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Published: April 28th 2006
It seems there’s a formal code for walking in the street in Hong Kong. There are two speeds: “amble with obligatory zig-zag path” and “Get out of my way I’m late”. Both are the same speed but the second uses quicker, smaller steps and you tend to travel in straighter lines. Most importantly though, get in other people’s way. It doesn’t matter how you do this but techniques often include not looking where you’re going, not looking like you’re going where you’re going, walking diagonally, looking backwards, slowing down in narrow gaps (or ideally stopping; past-masters will change direction) and walking straight across the front of other people. Examples include leaving a shop and not even contemplating the chance that there may be someone walking on the pavement already, crossing at a pedestrian crossing and showing surprise when you meet people coming the other way, and wondering why all these people are leaving the train/bus/shopping mall as the doors open and you force your way in. If you’re having trouble making a nuisance of yourself, try reading a broadsheet newspaper as you walk or just struggle with a heavy bag on an escalator, then stop dead at the top. Make sure you and the bag completely block the gangway for the two rows of people who are being motored towards you at a fast trot. After all, Hong Kong has the fourth highest population density in the world so it’s hardly likely you’ll annoy anyone, right?
Last week I was walking quite quickly to work (late) and catching up someone moving at “fast amble”. Just when he was an arm’s length away he turned on the front foot and came back towards me. Already irritated by the customary idlers who trip me up on the walk to work, I had a fascinating momentary pause where I considered trying to avoid him. I’m ashamed to say I decided that ploughing into him would somehow educate the whole of Hong Kong and he hit my shoulderblade heavily with his forehead before rebounding as if sprung, then crumpling to the floor. For theatrical effect, his briefcase opened too. Did I feel guilty as I picked him back up? Perhaps a little, but I still think it was his fault for turning around without even thinking there might be someone there.
Today has torrential rain, so there are some necessary additions to the code to allow for poor weather. The weapon of choice is an umbrella - hit other umbrellas with it. Since I’m taller than everyone else, I’m at spoke height and have the scars to prove it. If you’re not carrying an umbrella and it’s tipping down don’t worry, most of the buildings have overhangs along the street so you could travel in the dry… if the overhangs weren’t full of people with umbrellas, forcing you to take to the gutter with the threat of eye-loss. Once you’re in the downpour, the umbrellas form a Roman Tortoise formation and it’s impossible to break the phalanx until the next road crossing. By this point there’s no point seeking shelter because the torrent in the gutter is about as wet as you are, so you run to the train station, arriving at speed to dart around the coffin-dodger who’s fighting a battle with an invisible assailant wielding her own umbrella in the doorway, slip and measure your length on the wet polished tiles.
To cap it all, I then queue between the two cash machines in the station to get some money out, but as the left-hand user takes his money I realise there are people waiting on both sides of me, and I’m suddenly queuing for the imaginary middle ATM. Of course, nobody lets me in front and I have to join one of the new lines and wait my turn.
I love commuting.
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