By Alex Thomas
n a city of escalating housing prices and lack of urban space, 1,200 Hong Kong Dollars (HK$) can buy a 6ft by 3ft iron cage in a disused tenant building.
Cage homes first arose shortly after the Chinese Civil War in 1949, floods of Chinese refugees arrived in Hong Kong evading persecution from China. Their arrival supplied Hong Kong’s industries with cheap labor and sparked a huge surge in demand for low-cost bed space. Landlords looking to increase profit margins, packed in 6ft by 3ft iron cages that served as bunk beds, stacked threes or four cages high. There were once up to 600 of these cage homes, one may of thought they would have disappeared but a combination of economic instability and the lack of space in Hong Kong has meant they still exist today.
We just exist, “one day at a time
Official government data states 15 licensed caged exist,however with the presence of unlicensed cage homes , “Figures are closer 100, housing approximately 800 citizens.”Mr Chan of SoCO, an agency that helps low-income workers secure public housing. Chen, 57, is one of these citizents, sharing such a cage home with nine other men whose aged between 57-84, each suffering from varying health complaints. Chen suffers from acute arthritis. He currently pays HK$1,200 month for his cage, communal TV, overhead fan, toilet and a wall phone. The 20m2 space is damp, cramped, with no basic amenities such as kitchens and bathrooms. “ We just exist here, one day at a time.” He says gazing up at the three cage stack in front of him. This was not the way Chen envisaged seeing out his imminent retirement years when he arrived in Hong Kong in 1972, with grand hopes of making his fortune and supporting his wife and young family back in Donguan. Chen once commanded the top salary of the time at HK$150 per week as a scaffold worker. This success was shortlived as the opening up of China in the 80’s marked the migration of industries to the mainland and Chen was forced to retire from the industry after breaking his leg in 1989. Pictured : (Above) Chen sits in his 6ft x 3ft cage (Left - Right) The entrance to the cage home, Chens cocktail of medicine for arthritis, the cage home landlord,the cage home building
Chen currently receives HK$2,700 a month in welfare support and medical care for the injuries sustained whilst in the construction industry. Over the last 20 years he has lived in a range of inadequate housing, from rooftop cubilcles to halfway house. He has called his current cage, home for 11 years. Chen is viewed as the unofficial head of the Mong Kok cage home, a role he appears to enjoy, all decisions and activites tend to stem from him. Daily life tends to vary very little for Chen and his cage mates. Like clock work at 9am Chen rolls from his cage and reaches for the mornings papers bought by fellow cage mate Gong Siu Gau. In the absence of cooking facilities Chen usually skips breakfast and has an early lunch at the food hall next door. On return he takes a nap followed by traditional Chinese games. In the evening Chen and his cage mates would usually gather around the window and eat takeaway from the same food hall, followed by TV, and disccussions.
I will not, spend my last years in this cage
“Many of these people are at an age where they are too scared to move from an environement they are so familiar with.” Mr Chan, SoCO.
Chen, who last saw his family two years ago during the Spring Festival, dreams of reuniting with his family back in Donguan. “I will not spend my last years in this cage,if save hopefully i will have enough money to move back in a few years and be able to suport them.”Chen.
Pictured : (Above) Bar Yan,68 and Lai, 57, eat takeway from the local food hall, Chen and Gong Siu - Gau,62 , play tradtional Chinese games, Jiang Shaojiu,60, Chen and Lai wait for luch at the local food hall.(Opposite) Chen eats his stapple pork and rice.