Have you had difficulty finding a quiet place to relax, or a restaurant to enjoy a good meal with friends without too much noise from the background? Sometimes the noise level of a venue can get too loud that a pleasant conversation is impossible. Here’s a mobile app that we have come across, during the ASA meeting in New Orleans held earlier this month, called SoundPrint that helps users locate quiet venues on map. Users can search keywords (Figure 1) or look directly on the map, venues are displayed with their decibel levels (Figure 2). The app categorises venues into quiet, moderate, loud and very loud areas, so users can easily find quiet or vibrant venues according to their preference. With the app, users can also measure the loudness of a venue in decibels (Figure 3), which contributes to the database of the app, and enables users to determine whether a venue is too loud or not (>80dB), to reflect to the manager for improvement.
Sometimes it is hard to find quiet places nearby when you want to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. We came across a mobile app that helps users find quiet areas close by to relax. Hush City, an app introduced during the ASA meeting in Boston earlier this year, helps users find these “everyday quiet areas” on a map of quietness (Figure 1). The app also encourages users to explore quiet spots in their neighbourhoods by allowing them to record sounds and measure sound levels in decibels with the app (Figure 2). Users can answer a questionnaire of feedback on the sound spot (Figure 3). The collected data and feedback are used for the map of quietness. This actively engages the public in sonic environment evaluation and planning.
Serving 300,000 customers daily, Café de Coral is one of the largest and most popular fast food chains in Hong Kong. It was founded in 1968 with the idea of offering affordable meals for working-class wage earners. And indeed, the restaurant’s typical Chinese and international dishes have proved well liked by the city’s working class, and even its general population. Café de Coral is by no means gourmet, but for a handful of dollars you get a full meal that looks and tastes good. No wonder there are lines at most its branches at mealtimes.
Café de Coral at Hong Kong Plaza, a 41-floor high office building in Sai Wan, is always busy. Being inside an office building, it is a popular choice of its office workers. At times between mealtimes, when the queue is shorter and the eatery more sparsely occupied, soothing instrumental music is heard at the background, infusing the atmosphere with a laidback, relaxed ambience. However, is it the suitable type of music to play during peak hours such as lunch break? Most fast food restaurants across the world combine fast paced music with a strong colour palette to make the customers want to leave as soon as possible. Do you think Café de Coral should play different types of background music depending on how much the restaurant wants to facilitate table turnover?
Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated and densely built cities in the world. Its high density of skyscrapers has even earned Hong Kong the name of a concrete jungle. It is also a city that never sleeps because of its vibrant nightlife. Hong Kong may sometimes give you headaches because of its constant car horns and human voices. It is time we get away to the tranquil nature – Mai Po Marshes.
Mai Po Marshes (米埔濕地) is a nature reserve located near Yuen Long in Hong Kong. A haven for migratory waterbirds, the 380-heactare marshes and mudflats are where around 90,000 birds take refuge every winter. Furthermore, the reserve is home to a host of wildlife including birds of over 400 species, butterflies of over 100 species, crabs, shrimps, mammals, reptiles, and plants of over 250 species. 49 species of birds that inhabit the reserve are of global conservation concern including the black-faced spoonbill (黑面琵鷺). Spring and autumn are the best time for bird-watching. Visitors will hear calls and shrieks of birds in every direction as they forage for food and feed themselves on fish, shrimps and crabs. Mai Po Marshes showcases Hong Kong’s biodiversity and its auditory aspect, i.e. natural bird sounds, can be regarded as a soundmark of Hong Kong.
We may contrast the natural bird sounds with those in the bird market at Yuen Po Street (園圃街) in Mong Kok where nearly 100 stalls are set up to sell caged birds, often of bird types such as parrot, lovebird and Chinese hwamei (畫眉). How would they sound different from their free, uncaged counterparts in Mai Po Marshes? Maybe it has struck some people that while the bird sounds heard in the bird market may be more singsong, mellow and tamed, bird sounds in Mai Po Marshes are an integral, seamless part of the wild nature. Does it seem a fair assessment to you or do you think the assessment is heavily influenced by the landscape accompanying the bird sounds?
To upgrade and modernise the dilapidated Mong Kok, the commercial skyscraper complex and shopping mall – Langham Place was built and opened in 2005. Meant to be a nucleus for renewal for the surrounding area, it is only apt that it is bursting with vitality and is often extremely busy. Restaurants in Langham Place are often thronged with people, making it tough to get some seat if you are hanging out with friends. Chee Kei (池記) is no different.
