‘Parks and Rebellion’: Hong Kong-based photographer documents how residents find breathing space in city under strict COVID-19 rules

A granny uses a public exercise bike in spite of the government’s closure of such facilities. Feb. 23, 2022. (Photo: Ben Marans Photography)
A granny uses a public exercise bike in spite of the government’s closure of such facilities. Feb. 23, 2022. (Photo: Ben Marans Photography)

With the fifth wave of COVID-19 hitting Hong Kong in late December, the city has shut down many sports and recreational spaces, including gyms, tennis courts and playgrounds, for months.

Undeterred by the social distancing restrictions, some residents have found creative ways to relax and exercise.

Hong Kong-based photographer Ben Marans has documented their stories in his latest collection shot from January to March.

A children’s swing in Victoria Park barred from use. Feb. 12, 2022. (Photo: Ben Marans Photography)
A public recreation area barred from use in Mong Kok. Feb. 3, 2022. (Photo: Ben Marans Photography)
Basketball hoops and nets removed in Quarry Bay. Jan. 10, 2022. (Photo: Ben Marans Photography)

“The Leisure and Cultural Services Department has put up these red and white tapes at parks and recreational spaces, telling people they are not allowed to use [the facilities],” says Marans.

But as he has observed, just because they are closed off does not mean that residents do not need the public spaces.

“We all need to play,” he quips, adding how it was interesting for him to see people changing and using these spaces in new ways.

A granny uses a public exercise bike in spite of the government’s closure of such facilities. Feb. 23, 2022. (Photo: Ben Marans Photography)

When he saw how a granny decided she just wanted to exercise and pushed away the tape to ride a bicycle in a public park, he quickly pressed the shutter button.

A Quarry Bay gym relocates their weights, bars, and mats to an empty basketball court nearby to serve their clientele. Feb. 25, 2022 (Photo: Ben Marans Photography)
A lone skateboarder takes advantage of the available space on a basketball court. March 1, 2022. (Photo: Ben Marans Photography)

Marans was also intrigued by how people found new use for a basketball court with no hoops.

“It’s like the people are saying, ‘They took away the basketball hoops, but nobody said I cannot lift weights and skateboard here,” says the photographer.

A young boy shoots at a backboard with no net. March 1, 2022. (Photo: Ben Marans Photography)
Two gentlemen set up a portable tennis net and play a round on an empty basketball court. March 1, 2022. (Photo: Ben Marans Photography)

The Canadian native — who has been living in Hong Kong for almost four years — is keen to explore the stories of the regular people and the everyday happenings on the streets.

A man sits precariously on a seat closed for use due to COVID-19 social distancing measures. March 3, 2022. (Photo: Ben Marans Photography)
An elderly Hongkonger does laps around an empty basketball court in North Point. March 1, 2022. (Photo: Ben Marans Photography)
A young boy rides his bicycle on an empty basketball court. March 1, 2022. (Photo: Ben Marans Photography)

One he has been especially drawn to is the story of how small businesses, like gyms — which have been hit hard by COVID-19 restrictions — adapt.

Muay Thai practice in the alcove of the Victoria Park Swimming Centre. Feb. 25, 2022. (Photo: Ben Marans Photography)

“Here you can see two guys doing Thai boxing in front of the Victoria Park Swimming Pool,” says Marans.

“It’s not just recreation, but also about how businesses have pivoted to stay alive.”

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