Bags checked and full English consumed, we’re ready to leave the airport on the right side of Departures: on an Airbus A350 headed direct to Hong Kong and the first stop on our upcoming three month travel adventure. The flight itself ran without glitch; no delay, no turbulence and only mildly irritating neighbours. This came in the form of a passenger so deep in slumber against the touch-screen in front of him, that we were subject to an intimate reading light rave in row 35.
However, somewhere over Russia, BBC News live updates began to appear on our televisions. The Hong Kong riots of early 2019 had begun again; and with the added fuel of a protester shot and killed, were raging with more force than before.
Leaving Hong Kong airport, the city was a ghost town. We rode the train to Kowloon station, normally a central hub for locals and tourists alike, only to be met with such silence, there was space for a tumbleweed along the floor. Aside from this, our commute was uneventful. Once checked into our room, the jetlag took over and we settled ourselves in for a well deserved nap.
A couple of hours later, bleary eyed and groggy, we spotted a note slid under the door of our hotel room: a scheduled protest was taking place on Nathan Road, which ran down the side of our hotel and we were urged to remain indoors. At first, this didn’t seem too daunting. It was a little rubbish for our first night of our big adventure to be limited but we figured we would write it off as a jet lag induced cosy evening and try again tomorrow. So, we ordered room service, drew a bubble bath and settled in for a pamper.
But then the noises started. Crashes and bangs, not right on top of us but not too far in the distance. And a tannoy. A dislocated voice, close enough that had we understood the language, we would have heard every word. As the streets went dark, we began to see what looked like large torch lights shining on the buildings that were visible from our window, dancing up and down, whether from the protesters or the opposition, we didn’t know.
It was 4am by the time we managed to fall asleep and when we woke in the morning, Hong Kong was open; business as usual. We ventured out so far as we dared down Nathan Road to assess the damage. Traffic lights were smashed and broken, rendering the neighbouring streets utterly chaotic. The place was crammed with lorries and taxis in gridlock as they attempted to navigate a light-less crossroad. The pavements were partially gone; the bricks pulled from the streets by protesters in an attempt to fuel the fight. Graffiti covered the streets and shops and several, including a Bank of China had had their glass smashed and their insides burnt out. Amidst all the chaos, poor locals were still continuing their daily routine. Coming to work to face another day of cleaning in the hopes of generating a few hours trade.
We headed back to the hotel, aware that our second and final night would too play out within the hotels walls. We decided to make the most of this and head down to the swimming pool to pass some time. However, just as we were preparing to leave the room, the riots began again, closer and magnified. Taking a look down below, we saw cars and vans coming to a halt directly beneath our window. They stayed there for some time before, and I say this with no exaggeration, at least a hundred armed riot police descended from their depths. Helmets, shields, batons in their hundreds swarmed around the corner towards the action. And we watched on the local news as the protesters continued to smash and burn shops that we had walked past that afternoon.
Luckily, we were able to head to the airport without too much interference the next day. A little heavier than usual traffic and A LOT of damage to witness en route but we managed to make our way to New Zealand; where our adventure continued, only with a little more peace and quiet.