A Walk in Hong Kong
August 16, 2019 2:08 AM   Subscribe

A Walk in Hong Kong. The ongoing Hong Kong protests have made world news. What is it like to be in the middle of it all? Maciej Cegłowski, aka Idle Words, gives an immersive first-person account of his experience as a sweaty Polish-American in Hong Kong, marching along with protesters and experiencing surprises at every step.
posted by flod (25 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite
 
Thanks for posting this.

The outrage from those acts of violence will provoke the massive protests that shut down the airport on Monday and Tuesday

I mentioned in MeTa that a friend go caught in these, it was surreal to experience vicariously over group chat. They were immediately behind the police line, being evacuated back a bit at a time filming from behind as they watched live news footage from just on the other side of the lines.

I saw tankies posting about those same protests, about the 'cruel nature' of the protestors, and while I certainly don't want to see US flags being waved either, I also think they're deluded if they think they can write all this off as CIA-funded regime change.
posted by Acid Communist at 5:11 AM on August 16 [6 favorites]


An excellent account from the excellent Maciej.
posted by doctornemo at 5:19 AM on August 16 [1 favorite]


(I am curious about the expression "Zeroth World." I don't think I've seen it before.

No Wikipedia entry, although Google points me to this page on the G-Zero notion, which doesn't exactly apply.

There's a 1997 math paper which includes this bit, and seems very different:
...what I call the zeroth problem:
Problem (0): Considering the relevance of the observed data, and other data that might be observed, to the substantive problem.


There are a few posts which use the term as Maciej does. For example,
What this all might lead to is a Zeroth World whose advantage (broadly speaking in terms of development: economic, educational, societal, etc) over the First World might be as large as the advantage of the First World over the Third World.

Should I take this to Ask MeFi?)
posted by doctornemo at 5:29 AM on August 16


A very interesting read, thank you.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 5:56 AM on August 16


Zeroth World, as I've seen it, refers to the island of elites who don't have to worry about a thing as the world slides to shit. Basically another word for the one percent.
posted by kaibutsu at 6:03 AM on August 16 [2 favorites]


Maciej is an international treasure.

I lived in Tokyo for a year, a couple decades ago. It was indeed disorienting to be in a place that had nearly zero crime of any sort (for a cishet white male, anyway), and impressive public infrastructure. Not surprised the experience seems to be the same for Singapore and HK.

I took "zeroth world" as a neologism in the article, one step above "first world", a common US-centric label for e.g. Canada, US, much of western Europe. "Zeroth world" would not really be about one percenters, but about relative social and infrastructural benchmarks compared to e.g. US, where clean public bathrooms is a pipe dream everywhere.
posted by Jubal Kessler at 6:11 AM on August 16 [16 favorites]


> Zeroth World, as I've seen it, refers to the island of elites who don't have to worry about a thing as the world slides to shit. Basically another word for the one percent.

That is not how Maciej uses the term at all.

From the blog entry: "... coming in to the Hong Kong protests from a less developed country like the United States is disorienting. If you have never visited one of the Zeroth World cities of Asia, like Taipei or Singapore, it can be hard to convey their mix of high density, mazelike design, utterly reliable public services, and high social cohesion [...] It’s hard to write articulately about the Five Demands when one keeps getting brought up short by basic things, like the existence of clean public bathrooms."

It's not a reference to class, but to quality of civilization. If the US continues to posit itself as the first world, and refer to those less developed as second and third worlds, then countries where the quality of life exceeds the US's have some right to consider themselves zeroth world.
posted by at by at 6:28 AM on August 16 [22 favorites]


Indeed, I foolishly commented prior to reading. (I often refer to the US as the richest third world country, along similar lines...)
posted by kaibutsu at 6:36 AM on August 16 [1 favorite]


Maciej's site appears extremely slow and unresponsive this morning both on my phone and on my desktop browser. Given that he pursues a cold-html posting policy, i would guess that his site is attracting an unusual amount of traffic today.
posted by mwhybark at 6:44 AM on August 16


It's not a reference to class, but to quality of civilization. If the US continues to posit itself as the first world, and refer to those less developed as second and third worlds, then countries where the quality of life exceeds the US's have some right to consider themselves zeroth world.

We may need a scale, with the US/Australia being 0.9th world, the baseline Western European social democracy being ½th world, Tokyo/Hong Kong being 0th world, and hyperfuturistic Middle Eastern robot surveillance dystopias being -1st or so.
posted by acb at 6:59 AM on August 16




> Maciej's site appears extremely slow and unresponsive this morning both on my phone and on my desktop browser. Given that he pursues a cold-html posting policy, i would guess that his site is attracting an unusual amount of traffic today.
User Archive.is: http://archive.is/4avMm
 
posted by querty at 7:08 AM on August 16 [1 favorite]


The "-world" scale I use is as follows:

Third World: government lacks monopoly on use of force. Citizens are not on a daily level safe from armed factions/gangs/terrorists. e.g. 90's Somalia or Troubles era Northern Ireland.

Second World: repressive government has a monopoly on force. Citizens reasonably fear violence/imprisonment by unaccountable security services acting with impunity. e.g. the Soviet Union.

