HONG KONG AFTER MIDNIGHTThe midnight cogs that keep Hong Kong's engine running.
When thinking about workers who work into the night, Hong Kong employees begrudgingly working overtime hours in tall office buildings is a familiar image. But however late, they do eventually head home.While they are headed home on the last subway, Hong Kong’s nighttime workforce leave their cozy homes and make their way to workplaces that keep the 24-7 city running.
It is half past twelve. An inconspicuous building at Tseung Kwan O Industrial Estate is still fully lit.The workshop on the first floor of the building braces itself for the busiest time of a day. Chan Mei Sang, a man who wears a dark blue uniform, has a stretch and begins to patrol the plant.The 48-year-old Chan is the printing production manager of the Apple Daily, one of the top-selling newspapers in Hong Kong.“My working time is from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m every day and I am in charge of all the printing affairs here,” Chan says. “Our work is always ignored by readers but actually it is an indispensable part for a newspaper production.”Chan joined Apply Daily twenty years ago when the company was just founded, and he was one of the youngest workers in the printing factory at that moment.
Chan says, “My parents tried to persuade me to not do the job. They thought I would always work at night, and it is bad for my health. I don’t think it is a problem. I can have a good rest during the daytime.”
“My parents have persuaded me not to do the job, because they thought I always work at night and it is bad to my health. I think it is not a problem. I can have a good rest during the daytime.”
Now, there are around 50 employees working under Chan. From making zinc plates to collecting the final newspapers, each step of the process requires 10 workers or more.“Normally, the entertainment and sports news pages are the first to be printed since they can be finalized early at around 8 p.m,” says Chan. “The deadline of the political news, including Hong Kong local news and international news is 11 p.m. because we have to wait for the latest news.”Chan says during the past two decades, the newspaper industry declined continuously. Now the circulation of Apple Daily is 120,000 every day, but the figure was 537,000 in 1993.“Normally the 120,000 newspapers can be printed in five hours and earlier printed newspapers will be sent out to kiosks and newspaper vendors immediately after printing finished,” Chan says.Every morning, the kiosks at Mong Kok, Yau Ma Tei and Jordan are the first to receive a batch of newspapers.
LATE NIGHT RIDE HOME
Nestled beside every newspaper stand in Mongkok, there are red-top minibus lots that fill an entire block at night. At Tung Choi street, one out of the over forty bus drivers, Dickson Ma, impresses his last customers by reversing into a narrow parking spot scratch-free on his first try. As Dickson is aging, he can no longer drive 12-hour days like he used to fifteen years ago. Now he calls it a day by the tenth hour. Dickson prefers driving in the late night as opposed to waiting on the congested traffic during rush hour. He actually prefers handling the sudden swerves of late-night drunk drivers over the fatigue of waiting in traffic for up to an hour.
The way Dickson sees it, red minibuses, which are non-governmental self-financed transportation businesses, are easy targets for traffic cops who need to beef up their work performance. They can easily survey the streets that have more buses and pull them over. This frustrates Dickson, since the profit margins are not high to begin with. Dickson feels that the traffic police are heartless. One ticket can take away the earnings of half his days work. One group that is sucking away his profits are the Mong Kok gangs that collect “protection fees”. The gang members show up every month to collect the money. In this lot, each bus has to pay 3000 per month. But it varies depending on the relationship between the gang and the bus fleet. Dickson said, “If they take 1000 per month, you can take 40000 for the whole lot. You don’t dare to not pay it. If I don’t pay it, they’ll wreck my car. They rarely hurt you physically though.”
FEEDING THE OVERNIGHT WORKFORCE
Eastward, in Kennedy Town, a dim sum master works tirelessly serving up fresh local food to the overnight workforce as fuel for their labor in keeping the city running late into the hours of the evening. Every night at 3 a.m., the restaurant is lifted with the pleasant smells and aromas of food and diners waiting to have their stomach treated. Groups of hungry, eager customers wait in the long queue outside of the restaurant, wishing that a seat would open up its vacancy.
