I have been avoiding writing about the protests as it doesn’t feel like it’s my place. I didn’t want to be that white girl trying to represent what’s going on in Hong Kong. I still don’t want that. Also, please don’t take this as another foreigner complaining about missing their brunch plans or not understanding what Hong Kongers are fighting for. I have had lots of questions about what it’s like to live in Hong Kong at this time, so this is about how the weekly (or more often!) protests have affected me. I’ve had many people ask me increasingly often what its like on a daily basis for me, but I’m stay away from timelines. I’m not looking to be a news source, just to let concerned family and friends know that I’m okay and how these past few months have been. Please do your own research and keep up with what’s happening here. Some suggestions on how or where to look are at the bottom of the page.
At least every weekend since June we have had weekly protests. There was one or two weeks where nearly every day something was happening and life was disrupted. That being said, day to life is fine. I go to work, I go to rugby, I go to dinner with friends. Most of the time, things are fine, and even when they’re not, I stay in my house and I’m fine.
At first, it started out peacefully. Absolutely massive, but peaceful. I was one of the 1 million clad in white on the streets that first weekend in white. I can’t explain exactly how it felt to be in that crowd, my muscles were tight and my flight or flight response was definitely wondering what the heck I thought I was doing. After a while, it was clear nothing was going to kick off and while I was still tense, my friends and I spent several hours shuffling along with the crowd. Later that night in my bed, I watched the news as it got rowdy (hah! nothing like now) in Admiralty. We waited to hear the news if the extradition law would be passed or not with bated breath. Boy we didn’t know what we were in for when it was finally postponed.
As postponement wasn’t good enough, the following Sunday the turnout donned black and doubled for a whopping 2 million in the streets. To put that in perspective, Hong Kong has a population of 7 million and they were all crammed into just a few streets. I spent that Sunday walking 2.5 miles home because the MTR was shut down/too packed. It was eerie to walk the deserted backstreets while the protest was going strong a block away. Side streets where the march wasn’t taking place were ghost towns. Unless I’m awake at 3 or 4 am, it’s hard to catch my part of Hong Kong quiet so it really raised the hairs on my neck to walk through so easily on a Sunday. I played volleyball in the afternoon and made it home in time to watch the tail end of the march from my favorite rooftop bar. While slightly inconvenienced by needing to walk, it wasn’t terribly disruptive to my day.
July and August were spent checking protest schedules to see when shit was going down. While the movement is leaderless, protest info is circulate on social media if you know where to look. In WhatsApp groups for work and social, we often talk about the protests as well. Typically the MTR disruptions are Wan Chai, Admiralty, Causeway Bay and the train will skip these stations, which doesn’t really bother me as I don’t take the MTR much. The biggest disruptions for me these months were strike days. A few days in the morning there were strikes or people blocking MTR and traffic. As someone who walks to work and is part of the work team who sorts out subbing for other teachers, these days were super stressful but not dangerous. I chugged coffee at my desk and watched my coworkers come in to tick off which classes had teachers accounted for, heart beat slowing once most of us were in the office with a few minutes to spare. There was also a day that we went home from work early (super rare lah) due to protests. I was meant to go for my weekly acupuncture appointment, but after a lot of discouragement from coworkers, I canceled for the first time. I’m glad I did, even though I likely would’ve been long gone before cause for concern, later that night there was a lot of violence in the neighborhood that my acupuncturist lives in. On this day, and many others, many shops shut down early. Everything from Prada to tiny family run places (save for 7eleven and the fruit vendors by my house) closed and gave the city a restless, anxious feel. One Friday evening there was a human chain protest that spread across Hong Kong Island. An hour plus of peaceful chanting and singing that was really moving to be a part of. So many locals were clearly thankful a westerner was there and being supportive and really took care to say directions in English for me.
As long as I remember to check the protest schedule, I’m usually fine. This also usually means staying home or really close by. When I forget to check or do what I want anyway is usually when I get myself into a bit of a pickle. Last weekend, Naomi and I went over to the flower market in Prince Edward and had a great time, until our bus stopped as soon as it came across the harbor and kicked us off because two main roads were closed due to protestors blocking off the streets. Luckily, I could walk home fairly easily, and Naomi scooted through the MTR before Causeway Bay station was closed. After a rugby tournament in August, our bus barely made it through the road before protestors walked across and blocked it off and made a detour to skip a stop. Nothing really that bad, just minor inconveniences mostly. More recently, I have had a couple of classes canceled/rescheduled at work and rugby training canceled as well, though nothing actually happened that day.
