Hong Kong Shifts is a visual storytelling project founded by Cynthia Cheng and Maxime Vanhollebeke where Hong Kong’s shift workers — think taxi drivers, nurses, janitors, post office staff, or anyone who doesn’t work at an office — are photographed and interviewed. The project posts a new story and portrait every week on Facebook and Instagram in both Cantonese and English, with the goal being to raise awareness about an essential yet often overlooked section of society.
We spoke to the founders about the project, its mission, and what they’ve learned from it.
Cynthia & Maxime: We launched Hong Kong Shifts eight months ago in the midst of the Hong Kong protests. We have both practised law for many years and were looking for a way to contribute in a more creative and meaningful way to this city which has given us so much.
Hong Kong Shifts aims to promote social inclusion and solidarity by raising awareness of the enormous contributions, energy and resilience that shift workers bring to this city, but also their tough working conditions such as long working hours, low wages, and precarious work environments. Hopefully these stories can help to create bridges between different social groups and spark a broader discussion around improving social and economic policies. We also want to use Hong Kong Shifts as a platform to promote and support other organizations working on the ground on social inclusion initiatives.
Cynthia & Maxime: Hong Kong is definitely a great place to live and do business, but it is also a very divided society with huge socio-economic gaps between people. We noticed that there is a lot of material about glamorous Hong Kong and corporate Hong Kong, but very little about the working class people themselves.
Cynthia: A lot of people work in the background to make this city work and ensure that everything runs smoothly in our work and living environments. Yet many of us take these people for granted and barely acknowledge their enormous contributions to our society.
Maxime: Think of all the “unsung heroes” you come across during your normal day. The security guard in your building, your parking attendant, the cab driver you just waved at, the toll person you just paid when taking the Western tunnel, the waitress you just ordered food from, the window cleaner that just appeared in your window, the mini bus driver that just brought you home.
One day, I realized I had been passing by my security guard every morning for the last five years without even knowing her name! We had lunch together and she told us her story. Mei Fung was our first interviewee and that is how the project started.
Cynthia: I grew up in Happy Valley. There is an egg vendor who has been working there for decades. I had seen this guy around almost my whole life, singing loudly on the streets as he was making deliveries, but never got to know his story.
Cynthia & Maxime: We have both lived in Hong Kong for many years — Cynthia even grew up here — but through this project we have still managed to learn heaps about our city and its people. It is so easy for expats and locals alike to live in a little bubble. Hong Kong is truly one of the most diverse and vibrant cities in the world and through the process of doing these interviews, whole new dimensions of Hong Kong have been opened up to us. We have discovered new neighborhoods, learned about the city’s history, met a lot of inspiring people and expanded our horizons.
We will continue to tell a different story every week. We are gradually stepping beyond the digital world and rolling out these stories in different locations across the city. Watch out for them! We successfully completed our first exhibition and event called “Hong Kong Included” in cooperation with ImpactHK and the Centre for Refugees. We are planning more partnerships and events in the coming months.
More from our Point of View series.