HONG KONG – May peered into the dark hole. The glow of her friends' headlights showed a hint of dirty, gray water, but not all the shit or cockroaches that floated inside. Under May's feet was Hong Kong's sewage and sewer pipe labyrinth system – and her best chance to escape the university campus where the police had held her.
May is 21 years old and has studied, although she is small in frame and big eyes might make you think she is still a teenager. The struggle at the university was the toughest and longest that May had ever fought, even after spending months at the front. At night, she still heard the pounding of rubber bullets and the screams of demonstrators caught by the police while trying to sleep.
Hong Kong was engulfed in protests for almost six months – initially over a controversial extradition law, which has since been repealed, but soon developed into demands for greater police responsibility and full democracy. Over time, demonstrations have evolved from mass marches to street battles. However, after a November 11 strike struck the city in chaos, universities across Hong Kong unexpectedly became the central battlefield, culminating in a 12-day police siege at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University campus.
BuzzFeed News spent two weeks on campus and on the street talking to dozens of students, members of the front line, and medical professionals about how the struggle at the university became one of the darkest chapters of the protracted struggle for democracy in Hong Kong. While practicing Molotov cocktails or learning to shoot a bow and arrow in the swimming pool, students surrounded the police and threatened with lethal violence – a struggle that continued between democracy-friendly demonstrators and a government they remained loyal to Beijing has tightened.
Before the two-week siege officially ended, Hong Kong voted in a number of democracy-friendly city councils that were widely viewed as a referendum to support the ongoing protests. And U.S. President Donald Trump would sign the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which allows the United States to sanction Chinese and Hong Kong officials for human rights violations. Beijing was angry and would respond with its own sanctions; Meanwhile, residents drank champagne on the street to celebrate these rare victories.
While these events were happening, some students remained trapped at the Polytechnic University and became more and more desperate when the police refused to reach for the campus.
Finally May and her friends decided that they could not wait any longer. Facing a possible 10-year riot in case of submission to the police, she slowly let herself down into the sewers. With a compass and a headlamp, May crawled through the opening of her stomach with a gas mask to filter the smell.
There are more than 150,000 maintenance hole covers in Hong Kong. When she crawled, May noticed that there were several different tunnels to take.
Even with the help of maps, she wasn't sure where she might show up – or if she would come out of the sewers at all.
Ivan Abreu / SOPA Images / LightRocket via Getty Images
Protester on the campus of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
It started with the death of a student.
In the early morning hours of November 4, Alex Chow fell out of a parking garage when the police fired tear gas to remove protesters from the area. The 22-year-old died of a brain injury in the autumn a few days later. All over the city, people held vigils to mourn the loss. Protest chants called for revenge.
Via Telegram, an encrypted messaging app, demonstrators organized a strike this week to close the city and polled to determine the day and time. They asked the residents to stay home from school and work and called it the "morning deal".
In a residential area of the city called Sha Tin, 20-year-old Lee woke up to the strike at around 3 am on Monday – a week after Chow's fall. Dressed in black, the protesters' standard uniform, she pulled her hair into a low ponytail that exposed a few delicate ear holes and left her dormitory at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). In the dark, she and other students started collecting materials and headed for the sprawling eight-lane freeway that hugs one side of the campus. The rest of the university is carved into the side of a mountain, and the hilly terrain and green paths make it a natural fortress.
Together, Lee and her group dragged items such as bricks, cardboard boxes, and bicycles to Block Tolo Highway – an important thoroughfare that commuters drive to Hong Kong Island, where the city's main business district is located. Others set fire to the tracks at a nearby subway station to keep people from going to work. It was one of several strategic locations where demonstrators had planned operations to paralyze the city.
"The original goal was to block the road and the trains and not fight the police," said Lee. BuzzFeed News identifies protesters by first name or English nickname due to the widespread fear of arrest.
The strike in the whole city had led to clashes early in the morning. In Hong Kong, videos of police officers firing live bullets at protesters, including a man who was hit in the abdomen at around 7 a.m. and a police motorcyclist who staggered among protesters and tried to beat them, woke up.
