If I lived in Africa, I would get annoyed having to push and squeeze through the thousands of wildebeest cluttering up the place and getting in everyone’s way. But I am up the hill from Hong Kong’s Central, and the herds are mainly of Korean tourists.
The younger ones stick together in pairs – typically two females. The one with page-boy-style ginger hair and shocking cherry red lipstick carries the guide book; the other looks more normal and wields the selfie stick. Sometimes, like when they mistake the Mid-Levels Escalator for a relaxing ride at Disneyland, residents have to give them a firm but polite shove to get them to move aside.
The older ones move in packs of one or two dozen, mixed male and female. They wear baseball caps, and their wizened faces have a slight but unmistakable look of alarm. For some reason their handlers require them to assemble outside Marks & Spencers. Their generation endured terrible hardship and trauma back in the 1950s, so I personally try to keep physical force to a minimum when they get in the way – a gentle elbow at the most.
The daily presence of these hordes in my neighbourhood is something of a mystery. The Korean culture of fanatical and unquestioning obedience must play a part: the guide book instructs them ‘go to the overrated egg-tart shop’, so go they must. In truth, we don’t care why they come here. We just wish they wouldn’t. Nothing personal – there’s just not enough space.
At least, that’s what we thought. However, today’s South China Morning Post uses what it calls a ‘formula devised by statistician Nate Silver’ to calculate whether Hong Kong is really overcrowded with tourists. Essentially, it’s the annual number of visitors divided by average length of stay as a percentage of the population. There are two key findings:
- The smaller a place is, the more crowded it gets.
- The Koreans, Mainlanders and others who crowd Hong Kong’s sidewalks are not there at all, but merely figments of our imagination.
Lawmaker Michael Tien ‘hails’ the data as proof that Hong Kong can easily cram more tourists in. The SCMP mentions in passing that the research results do not reflect the possible clustering of tourists by districts or season, but the general impression is that this is a minor and barely relevant point. The extra visitors would not, presumably, all hang out in particular crowded spots – like the cash registers in the G2000 clothing stores of which Tien is chairman – but be scattered around the city so sparsely that you would not even realize they are there, like the thousands of Koreans who it seems are not, after all, pouring into the neighbourhood every day.