Monday, November 17, 2008

Traveling in Hong Kong, or, why so slow, Ho?

Image of the dashboard and driver's hands of a taxi I was in the other day. Upon the dashboard are a raft of stuffed animals
Dear Gentle Reader,

Antje was convinced that Hong Kong would be fast-paced.

Well, if fast-paced means that something is always happening and someone is always about and the streets are crowded, then yes. Hong Kong is fast-paced.

But, Antje, if by fast-paced you mean that you think people move quickly, then, sadly, no.

There are great things in Hong Kong: the Feather Boa bar; the Hong Kong Museum of Medical Science; great restaurants, even vegetarian restaurants; but there are no fast walkers.

Getting anywhere quickly in Hong Kong is a bit difficult.

Taxis are ubiquitous and inexpensive, but I prefer to walk as taxis can be awfully crowded (see title picture).

And walking seems to be good for you. ish.

With the heat and humidity in the spring, summer, and fall I can lose a good two litres of water in five minutes by walking briskly. Now, let's see... one litre of water, given water's density, is one kilo of weight. Two kilos weight loss (a bit more than five pounds) in five minutes?

Sign me up! That is a weight loss rate of over one pound per minute. Almost half a kilo a minute for everyone else... ...Jenny Craig, eat your heart out!

Now five pounds weight loss in five minutes might not be healthy, but it is impressive, and much cheaper than liposuction. But, and here is the rub (besides the underwear, and Regina has warned me not to go there), I have to walk briskly in the Hong Kong warmth to achieve that weight loss.

By briskly, I mean that, at a minimum, I must walk faster than a geriatric snail slides.

Unfortunately, there are very few places in Hong Kong that I can walk briskly, and walking slower means that I will not lose all that weight.

This need for speed puts me at odds with the majority of the walking population of Hong Kong. At odds? This need for speed puts your scribe on a collision course with everyone in front of him...

Sure it is hot, and the heat slows everyone down, but people here can have a glass of hot tea with lunch in 35 degree weather (Celsius, not Kelvin--95° Fahrenheit for our American friends) and have a bowl of hot soup with that tea.

People in Hong Kong can stand the heat. They just cannot walk in it.

But slow is still better than stopped. And I seem to be stopped a lot too.

When people are on horizontal escalators (moving walkways) they frequently alight at that geriatric snail's pace only to congregate in front of me to stop at, and block, the only disembarkation point.

These expert blockers chat with each other, answer their cell phone, or go into a catatonic state and stare vacantly as the backlog behind them builds. Queue theory shows that the front of a line does not have to stop for long to cause the entire line to slow down. Queue practice in my town shows me its true.

Think of driving on the highway and then coming to a standstill because of an accident. That accident can be cleared quickly, but traffic will take ages to resume a continuous, normal speed. Of course drivers are able to use their brakes... When you are on a moving walkway (a horizontal escalator) just because someone blocks the exit doesn't mean that walkway stops moving...

The Mongols lived near China, were fine horsemen, and presumably liked to go fast. Maybe I am beginning to comprehend why the Mongols felt the need to go rampaging sometimes when they entered China and were slowed down.

But, I am not rampaging now and I am in my happy place with a chocolate-covered mango margarita.

But, am I alone?

I have a hunch that I am not.

Do only I get frustrated by the slowness of the masses?

No, many foreigners complain about the walking speeds, or lack thereof, here in Hong Kong.

Maybe the problem lies with the people, as in the number of people (although my walkway blockers are pretty effective at slowing down the masses).

Hong Kong census results have determined that almost 7 million people live in my town, Hong Kong, right now (an estimated 6.985 million people in mid-2008). But that does not really tell the whole story.

All of Hong Kong, all the islands and the mainland portion and even the water that Hong Kong controls, comprises 1092 square kilometers (421.6 square miles).

