On Foot in Hong Kong

Hong Kong has very low crime rates and is considered a safe city, however when walking the steep and narrow Hong Kong streets you should pay attention as threats and dangers surround you.

Look out above where you’ll see the bamboo and (usually green) mesh scaffolding that indicates construction in progress. Workers are supposed to wear safety harnesses as they weave their way through the bamboo, calling loudly to each other like urban wildlife. The Labour Department recently launched a campaign to promote safe working at height, but had to suspend a contractor who was spotted perching perilously on a ladder, sans-safety-harness to put up a department safety banner featuring a labourer falling from a ladder and bearing the slogan ‘Falling a few feet can be fatal, use a suitable working platform’. Beware of falling workers, and their tools.

It is also wise to look out below, where wet patches on the cracked and uneven pavement indicate one of the city’s dripping air-conditioners above. Avoiding these will prevent the unpleasant sensation of catching a drip on your head and spending a tense moment checking it is water and not something worse. The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department issues Nuisance Notices regarding dripping air conditioners, but these are largely ignored.

Finally, don’t forget to look out ahead where locals glued to their phones, newspapers or even books will be walking at a snail’s pace with no awareness of what is going on around them. Beware of those bearing broad brollies to keep off the rain or sun, and effectively blocking the narrow pavement. 

An efficient and often entertaining way to travel between Central and the Mid-Levels is the Central-Mid-levels Escalator. The longest outdoor covered escalator in the world, 20 escalators and 3 travelators measuring 800 meters in length, carry you up 135 meters vertically in 20 minutes, faster if you walk rather than standing still. The escalators run downhill from 0600-1000 and uphill from 1030-0000; woe betide the man who just misses the last escalator of the night. There is usually something interesting to be seen on the escalator, a favourite game of mine is spotting people dressed like Where’s Wally/Waldo (red and white vertical stripe top and blue bottoms – beanie, glasses and walking cane not required). You may also spot local celebrity Hong Kong Elvis, a small dog in a handbag or a piece of street art. If you really can’t see anything to make you smile, stop at one of the ‘Guidelines for the use of Central-Mid-level Escalators‘ signs and check out rule number 4: “Do not wail against the flow” – a good tip for using the escalators, getting around Hong Kong, and life in general.


4. Do not wail against the flow


Cabs and Public Transport

If all this proves too much for you and you decide to forget walking and grab a cab, beware the cab doors which open automatically smacking into many an unwary passenger who has leaned in to open them manually. Once inside, fasten your seatbelt; Hong Kong cabs are convenient, plentiful, cheap and clean but safe driving is by no means guaranteed. Do not be alarmed by the multiple mobile phones that decorate the dashboard and ring constantly, they merely keep the driver alerted to potential fares around the city. You may be lucky enough to travel in the taxi that bears the number plate ‘TAXI’, or to spot some of the amusing vanity plates; ENCRUST, POTATO or PUMPKIN.

Cabs generally require cash, but for trams, the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) and Airport Express Line, Hong Kong has a contactless, rechargeable, stored value smart card that can be used to pay transport fares. This is common in major cities, Brisbane has the Go card, London has the Oyster card, Tokyo has the Penguin (Suica) card and Hong Kong has the Octopus card. The Go card appears to be the odd one out here, not complying with the ‘under the sea’ theme; however this is not the case. The Oyster card was so named because it ‘protects your money like an oyster protects a pearl’, the Penguin just happens to be the Japan Rail logo (with a whole store dedicated to kawaii penguin themed products) and the Octopus moniker was said to represent the eight points of the compass (as it can take you in all directions). Eight is a lucky number in Chinese culture – it sounds similar in different dialects to the words for ‘prosperity’, ‘wealth’, and ‘fortune’.

Conveniently, you can also use your Octopus card to pay anywhere that has a reader installed such as 7-11s and small supermarkets. The company refers to the beeping noise the card readers make when a transaction is successful as the ‘dood’. This results in some interesting sentences such as ‘Octopus brings you the Octopus “Dood” To Win Promotion Campaign’ and ‘Checking the remaining balance on your Octopus is easy. Every time you “dood”, it appears on the Octopus reader and your receipt’ .

Your Octopus card is also your key to two forms of Hong Kong public transport that are worth a try for the experience alone, the tram and the Star Ferry. The trams (the double decker streetcars) also known as ding dings have been rattling their way between Kennedy Town and Shau Kei Wan 110 years. Grab a window seat on the top deck and watch the world go by for the bargain price of HKD2.30. The Star Ferry had been carrying passengers across Victoria Harbour between Wan Chai, Central and Tsim Sha Tsui since 1888. The short ride provides spectacular harbour views by day and night and the most it will cost you is HKD3.40.


No Four on the Floor 

A final tip for getting around Hong Kong, some number are not commonly used. Whilst eight is considered a lucky number, four is considered an unlucky number as it sounds similar to the word for ‘death’. In our first two buildings we stayed on the 13th floor (which is sometimes omitted in western buildings as it is considered an unlucky number) but noticed that all floors with the number four e.g. 4, 14, 24, 34 and all 40–49 floors, were omitted. As a result, a building whose highest floor is the 50th may actually have only 36 physical floors, a good thing to know when flat hunting!