On my way to CVS this evening, I saw masses of teenagers on the street. This reminded me of the pokemon crowd dispersing out of Victoria Park in Hong Kong, especially when out of the blue, someone shouted something and a massive group of teenagers started to run the same direction.
A few smaller groups didn’t react, though. There were lots of giggling, laughing and smiling, so as I walked pass a group a caught the eyes of one girl and smiled at her. She immediately transmogrified her face – which reminded me of a friend at kindergarten who used to do this when she was about to spread an evil gossip – into a tough face, but it happened so quickly that it was too late: I was right in front of her already, and I asked her, “What’s going on – are you guys looking for pokemons or something?”
Her face immediately changed to normal again, and for a split second I saw a really friendly and youthful smile there, as though responding to my smile. The next split second, though, she sort of answered me, but the loudness of her answer, as well as the accent she chose to respond in, made it impossible for me to understand her.
The whole thing reminded me of kindergarten, and looking at the irony of this, I giggled and just walked away. I sort of liked the energy – it reminded me of the kinds of rave parties where everyone feels they need to act a certain way. As I approached CVS, a few police cars drove pass.
The next groups of boys and girls were not as animated. They were hanging around, walking in groups, talking to each other casually, though it always felt like they were waiting for something. A lot of them were quite young – they look 13-14ish, and I couldn’t even tell if any of them were older than 16. A few of them gathered around the intersections and several cars stopped for them but they didn’t mean to cross the street.
On my way back from CVS, there were already many more police cars. So at one corner I stopped and asked the cops what was happening. “Kids,” they said, “running around throwing eggs,” and I realised what I’ve been seeing on the pavement were exactly those, thrown, broken eggs. “What’s the occasion? Is there a concert or something around?” “Halloween weekend,” the cop said. “Oh.” I said, and sighed. Of course. “Okay. Thanks,” I said, walking away. “Be safe,” the cop said.
At the next intersection, a bunch of boys were still deciding whether to run. I looked at them, and one of them smiled at me. They were having fun, I could see that. The boy who smiled at me said, very politely, “Nothing’s going on, everything’s okay.” Well, I said, and smiled back, “Be careful, please.” “Have fun,” I said, “but be careful, okay?” He said yes, thanks, and I walked on.
A few minutes later, while I was standing in front of the house I’m staying in, a few different fights broke. Complex issues sprung up. I remembered telling a friend some time ago how riots reminded me of latah. Although latah is commonly limited to describing a single person’s reaction, I thought that a similar mechanism occurs socially in a mass hypnosis type of situation.
It looks like sometimes, the hype of a group can get you in a state where certain things are considered cool or amusing, and for a moment you take this role of being cool, or amusing. At this moment, you can be a completely different person. You’d also feel that the whole group is in solidarity and they’re all in support of each other in doing this cool, or amusing, thing.
And sometimes, in a big group, things escalate, and sometimes, before you really know it, damage is done.
When I’m posting this, I still hear crowd noises outside, and sometimes, the wailings of police sirens. I remember being in Denpasar 17 years ago, when Megawati wasn’t elected as president. There were no police sirens back then, though, not at all. The months after, I realised how anarchy – as in a self-governed society – could work very well there. Oh heck, we might’ve been anarchic all along.
I really hope those kids who are staying on the streets now are staying safe.