Note: This blog post contains a lot of reference to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong. We have tried to be as objective as possible in our reporting, but what we have written is based on our limited understanding, our fallible memories of what we saw, and hastily scribbled notes of what we were told by people we met there. We accept full responsibility for any inaccuracies but would really encourage everyone to read the links provided and look for other sources of news than the mainstream media.
Across the mainland China immigration barrier, the first issue was getting to Hong Kong itself. There were buses but no one could speak English and our translation app was met with confusion for the first time in our travels. We also found that we needed Hong Kong dollars but there were no ATMs this side of the barrier. We were scuppered. Luckily there was a shuttle bus that accepted Chinese yen so we bought tickets with no idea where it went. As it turned out, where it went was a few minutes away – to the Hong Kong customs border!
We had no trouble getting through, just a quick look at our passports, and then we stepped out on the other side expecting to find a metro station. But there were only buses, and with no working internet, we couldn’t get a map to see where they went, and we still didn’t have any money! As it happened, the folks there are used to that. We just looked at a bus with a name that was also a metro station and hoped that we’d get somewhere with onward transport at least. A few minutes later we were on a coach heading away from the border into Hong Kong itself, excited to see what this new place had to offer.
The very first thing that we noticed was that the bus drove on the left, and was right-hand drive! The rest of China drives on the right, and we’d got used to watching out for traffic coming from that direction. Having said that, in China traffic can come from literally anywhere when you’re crossing a road, including the pavement behind you, so looking in the direction of traffic doesn’t mean you’re safe. Next, we were struck by how tall everything is in the city. It’s a small area with high population density, and the only way to go is up. The buildings were all shiny and modern and the place felt ‘fresh’ and novel after the mono-architecture of Shenzhen. Between these megaliths, the South China Sea glistened in the bright sunshine of the tropics, and huge boats plied back and forth around the bay. It was beautiful.
We stepped off the A/C bus into 33 degrees of sweaty, humid city, and fought our way through a snaking queue of folks waiting patiently to take our bus back to the border. We were dropped right in the middle of one of the areas we’d been warned to avoid by a local resident and Servas host we’d had contact with. We decided that as the hostel was only 2km away we’d walk rather than take the metro, so we donned our packs and headed up the heaving main road.
Our first indication of the continuing protests and violence in the area happened when we tried to find an ATM, as we’d managed to get this far with Chinese yen but we needed dollars urgently. We passed an ATM in a Hong Kong bank, with a huge queue of people outside stretching down the pavement. We had a slight stir of unease: what if we couldn’t get cash? Why were local people queuing? What did they know that we didn’t? Then we passed the Chinese banks, which all had their shutters down and were very much closed (the ATMs tend to be inside branches here). With our heads down and knees buckling under the weight of our rucksacks, we just focussed on getting to the YHA, and pushed through the throngs at the busy intersections. At least here, unlike the rest of China, people did actually stop at red lights! We managed to find an ATM with only a short queue outside and thankfully it accepted Visa so we were able to withdraw some cash before arriving at our hostel.
At the YHA a sign on the desk said that due to recent events some metro stations and train stations had been closed. As our room wasn’t ready we dropped our stuff in the luggage room, and decided to make a trip out to go somewhere we’d been getting increasingly excited about visiting – Marks & Spencers Food Court! Yes, in Hong Kong they have M&S: another residual reminder of British rule. We were really hoping to have some familiar treats from home like vegan coleslaw and maybe even some early mince pies. So we set off at around 14:00, up and down the hilly streets of Hong Kong to a shopping centre well out of what we had been told were the ‘risky areas’. We walked through a lovely park area where a ‘mosquito killing machine’ warned us to stay away when it was in operation!
