There’s no leisurely setting to the pace and speed of life in Hong Kong. You can feel it the moment you land at the airport. Suddenly, everything is fast and you are too slow.
From the subways and trains that arrive at sub-1 minute intervals, to the buses that will run you over, or at least off, the road – because they, and not pedestrians, have the right of way, or the taxis will take off before you shut the door, because they’re Japanese cars where the driver can close the door with a button, or even the people, who will not just graze elbows, which might be common in major cities, but actually smash their shoulders into you without apology.
Hong Kong is a city made for work, and by work.
It was literally created by a trade treaty in which one party got to sell drugs in exchange for gold, on a barren rock in the middle of the ocean with so little flat land that half the downtown area is built on artificially created land.
It was made so people could go there, trade freely, and then leave with the fruits of their labor.
While people settle in Hong Kong, many also have ancestral ties, homes, and families on the mainland, where they retreat during vacations or during retirement. And for an entire class of expats employed in the financial services industry, well, Hong Kong allows you to make 1%-er money, pay some of the lowest taxes in the world, generate wealth, and move back home.
Everyone is a hustler in Hong Kong.
But the realest hustlers? They’re not the investment bankers working all-nighters deep in the recesses of the IFC, Cheung Kong, or ICC. They hustle too, but they party just as hard.
The real hustlers don’t get to party. The real hustlers are almost invisible except on the weekends, when they come out on their one day off and congregate in Wan Chai and Causeway Bay. And you could make the case that Hong Kong is run by them. The city wouldn’t be as productive, as operationally leveraged, or as able to work, if they didn’t exist.
In Hong Kong, the Indonesian and Filipina “domestic helpers” (maids) have standard working hours of between 12 to 15 hours a day, 6 days a week. Often, their only space to themselves is a small closet that is as long as the length of a single bed, and just as wide – and sometimes if their households employ two maids, well, the bed is a bunk.
Working from 6am to 10pm is not uncommon, with household duties that include cleaning, cooking, taking care of the elderly and babies alike, and being the first point of call when the baby wakes up in the middle of the night. Also, household shopping, miscellaneous chores. Six days a week. At least 10 hours a day.
Also, they do it without having basic rights or representation in the cities where they literally raise the next generation. Sometimes they get kidnapped, their passports taken away, funds due to them not paid.
This is a note of gratitude to them.
Working and living in this part of the world, you come face to face with an entire class of manual laborers who are invisible.
Sometimes, working hard is no guarantee of success. Sometimes it’s just a guarantee that you’ll survive.