Traveling abroad teaches you what necessity means
Hong Kong is not exactly a Third World country, but it is not a country full of excesses like what I’ve been used to in North America even as a minimalist.
Traveling is one of the best educations a person can have, and I daresay it is far more valuable than going to college especially if you can’t make a decent living after all that student debt.
You don’t even need a lot of money to travel if you’re willing to stay in hostels and eat on the cheap.
(I have a whole rant on college building up in my head as we speak)
So far, this is what I’ve observed in Hong Kong in terms of necessity:
THEY DON’T OVER EAT OR EAT IN EXCESS
Being fat or obese here is a rarity, and it’s no small thanks to all the stairways, the tight spaces, public transportation that moves quite fast, and that people are not used to all-you-can-eat buffets.
They buy their food twice a day so that it is as fresh as possible for their lunch and their dinner, and they don’t really buy a lot of junk food.
A photograph I took in Hong Kong (2012) of a butcher in one of their outside wet markets
I do find the meat being outside, and not refrigerated being a health issue, but I guess if they haven’t died yet, it must be all right for a few hours….
The younger generation eats badly (I can see in their pimpled, makeup-slathered faces), but I don’t see it as much in the older generation. They stick to their customs of boiled, steamed or fairly low fat foods.
There are old men here who are working past their 60s, with rock-hard abs and nary an ounce of fat in sight.
There is also a greater emphasis on tofu, vegetables, healthy soups in the morning (yuck, herbal soups make me gag), drinking teas and soy milk rather than soda.
They don’t eat unnecessarily, it seems. Or at the very least, they sure burn it off.
THE AVERAGE INCOME IS $1700 USD/MONTH
If you are willing to live far away from Hong Kong Island (or perhaps just across in Kowloon), you can grab a closet for about $300 – $500 USD / month.
If you want to live on the island (much like the island of Manhattan), it’ll run you about $2000 – $3000 USD / month.
What do we really need in a home, after all?
Due to necessity, they can’t really have a sprawling mansion, unless you are a millionaire many times over who can afford to live on The Peak.
SMALL, TIGHT SPACES ARE THE NORM
A photograph I took in Hong Kong just last week of some small apartments (2012)
For one thing, the hotel room I am in is 11 square meters. Yes. 11 square meters or 120 square feet.
Imagine walking in about 3 steps, and your bed is right there. No real space to manoeuvre.
Not even big enough for what some North Americans might call a decent-sized walk-in closet.
This hotel was a former apartment building, to be sure.
The ceilings are far too high, and we think that there used to be a ladder and a loft-space where you’d sleep up top, and a very small kitchen and living area where we now sleep.
I think it may have been apartments for singletons (the view is incredible), but I wouldn’t put it past the Chinese to live as a whole family in a space like this.
It made me think of how much space we’re all used to. When I watched HGTV, I would listen to people wrinkle their noses at a 2000 square feet, saying it was too small. They have NO IDEA what small is.
Even this is luxurious compared to how people in Japan live at times (hotel capsules, anyone?)
YOU DON’T CARE OR USE AS MUCH AS YOU THINK
As a traveler, you really start to realize that you just don’t care about how people see you. Out of necessity and for comfort, you simply don’t care.
Yes, I look like some crazy hobo, but I am making sure I don’t burn, and my feet don’t blister and hurt after 5 weeks of touring.
You also don’t use as much of what you packed as you think.
This is of course, what started my minimalism, but it’s so true.
I am currently living for 5 weeks on 3 tops, 2 bottoms, 1 pair of shoes and 2 pairs of socks (I rotate and wash nightly).
I’m thinking of cutting back on a top next time.
I am starting to see what I do and don’t use, which is helpful for packing the next time.
WHAT ELSE IS UNNECESSARY IN LIFE?
It started making me think about what else in my life was not really that necessary.
If people can live in 11 square meters (120 square feet) of space, and if I can live with just a few pieces of clothing (albeit a bit unhappily), we are certainly living with too much.
There is a lot of marketing noise about what to buy and how to live.
The worst I think, is the marketing of CLEAN.
These marketers would have you believe that you need anti-bacterial everythings, from towelettes to air fresheners just to live in this dirty, filthy world.
So why are all of the kids these days popping up with more and more allergies to everything under the sun?
Maybe it’s because we were ill-informed as to what an allergy really was, but I have a sneaking suspicion we are too clean as a society.
We need special, disposable, anti-bacterial towelettes to wipe down counters now, not some plain ol’ soap and warm water, which is in my (and many medical professionals) opinions that it is still THE BEST way to clean something.
Think about it — you wipe a counter with a towelette, that anti-bacterial stuff dries on it, your kid puts a sandwich on the counter afterwards (because children can be little piglets, as I once was) and ends up eating the chemicals from that towelette.
I find the following unnecessary for my life:
- Air fresheners — I do not need my home to smell like a basket of fruits exploded in a forest or that I am traipsing through a lavender field
- Detergents — I don’t use it 99% of the time; a little hot/warm water and agitation is enough
- Dryer sheets — My clothes aren’t full of static and I was once told that they use pig fat to give that nice, soft feeling
- Body washes — They really dry out my skin (I have eczema), so I use little shampoo if need be
- Antibacterial sanitizers — Kills 99.9% of germs, but not all germs are bad for you
- Cleaning agents — White vinegar, soap and warm water pretty much cures everything that ails
- Most face things — Under eye & wrinkle creams, I am a realist who doesn’t believe that stuff works
- A bed — I tried sleeping in a bed and felt uncomfortably high off the ground; I much prefer a Japanese futon
- Boxed and canned foods — It’s a luxury to be able to buy fresh food, let alone organic stuff