The distinctive ping-ping of the bells of the “ding dings” (double-decker trolley cars) cuts through the noise at irregular intervals as they near their stops, sometimes in clusters, each one waiting for the other to pass, or all paused as a glut of people haphazardly crossing the street blocks the tracks. The ground rumbles as the ding dings slowly trundle around corners: their wheels are comically close together and are set in the middle of the carriage, causing the whole car to rock back and forth at any change in velocity. Slowing down for every turn, they remind me of a refridgerator on a single roller skate being pushed through an impossible maze. Like little, unstable skyscrapers they push their way through the crowded streets in an endless loop.
Moving again, we make our way down the sidewalk, dodging drips from overhead air conditioning units and watching for dips and rises in the pavement. The smell of fresh pastries, and garlic, and chili, and tea, and chicken and a hundred other foods drifts under our noses, mingling with (and sometimes winning over) the exhaust and metallic tang that cling to the buildings. Hong Kong has a smell all its own, and we love it. We feel the blast of cool air from an open doorway and hear the buzz of neon signs carelessly left on from the previous night. All the while, we weave through the crowd, heading for the metro and the subterranean sea of humanity flowing just below our feet.
Another traffic light turns red and we stop to look up at the impossibly tall buildings all around us. Cars and buses race past us, weaving like ants among tall grass. We imagine the people, 40 stories above us, looking down from their work to watch the river of colorful dots and dashes flow around the buildings in a never-ending parade and for a moment we feel very small. The light is nearly ready to click to green again, but most people have already began to step into the street, eager to be moving once more, carrying us along with them.
The mouth of the metro is set into the side of a building, and as we climb up three stairs (and then down many more) the noises of the street are replaced with the echo of voices and the musical beeping of people passing through turnstyles on their way to the trains. After a few moments I realize there is a literal soundtrack playing along with the beeps of the metro gates. The irregular beep-boop of the metro cards (octopus cards for those in the know) mingles with the gentle deet-doot-do of the music, mixing to create an altogether pleasing new song, unique to every moment and every person who enters. This planned, subtle, choas of music and noise is the perfect counterpoint to the raw disorder of the streets above and we find it oddly soothing.
The train whistles up to the station and hisses to a stop, the doors slide open to disgorge a mass of riders and we make our way inside. As the doors close with a small thunk we grab the handrail and lean forward as the car shoots down the long, dark tunnel ahead. Crammed into a metal tube with hundreds of other people, this is perhaps the quietest part of our morning so far. Despite this, we’re eager to dig our way back up to the surface and wander among people and buildings of a city that has already captured our hearts.
The streets of Hong Kong are a noisy symphony of movement and life. They are vibrant and fascinating, offering something new with every passing moment. It’s easy to be overwhelmed at first, but the people are friendly, the food is good and the scenery is remarkable, and soon enough we found Hong Kong seeping its way into our consciousness, slowly becoming a part of us and we feel richer for it. If you’ve ever enjoyed a city, liked walking on concrete, and relish observing people in one of the world’s foremost urban jungles, there is no more interesting place than Hong Kong. The sights, sounds, smells and tastes, comingle to form the very soul of this city, and all were so much grander and exhilarating than we expected.