On being 75% deprived

The Hong Kong Council for Social Service releases a shocking report: poor people don’t have much. Nearly one in five people in the Big Lychee, the organization says, lack four or more of 35 ‘necessities’, thus qualifying as deprived.

I may be one of them. The full list is in Chinese at the back here. Some of the 35 items are without doubt essential or at least highly desirable: a new school uniform a year for kids, air conditioning for summer, a home refrigerator, hot bathing water in winter, eyeglasses if needed, breakfast daily, fresh fruit weekly, warm clothing in winter, and convenient public transport. Some may not be matters of life or death, but it would probably be inconvenient or even depressing to lack them: ability to afford wedding gifts, ability to afford a visit to a teahouse, assistance at home during sickness, ability to borrow HK$3,000 in an emergency, access to advice on important decisions, and basic English. Others are arguably dispensable; for example, do you need a family camera if you already have a mobile phone? Others are a bit hard to define, like respect, self-esteem, and access to leisure activities.

Without finishing the list, I can claim to tick three of the boxes. I don’t have a home TV (my amah ‘borrowed’ it years ago on finding I never switched it on). I don’t have neighbourhood recreation/sports facilities (unless you count the strip of gruesome bars on Wyndham Street). I don’t have the ability to visit family at Chinese New Year (or at least I don’t have the desire or energy to blow so much time traipsing around two continents every February). I am technically three-quarters in poverty. But I’m still happy!

One of the most telling phrases I ever read about this city (in an old Lonely Planet guide) is that you can never quite work out whether you are rich or poor here. Most of us fall somewhere between astounding and quite visible extremes. The serious poverty people most worry about is that affecting kids: typically single-parent families from the Mainland probably wishing they still had residency rights back on the other side of the border. The government tries to help out with travel allowances, computer/Internet vouchers and other handouts. Perhaps the real scandal is among the elderly. Bureaucrats who ensure their own health needs are generously met and are sitting on over a trillion dollars in reserves take apparent pride in denying penniless 80-somethings basic dental care.

This mentality dates from colonial times, when public services were viewed as a waste that would simply encourage surplus mouths to settle in Hong Kong. It is the sort of thing the next Chief Executive, CY Leung, probably intends to fix, should the pro-democrats in the Legislative Council deign not to put too many obstacles in his path.

As a sign that times are changing, I return to my desk after a couple of weeks away to find two souvenirs of Donald Tsang’s outgoing administration: an Audit Commission report on the CE’s overseas hotel arrangements and some Independent Review Committee blather about senior officials accepting luxury yacht and jet travel from tycoons…

Click to hear ‘Poor, Poor, Pitiful Me’ by Warren Zevon!

We declare the weekend prematurely open by returning to the fun map quiz for all the family – chosen for its absurdly obscure subject matter. So I thought. As a surprising number of alert folk knew, the map shows concealed-carry laws: blue states must issue permits to anyone who qualifies, yellow/orange states retain discretionary powers, and mean old Illinois doesn’t let you wander around with a pistol.

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5 Responses to On being 75% deprived

  1. Bela Lugosi says:


    1. Incense burner by the door to fumigate common passageways and irritate passing gwailos.

    2. Lots of ceiling space for bamboo poles to hang clothes hangers and plastic bags from, often containing even more plastic bags.

    3. Large TV with deafening speakers permanently tuned to TVB Jade and still bearing a peeling “It’s A Sony” triangle sticker on the right top corner of the screen.

    4. Huge Shanghai-made transistor radio for race nights.

    5. Toilet roll holder tissue dispensers on the smeared glass topped table.

    6. Vests, plimsolls for home wear: cardigan and brown suit for work and funerals.

    7. Extra bamboo poles for hanging out washing to crisp and crease and turn yellow slowly in the sun.

    8, Air conditioner never cleaned since 1962, turned on and operating at full pitch for dear life only when the temperature hits 34 degrees Centigrade.

    9. Gargantuan never-quite-empty rice cooker, savage occasionally exploding two-ring gas stove, cockroach motel cum microwave oven (It’s A Sanyo!).

    10. Er…

    11. That’s it.

  2. PropertyDeveloper says:


    You’ve missed the three essentials: 10. a tacked-on twin-core 1.0-1.5 mm wire for an extra 13A socket, which itself…

    11. a bucket for when the ceiling damp patch starts playing up.

    12. a thin handkerchief masquerading as a bath-towel.

    I’m not aware of an item called “plimsolls” being in common usage in modern Transylvania. On the hypothesis that you really mean “pumps”, I posit that you hail from a far-flung English province.

  3. Probably says:

    @ Bela,

    You have only covered the menswear section for item 6. Don’t forget the grandmother’s paisley pyjamas for when she is going to the local shops.

  4. Probably says:


    12. Dead pot plants (I’m referring to the non-medicinal variety).

    13. Some red and gold hanging ornament thingy adorned with chinese characters on the front door (preferably left there since Chinese New Year).

    I’ll stop now as it would be bad luck to do a 14th point.

  5. Real Tax Payer says:

    It’s a pity that we could not comment on june 4th dribs and drabs because that picture reminded me of a story

    There was once an “arty” painting at a gallery opening of 3 naked black men, the middle one of which had a white penis ( the men on either side hand standard black ones).

    Spectators were debating the deep meaning of this symbolism all day until they met the artist in person at the evening so they asked him what he meant by the painting.

    He just laughed and said it was a painting of 3 Yorkshire coal miners after the end of their shift and before they went to the showers. The guy with the white penis had in the meantime slipped home for a quickie …

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