Hong Kong Big City of Dreams
“You can leave Hong Kong, but it will never leave you.” Nury Vittachi
Looking backwards at our trip, it appears I was comparing calendars for each country and timing our visits for their major holiday or celebration. The reality is, we all choose where we go, and I spend time looking at trains, flights, Airbnb’s and get us to as many places on as few dollars as possible. In Asia, this meant learning how to work with the new low-cost carriers and being flexible with dates and times. One of the unexpected scheduling wins this trip was a three-day layover in Hong Kong. Because our timing is “perfect”, one of those days was their reunification day; officially known as the Special Administrative Region Establishment day.
Each year on the 1st of July this holiday brings out the biggest protests in the city and because our choice in apartments is “perfect”, at 12:30 our six lane street, which normally is jammed with buses, was shut down for the protest. For the next couple hours, different groups set up their stands on the side of the street. We walked up and down the street and talked to a couple of the different groups. Most of the groups were against the current government and its plans. We talked with one dissident waving the Union Jack, who had done a few days jail time after his last protest. He told us he couldn’t be quiet, and some of his friends and accomplices are still in jail. He talked to us about why he and others still wanted to be part of the British Commonwealth. As the preparation continued, the number of police continued to grow. In a matter of seconds, we saw the entire street line with policemen between the different protest canopies and the road. This line continued for a block or two in either direction.
The temperature was nearing 100 degrees with a 112 heat index, and it wasn’t clear to us if it ever was going to get started. Asher and Keiran decided to watch the protests from the cool of the apartment. However, McKane and I set up in the middle of the road to watch the parade of protesters. As they began marching past it was odd because the most boisterous groups were surrounded or followed by packs of policemen. In the end, there were a few animated individuals but soon it took on a parade atmosphere with bands and the most random collection of issues being protested. Hong Kong is nearing 20 years into their 50-year exemption from the Chinese social system.
There are real issues in the future for the people of Hong Kong. They need to figure out how to have a democracy inside a communist country and in my opinion they should change the name of their leader from “Chief Executive” to Governor, Prime Minister, President or even Head Dragon Boat Coxswain. Chief Executive sounds so 1990’s. I figured most of the people protesting would be interested in democracy or the ability to choose their candidates. But the list of actual topics was varied. Much of it was written in Chinese, so my attention started to wander until I saw one about forced organ donation in China. At first I pictured unfortunate drunks waking up in bathtubs of ice with a horseshoe-shaped scar around half their torso. However when I looked it up, it was far worse. Feel free to look it up, but the basic idea is if you have a lot of prisoners who are going to be killed regardless, why not wait or speed up their demise when you find a match for their organs. I would imagine there is no abuse in that kind of a system. Although most of the death row inmates are violent offenders, there are offenses like leading an armed revolt or harming a national treasure that also carry the death sentence. In essence, if the protest became violent and they were charged with leading it, they could possibly be the ones who would be blood type matched for future donations. The Chinese government denies that they harvest prisoners organs without their consent.
It took a couple hours for the full protest to pass by our building. Before the evening was upon us, the protests were over, and it was back to business. We took in the sights of Hong Kong and marveled at the audacity of this city. We rode Hong Kong’s busses around town, stared at it from across the Bay in Kowloon and even peered over its shoulders from behind on Victoria Peak. This small geographic area is, impressively, the 25th largest economy on the planet. It is home to an eclectic mix of people who come here from all over the world to make this bustling city.
After exploring we went out to dinner with an old friend of mine, who grew up in France, his wife, who is Korean and their two kids who wowed my kids with their ability to speak Korean, French, English and Chinese. I think that their family is a good reflection of the vibrant city in which they live. Daniel has been in the city for over 25 years and still sees it as a place of opportunity that has only grown since China took it over. We are not experts on Hong Kong or it’s politics but thanks to our timing we understand it better than we did before, and we have more reasons to not get on death row in China.