I went to Hong Kong for a week. Don't believe too much in mass media

With all the hype about the protests in Hong Kong, I went there for a week

With all the hype around the Hong Kong protests, I went to Hong Kong to take a look for myself 2 weeks ago for a week. I'm right now writing this article based on my own memory of Hong Kong for that one week that I was there. (I was also there yesterday, but only for renewing my 15-days VISA duration for visiting mainland China)

The perception of Hong Kong right now, at least in the eyes of Singaporeans and mainland Chinese is that the entire or at least most of Hong Kong is in a turmoil, chaotic state every single day with people protesting all over the place. But the situation in reality is that it is very much, almost-entirely peaceful, maybe even more peaceful than Singapore. Hong Kong is considered "fast-paced", but still slower paced than Singapore. More than 99% of the people are still living very normal lives, working office jobs, retail jobs etc, no sign of protests at all for the first 6 days that I went there, even when I'm trying to actively spot protests at random different locations etc. I was later on told by the locals that the protesters are just normal people, so they work on weekdays and only organise protests on weekends. (I eventually encountered a protest, will write more details later on in this article).

Just for quick introduction, Hong Kong is divided into 3 areas. Hong Kong Island being the main CBD area (think of it as equivalent to Marina Bay/Sentosa area) which was originally ceded to the British, the other 2 areas are part of the same land that was later on leased to the British together with "Hong Kong", the land being developed as Kowloon area in the South area just across the Hong Kong Island with the north area called the New Territories (supposedly less developed part of Hong Kong). Most people, the middle class, lives in Kowloon area. (Think of Kowloon area as HDB + Bugis Street/Chinatown/Little India/Golden Mille for Kowloon CBD area)
I also found Hong Kong to be really similar to Singapore, like a twin Mars and Earth etc. (Due to the same colonial history).

In terms of racial diversity, it is also not the Hong Kong that I imagined or perceived from Hong Kong's media, it's not 90% cantonese people and 10% foreigners etc but maybe 70% hong kong cantonese people and 30% foreigners, from Hong Kong-born indians manning their own shops, to many labourers from Nigeria, South Africa, Pakistan and Phillipines. (and also White expat population). Unlike Singapore's style of "hiding away" foreign workers in dormitories and transporting them by trucks etc, foreign workers in Hong Kong, just like the ones in Malaysia are pretty much a part of Hong Kong public residential residents, especially at Tsim Tsam Shui area. (No trucks to ship them to locations etc), just normal individuals, probably more alive than the same foreign workers working as construction workers or maids in Singapore. Most of them reside in the Tsim Sham Shui area of Hong Kong (and I know, because I was there and my first shocked night knowing Hong Kong is different from what I imagined is in one of the hostels)

Before I finally found and observed the protest on the 7th day of my visit, I realised Hong Kong has other problems. I think it hasn't "mentally-decolonised" properly since its return in 1997.
(Actually, Singapore also didn't really "decolonised" completely. When the British ruled Singapore, they made the white town and all the churches in the city center to portray superiority while indian, chinese temples and mosques are always off-city center). Has remained this way since then.

Malaysia is a great example of western-decolonisation since they emphasize a lot more about Merdeka. (Independence). I cannot say for Malacca because I haven't visit it, but for southern tip Johor Bahru to KL and to northern tip Penang, probably only Penang (and Malacca) has the colonial architectures for heritage purpose, but definitely it's not in their "center" Kuala Lumpur. Malaysia as a whole in general, doesn't have much european influence, keeping its malay culture as the main, while at the same time actually the malaysian chinese as well as the malaysian tamil original cultures are still pretty much well-kept compared to Singapore. (In Kajang of Kuala Lumpur is the first time that I heard of a Tamil drum, which was good. In Singapore only Chinese Lion Dance drums, and Malay Kompang exists in public generally.)

First observation of Hong Kong is that not all, but a significant proportion of them are slightly "anti" or "exclude" any non-cantonese chinese, doesn't matter if you are Taiwanese, Singaporean or Mainland Chinese. If you speak mandarin, or don't speak cantonese, they will think you are mainland Chinese. And to a proportion of them (at least for the ones who doesnt cross border to see the real mainland China in ShenZhen), they have the perception mainland chinese = not good = push for queues in MTR (This part is true in whole of China but is because culturally accepted there. When in Hong Kong, the middle class mainland chinese doesn't do the same thing in Hong Kong from what I observed. Only old/lower working people still behave that way in Hong Kong). (I also visited ShenZhen for 7 days and I'll write about it in another article another time.).

