When arriving at just about anywhere from Hong Kong, the first thing that strikes you is the space. Hotel rooms are often the size of our entire apartment, or even bigger. The one-bedroom serviced apartment we stayed at in Bangkok before jetting off to Helsinki was at least 700 sqft, and felt like a palace. In Hong Kong, such an apartment often houses an entire family (one that can afford it, anyway), and would have at least two poky bedrooms (and hopefully include a decent and private room for the maid – the legal requirements for a maid’s room in Hong Kong are disgraceful, but that’s another story). In our area of Hong Kong, such a ‘spacious’ apartment of comparable age and with gym/pool facilities would set you back at least US$5000 per month.
Personal space is what I crave when in Hong Kong and is what I relish when away from this crowded city. In Helsinki and Amsterdam, I loved having the freedom to be able to walk down an urban street in a straight line (no darting in and out of crowds and zombies fixed on their phones), with my arms extended if I wanted to, and I still wouldn’t touch anyone.
While away in Europe, there was another kind of space that I really enjoyed, which I realised had been sorely lacking before the trip: the space to be myself, a kinder version of Hong Kong me. I don’t like what Hong Kong does to me – I’m not an aggressive person, or at least I wasn’t until I moved here. I guess it’s just that in a crowded city where everyone is fighting over limited resources, you either join in, or are trampled by the crowd. The pushiness just seeps into your system. I’m ashamed to admit that within a few hours on my first excursion out of the apartment after returning to Hong Kong, I’d already yelled at someone for blocking the ticket turnstile at the MTR at peak hour and tutted and tsk-tsked over such an urban transgression. Ridiculous, right?
I don’t care how long I live here, I will never be able to not mind the lack of eye contact, smiling or greeting in Hong Kong. I know many extremely generous, kind and warm Hong Kongers, and I definitely don’t think people here are cold or rude, just that in this frenetic city, such behaviour is reserved for people in your inner circle. I get it. Yet, being away in places that were not as overwhelmed by crowds as Hong Kong, coupled with cultural factors, allowed me to interact with people in a calmer, more ‘connected’ way. The aggression and misanthropy melted away.
This crowded, impersonal city that I love and call home wears my soul down and I hadn’t realised how much until I was given the space to be myself again. I’m going to try to take it slower here and not let the aggression creep in as much, but let’s see how I feel a month after work has started again, and I’m back to riding the MTR on a daily basis!