Just two months into the school year and we got our first break: “Golden Week.”
According to the trusty Internet, I learned that the roots of this seven-day holiday go back to the Western Jin Dynasty (265 – 316 AD). Back then, it was a one-day celebration, and fell on whatever day the emperor was born, or took the throne. Nowadays, “National Day,” as it’s referred to in English, takes place every year on October 1st, and is a day to commemorate the founding of the People’s Republic of China.Throughout the years, it’s been expanded to a week-long celebration, allowing residents to travel the country.
Of course, I had to join the Chinese and travel. So I convinced my friend Meghan, who I often refer to as “wifey,” to join me on a trip to Hong Kong.
Little did we know what we were getting ourselves into.
Golden Week, as an ode to mainland China and its communist government, became the perfect setting for pro-democracy student rallies. And beginning the day after our arrival, the streets in the Central district of Hong Kong filled with protestors.
For the most part, Meghan and I were able to avoid the area. But on our way back from Victoria Peak, there was no choice.
Victoria Peak is one of those touristy things one must do when visiting Hong Kong. It’s the 360-degree vantage point for the classic Hong Kong skyline pictures, and it affords tourists the opportunity to ride the intensely steep, 120-year-old funicular railway up the mountain.
The top of Hong Kong felt like the top of the world. Neon lights twinkled in the night sky and reflected off the harbor. A gentle breeze flowed through my hair. Even though I was elbow-to-elbow with Chinese tourists, a sense of peace washed over me.
But it didn’t last long.
Meghan and I were soon swept back into the tram by a sea of people. And as the old locomotive reversed down the mountain, tourists crowded windows to see the high-rises tipped sideways.
When we were pushed out of the doors, we followed everyone down the hill, and quickly noticed hoards of policemen. And with each block, there were more and more.
The Central subway station was blocked, and soon we heard chanting. The noise grew louder and louder around us. Then people began running. In raincoats, surgical masks, and goggles. Some had wrapped their heads in plastic.
Meghan and I no longer wore expressions of excitement. And having gotten a taste of tear gas during last year’s protests in Bogota, I knew we had to get out of there.
It turns out that was the first night of violence in the former British colony. CNN reported more than 30 people were injured just moments after we fled the scene.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to discuss political motivation with any of the protestors before I left. And when I returned to Shanghai, I realized that without a VPN, most people in mainland China are in the dark about the current situation.
The trip to Hong Kong gave Meghan and me the opportunity to try new foods, see the famous city lights, and experience the unique culture of the island. But more importantly, it opened the doorway, ever so slightly, to understanding just how different Hong Kong is to mainland China, and how important keeping this difference is to Hong Kong’s residents.