| HONG KONG
HONG KONG Space-starved Hong Kong has long been plagued by high rents and steep hotel rates, vexing university students and tourists alike.
But help may be at hand, thanks to one Hong Kong firm: tiny pods stacked up in tiers to create capsule lodgings at low cost.
Inspired by Japan's inexpensive capsule hotels, capsule bed manufacturer Galaxy Stars HK is offering wifi-enabled capsules that can be stacked together in cupboard-like formations to ease the high-priced room crunch.
"It's like Legos," said Eric Wong, managing director at Galaxy Stars HK, explaining how the units can be pieced together in a matter of days.
"I want to bring this product to Hong Kong tourists to relieve Hong Kong's hotel shortage."
Each pod, which measures 1.9 meters (6.3 feet) long, 1 meter wide and 1.15 meters high, is slightly larger than a twin bed. They come complete with bed, air conditioning, light switches, computer tables and power outlets.
Wong said he expects his main customers to be tourists. The average hotel room rate was HK$1165 a night in 2010, according to the city's Tourism Commission.
But he added that about a dozen local students had expressed interest in a capsule college dormitory near campus, offering pods for HK$3,500 a month.
"Students are affected by a severe lack of space in university housing, so we thought, why not do dorm rooms as well?" Wong said.
The average living space for Hong Kong residents in 2011 was 12.8 square metres (137 square feet) at an average monthly rate of HK$46 per square metre for centrally-located Hong Kong Island, according to Hong Kong housing authority numbers.
Prices for apartments in the former British colony are the most expensive in the world and they rose more than 12 percent in 2011.
Campus dormitories are nearly unavailable due to long waiting lists for the inexpensively-priced rooms and tough entrance requirements.
While there are no firm dates for launching a capsule dorm, Wong said one could open once there is interest from at least 15 students of the same gender.
But some potential customers expressed doubts about the practicality of the coffin-like pods for long-term residence, especially given the fact that the rent is not exactly rock-bottom.
"Even in a dormitory room with two people, sometimes one of us might sleep late and that person's sleep will be disturbed," said Zhao Liu, a graduate student living in a dormitory.
"Especially when there are so many people in (essentially) the same room, I don't think it would be a good choice to live in such a small place."
(Editing by Elaine Lies and Ron Popeski)