Well, it took him long enough! Former Cyclorama colleague Georgey boy eventually got round to writing a report from his new home in Hong Kong.
And I thought it was tough being a cyclist in the UK.
Hong Kong Cycling
It’s been more than a year now since I left the shores of sunny England and moved to Hong Kong. Over the course of my stay here, I’ve ridden a bicycle once.
The one time I went out on a bike was for leisure rather than transportational necessity. I went on a day trip with some friends around the northern part of Hong Kong (the New Territories) on a very rickety hired bike. The route was okay, and there were sections that were dedicated to cyclists, but it was clear that it was predominantly used by people who didn’t ride bikes very often. There are parts of Hong Kong in which you might see a cyclist once in a blue moon. Bike shops/rental outlets exist, but there are very few considering the 7m people that live here.
So why is cycling not popular in Hong Kong?
Riding on Hong Kong Island itself, and Kowloon to the north, is suicidal. These districts are full of hills and labyrinthine roads and highways which are occupied day and night by motor-vehicles driving too quickly. I’ve even heard rumours that the government actively discourages cyclists in these two areas.
Also, there seems to be a dearth of awareness about cycling itself. Most people seem to know what a bike is, but they won’t necessarily know how to ride it, and they almost certainly won’t have any inkling about riding it properly. As you might have guessed, it’s certainly not promoted or endorsed by the government.
It’s difficult to find space to keep a bike, too. Folders would be okay for the much-smaller-than-average abodes in Hong Kong, but they’re more expensive on average. Also, since everyone lives in high-rises, it’s a pain to take big, heavy things like bikes in and out of apartments.
Finally, there’s a veritable smorgasbord of public transport here in Hong Kong. According to Wikipedia, more than 90% of people in Hong Kong use public transport regularly. I use it every day, and am, generally speaking, a very satisified customer.
My favourite is the terrific underground/railway system that covers most of the place that one might want to visit; buses and minibuses service the regions it doesn’t. (Minibuses have 16 seats and have a fixed start and finish, although you can request specific off-route destinations on the way. If you miss your stop, you’re screwed.) Other alternatives (covering the same routes) are trams, ferries and light rail systems.
However, last night I had a sudden jolting realisation that the many ways of getting round are still not *ideal* if one has to go a medium-long way in the middle of the night, because most of them are unavailable. Not nearly as good as… a bike.
To cut a long story short, I was unable to enter my flat, and had to go halfway across the city to my friend’s house if I was to have any hope of having a good night’s sleep. The only reasonably-priced way of getting there was by minibus.
Using minibuses to go such a long way is horrible and stressful if the route is unfamiliar and if Cantonese is not your first language*. I had to change, too, which involved a fifteen minute walk and asking people directions multiple times*.
And I realised that in this exact situation, a bicycle would have been the best answer. There have been many times in the UK where I’ve been out late and enjoyed a refreshing/sobering night-time bike home.
If I went past the place I was aiming for, I could’ve easily turned around without having to wait around for half an hour for the right bus to come along. It wouldn’t have cost money**. It would have been good exercise. It wouldn’t have been bad for the environment.
I would’ve been independent. I would’ve been happy.
I would have been free.
* I’m now an English-Cantonese bilingual, but since language ability is inversely proportional to sleepiness, I have slight problems communicating with people if it’s very late.
** Ignoring initial purchase or maintenance costs.