Hong Kong’s soli­tary oc­cu­pa­tions

Hong Kong’s a fran­tic place—for most of us. But there are still those who work alone in a sea of hu­man­ity. Is­abelle Hon, Xavier Ng and Kate Lok talk to the peo­ple with the loneli­est jobs in the city. Pho­tos by Kirk Kenny

HK Magazine - - PAGE 3 -

Neal Tang, 92

It doesn’t get any lone­lier than work­ing with the dead. Neal Tang is one of the own­ers of the Kowloon Fu­neral Par­lour in Tai Kok Tsui. He tells us about be­ing the only warm body in the room.

I was born in 1923, so you can do the math. I was orig­i­nally from a poor part of Guang­dong. I came to Hong Kong in 1939, in World War II, when run­ning away from the Ja­panese.

There weren’t that many jobs avail­able at the time. Be­cause of the war, there was one place al­ways hir­ing—the cof­fin maker. I started as an ap­pren­tice in Yau Ma Tei, learn­ing how to carve a cof­fin—amongst other du­ties that were not so pleas­ant. I was young and poor so of course I had to do ev­ery­thing. From wood­work on the coffins to car­ry­ing the dead to the burial ground, to dig­ging the bones out of the ground.

It was a very tough job.

Jobs at a fu­neral par­lor are di­vided into many parts for dif­fer­ent work­ers. There are work­ers for the more la­bor-in­ten­sive jobs: mov­ing and dress­ing corpses, car­ry­ing the coffins. It can be quite grue­some, es­pe­cially for those who didn’t die of nat­u­ral causes. There are also make-up artists for the dead, Taoist priests for the cer­e­monies, wait­ers, driv­ers, cus­tomer ser­vice of­fi­cers, ac­coun­tants, etc. Some work in groups and some alone, depend­ing on the job.

There are around 60 peo­ple work­ing at this com­pany. But even though there are that many peo­ple, it can still be a lonely job. There’s still some stigma to the in­dus­try. Some peo­ple do try to dis­tance them­selves once they fig­ure out where we work. Some won’t even walk past a fu­neral par­lor. But this is all psy­cho­log­i­cal, and so­ci­ety is chang­ing. Peo­ple are more open to this in­dus­try.

Around 46,000 peo­ple die per year, and they need to be taken care of. Hon­estly, it’s more of a psy­chi­atric treat­ment for the liv­ing. The dead are al­ready dead. The fu­neral is to com­fort the liv­ing.

There aren’t that many peo­ple join­ing the in­dus­try now. Maybe it’s be­cause of the stigma, maybe it’s be­cause of the money—the in­dus­try is a bit sat­u­rated. There are more than 100 cof­fin stores in Hong Kong—that’s too many. Peo­ple who are not fa­mil­iar with us think it’s a boom­ing in­dus­try, but that’s not the case.

You get used to the dead bod­ies. Af­ter all, it’s just a job and ev­ery­one’s just try­ing to make a liv­ing. There’s noth­ing scary about it.

Fu­neral par­lor owner

Ming, 60

Refuse trans­fer point night-shift man­ager

Ming man­ages a refuse trans­fer point in Sai Kung late at night. He’s only been do­ing the job for about a year, but he says there are ben­e­fits.

I Ia am the sta­tion man­ager here. My du­ties in­clude keep­ing the sta­tion tidy, mak­ing sure cars don’t park here, and en­sur­ing that garbage all goes into the trash com­pactor. In the morn­ing the truck takes all the trash to a land­fill.

As a night shift sta­tion man­ager, I work from 3:30pm to 11:30 pm. I have an hour’s break in be­tween. I buy take-out food most of the time, be­cause some­times when I eat out, the sta­tion is re­ally messy af­ter I get back be­cause peo­ple throw their trash any­where, and it takes a while to clean up.

It is a lonely job. You have to take care of garbage, all alone. Noth­ing spe­cial hap­pens: It’s ba­si­cally the same ev­ery day. I don’t go and look at the garbage. It’s just stuff other peo­ple don’t need. Some­times grannies try to col­lect card­board boxes here, but it’s my job not to al­low peo­ple in.

I have been here for a year. This job might be lonely to young peo­ple, but I’m 60 now. Young peo­ple al­ways look for ex­cite­ment in jobs. Old peo­ple just see it as a job. I am happy with my job, and I’m hap­pier to see my grand­son on my days off.

Chung Wai-hong, 25

Truck driver

Wai-hong is a de­liv­ery driver based in Sai Kung. He spends a lot of time wait­ing for de­liv­er­ies… but it’s all for a good cause.

