17 Apr Corona Times in the City: Part I, Hong Kong – How the Virus is Affecting People and Places
These are strange times for cities worldwide. Streets that are normally bustling are empty, parks are deserted, people are hiding. Our workplace — the city’s historic neighbourhoods — are no longer the vibrant living spaces they used to be, but a muted décor of an injured society. How do we at iDiscover experience the silent city? Can we still go outside? How do urban communities deal with the ‘new normal’ of social distancing? How does it affect our mood? How do we perceive the change of place? We talk to iDiscover contributors in different countries to find out more about what their life, and city, is like these days. First up to share her experiences is Sheren, iDiscover’s Community Manager in Hong Kong.
What does Hong Kong look like these days?
The ever-changing situation in Hong Kong has been straight-up intense for us. First, months of protests rocked the city, and now the coronavirus is taking over our daily lives. In such a short time, society has been through many different phases of desperation, especially since the fear of community outbreak started kicking in. Our conversations with residents of Hong Kong’s older districts go on, though. One of the things I miss most when walking in the city is seeing friendly faces around me; these days, people’s smiles are hidden behind face masks and safety goggles. Luckily, when I talk to local shopkeepers or grannies and they take me on a vivid journey to the past, I can still feel their lively spirit from the stories that they tell. Their pride will never not be contagious!
Sheren, interviewing the owner of a dai pai dong, pre-social distancing
How are people coping?
A lot of businesses are struggling to survive: both small mom-and-pop shops and many big chain stores are forced to shut their gates, either temporary or permanently… Even local icons such as Mido Café in Yau Ma Tei or Aberdeen’s Jumbo Kingdom floating restaurant are not spared this fate. Sure, heritage buildings, traditional trades and shops have been fast disappearing for years, but finding out that yet another century-old brand has bid farewell to the neighbourhood still hurts. Knowing that its handmade antique neon signboard will never light up the street again — as it has since seemingly forever — and another part of old Hong Kong has become history makes us even more determined to do whatever we can to keep local heritage alive.
That being said, Hong Kong businessmen and women don’t just sit and lick their wounds, and neither do they get consumed with fear in the face of the coronavirus. They truly are, and always have been, a resourceful bunch, even in unprecedented times like this. I have been seeing many inventive ways in which they adapt to challenges and needle through difficult situations. Eateries are giving out discounts for takeaways to keep their business afloat, Chinese medicine clinics are brewing special herbal teas that help fight off the germs…every business, whether it’s big or pocket-sized, old-school or brand new, are all fighting to stay in — and with — the community for as long as possible.
Sheren (right) and iDiscover’s Project Manager Stephanie talking to a bamboo steamer craftsman in March 2020
Can people still go places?
We are advised to avoid going out unless necessary, and the city definitely looks different these days. Parks are closed, recreational facilities are all wrapped up with caution tape, standing quietly and untouched in the middle of a neighbourhood. Now that people are unable to gather or go to their usual favourite spots, they are finding other ways to make the most of their day. Old uncles are doing their one-man tai-chi at the public estate podium when the sun is out, parents and kids are testing out toys that they created themselves in a back alley… Recently, people seemingly have learned to rediscover and enjoy public space while keeping an appropriate social distance.
How are you doing?
Being able to dive into different neighbourhoods and chat with people of different ages and walks of life has always helped me to see the city through the lens of locals. These conversations and observations motivate me a lot – even more so at difficult times like this. But still, I just cannot wait to walk into Hong Kong’s old neighbourhoods, shops and other places and to greet all the familiar faces with a big fat smile again!
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