I hardly go out on weekends these days, but yesterday was different.
There was a closing party in Causeway Bay to celebrate the end of the third Entrepreneur First (“EF“) incubation program in Hong Kong, and sadly the last one in the city as reported by TechCrunch. We had guests from Singapore, the U.S., and other countries, as well as alumni from past Hong Kong cohorts.
So, I took the subway into the city. The carriage broadcasted announcements warning passengers that the Central MTR station had just been shut down and other stations might be closing imminently. Once I arrived in Central, I decided to walk to Causeway Bay, hoping that I could catch a bus or taxi along the way. There was none.
All the streets were empty, including major roads like Connaught, Queen’s and Hennessy. Reminded me of scenes from Occupy in 2014. But the protests this year have sustained for 21 weeks straight.
I entered the Wanchai district. A large police helicopter hovered overhead. Bricks were dug up and railings dismantled all along Queen’s Road East. Pedestrians had to play “Pacman” to try to avoid running into spots of police-protestor confrontations. There were several hotspots flaring up, and various groups roved around the neighborhood. I began to cough lightly and my eyes stung a little. Teargas could be smelt in many streets in the area. But I decided to press on.
Everyone in the streets were on edge. I started running, covering my nose and mouth with my jacket to avoid teargas smell. That caused some to panic. A kid yelled out, asking me why I was running and what’s happening in the direction from where I came. I replied, “don’t worry about it, I am just late for a party.”
I arrived in Time Square 30 minutes later. Sirens were blaring and angry abusive words were exchanged in the background. I checked my EF Whatsapp group and saw a few of my colleagues have decided to drop out due to the volatile situation developing in Causeway Bay and Wanchai. We were not sure how we’d go home.
So, it was heartening to see that quite a few of my friends and fellow entrepreneurs made it. I darted to the bar, cleared my throat and asked the bartender, “what’s good and washes out the taste of teargas?” An entrepreneur (who is a consummate wine connoisseur) stepped in, “try Riesling, the refreshing taste should pair well.” The DJ was playing some house and funk.
I don’t know when “beer pong” and “flip cup” took hold in Hong Kong. But, as competitive entrepreneurs, we got stuck into these games. It was a stark contrast to the violence outside. Somehow the evening reminded me of the news that Sir Richard Branson and his friends decided to stay on Necker Island in September 2017 as the eye of Irma (a category 5 hurricane) blew through the island.
I wanted to diarize the evening because for many living in Hong Kong this is a typical Saturday night now. It’s not always like how the news media portrays. But things are not fine either. The situation and issues are complex (or have gradually become more complex). I sincerely hope my beautiful city improves soon. In the meantime, when prayers are not yet answered, some social drinking helps.