Friday, October 27, 2006

Hong Kong: Unleash the Dragon

The first taste of China craziness came in the form of wild and lovely Hong Kong. Full of British ex-pats, Indian and Philippino laborers and bounding with ceaseless energy and pollution, Hong Kong was a roller coaster of change from conformist Japan.

If Tokyo is a city pressed for space and densely packed, Hong Kong is the sardine-can equivalent. Seven million people live on an island much smaller than New York and way more congested. While Tokyo was controlled chaos with orderly street crossings, high-level sanitation and delicate detail-oriented customs, Hong Kong is contained chaos with barriers and boundaries everywhere to control the extraordinary amount of people that inhabit the island. Whereas in Tokyo no one crossed the street on a red (even when there were no cars), here the locals are constantly walking in front of the cars, buses, and trams and never waiting for the lights. For this reason most of the sidewalks have gates surrounding them forming a sort of sidewalk cage whereby you can only get out at designated crossing areas. All this is to hold back the beast of humanity that is always surging forward.

And people are always telling you what to do here. Please don't stand there, move down, don't sit there, you can't try on the clothes (huh?, no try no buy, lady), you must order dinner if you sit in this section otherwise you must sit in that section, etc. It's all very prescripted and it stems from a need for crowd control and a distrust of people. Like, if they didn't put gates around the sidewalks, the pedestrians would harm themselves and others.

Think multi-layered lifestyle. Rooms here are tiny (like Tokyo) and all available space is made use of including rooftops, basements, and gigantic cloud-grazing apartment complexes.

Public transportation here is a magnificent force. People get around by ferry, taxi, underground metro, double-decker trolley cars, double-decker buses and mile-long escalator systems. It's a wonderful example of public transportation systems working. If you think about how many people get around and do things in a fairly efficient way without resorting to using a personal car, it's very impressive. When will Miami learn?

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