She walks through Central station on the phone. Her pace is not hurried, this is a casual walk through the stretch of station between the Tung Chung line and the Island line. She, like myself, has probably walked this corridor a thousand times. We are both carrying burdens, heading home. Unlike myself, she is on the phone. Her arm is held out, video on. She’s FaceTiming a friend, whose expression, when I glimpse it at the end of the moving walkway, suggests this is not a rare conversation. They are chatting, but the view on the other end must be uneven, as the woman ahead of me makes no effort to keep the camera still. She is not sharing a view, or making a call. She is sharing her life, walking home with a friend. She is walking home with a friend’s company, live from a different country.
I make this walk like I often do, eyes on the crowd, watching the people I am lucky to share this city with. I watch for teen fashion, for adult fashion, for advertising tendencies and to gauge the city’s mood. Big train stations have a feel, a sense of motion regarding the current day. On Sundays this station is filled with the chatter of families, the joy of those out for an excursion. It’s a pleasant feel, more spandex, more beach gear. Hong Kong is a city of people who like to do, to exercise, to go out, and the station is filled with their energy. Last night, walking into Central on the way home after work, the station was filled with those in costume headed out for the evening, to LKF or other gatherings. Their joy, the energy spent on each outfit, was palpable in a busy station, far more people arriving than normal at 8 pm on a Friday.
I think of my own friends, old ones. Like the woman walking ahead of me on video, my friends too are in another country. They are, for the most part, asleep. Time zones are impartial masters, caring not for our desires. And yet when they are awake I rarely walk them to work on video, I rarely live stream my life simply for the joy of sharing space. It’s been months since I spoke on the phone to anyone other than family. I video call for work, from offices, far more than I do from my own phone in my own house, let alone from the beach.
Some of this is a matter of time zones. I’d share Lower Chung Sha with more folk if I could, but the five pm hour that’s most beautiful, as the water merges with the sky, doesn’t cross time zones well.
More though it’s a matter of life, of the way we share. I doubt the early developers of Skype or other video solutions imagined this casual walk or the hundreds of women on video with their families from the park in Hong Kong on Sundays. They sit on the ground eating foods from home and chatting, singing, relaxing. So often they are not alone, at least not wholly. The video bobs and weaves, and quality is intermittent, but on the other end of the screen is someone else’s life, opened to them for the afternoon. Briefly, despite distance, they inhabit the same space, a blend of Indonesia and Hong Kong, of park and house, and a family is whole again.
I’m so grateful that this technology is everywhere. I’m glad for the casual sharing and for getting to watch, even over shoulders, how great a distance we can now cross.