Coffin, sweet coffin
By Damir Sagolj
Just around the corner from where Blade Runner met Bruce Lee, in the neighborhood where Hong Kong’s millions are made, 24 people live their lives in coffins. They call it home – but they’re only 6 by 3 feet wooden boxes, nicknamed coffins and packed into a single room to make more money for the rich.
In a crazy chase for more dollars, landlords in the island city are building something unthinkable in the rest of the world – a beehive for people collected from the margins of society. Math is a rat; pitiless and brutal. Twenty-four times 1450 Hong Kong dollars a month is more than anyone would pay for this just over 500 square feet room.
Mister T, the only inhabitant of these coffin homes who did not want his picture taken (“I have a grown daughter, she would be ashamed”) calls it the bottom. After spending time in the States, with a few years behind bars, this is as low as it gets for him. He spits through broken front teeth, like the routine of a street gangster, and continues bitching about the life – “better than nothing, but not as good as the real life.”
Others here seem to be more relaxed about living in coffins and with their struggles. In a town where the size of ones living space is inversely proportionate to the size of mobile phone screens and where the rental rates, and life in general, are painfully expensive.
Blade Runner went digital. Bruce Lee got a full time job at Madame Tussauds. There are no more heroes in the neighborhood to help fight injustice. Except maybe Miss Sze, a community organizer with the sweetest “everything is going to be okay” look I have ever seen.
Being the only woman in the room, Sze goes from coffin to coffin to hear what residents have to say. Chung’s mother died and he lost his place in the queue for a proper community apartment. Kam has to wear a medical corset for his bad back and can barely move. And young King is here only for a month and wants to leave.
Miss Sze says that over 100,000 people in Hong Kong live in inadequate housing. Living space is always at a premium here and it’s not easy to find a decent accommodation if you are not wearing a silk suit, golden watch and all that comes with it.