“Visiting a place has no resemblance to actually living in it.” This is particularly true when it comes to Hong Kong.
The general impressions of Hong Kong are those portrayed by the Western media. Those who spend a week visiting the city would mostly agree that it was a fantastic experience.
As a local, I was born and grew up here. Part of me always feels bewildered about the positive comments uttered from the mouths of tourists about this overcrowded city. Hearing from those living here, Hong Kong may turn out to be one of the most uninhabitable cities in the world.
(1) The extent of overpopulation
After WWII, Hong Kong constantly experienced waves of refugees from mainland China. As the Chinese Civil War, various policies under Mao and the Cultural Revolution became a series of disasters for the Chinese people, many of them escaped to Hong Kong for a better life.
After the British began to transform Hong Kong with neoliberalism in the 1970s, the economy started to thrive and prosperity attracted more and more migrants. Roughly 3 million people were living in Hong Kong in 1960, and today the city houses nearly 7.5 million people.
As a result, space is a sacred resource.
Most of the activities you would enjoy without much hassle elsewhere, such as booking a tennis court, are an irritating process in Hong Kong. Most people wake up early, stand by their computer at half 8 in the morning and join the race against time to book the earliest available court online before they are fully booked.
The same goes for going to cinema – there is just very little chance you can go to the cinema and buy the ticket for a film in the next hour, as they would most certainty be sold out. Over a long period of time, you can really feel burned out by these little inconveniences and the inflexibility.
(2) The dire lack of private space
Another consequence of overpopulation is the lack of private space.
Having your own room is an unimaginable luxury for many. I grew up sharing a room with my brother and did not know the importance of private space until I lived aboard.
In addition, with the combined effort of the government and corporations to push the rent and housing prices sky-high, most people cannot afford renting or buying their own homes even when they are married.
Married couples live with their parents and their kids in an unbelievably tiny apartment, which from my own experience, tends to create countless arguments among the family members.
Something as basic as having sex is only possible if you keep your voice down, or when other family members are out of the house.
This is why Hongkongers love to travel to neighbouring countries such as Japan, Taiwan and Thailand as a regular escape: Whatever you cannot do at home, those are the times when you can make it up.
(3) Taking “overworked” to another level
This is by no means a unique problem to Hong Kong. But as with many other issues, the city managed to amplify it to an extent no other countries can remotely compete with.
Overtime is seen as part of responsibility at work. Most people are very comfortable with the culture of overworking.
Some friends told me that they would rather work 12 hours a day because they “wouldn’t know what to do if they are free” anyway. But most of them are ignorant about the side effects of such attitude.
They become grumpy, easily annoyed, generally impatient and various mental illnesses quickly find them, some even in their 20s.
As you walk on the streets, there is no shortage of opinions that Hongkongers are amongst the rudest people on earth, though that speaks nothing of their personal qualities.
As Douglas Coupland said:
While most people like the notion of free time, actually having to deal with it is horrible. It’s a deal with the devil.
You could easily become one of them once you live here long enough.
(4) A City of Zombies – people with no interests
Many people told me that Hongkongers are “boring”, but I would argue that is a logical result by the way the country is run. Every interest or hobby requires space: if you like piano, you need a piano at home to practice; if you like guitar, you need to buy a guitar. Football pitch is essential for playing football and garden is vital for gardening.
But most Hongkongers struggle for space to live, so interests are seen as, believe it or not, a luxury. You wake up, go to work until late, go back home and sleep, then do it over again the next day. Everything that you do requires space, and there simply isn’t much left here for Hongkongers to develop any hobby.
Everyone is forced to live the same lifestyle in which we are “working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need.” And the sad thing is that it isn’t even Fight Club, it is everyday life.
(5) Incomprehensible hobbies [when they’re even there]
So much is said about Hongkongers – so what exactly do they do to “entertain” themselves? The answer is spending money.
As time and space restrict what they can do, spending money becomes the only way some people know how to keep themselves happy. So much time you spend to earn that money, and what is the value if you do not spend it?
Therefore, Hong Kong residents like to shop, travel and eat in overpriced restaurants, routinely partaking in “Late Capitalism” in order to fill the void.
Another hobby is to watch the news as if it is a soap opera, criticising politicians and celebrities, and splash out their frustrations on them. The majority of people forget the news within 1-2 weeks and focus on something new so they can keep commenting on new controversies, just to keep themselves entertained.
It could be seen in the majority of households at dinner time as they comment on the television programmes. Whether it is a symptom of a healthy or sick society, though, is another issue.
By Mr. Karp
Mr. Karp has been trying to make sense of the world by traveling around and making friends from all backgrounds. His new blog is a ship which he hopes to connect with other Magikarps, and you are very welcome to have a ride with him.