Around the World: The Riots of Hong Kong
As a writer, the journeys I take are usually in my head.
However, towards the end of 2019, I embarked on a physical journey. I went around the world one and a half times between October 2019 and March 2020.
After which, the world as we know it changed and put a stop to that. Now, as no one can travel freely, I thought I’d share my trip.
In some way I suppose my trip was similar to the Grand Tours of the 17th- and 18th-century when aristocrats would make their educational rite of passage. Not only aristocrats took these tours, but also artists hoping to enhance their skills by viewing antiquities, learning new languages and immersing themselves in foreign cultures.
The Grand Tour was however restricted to Europe. My Grand Tour took me much further afield.
My journey began in Amsterdam, my first stop Hong Kong. From there I travelled to Australia, South America, North America, and back to Europe.
What I found was a very interesting world. Some of it in turmoil.
In many countries a big change was underway.
I had been to Hong Kong before.
The main attraction to visit again had been memories of the delicious street food. However, something completely different was happening on the streets in October 2019.
For several months the residents had been taking to the streets to protest a change in the laws governing the island.
The main issue was the introduction of a law which meant anyone committing a crime in Hong Kong would be extradited to China to face charges. This included the crime of illegal protesting.
The concern was that this would infringe on and undermine civil liberties and Hong Kong’s autonomy. The protestors had five demands: the withdrawal of the law, investigation of police brutality, the release of incarcerated protestors, the retraction of the term “rioters” in favour of “protestors”, and the right to free elections.
The situation is an ongoing result of the British handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997.
Although Hong Kong had been given an autonomous grace period of 50 years, there has been a gradual move towards the Chinese system of government. With this, over the years, a systematic breakdown of freedom of speech in the province had been occurring.
Naturally, the residents of Hong Kong are not too happy about this.
When I arrived this was all coming to a head.
Upon arrival the airport had already been cordoned off due to protest actions. Only holders of tickets for flights were allowed in or out. In essence the airport had become an island unto itself.
In the first day or so the city seemed to be going on with business as usual. There were daily protests, but these were isolated to certain parts of the city. The main evidence were the posters placated all over the place proclaiming upcoming protests and their demands.
However, this would all quickly change.
Thinking back on it, and considering I only spent a few days in the city, the change was truly amazing. Somehow I had timed my visit at the point where the proverbial kettle boiled over.
I started my visit with a few tourist things.
I visited the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery. Here I climbed a hill lined with, I assume, ten thousand statues of Buddha to the temples at the summit.
One of them contained the embalmed remains of the founder of the temple, the Venerable Yuet Kai, whose body has supposedly remained incorruptible even in death. Which basically means his body will never deteriorate.
I restrained the urge to open his glass box and check.
I visited the Hong Kong Heritage Museum. Here I learned about the importance of Cantonese Opera and there was a hall dedicated to the life of Bruce Lee. Lee was the son of a Cantonese Opera star and grew up on streets of Kowloon.
I caught a lift to the viewing platform of the tallest building in Hong Kong. The lift zipped up 390 metres to the 100th floor in 60 seconds. I’m reasonably sure my ears popped.
At the top I was greeted with an impressive view and, to my surprise, someone cleaning the windows. On the outside.
In a bizarre incident, while looking for live music in Kowloon, I ended up in a Karaoke bar where I was the only European.
The bar turned out to be the haunt of the local Triad boss. I was invited to sit next to his table while him, his enforcer and their cronies proceeded to get royally drunk. The man was so inebriated he had to be carried to the bathroom and back by five men.
For your information he was a big guy.
Somehow being an author can get you into the strangest places.
I think they found me just as fascinating as I found them. Especially, as I was told, they had never had anyone in there that was not of Asian descent.
In the meantime the situation on the streets began to escalate.
It was all a bit surreal.
Somewhere in the city people were going up against police with bullets and teargas. I only saw the aftermath of a taxi that had been ransacked and streets littered with bricks and the remnants of barricades.
I was keeping an eye on the situation via a website from the protestors which had minute by minute updates. The site is still running as I write this.
Then, on my last day, all hell broke loose.
It suddenly became apparent I may not be able to leave Hong Kong.
More about that in my next blog.
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