Hong Kong is a pretty hot place with an average annual temperature of around 28 degree Celsius and a relative humidity as high as 95% during summer, the raining season. However, thanks to the coolness of the air-conditioner, the temperature inside most shopping malls is a ridiculous 17 degree Celsius, resembling a normal day in winter. You would feel like walking into a giant fridge for shopping, then walking out with a bunch of cold capitalism byproducts on your hands after. Why is that?
Economical: Unit Electricity Rates Lower as You Consume More
The two electricity companies in Hong Kong divide electricity consumers in 3 categories:
- residential users
- standard non-residential users
- high-consumption non-residential users
They charge the first two categories in progressive rates while the last category in regressive rate, meaning that those gigantic enterprises pay lower electricity rate as they consume more while the households and small-sized companies pay more per-unit rate. As those shopping malls are mostly owned by big listed companies that fall into the last category, it’s a natural result that big shopping malls are very generous in putting the temperature of the air-conditioner as low as they can. Sadly, it is in effect producing a mechanism where small households and companies are subsidizing the electricity consumptions of shopping malls and class-A offices*, thus widening the income gap.
Functional: Your Wet Shirt Needs to be Rescued
In Hong Kong, what kills people is not only the high temperature but also the humidity that makes them sweat and their shirt wet, especially when they have to wear a full suit to go to work under the bright sun. Hence, people would go inside a shopping mall (whether they want to do shopping or not) to cool down their body temperature as well as drying down their wet shirt. If you walk on the streets of Hong Kong during summer time, you would see people just going inside shopping malls and coming out in 3 minutes after cooling themselves and drying their shirt without doing any shopping. To the shopping malls, if lowering down the temperature makes customers happy, then why not? The electricity bill is getting more economical as they consume more anyway.
Survival: If You Don’t Do it, You Lose Traffic
As long as there are some shopping malls lower the temperature of the air-conditioner, the temperature on the streets (outside the malls) would be much higher because of the heat emitted from the air-conditioner. As the outdoor temperature is higher, people on the street would go inside shopping malls with strong air-conditioner to cool themselves and those shopping malls would enjoy more traffic which in turns means higher revenue. As a result, all the other shopping malls would have to also lower the temperature to attract shopping-goers to come inside because they need traffic as well. Eventually, all the shopping malls would be just like a fridge. Nowadays, some shopping malls would leave their doors open and spread their “coolness” on the streets. And the result? More customers would come inside.
Despite the lavish use of electricity by shopping malls, the government did do something to save energy, such as requesting all primary and secondary schools to set the temperature of the air-conditioner at 25.5 degree Celsius. But whether the schools are obeying the rule is still a question, because teachers and students still want to be cool(ed) like everyone else.
My advice, bring a jacket when you go shopping in Hong Kong.