The "Coffin Homes" of Hong Kong
May 16, 2017 2:05 PM   Subscribe

"These residents are among an estimated 200,000 people in Hong Kong living in such tiny subdivided units, some so small that a person cannot even fully stretch out their legs."
posted by The corpse in the library (38 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
 
I just finished reading City of Darkness: Revisited about Kowloon Walled City and I can not emphasize enough how much the photos in this essay resemble those in the book (and that second link).
posted by komara at 2:13 PM on May 16, 2017 [1 favorite]


My AirBNB in Hong Kong was in a subdivided apartment, but it had its own toilet/shower area. It was tiny, but not as tiny as the rooms depicted in that story. I was in Kowloon, north of Tsim Sha Tsui.

120 sq ft sounds about right.
posted by pwinn at 2:15 PM on May 16, 2017 [1 favorite]


All those electrical wires... how often do fires break out in buildings like these, and how to people get out of them? Do people get out of them?
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 2:19 PM on May 16, 2017 [7 favorites]


Sort of related: this New York Times article about the White House Hotel brings up the residents' annoyance at being fodder for human interest stories.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:34 PM on May 16, 2017 [3 favorites]


The corpse in the library: "this New York Times article about the White House Hotel brings up the residents' annoyance at being fodder for human interest stories."

At least that's what the manager says, who would like to convert the property into a hotel:

"Meyer Muschel, the White House’s manager, estimated that every year a handful of journalists, filmmakers or students stopped by to write about or to film the place.

Was he weary of these periodic attempts to document life at the White House? Mr. Muschel, a brash former corporate lawyer who also serves as president of Congregation Ohab Zedek, an Upper West Side synagogue, said that he was.

Some tenants, he added, resent the fact that the White House is regarded as a repository of “human interest” stories."

The actual residents interviewed in the article don't seem to mind the attention.
posted by crazy with stars at 2:39 PM on May 16, 2017 [4 favorites]


At least I got paid to live like that for the Navy. This is really pushing the boundaries of how much space a human being needs to live.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 2:45 PM on May 16, 2017 [5 favorites]


London's infamously creatively avaricious landlords are undoubtedly taking notes, salivating at the thought of the extra profit.
posted by acb at 3:06 PM on May 16, 2017 [9 favorites]


The actual residents interviewed in the article don't seem to mind the attention.

Yeah, I'm sure that one guy is a scientifically valid sample.
posted by effbot at 3:12 PM on May 16, 2017


The latest trend in Hong Kong housing are nano flats or "mosquito apartments". As an expat, I currently live in luxury. I live in 580 square feet in an apartment with 3 bedrooms and two full bathrooms.

Unfortunately, I expect things are only going to get worse. For the past few years, government measures have cooled down the housing market and made it much more expensive for non-residents to buy in Hong Kong. Unfortunately, the people from the mainland who are trying to get their money out of RMB and into property are no longer being put off by the prices, so buying up housing stock for investment purchases is surging again. Prices are going to keep going up. (And many of the people who own an investment apartment in Hong Kong don't rent it out. It just sits empty.)
posted by frumiousb at 3:31 PM on May 16, 2017 [2 favorites]


Wait until IKEA comes along to convince us of how modern and cool it is to live like this.
posted by signal at 3:41 PM on May 16, 2017 [2 favorites]


I just checked the photos to see if the sky in any photos was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel. I wasn't disappointed. One step closer Gibson, we're getting one step closer.
posted by Ber at 3:46 PM on May 16, 2017 [12 favorites]


Wait until IKEA comes along to convince us of how modern and cool it is to live like this.

Not modern or cool, but maybe commendable. I mean, these people aren't choosing this exactly, so that's an issue, but.. Nobody seems to be measuring the degree to which Toronto's real estate boom is related to over-housing. So, so many people live in 5-10x more indoor space than they need.

I can't help thinking it is a deep cultural failing. We make fun of people living in their parents basements. Yet in previous generations it wasn't at all uncommon to have three generations under the same roof! And what a great thing for all three generations that that was the case. It would appear that some of the cultural failing is happening in Hong Kong too--the abandoned elderly making due however they can kind of thing..

