23 Mar 2017
First impressions in Hong Kong: What’s the hurry?
You must have become accustomed to the pace of life in your home country. That can vary widely, and big cities tend to move at a faster pace and rural settings. But when you come to Hong Kong, prepare yourself for a pace of life that you will probably never have experienced before.
It owes itself to several factors and each gives important insights into the local culture. First, Hong Kong is a huge city and it is densely populated. In fact, is it the fourth most densely populated country in the world. Second, Hong Kong is an incredibly competitive society. The passion to get ahead, make a better life, get a better job and a better place in school for your kids all their part. Third, most Hong Kong people are from southern China (Canton province) and the Cantonese are noted for being hard working, ambitious, and tireless workers.
This leaves a mixed impression with many newcomers. On one hand, the industriousness has much to be admired. There is a buzz to Hong Kong that has a lot to do with the fast-paced lifestyle. On the other hand, the rush-rush can be exhausting. It can be annoying. It is relentless and never lets up. There are very few avenues of escape.
Hong Kong people are ambitious. Relentlessly so. It’s a matter of survival for Hong Kong people to react and adapt quickly to rapidly changing situations.
Hong Kong people have immigrant roots. Many arrived to escape turmoil in China so their motivation to achieve a better life runs deep indeed. In a large, free market city, with a ultra-dynamic economy, speed is essential.
Hong Kong people have a pragmatic approach to overcome challenges. Not that long ago, Hong Kong was a relatively poor, undeveloped port city. Trading and light industry were dominant. In just a few decades, it has transformed itself into a world-class, highly sophisticated, service oriented dynamo. Hong Kong, and it’s people, didn’t get that way by moving slowly.
MTR stations, at the peak hours, may be the best, single example to illustrate this. Gather up your courage, grab your Octopus card, and head down below the surface of the city. You will be either overwhelmed – or fascinated – or both to see the throngs that wait, patiently for the most part, rushing across platforms to catch the next train. When it arrives, you’ll see a blizzard of people trying to get in while some of them are struggling to get out – too often at the same time. People, people: let passengers exit the train before you barge your way on. (By the way, that happens on elevators (lifts) in much the same way.)
You may think that this seems to be an uncivilized behavior and maybe it is. However, in the three decades I’ve lived here, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is not intentional rudeness. The best thing to do is muster up your best cross-cultural understanding, leave your judgmental side at home, and just enjoy this fascinating city.