This morning, the police arrived outside CUHK, where the students were still working to block the road. Before 8 a.m., officers started shooting pellets filled with pepper spray or pepper balls at students on a bridge crossing the highway. Known simply as "Bridge Two", it is one of four main entrances to the university.
Station where demonstrators set fire
from Hong Kong
Students in stock
Carts made of bricks
Molotov cocktails and stacked classroom chairs for barricades here
Tear gas was also fired
on Sir Philip Haddon-Cave
Where there were many clashes and tear gas was fired
Where the police cars were parked
BuzzFeed News; Google Earth
Lee was nearby when police fired and threw some stones back for the first time, but she was not prepared for a confrontation with the police. There was no standoff or large crowd that dispersed and which usually attracted police fires. And the universities had never seen any clashes before. Lee had no protective gear like goggles or a gas mask with him this morning.
"Nobody really expected them to attack the university," said Jane, a 23-year-old student at CUHK.
About six miles south of CUHK, students at the Polytechnic University tried to block the tunnel that connects the Kowloon side of Hong Kong with Hong Kong Island. Police entered the campus and fired tear gas after protesters threw Molotov cocktails. And that morning, police also used tear gas at the University of Hong Kong, where students also blocked roads.
While protests lasting months led to clashes at the airport, in shopping centers and at subway stations, November 11th was the first time tear gas was fired at universities – three locations were hit in one day, and eleven colleges had canceled classes.
Lee and her group from CUHK set off without protecting themselves. The police didn't move. They had left Hong Kong University and Polytechnic University that morning, but police vans remained parked at CUHK at the foot of Bridge Two. A number of riot police formed a circle on top of the bridge and was firmly at the entrance to the school. The barrier was designed to prevent students from throwing things onto the highway, they said.
The presence of the police was reported on campus, and students clustered nearby behind makeshift barriers from umbrellas and athletics hurdles.
"It was getting more and more exciting because the police were still there and the students were gathering," said Lee.
Sopa Images / Getty Images
A demonstrator with his self-made bow and arrow.
Bricks, Molotov and tear gas flew from all angles on Tuesday afternoon as students fought with the police at the intersection of the CUHK bridge and the main campus street. The police continued to occupy the bridge overnight. A university official had tried to persuade students to withdraw, but this had only fueled tensions.
"Why do we have to withdraw? This is still our place, our home, ”Lee recalled. Instead, the students pushed their barriers toward the riot police.
After about half an hour, the police stormed through the front of the demonstrators and wrestled with the students, making several arrests. A student was led away, his hair was smeared with blood and ran down his face. Others ran to the athletics stadium and locked the gates to protect themselves. They dragged high jump mats to the gates and set them on fire. Dozens of police officers went deeper into the campus, followed the students, kindled their tear gas canisters on the route, and sent students to the stands.
The police finally retreated to the bridge while the demonstrators took refuge up the street. But they took a little break and methodically prepared to defend their campus. Some smashed sports shot put bricks into smaller pieces, poured paint thinner into bottles to make a supply of Molotov cocktails, or brought chairs out of classrooms to build larger barricades.
Jane, the 23-year-old university student, said she tried to help by building other roadblocks with a group of demonstrators nearby.
“We will never win on weapons. So we could only imagine distracting or distracting them. “
In the afternoon, CUHK chief Rocky Tuan tried to negotiate directly with police officers who remained at the bridge. But when he came back to speak to students, the compromise he offered did little to calm things down. Tuan said the police would retreat to the bottom of the bridge if the students stopped throwing things on the highway.
Many felt cheated and angry – in the end, the police only agreed to pull back about 20 meters.
] "Where have you been the last two days?" Someone called to Tuan as students crowded around him. "Could you promise that tear gas or rubber bullets will no longer be fired on campus?" Asked another pointedly. A student pressed his knees to his chest and began to sob when it became clear that the police would not leave campus.