Interpersonally, the era that spawned this posting (direct link) was very difficult. On the other hand I look back at it fondly too. For the record, the pictures were taken from the bed. Nowadays that's my bedroom--and the area pictured is almost empty!--all the office/lab stuff is in the other, bigger room. My meager basement apartment housed three people and a bunny, at one time. Now it's just me ;)
posted by Chuckles at 3:58 PM on May 16, 2017 [3 favorites]


On the one hand these seem like brutal living conditions, but on the other I'm not sure having tiny homes bulldozed by the city of LA and people being forced to camp on the streets is not even worse.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:59 PM on May 16, 2017 [3 favorites]


Aw, so human that even when you live in a closet you still share your space with a pet hamster. This species!
posted by potrzebie at 4:34 PM on May 16, 2017 [16 favorites]


It was really odd seeing Jeff Goldblum smiling in the Apartments.com Ad that showed up between story 6 and 7
posted by johnstein at 5:52 PM on May 16, 2017 [1 favorite]


latest trend in Hong Kong housing are nano flats or "mosquito apartments

The price of the nano flat listed in HK$ and SG$ in the article appears to be a tad over US$500,000.
posted by rh at 6:18 PM on May 16, 2017


I stayed a week and a half at The Regal Hotel Hong Kong in Causeway Bay Area. It was for a work trip. I assure you my room was nothing like the pictures on their site. It was, I estimate, about 100 sq ft including the bathroom. It was damp, dim, and very good at convincing me that wandering the streets was a far better use of my time. I imagine the smallness of living quarters there contributes to the vibrant night life in the city. Everybody lives in teensy apartments so if you want to socialize you're gonna have to go out on the town.

Of course these coffin homes are beyond the pale, and reveal the ever-present dark side of prosperous cities like HK.
posted by Doleful Creature at 7:12 PM on May 16, 2017 [6 favorites]


Capitalism, perfected.
posted by anarch at 8:03 PM on May 16, 2017 [2 favorites]


The last photograph warms my heart. One might think that people living in such a space would have no money or attention to spare for piano (well, guzheng) lessons, but then one would be wrong.

I don't doubt that a coffin home is a real hardship, but I suspect most people in the U.S. over-estimate how much space they need. A family of four can be perfectly comfortable in a 500 sq ft studio, if they get along well, and perfectly miserable in a 1500 sq ft 3 bedroom, if they don't. Hell is other people.
posted by d. z. wang at 8:12 PM on May 16, 2017 [6 favorites]


the sky in any photos was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

I wonder how young you have to be to have absolutely no idea what that looks like....
posted by cirhosis at 9:17 PM on May 16, 2017 [8 favorites]


I wonder how young you have to be to have absolutely no idea what that looks like....

As old as 25 or so. I talk tech and multimedia with a fair amount of millenials and they've mostly grown up with cable ready TVs that don't even show dead channels. Even the mid 90s CRT TVs self-programmed either from a direct cable feed or a cable box.
posted by loquacious at 10:04 PM on May 16, 2017 [3 favorites]


The Tiny House Movement puts the opposite spin on reduced square foot living.
posted by fairmettle at 1:07 AM on May 17, 2017


I often stay in a cheap hotel in Kowloon - the rooms are tiny - the Hong Kong shower-over-the-toilet thing. But they are clean and well lit and I'm under 6 ft so the bed is great - I have no real complaints
posted by mbo at 1:27 AM on May 17, 2017


the sky in any photos was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.
I wonder how young you have to be to have absolutely no idea what that looks like....

What, you mean bright, iridescent blue? Pretty funny color for an allegory, if you ask me.

*sashays off your lawn*
posted by Mayor West at 5:57 AM on May 17, 2017 [3 favorites]


The Tiny House Movement has ZERO to do with this FPP.
posted by agregoli at 7:19 AM on May 17, 2017 [8 favorites]


The cost of living now is so high all over, of course people are going to live in these.

When I was in high school we lived in an apartment in a triplex in South Amboy, NJ. It had two bedrooms, a living room, a separate dining room, eat in kitchen with a walk in pantry, full bathroom, shared basement with washer/dryer and a fenced in shared back yard. Mom rented it for $850 a month as a single working mom with two jobs - one full and one part-time and she had two kids. We were there from the mid eighties until the early nineties. I recently saw the same apartment for rent on a website and it's advertised as $2, 150 a month. In fucking SOUTH AMBOY, NJ.

