Sleeping on the streets for Occupy Central while studying for the DSE

Sleeping on the streets for Occupy Central while studying for the DSE

As the Occupy Central protests continue, one ordinary HK student has been there through it all, spending the night in a tent in Mong Kok

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Prince Wong has been sleeping on the streets for more than a month.
Prince Wong has been sleeping on the streets for more than a month.
Photo: Young Wang/SCMP

Prince Wong Ji-yuet is an ordinary Form Six student who is sitting the DSE exam in less than a year. While studying hard for the big test, she has been sleeping on the streets at night and going to school during the day for more than a month.

Her parents and friends have all tried to stop her, but this 17-year-old girl has not backed down.

As a volunteer for Scholarism, Prince has been an occupier since the beginning of the Occupy Central movement: she joined the secondary school boycott rally on September 26, broke into Civic Square on September 27, and spent her first night on the streets on September 28.

She was under a lot of pressure from her parents in the beginning, when clashes between police and protesters happened almost every night. "My parents whatsapped me non-stop, trying to get me to come home," said Prince. She thinks she is lucky that even though her parents don't want her to get involved, they didn't try too hard to stop her. Like many people, Prince has a protective mother, but she said her father supports the movement and has always influenced her with his pro-democracy thoughts.

Now she whatsapps her parents every night to let them know how she's doing at the Occupy sites, so they don't worry too much.

Pressure and worry also comes from her friends. In the early days of Occupy, a group of friends who were concerned for her safety would surround her after school and try to prevent her from going to the protest sites. "But I just have to go," said Prince. Once they realised she was unstoppable, they changed their tactics. "They would text me and ask me to stay safe and buy me food," she said, while some of her classmates would bring her shower gel so that she could shower at school. "It's really great to have classmates like that," she said.

Prince had spent a couple of weeks in Admiralty before she moved to the Mong Kok protest site, which is closer to her school, International Christian Quality Music Secondary and Primary School in Diamond Hill.

Prince Wong, who has been there since the beginning, at the protest site in Mong Kok.
Photo: Young Wang

Her schedule on the streets is not that different from her schedule at home: get out of the tent in the morning and go to school; go back to her "temporary home" after school and stay up studying until after midnight. Scholarism provided her with a tent, but she feels that she has sacrificed a proper rest and a sense of security nonetheless.

At a rally in Admiralty on the night of October 26, she read a letter to her parents. "I have so much to tell you, but we can't talk face to face, so I'd like to put my thoughts into a letter for you," she wrote. "I'm sorry, really sorry … the occupation has made it difficult for me to keep up with studies. I have struggled countless times … but if you let me choose again, I would still be willing to storm into Civic Square; I would still decide to stay overnight at the beginning of occupation."

She had promised her parents that she wouldn't engage in illegal activities, which she broke as soon as she turned 17. It was her birthday when she charged into Civic Square.

Around 100 protesters broke into the Civic Square forecourt outside government headquarters in Admiralty on September 26 after a week-long gathering.
Photo: Sam Tsang/SCMP

"It was sudden," Prince recalled. After a 45-minute discussion and a quick vote, students decided to take action. She still seems passionate when talking about that night: "[When we charged into the square,] I wouldn't have thought that I'd end up sleeping on the streets for a month." She retreated from the square at 3am on the day of her 17th birthday. "It wouldn't be great for secondary students to get arrested at the time, that's why most Scholarism members retreated earlier," she explained.

Prince avoided arrest, but police asked her for details and reserved the right to arrest her.

Is she worried about the legal consequences? Yes, of course, but "what's done is done", she said.

Years ago, Prince never thought she would one day become someone who occupies the streets. She always thought that joining marches and helping out at stalls was all she could do. During her two years volunteering for Scholarism, her disappointment in the government has grown. "When you have done a lot and the response from the government has been negative … you start to think that so-called radical actions might be necessary," said Prince.

For a DSE student, school is as important as civil disobedience. On the first night of her "sleepover", Prince wasn't sure what she needed to bring to the tent, except for one thing: her school uniform - "without it, I wouldn't be able to get into school in the morning".

Watch as we followed Prince for a day to see what it's like

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Sleeping on the streets

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