Saturday, April 26, 2008

Flags, Emotion, and Anger

All three were flying high this Saturday morning. When I left my apartment, I thought that I would have to make the half hour hike to where the beginning of the torch relay was to be held. Instead, as soon as I came out of the other side of the station, I was bombarded by megaphones, chants, police, and flags.

Police littered the streets, many of the younger ones looking very anxious. I kept making my way to the center of the noise and flags, and eventually found myself completely surrounded by all the ensuing madness. Tibet protesters and Chinese protesters were separated by a bright blue rope the police had put up to keep them from killing each other. Once side chanted "Free Tibet" while the other tried to overpower the other side in volume.

At one point a Japanese man wrapped in a Tibet Flag sat down, took out a miniature Chinese flag, and proceeded to eat it, from the plastic pole up. What followed was many Chinese becoming extremely livid; the shouted, pointed, and even attempted to cross the blue barrier to go inflict some physical pain. The police successfully held back the angered mob from tearing this guy apart. As the man kept on eating the flag, the men in blue unsuccessfully attempted to persuade him to do otherwise.

Other times the police weren't quite as successful at controlling the crowds; a few men and blue rope can only do so much. When an over-zealous protester would say something inflammatory, mobs of Chinese would rush over and attempt to pound his head in. These moments didn't usually last too long; the police would swoop in and break up the fights, (without arresting anybody, which impressed me). At one point a couple grapping each other was coming right toward me and other idiots such as myself trying to document the ongoing anger; we had to run (backwards, of course, so we could still get shots) back to the other side of the street to safety.

After hanging around there for a while and getting a few snaps in, I proceeded north to where the torch was supposed to come. Thousands of Chinese lined the streets, all holding flags, signs, and other patriotic artifacts. Once I got away from the Tibet supporters, it became apparent that the Chinese vastly outnumbered the protesters. I had to squeeze and push my way up the side of the street, sticking out like a white grain of rice in a bowl of tapioca pudding. Eventually I made it as far north as I could go and decided to wait around until the torch made its appearance.

Eventually, the torch made its way up to the street. A line of police cars, supporters, other vehicles came in front of and behind the torch, forming a barricade between any would-be demonstrators who would attempt to steal the torch or try to douse the flame. I managed to get a few shots in, none too good, but hey, how many other people have pictures of the Olympic torch?

Apparently other idiocy ensued, but I wasn't there to witness it. All in all, two people were arrested for trying to steal the torch, and a handful of people came out of the escapade battered and bruised.

To see the rest of my photos, click here