But surely if you just keep your head down in your windowless room, and find someone to bring in the groceries? Not so safe, I’d wager. Hong Kong is a big port city, but in some ways it is also a small town. People talk, they gossip, they see what the neighbors are doing. For someone not foreign, not American and whose face and deeds have not been splashed all over the TV, internet and newspapers, maybe Hong Kong is a place to disappear. But in this case?
How about the outlying islands? Less densely populated, out of the main traffic, still home to hiking trails and out-of-the-way villages and bungalows? For a gweilo, especially one who has just put Hong Kong on the current news-cycle map, the same old distinctions apply. A new foreigner arrives in the village, or on the outskirts? Presumably Snowden speaks no Cantonese. Surely the locals would notice? (Actually, in the unlikely event that he does speak Cantonese, which is famously difficult for foreigners to master, he would likely stand out even more.)
As for slipping out of Hong Kong unnoticed, that’s hugely unlikely, at least by any conventional form of transportation or port of egress. To leave by way of the airport, the land border crossing into China, or by ferry to Macau or up the Pearl River — these all involve presenting yourself, along with your documents, to the authorities. And to leave by less conventional routes — say, a smuggler’s boat — would surely require finding or activating connections that would likely entail their own high risks of attracting official attention.
There are plenty of theories swirling around — that Snowden goofed and picked a bad place to try to hide; or that he could not expect to hide out in Hong Kong without the help of the Chinese authorities; or that he has some plan based on hopes of intricate legal footwork; or maybe he is simply prepared to be found and perhaps, ultimately, extradited. We simply do not know enough of the facts right now to do more than guess.
But hiding out in Hong Kong? Maybe I’m missing something. Perhaps it is possible for an Edward Snowden to don sunglasses and a wig, check into a Lan Kwai Fong hotel and go shopping in Central without anyone taking a second look. But I doubt it. If, as reported, he has genuinely dropped out of sight (apart from the interviews), how on earth is he doing it? Paging Eric Ambler…