“Coffin inn” in the middle of an epidemic: Exposing social injustices and grief that not everyone knows

Tram Ho

Before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, Lum Chai often went to the park or went out for beer with friends every night to escape the cramped living space. Now, the shops are closed, the 45-year-old man in Hong Kong can only wander the streets alone to kill time and away from neighbors.

It is very difficult for Mr. Lum to implement social spacing, staying indoors at the time of the epidemic. He lives inside the “cage” in Hong Kong, where the space is divided for each person to fit a bed and some clothes. Nearby neighbors are only a few steps away, living in the same room.

The “casket inn” or “cage house” is usually no more than 9m2, it is only marginally higher than most prisons in the city about 2m2. Bathrooms and toilets are mostly shared and often don’t have kitchens. The rooms are separated by temporary or mobile “walls”.

Mr. Lum is currently unemployed and he will have to pay HK $ 1800 (HKD) each month (over VND 5.3 million), for the cramped apartment divided for 10 people. Mr. Lum’s situation is indeed very difficult but cases like him are not uncommon in Hong Kong.

 Nhà trọ quan tài giữa thời dịch bệnh: Bóc trần sự bất công trong xã hội và nỗi lòng không phải ai cũng thấu - Ảnh 1.

A man huddles in the tight space of the “coffin inn”.

 Nhà trọ quan tài giữa thời dịch bệnh: Bóc trần sự bất công trong xã hội và nỗi lòng không phải ai cũng thấu - Ảnh 2.

Mr. Lum Chai, 45 years old.

Nine out of 10 people in Hong Kong live in apartments under 7m2 and pay the highest rent in the world. According to CBRE Real Estate Investment Company, the average cost of a house was over 1.2 million USD (28 billion dong) last year.

As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, many public areas were closed, libraries stopped working, park machines (common in East Asian countries) were sealed, restaurants and The bar also fell into a similar situation. All are prohibited to gather in public places, the number of no more than 4 people.

Since the virus was spread in January, Hong Kong has recorded fewer than 1,050 infections and only 4 deaths. Therefore, most people support the decision to socialize to prevent the spread of disease. However, that does not mean their lives will become easier.

I am very lonely. The atmosphere in the street is not the same as before. Very few people sit in the park, children no longer play and the elderly do not play badminton anymore, ” Mr. Lum said.

Expose the rich-poor divide society

Hong Kong has long been renowned as a thriving financial center, with wealthy residents living in expensive skyscrapers. That flashy lifestyle is real but still not enough, Hong Kong is in fact also the largest rich and poor gap in the world, when 1 in 5 people live in poverty.

The skyrocketing property prices is one of the problems that make the lives of the poor more miserable. Since the arrival of Covid-19, this rich-poor gap has become even more prominent. The poor can only take shelter in cramped “cage houses” and mysterious “coffin inns”.

Cheung Lai Hung and Chan Yuk Kuen are two nearly 60-year-old retired women. They said that since the pandemic, each day the stay in their less than 9m2 apartment increased by 10 hours. Both kill time by watching TV, listening to music or taking a nap.

We are afraid of the current situation ,” Cheung said.

 Nhà trọ quan tài giữa thời dịch bệnh: Bóc trần sự bất công trong xã hội và nỗi lòng không phải ai cũng thấu - Ảnh 3.

Cheung Lai Hung (left) and Chan Yuk Kuen (right) just closed the room and watched TV and slept until the middle of the pandemic.

There is another factor that forces many people to stay home: that’s the financial problem. Jeff Rotmeyer – founder of Impact HK, a charity dedicated to helping the poor – said many people have sought help from the organization recently. They are people who have reduced work hours, or worse, job losses.

Some were kicked out of the inn for not being able to pay the rent anymore. I don’t think people understand the situation on the edge of the disaster of people living in apartments no more than 9m2 .” Rotmeyer said.

Losing their jobs and not getting timely support will lead to homelessness. Landlords don’t hesitate to change locks and get rid of tenants out of the room if they don’t pay just a month’s rent ,” he added.

 Nhà trọ quan tài giữa thời dịch bệnh: Bóc trần sự bất công trong xã hội và nỗi lòng không phải ai cũng thấu - Ảnh 4.

Difficulties piled up between pandemics

One day in early April, Lum Chai was among 100 people lining up to receive a free meal from Impact HK in Tak Kok Tsui, west of Mong Kok and Sham Shui Po – two of the poorest and most populous cities. of Hong Kong.

Jeff Rotmeyer said the line of people waiting for longer than usual, including people like Mr. Lum, includes both the elderly and the newly unemployed. The need to get free meals overshadows the desire to adhere to social spacing, when people crowd the line.

Panic and fear can be seen from every person standing here. Because the truth is that if they don’t get food from us, they will starve. We try to ensure the social distance for individuals to line up, but it is difficult , ”Rotmeyer said.

When asked about the difficulty of maintaining a proper distance from others when living in cramped spaces such as “cage houses”, “coffins”, some residents shrugged their shoulders, saying they could only close. .

 Nhà trọ quan tài giữa thời dịch bệnh: Bóc trần sự bất công trong xã hội và nỗi lòng không phải ai cũng thấu - Ảnh 5.

The line of waiting for Impact HK charity meal on 7/4.

In Hong Kong, authorities announced a $ 37 billion bailout package to ease the economic burden, including removing taxes and providing rental assistance to low-income people in public housing, giving 10,000 Hong Kong dollar (about VND 30 million) for citizens aged 18 and over.

However, the psychological impact of self-isolation in cramped spaces and the trauma of social exclusion are not addressed and given due attention.

It is really challenging to implement social reforms in such a crowded and vibrant city as Hong Kong, ” the government spokesman said in a statement, adding that many were still gathering in the park in the city.

For Lum, dealing with loneliness and fear during the epidemic season became even more difficult when he no longer talked to his family. At this time, he often sat alone, killing time with alcohol. However, it did not make his mood better.

It’s lonely. I drank a few beers then went home and slept. I hope the virus will be eradicated soon and Hong Kong will be busy again. A vibrant city, ” Lum said.

 Nhà trọ quan tài giữa thời dịch bệnh: Bóc trần sự bất công trong xã hội và nỗi lòng không phải ai cũng thấu - Ảnh 6.

Amid the pandemic, the divide between rich and poor is increasingly clear.

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Source : Genk