'Friends said I had nothing to fear'
Solo Lai, a second-generation Solomon Islander, watched in horror from the roof of his electronics shop as rampaging mobs looted and burned Honiara's Chinatown after a disputed election for prime minister.
But he felt he might be safe because he had been born there and had many friends among the islanders. He was wrong.
Soon he and his Hong Kong-born wife, Szeto Kit-wah, were fleeing with the rest of Honiara's Chinese community, and they would flee the rioters again before being dramatically rescued from a beach.
'I was born and bred on the Solomon Islands,' Mr Lai said in Guangzhou yesterday, after being evacuated in a government-chartered jet. 'Many islanders know me. I played soccer, basketball and represented the nation in the South Pacific Games. People told me not to fear, that they wouldn't harm me because I've been there so long.'
Opponents of the election victor, Snyder Rini, razed Chinatown after claiming Chinese businessmen had paid bribes to ensure his victory
Mr Lai, in his 50s, fled to his shop's rooftop, trying to fight the flames. 'I saw the fire approaching. When it reached my shop, they told me I must go. When I left, they rushed in and took everything they could carry. Anything that was too big to cart away was broken.' The couple took refuge in a hotel guarded by Australian police. When a mob stoned the building, they ran to the beach because, 'there was nowhere else to go'.
Armed police provided cover and they and 14 others were picked up by a boat and taken to a ship. They spent the night on board and the next day were dropped off at a Red Cross refugee camp set up at the police recreation club.
Another evacuee, Mr Ng, arrived in Hong Kong yesterday saying he was 'very happy, grateful to have escaped the riots and still be alive'.
'I have been through some turbulent times on the islands. The last time when anti-Chinese sentiments ran high was 2000. But I could smell something was different this time.
'We hid in the backyard while disturbances took place at the front,' he said at the Lok Ma Chau border point, which he crossed with his Solomons-born wife.
Mr Ng, who lost his trading business in the riots, said he was helpless but hoped to return to his home of the past 20 years.
Another Hong Kong evacuee, Mrs Cheng, could not believe her eyes when the mob torched her supermarket and two houses. 'I hope that after the parliament meets on Wednesday, there will be good news. It doesn't matter who forms the government ... the important thing is not to stir trouble.'