No 3: [R]aces (The Weekly Migration

Every week, on a Sunday a great migration takes place in the city of Hong Kong. Thousands of men, mostly of an advanced age shuffle and bumble to the nearest gambling office to bet on horses. Those with adventure in their blood migrate even further and take the MTR to new territories where the horse track beckons. This weekly migration comes with a set of rituals. A local racing newspaper must be purchased and vigorously studies, scribbled over as all the best jockeys and horses are picked out. Then, sitting outside the gambling office (often smoking a cigarette) the day is spend together with many familiar strangers. Discussion can be had but, of course you do not want to give out too many secrets!

For those unaware of this weekly migration ritual, it might come as a strange sight. Suddenly walking around a certain neighbourhood one encounters a host of men (and they are always men), smoking, crouching outside of a seemingly random building. All clutching newspaper or anxiously listening to radio, and other means of information. If it is hobby or a way of life, I am not sure but it is another part of what shapes the character of Hong Kong. The street is given new meaning through this migration. The local gambling offices turn into social spaces, spilling out into the streets. In a city where movement is key, the sight of groups of gathering and sitting on the streets is a novel one. queues at a restaurant often make one curious if the food is really worth queuing for, tempting one to join the queue and see. Likewise these (old)men have an energy about them. Are they there to get rich or is simply a way to pass the time? It is a spectacle one would expect in the age of radio and the telegraph. Now when anyone could live-stream the spectacle on their, betting through an app this anachronistic display transports us back. Tales of efficiency, comfort, speed, or success do not apply here. Why not do it at home, in comfort and air-conditioning? Or use your phone and the latest app while sitting in a mall one might ask. Our normal arguments by which we dress up our lives fails to categorize this weekly migration. Sitting outside, sweating and looking at newspapers – paper! Is far removed from our daily reality. However there is something to be said for doing the same thing together, independently. Might it be that the same reason we flock to libraries to do our studying also propels the gamblers to gather in silence.

Every time I see them gathered in Sham Shui Po, Tai Po, Kennedy Town or wherever I have a big smile on my face. Of course I romanticize it to a large degree but I hope we can all appreciate it somehow. That when we see a group of old men crouching in the sweltering heat, looking at newspapers and racing results we see something which should not happen. Something that today’s over-engineered world with all its logic, (cultish) health advice, science and efficiency tells us we shouldn’t do. That me may learn from them and try to be a little less efficient in our own lives. I am sure we’ll be all the happier for it.

Feedback or comments are always welcome.

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