Living in a big international city has remarkable ups and terrific downs. One moment, you’re thanking your lucky stars for residing in a place that never sleeps. The next moment, you want to punch someone because they just elbowed you out the way and blew cigarette smoke into your face. Some days, you realise, while showing your visitors around, that the skyscrapers, the restaurant choices and the diverse international community is what makes your city so special. Other days, it’s all those skyscrapers, the pollution and the impersonal city feel that makes you want to leave.
It’s taken me a good, long time to realise that I am simply not one for big cities. I was spoilt growing up in the saltbush of the Eastern Cape Karoo, on a sugar estate in Swaziland and finally near a nature reserve in Kwa-Zulu Natal; there was space and nature at my doorstep.
I don’t enjoy being squashed into a train carriage with another hundred people. I like queues and choosing a side of the road to walk on. I’m that person. The area I work in is Mongkok, the most densely populated place in the world. Walking on the roads here is like crossing the famous Shibuya intersection in Tokyo at New Year’s with thousands of people walking in every which direction, except it’s every day. The MTR stations are a sea of people and handbags and wheelie suitcases and flower bouquets. The minibus queues wind around the corner.
Every single day in Hong Kong, I notice the elderly. Every day I spent in Seoul, I noticed the elderly. Every day I lived in London, I noticed the elderly. I watch how they are pushed and shoved and spun around. I watch how few people stand up to relinquish their seat on a bus or an MTR to someone who is often walking with a stick or a severe limp. And it makes me very sad.
But just yesterday, I witnessed such a wonderful event. And it made me happy to live in Hong Kong; content in this big city. There is a large group of the elderly here (mostly women) who collect recycling, often cardboard boxes, to exchange for money. They roam the streets with their little wagons. On this particular occasion, an elderly woman was rushing across the road with her collection to beat oncoming traffic. As she did so, several of her boxes fell into the road. As usual, I expected no one to do anything and turned to help her. Suddenly, a young high school boy ran into the road to help. He picked up her fallen items, asked her which direction she was going and proceeding to push her wagon down the road. The look on that woman’s face was priceless. My look of delighted shock was more so.
Faith in humanity restored, I continued my walk through the crowds. No pushing or cigarette smoke in the face could hamper my mood now. It was simply one of the remarkable “up” days in my big city.