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The Glamourous and Unknown sides of Hong Kong

The Hidden Scars of Poverty in Hong Kong

At first glance Hong Kong is a place of thriving prosperity with its glistening skyscrapers and flashy cars. But take a closer look and you’ll soon see the hidden scars of poverty in our city. These can go unnoticed as we plough through our busy days, but not by our friends at Sam the Local who remind us that there are always two sides to every story.

Living in Hong Kong for the past four years has allowed me to explore and be in the city long enough to look at it from a different perspective.

I don’t deny that I look at Hong Kong with a very romantic perspective of what it is. I like looking at the buildings that seem to reach higher and higher into the sky, admiring the shiny lights as they reflect on the waters of Victoria Harbour. And I enjoy riding the Star Ferry on Victoria Harbour and being amazed by the way the setting sun provides a perfect backdrop for the Hong Kong skyline. There are always people to meet, places to explore, new shops opening to check out, and interesting events to attend.

ayeshasitara - poverty in Hong Kong

But behind this glamourous view of this action-packed city, there lies a divide between two worlds: those who are extremely financially stable (EFC) and those who are scraping by to survive (SBS). I am choosing to define them beyond titles of people who are “rich” and “poor,” because I believe those labels sometimes provide a negative connotation.

Never in my life have I seen the extreme differences of of EFC and SBS in such close vicinities of one another. There are definitely many more EFCs who live and work in the Central District as it is the business centre of Hong Kong, where many large and multinational firms are located. Standing on a corner for ten minutes, I can probably see ten different luxury cars drive by that could include Porsches, Lamborghinis, and Maseratis to cars so luxurious that I don’t even know what brands they are!

In contrast, a few minutes later an SBS will walk by pushing a cart uphill topped with a large pile of cardboard that he/she is collecting from the streets/stores so that they can be sold at a recycling centre for money. The individual is usually an elderly Chinese person, and I feel for them because that person could very well be the age of my grandparents.

handcart_elderly_woman_net
Photo source: AFP / SCMP

I have seen many of these elderly people on the streets before as they strategically pour water in between the stacks of cardboard or dab pieces of the cardboard in the water that has collected at the edges of sidewalks. Since these individuals are paid by the weight of the cardboard they have collected, they are increasing the weight in order to get paid more.

There are so many things wrong with the situation, from the hygiene issues of the dirty water to the stress these older individuals are putting on their bodies to the safety issues. Some of these SBSs push their carts on the streets as cars and buses speed deathly close or are barely seen at night when they are pushing their carts on dimly lit streets. But for them, it is not a choice. For an SBS, it’s about survival and earning money to feed themselves and pay rent.

There is obviously a middle ground where people make average incomes, but the EFC and SBS dichotomies are difficult to ignore. We may not be aware of all this is going on around us until we really look, or are reminded. These differences make me more aware of the differences and reflect on what goes on around me.

What is seen and what is not seen or publicised are just as important.

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