We live on the forty-something floor.
A pretty normal residential address in Hong Kong, which is home to around 8000 skyscrapers (almost double that of New York.)
Last week one of the many notices we get through the mailbox from the ‘building management’ went something like this.…
“….table tennis balls and a tissue have been found in the garden area after being tossed out of a window or balcony from a serious height. This is a serious criminal act and you will be liable for $10,000 hk and 6 months imprisonment!”
A high price to pay for a carelessly thrown tissue?
Given the extraordinary number of high-rises squeezed ever-so-tightly into this concrete jungle, it’s a wonder there aren’t more people being walloped on the head by falling objects.
The perils of high-rise living!
Admittedly, it’s tempting to toss the odd piece of stale bread over the balcony. Wouldn’t the birds like it? (Hmm that’s right, they don’t tend to reach this altitude much.)
You’ll be pleased to know, apart from a few crumbs here and there, I’ve managed to refrain from lobbing anything that could have a missile-like affect if launched from a great height. (I know nothing about my husband’s shower gels being blown off the bathroom window-sill!)
The stern warning in our letter box got me thinking about that side of Hong Kong. The side you probably don’t take too much notice of unless you’re actually living here, amongst the madness, for a genuine period of time.
Lets not forget, this is one of the most densely populated cities in the world…. a mere 25,900 people, squashed like sardines, into each and every square kilometre.
I’m talking the ‘petty kind’ of course. There’s a whole world of underground criminal organization going on – in the form of Triad gangs, but that’s another story for another day.
There are, naturally, the odd pickpockets and of course the occasional ‘horrible’ crime, as in any city.
But as a rule, in a city that’s heaving day and night….it’s safe.
Safe to walk the streets late at night. Safe to walk through shopping centres, parks….and ride the trains alone.
Assuredly, the sheer volume of people taking the stroll with you, make it easy to feel less vulnerable.
On the MTR (underground train system) you’ll see no sign of hooliganism, none of the school boy shenanigans you might witness in some western countries.
I’ve often marvelled as I walk through these underground nerve-centres – at the orderly manner in which everyone is conducting themselves.
A stampede of people all minding their own business, marching in a soldierly fashion to their destination (are they all being bribed with an early mark and a good report if they don’t dawdle between classes?)
Of course if my little blondy’s showing off, smiling and waving furiously to get the locals attention, only then might you see a little bit of composed frivolity.
The stations themselves are pristine. You won’t see any rubbish lying idly on the ground…(hence the panic about the said tissue.)
No stray bottles hidden in alcoves from last night’s drunken amble home.
In fact, in testament to the cleaning frenzy, there’s no eating AT ALL in Hong Kong train stations.
Signs everywhere point out the rule and don’t even try to have a sneaky gobble.
I was standing outside a 7/11 that ‘sells’ food (IN the train station) ravenously eating my newly purchased potato chips when someone came rushing out in a panicky voice, madly gesturing no! no! no! Cannot La! — (Gulp! hastily swallow scratchy chips!)
Let that be a lesson.
Hell – if this country had a sticker chart, there would be gold stars to boot.
Hand sanitizer and alcohol wipes are carried like spare change (with good reason.)
Shopping malls smell like hospitals – lifts are disinfected every four hours, at least.
Escalators are meticulously cleaned. People stand for hours with a sanitised cloth as the handrail is wiped down on rotation AND every single groove of the escalator steps is cleaned – with a toothbrush!
You can see your own reflection in the marble shopping centre floors that are polished to perfection and heaven forbid someone should spill a drink… barricades go up, half a dozen staff gather round in earnest to mop up the mess.
Indeed if Hong Kong city was a person you might think she had a touch of OCD.
Let’s not forget the signs telling you not to spit.
Until 2003 spitting here was fairly common practice in streets, shops, bars, even on trains….and still is in many parts of mainland China. (Trust me!)
Some say it’s supposed to be more hygienic – others say there’s an ancient chinese belief that an evil spirit dwells in the throat…spitting gets rid of it. I’m not convinced.
Since SARS the government has been on a campaign to reduce this habit and ‘spitters’ face hefty fines.
In fact the Hong Kong hygiene frenzy can largely be traced back to the SARS scare in 2003.
The pandemic killed 299 people here and 800 worldwide.
Within weeks, SARS had spread from Hong Kong’s population to infect thousands in 37 countries.
The city that never sleeps went into a coma.
If you’ve seen the SARS-inspired movie ‘Contagion’ which documents the spread of a mystery disease – the desperate attempts by medical researchers and public health officials to identify and contain the virus and the loss of social order in a pandemic – you can appreciate the enormity of the situation.
The crisis emptied the normally buzzing city streets. Shopping malls, restaurants and schools closed and Hong Kong was dealt a severe economic blow.
It may be nine years since the horror unfolded, but the threat of SARS still hangs over this city like a dark cloud.
This month a four year old boy was admitted to a local hospital with initial reports his illness was a strain of SARS. Media went into a frenzy and you could see the nerves bristle among locals.
Since the outbreak, disease control has been taken incredibly seriously…Hong Kong has set about ‘cleaning itself up’ to the point of the obsessive sterilisation rituals you see today.
Masks aren’t as rampant as they were during and in the months and years after SARS but they still exist in all their glory… a cold, a flu, a fever – for many, these days — masks are the fashion accessory you don’t leave home without.
Temperatures are checked on arrival at the airport and this year Hong Kong International Airport was named the ‘Best Airport Terminal Cleanliness’ at the 2012 World Airport Awards.
In this city that’s literally packed to the rafters, it might not always be so easy to stop the melting pot of millions from boiling over.
Sometimes you feel like your personal space is so restricted you can’t breathe and if you dare take a breath, what nasty bugs might you inhale from this insanely fast-paced crush of chaos.
Thankfully for the most part, it’s organised chaos.
So, come on, you’ve gotta give them A for effort.
This is Hong Kong.