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Living With Hong Kong Protests: Tips on Tear Gas, Tracking Children

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Living With Hong Kong Protests: Tips on Tear Gas, Tracking Children

Claire Law

tracks her daughter’s location in Hong Kong using a map on the Snapchat app and messages her hourly.

Paige Macgregor

 and her family have stopped taking the subway and buses.

Hui Wan Fung

and his wife are going out less.

More than two months of marches, demonstrations and sit-ins in one of Asia’s most densely populated cities are forcing everyday people to change their routines and develop contingency plans to accommodate new risks of violent protests and police action. They are finding new routes to work, self-imposing curfews and reminding their children to follow online news updates and check in regularly.

Hong Kong traditionally has had a low crime rate, a highly efficient public transportation system and a vibrant night scene. Since early June, it has been racked by civil disturbances each weekend. What began as large-scale marches against a bill that would have allowed extradition to mainland China has since mutated into often-brutal street battles and broader protester demands for democratic reforms. Police have fired tear gas liberally in residential neighborhoods, shopping districts and subway stations, disrupting businesses and at times injuring passersby.

Hong Kong residents are having to deal with unpredictable protests.


Photo:

Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

On a Sunday evening last month,

Pierre Papworth

was waiting for his wife and daughter to return from a trip to mainland China when he received a frantic text message. The pair had emerged from a subway station in Causeway Bay, a busy shopping district near their home, and found themselves caught in a clash between protesters and police.

“My wife was terrified,” said Mr. Papworth, a 47-year-old British citizen who works in the toy industry and has lived in Hong Kong for 17 years. He said the pair tried to stay close to the police, and his 10-year-old daughter narrowly dodged a hair dryer that was inadvertently flung in her direction.

They ultimately reached home safely after walking for 15 minutes. But since the incident, Mr. Papworth said he has mapped out an alternative route home via small back streets that avoids the main thoroughfare where protesters have previously gathered.

As Hong Kong authorities struggle to contain antigovernment protests, Chinese paramilitary police have gathered en masse across the border in Shenzhen. Analysts say an armed intervention is unlikely and would evoke memories of the military crackdown on Tiananmen Square 30 years ago. Photo: Dale de la Rey/AFP/Getty Images

The weekend protests have been peppered by weekday demonstrations and sit-ins that have delayed or disrupted people’s commutes by keeping subway trains in stations and blocking roads. Protesters have also shifted their tactics in recent weeks, sometimes gathering in large numbers rapidly or quickly regrouping in different parts of the city, confounding police and catching uninvolved citizens off guard.

Julie Magno,

a 36-year-old mother of three who works as a marketing manager at a tech startup, said she has been relying on local co-workers to keep her apprised of what is happening and which areas to avoid.

She said they often send her WhatsApp messages with information they have translated for her from Chinese-language social-media posts and news articles containing details or rumors about where protests could take place. Earlier this week, when Ms. Magno learned about an airport sit-in, she contacted her 17-year-old daughter and asked her to stay away from a shopping mall in Tung Chung, a neighborhood near their home that is also close to the airport.

Chester Chan,

an investment banker at a Chinese company, said he has been leaving for work half an hour early in case he encounters subway or other delays during his usual 20-minute commute. He closely monitors local news on television and his iPads, sometimes watching live feeds of the protests from multiple channels concurrently.

Mr. Chan said he has also changed his weekend routines. He used to take his toddler to Hong Kong’s Disneyland about once a month, but has stopped doing so even though the theme park has been less crowded than usual since the protests began.

Lavinia Kar took her son Marvin to some of the earlier peaceful marches.


Photo:

Nicole Tung for The Wall Street Journal

“I’m afraid of getting caught in traffic or the violence, as things are very unpredictable nowadays,” he said. Instead, he takes his 2-year-old to a park near his home and the grocery store more often.

On Facebook, a popular Hong Kong parents group has been flooded with discussions about the protests as well as videos and screenshots of violent clashes and injured protesters. Individuals have shared advice for what people should do if they accidentally inhale tear gas or it comes into their homes, such as rinsing their eyes and faces with saline solutions and turning off air conditioners. Earlier this week, one woman said she overheard a child playfully threatening to fire tear gas at other children.

Claire Law, a 46-year-old who lives with her husband and three school-age children in Hong Kong’s New Territories, said she keeps in close touch with her teenage daughter whenever she goes out on her own at night.

“I’d message her every hour and she just sends a quick emoji back,” said Ms. Law. She also monitors her daughter’s whereabouts using a map on the Snapchat app, and has told her to avoid areas and subway stations where protests have taken place.

Charlotte Yu,

a 19-year-old college student, returned to Hong Kong on Wednesday from London, where she is studying. She said her parents have told her not to go out in black or white clothing. Most protesters have been donning all-black outfits, while white has become the color of choice for the pro-establishment camp after men in white T-shirts attacked people clad in black in a subway station and suburban neighborhood last month.

Paige Macgregor, 38 weeks pregnant, is making contingency plans for how to get to the hospital during any trouble.


Photo:

Nicole Tung for The Wall Street Journal

Lavinia Kar

and her 7-year-old son took part in a few of the earlier peaceful marches, but she now goes alone to legal protests. The 42-year-old said she tempers what she says in public about Hong Kong politics. “People get more offended now,” said the Hong Kong native, who lives in Causeway Bay, adding, “There is less and less room for discussion.”

Hui Wan Fung, a 31-year-old Singaporean who works in public relations, said he and his wife have cut back on date nights. “We cook at home more, and we catch up with friends less now,” he said, adding that when they do go out in the evening, they try to return home by 10 p.m. He said his wife, a Hong Kong citizen, is applying for Singapore permanent residency in case instability becomes ingrained in Hong Kong and they decide to move.

Paige Macgregor, an Australian expatriate, is nearly 38 weeks pregnant with her third child and worries she’ll have to go to the delivery room alone if protests in the business district prevent her husband from leaving his office when the time comes.

“We’ve discussed the possibility of me just jumping into a cab or Uber instead of waiting for him,” said Ms. Macgregor, who works as a psychotherapist. “I’m mentally preparing myself for that.”

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She said they have been thinking about returning to Australia. “We were thinking about going back in two years…we might sooner if we think it starts to affect the quality of life.”

Mr. Papworth, the British national whose wife and daughter accidentally found themselves at a protest site last month, said his family has tried to stick with their usual routines, such as going to restaurants in Causeway Bay on weekends, but they are extra vigilant about their surroundings.

Last Sunday, he took his daughter to meet “

Grandma Wong,

” an elderly woman who regularly shows up at protests waving a Union Jack flag. “She’s witnessing history in the making,” he said of his daughter, who is a Hong Kong citizen, adding it is important for her to remember this period for years to come. “She’s going to have some great tales to tell when she starts [boarding] school.”

Write to Lucy Craymer at Lucy.Craymer@wsj.com and Frances Yoon at frances.yoon@wsj.com

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