At the shopping centre we found M&S, and were surprised and disappointed to find that it was closed. All the lights were on, but the shutters were down and it was deserted. We’d been focussed on getting there, and it was only then, as we tried to work out what was going on, that we realised half the shops in the centre were closed. It was mid-afternoon on a Saturday, on a bank holiday weekend, and the centre was barely open. There were people milling around, but it struck us that there were far fewer than we’d expect. We also realised that the shops that were closed tended to be Western shops and European brands, whereas Chinese and local shops were open. It suggested perhaps different working practices around staff safety, a different tolerance for risk, or different needs for profits. We asked at an information desk and they confirmed that some shops were closed due to the ‘unrest’, but they wouldn’t be drawn into a discussion or speculate about when the shops would open again.
We looked around a bit but decided to cut our losses and head out. We wanted to have a walk round before settling in at the hostel, and also wanted to be inside well before dark. To give us an aim we headed for another M&S in a shopping centre back past the bus stop we’d arrived at, hoping to see a bit more of the city without straying too far from streets we’d recognise.
Walking back past the bus station unencumbered by our massive bags, we had more time to look around. The further down the street we went, the more signs we saw of the troubles that have affected the area. Initially, there was grafitti. The odd “fuck the popo” on a phone box. Then it increased in density and started to cover the tarmac of the main road, and the central reservation.
We found the shopping centre here and again inside it was largely closed. There was an atmosphere though, a readiness. It was conveyed in the movements of the security guards, who were never still, but always watching, alert, waiting for something they knew would happen sooner or later. It was in the dim lights of closed shops, and the spaces which would usually be filled with consumers. We left, sensing the tension in the air. Not quite reaching a breaking point, but a slow burn inching ever closer to a powder keg.
We stopped in a 7/11 for supplies, a pot noodle for dinner and some crisps. As we were queueing they started to pull the shutters down behind us. The staff behind the counter were rushing, grabbing things from people’s hands and scanning them rapidly, shouting at customers who weren’t quick enough. The atmosphere was thick with humidity and the verges of anxiety of those inside. We quickly bought our food and ducked under the metal barriers back onto the street. Whatever the staff there knew, we’d got the hint, and we didn’t hang around. The narrow street outside felt hemmed in by the towering buildings around it; felt like a trap.
Back out on the broad main road the mood was a little clearer, and although we didn’t dally, there wasn’t the same sense of urgency. We passed crash barriers that had been ripped off the streets and twisted, the police tape replacing them torn down. Then standing at an intersection waiting to cross, we wondered what was happening behind those on the other side facing us. Above their heads we could see a wall of white, and squinting against the evening light, the shapes of flowers.
We crossed the intersection and faced a wall covered with stickers, grafitti and post-it notes. The notes, largely in Mandarin, Cantonese and English, talked about grief, love and brutality. Around the corner, three face masks had been pinned to the wall, and a makeshift shrine set up. The mesh above woven with bouquets of white flowers, the ground adorned with candles and offerings. People lit incense and prayed, left flowers and notes. This public outpouring of grief and resilience, so stark and haunting on a busy street corner where shoppers rushed past, was like a bubble. The traffic – stopped. The pedestrian chatter – silenced. The world shrivelled into the simplicity of incense, candles and flowers. We stood and felt the waves of emotion pouring from the wall, and from those that came there to remember. We didn’t know what the wall was for, who it was for, but its message was clear and absorbing. As we walked away neither of us could speak for some time. We learned later that at that metro station police had attacked protestors and members of the public, causing many injuries and probably several deaths, though it has been impossible to prove so far. Adding to the tension in the area, police had recently begun using live rounds among the largely student protestors and a 14 year old boy had been shot by a plain clothes police officer, using a hand gun.
Back at the YHA we were grateful to be somewhere safe and secure, although still not away from the potential for trouble. The banks on the street nearby were closed, as were some shops. We made plans for the next day and settled down to our sparse meal of noodles, feeling every bit of our privilege at being here as outsiders, determined to use this to report what we saw to the outside world.
