Hong Kong: Not Such A Good Place For Spontaneity

It’s a Friday night in Hong Kong and Sam and I find ourselves sitting on the bleachers in what can be dubbed a ‘park’ by metropolitan standards. The park calls itself Macpherson Playground and it even appears as a green box when you look it up on GoogleMaps, however, there isn’t a single blade of grass here. Instead, a soccer team runs back and forth on the concrete field which has been painted green, while an indifferent crowd hangs out on the benches; a group of men play cards a few steps up to my left, another man in a fedora scrolls through his smartphone, and two girls catch up over take-out just two steps below me.
I doubt any of them would be able to tell you the score because no one is here to watch the game.

I can’t blame them; I’m not here to watch the game either. In a city where you are always surrounded by masses and there is almost nowhere to escape, this excuse for a park has become my zen space.

But why am I hanging out here on a Friday night when I could be having a martini at the highest bar in the world, watching the light show at Victoria Harbour, or eating dim sum at my favourite joint – Tim Ho Wan?

Well, the thing is that Hong Kong is just a really bad place for spontaneity.

You see, earlier this night Sam and I had decided we would go watch a movie at Langham Place. The shopping centre is just down the street so rather than looking up the movie schedule online, we figured we would walk over and see what was available. We should have known better – Friday night in Hong Kong? Not a chance! After having to wade our way through a dense crowd down Sai Yeung Choi Street South, we rode various escalators to reach the 8th floor at Langham, only to discover that the English movies were all sold out. It was 7:30 pm, but already most seats for the midnight screenings were gone and the next best thing was watching a movie at 2 am.

Perhaps not.

Since we couldn’t watch a movie, we decided we would get ice cream. Hello, Häagen-Dazs! Raspberry sorbet, strawberry cheesecake, double fudge brownie. I was starting to salivate at the thought of my waffle cone until I got to the counter and was given a number to go wait in another line. A very long line!

After standing around and seeing that we weren’t getting any closer to our dessert, we scrapped that idea.

This isn’t the first time we’ve had trouble ‘being spontaneous’ in Hong Kong. There was also the time we got all dressed up on a Saturday afternoon and went down to the Peninsula Hotel to have afternoon tea. That very lavish affair included waiting in line for 2 hours. But that’s how things roll in Hong Kong…plan ahead or plan to wait.

So that is how we ended up spending our Friday night sitting in a little concrete oasis in the heart of Mong Kok, drinking ‘milk tea with pearls’ and trying to see if we could spot people doing strange things in the apartments around us. (Oh shush, you know you do that too, people!)

Has a city ever thwarted your Friday night plans?

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26 Comments

  1. Ha apartment creeping. Who doesn’t do that, seriously. Pretty sure I’ve written a post just on looking in peoples windows (read: I HAVE done that post).
    You should go to Shek O!!!!!

    1. says: Audrey

      Haha, I’m glad I’m not the only one! 😉 I didn’t make it to Shek O this time around, though I was able to go out to Aberdeen and Repulse Bay (it’s more beautiful than the name suggests).

  2. says: Oneika the Traveller

    Haha! I’m sitting here shaking my head in agreement at your post! Even after two years of living in Hong Kong, the inability to go see a movie without pre-booking a week in advance gets on my nerves! The long queues are something you get used to, though trying to catch a bus or ride the MTR during rush hour often means waiting a looooong time before you can get on. Chalk it up to being in one of the most densely populated cities in the world! p.s.: We should meet up again! You can come to hood, Sheung Wan/Sai Ying Pun… 🙂

    1. says: Audrey

      I knooooow!! The other day I saw the longest line ever and I thought, “hmm, there must be some kind of mega sale happening at a store and people are just lining up…” It turns out people were just waiting to catch the bus during rush hour. My, oh my! And I’ll get in touch if/when I’m back in Hong Kong. 😉 In the meantime, enjoy Thailand!

  3. says: Agness

    Guys, China is even worse! You need to book your train tickets at least 3 days before you departure, book a table in a restaurant a week in advance and you can dream of getting a cinema ticket on the same day. I really understand you….

    1. says: Audrey

      It can be at times, though I guess it depends on my mood. Sometimes it’s stimulating to be surrounded by so many lights, sounds and people, and then there are times when I just want a little space and tranquility.

  4. says: Natalia

    I know exactly how you feel. Having traveled china in the last week during a week long public holiday I spent more time in lines than anywhere else. Serves me right for living in a country with 1.25 billion people.

    1. says: Audrey

      Oh my gosh, I saw pictures from your outing to Xian and I could not believe the masses! I imagine a lot of intentional pushing and shoving takes place in order to get around.

  5. says: Beth

    So true! haha. Johnny and I went to grab a quick bit at a chain restaurant, but by the time we got a table and ate, it had taken over an hour. We were planning to see a movie after, though by that point the next showing wasn’t until 5 hours later! Needless to say, Friday night was a bit of a bust for us as well.

    You guys are only here a few more days though, right?

    1. says: Audrey

      Yikes, waiting for food is my pet peeve, especially when I’m hungry. Sam and I ended up eating at Tim Ho Wan a whole bunch of times after we went with you guys, but our strategy was to go for early lunches and dinners. The place was practically empty during off hours. 😉

  6. says: Heather

    I was able to be very spontaneous in Hong Kong! One morning I got up and took the bus out to Stanley on a whim. I stayed out much later than I expected, getting back after dark, and made a split decision to take another bus to the top of Victoria Peak to admire the view instead of heading straight for the hotel. My dinner plans were constantly changing, and since I showed up solo, had no trouble getting into fully booked restaurants. One place agreed to set up a small table for me on the sidewalk when all else failed! A little strange, perhaps, but that’s how I roll 🙂

  7. says: Joas

    Good to know indeed. Planning to go there next Jan, so should probably start making plans and reservations now.
    And true: china is the same. Spontaneous train or bus trip has to be planned three days up front.

  8. says: Nicole

    Aha!! So I’m not the only who sat on the roof trying to catch people doing funny stuff in their own high rises. And you know what’s ironic about that? THAT wasn’t even spontaneous. People were just watching TV.

  9. says: The Guy

    It sounds like quite a frustrating night. I hate it when you are out and you just seem to spend most of the night queuing rather than actually doing anything.

  10. says: Partial Parallax

    I guess it’s not too much of a surprise Hong Kong is a massive city and so densely packed I would imagine Fridays and Saturdays to be very busy all over. Also not being a local doesn’t help as you don’t know the spots away from the massive throngs of tourists.

  11. says: Sue McPherson

    Macpherson Playground was named in honour of my grandfather, John McPherson. His nickname was Mac which could account for the spelling used in the name of the playground. He left Hong Kong in 1935, after spending 30 years of his life building up the YMCA there.

    I wrote a piece on Jack’s life during those years. See
    J L McPherson, Hong Kong YMCA: General Secretary 1905-1935
    http://samcpherson.homestead.com/JLMcPhersonHKYMCA.html

    Near the end of the piece it mentions his retirement and commemorations.

    I see you call Canada home, Audrey. You will be pleased to learn that John McPherson was born in Forest, Ontario, going off to Hong Kong in 1905, as a missionary, where his job was to continue the development of the YMCA and help with matters of social concern in that place.

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