A peaceful walk in Hong Kong

The research study that I have long awaited has finally been published. An article in the Wall Street Journal summarizes the work of researchers in the USA who have identified and analysed ‘Pedestrian Aggressiveness Syndrome’:

Signs of a sidewalk rager include muttering or bumping into others; uncaringly hogging a walking lane; and acting in a hostile manner by staring, giving a "mean face" or approaching others too closely, says Leon James, a psychology professor at the University of Hawaii who studies pedestrian and driver aggression.

The article – please read it, and do click on the amusing cartoon illustration showing a ludicrously roomy sidewalk scenario – also has a very helpful sidebar that allows us to evaluate our own sidewalking practices according to a list of signs indicating the presence of Pedestrian Aggressiveness Syndrome. I did just that, to see if I suffered from this worrisome malady:

  • Having denigrating thoughts about other pedestrians

Well, yes, but this is a given no matter what speed they’re walking at.

  • Walking by a slower moving pedestrian and cutting back too soon (feels hostile or rude)

Yes, I’m sure that tree sloth I’ve cut off was feeling hostile and rude holding me back the way he did . . .

  • Feeling competitive with other pedestrians

I suggest you ask the ‘person’ trying to cut ahead of me at the Kowloon Bay MTR escalator yesterday what he thinks of my competitive spirit.

  • Acting in a hostile manner (staring, presenting a mean face, moving faster or closer than expected)

Given my feelings about my co-pedestrians (see the first item), I’m not likely to try to get any closer to them than is absolutely necessary.

  • Feeling stress and impatience when walking in a crowded area (crosswalk, staircase, mall, store, airport, street, beach, park, etc.)

Now why would I feel stress about walking in crowded areas? Let’s take a little trip back in time to that same Kowloon Bay MTR station. It’s a night of pouring rain, and the staircase up to the bridge leading into the station is blocked entirely by people who don’t want to go out into the rain, and who have distributed themselves en masse right across the entire stairway. Mr Tall and the other wannabe stair-climbers inch forward in the deluge for 10 minutes to advance the 15 feet needed to reach the staircase. So again, why would I feel stress?

  • Walking much faster than the rest of the people

The ability to walk efficiently at speed is a gift God has given me, and it would be a sin of omission to leave it unused.

  • Not yielding when it's the polite thing to do

Sorry, but just what do we mean here by ‘yielding’? Do we mean that, when disembarking from an MTR car, we stand aside as the doors open so the pack of crazed see lai with visions of empty seats in their eyes can barge ahead of those of us exiting the train?

  • Walking on the left of a crowded passageway where most pedestrians walk on the right

The day when all passageways in Hong Kong are organized according to a definite left/right standard is the day I’ll worry about this one.

  • Muttering at other pedestrians

Perhaps, but since they’re either on the phone or listening to mobile devices anyway, they can’t hear me, so what does it matter?

  • Bumping into others

This is a question of simple physics. Newton’s First Law states that a body in motion will stay in motion unless acted upon by an external force. So if my crashing into someone who stops dead in the middle of the sidewalk to better concentrate on texting an update to his Facebook page constitutes ‘bumping into’, then I say that every thread of the cosmos cries out in protest at this injustice.

  • Not apologizing when expected (after bumping by accident or coming very close in attempting to pass)

Since when in Hong Kong are apologies expected?

  • Making insulting gestures

We all know, of course, that it’s possible to identify and employ gestures that are grounds for pistols at dawn in, say, Slovenia, but that have no meaning whatever in Hong Kong. (Not that I admit having done any research in this area.)

  • Hogging or blocking the passageway, acting uncaring or unaware

But so many times I am unaware! How can they know when I’m simply acting?

  • Expressing pedestrian rage against a driver (like insulting or throwing something)

There is no anger more pure, more utterly satisfactory, than the anger directed at a Hong Kong driver who sees a light about to turn red, but never the less pulls into and blocks a pedestrian crossing, well knowing he’ll never make it through in time. As we humble groundlings shamble around his glossy Lexus, should we really be denied the chance of giving him the Mean Face, and maybe just a gesture or two?

  • Feeling enraged at other pedestrians and enjoying thoughts of violence

Hmmm. I’ve certainly enjoyed the thoughts I’ve experienced while working through this list.

Readers, how about you?


More sidewalk rage

This article from New York's CBS affiliate confirms that sidewalk rage is a growing problem in the Big Apple, too. The article's short, but I recommend scanning through at least a few of the many comments that follow; there is much long-suppressed (and sometimes amusing) anger being vented. Texters-while-walking had better watch out . . . !

Thank God for the WSJ and

Thank God for the WSJ and cognitive scientists. Where would we be without them?

"Most people tend to look down as they walk. That's a mistake, says Mehdi Moussaid, a cognitive scientist ..."

you are my HK pedestrian

you are my HK pedestrian kindred spirit! my daily existence living in CWB is what you wrote. this may be my very favorite post about hk ever! the only thing I would add is trying to navigate the crowds with a stroller or holding a little persons hand.

trait: running over their feet, hitting the backs of heels, bumping people with a stroller.

can i help it when someone walks right into my stroller and has no idea I was even there?  can i help it when someone abruptly stops in front of me and I can't stop in time and bump their heels? can I help it when they cut into me and my wheel goes over their feet?  Until the day I die I will never, ever understand how so many people cannot see a huge orange three wheeler until after they've nearly fallen into my child's lap. And the looks I get - death stares! So know when they fall into us, or I roll over a foot or bump a heel - and 97% of the time they walked into me or stopped abruptly in front of me - I just nod and keep on walking....

beware: passing on your sidewalk rage to your children. my 5yo is constantly yelling, "ow! hey - stop it! i can't stand it. they keep hitting me my head!" I don't blame her as she is repeatedly knocked in the head by elbows, handbags, plastic bags, backpacks, you name it. I'm in constant fear someone is going to burn her with a cigarette....


good to have you back and posting as Batgung again - it's been a while.

I don't think any place in the world beats trying to walk around central or CausewayBay especially at lunch time!  Even more so when it's raining.

Looking down is stupid, you have to have this gaze into the mid distance and never ever meet anyone's eye.

HK walking norms

Well HK was never polite so attempting to impose or even ask for polite social actions is futile I believe. The Singaporean govt some years back were worried that their tourist trade was flagging - they contacted all bus drivers and trained them to smile at the tourists when they got on the buses - no need to smile at your fellow Singaporeans just the gwielos!

Chinese don't even smile at each other socially, even in families and are often not too polite. Politeness seems to have always been a formal social trait only brought out for special occasions. So three quarters of the popn in HK Chinese, one quarter non-Chinese - and who can insist on social politeness.

I was invited to numerous Chinese homes by colleagues and friends - behind closed doors super-polite - outside not.

I remember my first walking experiences in HK in the 70's. As I walked down busy Nathan Road I kept dodging people as they came towards me as they clearly were not going to deviate - I soon became exhausted and frustrated until I decided upon an assertive and mirror behavior. I simple walked straight at them and being larger and heavier as a gwielo  had no fear of damage - eveyone dodged me - I think it might have been called oneupmanship or brinkmanship perhaps.

Wanting politeness in HK - a fairytale dream - it don't exist and won't exist. I went back to Singapore recently - the bus drivers have stopped smiling again. they, the govt, obviously weren't paying them another per smile!

Understand the Chinese mind and you have it in one!

Interesting research.

Interesting research. Actually such symptoms seem to be so natural that we do not consider these as abnormalities. It is like moving your legs while sitting or like thinking different things other than we are doing. It seems common but it is not normal. social anxiety cure