Traveling to other countries can often require an adjustment to new ways of doing things; there is an aspect of uncertainty in even the smallest of tasks. This is part of the joy of travel, but there are times when weary travelers appreciate any efforts to cut through the confusion. Some places handle this better than others; for example, almost as soon as I got off the plane in Hong Kong, I knew I was in good hands.
I first got a sense of the efficiency of Hong Kong when I passed through Immigration, and had my body temperature scanned remotely to see if I was running a fever (important for a region trying to limit infectious diseases such as avian flu). I was further impressed with Hong Kong’s technological prowess when I discovered I could purchase a stored-value transit pass, called an Octopus card, which I could not only use on trains, buses, and trams, but could also use to buy snacks from a convenience store or food from certain restaurants. I found out later that locals can also buy rings, watches, and even cell phones that contain the Octopus chip, enabling them to simply wave their hands (or phones) over the special card readers to make a purchase.
Another way in which Hong Kong tries to make life easier for visitors (and probably residents as well) is by posting numerous signs that are not only very specific, but sometimes exceedingly courteous. There are not many places where you could find a sign advising you to “Beware of sudden pushing out door” (for other examples of these signs, see My 12 Favorite Signs in Hong Kong on SenseList).
While all these things are wonderful, my favorite piece of technology that makes life easier for visitors (and residents of course) is the Central–Mid-Levels Escalator. Stretching from the Central district of Hong Kong Island up to the heights of the Mid-Levels residential neighborhoods, the escalator is a godsend for footsore travelers.
Escalating the Situation
The Central–Mid-Levels escalator system, which opened in 1994, consists of twenty escalators and three moving sidewalks, and measures 800 meters (1/2 mile) in length, making it the longest outdoor covered escalator in the world. It takes about twenty minutes to ride the escalators from the bottom to the top (or vice versa), but it takes less than that if you walk while they move, as most people do.
The escalators run from 6 a.m. to midnight, descending for the first 4 hours (bringing morning commuters down from upper levels), and then reversing direction around 10:20 a.m. to carry passengers up the hill. There are entrances and exits at each street it intersects (14 in total), making it easy to stop at whichever level you choose.
Up, Up and Hooray
During the time we spent in Hong Kong recently, we rode the escalators almost every day, finding them an extremely useful way to get from our hotel midway up the slope of Victoria Peak to the center of activity downtown and back again. One of the things I enjoyed most about riding the escalators was the opportunity to peek at the activity taking place on either side, from apartment life on the upper levels to the bustling bars, restaurants, and stores on the levels closer to the center of the city.
While for many people who rode the escalators alongside us, it was just an ordinary commute to work, we found the journey to be a fascinating glimpse of urban life in Hong Kong. Not only that, but the ease, efficiency, and simplicity of the system made us, foreigners though we were, feel right at home. —Morgen Jahnke