Note: The interviewee’s name has been change to protect his identity
Although he’s dressed head to toe in black, Ash has never been to the frontlines of HK’s anti extradition protests. Instead, he creates his own version, crouching on the pavement as he assembles his miniature creation. Students glance down on their way to afternoon classes, intrigued by the various pieces assembled. Ash rearranges the limbs of figures depicting riot police and umbrella-wielding protesters before standing up to evaluate the scene. Not quite satisfied with the placement of a certain piece, he dives back into a crouch.
Inspired by the anti-extradition protests, Ash, an 18-year-old university student, is using his passion for LEGO builds to support the movement and his peers. While he originally started playing with LEGO at the age of six, he now uses the toy blocks to recreate scenes from the protests, hoping to further fuel the movement and attract international support through social media, such as Instagram.
Ash, like many of his friends, wanted to be at the protests in person, fighting for Hong Kong’s future. However, he suffers from a certain skin condition, which would be further exacerbated if exposed to tear gas. Out of concern for his safety, his parents asked him not to directly attend protests, a request Ash fully understands is made out of love.
As the protests unfolded earlier this summer, Ash found himself at home watching the events on livestreams and TV. On June 9th, he watched as an estimated one million people marched through streets in opposition to the bill. The following week, he saw footage of police using tear gas and rubber bullets against protesters during a march on June 12th. Ash took this as a call to action, “When I saw things on TV, I was very ashamed” Not being able to attend the protests himself, Ash was frustrated. He wondered, “Can I do something for Hong Kong? Can I make a change?” That was when he turned to what he knew best: building.
Ash’s first LEGO build was a recreation of the ‘Lennon Wall’ found along the pedestrian underpass near the Tai Po MTR station. The build depicts protesters putting up motivational sticky notes on the wall supporting the anti-extradition movement while journalists photograph from the far side. The scene took a total of two weeks to build, not including the time needed for research, design and experimentation, “I was constantly checking the news as it was updating every day”. It takes hours for Ash to accurately complete builds as he tries to capture all the details while maintaining a “kid friendly” design so as to keep in the spirit of LEGO.
Since the initial Tai Po ‘Lennon Wall’ build, Ash has recreated two more scenes using LEGO, one of which depicts the storming of the Prince Edward MTR station by riot police on August 31. “It’s an essential moment until now and it’s still an essential moment” Ash says. “It’s been a main focus for all of us.”
After clashes broke out between protesters and a pro-Beijing individual on the evening of August 31, riot police stormed the Prince Edward MTR station. Videos circulated online showed riot police pepper spraying and violently beating protesters, with many innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire. After making several arrests, the police forced all members of the press to leave the station and refused entry to volunteer first aiders, despite the severe injuries of many protesters inside the station. Since then, rumours that several people died in Prince Edward station have been widely circulated on social media. Spokespeople from the Hospital Authority, MTR corporation, police and fire services have jointly denied the rumours in an attempt to quell the unrest. Despite these unified statements, many Hong Kong people still question the official version of events, and wonder what exactly occurred in the station that night.
While the MTR corporation has released a timeline of events along with certain images taken from security cameras, protesters continue to demand the public release of the CCTV footage taken from that night. Ash says he doesn’t trust the images released by the MTR corporation and is concerned that they may have been doctored to fit a certain narrative, reflecting an attitude of distrust towards authorities now shared by many Hong Kong people.
While Ash has quite a significant collection of LEGO pieces, he often has to improvise to recreate certain scenes. Typical off-the-shelf LEGO sets come with instructions and all the necessary pieces to build the design, but Ash has to design his own creations using his imagination and ingenuity. In his most recent LEGO build, which portrays protesters forming behind large street fire, he designed and built a police water cannon vehicle using what he saw on livestreams as a guide.
Ash has spent countless hours and his own money to build his LEGO scenes and support the anti-extradition movement. While usually involved in many school activities, he increasingly gave up more of his free time to building. He’s also spent thousands of Hong Kong Dollars, averaging about $250 HKD (~$30 USD) a week on new LEGO pieces.
Ash is currently pursuing an Associate’s Degree in Business Administration and is still unsure of his future and that of his home. “I am quite pessimistic to the future of Hong Kong” says Ash. Despite the uncertainty faced by many Hongkongers, Ash has no plans to stop supporting the anti-extradition movement through his LEGO builds and hopes to create a better future for Hong Kong, piece by piece.
You can follow Ash and his creations on his Instagram: @lego_starter_hk_siu_chi