An Octopus Around Your Neck
How would you like to go to school with an octopus around your neck? Most kids in Hong Kong do! Of course they don’t have a squirming eight legged sea creature hanging onto them. But they do have a plastic holder containing an Octopus card tied around their neck. Trips on all sorts of public transportation in Hong Kong- trains, trams, trolleys, ferries and buses can be paid for with a brightly colored Octopus card. It stores money electronically using a built-in microchip.
The first time you visit a Hong Kong train station it might seem strange to see thousands of people hurrying through turnstiles and tapping their purses, wallets and jackets on a yellow rectangle. They are paying for their train trip. The Octopus card, which is about the same size and shape as a credit card can be read through materials like leather and cotton. You don’t have to remove your card from your back pack or pocket. Kids don’t have to take their Octopus cards out of their plastic holders. They can even be a few centimeters away from the processing pad and the card’s radio frequency identification technology still works. This means train passengers can move through the station very quickly. It only takes a third of a second to read an Octopus card.
A mini-screen just above the scanner tells you how much money is left on your card each time you use it. If you notice you are running out of money on your card you can go to the machines located in every station and add value to your Octopus using cash or a credit card. Children often visit the service kiosks where a friendly attendant will help them add money to their card.
Almost all of Hong Kong’s 7 million citizens have Octopus cards and they use them every day. They’re called “octopus” because an octopus has many arms, and an Octopus card can be used for many things besides travel. Convenience stores, fast food restaurants, vending machines, pay phones, swimming pools, school cafeterias, supermarkets, movie theatres and parking meters all accept this convenient payment method. You can even settle a library book fine with your Octopus card at one of Hong Kong’s many public libraries.
Children in Hong Kong carry the Octopus cards in special holders that dangle from a string around their neck so they won’t lose them. Their parents don’t have to give them cash since the card can be used to pay for travel to and from school, lunch and anything else they may need.
Although Hong Kong’s trains are the fastest way to speed around the city another unique transportation adventure awaits you on Hong Kong’s buses and trams. Swipe your Octopus card and you can take a tram up to the top of one of Hong Kong’s highest mountains Victoria Peak. The tram has been climbing up that mountain on the same track for over one hundred years. Your Octopus card will also get you onto the city’s famous double-decker buses and trolleys. If you’re lucky enough to grab a front row seat up top, you get a bird’s eye view of the crowded, colorful streets as you travel along. Buses and electric trolleys need to be double-decker in Hong Kong because they can carry more people than single level vehicles. Sometimes it looks like those overloaded buses and trolleys will tip over but they have been carefully designed to maintain their balance.
Perhaps the most exciting way to use your Octopus card is for a ride on a water taxi. The Star Ferry Company operates nine boats across the Hong Kong harbor. Even though you can take a car, train or bus and zip under the water of the harbor through tunnels, tens of thousands of people still choose the ferry every day. At less than 25 cents a ride with your Octopus card it’s a real bargain. And the view! During the day you get a real close-up look at the huge ocean liners in the harbor that come to dock in Hong Kong from all over the world. At night you have the best seat in the house for watching Hong Kong’s world famous Symphony of Lights. Beginning at 8 pm for nearly fifteen minutes forty three of the buildings along the harbor are lit up in a flashing colorful laser light show set to music. On special occasions fireworks are added.
Would you like to carry an Octopus around your neck? The kids in Hong Kong sure don’t mind. They know their Octopus card is a sort of magic ticket to ferry them around one of the most interesting cities in the world.
Published on 10/24/09