The Park Security Guard
You’re chilling on the grass in one of Hong Kong’s public parks. You take out a frisbee, and a park security guard immediately appears to stop you. OK, fine, but can we kick this ball around? No. Walk the dog? Hell no. Dude, we’re just trying to have some fun here! What’s your problem? We have a heart-to-heart with a female park security guard.
HK Magazine: So, how did you become a security guard?
Park Security Guard: I used to work in factories. But they all shut down and I had to find something else to do. I don’t have good educational qualifications and I don’t really have any skills. I came across this job opening and applied. It’s not easy, but it has regular working hours and that’s good enough for me.
HK: You must face a lot of confrontation. What’s it like?
PSG: It’s mentally exhausting. There are daily arguments about the park regulations. Usually it starts when people want to bike or play a sport on the grass, and we have to tell them to stop. Parents in particular have a bad attitude. A woman yelled at me, “You’re scaring my kid. I will file a complaint against you!” I had only asked her son to play in another area. I’m just doing my job—why do you have to be so mean?
HK: What’s outlawed in the park?
PSG: No ball games. People might get hit, and isn’t that what ball courts are for? No skateboarding. No dogs. Opening the park up to all activities would be great—our jobs would be much easier—but given the small space, would you actually want to come here if people could do whatever they wanted? I don’t think so. I don’t get to call the shots here. There are LCSD officials doing random rounds in the park to check if we’re doing our jobs. I’d lose my job if I let people slide.
HK: Is there a certain kick that comes with telling people off?
PSG: I don’t enjoy it at all. But it’s my job, and I want to make sure no one is injured. There could be others that are more into their jobs. But to feel excited about this? Whenever I put on my uniform, I have to endure people hurling unreasonable insults at me. People even blame me when they lose their wallets in the park.
HK: What’s the best insult you’ve ever had from an irate park-goer?
PSG: One time, a man said, “I’m taking a walk here; you’re taking a walk here. Why do you get paid and I don’t?” But when I told him that our company was recruiting, he had nothing to say.
HK: Are people scared of you?
PSG: People get rather tense when they see me, especially smokers. A man instantly stood still when he caught me looking at him. He was holding a cigarette and he slowly moved his hands behind his back, thinking that would hide it.
HK: Despite all the hostility, you seem like quite a happy person.
PSG: There are great things about my job as well. Aside from having to walk under the sun in long sleeves during the summer, my job is fun: a great view and nice surroundings. I am rather close with the elderly morning walkers. I know all of their usual spots and they tell me about their lives: they see me more than they see their families. The son of a woman who passed away came to me and said his mother mentioned me. I receive food like rice dumplings from these regulars. These little things make me happy for the rest of my day.
The Door Bitch
They’re mean, judgmental, and they only ever let the hot girls in. And what’s with the dress codes? No shorts in SUMMER? Please, you just don’t like my face. Drop’s former Guest Relations Manager, aka door bitch, and now PR & Events Manager Liz Bohan tells us about one of nightlife’s toughest jobs.
HK Magazine: How’d you get into this industry?
Liz Bohan: I actually studied makeup artistry at university, and I was freelancing when I came back. But of course when you are starting out, it’s hard to fully support yourself freelancing, so my friend got me a job at Drop as a server in 2002: then I worked the bar and the door. I have always loved this club, and there’s a great family environment among the staff.
HK: How do people see “door bitches”?
LB: Where did the term “door bitch” come from anyway? Having worked as a door bitch for nine years, I can honestly say that, despite everyone’s preconceived ideas, we are not horrible evil people on a massive power trip. I would love to be able to allow every single person into the club without any drama.
HK: Why would you turn someone away?
LB: It’s pretty simple—a lot of people don’t realize how drunk they are. So if you’re working and your job is to monitor who’s been drinking, and who is trampolining from pillar to post, it’s obvious. We don’t want them to fall and hurt themselves, or bother other people.
HK: What do looks have to do with it?
LB: Gone are the days of Studio 54! As far as I’m concerned, I don’t care if you look like Brad Pitt—or you are Brad Pitt. If you treat the staff like shit, and behave appallingly, you will not be allowed in. Simple as that. Be polite and nice, and Drop isn’t that hard to get into.
HK: How do you deal with confrontations?
LB: You get a thick skin pretty quickly. In the beginning, I remember my face going red, because you just start to panic: it can be very confrontational. But a few times, the people saying horrible things have come back and apologized.
HK: What’s the most creative insult you’ve ever heard?
LB: One person once said to me: “I thought they only hired good-looking people to work at the door.” And generally when people are angry they’ll make fun of my hair, saying “Ooh, so you’re the redhead door bitch.” The bright hair has followed me around a bit.
HK: What’s the worst excuse you’ve heard to get in?
LB: My favorite is when people say “Well I’m friends with Liz.” Epic fail. People think they have to come up with an excuse, or an elaborate plan to fool the door staff, rather than just asking politely if we have space.
HK: What extremes have people gone to?