These were our first impressions of Hong Kong, and they were to change and mould over our time there. Our visit was very much one of two different places. Urban Hong Kong revolved around the protests and the police, whereas there was another side to the region. Only 30% of Hong Kong is built up, squeezed between the sea and beautiful hills. Most of the countryside is designated as national parks, and that’s where we spent a lot of our time. We’ll talk more about our urban experience, the roots of the protests and the impact on the communities involved. Then we’ll describe our adventures in the country: the mountains, the rain and the spiders! Before we had arrived in Hong Kong we were nervous. Nervous of the protestors, nervous of the police and of the potential for violence to spring up anywhere at any time, indiscriminate and dangerous. More than once before we arrived we talked about our memories of watching Tiananmen Square unfolding on TV. We had spoken with our travel agent a few weeks before about what to do if the Foreign Office restricted travel, or if protests shut down the airport again as they had done recently. Everyone we spoke to in the build up was scared for us, asking if we should really be going, if it wasn’t too risky. So it was with some trepidation that we crossed the border. Our first day experiences had heightened that feeling: not of danger, but of unease. However we had been told that as long as we were inside by nightfall it was ok. We also knew to avoid the police or getting caught in a crowd and thereby being mistaken for protestors.
Mei Ho House
Although we knew Hong Kong was expensive, we were slightly staggered at the cost of hostels. The absolute cheapest options all had very mixed reviews so we decided to play it safe and pay a bit extra (about ⅔ of our daily budget) to stay at the only YHA, and we were very glad we did. The hostel has an amazing history:
On December 25th 1953, a broken kerosene lamp caused a huge fire in the Shek Kip Mei area which made 58,000 people homeless. Many of those were political migrants from China following WW2, who had built “squat houses” mainly of wood and scavenged metal sheet roofs. There was widespread public sympathy and fundraising efforts, notably by the famous Cantonese opera, and through popular Kung Fu contests. Huge sums were raised and used to build Hong Kong’s first public houses, creating a legacy which still sees 40% of the population living in public homes.
The YHA we stayed in was one of the first to be built and is the only one of its type still remaining, and now has UNESCO heritage status and its own museum. They also host events for a community of volunteers and ex-residents, many of whom have provided oral histories for the museum. Built in an “H” shape, there were two arms of simple housing units with wraparound open balconies, and shared facilities in the central connecting block. The block has 6 floors and housed 2,000 people, with 6 toilets per floor. Each unit housed a minimum of 5 adults, smaller families were allocated half a unit to share. The room we stayed in was made up of two of those units: housing for 10 people in the 50’s.
Hong Kong city
Something we had been very excited about in Hong Kong was the food: we’d already found lots of veggie and vegan restaurants we wanted to visit, and on our first full day there was a vegan fair. We travelled a ridiculously long way across the city, being repeatedly scuppered by closed metro stations and finally giving in and taking a very expensive taxi, but we did eventually get there! The organisers had even posted on facebook to reassure people that the fair was still being held despite the heightened tension that weekend:
It ended up being a very expensive day, with transport costs and of course all the vegan food we bought at the fair, but it was really great for us to experience an event like this, that was still being held despite everything going on in the city. Also CAKE!
Unfortunately the metro station nearest our hostel was closed, so we were forced to continue on to the next stop on our return journey, which then involved queuing at the desk to pay an extra fare before we could exit. The sole staff member at the window was working two queues, rapidly doling out tickets in order to get as many people out as quickly as possible before all the stations closed early.
We exited the station and turned a corner to see a sea of black-clothed people, many with their faces covered. There were loud chants being called by the crowd. We tried a couple of side streets but it looked impossible to get through without detouring across half the city, so we ducked back inside the metro and joined yet another queue to buy new tickets. This time we went to a station further outside the city on the other side of the hostel and walked back, along with many other people who had clearly been detoured.
That evening, we heard shouts and sirens from our hostel room and joined a crowd on the street watching protests going on further down the hill at a busy intersection of five roads. Contrary to the tense atmosphere we’d felt when we stumbled across the protest earlier, this all seemed very civilised. The large crowd of protestors marched along the pavement, waiting at traffic lights for cars to stop, and making way for other pedestrians to pass by with their shopping. Shortly after the marchers had passed through, police vans followed them up the road with sirens blaring. At this point, a small group of protestors returned to the intersection. They were clearly organisers, wearing the standard black clothing and face masks, but also hard hats and hi-vis jackets. A handful set to work dismantling a bin and railings from the pavement, and placed them in the middle of the road. After a few cycles of traffic lights turning green and red again, the drivers just skirted round the obstacles and continued on.
