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October 2017
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Say No to hegemony!

(Bloodsucker: Link REIT; left character: public housing residents; right character: small businesses)

(Bloodsucker: Link REIT; left character: public housing residents; right character: small businesses)

I’m a Tseung Kwan O resident. I have been living here for ten years.

I went to the wet market with my mum today. It has been a long time I didn’t go into the wet market before this afternoon. The floor is not as slippery as in my memory, while the stalls are more neatly than I expected. Vegetables and fruits stalls are on the left, tomatoes, oranges, bananas, broccolis, blueberries, eggplants etc. My mum bargained with the owner for the choy sum, but was rejected by him for the reason of high rental price of the stall.

A decade ago, Link REIT, Hong Kong’s first real estate investment trust, took over the operation of wet markets and shopping centres at local public housing estates with the privatization of assets operated by the Housing Authority. Throughout the years, Link REIT’s launched renovations in different wet markets and shopping centres and asked for higher rent from tenants.

My uncle Michael is also a victim who suffered from high rental price. He is a seafood stall owner in this market. Although he has been selling fish for ten years, his stall will be closed down in early next year as he could not afford for higher rent in the new contract. I remembered that two years ago, he grumbled to us for nearly a month about his discontent on the 30% increment of his stall’s rent. Regarding the never-ending increasing rent this time, he blamed Link REIT as “a bloodsucker!”, with much much foul language.

Not only my uncle suffered from higher cost of living, but also my family. A research conducted by the Consumer Council pointed out that the wet market I used to go has the highest food price among all the wet markets in Hong Kong, in which the average food price is 30% higher than that in other wet markets. Recently, as to cover higher living expenses, my mum cut three dishes to two. I often have to eat some snacks after dinner.

Our neighbor Mrs Leung, who has been living in this district for over a half century since she was twenty, went to the wet market in another district which offers cheaper food. “Although it is far away, the food price is really much lower!” However, every evening I saw this 73-year-old woman carrying two full bags of fresh foods, walking back from another district, a question come to my mind: Why should an old woman need to worry about her living and go to another district for saving food expenditures?

Undoubtedly, the renovation makes the wet market cleaner and more neatly. Yet, the cost brought heavy burden on residents’ living. This not only takes place in the aspect of food, but also shopping.

Since I was small, I like hanging around in Mushroom, a stationery shop in the shopping centre. I like to see the stationery piled up every corner. Messy, yet full range. It was my favourite place to stay for the whole day. I could always find something special but inexpensive. Nonetheless, I couldn’t enjoy this small world anymore. Winnie, the owner of Mushroom, told me that Link REIT rejected to renew her contract. “To attract more chain stores and gain more profits, Link REIT drove away all of us because we’re only small businesses.” Although it offers high quality products at an affordable price, and has been serving the community for many years, it couldn’t get rid of the fate of being eliminated.

Ten years ago, small shops in public housing shopping centres accounted for 70%. But the number dropped drastically after Link REIT’s operation. Activist group Link Watch said retail chains made up for 76% in 2075 shop in 22 shopping centres run by the firm. Now, whenever I need to buy stationery, I have to go to the stationery chain stores which offer expensive but monotonous stationery.

My American friend Luke, who visited me last month, doesn’t like the renovation too. He thinks although the shopping centres look comfortable, “it is damaging some special features of Hong Kong.” With the intent to explore and experience the uniqueness of the city, he expressed his disappointment to me: “There are too many chain stores in the shopping centres. I can also find them in my country. I came here is to see something my country doesn’t have, such as the wet market and some featured shops. I think these places constitute the distinguishing culture of Hong Kong.” For his disappointment, I could only reply him with a wry smile.

Hong Kong has been famous for its cultural diversity. The mixture of Western, Eastern and local features highlights the city’s uniqueness. Public housing wet markets and shopping centres are a part of grassroots’ life, as well as a distinctive feature of local culture. However, under Link REIT’s hegemony, residents became victims. The never-ending increasing rent drove away the small shops rooted in the community for decades. While the price of goods raised, the variety of goods lowered, and couldn’t satisfy the actual needs of local residents. It even endangers a part of Hong Kong’s unique culture. Link REIT hegemony has invaded all parts of our lives and seriously affected our living. There is no excuse for us to tolerate it. Don’t live under hegemony anymore!

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