Fighting for my Space in Hong Kong

If only coffee shops in Hong Kong had space like this one in Shenzhen

I almost got into a fight a few days ago. The kind where two parties yell at each other just because each is so convinced that they’re in the right.  This none-fight was about something so small that it should not have mattered to the middle aged bald man in a sweaty polo shirt, much less to me; we were in a coffee shop and both of us thought that the other had stolen their table.

It doesn’t matter who was right (I was, obviously – everyone knows that if you’re saving a table at a coffee shop you put something of yours on it as a signal, not just walk away to order coffee and come back surprised when someone else has planted their umbrella in the middle). However, what I found the most unsettling was that for a brief moment, before my accommodating waitress smile took over and I started calling him “Sir”, it actually really mattered to me that he had the audacity to come over and try to take a table that I had clearly staked a claim in with my pink polka dot umbrella.

If this was any other city in the world I would have gladly moved to another table and carried on with my afternoon of reading about Cheryl Strayed’s adventures on the PCT. But this is Hong Kong and there are no other tables. Ever. Getting a table at a coffee shop on a rainy Saturday afternoon in Hong Kong is a feat only achieved by the inherently lucky or excessively strategic. I’d been practicing my skills all year, but just when I finally got the hang of it Mr. Sweaty-Polo- with-Much-Younger-Asian-Girlfriend came along and snatched it out from under me.

So much of daily life in Hong Kong requires a level of pushiness that is completely new to me. Finding a spot to stand, much less sit, on the MTR, or walking in a straight line on the sidewalk are affairs that require the pointy elbows of an ex-club rat, and the no-mercy attitude to match. There is not Easy Street in Hong Kong – every inch gained is a battle with a seemingly impenetrable sea of humanity. So when that man in the coffee shop wanted to take my one inch of progress for himself, yes it bothered me. But in the end my Minnesota Nice won out and I walked away.


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