Tag Archives: Times Square

Society’s Measure: Its Public Seating

Sit1The measure of a society should the simplest one: how it treats its foot-borne citizens.

When I lived in Hong Kong a decade ago I remember the continual battle with security guards — Toytown Police, I’d call them — in the mall where my office was. There were precious few places to sit to have lunch, even outside the building, and they would try to get me to move from even the most harmless of spots. I’d usually end up haranguing the poor old boys and throw my pickle at them.

The same callous attitude to pedestrians could be found at Times Square in Causeway Bay, an open, public space popular as a meeting spot . A sort of compromise was reached a few years ago, where, instead of having to move folk from their perches on a low, sloping kerb the owners put in frames that are a cross between a chair and a stool. As you can see, they’re designed to be as uncomfortable as possible so no one stays there too long, although this guy’s found a position he could be occupying for a while.

It’s shameful that what pretends to be a public place (‘Times Square’, for crying out loud!) is so designed as to make it nothing of the sort. But it’s also a measure of the society behind it: You’re welcome here if you keep moving, keep buying stuff. Just don’t get too comfortable.

Hong Kong’s Unseen Icon

Hong Kong is a very practical city — you’ve got to be, with everyone living on top of each other — but sometimes I wonder whether it’s also an overly conservative one. For example, the other day I was very impressed at how one restaurant, which only accepts cash, brings the change in anticipation of what bill you’ll pay with. Put a HK$500 down on the bill wallet, and with a flourish worthy of a magician, the wallet is opened at another page with the change already there. Charming, and practical, saving time, and footleather.

But that’s the only restaurant I’ve seen this at. Maybe there are more, but you would think an innovation like this would quickly catch on elsewhere. So far, it seems, it hasn’t.

Jak0310(41)To me the biggest area that is ripe for some innovation like that is the Hong Kong cart/trolley. It’s ubiquitous, and as long as I’ve been visiting Hong Kong it’s been here. For those of you haven’t seen one, it’s a very simple design: four small wheels, larger than a baby-buggy, but smaller than a child’s bicycle, overlaid with a metal frame and sometimes a wooden board. The handle is a simple iron rod bent at the top. That’s pretty much it.

Now, these things are everywhere. Out to grab a coffee this morning I spotted about 30. They’re so commonplace they’re invisible, which is tricky in a place where pedestrians or cars cover every inch of spare sidewalk or road. Somehow, the folk that use these things manage to navigate their way through the throng without any ankles removed, people upended or worse.

And they are used to carry everything. I started snapping a few, but quickly ran out of space on my cellphone before I could capture the full range:

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‘A yellow-booted guy transporting live fish’

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‘Dude Unloading Boxes’

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‘Guy Shovelling Sand Into Baskets’

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‘Man (Or Woman) Pushing Chair Backs Down Lee Garden Road’

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‘Gas Cannisters Locked To A Tree’

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‘Guy Pushing Water Containers With Reading Matter in Hip Pocket’

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‘Woman Pushing Pile of Crap Down Lee Garden Road’

and the rather poignant ‘Elderly Woman With Empty Trolley Heading Off to Times Square’:

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OK, you get the idea. They’re multifunctional. They’re used by a wide swathe of age-groups and users. They’re also good for parking on Hong Kong’s many inclines:

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Indeed, you can park them more or less anywhere, secure in the knowledge that no one looks at them twice:

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Clearly these trolleys are useful. But to me they’re still badly designed. You can see as much from the various customizations that their users have introduced. In the picture above, for example, you can see the classic ‘One Rope Across the Handle Bar’ hack which helps stuff not fall off the back. Variants on these include the ‘Multi Rope Web’ which does a better job, basically by tying as much rope or string across the back of the handle as possible. Those without rope can try the ‘Piece Of Cardboard Across The Handle Kept In Place By Tape Hack’:

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All of these look aesthetically awful, but have endured as long as I’ve been coming to Hong Kong, which is 16 years. Then there’s the problem of the handle itself. Not much you can do with it, except try the “Bag Hanging Hack” which is illustrated thus:

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Or the street-cleaners (yes they use them too) “Bag Hanging Hack + Bamboo Pole with Warning Red Flag On”:

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But to me all these hacks cry out for a better design. There must be a better way of transporting stuff around in Hong Kong. Of course, there are other methods, from the old delivery bicycle:

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(I love the Chinese handwriting and telephone number painted on.) There’s also the smaller two-wheeled trolley concept:

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But the four-wheeled trolley is by far the most popular. To me it’s an icon of Hong Kong and a testament to the grit and attitude of its people that they are still as common as they were a decade or so ago. I imagine that without these trolleys, Hong Kong would grind to a standstill:

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Still, I’m no designer, but I would have thought that these trolleys could be better designed, or some of the common hacks one sees on existing models could be built into future models? Or would that ruin the Unseen Icon of Hong Kong?

Moleskine Art, And A Backlash?

Just had a chance to visit the Moleskine Art exhibition in Hong Kong’s Times Square (a rather impoverished version of the original, the huge outdoor screen blaring trash across the concourse being the focal point).

Anyway, a modest exhibition in the basement, in one glass case in the shop. But nicely done by enthusiast Patrick Ng, and a true window on what people can do with their Moleskine notebooks. Here are some terrible photos I took with my cellphone of some of the exhibits (some much better pictures can be found here):

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Anyway, I’m probably biased because I interviewed him, but my money is on Mike Rohde, who does some lovely sketches in his:

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Ironically, I left the shop buying some pens and a very, very cheap (HK$9) Chinese notebook. The paper’s cheap, the binding’s poor, there’s no pocket, no bookmark, but it’ll probably do for my sub-par thoughts, for now, given it’s less than 10% of the cost of a Moleskine and Hong Kong ain’t a cheap city to live in:

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Is this the start of the Moleskine Backlash?