The total inhabited urban area in Hong Kong, defined as a continuously built-up urban area which includes the outlying towns and villages (from US Census Bureau definitions) is 137.4 square kilometers (53 square miles). (Sourced from

Combining these results, the average population density of Hong Kong's continuously built-up urban areas is about 50, 837 people per square kilometer or 131, 792 people per square mile.

For those successful authors out there who are used to reading numbers on their royalty cheques, that is one hundred thirty-one thousand seven hundred ninety-two people per square mile or fifty thousand eight hundred thirty-seven people per square kilometer.

Everyone knows that New York and Tokyo are both crowded. How does Hong Kong compare? Well, go take a quick look at this 2001 comparative demographic chart. (It is easy and quick to read, I promise.) Hong Kong is much more densely populated than either New York or Tokyo.

I guess that seals it. My hunch was right; I am not alone.

Maybe all this slowness walking anywhere is caused by the sheer number of people in Hong Kong, crammed onto the streets.

Finally, exacerbating the problem of too many people on the streets is the fact that Hong Kong housing prices and rental rates are rather high (remember this post about swapping kidneys for rent?).

So what? Well, with space being so incredibly expensive, most people do not have kitchens, or at least not usable kitchens, in their apartments.

That means that people are always popping underground to go to vegetarian restaurants, or into street markets to search out non-vegetarian cuisines. I think that contributes to the reality of Hong Kong being crowded and helps create the perception of Hong Kong being busy and fast-paced.

So there is no hope for me. Time to cool out and cool down.

It really is chocolate covered mango margarita time. Maybe I will hop into that taxi after all. I'll see you at the Feather Boa.

Chris, Regina, and Pommes


Travis Erwin said...

Hey Chris,

Thanks for the comment. It's good to know someone is reading all hose old posts. My next one will be #400. By the way i get an email with every comment regardless if it is my latest post or the first one I ever did. So never fear I see them all.

And I'm going to add a link to this post for the My Town Monday gang. Feel free to join us every Monday if you like.

lyzzydee said...

Hi there, I have enjoyed reading your post, I have had many friends spend a while in Hong Kong and I have always fancied it myself!!

pattinase (abbott) said...

We were supposed to spend a year there a few years ago. I think this heat would have put me off.

Junosmom said...

Hi Chris, Regina and Wonder Cat,
I enjoyed reading your post. Not what I would have expected of Hong Kong at all, which is why it is so interesting. I've signed up to "follow" you. Thank you for signing on to follow me.

Clare2e said...

That escalator behavior drives me to distraction!

lyzzydee said...

Hi Chris, Thanks for dropping by my blog, I am sure you know more about Herts and I have only lived here all of my life!!!
Sadly I have never made it to Hong Kong, I must take more time when typing!! One day perhaps!
Breading a desk, funny you should ask. This all started back in the summer when I went on holiday with some friends, we stayed in caravans so any bird landing on the roof sounded like a fairy elephant and would wake us with a bit of a jolt. Anyway for a number of nights 'we' meaning two caravan loads of us, decided to do the neighbourly thing and throw our left over french bread onto the roof of another van, knowing full well at first light that a whole 'herd' of seagulls would spot the bread and dance on the roof.
The night before we left our 'friends' without our knowledge breaded our roof, we were awakened at 4am to the sound of a flock of hungry seagulls!!
Ever since then I have been looking for a chance to get my own back, so as in my post I went into the office of our 'friends' and I liberally breaded his desk, his pockets, his drawers and his in tray!!

Jenny Jill said...

Great blog post. We live in a town of 650 people, but most of those have flown south, or at least driven to Toronto (pop. 6 million!).
It is very, very quiet in town!

Barbara Martin said...

Welcome to MTM, Chris. I know several ex-co-workers who now live in Hong Kong and they find it interesting and different. Thanks for providing your view.

Barrie said...

SEVEN million people! That's more than double where I live!

Elizabeth said...

Tee hee ...the heat and walking makes me think of waxing.

Love all three of you!