It is also very obvious if you are a non-cantonese chinese just from looking at the appearance. In Singapore or Malaysia we almost cannot differentiate any one ASEAN chinese from one another, other than our nationality. We cannot really identify if someone is a Singapore Hokkien or Singapore Teochew or Singapore Cantonese etc. In Hong Kong, and mainland China, once you viisted this two places, you will be able to easily identify different kinds of Chinese from each other. Hong Kong cantonese people are of a slightly darker shade than the average Singapore/Malaysian chinese. (Most of which are mixed Hokkien, Teochew with some Cantonese genes in the mix), just like the celebrities you see in TVB, it's not due to lighting that that the Taiwanese adjust their camera brighter and the Hong Kong TVB adjust their lighting down, it's really how they look in real life. (Just for info. Because I also visited mainland China. GuangXi people are the darkest shade of Chinese, most likely. Or maybe Hainan, which I haven't visit yet)

The definition of chinese to a southeast asian chinese most likely look the same, or they may think mainland China has another "northern chinese variation" from what we know as "southern chinese variation" but in reality Han Chinese ethniciity is very diverse.

Second observation is a continuation to what I wrote above, that Hong Kong still has this lingering colonialism. Many parts of Hong Kong are okay, but it's more obvious in Tsim Sham Shui area (supposed to be the CBD area of Kowloon) and Hong Kong island. But who to blame? The big brands in both Tsim Sham Shui district and on the shiny parts of Hong Kong island are mostly all big western fashion brands etc. Right now I am in XiaMen, and I also visited ShenZhen. ShenZhen especially is a very developed city, from my own experience even higher quality infrastructure when comparing FuTian to Tsim Sham Shui etc. (Though, in terms of "classiness" it is right that you will see more lower-educated mainland chinese spitting (usually old, or only the young people from Guang Xi. GuangXi is the type of chinese, slightly darker than even the slightly tanned Cantonese people. Often they will still smoke even indoors or randomly toss the used cigarettes just right through the window. Nothing of that kind of behavior in XiaMen, though some older people still spit here - Maybe it has a flu-prevention effect, I don't know, but I've gotten flu/sick just from walking around in the colder weather in both ShenZhen and XiaMen.)

In Hong Kong, I hopped between several hostels, budget hostels to 3 star hostels etc, so I know that some of the african/south africa indians foreign workers/seeking jobs or business opportunities there are actually there to try getting a Hong Kong girlfriend. But no luck for them, after 1 year or 2, or maybe only 1 date, from hearing them from far. (They don't know there are chinese/overseas chinese people who can understand English.) If you take a walk around in Tsim Sham Shui (CBD of Kowloon), you will see many of these people, sometimes with the female counterpart of the same race, but almost never seen together with the Hong Kong ladies. But it's a different case for the white people, specifically only the white men (because guess what, I also saw a white lady awkwardly/angrily following a white men/filipino couple in Hong Kong). It is also very obvious that the white men in Hong Kong, many are specifically targetting to know the Hong Kong girls etc, for example, asking for directions, but whereas normal people would sometimes ask elderly people, or nearby people, or authorities, maybe sometimes the ladies on the streets, but for the white people you will find them specifically only asking Hong Kong ladies younger than them for direction. (Same thing applies in China actually, you will notice when you are here in China but in China the tourists population is so low maybe it's 1 out of 1000 people that you see would be a non-chinese foreigner, whether of African or of European descent.). Men of other races (African, Indians etc) in Hong Kong are not even this brashfully only asking Hong Kong young females for directions, out of the so many other kinds of people that you pass by on the streets of Hong Kong. In the Mcdonalds of Tsim Tsam Shui, there was also once, there were a few single Hong Kong women there, all eating alone, and at the same time, another table, Hong Kong men, eating alone. Then the only couple then went in to dine together was a WMAF. (e.g. this is not racism for pointing out, but Hong Kong people need to not not care about other kinds of people. When I'm in Hong Kong, the indian and filipino people seems to be shock that a chinese person interact with them, then they guessed I'm from Singapore immediately. I also talked to the African people in the hostel along with A brazillian-looking white person. Hong Kong people I think would avoid other races other than white people. Didn't even see Hong Kong people interacting with well-to-do Hong Kong-born indians in Causeway Bay restaurant areas.)

Hong Kong probably hasn't get over colonialism entirely, and at the same time, not too very informed about mainland China. (Most likely not even most of them has gone over to see ShenZhen's development, especially the ones protesting, based on "hearsay" about mainland China etc. The same way that all rest of the world now thinks the entire Hong Kong is in a chaotic stage, when mostly, 99% of the people are are living very normal lives right now. It is also the same standard that the cities in China are almost never ever showcased in mainstream media though it is very developed right now, at least more developed infrastructurally than Malaysia etc. Never in the news, because in China, non-china people are too few to even get much of the words about it out to the rest of the world. (Even singaporean chinese, you cannot find them in China. I haven't seen any singaporeans at all since stepping into ShenZhen. And only saw 2 white people and 2 african people out of maybe 5000 people that I've passed by or in the same large hall / high speed rail terminal etc.

On the saturday weekend on the 7th day of my stay, after being informed where the protests usually take place (one street in Kowloon area) and after walking for awhile, I finally came across the protests. The protesters look like our average young people partying at Clarke Quay or Zouk etc. Young people, "hippy" people, good looking young people both guys and girls. Dressed "cooly" like terrorists with black scarf covering face and all etc. Some look "gangsta", like the Hong Kong's version of singapore lion dance ah beng etc. (I think many of them throw bricks, burn fire on the road etc to impress their girlfriends or other girls observing the protests actually.) The atmosphere is a little bit like the Chingay parade in Johor, except smaller and not so big deal.

