If I’m lucky the doorknob doesn’t fall off in my hand. Most days I’m less than lucky and I’m left holding the shiny faux-gold sphere staring down at my warped reflection and cursing the shoddy construction of this complex. To physically get out of the apartment I shove the doorknob back on, turn it, and pull the deadbolt towards me. Successfully outside the apartment on the 15th floor, in the marble and heavy wood corridor, I get a preview of the heat and humidity outside. But arctic temperatures are pumped into the mirror and faux-leather elevators as well as the lobby.
The cleaning lady and the doorman yell their morning Cantonese greetings as they watch me throw all my body weight against the giant doors of the lobby that are dripping with precipitation. Every time I want to open the doors I need to lean around both staff members to press the little white button that looks like a light switch. I feel like this might be what the doorman is supposed to do, but mostly he just talks story with the cleaning lady.
The entrance to the building comes out onto a walkway that is paved with a flower mosaic pattern and bordered by a wall of leafy plants. A sad-looking ficus that didn’t quite make the cut for the rooftop lounge stands in a dark corner hiding the entrance to the dumpster area.
A few steps more and I’m out on Cheung Sha Wan Road. It’s more of a boulevard really, with four lanes of traffic in each direction (the “wrong direction” I like to say, as they drive on the British side of the street here). At morning rush hour the street is full to overflowing with an army of double-decker buses with ads on the side for everything from face wash to credit cards. But the street traffic doesn’t concern me. My goal is the Sham Shui Po MTR Station, where I will take the red line to work.
The sidewalks along Cheung Sha Wan Road are paved in grayish bricks, slippery when wet. There are metal fences about waist-high that run along the edge of the sidewalk. The fences look like those metal barriers used at carnivals that create the lines for rides. But instead of making me feel like I’m at a carnival they make me feel a bit like livestock being herded along the inevitable path through the city and up to my cubicle.
I take a left on Cheung Sha Wan Road and pass by a variety of store fronts, most of them closed when I go to work. The “We Buy Your Gold” place with pictures of un-loved wedding bands and diamondless settings in their window. A currency exchange place. An agency where you can take classes to be a certified truck driver plastered with pictures of semis and buses. Some of the shops have little shrines on the ground of the perimeters – incense and fresh fruit offerings on small platforms meant to bring good luck to the business enterprises.
I push my way towards Yen Chow street through the mass of professionals staring at their iPhones and parents taking uniformed children to school. Being physically pushy is new to me, as I would never ever NEVER push someone in Honolulu. But the sidewalks of Hong Kong are more like a nightclub than a walk in the park and it’s push or be pushed.
There is a break in the sidewalk fence at the crosswalk and I cross 3 lanes of traffic going in each direction. In the middle of this road there is a small median with another fence running along it. People tie their bikes and push carts and sometimes furniture to this fence in the middle of the street, maybe hoping that it will be harder for anyone to steal if it’s in the midst of a sea of traffic.
On the other side of the road I am met by piles of garbage along the sidewalk. These garbage dumps are generally as high as my knees. There are small plastic grocery bags full of garbage in the piles which makes me think that the neighborhood is actually using the sidewalk as a landfill. The city clears the sidewalks daily but the smell is ever-present.
Most mornings I walk by a dog going to the bathroom in the same place while a woman stands nearby doing tai chi stretches in her pajamas.
During business hours the left hand side of this sidewalk is filled with clothing shops, but in the morning all of these vendors are closed – with metal garage doors pulled down over the front walls. Small shrines mark the base of the wall between each space, the typical offering is a large citrus fruit.
I go past the closed China Mobile store, ducking around bamboo scaffolding and people waiting in line to catch any number of buses. Approaching the Sham Shui Po MTR entrance there are usually a few people who slept on the street the night before going through the piles of rubbish. I feel bad for them, but usually they have shoes, which many homeless people in Honolulu do not. So I keep walking and enter the MTR station feeling a little less bad about not really feeling bad at all.