I travelled to Hong Kong from 29 to 31st August 2019 to attend the Global City Roundtable at the Education University of Hong Kong. It was my first time visiting Hong Kong and I initially looked forward to exploring this vibrant Chinese territory.
Alas, as the date drew closer, I became increasingly concerned about the violent confrontations between protesters and the police in the city, metro and outlying towns. Colleagues and friends jokingly told me to livestream the demonstrations should I be stranded due to an airport blockade. While I laughed off such banter, I was definitely worried about any adverse developments.
I landed in HK after a relatively smooth 4 hour flight. The Cathay Pacific jet was less than half full, perhaps a striking visualisation of the slump in visitors. The immigration officer was surly but I quickly got through and found myself in the arrival hall. I had intended to take the MTR to the town of Sha Tin (where my hotel was) but the transport desk suggested that I take a direct bus E42 instead. It cost just HK$14 compared to HK$350 for taxis.
The ride was relatively smooth and offered great views of the city as well as the mountains of the New Territories. After inching past a horrific traffic accident that had jammed up the main road, I got off at Sha Tin MTR station and walked through the New Town Plaza to check into my hotel.
After a quick meal, I decided to explore the surrounding area. Sha Tin is one of Hong Kong’s new towns built in the 1970s and consists of tower blocks squeezed between the mountains and the river. It resembles the HDB towns of the same era, except with much higher density.
In the evening, I decided to follow the advice of one of my twitter friends and take a ride on the famed Star Ferry which connected Kowloon to Hong Kong Island. The MTR system is really straightforward to figure out and I made my way easily to East Tsim Sha Tsui and the pier. Tickets were really cheap at just HK$2.70 for a one-way ride. The views of Victoria Harbour were fantastic and I enjoyed the snazzy light show.
The next day was conference day. So my boss and I made our way to EdUHK’s campus in Tai Po. The buildings are nestled on the mountain side (sorry Kent Ridge, but the views here are nicer). We were the first panellists to present our research. I was quite nervous but I think I did alright in answering the three questions that my boss passed on to me.
Our academic hosts treated us to a sumptuous lunch at the campus Cantonese restaurant. I took the opportunity to ask my hosts about the current crisis in Hong Kong and shared Singaporeans’ general views on the situation. What struck me most is the extremely high level of politicisation and civic consciousness among staff and students, in contrast with generally apathetic Singaporean students.
I had the evening free and planned to pay a visit to the Peak, but my boss’ HK friend said it wasn’t a good idea and instead invited me along to dinner with my boss. We had a wonderful eight-course meal and a really engaging conversation about Hong Kong affairs. I daresay I learned so much during dinner that night and I thanked them for their tremendous hospitality.
News was reporting that protesters were planning to blockade the airport that Sunday (Sep 1) and there were also fears of violence on Saturday. Therefore, after some considerable nagging from my parents, I switched my return flight from Sat night to Sat morning. It cost $100 but the peace of mind was worth it.
The next morning, my boss and I checked out at 6am and took a cab directly to the airport. The journey took just 20 mins on the empty highway and we soon arrived at the terminal. Airport authorities had implemented strict checks for those entering the terminals but the queue was short and we got through quickly.
After a quick breakfast, my boss left to catch her flight while I waited two hours more for mine. HK airport is huge and I decided to walk up and down the terminal looking at planes parked at the gates.
The flight home was one of the smoothest I’ve taken. The plane was again barely half full, and I got the row to myself. Discovered the comedy series “Kim’s Convenience” and watched 5 episodes (it’s a riot!).
I was honestly disappointed that I couldn’t explore the city safely given the high level of political unrest wracking Hong Kong. But I hope to return to this fascinating city sometime in the future to experience its many wonders.