Thursday, 11 October 2012

Street Scene
A city’s street life offers clues to its personality, and in Hong Kong, the lively streets constantly remind me that this city is a vibrant mixture of the old and the new.
Much of the vibrancy comes from the people. Hong Kong is a densely populated place, and day or night, there are people on the streets. They’re coming and going to work, restaurants, clubs, the gym, the malls … but it’s rare to walk down a street without company.  And the constant use helps make the streets safe at all hours.
When I walk the streets of Hong Kong, I love looking for things that I wouldn’t see wandering in Toronto. It’s nice to know that as global as the world has become, there are still differences and oddities.
One constant on the streets of Hong Kong is the hand trolleys. Trucks aren’t the only means of moving commercial goods here. People push carts loaded with bags of rice or boxes or whatever. Sometimes they stick to the sidewalk, but other times, they share the road with the vehicles, which makes for an interesting mix – and a need for patience.
The sidewalk – or occasionally the street – also becomes a venue for drying goods. I now live in a neighbourhood full of stores that sell dried seafood for cooking and dried items to make medicines. It’s not unusual to walk along and see baskets of fish or seaweed set on the concrete to bleach in the heat and sun. Since these shops generally have open doorways and sidewalk displays, the proprietors can keep an eye on their merchandise and the drying goods simultaneously.

In Toronto, road construction is a constant during the summertime. Here in Hong Kong, it’s building construction and renovation that is ever present. But don’t look for safety harnesses and metal scaffolding. The material of choice is bamboo, the poles lashed together. Yesterday, I looked up to see two men balancing on poles high above my head as they put together a scaffold. Apparently, bamboo is very strong – thank heavens.
A few blocks away from my apartment is a square created by the intersection of a couple of streets and a lane or two. In walking to the subway at noon, I’ve noticed that one of the stores outside the square has a booth for demonstrations. Each weekday as I pass, there is a salesperson wearing a microphone, hawking anything from shoe inserts to cooking utensils. Invariably, I chuckle; it’s so reminiscent of those crazy TV ads offering Ginsu knives or other kitchen paraphernalia, only $19.95 – and if you order now, you’ll get two!
The square even offers unexpected entertainment. Last week, a large Buddhist shrine popped up to celebrate an occasion that I couldn’t decipher, given my limited Chinese. It was elaborate, all red and gold and statuary, with offerings of food and incense. One afternoon, there was a monk offering blessings; the next evening, a quintet featuring traditional Chinese instruments entertained. The following night, it was gone.
So, I expect the unexpected and enjoy the endless variation. Toto, I’m definitely not in Kansas ... or Toronto ... or New Jersey.

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