Democracy and Protest in the "Pearl of the Orient" : My trip to Hong Kong in 2019

(Hong Kong 08/07/2019)

In the summer of 2019, I traveled to Mainland China to visit my family and to enjoy my summer vacation. Meanwhile, the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement in Hong Kong had been ongoing for months. The hyperbolic accounts presented in Chinese social media portrayed an extraordinary tale of monumental social upheaval, with obvious censorship adding the allure of mystery to the protests. Fed-up with state-controlled media and seeking the truth, on August 8, 2019, I decided to travel to Hong Kong to observe the protests with my own eyes. The plane landed on a humid afternoon at the Hong Kong international airport. From what I’d seen on Weibo, I expected hordes of belligerent protesters surrounding the exit, eagerly attacking mainland travelers. When I exited customs, however, I heard nothing but the low hum of conversation and the occasional airport announcement. My suspicions seemingly confirmed and curiosity aroused, I was excited to investigate further.

( The streets of Harbour City 08/07/2019)

My impression of Hong Kong has always been a boisterous yet orderly city filled with people from every corner of the world. Yet, one of the first things I noticed was a conspicuous lack of foreigners. When I visited Harbour City, one of Hong Kong’s busiest shopping districts, I stepped into a ghost town. The streets were empty and luxury shops usually filled to the brim were deserted.

(Graffiti by protesters)

While I was in Hong Kong, I conversed with the locals to hear their opinions regarding the protest. The most memorable conversation I had was with a taxi driver who said that the protest, at its core, is a cry for democracy. He stated many people are upset not only about the Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill but also the person who let it pass: Carrie Lam. Carrie Lam is the Chief Executive of Hong Kong and she is Pro-Beijing; She won the 2017 Hong Kong election with less of the popular vote than the more democratic opposition. The taxi driver said that many people yearn for a leader that is truly elected, not some “puppet” by Beijing.

(protest at the airport)

On the day of my departure, I was notified that there was going to be a huge protest held at the airport. I left an extra hour early to witness the event. When I entered the airport, I saw hundreds or even thousands of people silently sitting, waving their signs and passing out flyers to people nearby. This was the first time I witnessed a protest in person; I wasn’t expecting it to be peaceful and orderly. The protest demonstrated the strong civic culture of Hong Kong that I had previously only heard of. Since I left Hong Kong, the protests have escalated dramatically. Even just one day after my departure, the airport was completely shut down.