Visiting Hong Kong During its Time of Crisis
The city is safe, yet a shell of its former self
If you’ve been keeping up with global news you know that Hong Kong is currently experiencing its fifth consecutive month of anti-government protests, with recent events becoming increasingly violent. It all began when the Special Administrative Region’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, proposed an extradition bill — a move seen as a threatening power grab by the Beijing government. Although the bill was put on hold the protests continued, calling for complete autonomy from the Communist Party of China (CCP). You may be wondering whether the city is safe to visit, and as I sit in the common room of my Tsim Sha Tsui hostel writing this, even I lack a definitive answer. One thing is for certain — Hong Kong will never be the same.
As far as safety goes, it depends on the type of traveler you are. So instead of making sweeping statements on the overall ‘safeness’ of Hong Kong, I will present my experience and allow you to form your own conclusions. I arrived in Hong Kong on November 17, and while my flight was still in the air a turning point in the conflict occurred — soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army of China intervened for the first time. Marching in unison, the group efficiently worked to clear a roadblock put in place by protestors. Although the move was described as a ‘voluntary’ act of community service, according to Hong Kong’s constitution the PLA is only allowed to intervene when requested to do so by the Hong Kong government. Joshua Wong, a pro-democracy activist, described these tactics as a subtle form of propaganda intended to normalize the PLA’s involvement with city affairs. Later in the day, perhaps as a result of these events, massive riots formed on Nathan Street, a main thoroughfare in Kowloon. Thousands of protestors took control of at least five city blocks, going so far as mixing their own cement to lay bricks in the middle of the road. When confronted by police, they doubled down, using umbrellas to fend off incoming tear gas canisters.
As a visitor to the city, I could have likely avoided the entire scenario, but I’ll admit that curiosity got the best of me. I truly love the city of Hong Kong, and this is my sixth time in the city. Watching its people struggle in their fight for freedom was heartbreaking, and I couldn’t bear to watch helplessly from the sidelines. With the exception of a few hotspots — namely Kowloon Tong, the universities, and Central — you can manage a visit to Hong Kong without witnessing any violence; however, the evidence from the protests is hard to avoid. Grafitti litters the streets, with slogans such as “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” and “if we burn, you’re burning with us.” Entire sections of sidewalk are missing from the protestors removing bricks and placing them in the street. Thousands of shops around the city are closed, either because they’ve been thoroughly destroyed or because they are attempting to avoid such a fate. Public transportation has been completely overturned, and the MRT frequently suspends or alters service due to the unrest. Entire stations are closed for ‘crowd management’, and the Kowloon Park closed more than six hours early.
You can easily visit Hong Kong without ever putting yourself in risk, but it will not be the Hong Kong you imagined. The Pearl of the Orient is in despair.
While flights and accommodations may be incredibly discounted, and tourist attractions rather queue-less, visiting Hong Kong at the current moment is unfortunately not the best idea. As the city-state continues down this path, it is hard to imagine an outcome apart from complete revolution. The protestors have made it clear that they will not back down, and the power of the Chinese Government is unmatched. We can only watch and hope the two sides reach a peaceful conclusion.