見證歷史 Witness History

I was in Hong Kong during the “Establishment Day” demonstrations on July 1st, the day that Hong Kong and China memorialize the handover from the British Empire to the PRC. It’s known popularly as the 回歸, the repatriation, the homecoming; but my Hong Kong friend prefers to refer to it coldly as the 主權交接, the transfer of sovereignty.  Hong Kong was never part of the PRC before, so it didn’t feel like a homecoming to him.  

The following is a post I wrote for parents on the student group’s travel blog; they had asked me about the “riots” that they had seen on the news, and asked what the atmosphere was like the next day.  Here’s a redacted version of what I sent them.  

July 2, 2019. Here’s what I saw and how I personally understand the situation. Others will have different perspectives and different interpretations, and I certainly welcome the discussion.

Yesterday was the 22nd anniversary of the “Handover,” the transfer of Hong Kong’s sovereignty from Great Britain to the People’s Republic of China.

Hong Kongers mark the anniversary by wearing black and marching down the main roads across the island, chanting slogans and airing grievances against the territorial government. The main demands yesterday were:

  • Scrap the proposed extradition treaty with PRC.
  • End police brutality against demonstrators.
  • HK Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s resignation.

The march started in Victoria Park in the east, across the city to the Central Government Complex near MTR Admiralty Station. Thousands and thousands of people crowded the streets to support this demonstration, including a few or our students.

We had been assured by our colleagues at Wah Yan College that this big march would be a family friendly, festival atmosphere, with no danger of violence.  WYC had an official no-comment policy about the demonstrations, but most of our counterparts told us privately that they were joining the demonstration with their families.

Early in the day, I sent a message to our students, telling them to carry their umbrella (for rain and sun), carry water (for hydration), to stick with their buddies for safety, and to stay away from areas where clashes might happen.  Signs of clashes:  police in riot gear, protesters in yellow helmets.

I started getting messages from friends around town that clashes between activists and police were happening at the expo center, where the flag raising ceremony takes place. The disruptions to the ceremony seemed minor and isolated.

Later, I saw on the news that protestors with hard hats and other protective gear were gathering at the Legislative Council (LegCo) building. Since we didn’t have any programming for this territorial holiday, the students had not checked in with us, so I put out a general call over WhatsApp to please stay south of Harcourt Road, away from the Central Government Complex.

It was at that point that we started seeing on the news that protesters were attempting to smash a single plate glass window at LegCo. Squads of police were inside of the hall where the plate glass window was being smashed, but they did not engage with the protesters.  When the protesters did manage to breech the plate glass window, they did not attempt to engage the police or enter the building. I watched the events unfold on TV news, both local coverage and CNN.

When I saw that the protesters and police were not actually engaging each other, I left my hotel room to see the demonstrations for myself. I ended up in a stream of people that went past the police station, jeering, and down toward Harcourt Road and the Central Government Complex.

What I saw was thousands of people crowding the park, the plaza the streets, and the boulevards. There were people of all ages, but what stood out was that young people–high school and college age–had created a supply system. Someone down near the government complex would shout what they needed, and the young people dispersed throughout the crowed would both pass along the message, and then shuttle supplies to the front.  They were asking for helmets, gloves, zip ties, water, umbrellas, and scissors. There were very few phones in the air, and in fact a young lady yelled at me when I put my own phone up to take a picture.  Then I remembered that the PRC has a vast facial recognition initiative, and that my photos might be putting these kids in danger for the rest of their lives.

I myself did not cross Harcourt Road. In fact when it was starting to get dark, I left to go back to my hotel.

Back in the hotel, I was very disappointed to watch CNN’s coverage. They seemed to be ignoring the massive demonstration on the main boulevard, and focused all their attention on the broken plate glass window at the LegCo building.  They called the protesters’ actions as a violent act of blind rage and characterized it as a riot; they wondered aloud why the police hadn’t cracked down yet and wondered when the crackdown would start; they wondered how this protest would disrupt the economic activities of this international financial hub. CNN’s anchor said several times that the protestors seemed disorganized and without leadership.

When I woke up this morning, I saw in the news that the protestors had, in fact, briefly occupied the LegCo chambers. They vandalized some key objects (officials’ portraits, symbols of the PRC), but marked certain objects as national treasures and warned others to not harm them.

