Apart from a momentary glimpse of the sun setting against the Hong Kong skyline before heading south, there is nothing particularly special about going home after work on Citybus route 99. You go straight down King’s Road from Shau Kei Wan, through the Aberdeen Tunnel, then pass Wong Chuk Hang before making the rounds on Ap Lei Chau. The just-full crowd is made up of disengaged passengers, tuning out the day at the office with their earphones or literally nodding off, their sleeping heads swaying back and forth with the turns of the bus. Nothing particularly special.
But one week in July, instead of showing up in the hundreds of thousands at Victoria Park, Hong Kong’s people power made a cameo appearance the day before on Citybus route 99. It was a nondescript affair, largely unnoticed except perhaps in the minds of those of us sitting on the bus at that moment. There were no reporters milling around searching for quotes, and no photographers looking for good crowd shots. No one even whipped out a camera phone. Which is why I feel obligated to make sure, in writing, that what happened on that bus doesn’t get forgotten and that its hero, Citybus driver Chiu King Hong, gets his proper due.
While trotting his bus along the Fortress Hill section of King’s Road, Mr. Chiu realized that a handicapped passenger sitting at the back of the lower deck was in need of help. He stopped the bus at a convenient location so that traffic would not be blocked, then asked the passenger what she needed. Though she was unable to articulate what exactly was wrong, Mr. Chiu had the good judgment to decide she needed an ambulance and so he called 999 to ask for one.
But as he was the individual who had made the call, Mr. Chiu was also responsible for receiving the ambulance. He let the rest of us passengers know as much, opened the doors of the bus, and ensured us that we could transfer to the next bus when it arrived. In the meantime, a kind man sitting in front of me had taken the ill passenger by her arm and found her a proper seat on the sidewalk where she could wait for the ambulance.
No one on the bus seemed to mind the wait. Those that were in a rush quietly got off the bus to look for alternative transportation, and those of us that weren’t sat patiently, understanding Mr. Chiu’s inability—and admirable unwillingness—to abandon his sick passenger.
Until, that is, a grumpy middle-aged man stormed down from the upper deck, demanding to know why the bus hadn’t started moving yet. Mr. Chiu calmly explained the situation to him, only to receive a dose of verbal abuse in return. The man raised his voice and scolded Mr. Chiu for leaving a whole busload of passengers stranded, under the assumption he was speaking on behalf of the entire bus.
He wasn’t. Instantly, without hesitation, several passengers began berating the man, raising their own voices to drown out his, rightfully telling him that Mr. Chiu was hardly at fault and lecturing him on what it means to actually care for others in need. They told him to just get on another bus if he was so desperately pressed for time, and to not be so stingy that he couldn’t afford to pay an extra $7 fare when someone’s health was in danger. In a move that brought quiet smiles to the faces of observing passengers, the man shut up and, defeated, dipped his head to avoid making eye contact with anyone. Several moments later, he wordlessly stepped off the bus.
Soon enough, the ambulance arrived, the ill woman was sent safely on her way, and Mr. Chiu returned to the driver’s seat, taking all of us home safely as well, if slightly later than planned. In all likelihood, he went home that night without fanfare, only to spend the next day, July 1, reading in the newspapers about how disappointing the turnout was at this year’s protest march. He would have read about how the people power that was so evident the last two years is now in decline, or how Hong Kong people have lost their edge.
But as my hero for that week, Mr. Chiu was the clearest reminder to me, even as I walked with 20,000 others to Central Government Offices that Friday, that Hong Kong people had not lost their edge. I don’t mean their money-hungry, need-for-speed, burning-Tung-Chee-Hwa-in-effigy edge. I’m talking about the edge of humanity, of caring for others and respecting everyone’s right to health and safety and general well-being, which is really what we all ultimately want. Universal suffrage, among other things, is but the necessary means.
After the grouch who yelled at Mr. Chiu had gotten off the bus, one passenger declared, “He doesn’t understand how Hong Kong works.” No, and neither do you if you think this town has lost its zeal for democracy just because “only” 20,000 people get on the streets to ask for it.