City Weekend

The sport of doing nothing: Space-Out contest comes to Hong Kong, and it’s harder than you think

Event from South Korea requires participants to zone out in Central and have their heart rates measured while trying not to fall asleep or check their mobile phones

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 March, 2018, 2:30pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 March, 2018, 2:30pm

In today’s busy world, multitasking is a way of life and efficiency is a must which means it’s near impossible to turn off our brains at will. But one tournament champions the skill of doing absolutely nothing except competing against others in the same game – the Space-Out Competition.

The contest wants to prove that doing nothing can be very rewarding. There’s only one requirement to win: participants must not fall asleep or, even harder, abstain from checking their phones during the 90-minute event.

Space-Out will debut in the city at the end of March on the busy streets of Central. It is aimed at weaning technology-addicted locals off their devices to slow down the pace of life and promote a stress-free lifestyle.

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The idea to encourage busy people to use their down time in a way that does not involve consumption was first brought up by South Korean artist Woopsyang, who launched the event in his country four years ago.

The contest has since made its way out of Korea to Beijing, then the Netherlands and Taipei.

“Hongkongers are so busy all the time, never free from consuming information. Even when we take a break, our minds are still wandering off somewhere, or we are looking at our phones. So it’s time to let our brains rest and enjoy having completely blank minds,” organiser Carvin Chan Ka-kin says.

Hongkongers are so busy all the time, never free from consuming information
Carvin Chan Ka-k, organiser

Chan and his college friend, local pop idol Alex Fong Lik-sun, decided to bring the idea to Hong Kong.

Fong, 38, says: “I first heard about it when I was filming the movie Anniversary in 2015. In the plot, my assistant was named the champion of the Space-Out Competition. I had always thought it was just a made-up thing until I found out that my friend Pang Ho-cheung, director of Love in a Puff, took part in the actual event in Taipei late last year.”

When Space-Out rolls into town this month, spectators can vote for their top three favourite participants in the art of doing nothing.

Contestants are not allowed to look at their watches or move around too much. They will have their heart rates measured, with the winner being the person with the lowest and most stable heart rate at the end of the event.

“It is not as effortless as it appears. It’s not that easy because it’s something you can’t really control,” Chan says, drawing from past experience.

“It was already difficult when I tried zoning out for only a few minutes. My mind kept wandering off – thinking about work or life in general and it made me even more nervous when I tried to force my mind to stay blank.”

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The reason most people find it difficult to stay in Zen mode may be due to the fact that our bodies have evolved to be alert and react to possible threats. Registered clinical psychologist Dr Wong Sau-chun says this is related to the fight-or-flight response, a natural mechanism to cope with acute stress.

“When we are faced with a terrifying threat, even just a simple thought can trigger the survival mechanism. We either fight head-on with the threat or take flight, which means to escape to safety,” Wong says.

However, as stress hormones are released to enable the body to respond, the immune system also becomes weaker, meaning a prolonged period in this heightened state directly affects health.

“To activate this survival mechanism, our body needs to channel energy from other parts and divert them to what it perceives as the required response. This depletes the immune system and makes us more susceptible to bacterial infection,” Wong warns.

She says the natural tendency to stay on high alert is what makes it difficult to maintain a blank and calm state of mind.

“We respond to stress by keeping our minds busy and occupied, but this makes the situation worse. We are programmed to believe that we have to maintain a very busy life to have a sense of self-worth. From a psychological point of view, this is almost like an addiction.”