As most of you know, I grew up in New York City, in The Bronx. I lived in Da Bronx from 1954 to 1978, from the time when it was a garden spot to its sad decline, the “Ladies and gentlemen, The Bronx is burning” era. We lived in a total of two apartments in all those years, both in the same building. To the best of my recollection, neither apartment was ever robbed. We never came home to find the front door off its hinges, a busted window or stuff missing. But I grew up aware that it could happen.
In 2001, when contemplating a move to Sai Kung, a friend already living here regaled me with tales of break-ins and robberies in the district, including one time that his home was broken into. Conventional wisdom has it that this is a landing point for illegal immigrants from China, that they get off some boat and head for the hills, looking for clothes and small, valuable items that they can sell to get some cash. That played to my paranoia and I ended up renting an expensive house in a gated, patrolled community up here.
In 2008, when I moved back to Sai Kung, I was content to go for an average village house in an average village. My village is small, perhaps 15 or 20 houses, and it’s one kilometer up the side of a mountain and down a single lane two-way winding road. There’s no public transportation here, no bus or mini-bus nearby. It is, by Hong Kong standards, relatively isolated. The road that leads up to the village is lined with far more expensive houses – starting from the bottom of the road where one house is on the market with an asking price of HK$98 million. Further up the hill, asking prices for houses are $25 million for sale or $60,000 for rent. By the time you get to our village, the prices have dropped considerably. Nevertheless, it turns out we are a target for thieves.
Every few months I’ve come home to find a note in the mailbox from the local police telling me that there was a recent break-in in “the area” and that I should be on my guard. On rarer occasions, I’ve come home to find a police van parked in the village car park. They do this for a day or two after a break-in, just in case the thieves have some notion of coming back for more.
The police van was parked up here tonight because there was a break-in last night, just two houses down from mine. Their house is at the end of a row, farthest from the car park, right at the edge of “nature.” They have a dog – a medium sized dog who doesn’t look very scary and is more likely to wet herself at the sight of a stranger. I’ve been told that one of their windows was unlocked, the thief or thieves opened the window, reached inside and grabbed an iPhone and assorted other stuff from the table right by that window, apparently never actually entering the house.
So tonight I feel lucky. I have two dogs. They’re big but not scary looking – at least not to my eyes, but I’ve had each of them from the time they were puppies. They do bark loudly from time to time, mostly responding to other dogs in the neighborhood but sometimes just because they think they heard something or smelled something that wasn’t quite right. I don’t know how much of a crime deterrent they might be. And I have been pretty complacent about living up here, thinking things were safe, often leaving doors or windows unlocked.
Hong Kong is really safe. That’s one of the things I really love about it here. But as safe as it is, shit can and does happen. I feel quite bad for my neighbors. Any robbery, no matter how small, can feel like a violation. It serves as a reminder to me to be more “Bronx-ish” in my attitude towards the security of my home and I just thought I’d pass this along to anyone else living in similar circumstances.