A tale of two cities

13 Nov 2014
Author: Robert Precht

A group of elderly people gather in a park awaiting cooked rice from a church

Last night I visited Sham Shui Po with my friend Chivy Chan. It is the poorest district in Hong Kong and has the highest percentage of elderly over 65. People live in subdivided rooms in dilapidated high-rises that often lack elevators. The streets are filled with dealers of second-hand electronics and purveyors of junk. There are many people who live on the street and under the highway bridges in cardboard boxes. It is common to see elderly women collecting paper scraps and boxes which they take to a recycling center for cash. One restaurant is known  for its generosity as it offers low-cost vouchers for small meals. 

Elderly woman dismantles box to take to recycling center

My friend Chivy, who grew up nearby, told me that many street cleaners live in Sham Shui Po and are among the people we see living in tents made of old discarded boxes. The place is very different from glamorous Central, and even Mong Kok looks affluent by comparison. Every city has its poor area including of course New York where I am from. I was surprised to learn that Hong Kong's poverty rate is even higher. About 1.3 million people, or 19.6 percent of Hong Kong’s  population, were below the poverty line in 2012 according to a recent official report. The City’s Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality, rose to 0.537. The score, a high for the city since records began in 1971, is above the 0.4 level used by analysts as a guage of the potential for social unrest. Can the legal profession help? Are there opportunities for public interest founders?