Sunday, December 11, 2005

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Notes from Wan Chai

There's nothing watching a city gearing up for a major economic meeting. Hotels in Wan Chai -- the neighborhood near the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center, where the WTO meetings will be held -- have set up X-ray scanning machines in the lobbies to check for... well, I'm not sure what, exactly but it's definitely a pain.

Protestors started coming out in force two days before the official events even begin. According to The Standard's Doug Crets and Leslie Kwoh, the protests were peaceful but:

Police said they were... alarmed by the mysterious disappearance of uniforms belonging to janitors, watchmen and others from local laundries and dry cleaners. The AFP news agency quoted police as saying protesters might use the uniforms to infiltrate the talks.
Meanwhile, the presence of the protestors has also encouraged some investment firms based in Wan Chai to give their employees an early Christmas break. One commentator on Bloomberg TV said, "Happy Holidays -- and thank you, protestors!" And, of course, the strip clubs in the downtown area seem crowded with more raucous Westerners than usual. [How would you know?--ed. I swear, I walked by them to get to dinner last night.]

Of course, in Hong Kong, there are some additional measures taken in the wake of a big meeting. In my NGO accreditation materials, there's a lovely "Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Kit" put out by Hong Kong's Department of Health. According to this document, "If one has not come into close contact with infected live poultry or birds or their droppings, there is no need to be unduly alarmed about acquiring avian flu." So if any pigeons get near me, there's going to be trouble.

But all of this is great for the local economy, right? Well, not according to The Standard's Andrea Chiu:

Wan Chai residents said that, while they welcome the World Trade Organization's ministerial conference and the thousands of protesters in ideological tow, so far they aren't getting much out of it.
"There's nothing we can do," philosophized Chow Fook-wah, a newspaper hawker on the corner of Hennessy Road and Percival Street, near the start of the march route. "The police have blocked off roads and that's affected business because fewer people are walking by."....

Wan Chai District Council chairwoman Ada Wong said she blames the government and police for creating a climate of fear in her district.

Wong said she witnessed an overwhelming police presence in Causeway Bay, "doing nothing but patrolling."

"If this event is so scary, why did the Hong Kong government agree to host it?"

The police were not the only ones on high alert as many businesses along Hennessy Road closed their stores before the march started at 4 pm. The exterior metal gates at Hennessy Centre, which houses the Mitsukoshi department store, were halfway down before the march started. A security guard, one of five standing at the doors, said the shopping center would remain open as normal unless there was an incident.

Down the street, several banks closed their ATM terminals to the public. The Nan Yang Commercial Bank posted a notice that said ATM machines would only be available when the branch is open "as a precautionary measure in response to traffic and security arrangements."

The Bank of China, however, shut its branch at the China Resources Center on Gloucester Road for the entire week.

Well, at least something of substance will be achieved at the WTO Ministerial itself, right? Er, not according to the Financial Times' Frances Williams:
For many of the ministers gathering in Hong Kong for the World Trade Organisation’s biennial jamboree, which opens on Tuesday, the accession ceremony for tiny Tonga could be the highlight of their week.

When even the main protagonists in the Doha global trade talks are vague on what they hope to achieve in the next six days, the rest of the WTO’s 149-strong membership could be forgiven for sneaking off to do a little shopping.

. One last note -- if you're coming to Wan Chai, try to avoid staying at the Novotel Century Hotel. If you took a slab of concrete and wrapped it up in Kevlar, it would still be softer than my mattress from last night

posted by Dan on 12.11.05 at 09:42 PM


I would note that Disneyland in Hong Kong had it's first sellout since opening on Tuesday. That it happened the same time as the WTO is not a coincidence. The bigger question is who is going. The spouses and children of the WTO delegates or the spouses and children of the protesters?

posted by: Mac on 12.11.05 at 09:42 PM [permalink]

Novotels are usually more comfortable than that but stiff matresses are the norm for the Accor chain at the lower price points. Formula 1 and Ibis are truly frightful from personal experience. I usually go looking for a local (non-chain) hotel and avoid Accor like the plague. Particularly in France, where one can get moderate luxury for the same or less than an Ibis.

Outlaw torture - close the Ibis chain!

posted by: Don Stadler on 12.11.05 at 09:42 PM [permalink]

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