CULTURE: LIFE IN HONG KONG’s ‘MONSTER BUILDING’

HEATHER CREAMER WRITES — It’s a short 25-minute train ride from Central Station in Hong Kong to Quarry Bay, a tightly packed neighborhood on the Eastern side of Hong Kong. The number of commercial buildings in this district has increased exponentially over the past two decades, and more buildings go up each year. But perhaps no building is quite as condensed as the “Monster Building,” as referred to by locals and tourists alike.

The Monster Building is actually a complex of five different structures making up an E-shaped building: Montane Mansion, Oceanic Mansion, Fok Cheong Building, Yick Cheong Building and Yick Fat Building. People are impressed by the building’s unique symmetry and striking density. Seeing the small, cramped apartments from the outside only makes you wonder what’s really happening on the inside and how people live there.

The nineteen- story Monster Building was initially called Parker Estate, and was meant to provide affordable housing to local Hong Kong Residents. The five blocks consist of 2243 apartments which can house 10,000 people. Lee Ho-yin, head of the University of Hong Kong’s architectural conservation program says, “the Monster Building is surely the densest spot on earth”.

The building itself offers unparalleled convenience, with grocery stores, a wet market, an underground mall, two courtyards, restaurants and other businesses such as salons, laundromats and clothing stores on the ground floor. Of note, though, one resident, Eva Ho, told Zolima CityMag “that the building can feel ‘moody,’” with a half-century’s worth of grime, poor ventilation and no views to speak of. “What I can see from the windows are the other two buildings,” she says. Ho has spent her entire life in the building. “It’s just a normal living place for me,” she says.

YouTuber DongDong Wu discusses her life in the Monster Building in a YouTube video on her channel: “It’s already a complete community, I don’t even have to go out, and if I want to go out, there’s a trail next to the building where I can go for a good hike.” She does discuss some troubles living in the densely packed building: since it appears as scenery in the ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’ movie, it has become a Hong Kong Tourist Destination. “People stood around the platform for photos, but the noise and garbage affected the building residents and owners… and the lifts here are the slowest I’ve ever seen,” she said while filming the elevators.

She goes on to discuss the sense of community and daily life inside this massive building, describing the grandpa who owns the grocery store, and men who play chess in the courtyard quietly day in and day out. In her videos Wu captures the essence of community and comfort, even among tight quarters filled with thousands of people: “In the afternoon there will be grandmas playing Mahjong in the courtyards… time stays still here, but outside of the building is a whole new world… Certainly we are not living in the best conditions, but we still try our best to make this place a home.”

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