The aroma of wood smoke is not one of the things I expected to smell when I moved to a new apartment on the 35th floor, but there’s a rooftop barbecue restaurant just down the street from my building and the smell often floats upwards. When I sit on my balcony, I can watch little clumps of people around the fires, grilling fishballs and pork chops.
In Montreal, I always thought it was better to be close to the street. Why sequester yourself in a high-rise, buffeted by northern winds, when you could be close to neighbours and the street and your local dep, which is always well-stocked with beer? As much as I could appreciate a good view, being able to watch alley cats make their nightly inspections seemed somehow more important.
In too many parts of Hong Kong, though, proximity to the street does not confer many real pleasures. The traffic is noisier, the pollution more irritating, the sunlight so very fleeting. In the absence of a true convivial streetlife, life on a low floor is not a matter of engagement with your surroundings, just a feat of endurance.
It’s a voyeur’s life on the 35th floor. At eye level, there is a view that sweeps from Lion’s Rock to the blinking lights of Wan Chai. If I look down, I can peer into the maze of rooftops below: makeshift houses, gardens, empty spaces. One roof is home to a dog who spends the day pacing between drying laundry and potted plants. Beyond that, I can watch ant-sized people waiting for buses, crossing the street, buying fruit from the hawker at the corner of Portland and Arran.
It makes me think of playing SimCity 4 and zooming down to street level, where you can watch the Sims going about their daily lives. The difference, of course, is that I’m just an elevator ride away from being one of those Sims myself.
Tags: Hong Kong, Kowloon, Mongkok, Rooftops, SimCity, Views from Above