I‘ll admit I’ve seen the headlines for Occupy Hong Kong when I read the daily paper on my iPhone, but I also admit that I scroll right past them to things that I find more interesting like the spread of Ebola or the travel section. But one’s perspective tends to change when the news directly affects them, and as I wandered the streets of central Hong Kong yesterday in search of the Korean Consulate, I came face to face with the protest.
It was slightly before 10:00 a.m. A sea of multicolored tents spread down major thoroughfares, up highway entrance ramps and in the courtyards of towering high rises. Metal barriers were strewn like discarded toys, traffic lights changed from red to green despite the fact that there were no cars to heed them. Piles of plastic water bottles, tattered paper and eccentric art made from umbrellas (the symbol of the protest, also known as the umbrella movement) all decorated the deserted streets.
But the really weird thing is that I didn’t see a soul. Where were the sign wielding, tent-dwelling protesters? Where were the occupiers of this Occupy Hong Kong movement? It was eerily quiet, a ghost town in the midst of one of Asia’s most bustling cities.
I had heard that some of the occupy protesters worked during the day and returned to their tents at night. But I returned from a day of sightseeing at 6:00 p.m. and still, the only other people I saw in the tent villages were curious tourists like me, snapping photos and pondering at the mayhem.
Despite the positive intentions, this movement for more democracy is causing no end of trouble for the citizens of Hong Kong, whether they support the movement or not. Busses are rerouted, taxi fares are more exorbitant than ever with detours in place, and even pedestrians are banned from walking down certain streets. Most office buildings are open for business, although earlier in the protest, occupiers even blocked entrances and many people could not go to work. But I passed through peacefully and was able to enter the Korean Consulate to obtain my visa with no trouble.
The latest news declares that the government is set to clear the tents and protestors off the streets on Thursday, returning the city to relative normalcy. Only time will tell if the massively disruptive protests will achieve the desired outcome.