One organiser came up on to the road near to us, overlooking a zebra crossing. As the march circled round again and came towards us, they called out through a megaphone and all the protestors put up umbrellas. When CCTV is identified, they call out “it’s raining” so protestors know to hide their faces.
At one point traffic was at a standstill, and we heard sirens approaching from a new direction. An ambulance appeared, and slowed to a stop behind a line of cars. Some protestors broke away from the march and began directing the cars at the front to move through the intersection through a red light, holding the traffic from the other direction to make way for the ambulance. Not the sort of behaviour we had seen reported in any media.
On our second day in the city we went on a mission to Hong Kong island, in order to buy ourselves a tent. We’d read about the many public campsites and saw this as a great way for us to experience the national parks, and save some money on accommodation!
The journey was tricky again due to some stations being closed, but we had a nice walk along the bay and wondered at the impressive skyscrapers (not something that usually impresses us, but they were particularly striking with the hills and sea behind).Away from the coast, the ongoing protests were even more apparent:We successfully bought a tent (and maps, of course), had a lovely ride on a tram and went looking for lunch. Unfortunately, although there are many more vegan options in Hong Kong compared with mainland China, they were all really expensive. We ended up having a very random lunch: “Japanese” curry with a Beyond burger in it! We also finally found an open M&S which was wildly disappointing: they had very few vegan things in stock, and everything was so expensive that it just wasn’t worth it.
After lunch we headed back to the metro and were startled to see police gathering around the entrances in full riot gear. Notably they also had their ID numbers covered, making them impossible to identify. We hurried onto the train and headed back to the hostel.
That evening we met with a Servas “day host”: someone who cannot offer accommodation but has volunteered to act as a cultural guide. She came to our hostel and told us about the background to the protests and what is currently going on. She gave us this great leaflet that the protestors have produced specifically for tourists, which explained the history of how the protests have come about, and thoughtfully apologised for disruption during travellers’ visits:The main things we learnt about were the demands of the protestors; spray painted around the city as “Five demands, not one less“:
- Full withdrawal of the extradition bill from the legislative process
- Retraction of the characterisation of the protests as “riots”
- Release and exoneration of arrested protesters
- Establishment of an independent commission of inquiry into police behaviour
- Universal suffrage for Legislative Council and Chief Executive elections, and the resignation of Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
We were aware of the extradition bill, the introduction of which had sparked the enormous marches back in March and April. Although Carrie Lam had suspended the bill in June, it was not fully withdrawn until October, and in the meantime the protestors had introduced the other demands. On 12 June, the bill was due for a second reading, by which time regular protests were being held. A general strike was called for this date, observed by over 100 employers. Protestors staging an ongoing sit-in outside the Legislative Council Complex were dispersed by police using kettling, tear gas, bean bag rounds and rubber bullets. Police declared the protests as a riot, which carries the potential for much harsher penalties for protestors. There are ongoing concerns about police tactics and brutality, which the protestors are demanding an independent enquiry into.
On the weekend we arrived, Carrie Lam brought in a law banning face masks in public places, making it much harder for protestors to be anonymous. Unlike in Europe, it is very common for people in China to wear face masks for purported health benefits, so this law doesn’t just affect protestors. Nonetheless, we saw many people in face masks during our visit.
After discussing the protests at our hostel, our host took us for a walk around the city, reassuring us that it was safe to go out at night as long as we were with her and were careful. We started at the makeshift shrine that we had passed the day before, where a special vigil was being held to commemorate the police storm in the station where many people were injured. The metro company blocked access to first aiders and journalists, and later refused to release CCTV footage, and have been characterised as taking the side of the police and Chinese state. As a result, metro stations have been targeted for further vandalism. She pointed out some graffiti in Cantonese of new words that have been invented by the protestors, linking the characters for government and police with the metro company and triad.
