When my partner and I first flew into Hong Kong 30 years ago, the territory's Kai Tak Airport was notoriously ranked as one of the world's most dangerous.
The airport was built on a strip of reclaimed land out into Victoria Harbour, and the approach required a hair-raising sweep along and beneath the peaks of Kowloon followed by a low 90-degree pivot to line up to the runway. On the turn, downward-facing window seat passengers could see the washing hanging between the apartment buildings straight below.
Perilous as it was, if you wanted to fly into a modern airport in southern China, Kai Tak was the only game in town.
This week, as protester and police violence shut down flights at the Chinese territory's sprawling modern replacement airport on Lantau Island, Chek Lap Kok International Airport, Hong Kong no longer has a regional monopoly on modern air travel.
Hong Kong's business life blood
The closure of Chek Lap Kok is an example, a warning if you will, of the changing position of Hong Kong in the world and in China. It is a reminder that if the Hong Kong government fails to find a peaceful resolution with angry demonstrators, the international business that is the territory's life blood will increasingly be forced to seek alternatives.
On stock markets this week, the threat, and the opportunities, made themselves apparent as shares in Chek Lap Kok's main carrier, Cathay Pacific, fell and shares in competing airports rose.
Unlike back in 1989, airport alternatives in the region abound. Hong Kong's business infrastructure is no longer the only game in town.
With Welcome to Hong Kong signs in the background, police clash with anti-government protesters at Chek Lap Kok International Airport, hurting the territory's reputation of convenience for businesses trying to break into the Chinese market. (Thomas Peter/Reuters)
The Pearl River Delta, where Hong Kong once reigned supreme in the services that international business requires, now swarms with state-of-the-art business infrastructure.
Airports are just a single illustration. With 10 airports in the region, the delta is now considered to be the most crowded airspace in the world, and business passengers wishing to avoid Hong Kong violence are spoiled for choice.
A boom in alternatives
We flew out of Guangzhou airport once years ago, and in-flight service was a guy handing each passenger a can of Coke. Now the modern airport in the capital of Guangdong province, which added another new terminal just last year, serves more than 70 million passengers a year.
Shenzhen, created as a special economic zone on Hong Kong's northern border to replicate some of Hong Kong's pro-business techniques within what was then China proper, is now one of the world's most successful centres for technological innovation, with electric buses, modern buildings and clean streets.
In 2018 Shenzhen airport served 50 million passengers, and traffic was growing at 8.5 per cent a year, according to the data mapping service ArcGIS.
Following the violence in Hong Kong, shares in Shenzhen's modern airport rose 10 per cent in a day, the daily maximum permitted by regulators. (James Pomfret/Reuters)
Shares in the publicly traded company that runs the airport soared by the maximum 10 per cent daily limit permitted by market regulators. Shares in Guangzhou Airport hit a record high.
The tiny former Portuguese colony of Macau, where Europeans first set up shop in China in the 1550s and which later became a backwater where ferries took Hong Kong people to gamble, built its own airport out into the sea in 1995. Zhuhai, constructed as Macau's equivalent of Hong Kong's Shenzhen, has an airport of its own where passenger loads have been growing at 20 per cent a year.
Of course airports are just one example of a much wider phenomenon. The convenience that made Hong Kong a jumping-off point for business in China is no longer unchallenged.
That does not mean Hong Kong has lost its appeal for businesses, especially those coming to the China coast for the first time. English, the common language of international business, is still deeper and more widely used in Hong Kong. Important signs are almost always also in Roman characters.
Violence: the epitome of inconvenience
Of course that also applies in nearby business cities outside China such as Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Manila. The appeal of those alternatives could grow if China sends the People's Liberation Army into Hong Kong, sparking a global backlash.
The rule of law and free speech, the confidence that the police are not likely to take you away in the night — the very things Hong Kong people are demonstrating for — remain a comfort to business travellers wary of an autocratic Chinese bureaucracy.
But free speech and peaceful demonstrations are one thing. Tear gas and smashed heads outside your hotel or in the airport arrivals area are quite another.
The Hong Kong government, demonstrators, the Hong Kong Police Force and the leadership in Beijing must all realize that for international business people who have come to the territory because of its global sophistication and convenience, violence is a deal breaker. It is the epitome of inconvenience.