“The police shouldn't be at the university. They broke into our apartment and arrested our people, ”said a determined student at the front. "If the police don't leave the bridge, we won't leave it."
Fights broke out again that night as the students spent hours trying to force the police to retreat from the bridge and set fire to their way endlessly Volleys of Molotov cocktails. They blocked the road to school with dumpsters and plastic barriers and set them on fire to keep the police from rushing to campus as before. Flames licked branches and police shields as students fired more and more Molotov from behind umbrellas. Even in battle, someone managed to hold up a black protest flag.
This night was different from the street battles that had become routine in the past five months. While the strategy was "like water" for a long time – to disappear and re-fuse in different parts of the city to keep the police busy and to avoid arrest – this was now a steadfast struggle that focused on a close one Corridor between bridge and campus concentrated – only the width of some vehicles.
When the bodies crowded onto the bridge, the demonstrators also became easy targets for the police, who fired a round of rubber bullets and bean bags in quick succession.
"It was so dangerous because it was so full," said Samuel, a volunteer for first aid and a student who was studying pharmacy and had come to help. "They were hit, and then we had to go in and pull them out."
According to a government report, the police fired more than 2,300 shots of tear gas that day. This corresponded to around a quarter of all tear gas rounds fired since the protests began in June and most tear gas that was fired in a single day – most of it was on the CUHK bridge. The clouds of smoke became so dense that demonstrators tried to purify the air with leaf blowers. First aid volunteers said they had to carry people affected by the smoke up to a mile before they could find relief.
injuries, ”said Darren Mann, a surgeon in Hong Kong who showed up to help after a call to doctors about telegrams came out. The school's gym became a makeshift triage center. Mann quickly counted the wounds, burns, bruises, and bleeding that he had treated all night.
“These are the wounds of the war. They are the same everywhere, ”he said.
Dramatic pictures of smoke and angry fires on the bridge followed Justin, a high school student and frequent frontliner, who was watching the live stream from his phone. When he couldn't sleep, he showed up at the university at 3 am and went straight to the bridge to help. Justin was one of hundreds who arrived on campus all day long when news of the clashes spread. While on campus, it was bigger than just the students.
"It was not about defending the school, it was about defending the fight." If we don't protect the people protesting on campus, it means we don't care, ”Justin said.
The police had already withdrawn, but hundreds of demonstrators did not leave the bridge that night. Some nodded against the knees or shoulders of others, others like Justin kept an eye out for the police and remained vigilant.
Nobody knew when the police could return.
Anthony Wallace / Getty Images
A bust of the late hotel tycoon Hui Yeung Shing on the CUHK campus.
On Wednesday morning, some of the students were still curled up under silver blankets and slept in the gym. Two girls poured hot water at the front desk into cups of instant noodles for people who were hungry. Some took a shower in the locker rooms in the basement. There were piles of fresh clothes, sorted by size, for people who got cold or got wet from the water cannon.
supplies continued to flow into the school. Buses drove in with bags full of hot meals, clothing and other equipment such as fresh gas mask filters. People across Hong Kong joined in to help. Others showed up to help – to clear away debris, pick up garbage from the night before, or just act as an additional body if the police returned.
“The point is that we like this area, this place. It is our home. We want to protect our home, ”said John, a 22-year-old student who helped pick up trash.
The campus was quieter, but everyone was careful to see if the police would return. CUHK student association president Jacky So filed an injunction with the Supreme Court hoping to keep the riot police permanently off campus. It asked the police not to enter the university and not to use mass control equipment.
The lesson has already been canceled. But at the end of the day, the rest of the semester would also be canceled, which only underscores how the protests had broken down some routines of normal life. Still, Jane and other CUHK students were like all other college kids at times. They admitted that they were happy not to have classes when they were hanging out in the grass on Wednesday in front of their dorm. "I should give a presentation today," said Jane.
"I had three essays this week!" Interjected her friend. she added.
