“REALLY? ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Uuuugh!”
Ignoring the exasperated groans of the man walking behind me on the Soho escalators is impossible, even with music blasting through my earbuds.
We get to the end; I walk off easily and the man appears in a flash, passing me sharply. He looks sweaty. Speed-walking off, I see him shake his head and mouth another, “Come ON!” targeted at the next person ambling obliviously ahead of him.
Cities are always overcrowded with people and there is no exception here; one of the first remarks people make about Hong Kong is how noticeably overpopulated it is.
Day to day, you’ll most likely hear frustrated words of pedestrians, see innumerable eye rolls, and stupefied people weaving in and out of places you didn’t even know existed.
At first, I didn’t feel too bothered by the number of people – it’s exciting to literally “feel the rush”; an incessant dazed feeling lingers as you become a part the masses walking to work. However, frustrations run high whenever you attempt to navigate to the platform of the train, swimming against a current of inbound passengers. Anxiety takes over and you find yourself suddenly drowning in air.
Everyone is in a state of go—going to work, going to class, going to lunch, going out—nonstop day and night GO! The frenetic vibe is unmistakably familiar for some. Others (like my sweaty friend) are always lamenting about this aspect of their love-hate relationship with Hong Kong. But imagine if that vibe suddenly ceased to exist – the city’s legitimacy and substance would simply evaporate.
Crowdedness = Popularity
The fact that Hong Kong is so crowded means that it is the place to be. The same goes for other highly populated cities around the globe – New York City, Tokyo, Beijing. These and other metropolises are exciting, always full of things to do, see, and experience. Those that come and go to these places are aware of that. Perhaps it’s not something that you would read as an attraction in your guidebook – “enjoy the overpopulated streets of (name of city)”—but people instantly merge with the highly charged environments whether they want to or not.
Consider zebra crossings. It is somewhat of a life/death situation when you find yourself scurrying across the street on the last few green blinks. Look at it this way – aren’t those few seconds exhilarating? Will you make it to the other side? Will you survive this time? Picture yourself being in a video game. (We can just hope that you or I never reach the Game Over stage.)
If you’re not the risky type, you can always wait for the next light to indicate your safe journey across the street. And while you’re waiting, it’s always fun to observe your surroundings.
What’s the rush?
I had a student last year that asked me to read the draft of her proposed research paper outline. The topic: “Why Traffic is Good.” When I first read her prompt, I laughed to myself, thought it was absurd, and asked her to change it. But when I think about it now, it doesn’t seem as ridiculous.
Why are people always in a hurry to be somewhere? I don’t really see too much point in rushing – late is late. Everyone is overly concerned with that eternal ticking; in the end, it just makes you feel stressed out. If you are always feeling rushed, then you are most likely feeling stressed.
Being part of the crowd is actually an opportunity for you to relax a little bit. More specifically, if you are sitting in a bus, a car, or a tram amidst a traffic stalemate, it’s a good opportunity to relax a bit, listen to the radio, your iPod, or reflect on your day.
If you happen to be a pedestrian, it’s obviously a little bit harder to feel relaxed, especially if you’re trying to bee-line your way through bustling sidewalks. Regardless, you can still find ways to avoid that anxious feeling creeping up on you. Put your phones away, walk slowly, pay attention to your senses, observe the scenes around you and people watch.
Who ever really gets sick of people watching? Someone is always picking their nose and failing to be discreet; showy couples are having nauseating public displays of affection, (or overly-dramatic breakups); Canon and Nikon DSLRs are weighing down the necks of bewildered tourists; high school girls are V-signing/ peace-signing their way in front of absolutely everything; queues of people are winding around corners to try the self-proclaimed best bowl of “niu rou la mian,” (a.k.a. ramen beef noodles). The next time you find yourself bored, agitated, or even hyperventilating trying to get somewhere in a hurry, stop and take a look at everyone around you. You might happen to find something beautiful or interesting in the most unlikely places.
You pushed me…but I will say “sorry.”
When people get you all worked up, either by shoving you out of the way, stepping on your heels, or anything else, it’s not always good to ignore it. I’m a personal fan of giving the “death stare” which often effectively elicits an apologetic sorry (and a daily tribute to Pavlov’s classical conditioning). We’ve all been on both sides of the equation and we are well aware that these situations are by no means avoidable. Whether you are the perpetrator or the victim, be the bigger person, smile, and apologize first.
Look at the crowds this way: when you FINALLY make it onto the train, into your home, or to wherever your final destination may be, you’ll learn not to take your personal space for granted. Massive groups of strangers naturally give you a better appreciation of being alone. No one to bump into you, no one to cut you off, no one filling up your nostrils with their funky B.O. Just home sweet home.
Keep this in mind: Yes—people will seem rude to you. They will push you out of the way unapologetically and continue forthright. No, they will not look at where they’re going and will step on your heels every now and then. Yes—they will bump into you and glare with blaming eyes, shake their heads, or mumble profanities under their breath. You will be in both positions at one point or another… don’t dwell on it. Let it pass / let them pass you. You’ll reach your desired endpoint soon enough.