Living in a very noisy city

Liang Hongfu

2008-01-07 23:01:05  China Daily      

Befitting the status of a mega metropolis, Shanghai is a very noisy city.

It is not just traffic on the main roads, but also the loud bargaining and bantering, and the occasional quarrels between hawkers and shoppers in the open food markets. Such noise is sometimes lovingly called the heartbeat of a city. And I am lucky enough to have it served to me in good measure every morning while lying in bed.

Although the noise is not exactly music to my ears, it is far from being offensive. In fact, I have become so addicted to it that it has become my indispensable wake-up call.

But, of course, not all noise can be tolerated. Noise pollution, precipitated by inconsiderate individuals, is indeed a real issue not only in Shanghai but also in many other mainland cities. We, as responsible citizens, can contribute to the building of a harmonious society simply by lowering our voices just by a few decibels, or better still, keeping our mouths shut in such places as in theaters or elevators.

Oh yes, you wish you could have your ears plugged when taking the elevator in the building where I work. A lot of people traveling up and down the building are employees of a bank that has offices on many different floors. Cacophony breaks out whenever they bump into each other in the elevator. If you happen to be there at the same time, you feel like you are in an elevator with the loudspeakers on full blast. The surround sound experience is a revelation.

Being from Hong Kong, I know how noisy restaurants can be. But once you are conditioned to the constant drone of human noise in a typical Hong Kong restaurant during lunch hour, it ceases to bother you.

No such luck in Shanghai. The dynamic range of the noise in a Shanghai restaurant easily exceeds that of a Wagner opera. The lulling passages are intermittently shattered, without warning, by the heart-stopping howls of male patrons and blood-curdling shrieks of their female companions to beckon the waiter or waitress.

Many a well-planned family dinner must have been ruined by the mayhem at the next table where rowdy dinners battle to push each other over the limit as to how much liquor they can consume with the ruthless determination and intent of Genghis Khan's warriors. In the heat of the battle, liquor is spilled everywhere from glasses held by shaky hands, and friendly cajoling quickly degenerates into physical shoving and verbal abuse.

Hope to find some peace and quiet in the public parks? Try going there after midnight when it is deserted. In the day time, you are more likely to be forced to listen to couples loudly whispering sweet nothings, and groups of retired people airing family gossip and shouting complaints about everything from unruly grandchildren to rising pork prices.

No wonder people say birds do not sing in Shanghai parks. Maybe they do, but nobody hears them.

My friends in Shanghai assured me that the level of noise pollution is no better in some other mainland cities. I am sure they are correct. But I have not lived long enough in any of them to find out.

Hong Kong, my hometown, is worse than Shanghai in certain respects. A senior government official was reportedly chastised in court for hosting a karaoke party at his luxury apartment early one Sunday morning. My neighbors in Shanghai are angels compared to this particular individual in Hong Kong.

Except, of course, the big guy living next door who has a habit of gargling every morning on his balcony, and expelling, with a thunderous roar, the liquid which lands in a splash on the pavement 10 floors below.