I am Kinen Kao.
I am a Hongkonger.
I was among the protesters of the 2019 Hong Kong pro-democracy movement.
I want liberty and democracy for my hometown.
I am Kinen Kao.
I am an international student studying atmospheric science.
I want to become a meteorologist.
I want to combat climate change.
Over the last two years, my mind has been jumping back and forth between these two egos. My notes read “hurricanes,” “precipitation” and “cloud physics.” My phone reads “secession trials,” “silenced press” and “a mass exodus.”
But they are not separate. As I enjoy the November snow on campus in Ithaca, I cannot help but have flashbacks to Hong Kong 2019. There, a college was burning in November. There, it was tear gas and rubber bullets, not snow, that were falling across the sky.
Two years ago today, the Hong Kong Police Force besieged the entire campus of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Instead of answering the protesters’ demands, the government hardened their hearts to crack down on dissidents. Thousands of canisters of tear gas were launched. Hundreds of rubber bullets were fired. Water cannons were blasted around the campus. Not until 12 days later did they stop, after everyone on campus — protesters, first aid workers and reporters alike — was arrested.
At that time, my body was in Cornell but my mind was at the barricade. Pictures of injured students swamped my screen. Videos of their tears flooded my newsfeed when they wrote their last words to their families. News of students arrested for “rioting” filled my mind.
It could have been me.
If I hadn’t been a Cornell student, I would have stayed in Hong Kong. I would have joined them in the fight for Hong Kong’s freedom. I would have been injured and arrested and jailed for the next ten years of my life, that is, if I did not die under the barrel of an AR-15 rifle.
But I am alive. I am breathing. I feel the cold Cayuga wind. I see the blue Ithaca sky. Yes, I am alive and am grateful. But am I truly alive? Every morning when I wake up, I am empty. I have no idea why I’m still here. Why should I be free, when they are not? Different news sources race to tell me how many more activists are arrested, which civil organizations are disbanded… Why should I enjoy freedom here, when there is no hope of freedom there?
I turn to the Free Hong Kong flag on my wall — my only source of strength to get out of bed.
Every day, I try to do whatever I can for my city. I cover the campus with Free Hong Kong posters. I keep writing social media posts about stories in Hong Kong. I sometimes even organize rallies on campus…
But what’s the point? Whatever I do, I can’t cure the wounded. I can’t bring back the youthful years of the arrested. I can’t bring the dead back into life. The only thing I can do is stay true to their cause and complete their dreams. I try to convince myself that I am pushing Hong Kong closer to our liberation, however tiny the steps are. I try, but I am not always convinced.
I feel powerless.
I don’t know if this is another one of my tiny steps — my writing these memories down and passing them to you. These memories are precious to me. Preserve them with me, if you will. Do not forget us. Do not forget this city. They put up their best fight for freedom, this city called Hong Kong.
Kinen Kao ‘22 is a senior in the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences. He serves as the Co-President of the Society for the Promotion of East Asian Liberty at Cornell. Comments can be sent to [email protected]. Guest Room runs periodically throughout the semester.