The Hong Kong police condemned the demonstrators' actions at a press conference and said the university had "become a breeding ground for rioters and criminals." Police officers strongly suspected that the school was turned into a weapon. Many demonstrators insist that their actions have become more aggressive only in response to the police and the government's failure to respond to their demands. For months, several demonstrators have been demanding that police be made more accountable, calling for charges to be dropped, protesters released, and an independent investigation into police violence.
"I throw cocktails, but the purpose is not to hurt the cops. It's about stopping their attacks. It is a defense weapon. "Said Justin, the student who showed up at CUHK. Frontliners often share roles in the protests. The Molotovs are called" magic "and people like Justin who throw them are called" magicians ".
The Supreme Court agreed with the police that officials had reason to enter the campus by force. Bridge collisions and refusal of injunction.
Many students stayed on campus and were preparing on another police advance, but officials did not return to CUHK.
The whole city was shocked at how the authorities had acted on one of the most brutal nights of protests against the university to date, with at least 100 injuries Other schools, such as the University of Hong Kong, Polytechnic University and Baptist University, started to make their own preparations – building barriers and V to store supplies – if the police tried to get on their campus for a few days at CUHK, mostly looking after the police, and then to the Polytechnic on Friday, as the number of demonstrators there continued to increase. His father had already cut his monthly allowance and canceled his phone plan because of his participation in the riots. The 19-year-old is scheduled to start his first year at university next year, but is not sure if he will do well on his exams after missing so much school because of the protests. Higher education seems less important than continuing its struggle on the front anyway.
"Hong Kong is a big deal right now because everything is happening," he said. "I don't think I should stop."
Inside the Polytechnic University, hidden in the dense Kowloon district, students collected bows and arrows that they had found under the archery equipment of the campus. Justin learned to shoot in one of the classrooms that had been converted into a practice area. The demonstrators began to disassemble and store the spokes in the umbrellas for use as additional arrows. The school's drained swimming pool was also a place to practice throwing Molotov cocktails. The repeated explosions of glass and fire left black spots on the pool floor. A cook was preparing meals in the canteen and there were piles of dry food and snacks.
“There were gas masks – everything you need. Even Calvin Klein underwear, ”said Justin.
Bing Guan for BuzzFeed News
The campus of the Polytechnic University.
The Polytechnic University was more vulnerable than the CUHK. The students had coverage of the mountainous terrain of the campus at CUHK, which could offer potential escape routes. But Polytechnic was in the middle of a dense neighborhood on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong. The campus was flat and the buildings were arranged in rows. There were only a few exits.
When the police started firing tear gas early Sunday, November 17, Justin, who had been at the Polytechnic for a few days, was on the ground floor of a school building. Throw Molotov cocktails at authorities just a few meters away.
The demonstrators at the Polytechnic had prepared for this. The street in front of the school was filled with nails to damage the tires of vehicles that came too close. And on the second floor of one of the front buildings, demonstrators had made makeshift catapults from plastic helmets and thick resistance bands from the university gym to throw bricks and Molotov cocktails over the school gates.
Justin had missed the fight on the bridge at CUHK, but after months of working as a front liner, the relentless hour-long clash with the police at the Polytechnic became the most intense fight he'd ever seen.
May, the 21-year-old student, arrived around noon and worked as a fireman at the front, grabbing the tear gas canisters fired by the police and throwing them back or pouring water on them.
Others continued to join the front during the clashes during the day. Isaac, a student at Polytechnic, arrived in the afternoon. He was tall and lanky with hair falling over his glasses and showed up with a friend.
"I wanted to go to CUHK, but we couldn't get there," he said. "So my partner and I just went to the front and helped protect the school from the police."
During the night there was little sign that either side would stop. The police announced in a message on their Facebook page that anyone leaving school could file charges against rioting that could result in up to 10 years in prison. Police officers said they would use lethal force if necessary.
