Hong Kong stopover
Two years ago I returned to Hong Kong with my daughter, Dale.
So I was over the shock of a city that had changed so dramatically that had it not been for the harbor and The Peak to orientate myself, I would have been completely lost. And showing Dale “my” city helped me to see the modern Hong Kong as a new destination.
I have come back to promote my book, The Hong Kong Letters, and Pete Spurrier, who published the local edition, had media appointments lined up for me. I was swept up into my first-ever radio gig on Radio 3’s Morning Brew and spent many hours with knowledgeable journalists in interviews where we talked as much about Hong Kong today as about my sojourn fifty years ago. I had a hilarious photo-shoot on the harbour-front with swirling rain and mist obliterating the view. I stood against the railings clutching an umbrella in one hand and, for dramatic effect, a life-buoy ring in the other. My specs misted up as we’d emerged from an air-conditioned mall, the cameraman had to keep wiping rain off his lens and best of all we laughed long and hard together. The photographer then hurried off to join the press corp covering the demonstrations.
This time Hong Kong felt so much more familiar. Just the words, “I lived here fifty years ago”, became like a membership card, expired, but the Club Manager happy to forget the past dues. It is a truly friendly city.
In my book, The Hong Kong Letters, I describe the colony in 1968 being between shock and spectre - the shadow of the huge changes of WW2 and Chinese communist revolution behind and the idea of the handover ahead.
Today Hong Kong today stands in a similar intersection. This time it is the 1997 handover behind and ahead the change to one system with China within in another three decades.
And I arrived in Hong Kong just after the 1967 riots and here I am at the same time in the cycle with the current demonstrations. The mood is entirely different and these have been peaceful demonstrations albeit with the inevitable violent fringe, rumors of provocateurs and allegations of police brutality.
And just as last time life goes on while the world news focuses on the most dramatic moments of the demonstrations. A remarkable comradery draws everyone together. When I found it difficult to find my way back to where I was staying at The Helena May, I was glad the cityscape was not entirely foreign to me and ended up with a bird’s-eye view of the demonstration from an overpass. So many people walking - and not just young people – so many watching – and everyone wondering what would happen because this demonstration had not received permission. When the violence did start, it was not far away and people could see it in real-time on their phones. “Look, look, this is what is happening, just over there, beyond that building.”
It was my eyes that sensed the tear gas before my nose and my new-found companions said, “You go now.”
As I watched them scramble over a barrier to hurry off towards the action, I said, “What about you?”
“We go to see and then if the police come, we run away, very fast.”
I decided they were right, it was time for me to go. I could not imagine running away, very fast. Moments later, someone gave me a mask for the gas. It was very feint but she said, “You don’t know what you find on the way.”
I “found” no more tear gas, just a riot squad outside where I was staying – standing on the hill looking down toward the harbour. Someone asked the policeman who seemed to be in charge, “Are the demonstrators coming this way?”
“The demonstrators aren’t going anywhere,” came the laconic reply, which made me feel both glad for had they met that squad it would have been ugly and sad because that suggested they had already met a squad.