Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Bathroom Relief

Lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun barely fits into this bathroom in Tuen Mun
It must have been a shock for legislators to have a first-hand look at what really tiny bathrooms are like.

For example, New People's Party Michael Tien Puk-sun has lived a privileged life and also co-founded the G2000 clothing chain before he went into public service.

But yesterday he got a chance to inspect some flats in a Tuen Mun public housing estate where the bathrooms are, as residents describe them, "inhumanely small".

How small is "insanely small"? The space is so tight one can barely turn around in it without his or her body parts hitting something. Residents have to shower above the toilet and that's also where the sink is too.

There's a picture of Tien and his shoulders practically fill the width of the bathroom walls and he's barely able to raise his right arm without bumping into the wall.

He looked at the flats with fellow lawmaker Wong Kwok-hing and now these bathrooms at Po Tin Estate will be enlarged by 30 percent for a bit more elbow room. The renovation will cost up to HK$80 million and take three weeks per flat.

"After the improvement works, they will be able to accommodate two people," Wong said.

Chan Han-sum is 81 years old and has lived in the estate for nine years. She finds it a drag when she bathes and washes her hair. "I've hurt my head and elbows many times before when I turned around or picked up something in the bathroom," Chan said. She is now looking forward to her bathroom becoming bigger now.

One may wonder why the bathrooms were built so tiny in the first place, but the estate was originally a temporary accommodation for homeless people not eligible for permanent public housing. The 8,736 flats range between 88 to 305 square feet. Then many of the flats were turned into public rental housing in 2004.

Nevertheless, we have to wonder why even homeless people are subjected to such tiny spaces -- or are they supposed to be so grateful to have a roof over their heads that bumping their arms and heads in tiny bathrooms should be a given?

Wong urges the Housing Department to learn from this experience. "Although interim housing estates are intended to provide only temporary accommodation, I hope the department can be more people-oriented and avoid inhumane treatment of residents."

In the end we are all human beings and a bit more space would give people dignity and in turn self-esteem and happiness. We know that space is at a premium in Hong Kong, but it's not like the city isn't rich.

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah is trying to scare us by projecting that Hong Kong's reserves will run out in 20 years because of the rising numbers of elderly the city would have to take care of by then.

What about being more concerned about today's problems?

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