The Nightmare from which we Never Awaken



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ORIGINAL POST

Posted by Ed 56 days ago

Like many foreigners who have lived in Hong Kong for decades, I do not consider myself an expat. Expats are those who come to work in Hong Kong for a few years with the intention of returning to their home countries. Expats are those who, when they travel to their country in the summer or over Christmas, say they are ‘going home for the holidays.’

For me Hong Kong is home. When I visit Canada, I am visiting Canada. I am not ‘returning home.’ Even though I spend much of the year in New Zealand I still consider Hong Kong home.

Hong Kong has always been a chaotic, boiling cauldron of intensity. And the local people’s grit, energy and resilience is the fabric that make Hong Kong both unique and one of the great cities of the world.

As foreigners, it is where the most enduring and best friendships are established. It is where friends are more like family than friends because we all walked off a plane at some point knowing not a soul.

I have an interest in seeing that my home does not tip into total anarchy that extends far beyond my business in the city. I hope desperately for a miracle to walk us back from the abyss that we edge closer to every weekend.

The last time I was in Hong Kong was July, and the protests were relatively peaceful and taking place on Kowloon side. I did not experience the faintest whiff of tear gas nor see a single protester during the three-week trip.

However soon after returning to New Zealand, I watched in dismay the online coverage as the peaceful protests descended into dystopian scenes of extreme violence and destruction. The first thing I have done each weekend for the past two months when I wake up is reach for my phone and check Hong Kong media sources to see how bad the mayhem was overnight.

And so it was with a great deal of trepidation that I returned to Hong Kong last Saturday morning. Would the airport be blockaded? Would the MTR be operating? What about the roads? How would I get home? Fortunately, we arrived early enough not to encounter any problems commuting into Central.

I had been told the city had changed since July. And I could immediately feel it.

Central is of course normally bustling on a Saturday afternoon but as I walked through on the way to lunch all was quiet. Many of the shops were shuttered against impending havoc, some permanently. No need to queue for a cab. Hong Kong’s transportation aorta, the MTR, was completely offline, smashed and burned the previous night.

Over a very sombre bowl of pho, I flicked through videos of the previous night’s unprecedented carnage wondering how and when this nightmare will end.

The government’s position has been very clear – ‘the lady’s not for turning.’ Nor is the CCP.

But what about the protesters? How dug in are they? Will intimidation and arrests convince them to yield? Will they eventually burn out and give up the fight?

With this in mind, the next day I pulled on my gas mask, helmet, yellow vest and slung a press pass around my neck before setting out for the front lines of the protests.

I spent the afternoon dodging tear gas in Wan Chai and the late evening in Mongkok trying to avoid the ferocious charges of an army of riot police, but for the most part, I took the opportunity to speak to dozens of the protesters, both those on the front and back lines.

This is a summary of responses to a range of questions:

AX: You have changed tactics initially using mass rallies to voice your demands and now have turned to violence. Why is that?

Protesters: We tried peaceful protests in 2014 and waited patiently for 5 years and we accomplished nothing. So now we turn to violence. Now we target the Hong Kong economy in the hopes that this will get the attention of the authorities and force them to act.

AX: I am sure you are aware of the collapsing tourism and retail numbers as well as the teetering property market. How do you feel about that?

Protesters: This is success. This is progress. We are hoping this will force the government to respond to our demands.

AX: But are you not concerned that if this continues without them responding that the economy will reach a tipping point and collapse?

Protesters: We are aware of that and hope that the government will respond to our demands before it comes to that. However, if the city’s economy collapses, we are fine with that because that will definitely force change. As it stands, for many protesters, our economic circumstances are already dire. We are living with collapse already.

AX: How widespread is the overall community’s support for the violence?

Protesters: Amongst students we think over 90% support the violence. In terms of the overall community perhaps 60% support the violence. The people of Hong Kong know we have tried peaceful protests with millions turning up and that had no effect.

AX: Are you not concerned that at some point the CCP will respond by deploying the PLA and imposing martial law?

Protesters: Not at all. We dare them to come because that will accelerate the collapse. The stock market and property markets will immediately collapse.

AX: How do you expect the protesters would respond to a martial law situation?

