Archive for December, 2007|Monthly archive page

Halftime (pt. 1)

    The term is winding down and that means that some of my friends who are also on exchange here will be leaving very soon.  It’s too bad because we spend a lot of time together, and it makes me wonder what will happen the next semester to fill that gap.  Then again, there hadn’t been many gaps this semester at all, which is both surprising and frightening.  I guess that means I’ve been busy on the one hand; and on the other hand, maybe I’ve been a little lazy.

My friend Jason was talking about how he’s begun to have a sense of identity in just a semester’s time and I wish I could say the same.  I might have adapted to life here but I don’t feel like I’ve become a part of things here any more than I blend in.  I came here to immerse myself but actually it’s pretty tough to do because of what I immerse myself in.  For one, there are elements of Hong Kong that are too Western for my liking.  I am not a tourist out for a good time, after all.  But in some ways it’s the best I can manage.  Sure, strolling down the heart of Hong Kong is pretty amazing, but after all, it’s just a big city that looks nice because people expect it to.

Maybe because Jason comes from Shanghai and is part of Chinese culture that he feels differently than I do.  But he’s one of the many people who are able to speak so much about his own culture as if it really belongs to him, as if he really belongs to it.  I really don’t know how to explain myself to others because even I’m not sure what American culture is like, though I suspect some of my friends may have conceptions of what it might be.  Even if such a thing existed, I wouldn’t be able to speak of it because I don’t feel that it belongs to me, maybe simply that I belong to it, that there are many different groups of people that belong to it, and so the typical American doesn’t exist.

One thing is for sure: I’ve gained an awareness of my own ignorance and how much I live in a bubble.  But it’s definitely not all I’ve gained.

MTR : pipes :: people : water

Really, I think it makes a really nice analogy.

They say that Hong Kong public transportation – specifically the rail and subway lines – are the best in the world. What I realized today is that with many millions of people moving every day, it really can’t be any less than the best.

I sometimes have breakfast with my friend Andy over in Shatin Wai. To get there, we have to take the train from university for a few stops before transferring to another line at Tai Wai. Getting off the train at that station during the rush hour of the morning, I can see people pouring out from the train opposite from me, spilling across the ramps and walkways, eventually funnelling into the trains headed to their destinations.

I also had the pleasure of experiencing the rush in MTR. I was pretty impressed with how crowded the KCR train was in the morning, but the situation at the MTR was ridiculous. People literally cram into the car, and you literally are compressed as people pack their way in. There was a Canadian couple in front of me holding hands so that they might not get separated, urging me to stop pushing. I actually had no choice; I was just another person swallowed up by the swarm of people.

I’d say that observing the dynamics of MTR is like watching a great waterworks system in action and someone could learn a lot about how things work just by watching. Actually, the fact that MTR exists means that someone has already really did their homework before building the thing and literally reduced it to a problem of moving fluid through a pipe it is so efficient. Transportation could be much worse, but besides being crowded, which is expected in a dense place like Hong Kong, the experience is actually really great.

Here is a picture of the subway platform at the Wan Chai station on Hong Kong Island during an off-peak hour, otherwise it would be packed full of people lined up to board. Doesn’t the concavity of the corridor make you think of pipes? The clear barrier on the right is there to keep people away from the track when the train comes through. It also makes it safer for cramming as many people in as possible because you don’t have to worry about anyone falling onto the track. The doors automatically open and close to let people board; during the rush, it may open and close multiple times in an attempt to close and make ready for departure because people insist on pushing onto the train even though there may not be any evidence of free space.


Here is the front end of a KCR train, which isn’t a subway train at all: KCR is the surface train line that runs throughout the New Territories and connects to the MTR subway, which links to Hong Kong Island and Lantau Island.