Chaai Daan Che

A New Year’s Day treat. Off for a bicycle protest procession with the best-acronymed political group in Hong Kong, the LSD (League of Social Democrats). We’re protesting  the upcoming “election” of the Chief Executive, Donald Tsang Yam Kuen–he’ll be rubber stamped in March 2007 by a whopping 800 of the city’s nearly 8 milliion citizens. Foes have dubbed it the “small circle” (siu hyun ji)  election, so instead of the usual Hong Kong protest drill of strolling with placards and loudhailers  from Wan Chai to Central, we are going to chaai daan che –ride bikes. The LSD’s strategy masterminds (in other words, Longhair Leung Kwok Hung ) are riffing on the metaphor: small circle=small wheels. He’s always got a great gimmick, that boy. 

And a knack for Cantonese puns. Today’s slogan: “Chaai Daan Che, Chaai Siu Hyun Ji Seun Geui ” plays on the double meaning of the verb “chaai “–it can mean ride, as in  “ride a bike” but it literally means “to step on”. So today the LSD and its supporters will “Step on a bicycle, Step on the Small Circle Elections.”

When Leung told me about today’s plan, I immediately told him to save me a bike. He looked a little surprised: I usually watch and follow at demonstrations, the journalist’s habit. But I couldn’t pass up a chance to zoom freely through the busy concrete corridors of downtown HK. Hong Kong, unlike Mainland China, skipped the bicycle era. It’s a car, subway, train and bus culture, and I’ve never seen anyone dare to ride a bike in Central. To do so would be certain death by taxi, or by cardiac arrest from the pollution and the steep hills.

But Leung and LSD secured a police permit for the demo, which means we’ll have a clear dedicated bike lane and motorcycle escorts all the way from Wan Chai. It’s a rare, perfect gorgeous day, no haze, 70 degrees. I dig around in my wardrobe, find a red shirt (LSD’s colors are red, natch) and jump in a taxi and get to Southorn Sports Ground just before the launch at 2.

Here we are lined up and ready to go. That’s Lau San Ching in the foreground–the HK democracy and human rights activist who spent 11 years in a Mainland Chinese jail.

I ride around the sports ground in circles with the other protestors for a while, testing my wheels.  There are about 60 of us, and many of the Hong Kongers are wobbling on their daan ches. No surprise–how many Hong Kong kids grow up with space and flat roads to ride on? Wobbling directly in front of me is an especially geeky guy wearing expensive casual weekend duds and suede Tod’s driving shoes. Really, he should be wearing a helmet, I think to myself, while wondering about the $500 loafers. The LSD prides itself as the party of the grassroots HK working class.

Then I look up and see the bike rider is lawyer Alan Leong, the Legislative Councilor and Civic Party stalwart who is staging a quixotic run against Donald Tsang for Chief Executive.

Back story: Leong is running against Donald to protest the stacked, un-democratic faux election. The LSD thinks that tactic is stupid, because it makes the whole theater seem legitimate. So there’s been a family feud going on between the two big players in the HK democracy movement.  And Leong really should not be here riding his bike around in the small circles.

“This was Wong Yuk Man’s idea, to invite him” my LSD buddy Andrew tells me later. Smart move by the LSD party chief. The Hong Kong press has been in the middle of a feeding frenzy, portraying the pan-Democratic camp as split, weak and bickering. But tomorrow the papers will be filled with snaps of Alan Leong struggling for balance on his small circle wheel bike, hugging Long Hair.

Speaking of Long Hair…..

So, when I saw the media feeding frenzy around Alan Leong I wondered what could possibly top that as today’s media event. Then Long Hair shows up in a wheelchair wearing a gold mask. On his chest, over the Che Guevara t-shirt, he’s wearing a placard with Alan Leong’s name in Chinese on it (Leong Ka-Kit. ) One of LH’s long-time protest buddies pushes the chair down the road in the middle of our bike parade. Ten minutes before, Leung and Leong were hugging, now LH is yelling at the top of his lungs, “I’m Alan Leong and I have a Political Handicap!”

Welcome to HK political theater. It’s really the best. Also the best –glorious, actually–is riding fast down Queensway on a rusty, clunky mountain bike on a beautiful day,  the road made empty for the occasion by the vigilant HK traffic police. Over by the now-vacant Tamar site, there’s a gap in the skyscrapers that lets the breeze from the harbour whoosh through. For a moment, the wind is in my hair (my LSD red baseball cap flies off behind me), and the smell of the ocean is in my nose.

This really is a once in a lifetime experience. Soon the HK gov’t will start building its mega-headquarters complex on Tamar site. Forget about sea breezes in this part of town. This highway-obsessed government is never going to put bike lanes up here, either. Unless…unless…someday these small circle elections are scrapped in favor of universal suffrage, and the Hong Kong people get a government with some accountability….

I chaai my daan che a little bit faster.

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