Like many in Hong Kong, Pong is unhappy with the skyrocketing price of housing and gentrification of old communities.
Before moving to an industrial building, Pong used to live in a tenement house in Kowloon City. In the space of a single year his rent shot up by 30 per cent, from HK$4,300 per month to HK$5,600. Besides the surging rent, Pong says previously public areas in Kowloon City have been privatised. “The air of freedom and old communities are all gone,” he says.
Instead of saving to buy a flat, Pong uses his income on budget travel. A nine-month trip to South America in 2009 made a deep impression on him.
He spent half the time staying in local people’s homes as a couch surfer, an experience that offered him the chance to meet people who are striving for their causes in unconventional ways.
In particular, Pong was impressed by the Mapuche people, indigenous inhabitants of Argentina and Chile, who are fighting for their homelands and against the invasion of land developers. “They are courageous. In Hong Kong, opposing forces are at most sprayed with pepper spray. But in South America, Mapuche protesters could get killed for their fight,” he explains.
The trip to South America further consolidated Pong’s aim to resist the developers. Another push towards the idea came from Alice Poon’s book, Land and the Ruling Class in Hong Kong, which exposes the handful of wealthy individuals and companies that stifle competition in Hong Kong. For Pong, the book pulled the full picture of the developers’ hegemony into focus.
Pong then discussed his idea of boycotting the oligarchy with friends. He researched the backgrounds of transportation companies and outlets for daily consumption to investigate the feasibility of his planned boycott.
Finally on October 18, 2010, Pong started the campaign to do his own little bit to break the domination of the financial giants who have control over food, transport and the retail chains.
These days, Pong buys food from small, family-run shops instead of chain stores, and cycles rather than take buses. He will patronise independent local diners rather than branches of chains like Maxim’s.
Pong’s friends and family members support his campaign and rarely complain about any inconvenience. “My friends dine in small local restaurants with me. Wherever we hang out, they know I will ride my bike. They take a bus and we gather at a designated place afterwards,” he says.
Although he has managed to boycott many goods and services, Pong has found it hard to completely boycott the utilities companies. Take electricity; Pong cannot go off the grid entirely but takes a different approach by reducing his use of electricity. He washes his clothes by hand and does not own a refrigerator. Instead, he buys fresh food daily.
Pong’s lifestyle may seem inconvenient to others, but Pong believes it is worth it. “In every aspect [of daily life], you can find some alternatives. You may lose something but at the same time you are also gaining something. It is never 100 per cent solely sacrifice. This is why I can sustain the campaign.”