A couple of years ago, I was in between yachting jobs so decided to save some money and to stay in a crew house in Fort Lauderdale while searching for my next gig. Luckily I did as that where I met Hazel,who is one of the most bubbly, stylish, and intelligent women I have met along my travels. Confidant in her own skin, Hazel sticks to her passions and refuses to conform to mainstream trends. She is originally from England but has lived in many parts of the world. Currently, she resides in Hong Kong and every time I see one of her Facebook posts, I chuckle to myself. You see, Hazel has been snapping photos on her mobile phone of Hong Kong’s tired percentage of the population who sleep at strange times and in random locations. This is her story.
There’s been a time in all of our lives when we’ve fancied a quick nap, or even had those badly timed accidental 40 winks… I certainly have.
Personally I’m a huge advocate of the power nap (which I like to affectionately refer to as a disco nap, as generally I take one before I go out to partaaay). They don’t work for everyone and you do need to time it well. If you sleep for too long you end up feeling worse, and some people even get a headache from them.
I’m a little ashamed to say that there have been several times in my life that I have fallen asleep in a class at Uni or a meeting at work, but I would in no way consider myself to be a narcoleptic… perhaps just a drunkard.
Living and working on cruise ships for a few years taught me to take sleep while I could and all the employees would often pop to their cabin for a short rest. I don’t think it ever crossed anyone’s mind to sleep on the job or in a public/passenger area though.
Having grown up in the UK and having spent a few years living in the USA, (where there is not so much of a snooze culture, I would even suggest that it is a little frowned upon), I moved to Spain for a few years. The Spanish day is literally structured around the glorious fiesta, a time originally to escape the blisteringly hot sun and take a rest. That custom remains and people take advantage of a couple of hours to break up the day. Someone confided in me that actually these days this tends to be the time that people get their sexy on. Whatever the Spanish do in their siesta seems to be working out well for them.
Currently I write to you from Asia. I’m in my 3rd (not consecutive) year on this crazy continent. Sleep has shown up on my radar as something that the Asians approach very differently to us Westerners, as it seems totally acceptable to just go to sleep anywhere at any time. It’s an actual thing.
I have mentioned previously in my blog that since I arrived in Hong Kong in August I have noticed a lot of people sleeping in very random and quite often odd places. This phenomenon has seemed to have proliferated with every month I am here; in fact I notice it more and more every day.
Originally I started to notice people asleep in the street, on a bench or in a park on a chair – not too weird I guess, except that this is Hong Kong, there are 7.4 million people living here right now. It’s pretty hectic, so it doesn’t necessarily lend itself as a peaceful and tranquil place where one might slip off into the land of nod. If I was milling around beaches in Thailand, or strolling along a quiet suburban street in South America I may expect that owing to the pace and lifestyle I might find people snoozing out in public view.
I have NEVER seen anything like it. Public sleeping sporadically is normal and seemingly acceptable. I’m not just talking about falling asleep on a bus or train, which again does happen and of course we’ve all seen it. I’m referring to people sleeping whilst sitting upright on a stool in the middle of the city, or busy streets with thousands of noisy people walking past, ridiculous traffic, bustling, polluted sidewalks. Locals balance on small areas and catch some zed’s. I walk past buildings and see building security guards asleep at their post, office workers with their head face down on their desk. Bus drivers pulled up at the side of the road snoozing at the wheel. I even saw an ambulance driver napping at traffic lights once. People lay on the ground and just go to sleep, any time, anywhere.
It is not unusual to see whole families huddled together on a step just have a little cat nap.
At first I thought it was hilarious and weird. I still think this, but have found myself becoming used to seeing all these street sleepers on a daily basis. Furthermore and slightly embarrassingly I am usually compelled to take a photo.
As a regular gym dweller, it amuses me to see more people asleep at the gym than actually working out. The gym is not somewhere I would think to go for a nap. In fact I would take it as a sign that I should be at home.
Students often fall asleep in my class and, at first, I was insulted. I know for a fact if I had fallen asleep at school I would have gotten in trouble, but the local teacher just gently wakes them up and everything continues as normal. When I lived and taught in South Korea the troublesome students would smoke electronic cigarettes in class, and one even set his shoe on fire for fun once, so perhaps sleeping is actually a better form of rebellion.
I have tried to think of a reason for the napping, what is behind it? Initially I blamed pollution, after all we have some SERIOUS smog issues here. In fact this week it was declared as a ‘danger to the entire population’ with pollution being 3 times its normal level which is very high… and basically pretty terrible. I thought that it must make people lethargic? I then considered that perhaps it is related to sleeping conditions at home. Hong Kong is famous for its extortionately over-priced accommodation. Tiny places at huge prices, it makes you wonder how a family can all fit in some of the homes I have seen. Perhaps they just can’t get enough sleep at home? It also occurred to me that many of the locals I know work 6 or even 7 days a week, so perhaps they are just bloody exhausted, overworked? Perhaps it is a combination of all of my suggestions, or something else entirely, but what I do know if that it seems to be accepted and no-one is shy about having a sleep in-front of anyone else be it at work even.
Now I’ve started to think about why I find it so crazy, we are humans and need sleep right? It’s a basic human need. So why have I been socialized to believe it’s not the done thing? Something to consider is just how safe Hong Kong is. It recently came out as the 6th safest place in the whole world (for personal safety). The safety standards here are seemingly very high here. Polite and efficient police officers who are omnipresent in the city, attempt to guarantee safety in Hong Kong for everybody. Low crime rates, especially for violent crimes, make Hong Kong probably one of the better places to take a nap in the center of the city without too much to worry about. I wouldn’t dream of just curling up and going to sleep in central London. The idea of waking up with no shoes, money, possibly worse would be enough to keep me awake.
I have now generated a catalog of photographs documenting the street sleepers and everyone who I share my photo’s with says how fascinating they find this too. I think I will probably continue to document these sleepy peeps due to my sheer fascination. I’ll continue to share, so if you want to follow me on Instagram my account name is ‘imnotpeligrosa’ for the narcoleptic residents of Hong Kong plus some other quirky stuff.