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Show caption ‘Something is missing. Hong Kong is still beautiful but it feels too quiet’: former Apple Daily journalist Norman Choi in Hong Kong, June 2022. Photograph: Chan Long-hei/The Guardian

Rights and freedom

Norman Choi

Fri 24 Jun 2022 06.01 BST

Ten weeks after the sudden end to my career as a journalist, I found myself standing behind a cash register in McDonald’s. My days as a newspaper editor at Apple Daily, which was forced to close in June 2021, were busy. Now, I take order after order for fast food.

In some senses my new job is much like my previous life as a news editor where I worked long hours to provide huge numbers of people from all walks of life their daily fix of breaking news. The difference now is that I now work with food instead of information.

Norman Choi pictured in June last year at Apple Media’s headquarters in Hong Kong, before the news outlet was shut down. Photograph: Tyrone Siu/Reuters

I’m trying to embrace my new life but some of my old daily routines are hard to shake off. Every morning I still spend an hour in front of the computer, reading the latest news, but independent, quality news is getting harder to find.

You get the same breaking news notifications from various media, but they all toe the official line. The 4 June anniversary of Tiananmen Square appears to have been rubbed from history. In what people now call “the new normal”, there is no candlelight vigil to mourn the dead.

The Apple Daily’s website has been erased from the internet, leaving no trace. A tremendous amount of history has disappeared from the public view, clean and empty like a square after bloodshed.

Having spent half of my life in the media, journalistic instincts are etched deeply into my mind. Even after months away from a newsroom, I instinctively think about how I would handle a big story when it comes up in the news. After Russia invaded Ukraine, I had a dream of sleeping inside a tank in Kyiv with my photographer. I could hear bullets hitting the tank, before I woke up to heavy rain slamming on my bedroom window.

Hong Kong authorities prevented the annual candlelit vigil to mark the 33rd anniversary of the Tiananmen Square incident this year. Photograph: Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

Sometimes I feel like a garden gnome, hunkered down and being comfortably ignored. Other times I feel anxious and helpless when I think about my former colleagues in custody.

I have known some of them for many years. In our old life, one joined me on a 100km charity walk in Japan, another often went trekking with me. Surrounded by nature we watched the sunrises and sunsets together. We shared hot dumplings on a chilly day after another exhausting hike. We laughed and cried together.

While they have been detained for almost a year., I still feel their presence.

Norman Choi, former feature editor of Apple Daily, walks past a Mcdonald’s restaurant in Hong Kong, 1 June 2022. Photograph: Chan Long-hei/The Guardian

Now, although Hong Kong is still beautiful, it is too quiet. Even though I have not left to start a new life elsewhere, I am an alien in a strange city. Lately, I have been training to become an electrician, taking classes with many others who have become unemployed. Even when I qualify there is no guarantee of a stable job.

It is a struggle to try and put my emotions at what has happened to us all into words, so instead I will share an excerpt from a letter I received from a fellow journalist, now in prison.

“Life will nevertheless push us forward, like a stream that brings both hungry and sleeping fishes downstream. Strong wind will lead us towards tomorrow, no matter if we are anxious or calm.”

  • Norman Choi was Apple Daily’s features editor before the newspaper closed in June 2021.

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