A McDonald’s of Relative Quiet

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.

Lee Theatre On Realising Sonic Unity

For everyone who wonders at where the name came from, Lee Theatre in Causeway Bay was once one of the premier performing venues in Hong Kong. Demolished in the 1990s, the Beaux-Art theatre was replaced with an office building and a shopping centre, becoming what we see today.

Apart from its history, what is special about Lee Theatre is perhaps its design of one floor one store. Each floor is occupied entirely by one shop, making spacious consumption experiences possible and allowing each brand to develop its individuality. Not only can they put a multitude of products on display and demonstrate amply what it can offer to customers, they can ensure customers are immersed in an environment completely tailored to their effort to urge purchase. Without the immediate presence of any other shops or rival brands, the store can create unity in the environment and a congruent, brand-specific setting for customers to linger. The sonic environment would likewise be in agreement across different areas on the same floor. Without coming into contact with a different background music, the store’s own music dominates and becomes more effective by having no offset from other prominent sources.

Do you think Lee Theatre’s one floor one store is a clever design to achieve what is mentioned in Harmonising Indoor Soundscape of Shopping Malls? Or do you want to see variety across a single floor?

A Spoon of Honeymoon Dessert at the Historic Western Market

Anyone having visited the streets of Sheung Wan has probably noticed an eye-catching building which has a red brick exterior with a handsome granite arch over its entrance. One of the oldest structures in Sheung Wan, the Edwardian-style building was the North Block of the original Western Market completed in 1906 and operating since the 19th century. Western Market was renovated in 1991 and converted into a shopping complex selling arts and crafts, and fabrics originally sold in the old alleys of Central.

Honeymoon Dessert (滿記甜品) is one of the shops where weary shoppers can get a bite and rest their legs. Having more than 160 styles of hot and cold desserts on the menu from traditional Guangdong sweet soups to modern fusion treats, Honeymoon Dessert has something for everyone. What adds to the experience is the quiet in the daytime when customers in the shop are scarce. Every sound, such as the clanking of metal spoons, seems magnified and louder than it is during day. Playing music at the background to mask the sounds may be a good idea. You can only imagine how the dessert shop will be transformed at night when after dinner, people fill the space completely and overfill it by queueing outside. Clanking of metal spoons and animated chatting will be in full swing. Like a nocturnal animal, Honeymoon Dessert slumbers during day and comes alive at night.

Do you hear the ice cream coming?

Do you like a big, sumptuous scoop of ice cream? Does the sight of ice-cream excite you? If you love ice cream, Mobile Softee (雪糕車) knows how to thrill you not only visually, but auditorily as well through pairing ice cream with cute music-box style melody. The 47-year-old brand has become part of the collective memory of many Hong Kongers. In fact, its symbolic and cultural significance is so great it can be said to have been a soundmark of Hong Kong.

Mobile Softee is an ice cream vendor in Hong Kong. It all started when Ho Ging-yuen (何敬源) and two of his friends imported the idea of an ice-cream truck from England by gaining a franchise in 1970 from Mister Softee, a United States-based ice cream truck franchisor. Ho selected the Blue Danube composed by Johann Strauss II as the theme song for their 14 ice-cream trucks out of all song choices provided by Mister Softee for no other reason than that the sweet tune rang most familiar to Ho.

Mobile Softee’s distinct ice cream trucks painted in red, white, and blue ran all over Hong Kong while playing the Blue Danube tune loud on their speakers. They lingered near schools and train stations on weekdays and at tourist spots such as the Star Ferry Pier in Tsim Sha Tsui on weekends. People always hear a Mobile Softee before seeing it. Once your ears catch the classic and well-known tune of the waltz music, it grows on you and stimulates your brain with enticing images of ice-cream, making you want to buy it even before seeing it. The Blue Danube tune is like a tantalizing beckoning, guiding and drawing people to its source and the product, a siren song for every ice-cream lover.

Not only is Mobile Softee one of the earliest precursors of food trucks in Hong Kong, it is also one of the few sellers that tap into people’s hunger through hearing. Its attempt to evoke the deliciousness of ice cream through music is a clever marketing strategy. It succeeded to be ear-catching in a memorable way and has made a name for itself. However, is Mobile Softee’s sweet music welcomed by everyone? When vehicle sound is coupled with music, do they go well together or on the contrary, make the surrounding soundscape noisier or chaotic? For people who would just like to enjoy the ice-cream in quiet, Mobile Softee’s music may ring less than peaceful to their ears. Whether the Blue Danube evokes whatever Mobile Softee aims to evoke, be it happiness or a craving for ice-cream, depends after all on the hearer, his or her mood or other personal factors, pointing to the subjectiveness of soundscape.