Protesters: We will not go to school. We will strike or call in sick for work. We will buy nothing. We have many ideas of how to continue the protests.

AX: I have read that the 5 demands do not cover everything that the protesters want. I am aware that the housing situation is a huge issue for large numbers of the protesters. Tell me about that.

Protesters: In Hong Kong we cannot afford to rent or buy a property and in recent years the situation has worsened. As adults we have no choice but to live with our parents in already very cramped apartments. The prices keep increasing but salaries do not keep pace so what future do we have? We look at Singapore and see that most people there live in government subsidized housing. Why can we not have this in Hong Kong? Hong Kong is a rich city.

How committed are these protesters? How deeply are they dug in?

After a relatively calm afternoon on Hong Kong side, I was told that Mongkok was where I was likely to see violent conflict. I jumped a cab and asked the driver to get me as close as possible to the police station and I’d walk the rest.

I arrived to a snarl of barricades at either end of Argyle street where a thousand or so protesters had gathered. A few front liners were attempting to set fire to one of the barricades by throwing Molotov cocktails but the rain repeatedly disappointed them.

 
 

Interaction was much more difficult than in Central as most of the people living in Mongkok speak limited English. However, I was offered drinks and food more than once and told to take care.

I wandered around for the better part of two hours inspecting the severe damage to the MTR; I saw no signs of the police. But around 10:30 there were excited shouts from the protesters and I was told that ‘the popo were coming’ It was very clear that they actually wanted the popo to come. They had been waiting all evening for them. They were daring them to come.

A constant drizzle had given way to a torrential downpour replete with foreboding cracks of thunder just before twenty or thirty police vans and a water cannon equipped vehicle roared onto what suddenly resembled a scene from an end of the world, apocalypse movie. An army of menacing riot police were disgorged and sprinted towards the protesters screaming and aggressively brandishing clubs and canisters of pepper spray.

And that was when it all became real.

My camera was malfunctioning due to the rain so I tried to capture the mayhem as best I could on my phone. At one point I was apparently too close and one of the policemen raised his club threatening to hit me if I did not back off. I quickly turned the phone away from him and scrambled backwards.

https://youtu.be/_qoNcffVhsU

But the protesters did not retreat.

Instead they hollered a deluge of abuse at the police. The police responded by charging into the crowd and randomly snatching individuals. But eventually they were the ones to retreat covering each other’s backs as they loaded into their vans. They sped off towards the hive as protesters fired bottles of water at them and roared as if Man U had scored when each van raced away. It was over in less than 30 minutes.

The protesters returned to a state of calm mulling about under the torrential rain, peals of thunder and the eerie glow of neon lights. Eventually they began to disperse no doubt heading back to the despair of their tiny, ramshackle apartments. Waiting for next weekend to do it all over again.

The protesters are dug in hard. Real hard. Of that, I have no doubt.

 
 
The author, Paul Luciw, is the Founder and Managing Director of AsiaXPAT.

COMMENTS

Ed 54 days ago
Saturday October 12 
 
 
The Long Rampage
 

Hong Kong Island was quiet today with protesters instead rampaging through Kowloon starting in Tsim Tsa Tsui and ending in Lai Chi Kok.

They adopted a different strategy from previous weeks and instead of barricading roads and waiting for a confrontation with the police, they continued to march randomly redirecting to different streets with no clear destination in mind.

When I asked one of the protesters where they were headed, he replied ‘We don’t know. Everywhere. Anywhere.’ Another protester explained to me that they were trying to avoid the police, so they were staying in traffic and dropping roadblocks along the way to back up vehicles to prevent the police vans from reaching them.

I would estimate there were upwards of 200 hard core front liners in the group I was following and that the police would be reluctant to take them on because it would mean having to break into small squads to chase down protesters between heavy traffic. This would put the police at risk as they would be in smaller groups and prone to being ambushed by the protesters.

The protesters may have not had a destination in mind but they had a purpose. Each time they passed a Chinese bank a group of them would smash, destroy and spray paint slogans on the walls.

At one point, two protesters approached a barricaded Bank of China with a crowbar and tried to find a way in but told me that steel had been used so they could not bust through. They chuckled and said they would need a car to get through the heavy metal barrier.
 

