Hong Kong: The venue is reserved, the wedding rings custom-made and the search for the dress has begun. But Hong Kong protester May’s nuptials are on hold because her friends oppose her marrying a policeman.
Six months of unprecedented protests in Hong Kong against eroding freedoms under Chinese rule have divided the city’s population.
Rifts in some cases have pitted relatives, friends and even lovers against each other.
May, who asked to be identified by a pseudonym, is one of those who has seen the political become deeply personal, threatening to torpedo her February wedding.
“One of my closest friends — my maid of honour — told me that she’s thinking about not attending my wedding,” May told AFP.
“I never thought about losing my friends… It makes me very, very sad,” the 28-year-old said.
“It has made me realise how fractured the relationship between the police and residents has become.”
Hong Kong’s police were once hailed as an example for other Asia forces, but they have become a target of intense hatred to many pro-democracy protesters who accuse them of excessive force.
Since protests began, police have fired thousands of rounds of tear gas, along with rubber bullets and pepper spray.
Viral images on social media of police hitting protesters with batons have fuelled the anger.
Police have also occasionally used live bullets, with three people shot during clashes. None of the shootings resulted in deaths, but two of those shot suffered serious injuries.
Protesters have called for an independent probe into alleged police abuses, making it a key plank in their “five demands.”
Police chiefs have insisted their officers have responded with restraint to violence from protesters throwing molotov cocktails, bricks and other objects.
– Different values –
May has been with her fiance for eight years, but says it wasn’t until recently that his career become a bone of contention.
Friends have distanced themselves, and there have been tense moments when jokes about protesters and police have fallen flat.
But she was still shocked when her best friend confronted her about the relationship after the pair went wedding dress shopping.
“She said: ‘You’re not married yet, you still have the choice’,” May recounted.
“If he’s seen this (misconduct) by the police and still thinks they have done nothing wrong, should you be with a person whose values are so different?” her friend asked.
May, who has regularly attended rallies as a peaceful protester, has seen violence firsthand.
But she doesn’t believe that her future husband — a frontline riot officer — would hurt anyone.
“I trust his personal conduct, that he wouldn’t be the one hitting his baton over protesters’ heads and injuring them,” May said.
She acknowledges though that it has become increasingly difficult to keep the political crisis from spilling into her relationship.
While she describes her fiance as apolitical and uninterested in her involvement in the protests, his friends have criticised her politics, even calling her “crazy.”
– ‘Quit, or I leave’ –
Even before her friends voiced their opposition, May’s planning ran into trouble: the printer she chose to do the invitations was among wedding vendors in the city boycotting all celebrations involving police.
“While the police are making arbitrary arrests and abusing their power against Hong Kong residents, we will not be sending happy wishes to their weddings,” the vendors said in a November 8 announcement of the boycott.
Police weddings have also been targeted by protesters, with tear gas and rubber bullets being fired at crowds trying to disrupt the celebrations.
The tensions in the city and the responses of her friends have left May feeling despondent.
“It makes me feel that my wedding won’t be blessed, just because my partner is a policeman,” May said.
“I’m going through a down time emotionally. When he sees me crying, he holds me and tells me not to think about it too much.”
With the pressure building, May says she delivered her fiance an ultimatum several weeks ago: “Either you quit, or I leave.”
But she admits a career change would be difficult for him, and she hasn’t left him yet, though the wedding is on hold and may yet be cancelled.
“I think our relationship will continue,” she said quietly.
“I can’t say for sure, but I’m inclined to stay,” she added, pausing to take a deep breath.
“We still love each other deeply.”