Lan Fong Yuen: Speed over Peace

Popularity of Hong Kong-style diners, or cha chaan teng (茶餐廳) endures for decades in Hong Kong because they meet the locals’ relentless demand for fast service and an eclectic and affordable menu. Are cha chaan teng places you go to when you want to grab a quick lunch? If yes, you may probably have heard of Lan Fong Yuen (蘭芳園). Opened since 1952, Lan Fong Yuen is one of oldest and most famous cha chaan teng in Hong Kong. It is said to be the inventor of the classic local beverage “silk stockings milk tea” (絲襪奶茶) and renowned for their delicious pork chop bun. As its business flourished, it expanded by having outlets, one of which is at Shun Tak Centre in Sheung Wan.

Shun Tak Centre plays two roles: it is a mall and a transportation hub with ferry services to and from Macau and China. Therefore, eateries at Shun Tak take in a lot traveller daily who either want a bite before departure or are hungry after arrival. It must be particularly so for Lan Fong Yuen which has become a symbol of Hong Kong culture and regarded as a must-eat for tourists. Given the fact that commuters make the majority of diners at Shun Tak and commuters desire speed, eateries at Shun Tak would inevitably be fast-paced. How would an environment being fast-paced affect its soundscape? In Lan Fong Yuen, it was noisy and the sonic environment is dominated by the voices of waiters taking order and customers chatting about gambling in casino or businessmen busy talking with his clients. The waiters’ tone might sound authoritative and rude to some customers, which may impart tension to the restaurant soundscape. Given the amount of sounds going on incessantly, you may not want to stay for a little longer after finishing your meal.

Cha chaan teng thrives on its high efficiency and it is the place to go for people who have a hectic day or lifestyle who want food fast and almost instant. Diners do not usually expect a pleasant environment where nice chats and some relaxing can take place. If the place is too noisy for you to want to stay longer, it is probably what they want because customers keep coming in and diners had better not loiter.

TamJai SamGor: Spice It Up!

Think of food heavily flavoured or fragrant with spice. What sound would you associate with spicy food? Specifically, what sound would you associate with the popular rice noodle chain TamJai SamGor (譚仔三哥).

TamJai’s dominantly red décor give us a hint about what it specializes at: spicy mixian. Mixian (米線) is a type of rice noodle from the Yunnan Province of China. Most noted for its “Hot & Numbing Soup Mixian”, the mixian specialist offers up to nine different degrees of spiciness to choose from for those who want to challenge their taste buds. A successful brand, TamJai SamGor in Citywalk 2 is moderately busy. Although the voices of waitresses taking orders are clearly audible, the eatery is not too noisy. Background music is not heard, probably eclipsed by human voices. However, the lack of it presents an opportunity for the brand to step up its spice game.

Scientists at the University of Oxford have discovered that certain types of music – those with fast beats, distorted notes and high-pitched sounds – can enhance the sensation of heat from chili peppers. Apart from setting the mood for diners, music can serve as what the researchers call “sonic seasoning”. Do you think it is a good idea for TamJai SamGor to play those types of music in its restaurants?

Reference: Music Makes Curries Taste 10pc Spicier, Scientists Find

 

The Century-Old Rattle of “Ding-Ding” Trams

There is one voice chiming along this city’s busy roads well over a hundred years. You may have taken it for granted because it has always been here ever since you were born. Listen hard and listen appreciatively for the “ding-ding” bell of trams.

In service since 1904, trams are one of the earliest forms of public transport in the metropolis. They run along the northern coast of Hong Kong Island, offering the cheapest mode of public transport on the island. Trams in Hong Kong have not only been a form of commuter transport for 113 years, but also a major tourist attraction and one of the most environmentally friendly ways of travelling in Hong Kong. They have been very much a part of the Hong Kong culture, landscape, and even soundscape. As a time-honoured tradition, tram drivers use a double bell to warn pedestrians of the vehicles’ approach. The constant noisy chiming along the way led the locals dub them “Ding Ding”, highlighting the distinctiveness of their auditory aspect. Compared with the car horn sound modern vehicles are using, trams’ ding ding sound, while performing the same function of warn pedestrians of the vehicle’s approach, is much less harsh and stressful to the ears. It gives rise to the question whether alternatives to car horns can be adopted to make the city sound more pleasant. In fact, researchers in Seoul have found that car horns resembling duck quacks was a better idea: they would still manage to alert people while being less irritating.