We then went down to the waterfront where we went for a lovely walk with the city all lit up around us. There was no obvious sign of any protesting here, families were visible out and about at night as we’ve become used to in Asia, and we also saw a few groups of European tourists sitting with cans of beer.
Something our host pointed out to us that we wouldn’t have noticed otherwise was a bare flag pole: usually there would be a Chinese flag flying there but it had been pulled down and destroyed so many times that the city has stopped replacing it.
Our host kindly treated us to dinner at a lovely vegetarian restaurant. We had a huge gluten dish made to look like a fish; we usually avoid this peculiarly Chinese custom of making vegetarian food appear to be meat, but on this occasion we decided to give it a try, and it was delicious! We also tried a couple of types of local congee (gelatinous rice soup) which has a very strange texture to us, but again had really amazing flavours.After dinner we walked back towards the hostel, and we could definitely see evidence of the protests, as small groups of protestors hurried from one place to another. The strangest sight of the night however was when we ducked down a road at our host’s insistence, to a “fortune telling alley”: dozens of small stalls with palm readers sat waiting for customers. Also jostling for space here were several karaoke stands, where singers competed to blast out awful renditions of songs over the noise of their neighbours. Totally weird.
We turned a corner and walked straight through the middle of a huge crowd of protestors walking the other way, who parted smoothly to move around us. We were really struck by the diversity of people in the crowd: they weren’t universally young, as the media had led us to believe, and there were many people who appeared to be of different nationalities.
Back on the main road we came across our first police roadblock. A small crowd of onlookers stood on the pavement and we shuffled into this group. Police in full riot gear stood in a line across the road a few hundred metres away, waving back any pedestrians who came near. Anyone who didn’t stop approaching quickly enough had a strobe light shone in their direction: we both accidentally caught a glimpse of bright white light in this way. Despite the strong police force, we couldn’t see any sign of any protestors nearby.
At one point someone walked up the road, and was emphatically told to get back on the pavement: our host explained that if we were on the pavement we were pedestrians, anyone walking in the road was considered a protestor.
Eventually the police moved over to the far side of the road and we were allowed to continue on our way. As we passed on the opposite pavement some of the other people in our group shouted at the police, including a slur about “pork and chicken rice”, which apparently refers to an instance when Hong Kong police ordered food for three times the number of people that they had working, perhaps in anticipation of further support arriving from the mainland?
At the next big intersection we ended up being absorbed into a large crowd of protestors, who were quietly standing blocking the street. As we worked our way through, we noted how the fringes of the protests were blurred: there were so many passers-by and onlookers, that it was hard to tell who was actively protesting and who was just watching. We saw a few protestors rush by with “medic” badges and carrying medical equipment. We later heard reports that tear gas had been used that night against the crowd at the vigil we’d witnessed earlier at Prince Edward metro station.
Once again we were eventually able to pass through as police and the protestors dispersed. Most of what we witnessed was the anticipation of clashes, but we did not see any active disruption. Only later as we walked through empty streets did we see signs of that night’s earlier protests and vandalism: road barriers had been dismantled and many cobblestones had been pulled from the pavement, to create makeshift roadblocks. A few days later we walked on the same street and all the gaps left by the cobblestones were filled in with concrete.
We learned from our host and from others we spoke to that the majority of the protestors were indeed young people; the first generation who had only known Chinese rule. Overall they were concerned that they were losing their freedom and privacy to an increasingly controlling government, and they were scared not only for their future, but for the future of their children too if this slow erosion of their rights was not checked. We were told that some of these protestors carried wills in their bags in case they were killed by the police, fully prepared for that as a possibility. We were also told that some much older people had been taking to the streets when police were using both rubber bullets and live rounds, standing in between protestors and police to protect the young people, risking their own lives. Apparently there was a new saying that you weren’t really from Hong Kong if you hadn’t experienced tear gas.