Police warnings were met with unrest on social media, although they did little to discourage demonstrators. The doctor, also working at the CUHK, and some of his colleagues decided to leave the polytechnic campus and go to the hospitals, where they could help with the increasing number of injuries.
"It was a difficult decision because doctors never like going," he said. "But we agreed that there was no point in us all being arrested because it only affected care."
At around 10 p.m., a group of colleagues overtook the police cordon. when he thought it was still safe to go. A second group of doctors, who were not far behind him, were arrested by the police. His phone started to ring. When he went back to see what was happening, he saw his colleagues kneeling on the floor and wearing their safety vests labeled "Doctor" or "Nurse", the hands of which were zipped behind the back.
officials later said The arrest was justified because they suspected that demonstrators were claiming to be medical doctors or journalists.
"It is outrageous that they are arrested during medical care," Mann rejected the police statement. He wrote to the Lancet in November about how the Hong Kong police had broken international standards.
While the fighting continued at the Polytechnic, May watched one of her friends get hit in the head with a tear gas canister and fall to the ground. Without thinking, she put her right hand on the canister and burned herself. A first aid helper wrapped it up and she quickly returned to battle.
Parking garage from which Isaac escaped through the sewer
First aid, canteen with food, beds
Toll Plaza tunnel
Demonstrators set fire to this entrance
Demonstrators set fire to this entrance and clashed with the police
BuzzFeed News; Google Earth
"I could only rest for a few minutes," she said. "I kept seeing people who were shot by the police. You just fell. I didn't know if they were dead or not. “
After more than 20 hours of fighting, the police stormed the campus at around 6:00 am on Monday – a full week after the police first occupied the CUHK bridge. They started grabbing the students from the bottom of the stairs at the main entrance to the school. To prevent arrests, the demonstrators threw more Molotov cocktails at the entrance. A massive fire broke out and crackled with chemicals, chairs, metal railings, and pieces of cardboard. Another huge fire raged at the bridge near the campus.
When the school was still shrouded in the dark of the night, there were screams and the rapid beating of people's feet in panic. Some wept in fear as the flames created disoriented, thick black smoke and intense heat without a safe exit on campus. A few demonstrators shouted at people trying to extinguish the flames. It was still a strong defense against the police, but now they were all trapped.
Isaac was knocked down in a corridor outside one of the front buildings when he and others tried to escape both the fire and the police. Even through his mask, tears came to his eyes.
“We didn't know what was going on. The air was so cloudy. We couldn't see anything, ”he said. "I couldn't even move a bit. Everyone was so close."
He and others finally stormed the glass doors of the building to escape and ran to hide on higher floors also retired from the main entrance when the fire broke out and finally fell asleep outside after 18 hours of tear gas canisters. Justin stayed around and continued shooting arrows and throwing molotovs charged with adrenaline.
While others panicked gerieten und versuchten, vom Campus wegzulaufen oder von der Brücke zu springen, versuchte Justin, ruhig zu bleiben und anderen zu raten bleiben, da noch so viele Polizisten die Schule umzingelten.
„Dies ist eine der Taktiken der Polizei. Sie wollen nur, dass du den Verstand verlierst “, sagte er.
Bing Guan für BuzzFeed News
Zwei Demonstranten während des Kampfes mit der Bereitschaftspolizei an der Polytechnischen Universität.
Nur wenige Stunden, nachdem die Polizei am Montagmorgen das Polytechnic gestürmt hatte, kniete eine junge Frau mit gefalteten Händen im Gebet vor dem Campus nieder.
"Ich bin so verängstigt und verrückt", der 24 -Jahre-alt sagte, als sie aufstand, als Tränen über ihre Wangen auf eine Gesichtsmaske fielen. "Ich bete zu Gott für unsere Schüler."
Als Reaktion auf die Belagerung durch die Polizei versammelten sich Menschenmengen um die Schule, als sich Bilder und Videos der surrealen Szenen auf dem Campus schnell verbreiteten. Viele Menschen waren sichtlich erschüttert. Die Polizeisperre blockierte sogar die Einreise von Presse und Medizinern.
