A Sleep Pod in Hong Kong

by AFP/Sam Wild, Jan 3, 2009 | Destinations: Hong Kong / China

Hong Kong, December 25, 2008 - As Hong Kong's already-frantic workers cling to their jobs amid the global economic downturn, the hectic and the exhausted are being offered a haven of relaxation in the overcrowded finance hub.

One of the ubiquitous shopping malls in the city's most frantic shopping district of Causeway Bay has installed high-tech beds where tired executives and exhausted shoppers can escape the fast lane for a quick snooze.

Looking like futuristic first-class airplane seats, the pods are designed to provide overwrought Hong Kongers with 20 minutes of down time during which the city's sounds and sights are blanked out in total darkness.

And there is whale music, too.

"Hong Kong is a really crazy place -- you do not have time to rest at all," said Benjamin Lau, founder of Delay No Mall, where the sleep-pods are based, and chief executive officer of trendy style firm G.O.D.

"Lots of people cannot sleep very well at night, there's so much stress and pressure. We put these sleep pods in the mall because we wanted a place where people could relax."

Lau said that at 90 Hong Kong dollars (12 US) a nap, the shut-eye is worth the investment.

"I think there's always a negative connotation of sleeping, and it shouldn't be considered sleeping, it is a place to re-energise really," said the Australian-educated entrepreneur.

According to Metronaps, the US-based firm which launched the sleep capsule in New York in 2003, the benefits of a mid-afternoon nap have proven scientific value.

They cite a 2007 study by the Harvard School of Public Health which found that regular daytime naps can help reduce the risk of heart disease by up to 37 percent.

Angela To, a Hong Kong artist and self-confessed shopaholic, emerged from a reclining, bubble-shaped sleep pod and said it provided a welcome break in her hectic retail schedule.

"I feel relaxed. My mind and breath are calm and peaceful. For me a good nap is better than a cup of coffee," she said, after being gently woken by the bed's vibro-alarm.

But despite the beneficial claims, one trade unionist argued the sleep-pod was just cashing in on a work-hard culture that blights the crowded metropolis.

"I think there is demand for the sleep pods because Hong Kong workers are suffering from the long working hours and without enough rest time," said Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Union organiser Tat Mung.

"The problem is that in Hong Kong now, workers do not have any protection for working hours," added Tat from his office in Mong Kok, one of the most densely-populated places on the planet.

"More than 40 percent of the working population are working more than 48 hours a week" Tat said.

He said a study by the union found Hong Kong workers put in the fifth longest working hours in the world behind only Peru, South Korea, Thailand and Pakistan.

At the Hong Kong offices of the bank formerly known as Lehman Brothers, which collapsed in September during the financial crisis before being taken over by Japanese financial giant Nomura, employees were also unimpressed.

"I simply wouldn't have the time," said one staff member who did not want to be named.

"If we had one in the office I might think about it but even then we're having to work all the hours God sends."

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