As with many conflicts, there were multiple layers, beyond the immediate demands of the protestors. There were rumblings of triad groups and organised crime using both protestors and police for their own ends. The protests were tied up with class too. Some of the police looked like children themselves, almost ridiculous in the hulking riot gear. We were told that young people who weren’t as good academically often turned to the police force, so the protestors called slurs to them about their educational abilities.
Our time in urban Hong Kong was characterised by duality. There were almost two separate cities co-existing in the same space and time. The world of the protests where lives were at stake in a David and Goliath battle between youth and state. This went on alongside the usual business of the city, with streets shared by shoppers and protestors, each largely ignoring the other. The duality extended into identity, with some people feeling more aligned to China, and some to Hong Kong as a distinct entity. These differences reached into families, as well as political groups and affiliations. We saw both of these cities during our time, the one where we were tourists gazing in wonder at a different world, and the one where brutality lurked in the metros and the police were a source of fear. One of the saddest things was that often we were asked by locals if we were afraid or felt like our trip was marred by the protests. When we said no, they thanked us. But it was true, we weren’t scared. We were never a target for the protestors, their interests were much more concrete. And we had the privilege as tourists to be almost invisible to the police. Contrary to the reporting in Western media, the protests we saw were considerate, targeted and thought-provoking, and our hearts broke to see so many young people desperately fighting for the freedoms which we take for granted as white British people in the UK.
Hong Kong countryside
The day after witnessing the protests firsthand, we took the metro and two buses out to a national park. The public transport in Hong Kong is fantastic, you can catch a local bus right to the start of a hiking trail and then embark on a walk through remote countryside. We were aiming for another YHA, this time with a campsite (which costs as much as a private room in some other parts of China!). We arrived and were dismayed to see the place looked completely deserted. Eventually a man appeared and explained that the site was closing for the season, but he kindly agreed to let us camp anyway, so we had the whole place to ourselves (almost: there were a fair few cockroaches and spiders in the toilet block!). That night we had the most epic of camping dinners: we had found a tin of Heinz baked beans in a supermarket (for about £3!) and ate them from a pan with crusty bread as a scoop. Delicious.
The site was quite eerie with nobody else there, it felt like it had been abandoned for some time, not recently closed up after a busy summer season. Dried leaves gathered in the corners of the courtyard, giant inflatable bowling pins lurched creepily against benches, and strange skittering creatures kept us up all night (that and the fact that we were sleeping on the lumpiest grass in the world with no rollmats!). We lay sweating on top of our sleeping bags in the extreme humidity and 27+ degree heat all through the night, unable to open the mesh to let a draft through as the air was full of hungry mosquitoes. At one point we heard a noise in the bushes and looked out to see the eyes of a wild cat looking in our direction from the shadows. We watched its silhouette for a while, unable to pinpoint the moment it melted back into the grass.
We had left some luggage with our Servas host in the city, so that we could hike from one campsite to another with all our gear, and we set off the next morning on a fantastic walk around the Northeast coast:We had to MASSIVELY adjust our expectations about what we could manage in terms of walking distance. It was really really hot, and with the extra weight of our bags we were burning through calories and water quickly. We nearly stopped at the first public campsite we reached: a huge field (with a helipad at one end!), dotted around the edge with barbeque pits and surrounded by shady trees, with toilets and showers. However we had only been walking a couple of hours and we wanted to see more of the countryside. Unfortunately we found out later that this was the only public campsite on the island with showers! After a few more hours of walking we thankfully came to a secluded bay and had a quick dip in the clear blue water to cool off.