I Id de­liver goods like elec­tronic de­vices and wines. I help com­pa­nies to trans­port goods from one ware­house to an­other ware­house. I get or­ders ev­ery morn­ing at 7am, and I can clock off as soon as I fin­ish work­ing. Some­times there are one or two spots, some­times there are seven or eight.

My com­pany is not big. It only has five trucks and five staff, in­clud­ing the boss. While other com­pa­nies might have more than one per­son per truck, we work alone. But that’s OK for me as I'm a quiet per­son. I don't talk much any­way.

I get a monthly salary, I get extra money when we work over­time, and lunch is in­cluded. I’m used to buy­ing lunch­boxes and eat­ing in the truck. Some­times we need to wait up to five hours, queu­ing up to get into the ware­house. I don’t think the job is bor­ing. l’ll play games on my phone to kill time. Some­times I’ll day­dream or lis­ten to K-Pop. I don’t know much about pol­i­tics—I prob­a­bly think about my wife most of the time. Some­times I talk to my boss on the phone. But there's noth­ing much we can talk about. We’ve al­ready been friends since sec­ondary school.

I’m still in con­tact with my friends from school, but we rarely meet. We only have karaoke or din­ner once ev­ery two months, and most of the time I rush home im­me­di­ately to take care of my wife. She’s preg­nant, and this job can keep us liv­ing hap­pily—so I’m sat­is­fied.

Kan Fu, 51

Post­man

Fu has been a post­man at the Shau Kei Wan Post Of­fice, cov­er­ing the route to Taikoo Shing, for the past 31 years. For him, this soli­tary job is full of hu­man en­coun­ters.

I started work­ing here in 1985. It’s been more than 30 years now. Of­fice hours are from 8am to 4pm ev­ery­day, but I get to work at around 7 since there are so many letters. Af­ter we sort all the letters at around 10am, we get on the staff bus and then start de­liv­er­ing letters.

Al­though there are more than a hun­dred post­man in the of­fice, we all de­liver mail separately so we’re alone most of the time. There’s a lot of mail ev­ery day and the mailbag is heavy. But I don’t feel lonely. There are happy mem­o­ries within th­ese 30 years.

I have a nick­name, ”Un­cle Choco­late Post­man.” Once I was de­liv­er­ing mail in Taikoo Shing as usual. A lit­tle girl looked at me and asked if there was any mail for her. She was up­set be­cause she still hadn’t got her birth­day present from her par­ents, who lived over­seas. I checked and found that the par­cel had been sent back to the Cen­tral main of­fice. I ran to the of­fice af­ter work so I could get the par­cel for her. She was so happy and ended up shar­ing her gift with me: They were choco­lates. Since then peo­ple in that build­ing have called me “Un­cle Choco­late Post­man.”

What do I think about when de­liv­er­ing letters? I ba­si­cally think about noth­ing ex­cept for the mail. They might just be letters to you, but they’re so mean­ing­ful to oth­ers. I can’t make mis­takes.

Mor­gan Wong, 21

Mor­gan works in a car park in Tin Hau. He’s pretty chill.

HK Mag­a­zine: How long have you been a night shift se­cu­rity guard? Mor­gan Wong: I only started work­ing the night shift two days ago. Be­fore that I worked dur­ing the day.

HK: What’s the big­gest change be­tween work­ing days and nights?

MW: I work be­tween 7pm-7am and lit­er­ally no­body comes into the car park af­ter mid­night.

HK: Why did you choose this job? MW: Be­cause it’s very hea [lazy, chill] There’s noth­ing to do. I get a lot of free time.

HK: What do you do with your free time?

MW: I play games on my phone [swipes through Candy Crush] and I text my friends.

HK: Don’t you ever fall asleep dur­ing your shift?

MW: No. I ac­tu­ally find it eas­ier to fall asleep dur­ing day shifts. Maybe it’s be­cause there’s a lot more to do and it tires you out.

HK: Do you ever feel alone, sit­ting in this stall all night?

MW: Not re­ally. I quite en­joy be­ing alone. When you work in the day you have to com­mu­ni­cate, talk to peo­ple. Some­times peo­ple can get quite an­noy­ing, es­pe­cially when they’ve got ques­tions. But work­ing at night means I don’t have to talk to any­one, and I quite like that.

HK: What else would you do? MW: If I wasn’t a se­cu­rity guard I might think about teach­ing gui­tar. That’s my hobby.

Night shift se­cu­rity guard

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