To you and many people, it must have seemed strange and incongruous to see the slow, clunky, old-fashioned tram “ding-ding” its way through the fast-paced, highly-urbanized Hong Kong. Its “ding-ding” sound alerts passers-by to the tram’s coming and tells a story of extraordinary survival through the development of modern public transport, including a vast MTR system, with a perseverance not unlike Hong Kong people.

Reference: If it quacks like a duck … will a car horn be less annoying?

What is Soundscape?

You may know the word landscape. A landscape includes the broad view of everything you can see around you (e.g. trees and rivers when you go hiking). You may also hear bird cries and rivers flowing. These elements make up a soundscape i.e. an auditory landscape. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) defines soundscape as acoustic environment as perceived or experienced and/or understood by a person or people, in context. In simpler terms, soundscape refers to the component sounds of an environment.

Since a soundscape may comprise a host of different sounds, they may not fit or even clash with each other, giving rise to disharmony, especially in cities where man-made sounds and noise dominate the scene. In view of this, soundscape design aims to make sounds or noise, which are perceived to be inevitable, more in harmony with the pertinent environment. For instance, water sounds from a fountain in a park may help mask the undesirable vehicle noise nearby. Regarding how to harmonize a soundscape, professionals engaged in the field have different opinions and focuses. For city planners, they may want to control noise and meet objective noise standards; for sonic artists, they may want to factor in an emotional dimension in their soundscape planning.

Does your neighbourhood have a harmonious soundscape?

PMQ’s Café Life: Be One With Your Surrounding

Original campus of Queen’s College and rebuilt in the 50s as Police Married Quarters, PMQ (元創方) in Central is now a hub for creative and design industries. PMQ retained its semi-open design which aimed to allow greater interaction between police officers in residence when the site was used as Police Married Quarters. The openness of design is what makes Café Life different and refreshing. Café goers can sit by the open views unobstructed by any window and take in the air, the cool breeze, and sounds in the vicinity of PMQ.

The semi-open setting of PMQ enables natural ventilation as well as the penetration of sounds from the surroundings. While you are sipping at your freshly roasted coffee, the wind brings to you traffic sound from Aberdeen Street where PMQ is situated. Conversation voices and shrieks of a coffee machine in motion are muffled, for they are dispersed, untrapped by windows. In this way, the café is made less enclosed and exclusive, café goers are invited to be part of a larger, less confined environment and receive more stimuli, be it visual or auditory.

Do you like a half-open, window-less café than a regular café closed off from its immediate vicinity?

What is a sound map?

You may have used maps or Google Maps when navigating in places you are not unfamiliar with. Has it occurred to you how very visual those maps are, that they are merely visual representation of areas? Have you imagined a different kind of maps that feature not the visual aspect of the environment but the auditory?

A sound map uses map to represent the soundscape or soundmark of locations. Its objective is to represent a specific environment using its soundscape as primary references as opposed to visual cues. Sound maps are created by associating landscape (streets in a city, train stations, stores, pathways, factories, oil pumps, etc.) and soundscapes. Sound maps do not have to be large in scale, nor do the sounds represented have to be symbolic. It can simply be a map representing the sonic environment of your home in which the tap water can be heard running in kitchen and washroom, the washing machine droning in the living room, while the television blasting in the bedroom.

Crowdsourcing is usually the method of collecting data for sound mapping. Since people perceive the same sonic environment differently, crowdsourcing allows participants to contribute each of their own responses and piece together a sound map with diversity. Considering that sound is transient in nature and that various types of sound can be heard over time at the same spot, crowdsourcing enables the development of a comprehensive and detailed sound map by listeners’ collective effort.

Sound maps are in many ways the most effective auditory archive of an environment. The creation of sound maps encourages people to visit a particular location in person in order to experience the actual sonic environment and afterwards chip in and share their own observations. Also, sound maps enable users to re-experience the environment with focus on its sonic elements. So if you want a certain sound replayed without having to drop by a certain place, you may refer to the sound map of the location which enables access of its soundscape at all times simply with your electronic devices