On the night of 28th July 2019, Hong Kong saw one of the first of its large-scale protests happening in Sheung Wan. At the time, I was on the train home and about to pass through that district. Just before that, an announcement over the public address system said the train would no longer run after stopping at Sheung Wan station. I panicked at the thought of not being able to find another means of transport at a time like that.
Soon the train doors opened, I strode towards the closest escalator with growing unease. At the station concourse, I was immediately bombarded by gas-masked protestors in black everywhere. They weren’t protesting but distributing face masks and wandering around without an agenda. I didn’t pay more attention.
I navigated my way through the crowds of protestors to look for an exit out of the station. Recognizing another lost face, a helpful station staff came to my assistance and pointed me to the exit that would take me to the closest taxi stand.
As I expected to see other onlookers lost in the commotion of this evening — a situation similar to my own, the sight of emptiness shocked me. Except for some workers pulling down the security gate of the 7-Eleven nearby, I couldn’t see a single soul in sight.
It was around 10:30 p.m., I suppose. 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 running through me.
Alone, I stood at the taxi stand, looking over my shoulder although no danger was in sight. Suddenly, the still quietness erupted into roaring and chanting of whom I believe to be protestors 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 new 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 still 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 so 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. Witnessing the aftermath of violence—political slogans sprayed onto buildings, dismantled trash cans, and scattered debris, I was heavy-hearted. and ached. 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 during a night of chaos.
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 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.