Hong Kong means ‘Fragrant Harbour’ in Cantonese. Due to the large amount of traffic, coal-fired power stations and the tens of thousands of factories in China’s nearby Pearl River Delta, the only fragrance these days is that from air pollution. I’m only here to get my Chinese visa and coming from the serenity of Japan, the dirt, crowds and stressful atmosphere make me want to leave as soon as possible. It reminds me of London; all expense with few benefits for the average visitor. Added to the hassle of being in an unfriendly city is my disadvantage at not being able to easily communicate. I stupidly assumed that being a British colony for a long time, most people here would have a comfortable grasp of the English language or at least would be helpful when you attempted to speak to them but I didn’t factor in the massive influx of newcomers from mainland China or what appears to me as the inexplicable rudeness of the locals, many of whom don’t seem happy to communicate at all. Despite trying to make the best of a bad situation and see some of the sights, time in the territory is an alienating experience.
Much has been made by Western governments and their subservient media of the pro-democracy Occupy protests here and the Chinese government’s handing of them. The truth is, China’s approach to the shutting down of a large section of the centre of one of its cities has been extremely lenient in comparison to Occupy protests in London and New York, which were limited and confined to parks/footpaths (any attempt to occupy wider areas were quickly crushed). The faux-concern for democracy from the Western elites is of course just an excuse for getting digs in at China. As I walk around the largest occupied area at Admiralty near the Central Business District, I’m in awe of what the protesters have achieved. Everything is so organised; tents are numbered and lined neatly along the road, there’s different stalls and meeting centres. A study hall has even been erected where students can come and use the space as their own (it even has its own wifi!). A few years ago the Occupy London camp outside St Paul’s cathedral was also well-organised, but not to this extent; it’s almost as if the Occupy movement here has been getting outside assistance from a powerful organisation (what does the US do when it lectures foreign countries about democracy?). That’s not to say that the protesters are mere cogs in the US’s imperial ambitions; they have legitimate grievances about where their city is headed and how how much of a say they have in their future. There is a genuine grassroots movement whose aim is to maintain the autonomy of Hong Kong. What is worrying is that their movement is caught between a rock and a hard place: that of an authoritarian government on the one hand, and the danger of being completely hijacked by the CIA tools of the US Empire on the other.
I walk around in admiration at some of the banners and placards. This is the most unequal city out of any ‘advanced economy’ and such widening inequality is bound to escalate social conflict as well as the chasm between elites and ordinary people. The mild-revolutionary fervour gets the imagination going. Every god-forsaken mega-city in the world should have this until all are reclaimed by those who live there. Then I come across a stall with an image of arch-neocon demon Margaret Thatcher calling for justice and the illusion is shattered. There’s a dark undertone to this protest. This ain’t no umbrella anti-capitalist movement; it’s a hodge-podge of autonomist and well-meaning students/activists who are worried about the state of Hong Kong. Unfortunately the deeper ideological aspects of this movement don’t have a sound basis. It’s difficult to imagine a posthumous call for justice from a fascist being tolerated by a truly radical movement. For all that, there is enough here for me to sympathise with them. It can’t be easy living in Hong Kong and things aren’t going to get any easier.
I get my Chinese visa and then go about finding out information about booking a bus to the mainland. This mission proves to be an ordeal. I hear there’s a Tourist Information Office at one of the larger train stations so I go there with the naive belief that they’d offer some useful information. The woman at the desk, who couldn’t have been more of an incompetent if she tried, looked at me as if I’d ask for information about flying elephants to China. “No, you can’t get a bus”, she lied. I tell her I know I can and could she please give me the correct information about how I can book one. She continues to be an arsehole and fobs me off by sending me to another counter. Believe it or not, this pattern continues till I’ve gone to another 4 counters of arseholes who all treat me with disdain. I try to remain polite but the cracks appear until I insist with one arsehole that I really need to book a bus and could she give me the correct information. This particular arsehole begrudgingly, after much prodding, explains that I don’t even need to book the bus in advance – I can just turn up a few hours before it leaves and buy the ticket there. I retreat to the hostel and do some research on the internet, eventually finding out where one bus company leaves from and go there the next day. It’s the same story – the same fucking rudeness and fobbing off, as if it’s a massive inconvenience that a foreigner is talking in their direction. Never, in all my travels, have I seen the likes of it. I’m told that I have to call a certain number to find out, because I’m a foreigner, if the bus company will wait for me on the other side of the border. After being treated like a piece of shit for the past few days, I finally crack. I lose it and shout at one woman behind the desk, “What the fuck is the problem!? Have you never had a foreigner trying to buy a ticket in this office before? Why can’t you do your fucking job and phone them yourself and let me buy the ticket!” This miraculously gets her to cooperate and she soon provides all the relevant information I need, organises which buses I need to take and lets me buy the ticket. I realise that I’ve been too polite all along (I made an effort to be extra polite in Japan as it’s expected there); if you want anything done in Hong Kong, you’ve to counter the arseholes by being a total arsehole yourself. In a few hours I’ve crossed the Chinese border and while I wait to get on another bus, it’s like a huge weight has been lifted to have finally left Hong Kong.