Massive crowds on hand for iPhone 4S launch in Hong Kong 24 hours prior to sale.

Mother and child sleeping in line for an iPhone 4S

I can’t begin to accurately describe the scene on the walkways outside the Hong Kong Apple Store.

Last night, an unofficial line of about 400 people was broken up by police and security details as the lack of organization and chaos was leading to some tense scenes, even some fighting.

Today the lines are back, and organization is being forced on those waiting by the police and security officials.  ”Cattle pens” have been set up to keep the iPhone line sitters from milling about, cutting in line, getting distracted, etc.  Police using crush barricades have made nearly 45 pens along the Star Ferry walkway outside the Apple Store, and are filling each pen with about 20 people.  When someone tries to leave a pen to go to the bathroom or get some food, security officials photograph them with a digital camera so they will be allowed to re-enter their sorted pen.

But this isn’t enough.

The 45 pens stretch nearly the entire distance of the Star Ferry walkway to just a few hundred feet from the ferry entrance.  The surging mass of 100s who have yet to be penned are now stuck behind the last pen and the entrance to the ferry.  Security officials (including some from Apple) are now building new pens on the other side of the walkway to shepherd in the waiting masses.

The scene is pretty surreal.  These are not “Apple Fanboys” by any stretch, but low income migrant workers from places like Pakistan, Indonesia, etc.  There are men, women, old grandmothers, even some infant babies who are bundled up tight for the long night ahead.  There are also plenty of wannabe-Triad boys, gathered together with funky haircuts and tattoos, many of them with their faces covered by surgical masks (and it’s not because they have a cold).  Each iPhone they are able to buy will bring a profit of about $100US, which is the same as a weeks wages in some of the lower income jobs in Hong Kong.  If the limit is 5 iPhones per person, they’ll each clear a month’s worth of work so you begin to understand while they are willing to sleep outside all night.
 

'Blue Berets' of the PTU squads arrive

UPDATE 5:00pm:  I added some more photos from this evening.  Police have dispatched a platoon of riot police known as a PTU unit.  The line extended at one time down the ferry bridge and onto the street, but after some reshuffling of the ‘pens’ they seem to get everyone back up on the bridge.  It also appears that they are not allowing anyone else to enter the line, but I can’t tell if that was a temporary thing or permanent change (my Cantonese isn’t that good).

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