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Toronto family on vacation in Hong Kong ‘hunker down’ as protests rock city

James Tse’s family trip to Hong Kong to visit relatives has turned into a “watch, listen and avoid, kind of vacation.”

The Toronto photographer, his wife and their two children arrived in the city on Aug. 8, just one day before protests started at the Hong Kong International Airport. They are set to leave on Aug. 14.

Flights were cancelled for the second day on Tuesday, after violent clashes broke out between police and anti-government protesters in the airport.

The city is in its 10th week of unrest, as people take to the streets to protest allegations of police violence and a now suspended bill that would allow suspects to be extradited to mainland China to face charges.

This week, the federal government raised its travel warning to Hong Kong urging Canadians to exercise “a high degree of caution” because of the escalating protests in the city.

Tse spoke with As It Happens guest host Nil Köksal about what it’s been like in the city, and how he’s explaining the protests to his young children. Here is part of their conversation.

This was meant to be a family holiday in Hong Kong, James, and I suspect it’s turned into something else. 

It’s a bit of a “watch, listen and avoid” kind of vacation.

Tell me a little bit about what you’ve seen in the last little while? 

We’ve been getting updates … on where the protests are going to be in the morning so we can avoid certain areas.

We’ve seen riot police in and around our hotel, which is in Tsim Sha Tsui which is like a touristy area in Hong Kong.

You’re a photographer. Certainly there have been many dramatic scenes that we’ve seen unfold. What have you captured with your lens? 

I so want to go out and shoot. But me and my wife have different views on these things and she would rather me stay safe and stay in the hotel.

Basically I’ve given in. I’ve stayed at the hotel in the evening. We come back a little early to the hotel and we hunker down. Maybe eat just a few doors over.

You’re worried about being in the thick of it.

We are. Because there are riot police in groups going down our street here.

And I know myself — [from] sneaking out for a little bit the other night — there are obviously groups of riot police in vans, outside of vans, getting ready to be, I guess deployed to whatever direction the protests are taking.

What’s your sense of what [the protesters] are trying to achieve? 

They’re fighting for Hong Kong. They’re fighting for the freedoms that China’s taking away.

I believe in them and I believe what they’re doing. And will they get it? I don’t know if they’ll get it. China probably will not let them achieve what they’re after.

You mentioned how your wife’s been feeling. You have children with you too. Your kids are 11 and 8 years old. Are they asking you about what’s going on? What are you telling them?

We’ve been trying to get them up to date on how this all came about. How the process came about in terms of the “one country, two systems” and how Hong Kong wants to keep their freedoms and how China most likely [is] trying to suppress those.

Not to make light of it, but they’re “What I did on my summer vacation” reports, if they still do that in school, is going to be quite remarkable. 

Yeah I know. I’m interested in seeing how they talk about this in a year, two years from now. How they remember it.

I know I was just speaking with them a few minutes ago about it and … they just don’t want anyone to be hurt. That’s the main thing.

And they understand that voices aren’t being heard. So, you know, the protesters … want everyone to hear their voices so they have to speak a little louder and that’s why they’re at the airports now.

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