Queue number system creates confusion as hundreds line up for tickets to see Liaoning aircraft carrier
Many disappointed as all number slips were given out by 11.35am, before 1pm distribution time
Confusion broke out early Monday morning as representatives started giving out queue numbers to people waiting in line for tickets to see the Liaoning, China’s first aircraft carrier, hours before the official time.
By 9.40am, all numbers had been given out at one of the distribution points, the Gun Club Hill Barracks, leaving many disappointed members of the public standing by the side of the road. Ticket distribution was originally scheduled to be from 1pm to 3pm.
Representatives waved their hands to brush off any questions from the public, saying “no more, no more.”
Chan Yok-Ching, 57, was just right behind the lucky person who snagged a number. “I have waited since 5.30am, and they couldn’t even spare a single ticket. This is very unreasonable.”
All number slips at Central Barracks were given out by 11.20am, followed by those at Shek Kong Barracks at 11.35am.
Hundreds of Hongkongers had camped overnight outside the city’s military barracks after it was announced that free tickets were available for public tours of the Liaoning and three vessels in its fleet next Saturday and Sunday.
A total of 2,000 tickets were scheduled to be given out: 800 at Central Barracks, 600 at Gun Club Hill Barracks and 600 at Shek Kong Barracks.
A little before 6am, representatives began handing out queue numbers. Those with numbers could then register with for tickets with their own Hong Kong ID card and that of one other person.
Cheers and claps broke out at the front of the line, but some of those waiting were unhappy with the arrangement, as the official timing had been given as 1pm.
Chaos erupted as people started calling their friends and family members who were not yet in line to come to the barracks.
Police officers said the reason for giving out the number slips was to maintain order.
The registration process started slow, with stringent ID checks. Many members of the public came forward to ask about the process and the requirements, sometimes getting conflicting statements from different representatives.
At the Gun Club Hill location at 8.25am, registration came to a standstill for about eight minutes due to a dispute.
Zhu Jinsong, 46, claimed he had started lining up at 10pm but left to get ID cards from his wife and daughter.
His son, who was number 20 in the queue, got two tickets by using Zhu’s card as well as his own to register. But when Zhu rejoined the queue to get two more tickets for his wife and daughter, he was not allowed to as his ID had already been registered.
A representative tried to reason with him, but Zhu refused to budge and said: “I will stay here until I get a ticket. You must give me one .”
Police brought Zhu and the representative aside to settle the argument, but he did not appear happy with the result.
“I just hope to get a ticket. We were excited about the exhibition, and now this happened,” Zhu said.
When asked about the queue numbers and registration process, the representative, who refused to give his name, said: “There was a lack of understanding from the members of the public who came.”
“It was made very clear in the official announcement that the public must present proof of their HKID and be present in person to collect the tickets,” he said, adding that the crowd was manageable.
The ticket redemption was completed at all three barracks by late afternoon and many Hongkongers who joined the lines too late were also left disappointed.
The last woman in line at Gun Hill Club Barracks was brushed away, despite having been in the queue since 12.30pm. Giving her name only as Zhao, she could not get her hands on a queue number earlier on yet she persisted, only to be told four hours later that the 600th ticket had been given out.
Disappointed, Zhao said: “the announcement on the official website stated the collection time ran from 1pm to 3pm.
“I thought I could get one by coming slightly earlier than 1pm. This announcement is unclear and it is especially unfair to working people.
“This exhibition is not something that comes around often. I guess I will forget about it.”
But not everyone without a number tag returned empty-handed. Some 70 people chose to stay outside the Shek Kong garrison and try their luck even after all tags had been distributed. Ten of them hit the jackpot, each receiving a ticket, after 31/ 2 hours waiting.
Others behind the line looked disappointed and upset knowing their effort had been to no avail. A woman, who claimed to be just behind the last person who got a number tag, was seen complaining to PLA representatives and police officers for being unfair in arranging the queue order.
Isaac Liu, 25, said: “I was supposed to get a ticket for my friend as well, and now I can’t answer to him.”
He added: “My friend and I love talking about military affairs and the ships, and we thought that this exhibition was a great chance that was hard to come by. We wanted to treasure it.”
Kwang You Huan, 31, called it “a great loss” that he was unable to get tickets, but was not keen to buy them off resellers online.
“There are a lot of fakes and scams, but I couldn’t say for sure. I might get them online if I think that this exhibition is really worth going to.”
Along with the Liaoning, the other vessels in the fleet are the destroyers Jinan and Yinchuan, and the frigate the Yantai. The three smaller vessels will also be open to visitors at the garrison’s Stonecutters Island naval base on Saturday and Sunday.
Swimming coach Albert Law, 35, was first in line for tickets at Gun Club Hill Barracks.
“I never expected the Chinese Military Commission would open the Liaoning for public viewing. If I don’t see it now, I might not get a chance to in the future,” he said.
He added: “As a Hongkonger, one must take an interest in the military. It is important.”
Law said he slept in his tent to pass the time, occasionally chatting with others in the queue. “Everyone here has an interest in military affairs, it’s good.”
At Shek Kong, housewives Mrs Ma and Mrs Fung, both in their 50s, were among the first to arrive. They began queueing at 11pm on Sunday.
Ma became interested in the lives of PLA soldiers after watching the parade attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping just before Hong Kong celebrated the 20th anniversary of its handover to China.
Fung wanted to get tickets for her children, who were ecstatic about visiting the aircraft carrier but needed to be in school on Monday.
“I rarely do things like this (queueing on the street overnight), but it is worthwhile to do so,” she said.
Construction worker Mr Tang, in his 40s, said he was intrigued by the state-of-the-art technology on Liaoning, a symbol of China’s military prowess. “[Liaoning] means a lot here.”
Hongkongers were not the only people who queued up. Thomas, an expatriate in his mid-40s who has been living in Hong Kong since 2000, stood in line from about 5am.
He said he had visited garrisons in Shek Kong and San Wai, but boarding the Liaoning was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “This is the most exciting military event in Hong Kong for 20 years.”
Thomas added: “There’s a lot of interest around the world in the development of the PLA. To actually see it and go aboard will be quite special, especially for foreigners.”
The Liaoning left Qingdao in Shandong province on June 25, travelling with a flotilla that included the Jinan, Yinchuan and Yantai. It was also carrying a squadron of J-15 fighter jets and some helicopters, according to a Xinhua report earlier.
The aircraft carrier is a renovated Soviet vessel. It was originally launched in 1985 for the Soviet navy. China bought the ship from a Ukrainian shipyard in 1998 and spent more than seven years refurbishing it. It was commissioned into the navy in 2012.