Gegen Mittag begannen die Demonstranten, Ziegelsteine auszugraben und Bambusgerüste abzubauen, um kunstvolle Barrikaden auf den Straßen zu errichten. "Save Poly" war mit schwarzer Sprühfarbe auf ein Straßenschild in der Nähe der Schule gekritzelt. Weitere Bereitschaftspolizisten wurden entsandt, um auf Demonstranten in der Umgebung der Schule zu reagieren.
"Wir versuchen, die Studenten zu schützen", sagte Robin, ein 24-jähriger Student, während andere um ihn herum arbeiteten. "Wenn die Polizei zu uns kommt, wird sie die Aufmerksamkeit der Studenten auf sich ziehen und sie können frei werden."
Wie andere war er in der Nacht zuvor an seinem Telefon festgeklebt geblieben.
Ich konnte letzte Nacht überhaupt nicht schlafen und bin einfach rausgekommen, weil ich nicht mehr rumgesessen habe. “
Die Polizei reagierte, um die Massen zu zerstreuen, und es kam den ganzen Tag über zu Zusammenstößen Chatham Road und Nathan Road, zwei Hauptstraßen, die zur Schule führen.
Adnan Abidi / Reuters
Eine provisorische Barrikade aus Stühlen und anderen Abfällen an der Polytechnischen Universität.
Selbst bei einer stetigen Versorgung mit Molotow war das Ungleichgewicht offensichtlich, als die Bereitschaftspolizei mit einem Panzerwagen die Chatham Road hinauf und hinunter fuhr, während ein Offizier Gummigeschosse und Tränengas von der Oberseite des Fahrzeugs abfeuerte. Ein Wasserwerfer rollte neben dem Auto und feuerte schwere Sprengungen von chemisch geschnürtem Wasser auf die Menge ab.
Am Abend, nur ein paar Straßen von den Zusammenstößen entfernt, versuchten ein paar Hundert Menschen eine andere Technik und inszenierten eine Setzen Sie sich an die Polizeistation und hoffen Sie auf Anzeichen dafür, dass es den Schülern gut geht. Sie hielten Schilder mit der Aufschrift „save our students“ in Englisch und Kantonesisch.
Eine Mutter und ein Sohn saßen nahe am Kordon und warteten darauf, von Moses, einem 16-jährigen Gymnasiasten, zu hören war am Samstag zur Polytechnischen Universität aufgebrochen. "Er hatte am Montag Schule, also sagte ich ihm, er solle seine Hausaufgaben mitbringen", sagte seine Mutter zu BuzzFeed News. "Er ist kein Radikaler. Er ist ein Kind. "
Ein Pastor versuchte auch, mit den Bereitschaftspolizisten hinter dem orangefarbenen Klebeband zu sprechen und den Zugang zu verhandeln, um zumindest die humanitäre Situation der Studenten zu überprüfen. Später hielten Dutzende von Sozialarbeitern ihre Registrierungskarten hoch, um Zugang zu erhalten. Aber die Polizei stand mit steinernen Gesichtern da und bewegte sich nicht.
Tausende mehr füllten am Montagabend die Straßen rund um die Polytechnische Universität. As they marched toward police cordons, they chanted “Save Poly.” Protesters formed long chains to bring supplies to the front lines in an attempt to break the police’s perimeter of the university.
But at every entrance, police beat back the crowds. They fired tear gas, water cannons, and flash grenades, which exploded in large, disorienting bursts of sound and light. On Nathan Road, more live rounds were fired late into the night to warn people away.
Despite the swell of people who filled the streets trying to help, no one made it into the school.
Protesters trapped inside Polytechnic University abseil onto a highway as they try to escape.
Isaac was still inside Polytechnic on Friday after six days on campus. He made several attempts but was unable to escape. His family had been trying to help too, texting him possible exit routes. “I usually had already tried them though,” he said.