So my personal conclusion was that CNN’s coverage was not well informed. The protestors did seem to me very highly organized, highly principled highly disciplined; they did not engage the police and seemed to put very clear limits on what they would vandalize.  They did not injure any people or damage private property. They clearly had the support of the thousands of people, who showed up in the streets, bringing supplies and chanting support. Breeching the plate glass window seemed symbolic, something that might be interpreted as a protected act of political speech. The message: our government should be open to the people and to the outside world.

The police, for their part, did not engage the protestors with force, as for the most part the police were not personally attacked. When the police announced that it was time to clear out the LegCo building of occupiers, they allowed a few protestors to do a final sweep of the area to make sure that everyone had evacuated.

Today we checked in with the students informally, and they didn’t seem to be anywhere near the LegCo building. Many had spent the day at beaches on other islands, getting sunburnt (which is also alarming but it’s a separate issue).

This morning, Hong Kong went back to business as usual. Repairs were started in the LegCo building, and economic activity in this international financial hub did not seem to be affected in the slightest.  The PRC issued statements condemning the lawlessness, the chaos, and the violence of the protests, which is some spin.

CNN’s coverage was total garbage to me, but there were two sources of analysis that I appreciated.  One was this article in the Financial Times, which helps show how very highly organized and prepared this supposedly chaotic and leaderless demonstration was.  In fact, there are a few FT articles whose perspective I appreciate.  
I also thought the report by the Daily Moth was excellent information (above).  

Snack Battle

I bought these three snacks at 7-11 down on the street.  I had been hoping to go to the snooty supermarket, but it’s closed until 10am.

Singapore Chilli Crab Seaweed Tempura (50 HKD, today $6.40 USD)

This was the one I was most excited to taste, because I love crab, I love the way they do it in Singapore with the spicy chiles. I like seaweed.  So I should like this.

I do not like this.  It’s greasy and doesn’t taste like crab or chiles or chilli crab. Thumbs down. Not worth six and a half dollars.

Salted Egg Yolk Potato Chips (50 HKD, $6.40 USD)

I’m not sure which of my friends first posted salted egg yolk potato chips on social media; it was some Filipino, and a bunch of other Filipinos got all excited and gushed about wanting to try these. I am a fan of potato chips, and I do like a nice salted duck egg with rice and tomato.

These are terrible; not crunchy, not salty, not yolky.  They taste cheap. Why are they so greasy? No, just no.

Japanese 7-11 Peanuts (16 HKD, USD $2.05)

Austere and firm.  They’re nice.  Not as good as spicy Shanghai fried peanuts; not as snappy, but way better than the other two snacks. WINNER.

Handover Day

Today is the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover. Streets are quiet. I saw some demonstrators in black shirts carrying black banners calling back to a leader with a megaphone. They were escorted by a squad of a dozen police (regular gear) in front of the group, and another squad behind. Regular people on the street took pictures with their phones. I’m always surprised that one of the phone photographers always seems to be a young man, scoffing. Anyway, I was amused that the protest went up the escalator over the sky bridge.

I kept going on my morning walk, and strolled past MTR Wanchai Station. It was quiet. I walked down and around Lockhart street where the 24 hour clubs are, and saw bouncers dressed in black, hanging out at 7 am.

I came back through Southorn Stadium, past Wanchai Station again, and it was super quiet. Except there was a young Filipina in a yellow t-shirt talking loudly into her phone in Tagalog. She kept saying “Serado lang sa Wan Chai,” and telling her followers to go to Central. Then I remembered I understood Tagalog.

I am now parked at the boulangerie on the corner in front of my hotel. I ordered a mini croissant with lox and cucumbers. I defaulted to Mando but looked up and I saw the lady’s name tag said “Rosario.” I asked her “kabaybayan pi ba kayo?” And she answered “oo” very discreetly, like, don’t make a big deal about it.

Are there going to be demonstrations today? Yes. Is there going to be trouble? Sure, there are going to be radicals at the front who will want to f.s.u. From what I’ve heard from my friends, most people will join the march. Our host school has a diplomatic “no comment” about the demonstrations.

Update: both WanChai and Admiralty stations are closed. My friend reports there are clashes at the exhibition center. It’s raining too hard for me to be out right now. I might get a baguette and some cheese and go back to my room.

Filipino Day Off (HK Days 5, 6)

Day 5: Breakfast and Lantau Island

I managed to order breakfast in Cantonese but I got surprise spam in my fried egg noodles.  Met the kids at MRT Tung Chung station and bussed to Big Buddha.  Some people hiked; sat and ate snacks.