Somehow, I always have a nearly dead phone when I need to walk home while the protestors are out. After seeing videos of people (seemingly) beaten randomly by police or gangs or arrested as the feeling strikes them, it puts me on edge to know that I’ve put myself in a situation where if something happens, I am potentially SOL. It also really tense me up when I can hear the protest but not see it. I can rarely see anything from my window because of the flyover right next to me, but I can often hear it. Most of the time, I just hear chanting, but occasionally I have watched a boat load of police march through. Unluckily for me, one of those times I was not quite home yet and had to stand in the street and watch them all walk by in full riot gear, knowing protestors were on the other side and hoping I wasn’t going to get gassed.
This most recent Sunday night, I knew it was going to be bad when riot police were already lined up at 12:30 pm. I took the MTR around 2:00 to the other side of the harbor and already found police with shields in the station and one angry woman yelling at them. After a great time celebrating my friends baby shower, we all scooted out to get home. I ferried home as the stations around me were shut down. I managed to work around all of the road closing and stay out of the action and come up just where I live, passing only one group of riot police organizing themselves. A local started chatting with me as she was also nervous about getting home, and in my pink summer dress I clearly was not looking to protest. I rounded the corner thinking I was home free, when I came face to face with a large group of police and local residents. I made my way across the street, filled with puddles of blue pepper-water swirling in the potholes. I hate not being able to see what is happening from my window, so I stayed ground level for a while to watch what happened (sorry family, I’m fine though). I asked a girl about my age what was going on, it looked like maybe someone had been arrested as there were many officers surrounding a taxi. She told me that the popo were there just to block the roads and that everyone was heckling them (why are you still here, f*k your mom, that kind of thing). After some discussion, she went back the way I just came as she had a family dinner to attend. I find myself somewhere to sit and observe, and after a few minutes, an older gentlemen brought me a piece of cardboard because he didn’t think I should be sitting on a dirty bench in my dress. After several minutes, the police backed up and moved down the street and a few more minutes later, many protestors and police rushed over from Sogo. I’m not sure how long there was a standoff, but eventually the black warning flag was raised, so I went inside to avoid the teargas. Before I started my four flights of stairs, I questioned the fruit vendors outside my place and asked if hey were worried about what was happening the street over. With a huge smile, the (he looks about 16) kid replied in confusion ‘what? no, we have no worry’. Protected in my four tiny walls, my ears were peeled for sounds of protestors for the night and I stayed up to date on twitter like I typically do.
Tuesday October 1st is a public holiday here (actually, last year’s national day I shared a bunch of firework pictures) . With no less than 3 forms of protest on the schedule, it was clear it wouldn’t be a good day, especially as numerous malls and MTR stations were announced closed for the day. As I’ve already said, I hate hearing and not seeing the protest, so I wasn’t keen for staying at home. My friends and I went to a rooftop pool only 15 minutes walk from our apartments. For most of the afternoon, we enjoyed the pool while keeping an eye on the protestors 40 floors below us. It started off pretty typical with people walking in the heat from Causeway Bay to Admiralty. About the time we planned to go home, smoke billowed across the sky behind us during our Uno game. We put the cards down to check out the changing situation. Soon, two separate fires sent grey smoke into an otherwise clear day. We watched as protestors ran through city streets. For a while, many were trapped on Queen’s Road as riot police squeezed from both directions, firing plenty of tear gas with an unmistakable pop. We moved around the roof top to find more black, hot smoke racing upwards in the middle of the herd of protestors. I couldn’t believe how hot the the smoke was after traveling 40 floors up to us. Protestors were squeezed out of Lee Tung Avenue (a really cute street in the middle of Wan Chai) and it was hard to follow where they went from there. A few used a rooftop to escape the encroaching officers which was lucky for them as the police came from seemingly every direction. To the left, a sports field in the middle of the skyscrapers still allowed two kids to kick a ball around, but I lost sight of them as more police began to hold ground there. At one point, there were officers everywhere I could see around the building. Eventually, no officers or fires in sight, we decided it was time to try to make it to our apartments for the night. After a sweaty walk to Causeway Bay, my friends continued on and I went to the 7-Eleven around mine for some water. Inside I found a protestor picking up a six pack and another one smoking a cigarette inside the store, because you know, priorities man. When I walked up my stairs around 6:30, there were plenty of people at the Canal Road Flyover again, but having enough excitement for the day, didn’t stick around to see why, and settled in to hear the sirens and chanting for the evening. Of course, the fruit vendors were still out and unconcerned. Come hell or high water, gotta sell that fruit.