How much people are making hasn't gone up. How can anyone afford that? Of course they're going to move a family into super tiny spaces with bunk beds and bedrooms in kitchens. I'm surprised you don't see more of this in the US at this point.
posted by 80 Cats in a Dog Suit at 8:10 AM on May 17, 2017 [3 favorites]


I've heard people say that "for the good of the planet" we should all be living in teeny tiny boxes like this, stacked together as high as they'll go, for the smallest footprint possible. It does hold true that big suburban McMansions with huge wasteful lawns etc are very bad in terms of energy/resource efficiency, but I think this is maybe going too far the other way...
posted by The otter lady at 8:24 AM on May 17, 2017 [4 favorites]


The otter lady: "I've heard people say that "for the good of the planet" we should all be living in teeny tiny boxes like this, stacked together as high as they'll go, for the smallest footprint possible. It does hold true that big suburban McMansions with huge wasteful lawns etc are very bad in terms of energy/resource efficiency, but I think this is maybe going too far the other way..."

As someone who purposefully has minimized his possessions and chooses to live in a pseudo-microapartment, I'd agree with agregoli -- this has nothing to do with that. This is people forced into such spaces by poverty and lack of a safety net.
posted by WCityMike at 8:41 AM on May 17, 2017 [6 favorites]


There's a man whose "house" isn't large enough for him to stretch out his legs. These are not twee tiny houses.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:22 AM on May 17, 2017 [3 favorites]


How long until we see these being offered in New York City? (For at least $1000 per month, of course!)
posted by SisterHavana at 9:38 AM on May 17, 2017


Chuckles: "Yet in previous generations it wasn't at all uncommon to have three generations under the same roof! And what a great thing for all three generations that that was the case."

I would submit that this was not always a good thing.
posted by Chrysostom at 10:06 AM on May 17, 2017 [8 favorites]


How long until we see these being offered in New York City?

I say this kindly, as a temporarily displaced New Yorker:

Why does it matter? Why do we as American mefites seem to feel the need to bring things back to American reference points at every opportunity? People live in these apartments now; we can just engage with them as they are in the city where they are.
posted by R a c h e l at 10:14 AM on May 17, 2017 [12 favorites]


Also, on reading the comments I was all prepared to say "eh, I wouldn't mind this at all assuming the city outside could provide for my social needs and food needs and everything else" but then I went and saw the pictures and wow these are a step beyond that. I've never lived anywhere nearly this small but I have lived places where almost every part of day-to-day life requires careful consideration of just what you are and aren't able to store and use and do in your home and it's really exhausting. With a family, wow, these folks are amazing.
posted by R a c h e l at 10:20 AM on May 17, 2017


One step closer to J. G. Ballard's Billennium (1961) ...
posted by aperturescientist at 10:43 AM on May 17, 2017


I was thinking Stand on Zanzibar.
posted by BrotherCaine at 10:49 AM on May 17, 2017


I say this kindly, as a temporarily displaced New Yorker:

Why does it matter? Why do we as American mefites seem to feel the need to bring things back to American reference points at every opportunity? People live in these apartments now; we can just engage with them as they are in the city where they are.


Yes, this. I'm annoyed that this has turned into a thread on US housing conditions, when it should be about Hong Kong. It's a microaggression that a story about living conditions faced by people in a territory in Asia has turned into chatter about white people in the US having rent issues.
posted by daybeforetheday at 1:21 PM on May 17, 2017 [4 favorites]


Why do we as American mefites seem to feel the need to bring things back to American reference points at every opportunity?

+1. I'd extend it to the scifi references. Can you imagine if every time we discussed adoption and foster care in the US, people did nothing but make glib references to Annie?
posted by airmail at 5:06 PM on May 17, 2017 [4 favorites]


> I'm annoyed that this has turned into a thread on US housing conditions, when it should be about Hong Kong

I disagree. I brought up NYC because the photos reminded me of an essay (which I couldn't find) about SROs. I approached it from the perspective of a photo essay about "people living in cramped situations," not "living conditions faced by people in a territory in Asia."

If the FPP had been a collection of links to articles about life in Hong Kong, real estate in Hong Kong, etc, I would agree with you, but there's nothing in it to say one approach to discussing the photos is the most valid. We can discuss the technical aspects of the photography, the location, the individuals, the ethics of this kind of essay, the real estate market of Hong Kong, small apartments in other parts of the world... there are many options.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:17 PM on May 17, 2017 [1 favorite]


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