Buildings the height of Duxton are commonplace in Hong Kong. It is not a good sign that HDB built the Pinnacle@Duxton because it means our housing prices have gone up enough to overcome the high cost of constructing such residential 'skyscrapers'. Real estate price escalation benefits those with the most assets far more than the average families who have only one property and cannot monetise it. Escalating real estate prices in Hong Kong created a handful billionaire property developers and hundreds of thousands of families that cannot afford a decent home - worsening the inequality. This is where we will end up if we leave housing to the free market as the population density rises - you end up creating more poverty than you do wealth.
After the handover to China, the Hong Kong people became aware of the importance of democracy and rights. In 2003 when the Chinese govt tried to implement anti-sedition laws similar to those in Singapore, close to half a million people took to the streets[Link]. When the govt tried to impose GST, they again took to the streets to prevent it[Link] - their biggest worry is that such regressive taxation will further burden the poor and worsen the income gap. Upholding democracy in a territory controlled by China is risky because there is no telling what the Chinese govt will do and when they will start acting against who stand up for freedom and justice. However, individuals like Jimmy Lai[Link] and Martin Lee are willing to risk everything including their lives[Link] to bring change to Hong Kong.
"I think Hong Kong's freedoms are under threat all the time,"
-Margaret Ng, a pro-democracy legislator
They know if they do not guard their freedom and rights fiercely, the pro-Beijing govt will just slip in legislation that will take them away. Constant vigilance is necessary because government control of the media is growing through patronage, financing and the rewarding of pro-Beijing behaviour. When Jimmy Lai's paper became critical of Beijing, companies quickly withdraw their advertisements[Link] out of fear of offending China. The Hong Kong people will have direct elections in 2017[Link] if Beijing sticks to its promise. The reason they don't want it held sooner is the pro-Beijing lawmakers will lose badly given the widespread dissatisfaction with the govt.
One thing I didn't see in Hong Kong was aged cleaners like those we have in Singapore. I found most of these old folks reading newspapers in tim sum restaurants or at McDonalds. They probably receive enough to live on under a comprehensive social safety net put in place by the govt.
The Hong Kong story provides a lesson for all of us. Today a large segment of the population(18%) lives in poverty[Link]. It is no coincidence that greatest income gap in the developed world appears in Hong Kong - the only place in the developed world where there are no direct elections[Link]. The 2nd highest income gap in the developed world is found in a country where the rights of people to protest and speak in public is limited and the media is controlled by the govt. A combination of unbridled capitalism and lack of democracy resulted an unequal society in which there is widespread discontent.