welcoming gestures

Small details seen on Hong Kong’s streets imply that this city understands how you (and many around you) are likely arriving from elsewhere – as I did last week, where I’m writing from a hotel room, halfway through a two-week quarantine (these images are from my last trip here). Rather than turning a cold and indifferent shoulder, as some other global cities seem almost to pride themselves upon doing, Hong Kong reveals clues about the many “somewhere elses” from where others have arrived, based upon the details in the urban environment that make the city legible and accessible. The considerations and details that show the city as one inhabited by outsiders extends deep into the fabric of the city itself – from sidewalks to water dispensers. 

Down and to the right

Hong Kong takes a wonderfully approachable stance to wayfinding, with key intersections taking advantage of ground-level paving stones in both Chinese and English to inform and direct pedestrians as they’re in flow, rather than forcing them to break stride and mount a skyward search for often-obscured street signs. Yes, we all know we should look up more and appreciate our surroundings, but Hong Kong moves too fast to judge you for not doing so, and makes even its sidewalks part of the legible urban fabric.

Accompanying the curbstones sporting street names are very helpful – possibly life-savingly so – reminders of which way one should direct one’s attention before attempting to cross the street. Useful, considering the brisk tempo at which the city’s sidewalks and streets move, and the fact that the rules of the road here are the mirror image of those in mainland China, just a handful of miles away over the border.

Some like it hot / cold / warm

As an American used to public places sporting (cold) water fountains (before the US’s current pandemic paralysis rendered them non-functional), across mainland China one is never far from a reliable source of boiling water. This also means that, by extension, one is also never far from instant noodles or a good cup of tea (and urban life in mainland China is one lived amongst plenty of both). Here, I was struck by the level of consideration in the available water temperatures, an acknowledgement of the diverse water temperature preferences of this Hong Kong coworking space’s occupants and whether they come from a “cold-water country” or a “hot water country.” Even down to the interactions of getting a drink of water, there’s an acknowledgement of the multitude of different temperatures at which one may choose to enjoy their drink.

The beautiful truth of these details that they are reminders how perhaps yourself, and certainly many around you, come from a different place, one where the rules or conventions are different. Arriving in Hong Kong requires an adjustment in how you see and move through the world, but the city wants you to succeed, and remind you that there are others on the very same journey. Even after you’ve become accustomed to the unique shape and speed of life here, these details remind you that the way you happen to experience the world is not the only way to do so.

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