Twenty years ago this week, I was in Hong Kong visiting a college friend. I arrived late in the evening on Saturday May 27th and flew home Sunday June 11th.
Midway through my trip, on June 3rd & 4th, the Chinese government cracked down on the protesters in Tiananmen Square.
I had a decent 35mm SLR camera, and took a fair amount of pictures during my stay, but the only four I can find at the moment are the ones on display in the downstairs bathroom. I’m sure the photo album is buried somewhere deep in the basement. I looked, but could be down there all day and still never find it. I have a husband who likes to move things.
So, since I really should be writing a chapter for my marketing book, I decided to share some of the memories, and let you imagine the setting.
My first full day was Sunday June 28th. My college friend and I joined the 1.5 million people who paraded through downtown Hong Kong in a Democracy Demonstration. There was (and still is ) a strong democracy movement in Hong Kong focused on retaining as many of the colony’s freedoms as possible following 1997 reunification.
I still remember how to say “Down with Li Peng” (Premier of the PRC) in Chinese although I wouldn’t even dare to try and spell it 🙂
The balance of the first week was spent exploring different parts of Hong Kong. I have small memories as well as big ones. Breaking a heel on the way to the top of Victoria Peak and having to find a cobbler (which we did). Wandering around the different neighborhoods when I was on my own; my friend could only take some days off. Having lunch at the Vocational Technical Center Hotel School. Man Mo Temple. Shopping in a street market. Taking the ferry from Lantau Island, where my friend lived, to Hong Kong proper. The Star Ferry. Playing Pictionary with a group of my friend’s neighbors and colleagues.
It was during that game of Pictionary that we saw the first news about the crackdown on CNN. And the world tilted just a little bit.
After the crackdown, my plans for the second week changed. We cancelled a planned day trip to the mainland. Instead, I took a jetfoil to Macau on June 5th. On Wednesday June 7th, there was a General Strike in Hong Kong, and I remember just walking around, observing. I still have the scissors I bought to cut some cloth to make black armbands, but the armbands are long since gone. The week wrapped up with the Dragon Boat Festival (and I KNOW I took pictures of that) and souvenir shopping. Most of the rice bowls I bought have been broken, but I still have and use the chopsticks.
Fittingly and almost a reflection of the mood, toward the end of the week, a major tropical storm approached the island, with warnings ranging from Signal 1 to Signal 3.
And then I flew home — from the old Hong Kong airport. The one that was so close to the buildings you felt you could reach out and touch them as you landed.
I would love to go back some day. See what Hong Kong is like post-reunification. See what it is like in more normal times. Certainly, many of my experiences were no, or not much, different than they would have been in quieter times.
Yet, I can tell you — nothing was the same either. The events in Tiananmen Square changed Hong Kong the two weeks I was there. Hopeful, exuberant, defiant the first week. Somber, saddened but still defiant the second.
That’s what I will remember the most about Hong Kong.