Saturday, May 18, 2024

13 Bad Habits People Do at the MTR

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It’s no longer a surprise that Hong Kong not only has extensive, well-connected transport system, the system is also maintained in tip-top condition for everyone to have a pleasant journey.

Now if only passengers respond with proper attitude to deserve these world-class facilities. But then again, it’s not a perfect world.

1. Block alighting passengers. It’s a shame that with the Hong Kong culture of queuing, pervasive in many areas of local lifestyle, took leave of absence at the MTR doors. The arrows in the photo above should explain where passengers, alighting or boarding are expected to position themselves. Yet, there’s an apparent poor user experience as arrows don’t seem to guide passengers to their correct positions — even if the “please let passengers exit first” request by the PA system complements this instruction. As a result, collisions are more likely.

2. Eat inside the carriage. “Eating and drinking is not allowed on trains, or on paid areas of stations” is a constant reminder to passengers once they get past the turnstile. To me, eating should not be disallowed only if residual smell do not permeate within an air-conditioned carriage long after the hungry passenger finished his or her burger or take away waffle. And “drinking” should not be disallowed if a thirsty passenger does not litter (there are no rubbish bins inside MTR trains). But to simplify things, eating and drinking are, therefore, prohibited. Still a few breach this simple rule. Maybe because they’re just too hungry and there are convenience shops and pastry shops conveniently located inside the MTR stations so some passengers think it’s okay to consume them all the way during the trip.

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3. Disregard special seats. Special seats exist for a reason so the elderly (it’s easy to figure them out in a graying Hong Kong society), pregnant women, disabled and those carrying babies are virtually assured of seats. However, an eclectic mix of people defy this simple request even if seats are already marked with distinctive bright red color and handicap symbols: ignorant tourists who can easily claim their innocence, locals who wish to get a power nap or get busy with their mobile phone movies, and even students who are apparently not taught manners or was asleep when teachers taught courtesy on trains.

4. Do not offer seats. Forget about special seats for a moment. Because with their presence, some people who sit on “normal” might think they pretty much secured their seats. Although I do not ride the MTR on a regular basis, I see people who deserve to take a seat getting ignored in most cases when I am on board. That is why if I get a chance, I’d occupy a seat and try look out for someone nearby who deserve a seat, and offer mine to them. Offering seats is a prerogative, and nobody’s going to get a fine for being inconsiderate inside the train, but if doing so makes someone happy and relieved, we also feel happy. But I guess a lot of healthy, fit people are not yet ready to do this gesture and only want  to serve themselves.

5. Cutting fingernails or picking noses. Believe me, this is happening in the MTR, which for a while becomes a virtual washroom. I can understand women who fix themselves with their make up kit; Hong Kong is a busy place. But using the same excuse to cut your nails while sitting idle in the train is just an obnoxious idea. Don’t even get me started with people who have this strange habit of picking their noses without a hankie in sight. So be careful with that handshake.

6. Failure to prepare Octopus cards before reaching turnstiles. It’s everybody’s knowledge that Hong Kong’s railway stations and trains epitomizes its rush-hour lifestyle — people take the ‘express’ lane at the escalators or eating in carriage to save time — many of us cannot wait another second. But whether getting in or getting out, one can efficiently pass through the gate if he or she is prepared  with an Octopus card or know which gates accept the new blue cards before getting in line. Some passengers are busy with smartphones as they get out that they forget they can’t tap it on the turnstile (most of them have it in the sleeves of phone covers). So they scramble to get their wallets or bags, inevitably freezing the queue to a brief halt. You can imagine the dismay of people behind the line, even if the delay will only cost extra four seconds.

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7. Standing in the left side of escalators. Hong Kong welcomes about 30 million visitors each year so at any given time when you’re in public, a big portion of the crowd could be tourists. As tourists, many of them  are not aware of Hong Kong’s unwritten rules. One of which is to occupy the left side of an escalator if you wish to treat it as a staircase, and stay on the right to stand up (and observe the ads or fellow escalator passengers). But it’s unfair to assume all who block the escalator passage are the innocent/ignorant tourists.

8. Misuse of special gates for strollers, wheel chair users. Similar to depriving seats to disabled and elderly,  healthy and fit passengers are sometimes inconsiderate as they take over handicap-friendly lifts, normally intended for wheel chair and stroller users. As passengers normally wish to get out of the station as soon as possible, taking the lifts is a faster route than finding yourself squeezed, waiting to be sucked upstairs by the escalator.

9. Entering the train even before passengers get out. In a desperate move to occupy the available seats, many passengers force their way into the carriage even before outgoing passengers have  completely alighted the train. Yes, some passengers are slow moving out, but they’d end up moving slower if inconsiderate passengers force their way in way too early.

10. Failure to wear mask when sick. Hong Kong people are typically sensitive to sneezing and coughing, as lessons learned from history (1968 flu pandemic, 1997 bird flu and 2003 SARS epidemic) are hard to forget. So when passengers are sick, wearing a mask is a natural option when taking public transport. For others who failed to keep masks handy, try to sneeze quietly. But other people still have no regard for others as they sneeze or cough their way in the train station.  Those nearby immediately cower and look away.

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11. Blocking train doors. Just because it’s a crowded train does not mean one is excused for blocking train doors to both incoming and outgoing passengers. To help people get in, just move forward. To help people get out, step aside or step out and return when every alighting passenger has moved out. Sadly, others can’t follow this simple technique.

12. Lean at handrails. Handrails are not called backrails for a reason. Yet to others, it serves an extended purpose, one of which as an improvised back rest. There is no law that disallows people from leaning on handrails. But such misuse means fewer bars to hold on to when the train master hollers “please hold the handrail” especially those who can’t reach the horizontal rails on top of seats and middle of the train coach.

13. Bad phone habits. The widespread use of phones has been significant that safety announcements had to be revamped to remind people not to “keep your eyes only on your mobile phone.” Passengers can’t take their eyes off their smartphones on the train, on the escalator or even when walking down the street. In the MTR, it’s become an excuse not to notice people who deserve seats and to bump unsuspecting folks. Worse, if you stumble upon these zombies and drop their phones, they’ll complain as if they’re totally faultless in the incident.

Bonus: Mindless about personal hygiene. As MTR carriages can get crowded, it is unavoidable for people to be too close for comfort. You inadvertently read the instant messages they compose or films they watch, and sometimes smell their perfume. However, there are also those who emit foul odor in the train. Whether it’s natural gas production, bad breath or improperly washed clothing, the journey can suddenly become unpleasant.

 If locals are quick to point fingers to mainland visitors and treat them as terrorists rather than tourists (for urinating at carriages or carrying door-blocking luggage), we must also show good examples instead of sulking in the corner raising our eyebrows. Since Hong Kong’s population is on the rise, and officials forecast we’ll welcome 70 million tourists in the future, there’s no doubt it’s getting more crowded by the day.

Social manners need to be taught in school and practiced in public for an orderly and safe Hong Kong.

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