Following a recent trip to Macau and Hong Kong (1Oct-7Oct 2019) – I have a few things to say about what I noticed and experienced.
It was during the National Day of the People’s Republic of China. The whole week s supposed to be a week of celebrations. We landed at Hong Kong airport and there was so much security – so many different areas closed and so many checks to finally get on a bus to another terminal to take another bus to Macau. We had missed the last direct Ferry crossing…The 45-minute bus ride from Hong Kong airport is very pleasant and you get great views of the waters around the countries. You get to cross the longest bridge in the world…that’s something. There should have been tons of people in both cities in the streets. There weren’t. Macau was busy but I had expected to see the type of crowds and celebrations one sees on most country’s national day. The day and night was like a normal Saturday out. Quite contained and well…subdued really. The only time it seemed like something special was happening was during the fireworks displays which we did not see as we were not staying at the Cotai Strip Resorts. That’s the equivalent to the Las Vegas (new strip). We were at the Old Vegas, if you will, which I will call fondly “Old Macau”. I call it thus because it has a lot of interesting vestiges of Portugal – Portugese tarts not withstanding! We heard the fireworks and the displays went on for about 10 minutes – could have been 15 though. Hubby though it was thunder. We couldn’t see anything because of the smog or was it haze? And how could I tell the difference? Seemed like smog to me…the Casinos – we did visit a whole lot of them, they were mainly empty. So many empty tables…From an ambience perspective – “Old Macau” was way better. More convivial – at least this year. Wynns was certainly the most popular Casino inside and most tables full. Old Macau’s pavements packed with people: babies, young, youths, young adults grown ups and so on and so forth…One evening spent in Cotai – yes the Casinos were grander than grand, larger than large, higher than high, shinier than shine – but mainly empty. Even the rides e.g. the Skycab around Wynn Palace took 10 minutes to wait then you were on board. It’s hard to know where people come from in Macau because they were all mainly of the same “colour” and if you don’t speak the language and cannot tell the sounds then not easy. There were some Japanese tourists because I know the language. By “know” I mean I can tell when people are speaking it. The city really lacked the sense of celebration, the sense of belonging…despite certain channels showing the Beijing celebrations over and over and over again on TV for several days to come. If the Hong Kong protests are stopping people from flying into that airport and ferrying to Macau – then it is a sad thing indeed. This should have been a big day for them…
We arrived in Hong Kong by ferry. This was smooth and a “nice” journey in a fast cat. I had a nap 10 minutes into the ride…the heat, the night life got a bit much by day 4. It was all quite easy to taxi to the hotel – we stayed at the Lanson Place Hotel in Causeway Bay. We got there about 5.30pm and were advised not to go out after 7 pm as the protests would begin and we were right in the heart of it. We were offered a Cocktail package at HKD250 for 2 guests with unlimited drinks from 6pm-11pm with canapés flowing and if we had bigger hunger – fried noodles. And boy did we take that on…the drinks servings were as generous as in Macau – therefore – Portugese/Spanish portions. By my 3rd Cuba Libre and “Knapes” as we fondly refer to them in my circle…I needed some fresh air. I say fresh – there’s nothing fresh about 35 degrees Celcius-feels like 42. It was humid but it was outside and I was walking on my feet till I could not walk anymore that evening. We managed to walk around the shopping areas near Time Square etc. many many people around, with umbrellas, face masks but jovial, talkative and peaceful. We saw some streets were the crowds were massing and went the other way and eventually with lungs full of new air, we went back to tackle more cocktails, knapes and fried noodles. The windows to the lounge were glowing brightly with blue and red lights around us. It was eerie but we did not feel unsafe or that our security was threatened. 3 more Cuba Libres in me, a tasty friend noodle and a port or two, 11pm came all to quickly.
We spoke to the staff who were due to finish their shift, two lovely Hong Kongese ladies. They were worried about getting home and having to overnight in case the morning shift could not get in. The metro stations were shut and depending on the night’s protest could remain that way in the morning. They were not angry – on the contrary. Their parents were from China and they were born in Hong Kong. They could see their lives changing from what their parents told them about China. When they speak to their friends in China – their friends are totally ignorant of what is really happening and why. Their friends in China cannot believe what they are hearing. It was as if they were talking about a completely different issue. The next day we went out shopping. Most malls only had 10% of their shops open and were closing at 1pm. Malls in Kowloon were the same. A little more people but one was not enthused to shop till we drop. We got bored and though a nap back at the hotel and a bottle of Moët & Chandon would get us ready for supper in a restaurant and Liverpool v Leicester match at 10pm. More protests that night. But Mané proved to be a cool asset as always and Milner brought it home in the 95th minute penalty!
On home leaving day – we did not need to check-out before 4 pm. The advice from the hotel “be back by 2 pm before the protests start”. Get a taxi with plenty of time as roads will be blocked. We went for a beautiful 1 hour tour on a Chinese Junk Boat. Probably the most stress-free trip I have done in a while. You know why? Because for the first 45 minutes were were the only 2 on the boat. It was strange but we felt so privileged! We grabbed a cab back to the hotel and the moment we set foot back inside the rain came…and did not stop. The people were gathering, lots of open umbrellas due to rain especially this time and more masks were filling the streets. We were ready to go by 3 pm and headed to the airport by taxi. Yes were went through the demonstrations. Yes we got stuck. But we were invisible to the protesters. The taxi driver stopped in the crowds of protesters and asked where the roads were free – he had passengers to deliver at the airport. The people were so helpful in advising the best way. We were stuck for around 20 minutes if that and then clear. Another 20 minutes were had arrived at the Terminal. It was the shortest ride no doubt because the roads were so empty. Getting through airport security to prove we were not protesters took the same amount of time…
My thoughts about that trip. We booked in May, it was an anniversary gift to ourselves. We could have cancelled or changed to Adelaide-Singapore-Macau-Singapore and back to Adelaide. But we kept an eye on the news, well 2 eyes actually and we went ahead with the original plan. And glad we did. Could we have gambled more – I don’t think so. I think the atmosphere could have been better in Macau. Could we have shopped more – most probably. More shoes, more bags…But, we did things and saw things that we would not have had we stayed in the malls. We saw that the protesters were peaceful people. Young, old, black and white wanting to keep what they had. Their freedom. We saw that we were not in danger. We saw that the people had a point and were walking in the heavy heavy heavy rain, en masse to demand their right to remain the way they are. They believed in something which they know once lost will affect them and every single generation that comes after.
Will they win? From what I can see – it’s a game of patience. Hong Kong is important to the rest of the world. And to Hong Kong. Its economy is failing, numbers dropping, shops are closing early and it’s can only be a matter of time before they close permanently. But to the mainland, they are a drop in the ocean. The mainland will wait and watch Hong Kong implode and then we shall see. But please don’t take my word for it…I am just a simple tourist with nothing to gain in this struggle. But I do think – what would I do in the Hong Kongeses’ shoes?
As a woman of colour with many different types of struggles, I can say that I would go to Hong Kong again and Macau and look forward to whatever it has to offer now and in the future.