When not damaging Chinese banks some of the protesters vented their frustration at the Hong Kong government's total refusal to address their demands on random traffic lights, a Hong Kong post office, and Best Mart 360 shops.

After walking and sprinting many kilometers, we approached the Lai Chi Kok district and I was reminded of the depth of support that the front-line protesters have from the community when a double decker bus was stopped in traffic.

In what was a very powerful moment, dozens of Hong Kongers on the lower deck reached their hands to the window in a gesture of solidarity with the protesters; the protesters responded by touching the window of the bus.

I was told that tomorrow the protesters will be marching in over a dozen districts as they are planning a massive show of force throughout the city. Check the MTR and traffic sites before you venture out tomorrow afternoon or evening.

 
Here are some videos that I shot this afternoon:
 
https://youtu.be/cAT5JugSUY4 
 
https://youtu.be/NU9aSKtlDHc
 
https://youtu.be/VNrSngM4HT0 
 
https://youtu.be/7gjiGUR2UlA
 
https://youtu.be/qE3Vyf0molg 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Ed 51 days ago

Will this Energize the Protesters?

The US House has passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act and the Senate is expected to support the bill as well.

'This bill directs various departments to assess whether political developments in Hong Kong justify changing Hong Kong's unique treatment under U.S. law.'

Essentially, this puts a gun to the head of Hong Kong and Beijing, directly threatening Hong Kong’s special economic status. 

Carrie Lam completed her policy address earlier today and did not mention any of the 5 key demands of the protesters.

I expect that the developments in the US coupled with the failure of the government to attempt to resolve the issues that are fueling the crisis in Hong Kong will embolden the protesters over the coming weekend.


Ed 46 days ago

Wishful
Thinking

If anyone thought the protesters were losing interest, a strong message was delivered in TST on Sunday afternoon as a crowd estimated at 350,000 swarmed the district. Ominously, this was an illegal assembly with the police having rejected an application for a protest permit on Friday, yet such large numbers turned out. Anyone attending an illegal protest risks being arrested.

The initial assembly proved to be peaceful but by early afternoon large numbers of black-shirted, masked individuals separated from the main crowd and rampaged along Nathan Road attacking the TST police station with Molotov cocktails and demolishing China-owned businesses.

As on the preceding weekend, the protesters took to their heels whenever the police approached and very few arrests were made.


https://youtu.be/i8u9u7wx1Zk

https://youtu.be/eaYzIYnVSJM

https://youtu.be/He3gd0GDiJc
 
 
https://hongkong.asiaxpat.com/Utility/GetImage.ashx?ImageID=c46fa6c1-951e-4563-b4ce-9c5ddb5045a7&refreshStamp=0 
 
 



Ed 39 days ago
Thousands of protesters gathered in TST on Sunday afternoon and for the most part, the police were unable to do much more than contain them.
 
At one point, officers marched down a side street off of Nathan Road to clear a protester roadblock but a few minutes after the police returned to the main road, like a horde of beavers, black clad front-line protesters raced out to throw the rubble back onto the road and rebuilt their traffic dam.
 
 
 
This young man's nightmare began with a massive dose of pepper spray and will continue with some time behind bars.    The protesters are aware that they risk a similar fate.  Yet they continue to pour onto the streets in large numbers, month after month, with no end in sight.
 
And meanwhile, the deluge of deeply negative economic data continue to pour in.   We are now into the Christmas shopping season, a period where retailers generate a huge proportion of their annual profits.   The tourists will continue to stay away, and the locals are not likely to have much festive spirit.  
 
Watch for the nightmare to spread in Q1 if we don't get a solution to this crisis by the end of the year. 
 
 
https://youtu.be/vWulFLdSS5E 
 
 

Ed 33 days ago
Wagyu Restaurant on Wellington St. Engulfed in Tear Gas
 
For the few tourists who dare to visit Hong Kong these days, Saturday evening the protests became more than shooting a short video from behind the safety of a hotel lobby window and sharing it on social media.
 
Police unleashed a barrage of teargas throughout Central leaving dozens of tourists and shoppers choking on fumes.   
 
The tear gas chased the well-prepared frontliners off of Des Voeux and Queens Roads however large numbers of people, including elderly women and women with young children, were taken completely by surprise and were left staggering about coughing with tears flooding down their faces. 
 
