Hong Kong Shifts Photography Series: A Harbour Cleaner & A Recycling Worker

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Welcome to Part 2 of our limited edition series in which we partner with Hong Kong Shifts to bring you the stories of everyday shift workers across Hong Kong who work tirelessly in the background of our busy lives to keep Asia’s world city ticking, and who are especially vulnerable during the Covid-19 pandemic, in many cases putting their health at risk to do their job.

About The Hong Kong Shift Photojournalism Project

Founded by Hongkonger Cynthia Cheng and permanent resident Maxime Vanhollebeke who met whilst working at the same international law firm, Hong Kong Shifts is a visual photojournalism and storytelling project with a mission to shift perspectives and raise awareness about an often neglected social group, without whom Hong Kong would cease to function.

The narratives, which are published on the project’s Instagram page, are bilingual in English and Cantonese and feature shift workers of all genders, ages and social, cultural and religious backgrounds from professions such as taxi drivers, security guards, cobblers, nurses, cleaning personnel, street cleaners, egg vendors, and postmen – those working day and night across Hong Kong to provide essential every day services.

The project and its mission have hit a nerve on social media- the Hong Kong Shifts Instagram page has built up a dedicated following, hungry for stunning photography and authentic stories that are being told in many cases for the first time.

The project, which began in 2019, also serves as a platform to promote social inclusion initiatives by other NGOs and social enterprises by featuring some of their shift workers and through events (such as Hong Kong Included) and fundraising initiatives.

Below we share stories of two Hong Kong shift workers, one a harbour cleaner in the port of Aberdeen, and the other, a recycling worker in Diamond Hill.

Hong Kong Shifts Harbour Cleaner

Tsing (清 – “Clear”) – Harbour Cleaner (海港清潔工人), Aberdeen (香港仔)

🕖: 07:30 – 13:30 (6 hours)

“We are lucky to be surrounded by water in Hong Kong, but people still like to throw rubbish into the sea every day. My job is to clean up the harbour. This work is outsourced by the government and there are about 7 or 8 boats around here doing the same. All the floating plastic bags, plastic bottles, bags of garbage and planks of wood…I go around every morning on my fishing boat to clean it all up. At the end of the day, a big boat comes by to collect all the rubbish from me and takes it to one of the landfills. I am 78 years old but I want to keep working – I like being at sea and I don’t want to get bored.”

I am 78 years old but I want to keep working – I like being at sea and I don’t want to get bored.

Tsing (清 – “Clear”) – Harbour Cleaner (海港清潔工人), Aberdeen (香港仔)
Hong Kong Shift Worker

“I have lived on or near the sea my entire life. I was born into a family of fishermen on Po Toi Island (蒲台島). Have you been? It is a beautiful little island. We’ve been fishing for generations, so I am really familiar with the sea. I had eight siblings and I am the eldest. I didn’t have time to look after or play with my younger siblings. I was already working as a fisherman from the age of 12, so it was every man for himself!”

“During my down time, I am usually repairing fishing nets. When I am not fishing for rubbish I like to do some proper fishing – red snapper, threadfin, grouper….Squid fishing is fun too. Afterwards you can make deep fried salt and pepper squid. They make it best on Po Toi Island, of course.

Sam – Recycling Worker (回收中心工作者), Diamond Hill (鑽石山)

🕗: 08:00 – 18:00 (10 hours) 

“Here at the recycling centre, we deal with metal, copper, steel, aluminium, cardboard…all sorts. People bring their waste materials to us. We then weigh the materials, sort and organise everything for processing. This is proper manual labour, so it’s very hard work. I know a lot of people around here – it’s a nice community. I grew up in Kwun Tong (觀塘) and still live there now. I wouldn’t want to move elsewhere, I’m so comfortable in the area and have so many friends in the neighbourhood – can’t imagine going anywhere else.”

“My family is from Islamabad, Pakistan but I moved to Hong Kong when I was 7 years old. My father came first for work, then my mother followed. She didn’t like it at all in Hong Kong so she moved back to Pakistan. When I first got here, I remember feeling so confused. I didn’t know anything back then. I couldn’t understand or speak Cantonese or English so I couldn’t communicate with anyone. It was a huge change. I was fortunate to have met some friends when I was young who taught me languages. Now I am totally fluent in Cantonese, English and Urdu.” 

I think that if you are a kind person, you will always have lots of friends – no matter where in the world they are from.

Sam – Recycling Worker (回收中心工作者), Diamond Hill (鑽石山)
Hong Kong Recylcing Worker

“When I was 17 years old, I remember asking my father – ‘Why are you still working? How about I do the work and I give you money instead?’. Dad lives in Bradford now, in the UK. He is retired and enjoying life. I go back to Pakistan to visit my relatives sometimes, but after spending some time there I always miss Hong Kong. I am so used to the way of life here; Hong Kong is my home. I have lots of friends here, from many different ethnicities and nationalities. I think that if you are a kind person, you will always have lots of friends – no matter where in the world they are from.”

Editor’s Note: The stories shared in this article first appeared on Hong Kong Shift’s Instagram page. We reprint them here with permission from the founders.

More instalments in the Hong Kong Shift Photojournalism Series


All original photography courtesy of Hong Kong Shifts.


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