A Day in My Life in Crowded Hong Kong
Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated places in the world. With 5.8 million people occupying its 413 square miles [1,070 sq km] of land, it has 14,483 people per square mile [5,592 . . . sq km]. Since only 10 percent of the land is occupied, that represents an average of about 140,000 per occupied square mile [54,000 . . . sq km]! Yet, the local people seem to have adapted admirably to the hustle and bustle of a crowded city, with its cramped living space, noisy traffic, and pollution.
I WOKE up to the shrill call of my alarm clock at 7:30 a.m., got up from my couch bed, and dressed quickly. I share the small flat with my parents and three younger sisters, all of whom work. Thus, there is always a lineup for the bathroom, and our time is limited. After a quick breakfast, I grab my bicycle for the ride to the train station. The daily ordeal has started. I become one of the vast multitude heading for work in bustling Hong Kong.
My train takes me hurtling past tightly packed tenements and densely populated skyscrapers. Then I change to a bus to cross the harbor. We make our way through a tunnel, bumper to bumper. What a relief to emerge onto Hong Kong Island where my office is located in the central financial district. The whole journey can take anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half, depending on the traffic. I finally make it by 9:30. But there’s no time to sit back—the phone starts to ring. My first client for the day. And that becomes the story of my day—one call after another, the telephone seldom on the hook. Then a brief break for lunch.
Now the problem is finding a seat in one of the numerous restaurants in the area. It seems as if everybody is trying to eat at the same time and at the same place and often at the same table! Once again I share my table with total strangers. That’s life in crowded Hong Kong. Then after my quick but nourishing Chinese meal, it’s back to the office.
My workday is supposed to finish at 5:30, but that is seldom possible. Sure enough, when I finally get a breather and look at the clock, it is 6:15. Some days it is well after seven o’clock before I can get away. And then comes the trek back home.
First the bus, then the train. Finally it pulls into my station, and I head for my bike. As I cycle home, I recall how our little town has grown into a bustling, bursting modern city. The low village houses have been replaced by soaring high-rise buildings, from 20 to 30 stories high. Big, wide highways have taken over great swaths of terrain, and huge overpasses bristle with a constant stream of noisy traffic. The old leisurely way of life has gone forever.
Home is a bit on the small side—less than 300 square feet [28 sq m] for six of us and no private room for me. That is why I sleep on a couch in the living room. At least my parents have a room to themselves, and my three sisters sleep on bunks in their tiny room. Privacy is a luxury for us.
Even though it is small, it is a vast improvement on what we had before, when all of us lived in one room in a government housing estate. But how good even that is compared with the lot of the thousands who live in Mong Kok district and who rent “cage apartments,” stacked three high and measuring six feet [1.8 m] long by 30 inches [0.8 m] deep and 30 inches [0.8 m] high. They have space for a mattress and a few personal belongings. No furniture.
By nine o’clock everybody is home, and we sit down for our evening meal. After supper someone switches on the TV. That kills my hope of some quiet reading and study. I wait until all have gone to bed at 11 o’clock, and then I have the room to myself and some peace and quiet for concentration. By midnight I too am ready for bed.
I have been working since I left school some 12 years ago. Some day I would like to marry, but I have to work so hard for a living that I do not have much time even to get to know a woman well enough. And finding a place to live is harder than scaling heaven, as we say. Though we have learned to cope, this type of hectic city life does not seem natural to me. Yet I recognize that I am far better off than millions and perhaps billions in other parts of the world who live without decent homes, electricity, running water, or adequate sanitation. Surely we need a better system, a better world, a better life.—As told by Kin Keung.