As a trade war with the United States threatens China with economic instability and the world waits for recession, failing to work out a peaceful deal would be an unnecessary self-inflicted wound for everyone involved.
Don Pittis was a forest firefighter, and a ranger in Canada's High Arctic islands. After moving into journalism, he was principal business reporter for Radio Television Hong Kong before the handover to China. He has produced and reported for the CBC in Saskatchewan and Toronto and the BBC in London. He is currently senior producer at CBC's business unit.
Sora Chan's mornings follow a similar routine, predominantly filled with Chan hunched over her laptop, scrolling through Facebook and Hong Kong forums to get the latest updates on the civil unrest erupting in the region.
Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong residents have been filling the streets in protest of a local government they believe has become too friendly with Beijing, and what they see as the Chinese government's attempt to strip the people of Hong Kong of their political autonomy and freedoms.
Protests began months ago after Hong Kong tried to pass an extradition bill that would have allow those accused of crimes against mainland China to be transported. But protestors believe China is trying to tighten its control over the region. In recent days, the fight has become about the protestors' greater desire for democracy.
It's a fight Chan believes in.
"I can see they [the protestors] are just fearless. They help out each other and they're way younger than me, too. I'm proud of them, quite honestly," says Chan from her Burnaby home.
But it's not a consensus shared by all, especially in the Chan household. Several of her relatives, including her mother, vehemently disagree with her. Political debates often lead to confrontations and a breakdown in communication.
The divide isn't reserved for the Chans. It's fracturing the family dynamic of many Canadians residents with Hong Kong roots.
Protesters occupy the arrival hall of the Hong Kong International Airport during a demonstration on Aug. 12 in Hong Kong. (Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)
Chan moved to Canada from Hong Kong with her mother three years ago. But her pro-democratic stance was known to her family long before that.
In 2014, she participated, along with hundreds of thousands of protestors, in the "Umbrella Movement," which saw demonstrators use umbrellas to resist the Hong Kong police's use of pepper spray.
Now, Chan says she regularly argues with her relatives — especially her mother, who supports the Hong Kong government — but to no end. Both sides are entrenched in their opinions, unwilling to budge.
"When [the arguments] get to that stage of aggression, I will just stop. I just close my door," she says.
Chan recalls one time sitting around the dinner table, eating dim sum, when her grandfather passed around a form declaring support for the Hong Kong government, and instructed everyone to sign.
Chan and her cousins refused.
'Hong Kong families are now torn'
The situation is common for many Hong Kong Canadians, says Miu Chung Yan, a University of British Columbia social work professor who has studied the issue.
He said political viewpoints are often split over generational lines. And while the divide may have begun as black-and-white, either pro-democracy or pro-government, it has now evolved, he says, especially as the protests have turned violent.
On Sunday, police fired tear gas inside a train station and in several Hong Kong neighbourhoods where anti-government protesters had occupied roads. Leading up to this, it has been rare for officers to fire tear gas indoors.
"Many Hong Kong families are now torn," says Yan. "People feel helpless and stressed, rather than ' really support the government, or really support the young people.'"
Miu Chung Yan from UBC says families are usually divided politically across generational lines. (Ben Nelms/CBC)
Because of the violence, Yan says, the familial conflict has become about how people are protesting, not why, and concerns for safety.
"Most parents are not in agreement, not because they're pro-government. Many of them are just too concerned [their children] will go out on the street [protesting]," he says.
Conflict in families and communities
The divide in Hong Kong can also be seen between Chinese and Hong Kong communities in Canada, says Jun Ing of the Chinese Benevolent Association of Vancouver, who moved from Hong Kong decades ago.
Jun Ing of the Chinese Benevolent Association says he has noticed that the Chinese community in Vancouver is experiencing the same political tensions as seen in Hong Kong. (Ben Nelms/CBC)
He isn't taking a side in the protests, but he is anti-violence. However, because of the growing conflict, Ing said he will avoid the subject with people he knows are part of the protests.
"There's no point to discuss it," says Ing. "When you can't have a meaningful discussion, why engage in it?"
Sora Chan agrees the violence has gone too far on both sides. But she sees the protestors' violence as a reaction rather than a provocation.
"For me, looking at Hong Kong right now, it's more like an animal's almost being killed and struggling for its last breath," says Chan. "They just want to fight back."
Despite the division, one thing they can all agree on is the desire for a peaceful resolution to the protests.