Entrepreneur opened up the small hotel using memorabilia from Hong Kong's Occupy Central protests
For as little as $10 per night, guests can pay to sleep in an original occupy tent
11-week-long pro-democracy protests captured the imagination of people around the world
The face of Hong Kong’s chief executive covers the toilet paper and China’s leader lingers next to you in the shower. Safe to say – it’s not your average hotel.
Tucked away in an apartment building on a quiet side street of Hong Kong’s busy Causeway Bay district, this small hotel is a shrine to the Umbrella Revolution.
Freelance translator Stephen Thompson rented the apartment in early December, in the same week that police began clearing out the city’s pro-democracy protest sites.
“I literally got the keys and then the next day I went down to Admiralty (the main protest site) and the police were coming and I just grabbed as much as I could,” says Thompson.
Posters, artwork and memorabilia from all three main protest sites now plaster every inch of the 600 square foot abode.
Rows of construction helmets are mounted neatly on the wall, gas masks hang like ornaments around a door frame, newspaper clippings wallpaper the kitchen and a yellow umbrella serves a partial curtain, shielding the living room from the sun.
“I had the idea at first of an exhibition,” Thompson says, “and then when they (police) gave me the tents I thought, well, I’ll put the tents in here too.”
And the idea for Occupy Central Hotel was born.
For as little as HK$78 ($10) per night, guests can pay via a listing on Airbnb to sleep in an original occupy tent. The two-bedroom apartment accommodates a total of eight, Thompson says, but five is the most he’s rented at once. Each tent is adorned with a name relating to the movement, such as “Freedom House” and “Foreign Force HQ.”
Nicholas Watmough, 26, followed the Hong Kong protests from his hometown of Manchester, England, and recently extended his visit at the hotel.
“I had a look online. There are cheaper places to stay, but I thought this would just be more interesting. It’s an experience worth having and it’s a cause worth supporting,” says Watmough.
Visitors from Ukraine, France, and Mexico round out some of the hotel’s other recent occupants.
Thompson says he has also hosted guests from mainland China, but only after they sent him messages saying they opposed Communist rule.
Originally from London, Thompson describes himself as a “white-skinned Chinese dissident.” A fluent Mandarin speaker and writer, he spent three decades in and out of China before the government threatened to revoke his visa for writing politically critical articles.
He has been living in Hong Kong for eight years now – and hoping to gain permanent residency soon.
“I feel Hong Kong is a kind of bubble of freedom and human rights in China,” he says, which is why he found the 11-week-long, pro-democracy demonstrations so inspirational.
Victor Gaume watched the Occupy movement with interest from afar. He says the Chinese university where he teaches French and history forbade him to come to Hong Kong to see the protests in person, which is why he is now staying at the hotel.
“It’s always good to have people like Stephen who keep the memory,” Gaume says. “In China, students don’t know what happened in (the Tiananmen Square incident in) 1989, because all the memories have been deleted.”
Preserving the memory and keeping the democracy movement alive is something the 50-year-old Thompson says he is passionate about.
However, the Hong Kong Home Affairs Department requires anyone running a guesthouse to apply for a special permit from the Office of the Licensing Authority – something Thompson says he doesn’t need to do, because he is selective about who he allows to stay.
Despite questions over the legality of his venture, Thompson says he hopes to eventually open up two more Occupy-themed hotels - one for each of the main protest sites.
Until then, pro-democracy supporters can continue reliving the protests in a tiny Causeway Bay apartment - having their own movement against Hong Kong’s Chief Executive CY Leung, one flush at a time.