Posted by: Sam Olsen | August 5, 2011

Shatin – pronunciation is everything

Central is crowded. I mean, really crowded. As was mentioned in earlier posts, the pavements are rammed full of people from 8am to 8pm, and it only gets slightly less busy at night. The situation is made worse by the chronic dawdling that seems to befuddle one in three pedestrians; perhaps stopping to stare at a poster, or empty their pockets, or empty your pockets (no, no crime here – officially). The situation is made even worse by the preponderance of local workers to push along large trolleys – like the kind you get at Homebase to put all your fixtures and fittings – at less than a mile an hour. And add to all this traffic lights that take forever – and 95% of the population won’t cross the road unless there is a green man, such is their level of responsibility – and walking around can take a long time. To be precise, 3 minutes to walk 200 yds, as I just measured.

And you think this is crowded?

So, Lawrence and I went on a little trip to the New Territories yesterday. The idea was in part to have a change of scene, but also to explore a little too. We settled on the new town of Shatin, being home of a racecourse (excellent) and also blessed with a faintly amusing name. We imagined a smaller version of Milton Keynes, but with less roundabouts, less chavs and definitely less people. Oh for a pavement we could walk along at a normal pace, free from poster-watchers and the pocket emptiers.

Arriving by train (after 3 or 4 changes) we were confronted with a choice: out of the station and into a bus depot, or into a nice air-conditioned mall, where we duly went (duh). And then it hit us: this place was just as full of people. They were everywhere, and it proved just as difficult to amble with the buggy as it was downtown. But then, why was I surprised? The population density of the whole of Hong Kong is 6426 per square kilometer, compared to 4761 in London, 283 in the UK, and 2 in Australia. Its area is less than a third the size of Cornwall, but it is stuffed full of national parks – 30 – which take up nearly half the available land. No wonder it’s hard to escape the throng.

Then check out this


Larry and I decided to get some lunch, but all these people have to eat somewhere, and they had decided to do it at exactly the same time we had. (It was lunchtime, I’ll give them that.) We wandered around for a while but all the food courts had queues longer than for a Harry Potter book launch. Eventually we did find a place that was quite empty, called Delice de France. They have more delicious things in a sewer, but we were hungry and it was time to stop.

Refueled, our next challenge was to go to the park – well, stretch of grass with a bench in it – that tantalised us through the window. So we walked around looking for the obvious exit, but found nothing. So we walked again, but just ended up passing more and more stores without finding anything remotely like a sign or a map. It did give us the chance to see some interesting shops, and realise just how much money there must be in Hong Kong for there to be about a million Cartier shops in one mall in one new town (not to mention the 52 Diesel stores). But still we couldn’t find an exit. It reminded me of the scene in European Vacation when Chevy Chase and family “just can’t get off the damned roundabout. Look there’s Big Ben kids, and Parliament, again”. After an hour and a half – I kid you not – and numerous approaches to blank-looking sales assistants, we gave up and returned to the station, which was the only thing signed. What a day. That strip of grass was probably too crowded anyway.




  1. Was that ‘Shatin’ as in Cantonese or Mandarin?!

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