Giving himself up to the police wasn’t an option. “Surrender is the offer that our enemy — the government — provides us. And as a protester, we are fighting against the government, we have no reason to accept their offer,” he said.
Still, by that point, many protesters had already gone. Some had managed to shimmy down a rope that dangled off a footbridge on campus and escape with the help of others on motorbikes.
By Tuesday, Moses managed to escape through the sewers, his brother later texted BuzzFeed News.
The Hospital Authority announced that 300 gravely injured people had been sent to 12 different hospitals across the city on Tuesday. Some had hypothermia after being hit by the heavy blast of a water cannon. Others had burns, bruises, or wounds from projectiles. The number of injuries was so high the Hospital Authority called for residents to avoid emergency care unless absolutely necessary, as facilities were clogged with protesters from Polytechnic University.
May eventually surfaced from the sewers — but after some time crawling, she realized she was still inside the campus.
Her knees were bleeding and bacteria from the sewer water had soaked through the bandages on her hand, which still burned after handling the tear gas canister. She was shivering from the cold water when she finally emerged. First aid workers who remained at the school cleaned her hand but warned her from trying the sewers to escape again. It was too risky with her injury.
Police later allowed ambulances into the campus to transport injured people before investigating them for possible charges. May lasted a couple more days after her sewer escape attempt, but she decided to leave in an ambulance when the group she was with wanted to go. It was still a hard decision, as many inside had built a community — dividing chores like cooking and cleaning, and keeping each other entertained. “We were a family,” she said.
May was not arrested, but police recorded her personal information. “I felt like it was surrendering,” she said. “I don’t know if police will show up and still come for me.”
As the days wore on and the number of protesters dwindled, many people went into hiding. The campus became eerily quiet, and many were fearful of undercover cops and revealing possible escape routes to authorities. It was different from the early days of CUHK, when students had first beat back police and the campus teemed with people preparing for the next battle. Their ranks were now worn down and thinned out.
After the first round of arrests, Justin holed up with a group of people hiding in one classroom. Things became more tribal as the days went on — it was easier to trust fewer people and gather supplies for a small group rather than rely on anyone who was still left on campus.
After a week, there was still food around, but leftovers began to rot and the canteen smelled like sour garbage. Trash piled up. Many of the first aid workers had left by the end of the week, but the medic area was still full of supplies, including inhalers, alcohol wipes, and bandages. The gym, where many people had set up yoga mats and sleeping bags, was mostly abandoned.
Justin also left in an ambulance. He didn’t make it through the sewers either. Like May, he had to give his details to the police, but he wasn’t arrested. At first, he said, he thought of fleeing the country, afraid of facing rioting charges. But now, he too has accepted that police could arrest him at any time.
For now they would take a rest, he said, but soon return to the streets. He added, “It’s not going to be a short fight; it’s going to be a long fight.”
May also seemed more resolute after finally getting home.
“Why do teenagers in Hong Kong have to crawl through the sewer just to escape from the police?” she asked. “What kind of government can allow this?”
But some of the protesters did manage to evade the police altogether.
After nearly a week on the campus, Isaac had lain on the ground of one of the parking complexes with a group of friends. A few feet away, a maintenance hole cover had been removed, revealing a route inside the sewer system. They waited to hear from friends on the outside to confirm that someone could pick them up and it was safe to make the attempt.
After a couple of hours, he and the others in his group pulled on gas masks and goggles. One of the girls tied her hair back, and another pulled on dark waterproof pants over her striped cotton pants. A couple of them dropped their phones in ziplock bags to protect them. The rest of their things were contained in dry bags, slung over their shoulders.
When word came that it was safe to leave, one at a time, they eased themselves down the sewer opening. The water was low, splashing around their ankles as they dropped down. And then each of them crouched, disappearing under the archway inside the sewer, headlamps guiding the way.
A few hours later, Isaac texted BuzzFeed News a string of crying emojis and just a few words to confirm he had made it: “Yes finally left.” ●
Bing Guan contributed reporting to this story.