Hong Kong

Hong Kong not always so modern

Hong Kong might look really sleek and modern, especially with all those tall skyscrapers in the Central business district, and fun, but underneath the facade, it is not easy. It’s a fast-paced, business-oriented city and it’s crowded with people and packed with buildings. Yes, Asia has a ton of people, but Hong Kong is much more cramped than Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul and a lot of other cities in the region.

But there are less obvious reasons why Hong Kong can be tough, and that is because in some ways it is backwards in terms of daily living.

But wait, surely that can’t be because as an international financial center and wealthy city state, Hong Kong is part of the first world right? Not exactly, judging by housing. A huge number of people, especially in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, live in tiny spaces. Some of the poorest people even live in “cages,” which is atrocious. In addition, there are subdivided homes where an apartment is divided into compartments, each one for a tenant, which in some cases are families or couples. It’s not only limited to poor or working-class areas. There are apartments in middle-class areas where bedrooms are so small only a bed can fit into them or say, toilets are located right next to kitchens. I know from first-hand experience when I was apartment-hunting last year. And these are the poor ethnic Chinese Hong Kongers. If one looks at minorities like South Asians, there are problems with unemployment, poverty and street gangs.

Moving on, banking also comes to mind, which is surprising because Hong Kong is a financial center. Regular banking service is relatively efficient, but the problem is with certain tasks. For example, to change my address a while ago, I had to download a form from the website and mail it in. I waited a long time and eventually I found out they mailed a letter to my old address (by my relatives) saying the address change form had a problem and I had to come in to a bank branch to do it. Imagine if I hadn’t had been able to go back to my old address. To do a lot of things actually, you have to do that. Another example is that transferring money from the ATM to an account in another bank is not possible. That means you either have to withdraw cash and personally go to the ATM of another bank, or you can fill out a check but still go to another bank. In Taiwan, I could transfer money at the ATM from my account to dozens of other banks just like that.
But it’s a good thing I’m not an entrepreneur trying to start up a business because even opening a corporate banking account is almost an impossibility for some. It’s such a big problem that my workplace even had to organize an entire seminar strictly on the problem of opening bank accounts.

Another example is supermarkets, specifically checkout counters. Hong Kong is the only place in the world where supermarkets have small horizontal counters (think of a bank counter and imagine placing your basket of groceries on it). I mean, convenience stores have small counters because people usually buy one or a few items. However, when you’re in a supermarket and you’ve got a basketfull of items, your basket occupies the whole counter and the cashier is grabbing items from it, scanning them and then putting them back. I may be the only person in Hong Kong who thinks this is weird, but I’ve been to supermarkets from Trinidad to Sri Lanka to China and they all have proper counters, as in vertical and with conveyor belts and space at the back that let you pack things after they’ve been scanned by the cashier. Yes, space is limited, even in supermarkets, but it’s no reason somebody can’t modify checkout designs so that it is somewhat in the 21st century.

While these are issues at the ground level, Hong Kong also has major issues at higher levels that prevent it from being “Asia’s World City,” according to its self-proclaimed slogan. That will be another post for another day.

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6 thoughts on “Hong Kong not always so modern

  1. I guess that’s the reason why I had a culture shock in Hong Kong. In China, I didn’t have a shock at all, whereas the first time in Hong Kong was overwhelming for me. I guess it’s how you say it. Although the city seems very modern, rich and western, it has this busy, crowded touch to it.When I looked closer, I realized that there were a lot of imperfections. People from different ethnicities who actually looked stressed and underpaid. Then all those buildings and old elevators and construction sites that seemed very dangerous.
    Hong Kong is a city that I can’t compare to other cities in this world. That’s also what makes it so beautiful and interesting in my opinion.

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    1. I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks like this. You’re right, when you look closer, you see things like old buildings and labourers of different ethnicities and the first-world appearance is a facade, albeit a convincing one from afar. I think it’s interesting too but living here, at times it isn’t so beautiful. Thanks for your great comment.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, I always thought I was the only one thinking like that. All of my western friends in China told me how modern and western Hong Kong was and how they felt like back at home there. When I returned back to China after being in Hong Kong for one day, I couldn’t understand them. I felt more at ease in China than in Hong Kong. Never had a culture shock in China, but had my first one in HK.
        Yeah, I can imagine living there could be quite hard and difficult. But the good weather and beautiful city might even it out 🙂

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        1. True, a lot of China expats like Hong Kong but sometimes they don’t look deep enough. But then, a lot of expats in HK don’t even look deep enough themselves, with some of them confining themselves to certain areas (Hong Kong island) for instance.
          Well, it can be frightfully hot (like now) at times.

          Liked by 2 people

  2. Hong Kong is a complex place, that’s for sure. There are a lot of positive aspects but people shouldn’t be naive; the truth is that unless you are majorly succeeding in the big business world (especially finances, as you say) it is a hard place to live and people do fall behind. And the usual inconveniences.

    There are advantages and disadvantages to any place, but personally it’s the cultural aspect that has often let me wanting. I love so much about HK, I do, yet I just can’t live there.

    And this may be neither here nor there but I’ve often heard that HK is a terrible place to date 😛

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    1. Yes, the skyscrapers and flashy lights often obscure the reality. Even I was surprised how shoddy certain parts of town were. It is a hard place to live for a lot of people.
      The cultural aspect is deficient. There’s a really intense money-crazed mentality here, though it is more dressed up than on the mainland, that just overrides and prevents strong cultural scene from forming. All the energy, intellect and creativity is spent on making money and hustling.
      Ah well, I can kind of confirm that last point.

      Liked by 1 person

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