Two inches

Crossing Wun Sha behind a turning Tesla, the distance between leg and side panel. Lately these scant centimeters1 impress me. We have spent enough time in the US recently to remember the differences: cars stopping for us mid-street while we wait on the sidewalk for them to pass. Cars giving us 15 feet of birth when on bicycles. Cars switching lanes to avoid us. Huge swaths of empty streets.

Two inches.

In Hong Kong everything is closer. Of course the limitations of land, of mountains and oceans, and the number of humans drive most of this. Yet these two inches are cultural. There is no fear, or at least less. Double decker buses roar past a hand’s breadth away. Trams pass each other close enough to high five the opposite passengers. And the cars on Wun Sha do not stop as I walk towards them, confident I will not walk directly into their sides.

This change goes both ways. Cars have the right of way in crosswalks here, and speed at me constantly. I take this in stride, knowing no one wants a collision, no one is truly trying to injure anyone. We are all just seeking to move through the world as quickly as we can, as smoothly as we can. Unlike the cars that stop some 20 feet short of the crosswalk as we carry our child out into the street in Fort Collins, the Hong Kong drivers do not pause, do not give extra grace. They are not threatening, but they are not stopping. They are not afraid of their own ability to kill. Perhaps they should be, the cars are no less dangerous. Perhaps they should grant me a wider berth.

They do not need to. That, I think, is the central difference. In Hong Kong (and Shanghai, and many other places) the density is a well-tested phenomenon. The Tesla on Wun Sha is not afraid of me because hundreds of people walk by the car this close every day. Because we are all here, all coming this close to one another, and all surviving.

It’s nice, underneath, to be less afraid.

  1. I no longer think in either metric or imperial, but in both, poorly and with fluidity.↩︎