A Mobile Home
A wanderer for 50 years, who became a protester in the “Umbrella Movement”
Written by Stephanie Yang / Translation by Ng Hon Wah / Photo by LEI Jih-sheng
Inside the High Court building, Lou Tit-man was involved in a lawsuit. He was charged with contempt of court after occupying Mongkok during the “Umbrella Movement” four years before – the pro-democracy demonstrations that started in the autumn of 2014 in Hong Kong. He didn’t agree with the charge and told the judge that his protest had been just.
At the time of his court appearance, Lou Tit-man was 73 years old. He says he’s wandered the streets of Hong Kong for more than 50 years and has received free meals from 124 different places across the territory as he shuttled from one corner of the city to another.
“I sleep on the street; I’ve always slept on the street,” he says.
His personal belongings consisted of a small trolley stuffed with daily necessities and food given to him by passers-by. The most important things he kept inside his backpack. His cherished items he chose to put inside his waist pack, which was old and stained with orange patches and the stitching frayed. While chatting with me, he retrieved a transparent bag from his waist pack – the type you’d use for the freezer. It contained two rumpled-up newspaper articles: one from Apple Daily, the other from Oriental Daily News, both reporting on his court case.
“Occupy Central [provided me with] the happiest days of my life. It was very happy for us, all together, to practise democracy and freedom,” he says.
The initial organisers of Occupy Central launched the campaign on September 18, 2014. Mr Lou joined the throngs that flocked to Admiralty to support the protesters. Mr Lou had been listening to the news on the radio, and rushed to the Star Ferry to join the demonstration. But he didn’t even have his ferry fare and had to beg for the money before travelling to the site at Admiralty.
Shortly afterwards, the Occupy movement also occupied a site in Mongkok. Mr Lou happened to be sleeping on the streets in Mongkok at the time, so he headed to the Occupy site every day. “I often think about the people there,” says Mr Lou.
Prior to the Occupy Movement, he did not wish to apply for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) and says he would try to earn a living. But in the end, he did decide to claim it - because he wanted to use the money to help the cause. HK$3400 per month, “Nearly all the money was spent on distributing food and water there,” he says. He would often buy in bulk from the supermarket. On one occasion, he bought all the cakes and bottled water on a shelf, and dragged it to the street for distribution to the occupiers. He also brought brooms to sweep the streets.
I asked him how he perceived the Occupy Central movement. He said that based on what he heard on the radio, “it was for the people’s benefit, to protest against an unreasonable system” and “to fight for genuine universal-suffrage elections”. I asked him whether he understood the concept of civil disobedience used by the organisers of Occupy Central – so to break the law, but by peaceful means, and, ultimately, to plead guilty. “Yes,” he says, “everybody has to pay the price anyway for the sake of the society”.
After his arrest, he eventually chose to plead not guilty. It was based on moral intuition: “To plead not guilty is to insist on justice. Support the movement and you support it to the end.”
On 26 October 2018, Lou Tit-man was sentenced in the High Court to four months’ imprisonment. He was the first to be imprisoned.
Now his appeal was successful. SoCO’s Social worker applied an accommodation for him. He now lives in a hostel room shared with three other men. He keeps a note-book the size of his palm to record various slang phrases and poems. Eventually, he turns to a certain page and reads: “When I am in abject misery, don’t ask me why.”