For the next couple of days we did some lovely walking around Sai Kung, and stayed in some great public campsites; although none were quite as good as the one we’d passed on our first day, they all had toilets and most importantly were free! The trails were brilliantly maintained, clearly marked with 500m posts labelled to let you know where you were, and also periodic noticeboards with maps showing your exact location along the named trails. The hiking was fantastically diverse too, as we walked through mangroves where fiddler crabs and mudskippers rushed to hide as we passed by one minute, and airy cliff-top paths with spectacular views of the islands the next On one day we came to the ‘inland sea’: a huge reservoir supported by an enormous dam; despite this huge water reserve, Hong Kong is still mostly dependent on mainland China for drinking water.We climbed the highest mountain on the western island of Lantau (inventively named Lantau Peak), under a mercifully cloudy sky, which reduced the soaring temperatures but not the UV index and we both got a bit sunburnt! At the top we enjoyed some snacks and the view of rolling hills and sea all around, until Jay spotted a couple of hornets and we thought it was time to scarper. The beautiful trail through the forested hillside afforded some spectacular views, intense earthy smells, and easy fell running. The trail also gave us our first encounter with a snake on a hike, and some truly terrifying spiders. We had been chatting with some women from Thailand that day and pointed out the gargantuan arachnids with something akin to awe. They were entirely unimpressed. Apparently, these were just your normal everyday spiders!
Lantau Peak towers above the town of Ngong Ping, famous for its giant Buddha, which we then went to see up close, begrudgingly making our way up the stairs on our hill-weakened legs. Climbing the many flights of stairs to the base of the Buddha, its eyes seemed to follow your progress and the statue had a strange air of observance.
On our last night we camped at a free campsite on a beach, and fell asleep listening to the lapping of the waves on the shore. It was mostly blissful, though we were both alarmed to see a herd of water buffalo wander past in the dark about 10m from our tent!
Leaving Hong Kong
The next morning we packed up in the pouring rain, thunder and lightening, grumpily stuffing our soaking wet tent into its bag and rushing to get away from the campsite and onto the bus. Thankfully the weather cleared and we were able to lay out all of our wet gear on some benches in a park square near a shopping centre. This clearly concerned a nearby gardener, who brought her manager over and they whispered urgently to each other until Jay went over to explain that we weren’t setting up camp and would be leaving soon! Perhaps the washing line between benches was a bit much.Eventually when everything was dry enough to be packed we headed to Hong Kong airport, eight hours before our flight, so that we could drop off our bags and relax over coffee to catch up on the blog (we managed one post!). The departures area was weird: most of the shops were closed and it was eerily quiet. We don’t know but it felt like this was probably more evidence of businesses being afraid of unrest. Riot police were visible near the airport metro station, but apart from that we didn’t see any evidence of protests there.
As we waited for our boarding gate to open, we watched some footage of the protests on the news: there was a continuous loop of protestors committing violence against police officers (who were in the act of violently arresting people), protestors vandalising street furniture and attacking the inside of bank vestibules with water from fire hoses. We felt really angry at how one-sided the reporting was, although we don’t doubt the footage was real, it did not accurately represent what we had seen of the protests: organised and targeted civil disobedience.
It was with really mixed feelings that we left Hong Kong. We really loved the city and countryside, and felt completely safe the whole time we were there. We realise that part of what we enjoyed was the familiarity of many things: driving on the left, English road signs, UK plug sockets, familiar restaurants and shops stocking British goods, all things that are a direct result of our country’s own violent colonialism. That familiarity, rooted in occupation as it was, made us privileged in travelling in Hong Kong. It made it easy for us, much more so than in mainland China where despite finding it a fascinating country, we also encountered cultural barriers at every turn. The joy of the incredibly well-managed hiking trails and national parks was a revelation to us, which gave us some of the most incredible experiences. But we were sad too for Hong Kong and it’s people, especially those who are caught up in a fight we can’t see a way for them to win. Yet it is still so important to keep fighting, despite the odds stacked against them. It felt like the most desperate of situations, and one which can only be made worse by the bias in how this has been reported in the media in not only the UK, but in many of the other places we’ve visited too. Although there was nothing directly we could do to change the situation, we hope that writing about it in some small way helps to bring a different perspective to those of you who made it this far through this extended post. We would encourage you to read more about this conflict, and to talk to others about it too. There’s a whole generation there fighting and they need to know that they’ve been heard.