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The best life hacks from Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement protests

An Occupy Central protester looks her phone in her tent at a protest site in Admiralty near the government headquarters in Hong Kong October 16
Reuters/Tyrone Siu
Tent life.
By Lily Kuo, Heather Timmons
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

HONG KONG—It has now been one month since Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests began, and a movement previously known for its politeness is becoming better-known for its perseverance. Protesters continue to occupy at least three major roads and intersections, where they have outlasted attacks by anti-Occupy groups, heavy rain storms, and the police’s use of tear gas, pepper spray, and more brutal methods to clear protest sites.

Part of that resilience comes from using everything available to turn what were once busy roads into a living space for hundreds of people, whether that means fashioning gas masks out of water bottles or making environmentally friendly cleaning solutions out of banana peels.

Local supporters have donated large amounts of supplies—from food and first aid materials to used furniture and plastic matting. But transforming an asphalt highway into a tent city has meant some serious adaptation. Here are some of the unique ways demonstrators are making daily life more workable inside Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement.

Crowd control is important

Even when engaging in mass civil disobedience, protesters have been intent on keeping the protest sites as orderly as possible. One of the earliest adaptations at the Admiralty site was creating a methodical way for protesters to get across the concrete highway dividers. First they used stacks of blocks to clear the traffic barriers. Now there are small, two-way bridges, with signs telling pedestrians which ramps to use for going up and which to use for going down.

Quartz/Heather Timmons

The makeshift stairs are sometimes manned by monitors on the busiest nights, and cutting the queue is definitely out of the question.

The relative order has meant that despite crowds swelling to the tens of thousands on some nights, there hasn’t been, at least so far, any reports of protesters or visitors accidentally getting hurt.

Don’t throw out those banana peels

Fresh fruit is a popular snack at the protests. Discarded banana peels are collected, combined with water and sugar, and left to ferment in the sun. The result is vinegar, which gets mixed with water and is used by protesters to clean streets, public bathrooms, plates, and silverware.

Quartz/Heather Timmons
Banana peel vinegar.

Wood-working skills are always useful

The protests have received truckloads of furniture donations, everything from old cabinets and tables to beds and chairs. There’s now a dedicated wood-working corner set up in Admiralty, where protesters are busy fashioning the furniture into the aforementioned highway divider bridges and expanding the students’ “study corner,” a quiet area of desks and benches.

Heather Timmons

Make it easy for part-timers to help

Living on the streets full-time isn’t for everyone. Or, actually, most people. To keep the crowd count up, the Admiralty site has more than 100 neatly numbered, meticulously clean “rent-a-tents,” for the part-time protester who wants to support the movement on the occasional night, but has to get up and go to school or work. On a recent morning, a man emerged from one of these tents dressed in a white button-down shirt and dark trousers, knotting his tie.

You don’t need armor to be ready for combat

To prepare themselves for clashes with police, the protesters’ uniforms have evolved from ponchos, goggles, and saran wrap to helmets, gloves, protective gear made out of matting, and, of course, umbrellas.

Reuters/Bobby Yip
Protesters in Mong Kok arm themselves in case of clashes with police.
Quartz/Lily Kuo
A gas mask made out of a plastic bottle hangs at a protest site in Admiralty.

Find simple ways to stay comfortable

Makeshift pillows made out of plastic bags and newspapers, and mattresses made out of foam pads also are available, and eye masks help protesters sleep at night.

Quartz/Heather Timmons
Pillow materials for the taking.

 Everything is a branding opportunity

The protesters have taken care to make their living quarters as creative as they are functional—that includes turning everything possible into a symbol of the umbrella movement. The character on the red light means the Communist Party.

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