What a pleasure to live in Hong Kong

August 22, 2016 14:17
While the London subway system is old and a potential jihadi terrorist target, Hong Kong’s MTR is safe and efficient. Photo: MTRC

We have just returned from a three-week holiday in the UK and France.

Everyone was worried about two things -- what will happen to Britain and the rest of Europe after Brexit and where and when will be next jihadi attack?

The next morning, I go out of my apartment building to buy newspapers and run into Chau, the man who collects the rubbish 364 days a year.

“Ah, did you earn some sterling?” he asks with a big smile.

“How about your investments in the London stock market? Did you sell at the right time?”

He knows, of course, that these holidays cost a great deal and I am not smart enough to make money out of stocks in London, Hong Kong or anywhere else.

But it is his daily humour -- and a reminder of why he and many other people make it such a pleasure to live in this city.

Chau takes off only one day a year -- Chinese New Year.

“Why not more?” I asked once.

“Fine, would you clear the rubbish then? After two days, the bin room on each floor is full. What happens then?”

Since then, I have not raised the topic again and give thanks every day that someone is prepared to do this job for a modest salary.

The residents call him money king (財神) because he is said to trade stocks on the market.

True or not, I am not sure -- but, if you ask about a stock, be ready to listen for at least five minutes.

He is not the only person making our neighbourhood so easy to live in.

On the ground floor of the building is a launderette open 360 days a year -- first five days of Chinese New Year off.

They clean a large bag of clothes in three hours, so fast and efficient we do not have a washing machine.

Like  Chau, they are smiling and polite. How long would I last in the noise and temperature of their small shop, especially in summer?

Then there are the two brothers who sell us newspapers and magazines.

Go for a walk at 6 a.m. and they are already laid out for you. This means they have to get up around four and, with the help of Filipino ladies, sort the thick bundles that are Hong Kong newspapers.

This is a sunset profession; few young people buy their wares. Profit margins are so thin that they need to sell cigarettes on the side.

The elder, surnamed Wong, sometimes puts on a suit in the afternoon and leaves the stall to his wife; does he have a second life -- properties in Sydney or Vancouver?

Everything round us is easy and convenient.

When we are lazy, we go to one of several restaurants nearby.

It is the same story -- hard-working and efficient staff, earning about HK$10,000 (US$1,290) a month under constant pressure from the clients and their boss.

But they still have time for a smile and a joke.

Then there is the transport system, the best of any city in the world I have encountered, especially the MTR.

In one day, you can arrange three-four appointments and be sure to attend all of them.

In many mainland cities, the car revolution has happened too quickly, so you must add a "maybe" to the appointments.

By contrast, the London subway system is old, tense and overcrowded.

The first line opened in 1863, when the city’s population was a fraction of the current level and people were shorter; it carries 3.7 million passengers a day.

Everyone is afraid of the next jihadi terrorist attack -- and the underground is a likely target.

Public order -- and not only the lack of a jihadi threat -- is another plus for Hong Kong.

Women feel safe to walk the streets at night. Londoners avoid many districts after dark.

London has a population of 8.7 million, of whom 3.8 million are black or ethnic minorities. The range of color, language and clothing is dazzling.

For some, this is a cause of pride and celebration.

For others, including those who voted for Brexit, it is a source of anxiety -- they feel that the capital no longer belongs to them.

Here, the split is between for or against the mainland.

There, it is for and against the European Union. A total of 52 per cent voted to leave.

Passions run high on the subject -- better to ask a person individually how he/she voted and not a group, because you will have a fierce argument in which no-one wants to listen to the other.

Now the nays have won, the government must negotiate an exit -- for which it had no plan.

It was a pleasure to come back and cherish the good quality of life we enjoy.

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A Hong Kong-based writer, teacher and speaker.