Wednesday, 11 July 2012

City Living

Greetings! Most of my blog posts have focused on the wonderful sights and tastes of Hong Kong, so today, I thought offer a glimpse into daily life in the city. Here are some of the lessons I've learned about living in Hong Kong:

1. Don't be in a hurry when you're on foot. As busy and crowded as parts of Hong Kong may be, the pace of the pedestrians is a relaxed one. Unlike NYC, for instance, no one seem to be in a hurry to get to a destination. People walk, look around, text as they walk, walk three abreast -- so unless your entire focus is on dodging and weaving, it's not worth the energy to rush. Just leave home a few minutes earlier and join the stroll.

2. Revere the Octopus! The Octopus card is the transit card that is ubiquitous here. A swipe of this credit-cardlike item will give you entree to the subway, buses, minibuses and ferries that take you around Hong Kong Island or to Kowloon, the New Territories and the outer islands (TTC and Go Transit, take note); you can also use it to visit one of the many 24-hour 7-11 stores or to purchase groceries at some of the chains. You simply load it up with money and watch it trickle away, then load it again. Awesome!

3. Buckle up. In addition to the buses and streetcars that flood the city streets, there are fleets of 16-seat minibuses that also serve the public. The drivers of these minibuses are wild men, roaring down the street, dodging in and out of traffic, then slamming on the brakes at a stoplight. No wonder it takes me less time to get to work by minibus than by subway! However, I'm not surprised to see that the minibuses come equipped with seatbelts. You can be sure that I use mine.

4. Language skill is helpful, but not mandatory. Since the British handover of HK to the Chinese government 15 years ago, the English language isn't as prevalent here. Cantonese is the dominant language of Hong Kong, since it's adjacent to Canton (Guangzhong) province, and Mandarin, which is the universal Chinese dialect, is being taught in the schools, with English falling to third in importance. Although I don't hear much English spoken when I'm out and about, signs are still generally in both Chinese and English, and many people have a rudimentary knowledge of English. No matter. You can go a long way with smiles and hand gestures. I had my nails done in a salon where the manicurist knew virtually no English. We gestured, signalled and pointed and everything worked out well. And when I needed a hammer and nails, I simply drew a crude picture and brought it to the hardware store. Minutes later, I had what I'd requested.

5. A smile goes a long way. It was true in Toronto and it's equally true in Hong Kong. People respond to smiles; they speak of goodwill. Even though my Cantonese is non-existent, I can make contact with people on the subway, on the street or in shops. As in most cities, people are focused on other things, but they generally aren't too busy to return a smile. My favourite response to date: a tot on the subway who blew me kisses. Now there's a picture that's worth a thousand words!

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