If you haven’t been to Hong Kong, you might not know what kind of crowded I’m talking about when I talk about crowds. Think everywhere you walk, you’re brushing someone’s shoulder or smelling someone’s armpit. You have to fight your way into buses, and shove a little to get into the MTR (our metro) on the way to work in the mornings and evenings. You’re constantly closely walking behind someone, and don’t you dare be a step slower, because the person behind you might just hiss a curse.
Those who live and work in Tokyo may know what I’m talking about. Youtube videos give an idea. Living in Hong Kong means a daily battle during your commute. It means going to work exhausted, and coming home shattered. It means shopping during the weekends being even more unpleasant, because everyone congregates at the same places to shop. There are ways around this – go further, go to obscure parts of town. All good ideas – but if you don’t have the means – like enough bus fare, time, energy – you’re stuck in your little flat with nowhere to go.
The crowdedness feels worse over the years. My parents’ generation used to reminisce the days when a family of 10 lived in a 400 square foot government flat. Everyone lived in a bunk, sometimes two sisters sharing a tiny top bunk. Two families shared one bathroom. There was no running water toilet then, back in the 1960s. People went in buckets and the “bucket man” collected the “night smellies” after dark. The living situation was crowded, but that was just how things were. People were happy. The city was booming. There was hope. Kids ran around in fields, went fishing in nearby lakes. The dream was very much alive still. If you worked hard, you can get out of there, move to a bigger house, live at the Peak. And they did. They did grow out of those government flats and made their into nicer, bigger places. Living situations were bad, but there was space to dream. The city hasn’t yet grown into it’s current population of 7 million and counting for a tiny space of just over 1000 square kilometres.
I don’t know if there’s a way out of this. Overpopulation seems to be a problem everywhere in the world, and complaining about the lack of space in a world where the majority of people don’t have running water is clearly a first world whine. But in my daily life, there’s no doubt this city is overpopulated. The lack of space, the suffocation is real. The smelling armpits and pushing to get into the MTR is real. Getting frustrated and claustrophobic every weekend shopping for groceries is real. Step out of your home, embrace the crowd. Or go capitalist and do whatever it takes to make enough money to buy that house on the Peak and get your own driver and your own pool. Or be reborn into a family of wealth and live on a silver spoon. Do whatever your need to to survive, to rise above the masses, to get out of this small apartment and live and dream.
But there is no longer a dream. This generation is riddled with dead-ends. Forget about working and affording a home. The city offers the most unaffordable housing in the world. Forget about buying. You’ll never make it. Forget about moving out of the shack you live in. There is no more space to buy.
When visitors come they marvel at the world class transport network and the awesome skyscrapers and unbelievable skyline. Yes, these things we are proud of. This makes up Hong Kong, the face of wealth and cosmopolitan chic. But live here, breathe the air, struggle on the MTR, hustle day in day out. Can you take it? Can you take this city and it’s suffocating crowd and excruciating lack of space? Can you afford an apartment and call it your home?
The older I get, the smaller my city grows. I’ve outgrown my own home.
Do you have complaints about the place you live in?