Just like London, Hong Kong is an international city, home to millions of people. Just like London, most inhabitants use public transport every day. Just like London, Hong Kong has its own underground rail system. Just like Londoners, Hong Kongers emerge from dirty underground voids, running late, dripping with sweat, stinking of putrid doner meat, thoroughly miserable and considerably light of pocket, incapable of eye contact with another living soul. Well, no actually. Where in London there is dark, Hong Kong is lightness personified.
The MTR (mass transit railway) is just superb. It is cheap (approx. 40p per trip, rising to an outrageous £1.80 for cross harbour journeys), timely, clean. It has air conditioning EVERYWHERE. It has mobile phone network connectivity EVERYWHERE and also offers free wifi at stations. Do you know how strange it is to watch people looking at their phones and realise they are not pretending to do something productive but are doing something productive. (actually they’re just playing ‘candy crush’). No nestling into the armpit of the nearest Trimethylaminuria sufferer, beads of sweat rolling down your spine as the train idles in that deep trough of despair somewhere between Liverpool Street and the Bank, you palms slowly mashing the cracked screen of your smartphone as you try to inform a loved one that you are unavoidably delayed rather than still in the pub for that last ‘one for the road’. Nah, none of that.
The carriage maps tell you which door will open at the next station. Connecting lines going in the correct direction are on adjacent platforms. It’s just a marvel of how not to screw infrastructure up.
There is a no eating or drinking policy, which is observed strictly. Therefore you do not exit the carriage smelling of sausage and egg mcmuffin (other below average comestibles are available), you don’t find a greasy smear running down your trouser leg or a viscous pink slurry pooling under your brand new tasseled loafers (looking right at you Dave Bailey). How very european.
Rail transport administrators clearly all grew up dreaming of becoming the next Jacques Cousteau or maybe they only had the ‘O’ section of the dictionary to hand the day they were brand brainstorming, because for TFL’s Oyster card, we find MTR’s Octopus card. Even that is taken to a dizzying new level of technology. You can buy an Octopus Watch or even keychain. **To paraphrase Uncle Ben however, “with great technology does not come great style”, but hey, you can’t win them all.
You feel alive every time you walk down those steps to that tiled sanctuary. It’s literally very cool down there. Anyway, it’s great, bloody great, let’s get to the point. A lot of people cart stuff around, usually indiscernible cardboard boxes (HK’ers love a good cardboard box, highly prevalent in aeroplane carry on also!), loaded up in one of those carts your gran always had. (The one with the terrible wipe down tartan material and matted fur trim which you secretly want but will refuse until you attain the grand old age of not-giving-a-fuck.) Why move heavy and cumbersome things in this manner?
All stations have miles of shiny metal rails here, guiding everyone like business casual hamsters in a maze. I noticed a small crowd hanging around these rails, chewing the fat without a care. Not bad idea, I thought, free wifi, a lack of sweating etc. It irked me though that they were standing either side of the rail. Why? A 10 metre walk lead them directly to each other. There were also others, waiting alone, no riveting conversation for them.
One day a box was slid under the rail. Like the hungover morning after the night before, the truth finally dawned on me, a subterranean cottage industry was in full force. Hong Kong’s roads are universally narrow, as clogged as John Prescott’s cardiovascular system and many are one way. The fastest way cross harbour is undoubtedly by MTR. What more efficient way to transport goods across the city fast and cheap? One courier takes the package to the station, one (the tube ranger, I shall call them) drops off and collects, repeat ad nauseam. They never need swipe in or out, minimising cost over the course of a day’s trading. Of course, they never see daylight, operating in a hinterland of Moon cake adverts, neon lights and facebook cat virals (you probably read a lot of books don’t you, Midnight’s children no doubt) , but there are worse ways to make a living, probably. I wonder how long it will take London to cotton on. Extrapolating the public transport comparison, it could be quite a while.