Mostly, the protests haven’t affected me thaaaat much as I stay near home and don’t usually have to take public transport. With that, many of my friends and coworkers are often affected. Some have walked into protests, one was not able to exit the MTR in Sheung Wan as protestors asked ‘Where is your gear?? You cannot leave the station without your gear!’. She got back on the MTR and went to another coworkers for the night. Loads of people I know have had a hard time getting home for one reason or another. One time my friend and I were leaving another’s neighborhood and we decided the best way was to take an Uber home. However, with all the road closings, the Uber driver couldn’t take us there and dropped us off at the MTR anyway. I was fine, but the protest was hot in my friends neighborhood and she cautiously made it from the exit to her house without running into any issues.
My coworker, Kelly, was at Times Square at just the right moment the other day and caught the peaceful folding of origami swans which I just missed seeing.
All over the city are Lennon walls (think Prague) from bus stops to small business, they pop up overnight and are relentless, no matter how many times they are taken down. The one I pass by most often is in a pedestrian bridge around from Times Square. It is ever changing with new information on next protests and expressed outrage at the most recent violence.
Injuries and deaths have fueled protestors rather than deterred them. Many memorials have been started in different neighborhoods to those injured or who have lost their lives during Hong Kongers fight.
It’s hard to describe how it feels to be in Hong Kong right now. 80% of the time, everything is fine and there’s nothing to worry about. But the rest can really be…. strange/stressful/worrying/ not able to put into words. Sometimes the hardest thing is that looking out my window, everything seems fine. I see tourists going about their shopping, families enjoying their day, kids in school uniform, helpers using their days off to see their friends. It is hard to process the reality. In the evenings or weekends, the city is often described as ‘a war zone’, but we still get up the next day and go to work like it’s somewhere else in the world that’s having violence and tear gas become a normality. It’s surreal as much of the evidence of the night before is somewhat cleaned up as the city gets on with its business the next day. It almost seems dream like the way life goes on when we watch fires and violence on the news, but the evidence is there with new graffiti (Say No to China and Drugs is my personal favorite) and leftover road blocks dot the streets.
I’ve had several conversations with my mom and friends here about when is it time to go. I don’t have plans to leave Hong Kong at this time, as I know many at home are asking. Looking forward, Pati and I are talking about where we will rent an apartment together and we reluctantly are searching out of Wan Chai (our preferred and current area) since it is always a hot spot and it’s anyone’s guess at how long the current normal will last. My friends and I often ask for a text when arriving home and have lately been sharing live location during known problem times.
During these months, a lot of stuff went down, but there’s much more direct places to go to for this information than me. Do keep in mind political leanings of each of these resources, and the political leanings of everything you read this day and age. You can start by reading SCMP, going to twitter and following RTHK English news, @hkworldcity, @HKfreepress, and @laurelchor (a teammate of mine) who is always reporting and has an excellent list of people to follow, follow @peoplevsbeijing on Instagram. Search google for more details on all of this, from gang violence in Yuen Long and North Point to fires at MTR exits and cops disguising themselves as protestors. You might read about Grandma Wong, an old protestor who has been missing for some time now, many journalists have been asking if anyone has seen her lately. Or maybe that protestors shout their names as their arrested in the hopes that someone hears them and tells their families so that they can be located in the system. You might come across how many rounds of tear gas (often manufactured in Homer City, Pa) have been fired. Maybe you’ll read about tourism taking a hit and high end hotels at rock bottom prices or the airport shut down on several separate days. There’s a lot that’s been affected, certainly significantly more than me.
Pepper spray, tear gas, rubber bullets, live rounds, and colored-pepper water cannons have all been used by the police throughout the past couple of months. For Hong Kong, for Hong Kongers standing up so strongly for their incredible city that many don’t have the liberty to leave, take ten minutes you would’ve spent scrolling through Facebook today anyway and read about why they are standing for Hong Kong.