LB: One summer, a guy turns up at 3am in flip flops. We turn him away because of the dress code, but he promises to come back with shoes. Lo and behold, an hour later he returns wearing shoes that are way too big for him. Then 15 minutes later, another guy arrives in a suit and flip flops looking for his shoes. The manager made an exception and let the guy in because it was just too funny.
Visit Drop (with shoes and pants, please): 39-43 Hollywood Rd., Central, 2543-8856.
The Shark’s Fin Trader
You’d think that anyone with a sliver of a conscience would steer far, far away from the shark’s fin trade. After all, over-consumption and bad fishing practices have driven more and more species closer to extinction. Who are these guys still selling them?
HK Magazine: Hi! I hope I’m not interrupting?
Shark’s Fin Trader: Come in, have a seat. I’ve got nothing better to do anyway. I can chat with you. But this industry is no longer a talking point anymore. It’s a dying industry. Many people have shut down their businesses. What’s there to talk about? We don’t really want to renew the debate on the topic. There are people in this industry who are very angry, but I can understand what the green groups are trying to do.
HK: How’s business these days?
SFT: Business is terrible compared to the earlier years— when people thought of shark’s fin as a prestigious and fancy food item. Most restaurants have taken shark’s fin off their menus and business in Hong Kong has dropped a lot. We mostly rely on exports, so we’re hanging on.
HK: Do you feel bad about selling shark fins?
SFT: This is a family business—I’m the second-generation owner. I can understand the sustainability argument, but I can’t say I feel particularly guilty. We try to be responsible—we do not trade sharks that are listed as endangered, and only those allowed under the Hong Kong law. I don’t agree with shark finning [cutting off the fins, before leaving the sharks to die in the ocean], and from what I know, it’s not as common now because shark meat is in demand.
HK: Do you worry about telling people what you do?
SFT: When I meet new friends at a bar, I am worried about what they would think if I say that I’m a shark’s fin trader. I feel like I wouldn’t be this self-conscious if I was a drug dealer. At least they’re making tons of money!
HK: Have you ever been scolded by people?
SFT: Not personally. I remember two foreigners chatting just in front of my store. One was saying how awful the dried seafood business was, citing the practice of shark finning. Her companion said, “Did you know that some of the fish and chips we eat are made from shark meat?” I don’t exactly support the shark’s fin industry, but I just feel that there are nuances that are not discussed.
HK: Do you have a back-up plan?
SFT: You see all these coffee beans and that coffee machine? I’m into coffee now. That’s what I want to do instead. I’m working as a barista at a coffee shop during the weekends and I’m taking a course. It would be great if I could open a cafe sometime in the future. Would you like a cup of coffee?
The Flyer Tout
Thrusting promotional leaflets into your face. Sticking flyers so far out they scratch you. The incessant yelling, shouting and pleading. We put our complaints to a woman distributing flyers in the middle of Kowloon.
HK Magazine: It’s a busy street. Do you feel like you’re in the way?
Flyer Tout: It’s my job to promote the restaurant and, of course, I will pick the busiest area. We’re careful not to bump into others, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. I’m just trying to tell people about the restaurant—it’s upstairs and if I don’t do my job well, they might get fewer customers.
HK: How do people treat you?
FT: In general, people are nice but we get a lot of angry stares. You can see the disgust in their faces. Some people scold us for obstructing the road. The worst is when some people angrily hit the stack of flyers I’m holding. But we’re on good terms with the shop workers around us.
HK: Do you like your job?
FT: Many people think that my job sucks, but I love it. I have no education and there are not many options out there for me—I got this job through a friend and it allows me to earn my own living. I don’t have to rely on my husband or my children. I am an independent woman, and it’s an incredible feeling. I’ve been distributing flyers for the past six years, and I learn something different every day.
HK: What kinds of thing do you see on the street?
FT: I’m here six to eight hours a day and I’m telling you: I know everything happening here. The beggars over there? They’re not real beggars. We see a man bringing them and putting them in different locations in the morning. He comes to pick them up at night. There’s an organization behind them. The beggars get around $500 to $600 a day. I’ve seen police undercover operations and fights among triad members.
HK: What do you like most about your job?
FT: When someone takes my flyer and then visits the restaurant, it makes me very happy. The trick is to communicate with people: to describe as best as I can what the food, prices and interior are like. I’m also very close to the other women handing out flyers. We’re good friends and we chat. It makes standing under the heat or in the for rain eight hours straight much more enjoyable.
The Phone Marketer
So you’re just walking down the street and there’s this entire row of people trying to sell you a new phone plan or faster internet. That’s if they’re not cold-calling you all the time. Get out of my face! We talk to a street seller about his life.
HK Magazine: What do you do on a daily basis?
Phone Marketer: I open up my tiny booth on this street—the space is assigned by my boss—and try to get people to sign up for phone or internet plans. We have a monthly quota. If we don’t meet that, we get less commission. I used to call random people to sell mobile plans as well, but I prefer being on the street.
HK: Do you feel unwelcome on the street?
PM: When I started a decade ago, people really hated us. They would just tell us to stay away and not bother them—along with lots of swear words. But back then we were much more aggressive: I would stand in the middle of the road and sell to passersby. We don’t do that anymore. The economy is terrible, and people who are not going to get a new phone plan won’t get one, no matter what. The same thing with cold-calling: people usually just hang up or make up an excuse.