The story of why Sin Hing Restaurant opens daily at 3 a.m. when the rest of the majority of the city is indulging itself in a peaceful slumbering dream begins more than 40 years ago.
Back then, the old site of the restaurant was next to a slaughterhouse which operated late into the night. Because workers operated late into the night, they did not have the luxury of choice that daytime workers had when it comes to food.
For these workers, a crucial piece of the Hong Kong life was missing. Not a single dim sum restaurant was open until that late. The rise of Sin Hing offered a solution for the hungry midnight workers and it soon became popular around the neighbourhood. Although years passed by and the slaughterhouse is no longer there, the restaurant keeps this time honored tradition alive even to this day.
“Now most of our customers in the early morning are students in The University of Hong Kong, taxi drivers and overnight workers.”
Tsui Gwok Hing, Shopkeeper.
Tsui set up the restaurant in 1973 at his thirties. During the 45 years under his operation, the restaurant has moved three times because of the rising rent. “I want to provide customers with the most affordable good dim sum in Hong Kong,” he said.
Tsui has successfully made the average spending in the shop less than HK$50 in the most expensive city in Asia.Now in his seventies, Tsui still keeps getting up at 2 a.m. He works hard for the whole day as a cashier, but also helped with the shop cleaning and dishes ordering. Sin Hing Restaurant served customers with more than 60 kinds of handmade dim sum, including steamed rice rolls, barbecued pork buns, and sticky rice with chicken.The dim sum maker Chen said the most popular dim sum in the restaurant is cream custard bun and shrimp dumpling. “Everyday, I make more than one hundred steamers of custard buns and shrimp dumplings each,” he said. He works for twelve hours a day from 1:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
HUSTLER AND BUSTLE- SEX WORKERS
Yau Ma Tei Almost thirty sex workers, most of them older than 35-years-old, were looking for business on Shanghai street in YauMaTei in Kowloon. Some stood by the doorway in short dresses and low-cut tops under the dim chilly streetlights.G, a sex worker originally from Guangdong province, had a polite and kind demeanor as she waited for business. G saw sex work as the easiest and fastest way to earn money, and she chose the profession to support herself and her two children after her divorce.However, she doesn’t think sex work is the most suitable job, especially in the cold winter months, since she has a chronic illness.
“I have spinal disease so I have to take a break after one to two hours work,”
G, Sex Worker
As sex workers aged, the people in charge of the brothels find them less attractive and assign them to find business on the street for hours, while the younger women wait inside hotels.An employee at a midnight Karaoke shop said that younger sex workers were bolder, and they usually solicit customers at Yaumatei MTR exits in the afternoon.
Sex workers in Wanchai, many originally from Philippines, laughed while soliciting customers who were enjoying themselves at the bars.
Mia, a Filipino sex worker said she sold drinks to the customers, and she received commission for selling drinks. Mia said many of her customers are foreign tourists.
Mia just entered the business two weeks ago. After seeing two customers, she earned two thousand dollars per each customer. She said she felt homesick.
She planned to leave the place after she makes ten thousand dollars—which covers what she owes her friend along with a flight ticket to the Philippines.
Nicole, a Filipino sex worker and Mia’s friend, said “enjoy” when asked about her work.
She added, “Of course, we can’t do the job for a long term once we’re not young anymore.”
She never told her family about her work. Instead, she told them she is a janitor and dishwasher.
The night workers begin to wrap up their shift. The workers unanimously said that they just accidentally ended up working the night work industry. Whether it was because there was a money problem or because they simply didn’t care, the common thread was many stayed in the industry. They then went home to rest, and they would start getting ready for work in the early evening again.
It was now almost morning. The commuter bus lines were getting longer, and 9 to 5 workers were rushing into bakeries to buy bread and milk. Another day was starting.