14-year-old heading home to Vancouver from Hong Kong forced to dodge violence

The first passengers to get caught in Hong Kong's airport violent chaos and shut down landed at Vancouver International Airport on Wednesday afternoon.

Pam Wattanathum hugs mom Wichukorn who was arriving at YVR from Hong Kong. Arlen Redekop / PNG

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A 14-year-old Vancouver boy finally reached home Wednesday, after a 48-hour delay and narrowly avoiding getting caught up in the violence at the Hong Kong airport.

“He saw everything,” said Edward Yuen, describing how his son, Ernest, just missed catching the last Cathay Pacific flight out of Hong Kong on Monday while waiting for a flight attendant to escort him.

He then tried to fly on Tuesday when a few flights were allowed to leave, but had to flee the airport as riot police entered and clashed violently with protesters. It was only on Wednesday when he made it onto a Cathay Pacific flight and was then among the first passengers to arrive in Vancouver Wednesday after operations resumed at the Hong Kong airport.

Many said they were relieved to get home, even as others lined up to fly from YVR into Hong Kong’s uncertainty.

There were few words once the tired-looking teenager saw his father at YVR.

“I’m relieved,” he said. “It’s sad how (protesters) are acting and how the government is responding.”

He had checked in, but since he was flying as an unaccompanied minor, he got delayed waiting for a flight attendant escort. Then it was too late. There were then many hours of communicating as the airline issued five different boarding passes over the next day, trying to guess at when flights might resume.

Ernest had been visiting his mother in Hong Kong.

Pro-democracy protestors block the entrance to the airport terminals after a scuffle with police at Hong Kong’s international airport late on August 13, 2019. MANAN VATSYAYANA / AFP/Getty Images

Jeremy Wong also arrived in Vancouver Wednesday, but he flew from Tokyo, where he went five days ago after seeing the political situation in Hong Kong get worse.

“A direct flight from Hong Kong to Vancouver is more expensive and so I thought I would see Tokyo,” said the 25-year-old, who has a work visa in hand and has lined up some job interviews. “I bought the airplane ticket earlier as I thought things will get worse.

“I didn’t really want to leave. Hong Kong is home,” said Wong. He said he was glad he left when he did because, in the course of just five days, “everything feels more sensitive and serious.”

There were media reports of satellite photos showing Chinese military armoured convoys lined up close to the Hong Kong border. Beijing has said that the clashes at Hong Kong airport “seriously tarnished Hong Kong’s international image” and described protesters’ assaults on two mainland Chinese men, one of whom has been identified as a reporter for a state-run newspaper, as “nearly acts of terrorism.”

Canada’s foreign minister said Wednesday the Canadian government is making contingency plans for Canadians in Hong Kong. And she cautioned Canadians against travelling to the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

But Vancouver’s deep connections to Hong Kong mean people were still leaving YVR for Hong Kong on Wednesday.

Venus Ma was in Vancouver for a wedding last week and was heading home.

“It should be stable and OK,” said Ma. She said she tried not to think about Hong Kong while on holiday in Vancouver, but couldn’t avoid it thanks to news apps on her phone.

The bride, Kitty Chan, was feeling grateful that her wedding happened before this week’s violence. Many guests of her family came from Hong Kong and about 15 of her husband’s relatives from Zhongshan, near Hong Kong in southern China.

A 26-year-old Vancouver student who was also catching a Hong Kong flight said she was nervous, but felt better as protests had subsided at Hong Kong airport with on Wednesday and there were new security measures.

The student, Rochelle, declined to give her last name, saying she is aware that sensitivity related to the tensions is spreading outside of Hong Kong.

On Wednesday, a New York Times article headlined “The Battle for Hong Kong is Being Fought in Sydney and Vancouver” discussed how the tensions between Beijing and anti-Hong Kong government protesters are “in effect, being exported, pitting overseas Chinese communities against each other” as the two sides fight “for narrative control.”

“I don’t want to give my name because I go through Hong Kong airport often,” Rochelle said. As a person of Vietnamese descent, she said she wasn’t too concerned about the situation. “But I know for my (ethnic) Chinese friends in Vancouver who travel a lot, they are more concerned about everything.”

jlee-young@postmedia.com

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