My ordeal at knifepoint
It was an incident many expatriates believe will never happen to them in 'safe' Hong Kong. The 24-year-old American-born Chinese woman was late getting back to her sixth-floor Pokfield Road flat on November 8. She thought she was home alone, but two men were watching. They waited until she had gone to sleep, then climbed in through the open bathroom window and crept to her bedroom. She awoke with a knife at her throat. The men tied her hands and feet, gagged her and robbed her. The police said she was lucky.
'I WAS scared, my whole life dashed before my eyes. They tied my hands behind my back and my feet together, stuffed a hand-towel in my mouth and covered my face with a rug.
They were the longest minutes of my life, I could hear and smell them but I couldn't see them. I knew they had a knife but I didn't know if they were happy with what they got. My imagination began to run wild. I began to think that if they stabbed me I would only be found in the morning when my flatmate returned. I felt totally helpless, all I could do was hear myself breathe and feel my heart pounding away . . .
I had got home from dinner at around 11.30 pm and opened the door and realised my flatmate was not home. This wasn't unusual, and I like my own space and time to do my own thing. I got my clothes ready for work the next morning, and made a light snack before heading off to bed at 1 am.
I had shut my bedroom door and dropped off to sleep and remember being woken up nearly two hours later by someone opening my door, and seeing a silhouette figure in the doorway. I remember thinking: 'Is it my flatmate, is someone playing a joke on me or amI still dreaming.' The shadow walked towards me and nudged me awake, that was when I saw the kitchen knife in his hand. He beckoned me to get up and without thinking I sat up. I had no top on. I was scared. I couldn't breathe properly. All kinds of terrible things were racing through my head. I did not want to be raped.
Then I realised there were two intruders and not one - the second man came into the bedroom and handed me a shirt. They seemed to be scared themselves, as if they did not know what they were doing. I tried to stay calm and play along, I did not want to trigger anything off.
My hands were shaking but I kept reassuring myself, 'at least they have not raped me'. That is what gave me strength. It was still dark, the lights had not been switched on but I could see and hear their every move. They motioned for money so I went to fetch my purse from my bag, it was only then that they turned on the light.
All I had was $350, I looked up and was face-to-face with these two strangers for the first time. One gave me a look as if to say 'is that all'. I did not feel in the position to argue with them and thought that by giving them everything they wanted they would leave quickly. One went into the living room and I heard him rummaging around. The other looked through my jewellery box trying on rings. Then he casually put two in his pocket.
I remember looking at these two men and thinking how dirty they were and how dirty they made me feel by being in my flat. Their hands were grimy and their fingernails dirty. They did not look like the violent type, just desperate.
One had no shoes on. They were Mandarin-speaking Chinese and I thought they were most likely illegal immigrants. And then they asked for my ID card but I had left it at work. One consoled himself by helping himself to $200 worth of foreign notes stashed ina drawer.
I was then led into the living room at knifepoint where the second man demanded I unlock a cupboard. All the Christmas presents I had bought for my family were stored in it but I had to open the door.
The shoeless one brought me back into my bedroom and started looking at my trainers. I handed him a pair of cross [multi-purpose] trainers but he threw them back, he had his heart set on my aerobic ones and that is what he left my apartment wearing. In a strange way, that was the most comical part.
Then reality set in. My heart began to race away and beat out loud when both men started to say 'sorry'. They kept saying 'duibuqi'. I thought they were apologising for something they were about to do.
That was when they tied me up and covered my head.
I started thinking of my family back in America and how upset they would be if they knew what was happening to me, how helpless they would feel knowing there was nothing they could do and knowing they were so far away. I was thinking who I would call firstif I survived, then I began to hyperventilate.
And then the sound of rummaging, footsteps and whispering had stopped. I realised they had gone. I rolled out of my bed and into the living room. To my amazement the phone wire had not been cut, I managed to dial the number of a friend with my hands still tied behind my back.
I lay on one side with my ear to the receiver, praying to hear a click and my friend's voice at the other end. After four rings a sleepy voice answered the phone then sprang to life as I spurted out my ordeal. Help would be on the way within minutes but I had to free myself, and I didn't know if the men would return.
I managed to cut myself free with a pair of kitchen scissors and then called another friend. I needed to feel secure, and by speaking to someone on the phone until the police arrived made me feel pretty safe.
The police arrived within minutes, I told them it had been 20 minutes since the intruders left. I tried to describe what they were wearing but everything was a muddle, I couldn't think properly . . . I was in shock.
I noted down what had been stolen and then I realised that they had used an obnoxious bright pink bag of mine to take everything away in. I thought about these two men, one with women's aerobic trainers on and another carrying this luminous pink bag. It crossed my mind how potentially dangerous they had been. They had a knife. They broke into my flat. They held me prisoner in my own home. They tied me up. They stole my things. They had left their dirty presence. They had helped themselves to my food and they had touched things of mine.
There is no worse feeling than being sound asleep and then woken up by a stranger in your home, it is terrifying. I do not know if I could go back to that flat for good, knowing that it could happen to me all over again. I will never be able to forget, I now look at everyone in a different light.
You do not really think of Hong Kong as crime-ridden metropolis, not like New York, for example, where I was brought up. When I first came here 18 months ago there was a lot of security attached to the place. I could walk around by myself late at night, jog alone and I have never seen any real trouble here.
But deep down Hong Kong is just like any other city; crime and violence happen here more than people realise or want to realise. I never thought it would happen to me but it has taught me to take small precautions that I never thought about before like shutting windows at night.
After that night I thought I would never be able to sleep again but if you let something like this affect you too much it can ruin you. I was lucky they didn't kill me. The police were amazed I was not hurt.
I found it difficult to touch things in my flat afterwards, not knowing whether they had touched it. It was an invasion of privacy. I wanted to be busy and keep my mind off things so I did not take any time off and went straight to work.
My flatmate called me on the Tuesday and asked how I was. I suppose everything had built up and I just broke down and cried and cried. I haven't told my parents, I don't know if I ever will. I spoke to them a week after it happened but I couldn't bring myself to tell them.
With them being so far away I feel more protective for them than it being the other way round. There is nothing people can do other than offer sympathy.
I have always been against guns but if I were in a similar situation where someone had broken into my flat and I had a gun I would shoot them. It is difficult to explain, but I have never felt so helpless and vulnerable than when those two men woke me thatnight.'