First aid responders were desperately herding people into safer areas and sloshing water onto their burning eyes and skin. 
 
The protesters left Central and marched through the heart of Soho where they were again confronted by police near Wagyu Restaurant at the far end of Wyndham St.
 
The police unleashed multiple rounds of tear gas which drifted into Wagyu restaurant wreaking havoc on patrons who had gathered to watch the rugby world cup final.
 
A number of foreigners emerged from the restaurant to scream profanities at the riot police as they marched past in pursuit of a small group of protesters. 
 
AsiaXPAT spoke to a number of tourists and expats who expressed anger at the complete disregard for the large number of people in the area who were not involved in the protests. 
 
One man said, "protesters were walking through Soho not causing any damage  or disruption and suddenly a police van raced along Wyndham street, officers jumped out and immediately started to fire tear gas into the middle of the street."
 
Hong Kong's tourism numbers, already down 40%, will no doubt fall even further as images of foreigners being tear gassed in Hong Kong's premier restaurant district go viral.
 
 
https://youtu.be/wbC4UzDMjag 

Ed 9 days ago
Here's my take on the current situation:
 
Carrie Lam has said 'no' to offering any additional concessions to the rebellion movement even after the Pro-Beijing Party was devastated in local elections on Sunday.
 
I believe the protesters will continue to wait and see if the government has any further response to their 5 demands.
 
They will 'give peace a chance' i.e. they will wait and see if their massive mandate from millions of Hong Kong voters on Sunday will force the government to come to the table.
  
By doing this they can say to anyone who might criticize what comes next 'look - the people of HK voted overwhelmingly for pro-democracy --- Carrie Lam's 'silent majority' is bullshit ---  and yet she refuses to give a an inch ---  we have tried peaceful ---  it does not work'
 
This message will galvanize global opinion in support of this rebellion if and when the protests escalate again and the violence resumes;  it will also no doubt convince some who have previously opposed the violence to now side with the protesters.
 
 
If I am correct in this analysis then the protesters are playing a serious game of chess and Carrie Lam is playing checkers.   
 
And we are nowhere near getting this crisis resolved. 
 
 
 
 
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong economy is listing heavily to port.....   
 
I was walking on Wellington Street in Soho over lunch and in a short stretch there were SEVEN bankrupt restaurants/shops boarded up (roughly half of all restaurants/shops on that stretch of the street near Mana are done - and who in their right mind will lease a space and start up a new venture in this toxic economy). 
 
 
I then wandered over to the IFC where protesters were engaged in the daily 'hour of hate' for Carrie Lam and her government and had a chat with one of the young office workers taking part. 
 
He confirmed my suspicions regarding the post-election strategy and indicated that the protesters are considering putting a deadline in front of Madame Lam.    If there is no acceptable response by the deadline, then 'we will have no choice but to continue with the violence' 
 
He also reiterated the threat that I have heard from other protesters in recent months stating, 'we cannot beat the police but we believe we can win by continuing to ruin the economy.  The government hopefully will negotiate with us as they see shops closing and GDP crashing (I had just mentioned I was in Soho and many restaurants have closed).
 
He also mentioned that the protesters are aware of the fact that November and December are critical months for retailers as people normally spend big on Christmas gifts.    He believes that this is not materializing and that come January there will be many more shops boarded up.
 
 

Ed 8 days ago
My restaurant industry contacts have informed me that Soho district revenues are down 40-50%.  That would explain all the Wellington St establishments that are boarded up.   Expect a lot more of this in the near future if we do not get an immediate resolution to this crisis.
 
 
I wandered over to the IFC overpass, the scene of the '60 minutes of hate'  over the past couple of days, and spoke to one of the office workers.   She reiterated that if the demands are not met, it is likely the violence will soon return.
 
She also told me that she has not purchased anything but food and items that are absolutely essential for 5 months now.   She indicated that this is one of the key strategies of the protesters and that large numbers of them are doing the same.
 
In some circles this might be referred to as 'starving the beast'   
 
This is arguably more effective than throwing petrol bombs, and the police cannot arrest or teargas people for not shopping.    
 
 
Will Carrie Lam blink, or will she stand by and watch the beast starve to death. 


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