On the surface, visitors to Hong Kong will find that it’s as lively, vibrant, and cosmopolitan as ever. The eco-conscious restaurant Mana! is serving vegan wraps and fig-and-banana shakes at their new branch in Wan Chai. In the tourist-friendly district Causeway Bay, Tower 535 features a smorgasbord of restaurants and bars offering sushi, Wagyu beef, Thai, hot pot, and fluffy Japanese pancakes. A four-day FinTech event at the Convention and Exhibition Center attracted 16,000 global attendees last month. The visiting British football team Manchester City recently thrashed the local champion team Kitchee in a nighttime match at Hong Kong Stadium. The Lion King and Once upon a Time … in Hollywood are holding court at the Palace IFC Mall cinema alongside a local hit, Line Walker 2. Barring the odd incident, you can still move around safely to do what you want and when you want in the city that rarely sleeps.
Except on weekends. That’s when Hong Kong becomes Ground Zero for protests that may ultimately change the fabric of the city forever—and possibly China too. While a proposed criminal-extradition bill created without proper citywide consultation was the tipping point, anger amongst youths—and other sectors of the city—has been brewing for years. Increasingly high rents, smaller unaffordable flats, a perceived government coziness with business cartels, and the sense that China is marginalizing Hong Kong into becoming just another Chinese city—these are only some of the frustrations that residents have been facing. And when it comes to the city’s young people, they have never experienced firsthand the pre-1997 “glory years” when Hong Kong was a British colony and which are often depicted in films and the nostalgic descriptions of older generations as an example of the city’s “can do” spirit. In their lifetimes, they have only encountered the cold—and at times corrupt—leadership of four handpicked chief executives, who always seemed to pay more attention to China’s wishes than to the young people’s own needs.