The air is humming …
This scrap of the lyrics from Something’s Coming, a song from West Side Story, certainly captures the feel of the streets of Hong Kong. With so many people out and about, a certain buzz is natural. Day or night, you can find electricity in the air.
I’ve written about Hong Kong’s street life previously, but there’s always plenty to see – and to say.
The crowded streets are a natural outgrowth of the population density here and the small living spaces. When apartments can be as small as 280 square feet – yes, that’s what I lived in throughout the summer – it’s only natural to want more space to roam. Home is a personal space to be cherished, but there’s a need to escape. People enjoy the parks, but they are scattered, so the streets, the shops and the malls become extensions of recreational space. I also see people sitting in doorways, watching the world pass by.
Many people also have little space to entertain, so socializing isn’t done at home: That’s why restaurants were created! At all hours, especially on weekends and in the evenings, people gather to eat and chat and eat. In North America, couples or groups of four are most common at eateries, but that’s not necessarily true in Hong Kong. Extended families can be seen dining as a group at many restaurants, and there are lots of large, round tables to accommodate them.
Now that I live in a more residential neighbourhood, I especially enjoy the street life in the morning. When I wander downstairs to buy a local paper or go to the bakery for a bun, I enjoy the mix of people rushing to work, waiting for buses or walking children to school.
Many of those walking hand-in-hand with youngsters are nannies, or amahs, as they often call them in Hong Kong. There is a huge population of Indonesian and Filipino women who come to Hong Kong to look after other people’s children as a way of earning money that isn’t available in their native countries.
Toronto are, too, has a nanny subculture, but it’s not as noticeable in the city, since there are fewer families with children downtown. Here, they are as prevalent as the 7-Elevens that dot the street corners. On their day off – either Saturday or Sunday – they can be seen congregating in local parks, picknicking, singing together, reading, playing cards or worshipping. It’s their chance to relax and reconnect with home. Near my office, there is a volleyball court that hosts a league for nannies each Sunday and I enjoy seeing them hustle for the ball in their matching uniforms.
Less interesting than the nannies are the smokers. I’m not sure if more people smoke in Hong Kong than in North America, but here, they feel free to do so on the streets, rather than huddled in doorways. People walk the sidewalks with lit cigarettes in their hands, chatting and gesturing. No burns on me yet, since I have a good eye! And, although it pains me to say so, a lot of these smokers are young folks, a trend I’d like to see erased.
Not all of the smoke on the streets comes from cigarettes, however. Buddhism is the prevailing religion in Hong Kong, and many shopkeepers pay homage to Buddha with shrines outside their doors. A small red and gold deity can often be found hugging the sidewalk, surrounded by a few sticks of fragrant incense and a handful of edible offerings: fruit or baked goods, perhaps. They are mini-temples, reminiscent of the larger structures sprinkled throughout the area. It’s a silent form of devotion.
So, whether I look up, down or sideways as I walk, there’s always something to catch my eye – and before I know it, I’ve arrived at my destination!