Hong Kong protests: How to keep your family safe when out and about
Updated: Aug 4, 2019
Updated 5. August 2019: Several countries are now warning their citizens who are travelling in Hong Kong to be more careful and exercise more caution.
Hong Kong news has been dominated by one topic: the pro-democracy demonstrations opposing the Chinese extradition bill. Since the beginning of this June, there have been sporadic clashes between the police and protesters, however the rallies generally have been civil.
Everything took a turn for the worse when anti-extradition protestors and bystanders were ambushed and violently beaten at Yuen Long Station by a large group of men dressed in white. The slow response time by the police and the ruling party’s rather mild reaction are causing suspicions about the government being in cahoots with the mob.
In my previous post I have already talked about the different sides and parties involved. Today I just want to focus on what you can do to protect your family and not to get caught in the middle when the shit hits the fan.
Know the hot spots
I suggest, if you are new to Hong Kong, to grab a map of the area and familiarize yourself with the local geography. Every time a rally is announced, I retrieve my mental map to mark the hot spot and into which areas a conflict could spill over. In the recent weeks these hot spots and areas read like a list of prominent MTR stops:
The big demonstration route on Hong Kong Island These big mass demonstrations are usually announced in advance and follow a set route. The markers of the route are Causeway Bay, Wanchai, Admiralty (which includes Tamar Park, Pacific Place, Central Government Complex of Hong Kong) From there conflicts have spilled into Central and Sheung Wan / Sai Wing Pun.
Smaller demonstration sites on Kowloon side Mong Kok, Jordan, Yau Ma Tei, Tsim Sha Tsui
Stay up to date
Those hot spots never flare up all at once. Some are safe one weekend and then are conflict zones the other. Knowing a handful of reliable local media outlets which can keep you updated about what is happening or might happen is crucial. For non-Cantonese speakers I recommend following English outlets:
Live News updates Free Hong Kong Press My go-to source regarding protest updates. It’s a free non-profit online newspaper of independent journalists who are not afraid of being caught in the midst of things. South China Morning Post Probably Hong Kong’s largest English-language print newspaper. I often jump to their website to supplement my news feed as they do have more reporters. News gov hk This government online news website operated by the Information Services Department. Not many details on what is happening from hour to hour but they report statements from the government and safety advice to the public. Dimsum daily What travels faster than news? Rumours and gossip. Dimsum daily is an English Entertainment media platform and very swift to cover articles from Cantonese gossip sites and tabloid papers.
Further more MTR traffic updates Hong Kong's rail and subway systems are one of the most important ways of transport. Check this website regularly to see if any stations or lines have been affected by the protests. Your consulate in Hong Kong See here if there is a consulate of your country in Hong Kong. They also issue warnings and give out safety advice to their citizens.
Facebook Hong Kong Moms Online English-speaking community Hong Kong parents, the majority mothers. The moms discuss anything Hong Kong and are quick to update each other on what is going on in their residential area. Good idea to pop in and check what locals and Expats have to say. Request to join must be approved by members or admin. Be Water HK Online community covering the current social unrest in Hong Kong Hong Kong columns - translated Cantonese speakers are more up to date as they have more news outlets available and are connected to several group chats. Bloggers and journalists at Hong Kong columns translate relevant articles from Cantonese media to English.
Before heading out, have a plan
Discuss with your spouse or partner where to meet up should you get separated. Agree on who else to call to leave a message should you not be able to get a hold of each other. If you have older children brief them as well.
Check your family’s gear and clothes.
Anything that allows you to stay mobile is good. Shorts and trousers over skirts, and closed shoes or sandals with secure wide straps over flip flops.
Ideally, carry a bag which allows you to keep both hands free. A backpack is better than a shoulder bag as it cannot slide off and can offer extra protection to your back.
An umbrella can be surprisingly versatile as a light shield or to parry blows.
Make sure your mobile phone is always charged and that it has access to the internet. Even if you’re in Hong Kong only for a few days, getting a SIM card is worth it. You can get low priced SIMs at every 7Eleven.
Also for the sake of mobility, I’d advise against strollers/ prams/ pushchairs. Hong Kong’s terrain is generally not stroller friendly and you will have to deal with a lot of escalators or full lifts. If you can, carry your baby or toddler in a carrier or hipseat. If you cannot do without a stroller, opt for a travel stroller which is lightweight, compact and easy to fold like the YOYO+ by Babyzen or the GB Pockit Stroller.
And if you want to minimise trouble with the police avoid wearing all black or black T-shirts. Black has become the colour of the protests. In the last few days bystanders, including tourists, have been aressted because they walked by clash sites wearing black.
Stay away from the area where the trouble’s brewing
Stay away from an active hot spot particularly in the evening or at night. This is especially important if you are new to Hong Kong. When many MTR stations are jam packed with protesters and commuters during evening rush hours, buses will be rerouted and neither taxis nor Uber cars are available. People have to come up with logistic alternatives. Once our family had to be creative with several modes of transportation in order get home. If you haven’t lived here for while you probably won’t know about alternative routes. It’s safest to keep your family away until things have calmed down.
Maintain Situational Awareness
The mob attack in Yuen Long took many by surprise. There were rumours in the Cantonese media and group chats that something was about to happen. But once that trickled down to the English media the mob was already in the middle of their vicious attack.
While protests are being announced in advance and therefore easily avoidable, mob attacks or escalating violence are not. Situational Awareness is the first line of safety and defense against unforeseen threats.
If for some reason you do not feel safe, get ready to leave What we call gut feeling or intuition is often a subconscious accumulation of impressions and data, minute little things which give us a clue that something is amiss. Don’t waste time doubting yourself. Instead try to get more attuned to your environment. Look around instead of just on your phone.
Get a good vantage point Try to position yourself where you have a good overview of a place, its entrances and exits. When on the streets register buildings, shops, restaurants which can offer you cover and protection. Be aware how you can quickly leave the area.
Watch the crowd As mentioned before, Cantonese speakers have better access to updates. So try to get a better feel for the people around you. Is the atmosphere orderly, nervous or concerned? Are people constantly checking the news?
The safety of your family is the main priority. Stay informed, stay alert, be prepared, be safe.