They blocked subways. An old man started screaming they are doing it for the future of Hong Kong! And it took me three hours, two buses and a lot of walking back to my hotel. Subways all over the city were disrupted, with most everyone supporting the movement. Most that is.
On July 30th, I woke up to a strange message under the door noting the hotel:“is aware that a demonstration may be held in Hong Kong International Airport tomorrow. While the hotel is operating normally and welcoming guests, we are monitoring the situation closely and remain in close contact with local authorities. Please be advised to check the availability of transport services and allow ample travel time to and from the airport. Due to some of the roads may be blocked in several areas, thus extra time for transportation is needed.”
The protests were all over the papers that morning, a vocabulary of punitive motives pouring of the mouths of politicians ready to condemn the protesters, not the members of the Triad, who’d beaten 45 protesters the week before, as the police looked a way.
Fear of a crackdown is everywhere.
Its inevitable, noted one onlooker.
But the extradition bill has not been formally “withdrawn.” Demands from civil society, social workers, from civil servants – Hong Kongers of all walks of life for independent investigation has not been met.
As we speak organizers are languishing in jail for asking too many questions or organizing.
Others have disappeared for selling books.
“Anywhere else in the world, the leaders would have been forced out if two million people hit the street,” said a woman on the subway, when I mentioned Puerto Rico, where mass actions resulted in the resignation of the governor. Seventy years old she goes to all the protests. She worries about the state and the party collaborating with the mob, the Triad. “Its no fun watching gangs beat up your kids.”
The elders have take a huge lead in the actions.
But so have the youth, who largely dominated the subway action Laurie took me to.
I meet her at 7:3O am at the Tiu Keng Leng stop of the Kwun Tong line.
About a half away from my hotel, it would take hours to get home.
Laurie tells me we are just there to watch.
And provide support.
At some point, someone is going to be sick on the train or block the doors, she tells me.
We ride for a while, get out, nothing.
We ride again.
And then we hear a commotion.
The police are taking away a man who tried to beat one of the kids blocking the doors on the subway.
“Why didn’t you close the doors at Yuen Long?” the crowd screams, referring to the July 21 attack when men in white shirts attacked protesters in the train station as the police looked on and the MTA left the doors open in the trains.
The police are going to the business at the airport asking for security footage of the attacks.
The businesses have been sending their footage to the media.
Soon the whole subway is cheering in support of the blockade, against work, business as usual, the banality of the everyday, and authoritarian rule.
“I want to get some dim sum,” one man screams.
“You’re blocking me getting to work.”
“You’re blocking me getting to school.”
Every time the doors close people groan.
When the doors open, they cheer.
“Liberate Hong Kong!!!”
A man on his way to work tries to get on the subway.
An altercation ensues, with everyone calling him uncle.
“Uncle, can I take a selfie with you?” they scream as he stands on the train,
Stone faced, as it stands there.
Finally, someone says stop, you got some jokes in but he is not the enemy.
I have been that guy.
The tension around the actions is constant.
“These kids are fighting for our future, for Hong Kong,” notes an elder.
Its their future, our future.
Finally, I say to Laurie that I should get back and meet the family breakfast.
“Well, that’s your train,” she says, pointing to the blocked line.
Signs say disturbance on the line.
“There is a shuttle outside the A exit,” says Laurie.
Walking outside, I see people lined up around the building.
Thousands and thousands of people normally crowded on the trains looking for a line.
“Mong Kok?” I ask people?
People point around the corner.
I would have walked but ten stops is a long way.
Finally, I jump on a shuttle to another subway station.
The drivers cannot talk to you so I follow the crowd to the next subway, which is also closed.
So I look for a bus.
A16 one man tells me.
The MTA staff are working with everyone to get a ride.
It is pouring out.
And I don’t get back till 1130.
Caroline hadn’t heard from me in hours.
And wondered if I’d been apprehended.
Its happened before.
As we’ve done all trip, we retrace steps Anthony Bourdain has taken.
On his Hong Kong episodes, he constantly searches for the heart of this place,
Looking for small businesses, storefronts selling gadgets, noodles shops, places where they still use the old bamboo method.
There are only a handful left in Hong Kong.
One is in Sham Shui Po in Kowloon, Hong Kong, north of Tai Kok Tsui, east of Cheung Sha Wan and south of Shek Kip Mei 石硤尾.
Walking we look at the ageless banyon trees, stumbling into the Yen Chow Street Hawker Bizarre.
“38 years of survival Carry Local Business” a sign declares.
People are selling all sorts of materials inside, mostly textiles.
I drink some herbal tea with an old man, wondering about this place.
Can the Hong Kong of old co exist with the Hong Kong of new?
The struggle between empires past and present feels constant.
News footage of the subway protests is all over the news.
A Lennon Wall declares the leaders in Hong Kong are liars.
News of the trade war between the US and China follows,
more pressure on China.
Business wants Hong Kong to be Hong Kong.
Business is flowing to Vietnam, report the papers.
The noodles are delicious.
Hopefully there is not another 1989 style crackdown.
Afterall, the whole world is watching.
Most favoured nations status did not help China open up.
It supported authoritarian rule.
But China can change.
South African changed.
Gay marriage changed the US.
China can change.
One nation two systems.
Or maybe one system, open to everyone?
Later in the way, I got texts from Laurie saying activists were doing jail support for the social workers and activists arrested in the new round up.
History is anything but linear.
It is on the move.