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Hong Kong Guide : The Culture of Pushing

Aug 24, 2011

How many passengers can a Hong Kong tram fit?

My answer?

I can’t count. There isn’t a way to.

A few hours ago, I was standing on the upper deck of a Hong Kong tram, barely able to move. My vision was mostly blocked by many sweaty bodies as well as strong arms which were clinging tightly to the tram handles for support. Nevertheless, through a small viewing frame, I managed to catch sight of shocked tourists who were being pushed around but were unable to express their anger in a common language. I heard elderly people cursing and asserting their rights to get a seat or a reasonable standing space. I felt myself getting angry at this rowdy tram behavior, unsurprisingly, yet again on an extremely hot afternoon.

Passengers stood so close to one another that if this was back in the olden days, many men and women would have to get married by now. There was the (unavoidable) body contact, from getting feet stepped on to a bad shoulder rub. I muttered a prayer, extremely thankful for my not-so-sensitive nose, as the only thing that I was dying to have by then was (an odourless) breather.

It seems au naturel for most people to push and shove on a Hong Kong tram or MTR. As if it isn’t enough, some conveniently make use of their umbrellas, bags and/or whatever possible to lean their weight on you, so that they can get that extra 5 centimetres of space. To top it up, these people do not feel guilty. They face you with a nonchalant ease, as if it is all your fault to not disappear into thin air immediately when they need more room.

It isn’t the first time. I’m not sure if I should attribute this to a Hong Kong culture, but I couldn’t find a better justification for the situation. Why can’t these people be polite, say “excuse me” if their paths are blocked and let all of us be part of a big happy family?

These days, I suspect that I may have a talent for Chinese Kung Fu. I spend my time focusing on my qi (energy) and getting my stability ready for anyone who may knock into me. With my bony frame and sharp shoulders, I wonder, why don’t they feel any pain? My feet are agile, constantly dodging branded leather shoes and stiletto heels that don’t seem to know where they are landing. I do best at the Crane stance, where in essence, I stand like a bird with my elbows jutted out. No, I’m not ready to fly out of the tram to escape, but I’m sure ready to protect my body from more bruises.

Maintaining an arm’s length distance doesn’t work in Hong Kong. It’s nothing personal, but rather, whatever it takes to get ahead.

Inside a Hong Kong Tram – No longer arm’s length apart