Hong Kong Queues: The Good, the Mildly Irritating and the Ugly

Queueing comic _ Expat Lingo

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:

Queueing at Hong Kong nursery school pick up _ Expat Lingo

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?

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*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.

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15 responses to “Hong Kong Queues: The Good, the Mildly Irritating and the Ugly

    • Maybe, just maybe, spending four days straight with a sick child heightened by sense of the absurd! Another day at home with child #1, and I might have caused harm to that queue-jumping witch.

  1. * Ditto…I can’t come to terms with this either. The the horrific labour laws that apply differently to different ethnicities are bad enough but to me there are so many wider implications also that I just can’t get my head around…it is a Hong Kong aspect of life I will never get used to. Argghh I know that’s not what this blog is even about but it gets me fired up/weirded out.
    Ps. Congrats on taking the Dubai course of action 🙂 PLUSH!

    • If Hongkongers “need” domestic helpers then Hong Kong should give then permanent residency rights after 7 years like everyone else, right? And they should probably also allow Mainlanders to work as domestic helpers too…

      (Maybe I could say more over that coffee we’ve mentioned? I have no idea what your teaching schedules are like these days, but I’m game to say hi over a nice cuppa.)

      Dubai and Istanbul are going to be epic!

  2. I guess you haven’t seen the lines/queues for collectable money issues, especially with triads cutting in line…

    would you get mad if triads cut in front of you? (or a big bodybuilder cut in front of you in line?)

    • No, I can’t say I’ve seen the lines you’re talking about.

      If a tough guy cut in front of me I would probably: (1) simmer with unspoken rage; (2) try to take a secret iPhone photo of the line cutter, if it could be done safely; and (3) write a blog post about it.

      • actually, people cutting in queues are common (which I disagree with) in the mainland, now having services to help you stand in line for medical/dental services, right to buy real estate, or buy an i-XX or Galaxy XXX

        If you haven’t seen the triads cutting in queue, try lining up for right to buy new real estate developments or iProducts. In each of those cases, you have mainland Chinese triads and ‘SE-Asian’ ‘groups’ queuing up for resale…

        sadly, HK is not what it used to be 10-15 years ago getting more mainlandized everyday (similar to Tibet)

  3. Um,..yes, I’m one of those people who send their foreign workers to stand in line…albeit wasn’t MY foreign helper, but someone from our company who had her wait in line so I could get my HK ID card renewed (it’s for a good cause, dammit!)

    • Hm for some reason that seems sensible. Do I have a double-standard? Or maybe I’m just really annoyed by one particular person at nursery school pick up…

  4. In Hong Kong this wouldn’t happen, but I got even more annoyed when attendants at mainland train stations let foreigners skip the queues just because they are 外国鬼. Did you notice that much in Zhuhai (not limited to train stations, that is)?

    Fortunately, I have yet to find one thing worth queuing up for in HK…

    • No, I didn’t really notice queue skipping for foreigners in Zhuhai (though there wasn’t a train station there at the time: now there’s a train to Guangzhou). I mostly waited in lines at the ferry terminal or Macau border and I never witnessed any special treatment for foreigners.

      In Hong Kong, what do I queue for? Coffee shops once in a while, grocery store check-outs, banking, the airport and Disneyland (with kids). All usually goes very smoothly.

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