Living with the music
JUNE 3 — Hong Kong’s iconic skyline is usually the view of the Peak towering over the financial hub marked by skyscrapers the likes of the International Finance Centre (IFC), HSBC headquarters and Bank of China.
If you adjusted your camera lens downward a little, you would see the other iconic view — the one that is in perpetual motion, marked by cranes, bulldozers, diggers and bamboo scaffolding.
This is truly the city that never truly sleeps. And when it does, it snores, loud, honking snores.
I could have sworn I was listening to Technotronic’s “Pump Up the Jam” (1990) when I woke this morning.
What I did hear was the percussive piling going on 28 floors below. The maddening thumping began last year to pave way for the much-anticipated MTR line to southern Hong Kong Island.
I don’t know about this train line. I am perfectly happy riding the bus into town. Part of the charm of where I live is the lower traffic volume and noise pollution. Well, until recently.
Construction noise is a fact of life here. I don’t need an alarm clock to wake me up; the relative silence is shattered at 8am and only returns at 5pm when the workers make a beeline to the bus stop.
The law states that construction work is allowed from 7am to 7pm, even on Saturday.
I said relative silence because even though I live pretty high up the sound of traffic whizzing past on the bridge below does not escape me. We have to shut our windows to be able to hear what’s going on on the television or have a phone conversation.
I thought we had chosen a relatively peaceful corner of Hong Kong. I was living in a bubble that was heading for its imminent great big pop. Nowhere in Hong Kong is safe from construction work.
Here is a densely populated city where residential and commercial buildings sit tightly side by side. Naturally when construction or renovation work take place, the noise can be a massive pain the in-the-you-know-where.
Renovating a flat can take say, three months. It doesn’t matter if the unit being renovated is 20 floors below. You will hear about it long before you see it. Some folks, whose beautiful luxury apartments are featured in interior design spreads, brag about how renovating their flat took a year. That is over 300 days of annoying your neighbours.
One of my neighbours has been seeking refuge at her mother’s apartment for the past six months so her daughters can have their afternoon naps. Those of us with young children or perform shift work are most vulnerable to noise pollution.
I counted nine outdoor construction sites during the 10-km bus ride into Central on Friday afternoon. Buildings sheathed in green mesh and intricate bamboo scaffolding are commonplace.
Someone commented that while on a recent trip to Europe (his first), he fell in love with the permanence of the landscapes he saw. Cities had been built centuries ago, works of art rarely untouched by modern hands. He found the quiet unnerving at first, having lived in Hong Kong his whole life.
By comparison, Hong Kong is changing at breakneck speed. I have to only go away for a month and lo and behold, there is a new building erected across the street. Okay, that was a massive exaggeration.
During my recent pregnancy I had to walk up a steep slope to get to the maternity hospital. There was, as usual, some roadworks and a building that was being gutted. As I passed the workers with the pneumatic drill, my baby gave me a couple of hard kicks.
Waking up to a quiet morning could only mean one thing: it is a public holiday.
The irony is that despite being surrounded by noise pollution, my friend’s neighbour from the floor below dropped a note in his postbox requesting that they keep their 10-month-old quiet until 8am as the 10-month-old’s footsteps (babe rises at 5.30am) disturbs her sleep.
So during your next visit to Hong Kong, remember the other skyline. Oh, and eat where the fellas with hardhats eat. They sniff out the good (and cheap) stuff.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.