My experience in Hong Kong during the protests

This is my personal post about visiting Hong Kong during the protests. This is my account, my feelings, my emotions. They are all valid. My options on the matter will also be expressed. It’s how I see things and how I see right and wrong. You can disagree, but if you want to leave a comment, and you disagree, then you must disagree in a respectful manner.

Kowloon Hong Kong skyline

I got back from Hong Kong a few days ago. It was a work trip for my husband and I tagged along for 2 weeks.

We knew about the protests, but they were fairly limited to weekends and pretty tame. We knew we could just stay away.

I’d be lying if I didn’t think about our own safety. After the MTR (metro) attack by police, I avoided the MTR when possible. The bus was usually more convenient and less anxiety-inducing anyway. We checked our hotel and it turns out there were more places we could eat inside the hotel than we could’ve imagined and there was a 7-eleven across the street (which can be said about almost all hotels there).

We weren’t staying in the hotel we were in last year. I wanted to be closer to the water and the MTR attack was in the metro station by that hotel, so I’m not sure I would’ve felt safe there.

Our hotel was a haven. It was everything we needed. I’d recommend the Eaton Hotel in Hong Kong to anyone.

How the protests in Hong Kong affected our stay

When we arrived, we found out that there would be a stress-test on the airport at 1pm. We landed around 10am and I made sure we moved as quickly as possible to vacate the area.

We stayed in the loop thanks to our hotel leaving us a protest schedule and Sean’s access to International SOS which is a service his company pays for to make sure anyone traveling for business understands what’s going on in their area. Twitter was also a great resource thanks to the use of hashtags. We could see what areas were being affected, if any, by large crowds.

The first weekend, we acted as normal. We headed to Causeway Bay since there was a store we wanted to visit. Didn’t think anything of it. HOWEVER, my time as part of the Citizen Emergency Response Team, my time being a volunteer during police trainings, doing multiple ride-alongs with officers, and just watching way too many cop shows, automatically made it so my head was on a swivel. That means you are ALWAYS aware. Always looking around. Noticing danger or anything unusual. And always knowing your way out.

The next day, that Sunday, we had reservations for brunch near Victoria Park–a well-known spot for protests. We got lucky and nothing was happening there that day and/or that time of day. We enjoyed the most wonderful meal with an epic view. It was perfection.

Jessica at Skye bar, Hong Kong

The next weekend was different. More protests, especially in Causeway Bay, and mainly on Hong Kong island. We were on Kowloon.

We mostly stayed in and if we went out, we were always within walking distance. We ate well, we enjoyed our time.

The Chinese national holiday changed everything

Once we started to understand the issues, the people, and the protests, we just knew something would happen on October 1 – The 70th anniversary of the Republic of China. The Hong Kongers saw it as a day of mourning, not a day of celebration. The police started using an inappropriate amount of force on protestors a few weeks ago…and that’s when it escalated.

The protests were over much of the city…certainly anywhere we would be going. So, we stayed in, again. Sean and I discussed it ahead of time and he worked remotely from the hotel that day. It wasn’t safe or smart to go out. Good thing he stayed! The road was completely shut down for about 6 hours — he may not have been able to get back until really late. Many cabs weren’t picking anyone up because they knew they couldn’t drive through the city. The main metro stations were shut down and buses were stuck because roads were closed.

Hong kong drivers stuck due to protest

Then it happened, I noticed traffic below our window was at a stand-still and nobody on Nathan Road. The protestors were coming.

I went down to the 4th-floor bar — it was outside but above it all. I went straight to the wall that faced Nathan Road. Nobody else noticed anything because you have to be at the wall to be able to see over it. And it wasn’t loud…yet.

HK protests 1

Thousands of people marched down the streets in their black attire. Many had regular masks on (like hospital masks), but some had gas masks. Lately, the police have been using tear gas and a blue liquid with a peppery substance. The masks are protection from pollution, from pepper spray, and for some, to protect their identity.

HK protests 2

At some point, they stopped and cleared the intersection where a few people were putting Chinese flags on the ground so they could burn them. This is very symbolic. In the United States, and everywhere, I imagine, the flag is to be treated with respect. If you disrespect the flag, it is typically a sign of protest…a fairly peaceful protest.

Then they kept walking. Every once in awhile they would chant. But mainly, it’s a show of solidarity and unwavering support to their causes. By now, there are many causes.

I went back upstairs, satisfied because I saw what I wanted. I saw these people out in the masses trying to get it through to those in charge that they won’t take it anymore.

That’s powerful. That’s inspiring.

I’m not sure how long after, maybe an hour, but I happened to look out the window. I expected to see traffic moving again, at least in one direction, but I saw something that made my heart drop.

The protestors were running. RUNNING the opposite direction they came down. It looked like they were running for their lives.

HK police Oct 1 Nathan Road

I raced back to the 4th floor to understand what was happening. I could see the tear gas wafting around the corner of the hotel…then I could smell it. I could see the police running after the protestors. I could see police vehicles going after the protestors.

HK police cars Oct 1 Nathan Road

It was horrifying.

I wasn’t on the ground level during the protest that went by our hotel so I don’t know if it shut down, but I imagine the front doors leading to Nathan Road were shut, leaving the side entrance on the side road open.

From what I witnessed live on someone’s live stream, and what I witnessed first-hand, protestors were mostly fighting back when cornered and the police were still spraying them or attacking them (even if it was just one person).

poster in HK

When the police hurt a protestor (sometimes these were teenagers), the protestors went nuts. A high-schooler was shot in the chest with a live-round that day. He had a PVC pipe as a weapon. It’s on recorded footage. The police swapped it out with a sharp metal weapon as evidence, essentially planting it on him. That tells me that it was not the appropriate use of force for such a weapon and the police needed it to look as though he was more dangerous than he was.

HK protest posters

My feelings about Hong Kong after being there during the protests

I hurt. I cried. I felt helpless.

If I’m honest, I still feel helpless. For the people I’ve met who live there, I am sad that they are now under some version of what I would call Martial Law. No face masks are allowed and a curfew are two pieces to that. I have no idea when things will change, but that’s the now of it.

HK protests 3

I feel relieved that we’ve left. At the same time, I feel like I abandoned those people. I wasn’t doing anything but being there. I almost wish I was a journalist so I could have covered it properly. But even journalists were getting arrested and sprayed with the blue pepper water…even when they were in the designated press area.

Never in my life have I felt more privileged. I was watching people protest abuse and so many other things that I have never encountered. I, just now, realize that that was the strange feeling I had while watching this all go down.

I live in a country that takes people’s rights seriously. It’s people and practicality that typically take precedence over big business and money. Not always, but rational thinking tends to prevail in the Netherlands. I have, literally, no worries in this country. How insane is it to be so secure. The road to feeling this way was paved with privilege. Remember, privilege isn’t just about money, but how people treat you because of how you look, how you act, and how you speak.

I’m really a ball of thoughts, feelings, and emotions. I’ve tried to express them, but words fail me right now.

It’s not pretty and it’s not romantic. But, I understand their fight. I stand with Hong Kong.

Jessica Cutrufello wearing a green floral dress, glasses and pink lipstick

Hi! I’m Jessica, an American who made Amsterdam her home in 2014. I share European gems through food and memorable experiences. Want to know more? Head to my about page or check out my YouTube channel.

Travel with us - Tuscany October 2022