There is no delight in owning anything unshared. – Seneca
Welcome to Hong Kong. Population: 7 million. Welcome to Yangon. Estimated population: 6 million. Welcome to Tokyo. Population: hovering around 13 million. Welcome to Bangkok. Population: 12 million and rising.
In the past few months, I’ve travelled through Asia, making pits stops in some of Asia’s most populated cities. I’ve played Frogger crossing Bangkok’s chaotic streets in thick hazes of automotive exhaust. I’ve crammed myself immobile into a Tokyo rush hour train. I’ve disappeared into the confusing, dusty streets of Yangon while trying not to disappear altogether into the fathoms of the gaping sidewalk potholes.
It all started on an impromptu extended stay in Hong Kong, where population density felt the greatest with its glittering sea of skyscrapers. Being in crowded cities is not new to me, but this time around, I found myself in a situation observing people and culture more. To start, I had checked into a windowless, roughly 4-metre squared room in the infamous Chungking Mansion building, where an estimated 4,000 people live. It was a mind-numbingly sterile, white cell requiring me to squeeze by my bed and hop over my backpack just to get to the bathroom, where the toilet and shower are conveniently one unit. Not particularly comfortable in such tight quarters, I took to the streets, only to find myself shuffling shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers on the busy sidewalks. There seemed to be no escape.
What could I do? Smile, observe, and continue to do so for the remainder of my trip.
Maybe you’ve never been to a big Asian city before, but I’m sure you’ve experienced crowds of people in other parts of the world, whether it be New York, London, or Sao Paulo. Or perhaps while leaving a popular concert en masse. Being stuck in a nightmare traffic jam. Waiting at the Driver’s License office on a Friday afternoon. Yesterday, I was at the Toronto CNE, Canada’s largest fair. During a rainstorm, like everyone else, I ducked into the Food Building and soon found myself squeezing into a long table eating lunch amongst a table of strangers. And then I heard someone exclaim something I’m sure all of us had said at one point in our lives:
Why are there so many people?!?
Back in North America, where I often live, we have plenty of space which has been abused to abandon. In fact, this month’s issue of Toronto Life magazine is entitled “Exodus To The Burbs: The Houses Are Bigger. The People Are Nicer. The Commute Doesn’t Suck. “, though to be fair, the author actually moved to a smaller town, not a sprawling Toronto suburb. However, if I had to define culture-shock, it wasn’t showing up in the packed streets of Hong Kong. It was visiting an enormous suburban Walmart on my first day back in Canada while visiting my mother. It was such a stark contrast from where I had came from. I wandered the gaping aisles observing the space in awe, thinking of the golf-course sized parking lot outside, the huge bulk items that were meant to be stored in the huge homes nearby … and yet outside, the 6-lane roads were gradually jamming up with cars as rush hour approached.
It’s a crowded world. The fact is, none of us chose to be here. But we’re all here together. Realistically, none of us have a right to more space than others, so it’s best if we remember how to share. Here’s some pointers on how to make the most of it:
1. Share space. I remember meeting up with one of my dance