Equitable and efficient queues are as desirable and as illusory as a perfect chocolate milkshake in Asia or great gan bian si ji dou in America: unfulfilled dreams.
I dream of queues where no one feels like they chose the wrong line, no one is cutting in ahead, and where, when a new line is opened, the people who have been waiting the longest are asked to come up to the front first.
Hong Kong comes close to meeting the ideal. Not perfect, but close. When I am herded through any airport in America or the UK, as I wait, my eyes lose focus and I find myself fantasizing about the efficient lines at the Hong Kong International Airport.
But Hong Kong queueing marvels don’t end at the airport:
The most beautiful queue in Hong Kong is the automated restaurant wait-list. Places like Crystal Jade, Maxim’s Palace, Sen Ryo and other populist restaurant chains have instituted automated systems that work like this: go up the desk, punch in the number of people in your group and your phone number, take a ticket and wait for your number to appear on the red digital read-out. The best systems even call your phone when you’re getting close to the front of the wait-list. Egalitarian, transparent and heavenly!
But there are also queueing dark spots in Hong Kong.
When line-cutting does occur in Hong Kong, rightly or wrongly, it is often blamed on Mainlanders. While waiting in line at Hong Kong Disneyland, I watched an old man cut his way up the side of a line whenever he saw a sliver of opportunity. Indignant rage bubbled up as I instructed my family to put out elbows to halt his progress.
Then I realized that he was 80-years-old and from Mainland China. All was forgiven because I am a “Mainlander apologist.” That line-cutter lived through civil war, the Great Famine and the Cultural Revolution. He managed to evade his package-tour group and was trying to get on as many rides as possible during his big day out at Disneyland. He deserved to go on the “Slinky Dog” ride at Toy Story Land as many damn times as pleased him while he still had days left on this earth.
All other line-cutters can burn in the fiery pits of hell.
Despite what the local media may think, Hong Kong queue-jumpers are not just Mainlanders on holiday, some bold locals have their own ways of cutting-lines. This brings me to the most loathsome kind of Hong Kong queue-abusers:
Would you like to skip this queue? You can, if you’ve got hella chutzpah.
People who use their domestic helpers (maids)* to save places in line for them. Some brazen people in Hong Kong actually use their domestic helpers to hold places in line so they don’t have to waste their own time queueing up. This has been known to happen at busy taxi ranks during the morning commute time and in other cases where one must line-up on a daily basis, such as nursery-school pick-up.
(Yes, I am looking at you cheeky, breezy lady who daily swans up to the front of the enormous nursery school child-pick-up-line (see photo). Can you feel my fiery glare burning holes into your shameless skull?)
Why can’t these people just wait their own turn and use the wasted time to stare into the depths of either their smartphones or their souls like the rest of us?
*Foreign domestic helpers, mainly from the Philippines and Indonesia, are employed by Hong Kong and expat families to provide household help for a relative (and some might say scandalous) pittance. They provide help with child care, elder care, housecleaning, cooking, etc. They have become an odd staple of Hong Kong life. I haven’t come to terms with this.