HK: Do you like your job?
PM: It makes money. That’s what matters. I tried to switch careers many years back, but it didn’t work. Signing a contract still feels satisfying. The street booths target people from a poorer background, or people who are too shy to walk into an actual shop. These people usually ask many questions about the plan and take a long time to make a decision. But I don’t mind. I’m happy to help.
HK: Are you friends with the nearby shop owners and staff?
PM: We are familiar with each other and they’re okay with our existence. The unspoken rule is that we station our booth in the middle of two shops—so you’re not directly in front of a shop. That’s just basic respect. As long as you do that, things are cool.
HK: There must be a lot of funny incidents. Want to share?
PM: We sit here most weeks and it’s more uneventful than you think. On most Saturday nights, however, all of the promoters do a mass run-away from the police. It’s quite funny. We pack up our stands and banners and just go into hiding. The streets become extremely clean and bare.
HK: What would you do for a living if you had a choice?
PM: I haven’t thought about this for a long time. Maybe a tour guide? People ask me for directions all the time, especially when I’m talking to potential customers. The government should hire me! The funny thing about tourists is that they do not trust you after you give them an answer—they have to ask a couple more times to confirm.
The Real Estate Agent
Ugh, estate agents are the worst. They Whatsapp you constantly, bait-and-switch you ad nauseum, and what they call 400 square feet looks a whole lot like 200 to everyone else. And on top of all that—you have to pay them commission. Estate agent Jessica Ho tells us what it’s like on the other side of the square foot divide.
HK Magazine: How’d you get into this career?
Jessica Ho: I have been in the industry for about four years, and before that I was teaching yoga. I chose this job because I love talking with people, and it makes me happier than staying in the office. Of course, it can be hard: I work for myself and I don’t have a storefront, so I rely on the internet and on recommendations. My salary is based on commission and the hours are really long. If I sell three properties in a month then I’m in good shape. Sometimes, I don’t have any deals, and it’s very stressful.
HK: What tricks do agents play on renters?
JH: Sometimes they will distort images online or post sold flats so people email and click. A lot of times, they won’t disclose if there was a death in the apartment before. Or if there is a water leak or something wrong, they won’t say anything. I don’t do any of those things—maybe my problem is that I am too honest!
HK: How do clients usually treat you?
JH: [Some] are really nice and even become my friends. But some can act entitled and don’t really understand, or maybe don’t respect, my job. Once I find the apartment, my job is finished—I can’t be available around-the-clock to help you. One time, after a year of living in an apartment, a pushy guy kept calling me to fix his water heater. Of course I tried to help, but that’s not my responsibility!
HK: Any standout jerks?
JH: There was a guy once who seemed friendly and had a good income, and he was looking for an office. I found him this great place with a full view of the harbour. But after he put down the deposit, all of a sudden said he had “lost all his money.” And he couldn’t pay me my commission, about $12,000. I went to his office one day, and he said that I “hadn’t done enough for him”—I don’t know exactly what he meant, but his tone made me very uncomfortable, so I left. I eventually took him to the small claims tribunal, but he had already stopped paying his rent and I never got any money.
HK: What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you?
JH: One time, I was showing an apartment that the owner wanted to rent out as soon as possible. They asked me to call beforehand, but I forgot… and when I opened the door to show the apartment there was a naked man getting out of the shower!
HK: What is one thing you wish renters knew?
JH: A lot of people look way too early for apartments. The ideal timeline is three weeks to one month, but people write in really far ahead and there’s nothing I can do for them. It’s also best to tell us if you found an apartment. Even if it’s not from me—it’s OK! I just need to know so I can focus on another client.
Get in touch with Jessica at 9283-3551, or email her at email@example.com.
HK Magazine: Hi there! Where are you from?
Fake Monk 1: I am from Shaolin in China. I came here to travel and get some donations. I have no family here and I don’t have any children, but in four days I will go back to China.
HK: How much money do you need to live here?
FM1: I need to make about $500 a day for traveling, living and eating. [Puts bracelet on interviewer’s wrist] This bracelet costs $100.
HK: Where do you get the money?
FM1: From whomever I am fated to meet. HK: What’s the most lucrative area? FM1: Central is the best. HK: Are people nice to you? FM1: People are generally friendly to us.
HK: How long will you do this for?
FM1: I will do this my whole life.
Our second attempt went a little better.
HK Magazine: Where are you from?
Fake Monk 2: I’m from Hubei in China. I’m studying Buddhism. Part of the training requires that we come here and collect donations from people. I’ll be going to Malaysia in several days.
HK: How much money do you usually make every day?
FM2: I don’t focus on the money. I can get by with whatever I get. It is about begging. It is about giving yourself up to fate.
HK: What’s your favorite Buddhist catechism?
FM2: The concept of “emptiness.” You know?
HK: What about the rumors that you guys are fake monks?
FM2: I’m not going to comment on this. I am doing my own thing and it doesn’t matter what others do. [Does a headstand]
This article originally appeared as a cover story in HK Magazine, in print and online.