Nights on Nathan Road

The back streets and alleys around Nathan Road are a grungy industrial suburb, but the dirtiness is a dirtiness that is a by-product of hard work.  An old shopkeeper washes intestines on the sidewalk, murky water trickles from an auto repair shop and bits of produce from this morning’s shipment are strewn along the curb.  Along the main road, busses hurl from the inside lanes to the outside lanes and back inside, shaving seconds off bus schedules.  The streets are never empty.

In mornings and late afternoons, the back streets become a hub of small transactions on the move.  People heading for work in their freshly ironed suites pause momentarily at a street corner to pick up a bun or a quick snack before heading to the closest MTR station.  Hands-on workers are seated at the few tables for outdoor food stalls, barking out Cantonese words – loud and boisterous, but non-threatening.  The streets are hopping with lives centered on work carried by streams of bodies moving from one bus to the next.

You can tell that the days are hectic just from walking down the street, but the transformation into night is something to behold.  As the light fades and temperatures fall, signs that were once blended into the hustle of everyday life burst into existence in neon.  The signs jut out above the street traffic are now lighted and you can see that they stretch as far as you can see, aggressively promoting a brand.    Natural light fades and is replaced by an even stronger light coming from the abundance of shops.  The more popular intersections are brighter by night.  Coming from a largish city myself, there has always been some sort of nightlife in the more populated areas of my city.  However, it is nothing compared to this cacophonous stretch of shops offering food, jewelry, toys, entertainment and more.

If the crowdedness of the day was a stream of people, the nights are an overflowing brook with water splashing out of the stream and disturbing the surrounding environment.  On a Tuesday night, locals spill past the curbs onto the streets and back onto the curbs as traffic tries to find its way around the stragglers.  I wish I could get up on the roof of one of the buildings and watch the ebbs and flows of the night.

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