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Take that, Miami: Hong Kong hosts its own Bitcoin meet-up

As 50,000 Bitcoiners and crypto superstars whoop it up at Miami’s Bitcoin 2021 fest, a smaller group of BTC fans hold their own at the Fringe in Hong Kong.

The City of Miami in Florida hosted Bitcoin 2021 — the biggest live fest yet in the 12-year life of the original cryptocurrency. The Miami conference’s total attendance exceeded 50,000 and featured some of the crypto world’s biggest stars, including Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, MicroStrategy’s CEO Michael Saylor, crypto progressive Miami Mayor Francis Suarez and the Winklevoss twins — Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss.

As Miami Bitcoiners partied on, on the other side of Earth, 9,000 miles away in Hong Kong, a group of 30 or so people gathered for a Bitcoin Association HK meet-up. The Hong Kong Bitcoin fans were not high-profile names but no less enthusiastic. They ranged from blockchain technical experts, mainstream investment advisors, anti-establishment cypherpunks and crypto newbies trying to learn more about the digital assets that are changing the financial world.

Cryptocurrency meet-ups big and small are on the rise around the world. Many of these events can be found on Meetup.com, where gatherings focused on cryptocurrency and blockchain have grown by around 90% since last year, according to Meetup.com data. RSVPs to crypto-related meetings also have also surged by 127% since January 2020 — despite the ongoing Covid-19 global pandemic.

Bitcoin Association of Hong Kong

The Bitcoin Association of Hong Kong was co-founded in 2014 by Leonhard Weese, who now serves as the club’s president, following the success of a few casual meet-ups that prompted the establishment of a more formal membership organization.

A self-described Bitcoin maximalist, Weese is a technical writer for Lightning Labs and also works to evangelize and promote the Lightning Network — a layer 2 protocol for the Bitcoin network that allows faster transactions and negates the cryptocurrency’s high fees.

As a student of economics, Weese became fascinated by Bitcoin. “The idea that you could create money with a computer and that it exists outside of the realm of central banks or governments and defied the popular assumptions people hold about how money works or how about how the economy works,” said Weese, in an interview with Forkast.News. “In the beginning, the meet-ups were really just a tool to get people together to discuss BTC. There wasn't a lot of information about it back then and we ourselves didn't know what Bitcoin was.”

Many of the Hong Kong event’s attendees on that night last week were there for just this purpose — to learn more. Some were newbies like Ken Wong, an e-commerce executive who told Forkast.News that he had yet to invest in Bitcoin or other cryptocurrency, but that he believed they held “huge potential for the future.”

A mainstream investment advisor who asked not to be named, out of fear that his interest in this nascent asset class could worry some of his high-net-worth clients, admitted he was perplexed by the force of the crypto market and had come out of sheer curiosity. 

“I really want to know where Bitcoin’s value is coming from — they always say, ‘Bitcoin is digital gold’ but even gold is not really of high value, and it also has a maximum value,” the investment advisor said. “But Bitcoin is not stopping. It just keeps on going up.” 

Eugenie Kwok, the owner of After Five at the Fringe Vault — the cafe where Hong Kong’s Bitcoin meet-up was held — was accepting payment in Bitcoin via the Lightning Network. Kwok told Forkast.News that she had been investing in Ethereum, the second-largest cryptocurrency by market capitalization, since 2017, and she believed that cryptocurrencies definitely had a role to play in the future of financial transactions. 

Accepting BTC was “an easy decision,” Kwok said. Throughout the evening many of the Bitcoin Association regulars did utilize the service, exchanging their Satoshis for drinks and food.

Opposing the establishment

While everyone that our Forkast.News crew encountered was friendly, quite a few were unwilling to speak to a reporter on the record. Almost no one would provide contact details for follow up questions beyond highly encrypted platforms like Telegram and Signal.

A hot topic of discussion for the evening event was the position of Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) — which recently proposed to ban the vast majority of the territory's retail investors from buying cryptocurrencies while requiring crypto exchanges to get licenses.

Clifford Choi, the director of the Bitcoin Association, told Forkast.News that he had predicted this scenario years earlier.

“I'm not really surprised with the SFC’s reaction," Choi said. "We have the HK government, which is trying to protect this power elite structure, and we also have a lot of political instability, hyperinflation and other global economic pressures that are pushing corporations and governments into Bitcoin and cryptocurrency."

But the SFC is too late to stop small investors from buying and selling Bitcoin, and the proposed regulations will likely only serve to create a far less safe environment for retail crypto traders, Choi said.

“There's a real disconnect between what the law and what software are doing,” Choi said. “Retail will always have access to decentralized exchanges and the law doesn't have jurisdiction over software.”