Cash is not king as people swap unwanted items.
Reporter: Natalie Cheng
Inside an office space in an unremarkable industrial building in Kwun Tong, soft music and laughter fills the room. People are talking and walking between racks of clothes and shelves full of books, browsing for something they might like.
This is neither a warehouse nor a stockroom. It is a place where people can share and exchange their unwanted items with others. No money changes hands here. The age-old practice of barter is the order of the day.
JupYeah held its first Pop-up Swap event on Boxing Day last year. People exchanged used clothes, old books or electronics in a small unit inside an industrial building.
JupYeah, Cantonese for “taking stuff” was set up by six young people. It was Ren Wan, a freelance journalist and core organiser of JupYeah who came up with the idea. “Initially it was three people swapping clothes in private. Then we decided to have a public event. Slowly JupYeah came into being,” she says.
Barter is the exchange of goods and services without using money. For JupYeah, anything that is unwanted but is clean and usable, whether it is brand new or used, is still tradable.
JupYeah is different from other barter trades, it is not one-to-one trading. Instead, people can come to either just leave their stuff for others or take anything away without offering anything in exchange.
One complaint Wan often receives is that people may take items of higher retail price away without giving anything. Wan does not think this is a problem. “When something is useless to you, it loses its value immediately. Its value does not depend on its retail price.”
For Wan, the most important thing is whether the unwanted items can still be used rather than be thrown away or recycled. This is the main reason for setting up JupYeah.
“In fact, we can exchange unwanted items. This is an alternative. We should not throw all the unwanted items away but encourage the barter cycle to extend their lifespan,” says Wan. “Consumption is too high in Hong Kong. In fact, do we need to buy everything we need?”
Wan says barter can be an alternative way to gain “new” stuff and encourages teenagers and young adults, especially those with deep pockets, to join barter events.
To Yu-hin joined JupYeah’s Boxing Day Pop-up Swap and enjoyed it thoroughly. It left him with a good impression of this method of “acquisition”. To brought an old film camera to the event, a stranger showed an interest in it and they started talking and became friends.
To likes Pop-up Swap because it is held informally, like a casual party where participants share the same values about consumption and materialism. He can make new friends at the events. At the same time, he also treats the barter activity as a treasure hunt. “[I] do not know whether I will find something I like,” he says.
Positive responses were received from friends who attended the first swap event, so Wan and her team decided to hold further regular public seasonal swaps.
JupYeah is not the only organisation planning to expand its exchange events. Hong Kong Really Really Free Market (HKRRFM), which has a similar format, is also looking to hold more regular swaps.
The Really Really Free Market in Hong Kong was founded by Rika Kojima in October last year. She first came across the idea when she was studying in Japan, but the Really Really Free Market originated in the United States and was organised by local anti-capitalists. Kojima is currently looking for a free venue to host the market because previous sites she has used in Mong Kok and Fo Tan have closed down. “The place does not need to be big, a corner will be fine,” she says.
Kojima conceives of the market as a kind of utopia where everything is pure. She wants people to understand the concept of unconditional contribution. “If you can truly give something you own to the others, then this world can be very harmonious.”
Apart from these open-style group barter organisations, there are also a number of forums and websites that connect individual barter traders.
Isaac Shek Yin-man, an IT system administrator, started to engage in individual private barter five years ago. He mainly finds people to trade with through online forums. As Shek is an electronics enthusiast, he mainly exchanges items like headphones, camera lenses and other electronic accessories.
Shek usually trades for the same kind of items so he can try out a great variety of goods. For example, he originally spent $1,300 on headphones. After several trades on trades, he was able to enjoy using different models of the same kind. It makes him feel as though he has had many items for his original $1,300.
Although these exchanges are based on the barter model, money does sometimes change hands when there is a difference between the original retail prices of the items. Shek does not mind this at all and says he may even make gains if the item appreciates further in value.
Another individual trader, Mak Wing-yi, a Form Six student at St. Mark’s School, is a member of a barter website called TradeDuck. Members of TradeDuck post photographs of unwanted items on the website and, if other members are interested, they ask to trade with the owners of the items. Once that is agreed the two sides engage in a private one-to-one barter.
Mak first started bartering last year. She has made 10 trades so far and finds barter a more interesting and environmentally friendly way to shop. For instance, she exchanged two packs of pencils for a book and coupons for drinks through TradeDuck.
Although Mak is busy preparing to take her Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education Examination this year, she still spends time on TradeDuck. What attracts her is the wide variety of items on offer.
She normally takes unwanted, excess items to barter, mostly items in daily use and stationary. Her trade partners are usually middle-aged housewives.
When Mak weighs up potential trades, she considers the usefulness of the items offered rather than the original retail price. When she exchanges for something that she later finds is useless to her, she puts it back on the website and the barter cycle continues.
One-to-one bartering is easier as there is no need for a venue or any organisational preparation. But while Ren Wan and Rika Kojima often have difficulty finding a place to hold the event, they believe the swap gathering itself is vital. “Rent is the most expensive [expenditure],” says Wan. “The most important thing is the whole thing can be sustained…It will lose its meaning if it ceases.”
Wan hopes JupYeah will help people reflect on their living patterns and consumption habits. She and her team insist on not throwing away any of the leftovers from their Pop-up Swap events because, as Wan says, in the end almost everything can be used by someone.
The people behind both JupYeah and the Really Really Free Market store the leftovers in their homes for the next event. For the goods they know will not be taken by anyone, they recycle them or take them to second-hand shops.
JupYeah’s Wan says the group will work with a local charity group called Sowergift for their next event and Sowergift will take away all the leftovers.
Barter may be new to many people but it is an ancient trade practice that can help conserve our environment and improve sustainability in the modern age. While organised barter is making a comeback in Hong Kong, proponents stress it is not necessary to join the events. “We can do it [barter] with our friends,” To says.
So what are you waiting for? Dig out your unwanted belongings and join this meaningful activity. You may find treasure.