Famous for its wonton noodle, Chee Kei aims to keep Hong Kong tradition alive by providing an elevated authentic experience of Cantonese food. Its lasting popularity with the locals is matched with recognition from HK Michelin Guide. The bustle of the mall fuses with the reputation of the restaurant and it is no wonder that Chee Kei in Langham Place is always packed with diners seeking comfort in the familiar balance between a meaty, flavourful wonton filling delicately wrapped and served in a bowl of aromatic, warm broth.
Although food is quick to come and its quality satisfactory, the restaurant is noisy and its backless chairs uncomfortable. While Michelin bestowed recognition on its wonton noodle, Michelin food critics did not seem to have taken the acoustic environment and comfort into consideration. The din makes people eat faster, leave sooner and get the queue moving. It begs the question: would noise be one of the desirable factors that the restaurant want to retain? But when a fully occupied restaurant is steeped in noise of loud chatting and the sounds of china plates, spoons and chopsticks clicking each other, does comfort food offer you much comfort any more?
Being highly accessible, Festival Walk entertains great customer flow and a constant stream of activities and movements of shoppers. Vying with more than 20 eating places under the same roof, the Shanghainese restaurant Wang Jia Sha (王家沙) manages to have its fair share of customers.
Claiming to be “the master of Shanghainese dim sum” and serve “authentic Shanghainese dim sum”, the brand provides an array of Shanghainese cuisine with an extensive list of dim sum. Despite having made a lot of effort in appearance and décor and despite its fine quality of food, it is being in a food court-style section of the mall and it is unpleasantly loud. Children’s clamours are more than audible, coupled with the sounds of china plates, spoons and other utensils clicking each other. You can hear everyone else chattering and clattering. A private conversation may not be a good idea because while you can hear everything being said to you, you may not really hear and catch the words and form a meaningful sentence. Even when customers order, waiters and waitresses have to lean towards them to hear what is being said. Gestures are thus created for diners to express what they want, such as asking for more tea or to pay the bill, so as to rely on hearing less and on the visual more.
Given that it is loud like a wet market, it is difficult to imagine diners would want to take it slow and enjoy the delicacies with languish and relish. Do you think a restaurant’s food experience should marry its auditory experience?
Guangdong dim sum restaurant, Hsin Kwong Restaurant (新光酒樓), is one of the many Chinese restaurant brands in Hong Kong. Having been in business for more than three decades, it has evolved over time by diversifying its specialties from traditional Guangdong cuisine, Peking duck, hotpot, to seafood, while providing mahjong playing as well as birthday and wedding banquet services.
Hsin Kwong Restaurant in Kwai Chung offers traditional Guangdong cuisine including dim sum. Diners’ chatting, the sounds of china plates, spoons and chopsticks clicking each other reverberate in the busy restaurant which is everything you can expect from a standard Chinese restaurant. What is now missing from the soundscape is the sound of dim sum trolleys. Dim sum trolleys are carts filled with dishes of dim sum. “Dim Sum Jeje” (Dim Sum Auntie or in Chinese: 點心姐姐) wheels the trolley around and announces what dishes the trolley is carrying for diners to make the order when the cart whizzes by. Dim sum trolleys are rarely seen today because it costs more to have workers operating them and restaurateurs need to accommodate more space for trolleys to manoeuvre. Many Chinese establishments serving dim sum, including Hsin Kwong Restaurants, have replaced their trolleys with simpler ordering systems and dim sum trolleys are no longer in use. The sound of dim sum trolleys rolling past, Dim Sum Auntie sonorously announcing trolley dishes and diners crying out orders in response no longer enrich the lively soundscape of Hsin Kwong Restaurant.
McDonald’s is a brand that needs no introduction. The world’s largest restaurant chain, McDonald’s serves approximately 68 million customers daily in 120 countries across approximately 36,900 outlets. The fast food brand mainly sells hamburgers, cheeseburgers, chicken products, and french fries, very much to the liking of people of different ages.
McDonald’s at The Westwood (西寶城) differs from the majority of its counterparts. The Westwood is a shopping mall in Shek Tong Tsui and one of the facilities of the Belcher’s, the tallest development in Western Mid-levels consisting of six residential buildings. The proximity to the Belcher’s facilitates residents’ access to the fast food shop and schoolchildren with nannies are often seen there. However, Western Mid-levels is not really a busy area and not many people frequent by. The spacious mall is generally calm and relatively peaceful. So is its McDonald’s. Background pop music is clearly audible, mingled with children’s voices and the sound of customers making enquiries. The open restaurant got no doors which allows sounds to diffuse. Furthermore, it got more seats in the mall outside the small shop. So if you want to have your food in a quieter environment, you have choices.
With most McDonald’s being crowded, McDonald’s at The Westwood stands out in its space and relative peace. Fast food is prepared, delivered and eaten fast. But relative quiet will still be welcomed by some customers.