"I'm too old for this," Edmund Wong says, wiping his forehead. "I'm sweating."
Mr. Wong, 56, is sitting on a concrete curb looking out over the throngs of people gathered to call for political change near the legislative headquarters of the Hong Kong government. The temperature is well above 30 degrees, and the air is thick with humidity. He can only stand it for so long; by late afternoon, he is nearly ready to leave for the day.
But there is little sign that the protests unfolding in Hong Kong – which some are branding the "Umbrella Revolution" for the ubiquitous parasols used by protesters to ward off tear gas – are losing strength as they stretch into their fifth day on Tuesday. Protesters want Beijing to stand down on a proposal for electoral reform that would continue to give mainland authorities heavy sway in who leads this city.
This has the makings of a student uprising. On the streets, thousands of young people sit on the asphalt, gathered in small circles of classmates and talking. "It is a revolution," says Ming Wong, a 17-year-old secondary student with Red Cross training who is volunteering to do first aid. "This is not fun. We must take it seriously," he says.
But surrounding the students are people like Mr. Wong, retired from a career in financial services, and feeling something he has scarcely felt since the despair of watching the events of June 4, 1989, when Chinese soldiers killed hundreds of students around Tiananmen Square.
"This is hopeful. I have never been so happy in the last 30 years," he said. When the Tiananmen massacre happened, he watched on TV but declined to join the street protests at the time. He had recently graduated, and was building a career.
"We didn't really understand why we need a more democratic government, because the first thing on my mind was how to make a better living," he said. "But today is different."
He calls the Chinese proposal for electing a new chief executive hand-picked by Beijing "humiliating."
"I love my country. I'm Chinese. So I do not hate the central government. But the way they think is terrible. They still think this is 100 years ago – as long as you keep quiet, shut up, you can make a living. But this is not right. We have to progress."
The presence of an older generation on the streets changes the calculus for authorities, whose initial response – firing tear gas and pepper spray at protesters on Sunday – continues to prompt others to come to the streets.
"The action from the police actually made more people come out, including me," said Jacky Lau, a 35-year-old insurance agent, who on Tuesday was working under a tent organizing and giving out donated supplies of water. Hearing the explosions from the tear gas fire prompted him to leave his desk.
"I want to protect the students," he said.
He told his clients he would be out of the office, and told his wife he would be gone for three days. He intends to sleep on a frail-looking camping chair.
He is not convinced the street protests, which have erupted in a series of sites around Hong Kong, will accomplish much. "Frankly speaking I think it's not possible to change their mind," he says of the central government in Beijing. "But we do what we can do," Mr. Lau said.
Others are more optimistic. Winnie Poon and Florence Leung, 40-year-old flight attendants, also came hoping larger numbers and more adults would make authorities think twice about using riot police tactics. "If the students are alone, they will make history again, like June 4," Ms. Poon said, referring to the events of 1989. Ms. Leung is hopeful CY Leung, the current Hong Kong chief executive, will lose his post.
The vivid memory of those events underscores the potentially volatile nature of the Hong Kong protests. The single most important question surrounding the street gatherings how Beijing will respond, particularly as one of its city's streets fill with demonstrators on the day the mainland celebrates the 65th anniversary of Communist China.
State-run news agencies and Chinese officials have been adamant that current proposals for Hong Kong governance will not be amended. And Mr. Leung has said his removal would do little to bring democratic change of the kind China is proposing. Authorities have, however, dramatically changed the way they are managing the protests, with a police presence all but invisible at the main protest site Tuesday evening.
There, young men stood at steps over protective barricades, offering hands to those joining the protest. Some walked up and down the long lines of seated students, spraying cooling mist. Some gathered recycling into hundreds of large black garbage bags. Some offered bread to those seated. Still others sketched out the signs that have, in part, helped tell the story of the protest. "Let's go Hong Kong," urged one massive four-character Chinese banner. Others in English called for understanding, and action. "We are NOT enemies," one said. "If Not Us WHO? If Not Now WHEN?" said another.
A hand-scrawled "Citizen's Square" cardboard was affixed on top a road sign pointing to government offices. Above it fluttered a yellow banner "Celebrating the 65th Anniversary of the People's Republic of China."
Wednesday is National Day, a holiday that seems likely to free more people to come down to Hong Kong streets. But it also serves as a poignant counterpoint to the protests: on the day that China fetes 65 years of Communist rule, Hong Kong is rising up against it. Already, authorities have cancelled annual fireworks.
For Mr. Wong, National Day is particularly important for the protests – the symbolism too heavy to not prompt change.
"If we can last at least until tomorrow, I think someone has to step down. And if we can replace the government – or at least part of the government – we stand a chance of forcing the Chinese central government to re-think their policy toward us," he said.