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Showing posts from June, 2011

Maid in Hong Kong - Part 1 女傭在港-上卷

Few symbols of colonialism are more universally recognized than the live-in maid. From the British trading post in Bombay to the cotton plantation in Mississippi, images abound of the olive-skinned domestic worker buzzing around the house, cooking, cleaning, ironing and bringing ice cold lemonade to her masters who keep grumbling about the summer heat. It is ironic that, for a city that cowered under colonial rule for a century and a half, Hong Kong should have the highest number of maids per capita in Asia. In our city of contradictions, neither a modest income nor a shoebox apartment is an obstacle for local families to hire a domestic helper and to free themselves from chores and errands.

On any given Sunday or public holiday, migrant domestic workers carpet every inch of open space in Central and Causeway Bay. They turn parks and footbridges into camping sites with cardboard boxes as their walls and opened umbrellas as their roofs. They play cards, cut hair, sell handicraft and p…

Those Who Live in Glass Houses 住在玻璃屋的人

In a city where space is at a premium, where a luxury apartment on the Peak costs more than the GDP of a small nation, and where a serviced apartment in Wanchai can rent for three times the average household income, there is a surprisingly easy way to create space. With a few buckets of cement and a bamboo scaffolding, a contractor can turn your balcony into an extra bedroom or add a solarium on the other side of the back wall. If you live on the top floor, you can even build an entire glass house on the rooftop complete with its own kitchen and bathroom. When it comes to creating liveable space, your imagination – and audacity – are the only limit.

Unauthorized building alterations are everywhere in Hong Kong. They are also against the law. Like jaywalking and downloading movies online, the building of illegal structures is one of those offenses that many commit but no one expects to get caught. While a majority of the city’s illegal structures are safe, many of them pose fire and o…