The Hong Kong government conducts a population census I suppose every ten years. I say “I suppose” because although I’ve been here 14 years, those 14 years have not been all in a row. I wasn’t here for most of 2001 and of course I wasn’t here before 1995. I don’t recall them coming to me for the 2006 “Population By-Census” or the 2009/10 Household Expenditure Survey. (I’m sure the amounts I was spending two years ago on CDs and DVDs would have thrown off their ratings significantly.) But this year I am here and I have been censused.
I’d seen these guys and girls walking through my village with their matching polo shirts and shoulder bags and wondered why they hadn’t come to me. Finally they did – last Sunday actually. Young guy, I suspect he’s a university student earning some pocket money by doing this. I opened the door and he let out this huge sigh of relief – apparently I was the first person to open my door and let him in that day. Well, it was a Sunday afternoon, most people go out on Sundays.
He went down the list of questions, marking off stuff in a book. Most of them were what I’d expect. Detailed questions about how many people live in my flat, household income, size of the flat, what I pay for it, where I’m from. Questions about travel, too. How many days was I away from Hong Kong last year, how many days I expect to be away this year. And why. Really. ”Why do you travel away from Hong Kong?” ”Um, business and holiday?” ”Oh!” He asked my race and I pointed a finger at my face but he just stared until I said, “Uh, Caucasian.” ”Oh.”
In the middle of all of this, Columbo asked me “Where were you on June 30th 2011 at 3 AM?” Really? That’s a census question? The night before the handover celebration, in the wee hours so to speak? I was at home. ”Oh.”
When it was all over, first he asked if it was okay for him to put a sticker on my door letting everyone know that I’d already done my bit and so that I wouldn’t be bothered by other census takers ringing my bell. And then he asked if he could get my phone number so that someone could call and check on the information I gave. Really?
Two days later, someone called and asked if it was okay if she could verify the information. Sigh. First she wanted to confirm my address. Then she wanted to confirm that I was renting two floors in a village house combined into a single unit. When I said yes to that, she happily exclaimed, “That’s it, thanks!”
I suppose it was a good thing I was home. Those who haven’t been around to welcome these people into their homes seem to be having a tougher time of it.
On the other hand, some of the census takers themselves may or may not be having a tough time of it. The SCMP reported on Friday that someone posted on local forum hkgolden.com that a female census taker had been raped while carrying out her duties. The government has jumped up and said it wasn’t true while at the same time the Census Department issued an instruction that female census takers were not to interview members of the opposite sex alone. No updates on this story since then. I suppose it’s one of those things that the SCMP doesn’t have the manpower, budget or interest to follow up on.