Witnessing how Israeli airstrikes devastated Gaza strip, what deeply touched Au was how the local doctors and nurses persisted in safeguarding their homeland. “They don’t want wars. They just want to live with dignity,” he says
He found similar sentiments a few months later among the young people who participated in Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement to fight for a better Hong Kong.
While some doctors signed a petition to condemn the movement as a “cancer” damaging Hong Kong, Au used his expertise to support the 79-day movement as the volunteer leader of the Occupy Central with Love and Peace (OCLP) medical team.
The Occupy Movement was not the first political campaign Au has joined. He has long been concerned about Hong Kong’s political development and has participated in different social campaigns.
Au also headed the team of medical personnel supporting the hunger strikers during the anti-national education campaign in 2012. Back in 2000, he joined the Hong Kong Democratic Development Network (HKDDN). This is where he met the Rev Chu Yiu-ming, one of the co-founders of Occupy Central, who later invited him to head the OCLP medical team.
When Beijing announced the “8.31” framework for the 2017 Chief Executive election, Au was still in Gaza. Fortunately, before going to Gaza, Au had already contacted people who had been medical volunteers in the anti-national movement, and organised meetings and preparations. Therefore, the medical team was able to operate smoothly even though the movement kicked off unexpectedly and earlier than the planned sit-in to paralyse Hong Kong’s financial district.
At the beginning of the movement, Au had full confidence that Hong Kong could finally reach a mutually acceptable agreement on democratic development. But his hope was gradually replaced with disappointment and anger when he witnessed police brutality and what he describes as the cold response of the Hong Kong government.
Taliban attacks and Israeli airstrikes have not deterred Au from his determination to serve in conflict zones but the ending of the Umbrella Movement without any substantial concessions from the government has left him despondent.
During the movement, Au posted a slogan on his Facebook page, “Israel is China. Gaza is Hong Kong”. For him, Gaza is in the grip of Israel in terms of its geographical constraints and resources, just as Hong Kong is under the Mainland’s control.
Au has now resigned all his posts in governmental organisations and is considering taking early retirement. “Because I have no motivation. I want to leave and I am so disappointed at the Hong Kong government,” he says.
Now, he plans to spend more time working for MSF after retirement. Au thinks this would be more rewarding than staying in Hong Kong and fighting for what he believes he will never achieve. “In the past 13 years and 13 missions, every effort has been worthwhile. But it was useless what I did in the past few months [in the movement]. Given that, why shouldn’t I spend my strength, effort, dedication and knowledge in other places and make it worthwhile?”
Many will be sad to see Au retire, but they can take heart that he has not given up his determination to help more people in the future. “There are 14,000 doctors in Hong Kong. But in those disaster and conflict areas, there could be not a single one,” he says. “You are the only doctor there and you are the last one.”