Life in London is interesting, especially when you are attracted not only to cultural events but also open spaces not covered in a tourist guidebook. For many years while living in London, I would make regular visits at daybreak to Stave Hill Ecological Park and the adjoining Russia Dock Woodlands. The areas make up nearly 40 acres of wildlife habitats and biodiversity where over 100 different species of butterflies can be found. On top of Stave Hill one can see the city skyline featuring landmarks such as the London Eye and St. Paul’s Cathedral, as well as the entirety of the nature reserve itself, mostly burnt beyond recognition in the summer. The culprits were said to be the youth who had too much energy and free time on their hands. I can testify to that with my somewhat scary encounter of teenagers who were roaming around one day in the parking lot beneath my flat on the Thames. The sighting of them in a gated community startled me, so I warned that if they did not go I would call 999, the emergency number. I felt lucky to have a camera with me and started flashing it in front of them as proof that I meant business. To my surprise, they began posing for the photos as supermodels would on the Paris catwalk. They were a lovely bunch and meant no harm.
Across the Pacific Rim more than 6,000 miles away from the Rocky Mountains where I now live, I have been closely following in my heart and mind another bundle of teen energy, mostly wrapped in school uniforms as I once was while attending school in the former British colony of Hong Kong. These teenagers, too, meant no harm. They did not break the law by burning up an ecological park. Nor did they express their frustration by setting on fire the stolen cars in it. They did so by turning the busiest streets and motorways of a peaceful industrious society into a battlefield and their campgrounds for more than two and a half months, effectively blocking other citizens from going to work or school, and carrying on with normal life. Some of the protesters were inside the wet markets and shopping malls too, sporadically wielding the open umbrella (a symbol of their movement) like a sword, demanding more freedom and democracy in what is ranked the fifth most global city in the world after New York, London, Tokyo, and Paris.
I could not help but wonder if I too could have been driven by the passion of youth to join the movement if I were a Millennial… And what would become of me if I did or didn’t? Could more freedom set us free or lead us into captivity? Could democracy elevate or corrupt us as a human race? Are we justified by our ends or by our means? When all is said and done, would objective third parties and employers anywhere in the world see me as a problem solver and team player? Or would they write me off as a herd follower and obstinate offender? Would I choose to be part of the solution or part of the problem? Could I tell the difference between the two?