Hong Kong: The Fight for Living Space

With approximately 7.3 million people squeezed into tiny islands, rent and housing prices are astronomically high in Hong Kong. Crowned the most expensive city to purchase housing, the financial weight was certainly a daunting burden of starting a year-long co-op term here.

However, the city which millions of expats call home has hidden gems available and once you can get your living situation in check, the skyscraper jungle awaits you with endless activities.

So how did I end up at my current home? As of writing this, I have been in Hong Kong for less than four months and have moved around three different places.

1. The first place I called home was a place called Apple Dorm. I had found Apple Dorm through searching online on various websites such as easyroommate.hk, geoexpat.com, and squarefoot.com.hk prior to arriving.

Costing only $3500 HKD ($586 CAD) a month with cleaning service every week, I assumed this was an excellent deal for a private bedroom. Although I would have to share a bathroom and a kitchen, I believed that my first year experiences of living in Totem Residence at UBC would prep me.

As with all experiences of moving to a new city, the slight fear of whether this place actually existed crept up to me when I landed in Hong Kong International Airport. 
 
Thankfully Apple Dorm was a real place, and with some exchange of broken English, I was able to arrive safely in my room. The truth was the room felt extremely small, even smaller than I had envisioned through the advertisement pictures (which means they did a good job with the picture). Initially however, I didn’t really care about the small space. My room only needed a clean bed and a roof over the head to protect me against Hong Kong’s infamous monsoons.

The initial contentment was only so temporary as the temperatures of Hong Kong reached record depths and suffered its coldest winter in 50 years. Not only was the room not well insulated and blasted the air conditioner despite the cold, the heavy rain leaked through into my room. I was able to experience the Chinese water torture method for free as the drops slowly ate away my sanity during the night. My room became closer to a torture closet by the day and the stress was definitely growing. Having to shower in two minutes because the heater said so and a kitchen represented by solely a microwave and a broken washer added on to my growing list of inconveniences. After an exchange of angry emails with little to no solution, I was on the search for another room.

My tiny living closet

2. As this whole debacle happened around Chinese New Years and my birthday, the celebratory mood was replaced with frantic emails and Whatsapp messages to agents and flat-owners. After several mishaps with agents breaking agreements to hold the property, I was able to finally acquire a decent flat share. The only problem was that I could only move in two weeks after my check out date at Apple Dorm. Unable to find other reasonable options (including sleeping in the office), I decided to stick it out in a hostel in Wanchai called Check Inn, a 25-minute tram ride away from the office.

My experience at hostel was mixed. The first week of living in a 12-person tiny dorm room consisted of fresh batches of viruses and bacteria from travel weary tourists coming in and out. Just when I thought I would have recovered from a cold in Apple Dorm, I was faced with another bacteria infection. Thankfully the reception and staff were very kind and always willing to help out. They showed me the closest hospital and congee shops to ease my stomach.

As there were only two showers for the entire floor, every morning was a bit of a gamble. However, my experience at Apple Dorm 3 showers for 12 other mates, prepared me for the challenges ahead.

Part of the benefit/challenge one gets from living in hostels is the diversity of people you meet. Some of my roommates were disturbingly loud and had a complete lack of awareness of time particularly when the hour was late. Others however provided me so many great insights, sharing their own stories from whatever countries they came from. I have encountered friends from China, Germany, Korea, Pakistan, Canada (Quebec!), and Sweden, and every single one of them had something unique to say. With my international group of friends, I turned up in the famous Lan Kwai Fong district until the night closed and also taught my German friend the deliciousness of BBQ pork. This experience almost made me feel like a backpacker in Hong Kong having to say hellos and goodbyes to new people daily, and definitely gave me the infamous travel itch.

A less than sober evening in LKF

3. Finishing my stay at Check Inn, I finally arrived in my new flat to embrace privacy, a word unfamiliar in the previous two weeks. The flat was very tiny, a remarkable consistency from my previous two stays, but felt much more comfortable. In addition to a bed, I actually had a closet and drawer, meaning I could stop living out of my suitcase! Having many of the living essentials I took for granted while in Canada, the thought of having a working desk, kitchen, and a washer felt so glorious. My flatmates were all older than me with exception of a baby in my neighbouring unit. Despite the cries of a two-year old baby every morning and night, I was able to befriend this little creature and now she knows how to say my name!

I hope this flat is the last place I move, but who knows what the future brings. What I’ve learned through my multiple moves is that expectations and reality sometimes collides in the largest differences. It is up to the individual to work with the cards he is given or else find himself a whole new deck. While I am enjoying my current place, there are still certain things I wish I could change or improve, therefore I am still on the look for a better place. This might just reflect how I am as a person, but I try to find the most of optimal case of everything I encounter. However, for the moment as I type this in the privacy of my well air-conditioned room with my music blending with the baby’s giggles, I am happy for now and can look forward to a good night’s sleep.

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