The Streets of Sheung Wan


I first saw the dog at the intersection of Wing Lok and Morrison streets.  There stands a courtyard adorned with a cast-iron sculpture, where I have seen performers play on stages erected overnight.  During the week, the square bustles with merchants selling petrified mussels, live hairy crabs, and pickled suckling pig.  On Sundays, artisans raise tents with red and yellow canvas roofs, under which they sell jewelry and wallets and fried waffles slathered in peanut butter.  Across the street hangs a banner on the side of the Sheung Wan Cooked Food Centre that warns of the dangers of drug abuse in lyrical simplicity: first you try, then you cry, and finally you die.

The 1990s-era D.A.R.E. equivalent in Hong Kong

The 1990s-era D.A.R.E. equivalent in Hong Kong

Little caramel patches dotted the dog’s eyebrows and wiggled in expression, reminding me of my own dog I left at home.  (My manager says we can’t get a dog here because nobody is home enough to take care of one.)  He sat beside a store whose owner was closing up, pulling the tin overhead door down and securing it to the concrete with a lock.  I assumed the two had an understanding.

But I saw the dog again, on his own, the next day.  He was not wearing a collar labeled with a name and phone number.  He stood in the same courtyard at a crosswalk, watching taxi cabs whiz by, waiting for a break in the traffic to cross the street, just as a human might.

Hong Kong is the wild west for taxi drivers.  Pedestrian supremacy does not exist.  Cars do not stop.  The only courtesy they will afford, should you ramble accidentally into the street in front of them, is a blare of their horn before they run you over.

Riding in a cab ought to be included in astronaut training.  Make the mistake of not buckling your seatbelt, and you will slide across the seats on turns and ricochet off the roof over bumps at speeds too high to justify on a road barely wide enough for the sedan.  Hong Kong taxis manifest Newton’s Third Law of motion with a clarity I could not convey in the classroom.

Navigating the roads is a task exacerbated by the reversed direction of oncoming traffic compared to that in the States.  By process of elimination, you can figure out whom they’re catering toward in painting letters on the street to say, “Look left” and “look right.”

Good thing I was taught growing up to look BOTH ways.

Good thing I was taught growing up to look BOTH ways.

“It’s the stupid Americans,” I overheard an American say.

The comment stung.  I would imagine that intellectual diversity in America mirrors that of other countries: for every so-called redneck or beauty queen who can’t locate Iraq on a map, there is an elitist calling into NPR to voice his opinion on world affairs to Diane Rehm.  If anything, I think the American zeitgeist suffers from a hyper-obsession with the individual.  Yet our fixation on individualism, for better or for worse, has imbued us with an entrepreneurial fervor; it is often with that spirit that Americans go abroad.

I braved the traffic first.  As I walked to the grocery store, I pleaded with myself not to turn around and look.  When I acquiesced to temptation, there he stood, still waiting at the crosswalk on Bonham Strand, wagging his tail.  Like me, he could not read the signs, nor could he understand the words hurled at him from rolled-down car windows.  He probably was not cognizant of his isolation.  I saw him one more time in the same spot, and haven’t seen him since.


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