On the night of 28th July 2019, Hong Kong saw one of the first of its large-scale protests happening in Sheung Wan. During the same night, I got dropped off by a friend somewhere after dinner. I was only a few kilometres away from the protest.
I took my usual commute home, boarding a congested train with other apprehensive passengers. Shortly after, the PA system came on and announced the train service had been partially suspended. The train would no longer be running after stopping in Sheung Wan where the protest was escalating.
Stepping out of the train, I strode towards the closest escalator with a rising feeling of unease. After taken up to the station concourse, I was bombarded by gas-masked protestors wearing black all over the place. They weren’t protesting inside the concourse—some of them were distributing face masks to whoever crossed their paths, while some others were wandering around the concourse seemingly without an agenda. I didn’t pay more attention.
I navigated my way through the groups of protestors, looking for an exit. Recognizing another lost face, a helpful station staff came to my assistance and pointed me to the exit where I could hail a taxi and get home. As I neared the taxi stand, I expected to see other onlookers lost in the commotion of this evening — a situation similiar to my own. To my surprise, except for some 7-Eleven workers pulling down the store’s security gate nearby, there wasn’t a single soul in sight.
It was around 10:30 p.m., I suppose. But it didn’t matter. Time lost its effect on me that night.
On a usual Sunday night, you would see the hustle and bustle of the city with a fair amount of buses and trams passing through that area.
However, there was no traffic whatsoever in my immediate surroundings. The sight of emptiness was a stark contrast to the cramped, bustling city I had always known. I wasn’t familiar with the feeling of isolation that was running through me.
Alone, I stood at the taxi stand, looking over my shoulder although no danger was in sight. Suddenly, the quietness erupted into roaring and chanting from a short distance away.
Where are these sounds coming from? Is anyone getting hurt? How bad will it get? I couldn’t help but picture all the worst-case scenarios in my head.
Amid the distant cacophony of protestors and incessant sirens, the taxi stand started to fill with some faces—a male Caucasian, an old lady, some Filipino ladies, and an off-duty pilot.
While the chaos kept building up at a short distance away, there was still no sight of a taxi. The line shortened as people started to take off one by one, I believe, for other possible means of transport.
Clouded by herd instinct, I decided to take off and go home on foot. Just as I walked towards the opposite sidewalk, I looked back involuntarily—I saw that everyone else had left except the old lady who was waiting in line behind me earlier. I couldn’t drag my eyes away from her frail, diminutive figure. I thought to myself, “She can’t be out here alone. It’s not safe.”
Without a doubt, I walked back to the line where she was and asked she was headed. She prompted me to repeat my question several times, then murmured an answer I couldn’t make out.
“You can’t be out here alone. How about I send you home?” I offered anyway.
Funnily enough, she didn’t answer me. She probably couldn’t hear me this time or just wanted to get on with her life despite the kind offer from a good Samaritan. I gave up on asking, but leaving her behind would go against my heart. I stood back in line and kept her company.
As an approaching taxi filled my sight, the prospect of a hot shower at home filled me with temporary comfort. Without delay, I grabbed the door for the old lady and rushed myself in right behind.
As the taxi drove into the main street (Connaught Road Central), I looked out of the side window and examined my immediate surroundings. I was heavy-hearted witnessing the aftermath of violence—political slogans sprayed onto buildings, dismantled trash cans, and scattered debris. Somehow, it reminded me of The Purge.
Leaving behind the chaotic backdrop, I peered at the stranger sitting next to me every so often. She remained serene and quiet this whole time without displaying much emotion on her face. Perhaps the protest was not all that upsetting compared to her painful recollection of World War II. Though, with her presence, I felt a heartwarming sense of calm I was much grateful for that night.
Without too many detours, the taxi arrived at her destination, Babington Path. She struggled her way out while thanking me again and again. In my seat, I watched her hobble up the slope in front of her apartment building, wondering if she had anyone waiting for her.
I finally reached home, hugging my worried mother who had been watching the protest on the news all night. I ended my night with a comforting, warm shower and headed to bed.