Quora Question: What Is It Like to Live in Hong Kong's Cubicle Apartments?

A man looks at the skyline of Hong Kong from the Peak in Hong Kong September 10, 2014. Bobby Yip/Reuters

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Answer from David Yu.

It's a different mind set. I lived in Hong Kong for 12 years, and in the U.S. for 17 years (different cities/suburban). Most of the cities feel like a giant Monopoly game, but no other city comes close to Hong Kong. Everything is tighter in Hong Kong; it's important to have a good concept of caching your stuff (not in a computer programming way, but similar).

Lots of people have listed the physical aspects of the living conditions. I am going to list the mental aspects of living in H.K. For example, when you do your shopping in the U.S., what's your biggest crime or biggest mistake when you do an errand run? It's most likely that your weekly shopping trip to Costco, Best Buy, that Japanese/Chinese/Korean supermarket is 20 miles away, and you forget to buy something. The mindset in Hong Kong is different—whatever you need, it's right around the corner, go buy it when you need it. Don't make a special run just for that one thing, buy it when you get off that bus or subway ride. In a country where you have lots of space for your house, you don't want to waste time on traveling to get your stuff (but you do spend lots of time trying to organize them). In H.K., you don't want to waste your space in your house.

In short, living in H.K. requires you to do the following, assuming you will spend the same amount of time and money on the same lifestyle:

  1. Lower the quantity of your daily use items, but in return you buy them more frequently. For example, toilet paper, you buy 50 rolls at Costco and only make 1 trip for toilet paper every 3 months? Well, in H.K., you buy 2 rolls, and make that trip every time you get off that MTR.
  2. Select your furniture more carefully, there is literally NO ROOM for mistakes. If you buy a piece of furniture you don't like in H.K. because it looks disproportionate in your new flat, that's because a lot of the "showroom" pieces in H.K.'s apartment or condo showrooms are downsized furniture. So they make the flat/condo look big. Get your mind game right, buy furniture for 1-2 persons, measure your space VERY carefully before buying them at Ikea or something.
  3. Want to buy more clothes? Your mind should think what clothes should be replaced. Don't just go buy the same jacket in 3 different colors.
  4. Want a snack? Great! Your pantry or your food storage is that 7-Eleven around the corner. Remember, it's a different mind game.
  5. Want to hang out and have a beer? Go to a bar like you do in your home town, but wait, what if you want that living room-relaxing experience with a beer and TV? Well, go to a karaoke joint. That's what it's for! What if you want a snack when you're almost done hanging out? Well, notice how there are like a thousand dessert shops? Those are the equivalent of a late night mac-cheese, slider, or Buffalo wings. You get dessert for hanging out late instead. Like I said, it's a different mind game.

Think of it like a mall, your giant house back where you come from everything is under one roof. Like a mall.

In Hong Kong, think of it like a giant outdoor mall, the entire city is your hangout.

You also need to "discover" a few emergency secret bathrooms. For example, when I was going to college in the U.S., I had a secret bathroom located on the 2nd floor behind the server room, and most people didn't know it was there. In Hong Kong, you need to have the mind game and know how to find that emergency bathroom.

You see where I am going with this? Most people can't relax in public places. But sooner or later you have to develop your "home court" in H.K. Find that spot you like to relax, join the gym for its wonderful shower. Go get a library card for its spacious working space. Find that private non-chain cafe on the 17th floor and go there for time out.

The other aspects of the mind are social. For example in the U.S., you probably say an awesome really enthusiastic greeting to your neighbor every chance you get to see them, like: "HEY how's it going!" "What a wonderful day!" But in H.K., every time you get into an elevator with 30 floors, on a daily friggin' base, you most likely don't need to interact with them. The personal comfort zone is smaller, yet breaking into that zone is often responded in a more confrontational situation.

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