Out in the Open

What 3 years of Airbnb living taught this traveller about the nature of neighbours

Kevin Lynch describes what fleeting brushes with Hong Kong locals taught him about relating to the people around you.

Bugs, blood and new neighbours are all part of getting to know 'the real Hong Kong' for Kevin Lynch

View of Hong Kong from the rooftop deck of one of Kevin Lynch's Airbnbs. (Kevin Lynch)

Whenever Kevin Lynch said goodbye to the family to leave for work, he would get on a plane then check into a place in Hong Kong that he rented through the short-term accommodation site Airbnb. 

"I was kind of addicted to going into Hong Kong every week and not having any idea where I was going to stay," said Lynch. 

Lynch moved from Chicago to China for work a handful of years ago and got an apartment with his wife and daughter. But when his company relocated him from Shanghai to Hong Kong, Lynch began to commute between the two cities. 
A photo of Lynch's stay in 1 of the 136 Airbnbs he visited in Hong Kong. This one was converted from an old cowshed. (Kevin Lynch)

"By staying in different Airbnbs, it really allowed me to check out a lot of different neighbourhoods, but also to get into the real Hong Kong, to get into the little fishing villages ... and really meet a lot more local people than you typically would."

Lynch made some rules for himself: never stay in the same Airbnb, and never stay in the same neighbourhood. As a result, he has stayed in all of Hong Kong's 18 districts and on nine different islands. When Lynch finally ended the experience, he had stayed in 136 different Airbnbs.

Lynch says that his favourite rentals were not usually the nicest ones.

"It's actually the ones that challenge you that create the best stories. I stayed in a little neighbourhood where the place was so small, if I stood in the middle of the room and put my arms out I could reach both sides of the walls.

"When you laid down on the bed, right next to your head were blood stains. There was one working light in the bathroom, there were bugs crawling along the walls. It was really chaotic and its still one of my favourites." 

Whether meeting new hosts or neighbours, Lynch says the impermanence of their encounters led to quicker bonds.

A buffalo in the Hong Kong village of Pui O, where Lynch stayed at an Airbnb. (Kevin Lynch )

"The first couple days you're there, you don't have that tunnel vision that we all build up. And so your eyes are a little more wide open. Your peripheral vision is a little bit bigger," he said.

"Then when it comes time to leave a place, I think you become a little bit more brave because there's no long-term commitment. You're not going to have to sit at someone's boring barbecue the following summer because you're on your way out. I think your guard drops and you become a little bit more honest.

"That's the cool thing about this experience: That was the permanent state. I actually feel like I met more people then than I typically would if I would just stay in the same place."

After 136 stays, Lynch settled in Shanghai. But his experience still informs how he relates to his surroundings today.

"I think that if you can retain that freshness of when you first move into the neighbourhood, I think we would all benefit from that," he said.

This story appears in the Out in the Open episode "Neighbours."