What umbrella revolution? It’s umbrella Armageddon in Hong Kong
Yonden Lhatoo has had a bellyful of bad manners in the streets of Hong Kong, where umbrella etiquette is for the birds and selfishness is the name of the game
Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war, because the rainy season is upon us and it’s umbrella Armageddon in the streets of Hong Kong.
I’m talking about the take-no-prisoners, stabbing, gouging, splashing, dripping, shoving free-for-all with eight-spoked weapons of mass destruction that overtakes this city every time the skies open up. It’s madness out there.
Social ineptitude is already endemic in Hong Kong, where people tend to walk in straight lines on narrow pavements without swerving to avoid collisions, and shuffle along crowded streets with noses buried in their smartphones, expecting everyone else to get out of the way.
But when it rains, the lack of common courtesy is ramped up to rudeness on steroids, as umbrellas become physical extensions of the human form that take up extra space where there is none to spare.
And if you’re a head taller than most people around you, like me, navigating the crowds can be simultaneously scary and infuriating, with umbrella spokes at exactly the right elevation to take an eye out. You have to constantly sway and swerve like a boxer to avoid a maiming.
Just go with me on this, because I’ve given it plenty of thought and figured out the code of conduct that rules Hong Kong when it comes to umbrella etiquette.
● Walk in a God-given straight line and make way for no one, or tilt or raise your umbrella to avoid eye gouging or face scratching. You are an immovable object and an unstoppable force. Your parents must be so proud of you.
● In the event of a head-on collision, stop and eyeball the person who failed to deviate from his or her chosen super-straight route – just like you. Express outrage, because hey, you’re walkin’ here.
● Hug the sheltered side of the pavement with your umbrella up. Deny any shade to the lower forms of life getting wet on the exposed side – serves them right for not carrying an umbrella.
● Take shelter with everyone else under an awning while waiting for a traffic light, but keep your umbrella up because it’s your prerogative.
● If you’re with a partner, walk side by side with separate umbrellas raised and occupy the entire width of the pavement. Never mind the dirty looks – haters gonna hate.
● Carry one golf umbrella to rule them all. It’s not your fault that there’s no space in this city.
● When opening or closing your umbrella, shake it off like a wet dog. If others in the immediate vicinity should happen to get spattered in the process, well, they should have seen it coming.
● When it stops raining, and especially if you’re carrying a non-folding umbrella, hold it horizontally with the pointy end primed to jab. This is war after all.
That should pretty much cover it in a city that has to deal with well over six months of rain every year.
Umbrellas are a big deal in Hong Kong. I watched in 2014 when they became a symbol of the Occupy civil disobedience campaign for greater democracy. There was one particular night when wave upon wave of students, umbrellas up in Roman Tortoise shield formation, clashed with riot police who beat them back with batons and pepper spray. Many umbrellas died for democracy.
There’s a lot of talk about introducing national education in the school curriculum to inculcate a sense of patriotism among our disgruntled youth. Has anyone thought of teaching them umbrella etiquette first? Because, judging by the behaviour of Hongkongers in the rain, this aspect of education is obviously lacking and more urgent.
And speaking of which, what’s with the forest of drying umbrellas blocking the passageways in our office every time it rains? Umbrella storage etiquette, anyone?
Yonden Lhatoo is the chief news editor at the Post