Later, bussed to Tai O fishing village and had a photo sesh and then more snacks. Bussed back to MRT Tung Chung and bought sandals to replace my bad chanclas.

Day 5: Chinese Banquet

I loved this but it was mostly lost on the kids. We should make banquet optional if the kids don’t really want to be there. Same food as in Seattle Chinatown, higher quality. Hong Kong people are much more precious about food than we are in Chinatown, however, they have no qualms about flipping a fish. I was like, no.

Day 6: Filipino Day Off

Woke up early, had my egg sandwich and coffee, and then tried to walk to mass.  There are a lot of churches and chapels around, and I thought I was going to find all the OFWs. I saw them setting up all over Central but they were decidedly not at the cathedral for mass. I attended a Cantonese mass. Some cultural differences: they bow at the sign of peace. They dip the host into a tipped chalice, like a sawsawan.  They bow deeply after the mass is ended, i.e, “thanks be to God.”

I cabbed back to Wan Chai and suggested a cab to Beijing Garden restaurant in Moko way over by Mon Kok East. Had to turn the cab around when I forgot my bag. Met R and his wife and son at Beijing Garden and ate very well. Then went to a foot massage place that they recommended, it felt great. I was surprised that I could understand everyone, and then realized they were speaking Mando. Went on to see the new Spiderman movie and then MTR back to Wan Chai, stopping for shrimp and mushroom wonton noodles before calling it a night in the hotel room.

Wan Chai Breakfast Discovery (HK Day 4)

img_3794Good morning from the Wan Chai district of Hong Kong. It’s day four of our exchange.

This morning the group doesn’t meet until 9:30 but I was up at 5am as usual and out the door by 6am.  I went to the local breakfast place I saw yesterday, telling myself I must order noodles for breakfast.

Well I stood there reading the menu for a long time and didn’t see noodles, so I just ordered an egg sandwich and coffee.  A lady sat down next to me and as soon as my food came, her food came too:  FRIED EGG NOODLE SOUP.  I looked up and two other men were eating noodle soup for breakfast a well. They all know my face now, so I’ll just ask for it.

My Cantonese is so bad.  I know I can ask for things in Mando but I feel gross about it.  I’m currently paying for breakfast but repeating the total they tell me in canto, and then digging for all the coins in my pocket and letting them pick out the right amount.  My fried egg sandwich and coffee this morning was 27, so now I know how to say “twenty seven.”

Later I went for a walk and bought some curry fish balls, by pointing.  Again, I paid by laying out my coins, but I didn’t learn the number.

Then I bought shaving cream and came back to the room and did laundry, and hung up my clothes to dry in the shower using a tension rod I bought at the hardware store last night. So far it’s staying up.

I’m going to shave now and then find get a macchiato at the espresso bar downstairs.  We’ll see how that goes.  More later.



Hong Kong Exchange

So I’m in Hong Kong now, up in my hotel room, exhausted.

A few days ago, back in Joshua Tree, I bit it while up at Keys View, and I reported that I jammed my finger. I now know that during my fall, a bunch of material actually jammed itself up under my cuticle, and has been there for the last 72 hours. I realized it tonight at dinner that here was stuff jammed up under my cuticle, and it was causing the painful swelling.  My dining companions encouraged me to take a toothpick and dig out the material right there at the table, before we ate, and it turns out that there was enough material up there to fill a dumpster.  I think it’s out now, and my finger feels relieved.

So Mr. T gave me a ride to the airport, where I met a student. We flew to Seattle and my sister H picked us up. We met up with a second student and his family at the Waterfront and had dinner at the salmon cooker.  Went to ice cream, hung out at my sister’s house. Finally back to the airport to start our odyssey.

It was 13 hours on Cathay Pacific. We arrived at HKG at 5am. We took a rented coach to the school, Wah Yan College, a Jesuit high school.  I was struck by how overtly Jesuit it is.  There was a tour of the school and a tour of the neighborhood. Our WYC counterparts took the other teacher and I to lunch, and then I checked into the hotel and got situated. There was a long rain shower, and when that died down I went into the streets and bought an umbrella and snacks. Got lost. Ate at the Lili’s/Potsticker King.

