downpour that had protesters jumping to their feet, opening the ubiquitous umbrellas and quickly sharing around rain jackets. The rain energized what had become a largely lethargic crowd and, as it thundered down, the cheers got louder and determination reappeared.
Ink ran from handwritten notes taped to the concrete slope of a highway that inches down toward the government offices — a "democracy wall" that had sprouted up a couple of hours earlier when students started handing out paper.
When the rain stopped shortly afterward, people switched on their mobile phone lights and stretched out their arms in the air, and the sea of protesters lit up with white lights and chants of "come on, come on, come on!"
One wet piece of paper, directed at Hong Kong's leader C.Y. Leung, still read: "This is not your city to rule."
To the west toward the city's Central Business District, a megaphone was being passed around for people to share their thoughts and stories about the past few days. Dozens stood and listened as Baldur Woo described his shock at being tear gassed while manning a first aid station on Sunday evening near the government offices. He and other volunteers had to run away while making sure no one fell over in the panic, he said. "I felt like I was choking. My throat had a burning sensation. My eyes couldn't stop tearing. After two days my throat is still losing sound and I can't speak too much."
Next up, standing beside the banner on the ground that read: "Age of Resistance: Sharing Session," was a Chinese trader from Shanghai, who spoke up in support of the protests.
"Hong Kong serves as a beacon," he said. "If Hong Kong can see democracy, the Chinese people can see a bit of light."
"The real reason why China won't let Hong Kong have democracy is they are afraid other places in China will follow Hong Kong's example," he said, only agreeing to be identified by his surname, Liu. "If Hong Kong has the right to choose the chief executive, why can China not choose their leader?"
KEEP OFF THE GRASS
People streamed along the roads of the CBD, sitting on sidewalks, sitting and standing on the edge of traffic barriers and on the roads. But not a single person disobeyed the "Keep off the grass" sign at the Cenotaph, the war memorial. "It's respectful," said one protester.
A few meters away, another protester was using a megaphone to remind people not to leave any trash behind. Across from him, a secondary school teacher had climbed on top of a bus stop and was painting over red graffiti that had read: "Dismiss the government." Alex Ho, who teaches ethics and biology, said he had seen a man spraying it on the side of City Hall the night before. On Tuesday night Ho returned with a bucket of white paint.
"This is our responsibility, to try and be a good citizen, not to damage Hong Kong but to try and show peace and love," said the teacher, 34. The cover-up finished, he received applause and a "good job, man!"
Below him, helpers had stretched out black sacks and newspapers to protect the ground from paint splashes.
WATER AND BISCUITS
While the student and Occupy demonstrations have been overwhelmed by a spontaneous protest movement with no leaders, the uncoordinated actions have a regimented feel to them. The crowds make way for and cheer a line of motorbikes that frequently zooms in with supplies that are then carried to numerous stations handing out water, biscuits, bread, towels and cooling gel patches. A group of 16-year-old schoolboys turned up after school Tuesday and went straight to one supply station to volunteer to give out food and drink.
Groups of protesters take it upon themselves to pick up litter and carry bin bags through the crowds. Recycling stations separate waste, including one outside the government complex with banana skins stuffed into six empty large water bottles.
"The protest is not supposed to be organized but it is very organized," said advertising director Noel Yuen, 35, on her way home from taking part in the overnight civil disobedience.