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Technology in Hong Kong

September 05, 2007, add a comment

One thing I immediately noticed after arriving in Hong Kong was the local attitude towards technology. While back in Germany the idea of an RFID-based ticketing system for public transport would be dead before even leaving conceptual state it is reality over here. Instead of "movement patterns" which is the first association you get to hear in Germany my most important thought is "comfort". The little card is called "Octopus" and kind of works like an electronic wallet. Primarily it serves as a quick and fast method to pay smaller amounts of money. Most stores, fast-food chains and vending machines allow payments with the card. To pay with it you don't even have to take it out of your wallet...just move the whole thing in front of the sensor, you hear a beep and you know you've successfully paid. Usually a little display besides the sensor shows the remaining amount of money you have on your card and sometimes it is also printed on your receipt. If you take the subway, you scan the card on entering the origin station. When leaving the destination station the amount you have to pay for exactly the route you travelled is debited. Never miss the train because you haven't gotten a ticket yet and there's only one ticket machine on the whole platform! You buy the card once which costs a "fee" of 50HK$ (less then 5 Euros) and you can recharge it at "value add machines" which are distributed all over the city and at many places. For anybody who's afraid of "movement patterns" or is just German: Buying the card is completely anonymous. Recharging can be done by cash, so no connection to your credit card or whatsoever can be made.

It looks a little it different with the card system that our university applied. Overall you get two cards: One is your key card which grants youu access to your room at the dorm. The other one is your student id card. It is your personal access card for all parts of the university with resticted access. For example the overall access to the dorm building, access to areas of the faculty I'm enlisted in or the sport facilities of the university. Everytime I arrive at the area of the dorms I have to "beep" the card to show the guard at the entrance that I'm authorized. When in the building I have to scan it before entering the lift-area and on leaving I have to repeat the procedure. The reasons for this are not completely clear to me but one of the official reasons is that by doing this it is known in emergencies how many people are in the building. This makes kind of sense since the building is 22 stories high and offers housing for more then 3000 students. Besides this access functionality the card is a payment system similar to the Octopus card. It is used in the halls to pay for air conditioning (yes, this costs extra), the washing machines and dryers as well as copiers and the like.

After all I could probably walk around in Hong Kong with nothing but 3 or 4 little plastic cards in my pocket and would get around quite well. But as advanced these system are the "low tech" are some of the more basic functionalities you require in daily live. First and most annoying example: In a building with more then 3000 inhabitants every appartment actually has its own water heater! No central heating system or anything like this. I don't want to know how much energy is wasted this way. The worst thing about it though is the fact that it comes close to an artform to find the right setting to reach a water temperature that's neither ice cold nor burning hot. Similar but exactly on the opposite field air conditioning comes to mind. Although I seriously don't want to miss it it appears to me that it's not very efficient for every appartment to have its own air conditioner. Besided that there seems to be absolutely _no_ insulation. As soon as you turn off the a/c you can actually feel a wave of heat rolling over the room from the window and seconds later the whole room is as hot as there had not been any cooling just moments before. I guess there's some potential for improvement ;)


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