Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, you’ll know that Hong Kong has been all over the news recently as the Occupy Central protest movement heats up. It’s a fascinating time to be living in the city, interacting with locals and watching history unfold in front of me. Interdisperse this with a visit to an infinity pool and a peaceful afternoon learning Mandarin in a Classical Garden, and you’ve got a week of heavy contrasts in Hong Kong. Here’s what I’ve been up to…
The Calm before the Storm
Before Hong Kong dominated the front pages, I wandered over to Kowloon to visit the highly regarded Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Gardens. Easily accessible from the Diamond Hill MTR station, they’re oases in an otherwise densely populated city and proved excellent for photography, study and illegal picnicking. The free entrance swayed my decision to visit them, along with favourable TripAdvisor reviews. The classical Chinese buildings at the nunnery are stunning, especially when viewed with the modern Hong Kong skyline behind them. At evening time, the sun was just starting to go down and I became incredibly trigger happy with my camera. Even on a superficial, rather than cultural, level, this is a brilliant place to visit.
Next door, the Nan Lian Gardens offered more relaxing surroundings. Like the Taj Mahal, I found it bizarre how a place so tranquil managed to block out the bustle from outside. In particular, these gardens were sat near a busy underpass opposite a shopping centre and yet you’d never know it when you wander round.
Feeling that much of my Mandarin learning was going in one ear and out of the other, I had decided to use these gardens as a place to do a bit of studying (studying for Law, my actual degree, can wait) and brought along a little picnic, though there have obviously been some high profile food-related crimes as there are a wealth of security guards patrolling to stop you eating or drinking. Cue lots of sneaky delves into my bag to have a swig of Coke and a nibble on a sandwich. I was inches away from being deported.
That aside, it was a great visit and Hong Kong never ceases to amaze me with its ability to deliver on peaceful and relaxing experiences.
To Infinity and Beyond
On a similar note, as the political movement took shape in Central, Sunday saw me and a few friends escape the island and head over to Tai O on Lantau Island in order to visit the revered infinity pool. Taking the orange MTR line (I’ve still not learnt their names) from Hong Kong Station to Tung Chung, we then boarded the number 11 bus which took us to the sleepy fishing village of Tai O. From here, it was quite a strenuous hike up to the infinity pool, which is in fact a reservoir lodged amongst stunning scenery.
The official line is that it is a reservoir and swimming isn’t allowed, with a hefty fine if you’re caught. But already a mastermind in criminal activity, I wasn’t going to let that stop me and we headed up regardless. Unfortunately, we picked the day when there were actually lifeguards watching (nobody else I’ve spoken to has ever had this problem!) so all we could do was sit and appreciate the water from a nearby rock. After hiking up in the blistering heat, many of our group were disappointed.
Although the lifeguards were strict about this part of the reservoir, they were much more lax about us climbing further up and swimming in the smaller pool further up. This was much more of a Spiderman climb, with me, as usual, clambering up in a dignified way practically on my hands and knees. It was worth it though with even more stunning views and fresh, cold water we could actually use rather than just watch. By the time we climbed (or fell, in my case) down later on, the lifeguards had gone and people could enjoy the infinity pool. It doesn’t seem to be a rule with much enforcement – we just got unlucky.
It’s almost certainly the closest I think I’ve got to paradise so I’m definitely planning to go back, belting out Coldplay and appreciating the view with a few cold beers.
Putting the ‘Peace’ into Peaceful Protest
That same evening, we decided to head into Central and check out the protest movement which was on its first day when we headed down. The crowds were huge, with Central being well and truly occupied. MTR stations had been closed, traffic diverted and roads were filled with people carrying signs and wearing makeshift gas masks to protect themselves from tear gas which had been released intermittently by the police throughout the day. The atmosphere was surprisngly relaxed. People were in good spirits with some demonstrators stopping to tell us what was going on, or to warn us about certain exits.
There’s been a similar vibe at HKU, with many students passionately supporting the demonstrations and camping out at all hours in Central to get their voice heard. To see young people so passionate and in tune with wanting a free and fair democracy is refreshing to see. Stood amongst the protestors, I couldn’t help but think back to how we in the UK attempted to instigate change in 2011 – by smashing up windows and setting cars on fire. This truly was a peaceful protest which has never lost sight of its true aim. There’s a brilliant article by the BBC which illustrates this.
A lot of people who we spoke to weren’t actually at the protest to fight for democracy but instead were there to support the protesters after the reaction of the police. This heavy-handed reaction was something we witnessed first hand. When we first arrived at the protest, everything was very calm. When we went to leave, we found pretty much exit blocked by people running away from gas or setting up barricades to stop the police from coming in. We managed to find a way out through a side street but my eyes were stinging from the gas and pepper spray in the air. The people staying out there continuously have got unquestionable resolve.
At the moment, it’s a stalemate. CY Leung has condemned the protests and isn’t backing down but he’s not giving the protesters anything in return. He almost expects them to get bored and give up. But these people aren’t getting bored. Classes have been boycotted, banks have been shut and the city is practically in lockdown. It certainly feels like a ‘now or never’ situation and to be in a city where the dedication and resolve of the people could inflicy major political change is incredibly exciting.
All eyes are on our city at the minute and, given what I’ve seen since I moved here in August, I’m really not surprised that Hong Kong isn’t disappointing.