This morning I got up early and had egg toast on Hennessy Road and also found a lady that sold bean curd skin stuffed with shrimp. I walked back up to WYC which is on the top of a hill, and the hill is a killer walk; exhausting. It puts Seattle Prep’s Jesuit Hill to shame.

Today at school there was an awards assembly, a calligraphy lesson, a Mandarin Chinese lesson. Had lunch at a Chaozhou Noodle place. There was an MTR adventure to the Ladies Market in Kowloon, a walk to some shopping area, and the Avenue of the Stars.  Later we took a Star Ferry back to Hong Kong Island and walked our way back to Wan Chai, stopping for dinner at some “Little Kitchen” whose name I can’t read:  炒油菜, fish with broccoli.

Hong Kong Day Four; Last Day

I get up at sunrise because I can’t bear to close my hotel room curtains.    

I put on some pants on and went to the hotel breakfast buffet.  This is my first plate; the second plate had fruit, cheese, and salmon.  Tomorrow I’m just going to fill my plate with salmon, it’s my last day!   

I had lunch plans with a friend of mine, so I didn’t want to stray too far on my morning explore, so I found the Mid-Levels Travelator, the 中環至半山自動扶梯.  So apparently the city… built something to help the people… get around town… with something OTHER THAN A CAR.  Amazing.  It’s a series of escalators up a residential hill, but iin the narrow streets up there are tons of bars, restaurants, and cafes.  It’s really pretty cool.  

From 6am to 10am they run the escalators downhill, so people living up the hill can get to work in Central.  Around 10:30 they complete the big direction switch, so yokels like me can go up and get lost.  The photos below are right before the switch.  


You get a pretty good view of the streets below.  Just like in the movies, the narrow streets are crowded with colorful signs.  Notice, though, that the streets are immaculate and there are no aerial cables or wires for telephone, electricity, cable tv, or whatever.    


I started my journey up the hill around 10am and at 11am I panicked a little becuase I didn’t want to be late to meet my friend back at Central.  It was a hot day but it was fun taking the escalators up.  On the way down I realized that the hill is STEEP and I was worried about my ankles… which held up just fine, by the way.  

By the time I got back down to Queen’s Road I had sweat through my shirt, so I popped into a luxury shopping mall and parked at a Starbucks.  My friend CS met me soon after.  

We went to Crystal Jade in the IFC Mall, and the 小籠包 soup dumplings were so, so good.  Way better than DTF, for all of you that know that I hate that place.  CS had me read the English version of the crazy menu copy.  On one hand, why didn’t they get an English speaker to fix it?  On the other hand, it’s awesome just as it is, because crazy.  

We had coffee and talked about travel, Asia, Italian moms, and books.  As he was about to go back to work, I said, “You know I’m going to take a selfie…” 

“What,” he asked, “is this like 2014 or something?” 

“Come on,” I said, “I’m on vacation!”  

CS recommended I take a star ferry to Tsim Sha Tsui and walk up Nathan Road, exploring.  Which is what I did!  But I also took a one hour tourist ferry through the harbor, which was a little weak, but there was a/c and I got to sit, so I count it as a win.  


I got off the boat at Tsim Sha Tsui and walked around and found some Macanese tea houses, and got me a couple of 葡撻, which were great!  



I gave myself the mission of buying a bandana or hankerchief, since I was annoyed I hadn’t had one on Lamma Island when sweat was rolling into my eyes.  I failed to find any, but I did see these guys putting up bamboo scaffolding. 


 After that I went back to the hotel to chill out for an hour or so.  My laundry came back, and the price tag is so high I could have just thrown the dirty clothes away and bought all new clothes for the price.  Oh well, at least they’re already folded and ready to pack.  

By the way, the cleaning lady misidentified me earlier today as Taiwanese, and said I was very 斯文。 Funny, because I felt pretty shabby in my rayon aloha shirt and cargo shorts, but I’ll take the compliment!  

Afterwards, I met Hizonor S in Mong Kok and we had a meal in the food court of the mall there.  The a/c was delicious and so was the garlic rice in this photo below.  The pork neck was a little dry.   


S ordered a durian and black rice dessert, and I took a picture of it, and he took a picture of me taking a picture of it.  Yes, it smelled like durian!  My dessert was mango and watermelon slices, and I got a picture of him taking a picture of it.  


And then there was a selfie.  Of course, I’m on vacation!  Tomorrow:  Singapore.