Around 50 people throwing rubbish on streets and setting them on fire, with about also around 50 news and media reporters (wearing green vests, like referrees to the event), and also around 50 bystanders observing (I'm one of them, the rest are mostly all Hong Kongers, and one or two mainlanders that I can identify). The fire engine then came to ease the fire that the protesters set, that's all. The protesters, though angry, did not attacked the fire fighters as I thought they would. After easing the fire, the fire engine went reversed back (since the road was blocked). The protesters would do things one thing at a time, so after setting the fire, they are still there, but just waiting for a response from governmen agencies, same like how the fire fighters came etc. So they waited there. Next came one ambulance with a siren on, but probably not for this protest, the news and media people quickly unblocked the roads for the ambulance (One of the protesters shouted back at the news and media people. I don't understand the Cantonese that they spoke, but probably asking the news and media to be neutral). The news and media people, after unblocked the road for the ambulance to pass by, quickly throw all the bricks and rubbish back on the path like how the protesters blocked the road. (Remaining neutral)

At this time, a random young white passerby again, out of all the news and media people, specifically only asking a group of young hongkong girls in the yellow vests some stupid questions (Off-topic)

Next thing that the protesters did, after about 15 minutes or 20 minutes break, they moved a little, and went to unplug and destroy one of the power/electricity generation box. The observers, as well as the news and media people, all followed the protesterss and moved around 25 meters, to the box, but when they start destroying that high voltage box, everybody move further away, expecting one explosion etc. The observers as well, kept shouting to ask the protesters to quickly move away from the electricity box after they destroyed the power plugs within it etc. The protesters also hurriedly ran about 30 meters away from the high voltage box at this time. Sure enough, one loud "pop" sound, one small explosion took place. Almost everybody, the protesters,as well as some of the observers clapped at this time. The news and media (actually I think they are in cahoots or close collaborations with the group of 50 protesters since they are the first to be informed and know about the exact protesting location out of the whole Hong Kong population) then went nearer to the electricity box to take their pictures etc.

Next thing that the protesters did, on the same street, after about 10 or 15 minutes, they all started taking out bricks, and throwing the bricks in a single directions towards the other side of the road - but none of the bricks hit any cars, only bricks all over the place on the road blocking vehicles. (They also smashed one jewelry shop specifically targeted). None of the stationary cars on the road where they thrown maybe around 200 bricks had their windows smashed etc. (Somehow they are good at aiming).

The next thing the protesters did, was a repeat of what they did. As a group, they walked leftwards 200 meters to the next traffic junction, and started doing their road blocks again. At this stage the entire thing becomes boring, so I walked away bought my Mcbreakfast.

When I came back, the protesters and news and media people are all gone, only the bricks remaining etc. It was about 6 AM. The morning shift people started appearing. The security guards, the road sweepers etc, or city cleaners (transported by vans) started to do clean up on the protested area like it's just any other normal day in Hong Kong. Sweeping away shattered window glass, pulling away destroyed traffic lights in the middle of the road, removing bricks from the road etc. Sure enough, around 15 minutes time, everything is back to normal and all the "first buses" of the day transporting many people etc started appearing on the streets like nothing much happened. The people in the bus also knew what happened, with still some bricks on the road etc but they had that "no big deal" look etc.

Just another normal day in Hong Kong.




Conclusion: Most of what the average Hong Konger knows about mainland China (e.g. Being evil brutal dictactorship etc) probably comes from what has been portrayed by mass media, the same way that the rest of the world thinks Hong Kong is in a total chaotic state right now. (Absolutely not). In mainland China, I even saw drunk fellow pushing the police around and the ShenZhen police doesn't do anything except taking a video and asking the fellow to go home.And also the "anti-mandarin" stance in Hong Kong comes from thinking that mandarin is part of "mainlandisation", whereas in actual fact the rest of the chinese population worldwide are mostly speaking mandarin. (Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, mainland China etc). The reality in mainland China now that I've been here is that many dialects are still being spoken here, whether it's GuangDong dialect, GuangXi dialect, Teochew dialect, Hokkien dialect etc and many more.

Most of "mainstream media" is not even interested in any of the other many near hundreds of cities in China. (Plus the non-chinese population in mainland china is really less than 1% or less. An enclosed world by itself.)

A lot of mainland chinese people are actually leading happy lives, whereas from what I saw in Hong Kong, lots of angry old men and old women. (Shopkeepers, or just normal pedestrian getting blocked by a luggage by some other tourist etc will give a "sour face".)


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Chen Chun-You Felix Tan, based in Singapore
Chen Chun-You is the founder and creator of Altairo.com. Being a technopreneur himself, he writes some articles for fun during his free time.
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