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City Weekend

Cutting queues and gaining quick entry to restaurants: a guide to the fast life in Hong Kong

Hongkongers have developed various tactics to save time – from sending a youngster to sit alone at a restaurant table, to speed eating on the street

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 September, 2017, 3:00pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 September, 2017, 3:18pm

Milking something for all it is worth is a concept very familiar to people in Hong Kong. Be it eating all the Wagyu beef and abalone at a buffet or pouring that one extra glass of Prosecco, obtaining the entire value of an item is something very recognisable in the city.

This attitude of saving and not wasting extends to all facets of Hong Kong life – including time.

Living the Hong Kong way is all about saving time – by cutting queues, barking orders and multi-tasking. If something can be done in half the time, why spend any longer than necessary doing it, right?

This notion is deeply embedded in the local psyche. While Hongkongers are used to speeding taxi drivers, the dodging dance of jaywalkers and the sound of honking horns, the disdain for wasting time can be shocking.

City Weekend has been investigating some of the quirky ways in which Hongkongers navigate life in the fast lane.

One char siu fan, please!

Ordering food in a local restaurant is all about speed. Be it a street-side dai pai dong or a boisterous cha chaan teng, customers often go in knowing what they want to order and more often than not they never change their routine. To dilly-dally and actually read the menu not only brands one as being a foreigner, but will also annoy the busy restaurant staff.

Always order the same thing, go in with it in mind and avoid being scolded by the staff.

Counting cars on the MTR

Hongkongers have a whole arsenal of ways to navigate the MTR. It’s not rare to find people squashed like sardines by the train doors while the space between the seats is empty. People want to be as close to the exit as possible so they can leave in the quickest possible time. Moreover, not whipping out your Octopus card as you approach the turnstiles will instantly draw anger from those behind. Holding people up at the turnstiles is a sure-fire way to make enemies. Hongkongers are also notoriously bad at lining up properly – anyone worth their salt knows how to cut into the crowd to make it first onto the train. People who are familiar with the system often count cars and know which end of the train to position themselves in anticipation of a speedy exit.

Hedging bets on restaurant visits

Locals swear by taking queue tickets for more than one restaurant. They will go to whichever restaurant they can get in first, meaning that queue numbers can suddenly jump from 12 to 36. Another tactic at the likes of supermarkets is to send a friend or companion to a different checkout line and then join that person if he or she gets to the counter first.

Apping out a route

Every system of public transport in the city comes with a phone app. By comparing routes and modes of travel, Hongkongers can often map out the quickest way to and from different places. Even Google Maps will offer multiple public transport routes, so locals can always predict the precise amount of time they need to travel from A to B. Contingency plans are of course always in place just in case the chosen route hits a snag.

Speed eating

The plethora of local fast-food restaurants, bakeries, snack shops and drinks sellers are testament to the fact Hongkongers are experts at eating on the go. It is common to find people digging into bread as they walk or quickly wolfing down curry fish balls or noodles at the side of the pavement. With food so delicious, it’s almost blasphemous not to pause to digest it.

Marking territory

Sending a younger family member ahead of time to hold a table in a restaurant, or marking territory in a park with a blanket as a domestic helper awaits her friends, are habits recognisable to many. Any child growing up in Hong Kong will have had the experience of sitting alone at a large empty table while waiting for the arrival of elderly family members. The logic? Someone has to wait so it might as well be the child.

The aggressive “m’goy”

Even though “m’goy” technically means “please” or “thank you”, it is often used in an aggressive manner to cut around slow walkers or people who stand on the wrong side of an escalator. While linguistically it may not make much sense, Hongkongers will have the wits to move aside upon hearing the phrase behind them.

Foreigner privileges

Being a local who does not appear Cantonese can come with its advantages – especially if the “foreigner” can speak Cantonese fluently. Anyone who looks like a “gweilo”, or a Caucasian, but can engage with local Hongkongers, is often given special treatment. Hongkongers are impressed and admire anyone who can do this and therefore offer preferential treatment. Queues can be cut, prices can drop and things that are “out of stock” or “unavailable for purchase” can miraculously find their way to you.