Pushing Cardboard

Task 1 — Visual Essay

The people of Hong Kong are known for their assertiveness and thrifty use of objects. Whether it be a chair, hairband, or even cardboard, they will reuse and push the object’s intended life expectancy and original designed use. My chosen object, cardboard, has resulted in a form of recycling where the people of Hong Kong will collect and gather used cardboard boxes or box board and sell it or give it to others for reuse. This has created a form of economy within the Hong Kong people. The most common demographic to merchant cardboard are older women.

A trolley stacked full of cardboard commonly found all over Hong Kong

Areas of Hong Kong that I have witness cardboard collecting has essentially been everywhere. These places include; Sheung Wan, Admiralty, Central, Causeway Bay, Wan Chai, Mong Kok, Yau Ma Tei, Sham Shui Po, Wah Fu, and Cheung Chau. All of these places I found cardboard clearly visible. However, this did not necessarily include cardboard being collated. More so used before collecting, through stock and trade.

Cardboard seen above used for trade, and cardboard collectors below.

However, I did notice the use of cardboard as a secondary purpose. This mostly includes the use of the cardboard as a seat or shelter. Most commonly found in Central on a Sunday by the domestic workers. Due to the domestic workers only day of being a Sunday, public spaces are dominated by domestic workers. The domestic workers mostly comprise of Filipino and Indonesian women, who are working in Hong Kong to support their families back in their home country.

I decided to focus on the Filipinas in Central due to myself being half Filipino and integrated by a part of my culture taking place in an intriguing matter. I found that many were more than happy for me to photograph them, even in some cases without asking, they would pose for me. One lady I did have a chance to communicate with was Joicy. She was from Quezon city, not to far north of Manila. She like many of her fellow workers were there due to high unemployment rate in the Philippines and she was there to support her family. I asked Joicy how her and her friends obtain cardboard to use. She said that she pays a few HKD to an old lady that pushes her trolley full of cardboard down the street that she usually stays at. Joicy doesn’t like using the cardboard as it makes her look poor, but she admits that she’d rather sit on the cardboard than on the dirty ground.

Joicy in the yellow down jacket

Through my travels within Hong Kong, I found that the areas with a lower income rate tend to contain more cardboard collectors. I also noticed local people in the areas of Sham Shui Po/Yau Ma Tei for example, would use cardboard to put on top of existing makeshift chairs or public seating areas. This was quite common on rainy days. Where public spaces would be drinched in rain, and people would have no where to sit. Moreover, areas with markets such as Mong Kok, cardboard would be used not as the original purpose of transporting goods, but to store and even display goods for buyers.

I managed to have a conversation with an older woman in Sham Shui Po about cardboard collecting. Her English was quite broken, but she was able to assist me in my findings. She said that she has sustained her main income by selling unwanted cardboard for numerous years. She doesn’t really enjoy the work itself, but it’s an easy way of her to remain active and even sociable. She said that Sham Shui Po is quite a popular area for cardboard collecting, with a lot of competition. She likes Sham Shui Po for cardboard collecting as there is a strong relation and network between the local businesses and people like herself who collect cardboard. Moreover, an area such as Sham Shui Po has a much older demographic than areas such as Tsim Sha Tsui or Central which concludes with stronger ties between businesses and cardboard collectors. Most of her cardboard is usually sold off to recycle vendors, with a few to some locals.

Here she breaks down the cardboard she has collected. Her movements and cuts are surprisingly swift and quick.

Upon some research for further find and develop my understanding about the use and impact of cardboard in Hong Kong, I found this informative yet sad short clip about a cardboard collector. Her story was similar to the woman I conversed with. It shows how similar stories and the drive of cardboard collecting is. How poor the government is supporting the elderly population.

Moreover, I did some sketches on the cardboard and boxes themselves. I found that through the use of sketching as different medium of capturing information, the first details came to my mind and are shown in the drawings. It shows that at its core, the cardboard is the same, but the purpose and use is different. The different situations and circumstances that the cardboard is used in. Whether it be for storage and stock or for recycling.

Different circumstances in which I saw cardboard in Hong Kong.

Cardboard is a medium that is often seen as temporary. Its’ weak nature often derives in the use of the material as only serving one purpose. The people of Hong Kong have shown me that there can be more than one use of an object, regardless of its material base. Moreover, the use of cardboard in Hong Kong has been reused several times over before finally being completely recycled.

Written by Clyde Overton.
Bachelor of Design in Visual Communication, UTS

Flicker album

South China Morning Post, 2014, Collecting for rent in pricey Hong Kong, one cardboard box at a time, viewed 2 February 2016, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLr2o5oaPNE>.

South China Morning Post, 2016, Cardboard dreams: a day with an elderly Hong Kong woman who must scavenge to survive, viewed 2 February 2016, <http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1624253/cardboard-dreams-day-hong-kong-elderly-woman-who-must-scavenge?page=all>.

The Irish Times, 2015, In Hong Kong, grandma has to find a job, viewed 4 February 2016, <http://www.irishtimes.com/business/economy/in-hong-kong-grandma-has-to-find-a-job-1.2115165>.

Time Out, S. 2016, Scavenging for a pension, Timeout.com.hk. viewed 6 February 2016, <http://www.timeout.com.hk/big-smog/features/47973/scavenging-for-a-pension.html>.

All images are my own.