Sunday, 28 March 2010


People are strange. To illustrate my point, I’d like to describe a phenomenon that I first noticed about ten years ago in a small shopping mall adjoining Tsuen Wan station. The Luk Yiu Galleria is like any other out-of-town shopping precinct. No fancy atrium, no escalators spanning more empty space than you want to think too closely about, no glass-walled elevators. In short, no flash. Just two longish corridors with shops on each side, and at each end two pairs of double glass doors that hinge both ways. Any door will remain open if opened to precisely ninety degrees, but the default position is that the doors are closed.

Outside the end nearer the station there is a small open square with flows of people to and from the station, the galleria, the top of a flight of stairs leading up from street level, a bridge crossing the main road, a walkway that skirts the station and gives access to other bridges crossing the road, and the foot of stairs leading down from the upper level (luckily, just a supermarket). I’ve never seen the square really crowded. Everyone is free to walk at whatever pace they choose to adopt. However, as you may have noticed, given the possible permutations of exit and entry points, flows of people must be moving in at least three and possibly four independent directions. But guess what? Nobody breaks stride. They instinctively plot a course through the gaps in everyone else’s trajectories. Naturally, this has the makings of a splendid game. Moving quickly through crowds is a keen test of mental and physical agility, and this is somewhere to practise your skills, not learn them.

However, that was a digression. The other end of the galleria leads to a housing estate, so there is quite a lot of traffic through the doors, but not so much that if you see that someone is approaching from the opposite direction you can’t easily choose another door to go through. Which is what happens. Nothing unusual so far.

For reasons that I’ve always assumed were completely arbitrary, one of the outer doors would occasionally be left in the open position. Straight away, the game changes. Now when two people approach from opposite directions, both go for the open door. And whoever reaches the door second politely waits for the other to pass through before proceeding. Why not immediately choose another door? It’s what you would do if all four doors were closed. It’s what I always do. I’ve never been able to answer this question to my satisfaction, although I do have a theory.

People think only when they think they need to. Which, when you think about it, is a serious waste of resources.

1 comment:

  1. Ha Ha. People-watching is a great way to pass time and learn about idiosyncrasies of people. I wonder what I would have done if I had been there.

    Joy always,


Please leave a comment if you have time, even if you disagree with the opinions expressed in this post, although you must expect a robust defence of those opinions. If you don’t have time to comment but enjoyed the post, please click the +1 button on the right-hand sidebar (near the top of the page).