Hong Kong SAR covers a large area with a population of 7.5 million. It is next to impossible to know every person. Sometimes, we failed to know the names of our neighbors. People you meet every day on the train, or at local 7-Eleven. But, that is not how it is done, right?
Maxime Vanhollebeke is a lady who smiled at her building security for five years until one day in 2019 when he was struck with a realization: he did not know the woman’s name, where she was from or anything about her.
That’s when he realized, Hong Kong economy’s major part is filled up with shift workers who keep the city running. From street cleaners to receptionists and convenience store workers. It’s a repo work, the idea behind is focused on the unsung heroes who haven’t got a chance to tell their stories.
Vanhollebeke, a photographer and lawyer from Belgium who moved to the city in 2007, got in touch with Cynthia Cheng, a writer, graphic designer and lawyer who grew up in Hong Kong. They invited Mei Fung, Vanhollebeke’s security guard and listened to her story.
Since then, “we’ve been whizzing all around the city, sourcing stories, learning about different professions and just shining a light on…how strong and resilient people in Hong Kong have been over these last few years,” Cheng explained.
These two people lead a small team that runs a website and their presence is on Facebook and Instagram. The group represents the voice of Hong Kong workers who are often overlooked.
Pop your social bubble
Vanhollebeke said learning about the lives of people around you could help you pop out of the bubble you live in. “We want these stories to get across the sea to all communities in Hong Kong because it’s an inclusive project. We often live in our respective bubble-comfort zone, friendship bubble, cultural bubble, etc. and we may have formed certain stereotypes about the people around us, it’s high time to break through them.”
There was no plan on whom to chase next for the story but they did have a map to start from the nearest neighborhood and hit the streets with a notebook, pen and camera.
“We’re often surprised by how many people are happy to chat and share their story,” Cheng said. “There’s this idea that people in Hong Kong are aloof and don’t want to connect with strangers. But once you make that first step, people are willing to open up and connect.”
It looks unusual, people don’t open up easily but some of them do agree to tell their story. It does come out well. First they are shy and say they don’t have anything to tell but later on when they speak some inspiring words about work comes out. Gradually, there’s always a moment when somebody opens up, and you know they trust you and you have a real connection,” Cheng said. “That’s the moment that makes the project so worth, doing that brings meaning to all these stories.”
The power of storytelling
Hong Kong shifts has interviewed more than 100 people, including a boat operator in PoToi O and a “Buffalo Whisperer” in South Lantau. You can easily find it out of their websites and social media pages. “Every person we have interviewed has brought us surprises and words of wisdom,” Vanhollebeke said. “Taking that step to engage with people who are slightly different from us can really enrich and create a new dimension to our lives.”
“Storytelling can be very empowering for the listener and more importantly, the person being offered an opportunity to speak up and tell their story,” he added. “It is something we have realized during the project and now do with different NGOs and schools.”
It’s such an inspiring way of knowing people around us and how they serve them by serving society. Their stories are motivational and inspiring and it will trigger the reader’s emotions. It’s a healthy way to know about people. This should be appreciated and reached to a global level.
- Published By Team Hongkong Journalist