Thursday, August 15, 2019

Last Flight to Hong Kong

It takes 8 hours to fly from the territory of Guam to the State of Hawaii; and 13 hours to the Mainland United States. If on Guam and interested in travel, xenophobia is a disadvantage; for the experiences of Japan, Taiwan and Korea are but 4 hours away by air.

Hong Kong, which I had not visited yet, caught my fancy, being in similar proximity to Guam. Since 1997, when the British lease on Victoria Island and surrounding areas ended, the former British colony has undergone Sinification. The area would be remolded into Beijing’s image. Hong Kong’s hybrid culture palpably faded as its newfound status as a “Special Administrative Region” wore on. Reunification is scheduled for the year 2047, but many residents feel the end of special status is near. Hong Kong’s fish mongers resented overbearing law enforcement; this was prelude to a summer of discontent, spurred by an extradition agreement with Mainland China. In travelling to Hong Kong, I sought to capture a glimpse of a time past.    

The window of opportunity was quickly closing, and I was in a fortuitous position to make a trip. I had concerns: being unable to procure a transit visa through Mainland China, Hong Kong International Airport was my only way to depart Hong Kong. Through Alfred P. Chester’s A Sailor’s Odyssey and other works, I read about the many American expatriates desperate to leave war-drummed Europe in 1940 and 1941 on the few passenger liners still sailing. Failing that, they abandoned their belongings and assets, riding across the Atlantic as supercargo onboard derelict freighters. I realized it was possible for history to repeat.

Despite the widescale weekend protests, as of August 1st, the US State Department had not issued a travel advisory on Hong Kong. I did make sure to book a hotel away from Victoria Square, epicenter of the protest activity, namely at Harbourview near Hong Kong station. I purchased airline tickets and researched Hong Kong’s MRT subway system.  The flights landed and departed uneventfully.

The weekend after my scheduled trip, 10-11th of August, tensions reached a fever pitch. On Facebook, I came across a photo taken in an MRT station. Laser sights pierced the smoke-filled cavern. “This is not a sci-fi movie. This is Hong Kong”, read the caption. Hong Kong’s international airport was shut down.