First World: security services have a monopoly on force and answer to civilian control. Crime and police violence are rare enough that citizens generally feel safe. e.g. Norway (though it's possibly a Second World country for some immigrants)

My impression is that talk of a zeroth world is motivated in part by unwillingness to admit that the United States has become a Second World country.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:26 AM on August 16 [10 favorites]


The original, and possibly still predominant, meaning of "First, Second, and Third World" is underappreciated.
posted by sfenders at 7:54 AM on August 16 [8 favorites]


Others have already cleared up the "zeroth world" thing, I am here to tell you it is very true. Come to a big city in East Asia and see the future. I am not saying it is good, but it is unquestionably more organised and more modern than most of the US. Safer, cleaner, fast cheap Internet and cashless economy, high speed rail, extensive metro systems (also safe and clean)...
posted by Meatbomb at 8:17 AM on August 16 [3 favorites]


So here on Metafilter I learn about this article by MeFi's own Maciej, which I click over to Maciej's Idlewords site to read, and then I bookmark it on my account on Maciej's Pinboard service. Talk about cultural imperialism...
posted by PhineasGage at 8:34 AM on August 16 [10 favorites]


Yes Maciej Cegłowski, a one-man force of Polish-American cultural imperialism with his personal blog and $200k/year bookmark business :-)

I do think his outsider perspective is interesting. Particularly his observations about decentralization in the organization structure and the key role the MTR plays.
posted by Nelson at 9:31 AM on August 16 [2 favorites]


Like Acid Communist, I am not impressed with some of the reactions to what's going on in Hong Kong from folks on the ostensible left. I saw a post the other day that said "COUNTER-REVOLUTION IN PROGRESS ALERT". I mean, yeah, it's weird seeing Hong Kongers waving US or British flags, because neither of those countries will help Hong Kongers when push comes to shove, but leaping to the defense of the CCP as a revolutionary outfit and assuming that all of this is the work of foreign provocateurs is ridiculous. Demanding universal suffrage is not counter-revolutionary.

香港加油!
posted by heteronym at 9:49 AM on August 16 [13 favorites]


Though, if one is a committed Maoist, isn't universal suffrage just “bourgeois liberal democracy” or something equally despicable?
posted by acb at 10:47 AM on August 16


I mean, yeah, it's weird seeing Hong Kongers waving US or British flags

I think Hong Kongers do this primarily as a way to get international attention. Which is why they also hold up protest signs written in both English and Chinese.

And the British flags also serve as a reminder to the 1997 handover, which is the basis of "One Country, Two Systems".
posted by FJT at 11:13 AM on August 16 [8 favorites]


There was a Counterpunch writer that was covering the HK protests saying he thought the size and extent of protests were being exaggerated by Western media. He bases this on his own experience covering protests in other cities. But the other possibility is that Hong Kong's "Zeroth world" infrastructure, civic society, and city services have just made it better able to absorb the protests so far.
posted by FJT at 11:45 AM on August 16 [4 favorites]


Good points, FJT. I suppose it's not really that weird; after all, I have a friend in Hong Kong who continues to fly the colonial flag (literally) despite his being only a few years old when the handover happened. He's currently involved in the protests, too.
posted by heteronym at 11:47 AM on August 16 [1 favorite]


I thought Maciej's first-person style worked well for this piece and found many echoes of my experience in Seattle during the week of WTO protests in November 1999. We hosted some folks who came for the demonstrations and my workplace was extensively disrupted when our warehouse building was occupied on the top floor (it was built on a slope, and the kids did not realize there was a lower floor). The police asked our management for permission to turn off the utilities, which they foolishly acceded to, thereby putting our holiday shipping behind by a week. Teargas in up floors of apartments, check. Days of chaos next to days of humming economic growth. Our main office was directly across the street from the midtown police station and eventually the protests became in part about police conduct: more disruption.

the anti-WTO '99 march was strongly supported by labor and Western US labor unions sent as many people as they could, hundreds of thousands of people in the streets. As it happens, a gig I had had in about 1991 to 1992 involved designing the local labor union logos and badges for many, many, many locals in Washington, California, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, and so forth. These locals pretty much all showed up, and they often had large signs or banners which reproduced the designs I had made for them not quite a decade prior.

That job left a bad taste in my mouth because my boss did not deal with me honestly, in my opinion, and I quit to pursue tech-economy gigs, probably a good call. But seeing my work used in the streets on that day on 1999 made up for it some.

Eventually I was tagged on the ass with not-rubber-bullets but "stinger balls", up by the playfield near the Comet. All the bars were full, every retail business that served food or alcohol was FULL of excited people, and Maciej's response to the snacks fits this experience of mine as well.
posted by mwhybark at 8:33 PM on August 16 [4 favorites]


Maciej’s writing is the best! This was really interesting, especially comparing it to the ongoing protests in Paris.
posted by ellieBOA at 3:07 AM on August 17


A new post from Maciej: A Week With No Tear Gas
posted by vibratory manner of working at 8:49 PM on August 30 [4 favorites]


« Older The 25 Most Important Characters of the Past 25...   |   If you truly know yourself, one outfit is... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments