in Hong Kong
So I promised a blogpost on today and I've actually got two running intertwined in my head. Both deal with today's event and the HK Police and crowd control.
The first starts with exiting the Causeway Bay MTR station around 2:30p. The first sign that things were out of the ordinary was that the escalators for the Victoria Park/Great George Street exit were stopped. Manual climbing to slow traffic headed to Victoria Park.
Upon exiting it was pandemonium. The police had allowed political groups to set up in the middle of Great George Street but seemed to have made zero accomodations to ensure bi-directional pedestrian flow. Great George Street is crowded and busy on a normal Sunday, but add the political theater and it made the sidewalks in to rolling rugby rucks. When there was a need for crowd control, there was none. This limited the access in to Victoria Park from the Causeway Bay side.
Somewhere along the way to Victoria Park, I stopped to have a chat with Leung Yiu-chung. A bit of politicking for the fall and a bit of constituent reminding rep of active issues with CY's stated plans.
Finally made it in to Victoria Park. It was roughly 2:45p and only the two pitches on the Tin Hau side were filled. The crowds were flowing in, but I knew how the game was played. If the number of people in Victoria Park on the pitches was low at 3pm sharp, the HK Police would use that number. 55,000 is a decent rough estimate for the number in the pitches at 3pm. But 3pm wasn't the time where the march started, but when the singing and festivities started. People kept flowing in and it seemed like the Causway Bay side pitches filled completely by 3:30-3:45.
As bad as getting in to the park was, getting out was far worse. Police have been issuing loads of excuses for why they kept people penned up in the park under the sun, but all of the excuses put people at risk. Saw lots of kids suffering due to crowd control that was infinitely inferior to marches in 2004, 2005, etc. under the previous Police Commissioner, which itself had major room to improve.
By 4:45pm the crowds had abandoned the idea that the Police would allow them out from the usual Victoria Park exit and marched to leave from exits further back towards Tin Hau Station.
I left the park somewhere around 5pm. At this point the police had surrendered the main road but were still blocking the tram lines by the Regal, a route which would have shortened the walk by more than 45 minutes. Instead the standard route takes the Police favourite strangle point on to Irving St and then right on Pennington St. up to the circular walkway and turn left on to Yee Wo St. I made that turn on to Yee Wo St. at 6pm. As the crow flies, I'd walked less than 200 yards in 2 hours, because the HK Police want to make it as inconvenient as possible.
All lanes of Yee Wo St had been opened to the march at this point, but the march wasn't flowing. It took 25 minutes to walk the two blocks from Commercial Press to Sogo, which is two blocks. It was hot. It was packed like the MTR at rush hour and people were pissed and becoming more pissed as time went by. With another 25 minutes of walking I made it to the Canal Rd flyover. During this time I witnessed a young man rip open his calf climbing one of the tram's fences trying to escape the crowds. He impaled it on 3/4 inch of rusty bolt that holds two pieces of the fence together and then pulled it off. Bolts produce ugly wounds. This was uglier than words can describe, but surely this sort of thing will ensure Andy Tsang is awarded a Gold Bauhinia medal by C.Y.
After the Canal Rd. flyover it seemed that the Police had stood down for the most part. This is at 6:48pm So apparently a steady stream of people had moved from the park to this point for roughly 3 hours or more and the tail wouldn't make it here for another hour and a half, yet the number of close packed people on 4 lanes of road during this time is only 63 to 120 thousand? Incredulous. Even if it was only two lanes for the first few hours, the numbers being floated by various groups are risible.
Once the police stood aside, the march proceeded without much incident. The decency of the HK people shone despite the heat and the obstruction and disrespect of the police. People swarmed the 7-11s and Circle Ks in Wan Chai, but they weren't overcrowded and folks queued and paid like you'd expect from HK.
Having attended marches previously that ended at the new Tamar Government HQ, the surveyors and planners may not have gotten the moat they wanted, but the road surrounding the HQ make pedestrian access miserable. Even a march of a couple of hundred people protesting the HK 2020 plans for reclamation was logistically painful due to the stairs and escalators and general barriers to access. I saw the pain and frustration of the crowds as they made the turn at Pacific Place, so I bailed on the march to head to the Central Ferry Piers and hopefully make my way home.
And this leads to the second blog post, but I'm tired and sleepy and writing that will have to wait until tomorrow.