Otherwise Occupied in Hong Kong

Discussion in 'Trip Reports' started by SST, Oct 6, 2014.  |  Print Topic

  1. SST
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    I had two trips to HKG in the past month, one which was a vacation and the other a few days' work. During the first week, we were aware of the Occupy Central movement as they were demonstrating in that time-honored way: gigantic black banners and a couple thousand marchers from Admiralty to Central. (A huge group of them walked all the way from Causeway Bay to Central). Most of what we saw took place on Sundays, which has the distinction of being Maid-Day-Off in HK, with thousands of them out meeting up, playing games, kibitzing, and just seeing each other.... Occupy added a whole new dimension.

    On Sundays, every inch of most walkways and sidewalks in Central (and Causeway Bay) are occupied by the maids. It's rather charming actually, a custom far different from most other places. However, the Occupy folks took it to a whole new level. They sat down in the street, in front of the major government offices, en masse, in the street, and became so numerous that the PD simply didn't have a way of ending it without resorting to tear gas and pepper spray...... Which led to the current state of an internationally recognized protest movement that has added locations and taken on a life of its own.

    The protesters aim to have the Beijing Chinese government not vet candidates for an upcoming election, considering that a perversion of democracy and considering this reneging on the "One country, two systems" pledge to the UK and Hong Kong citizenry in the China handover process. (It may be simplistic, but this summarizes it in a nutshell).

    Multiple student groups and other full democracy advocates devised this mass protest, similar to the NYC "Occupy" protests of two years ago, as a means of forcing a change on this political policy. Turning viral, especially after the gas-and-capsicum act, literally tens of thousands of people have sat, slept and taken over Queensway, Des Voeux Rd Central, and other major arteries, ending tram service and buses, and snarling traffic. They also blockaded the HK Executive's offices, where normally 3,000 civil servants work. This has led to both transportation problems and school, government and business closings for nine days now.

    The protesters there are down to maybe 300.

    Enter me: just a poor schlemiel, trying to have a good time in HK. OK, so I'm a bit of a student of demonstrations and collective action due to being "that age" (I remember the late 60s and 70s) and having some experience in community organizing and social causes. So it was an interesting phenomenon. The feelings are heartfelt (I talked to some demonstrators) and most but not all are sincerely interested in nonviolent civil disobedience as a means of bringing attention to their cause. There are undoubtedly bad actors somewhere, and of course this sort of thing brings out both the demagogues, and a few anarchists who seek mass disruptions of "the system", but generally it was one of the best-behaved, most polite mass inconveniences I've ever suffered.

    No, the HK trams are out of service. No, I avoided taxis like the plague, just using the MTR and walking, and a couple buses I could find going my way. And it probably sucks to have a boss who rides you for every minute late you are at work, or to have your pay docked because the place closes. Or needing an ambulance. This has real effects on real people, this is not playtime for them, and they're getting mad..... But the strikers have a point too. This is a serious concern if you care at all how the local government is run. locally or from Beijing?

    I'm not going to take sides; I'll just tell you what I found the last five days, since many questions were asked here and on Flyertalk.

    I made plans to avoid the inconvenience. I probably covered less ground than I wanted to. The MTR has stepped up service, but even so, the subway is packed at all hours, beyond its normal crowd. Yet the town is crowded on a Friday or Saturday evening.

    Since next to no one walks in the main area they've occupied in Central (except government workers) and since the protests are now down to maybe 3-500 people, I had to look for it to find it. The maids on Sunday are a bigger impediment to getting around (IF, big if, you don't have business with the government or in that specific set of buildings.)

    For example, I had a package to pick up at Hutchison House, off Queensway and a couple blocks from Admiralty Station. I thought they might be closed. No problem, it turned out. Oddities existed: there was no escalator service up from the MTR exit to Queensway Plaza for a walk through to the BofA Building. But the stairs worked fine--- and the stores were all open. Got my stuff and decided to go exploring. Had no problem getting from there to the main parts of Central, anywhere but the couple of blocks they occupied. Much ado about nothing. Driving would have been different: traffic shut off for blocks, just at the point where Admiralty turns into Central. Beats me how as a non resident I would get about. As a visitor: much less traffic. Good! Take mass transit and walk.

    Mong Kok was another area where they had a big blockage. The sit down is in Nathan Rd, right at Mong Kok Station. Yet a couple trips up there and I wasn't inconvenienced in the least. Everything but banks right at the main junction seemed open. The protesters we're well behaved and the police presence more befuddled than oppressive.

    Warning: This report is just MY observation as an urban male American and crowds are always capable of turning ugly, as are the police. Also, I went to observe the Mong Kok goings on twice but no later than 11:00 in the evening. I understand some violence took place much later--- gang ups on protesters by unhappy locals, PD/protestor confrontations, protestor/protestor fights. I would use your head, and leave at the first sign of any drama.

    I observed one argument between a local and a student, and it was the most polite unhappiness I think I've witnessed. Didn't mean that they didn't degenerate into a fight later. My anecdotes are not a guide. I can only say this: I was not particularly inconvenienced in either my business or wandering around on the weekend at leisure, and I made a fun weekend out of it.

    I wish both sides a speedy and mutually satisfactory resolution of their differences. I hope Occupy and/or these other intertwined organizations can back down maturely and get a lasting agreement; the Chinese government too. Perhaps it is a beginning of a new social contract.... (As a professional cynic, I think there are forces in the government who would like to crush them as a lesson; there are also anarchists and Beijing-haters who see this as an opening to perhaps crush communist party domination. Frankly,neither of them is getting that, so trying to forge a new normal is for the best. Let's hope this ends well.). Good luck to all.

    In the meantime, it was very interesting, and the inconveniences were, in some ways, rather interesting. I surely walked a lot, and that can't hurt. Except my feet. Oh, and the food scene is still wonderful. Maybe I didn't have a line, so there can be a silver lining, huh? While it never hurts to keep an eye on local conditions, Don't cancel any trips is my advice.
     
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2014
  2. SST
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    Here's some pictures I took at the Mong Kok location about 10 on Saturday night.

    In the first, people look on while speeches are given.

    [​IMG]



    In the second, the smiling young woman is debating a local resident, in Cantonese. Others are listening. A Cantonese speaker told me he was telling her they should get off the streets and let people open their shops. The only shops closed were right at the block in question. As far as I could tell, Mong Kok was going full tilt everywhere else. In fact, many people had little kids, and even strollers with them.

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2014
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  3. SST
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    The best source of specific information about the magnitude of what is happening (or not) is scmp.com, on your way to Hong Kong and while in town.
     
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