The red rubber nose from Yeung Siu-chak is one of my favourite accessories. I stand in front of the mirror and put on the red nose whenever I need quick stimulation to cheer up myself. This is also what Siu-chak wants by making this signature accessory of clowns the token of every new friendship he makes. From the 29 year old, I learnt that clowning is more sophisticated and profound than just making people laugh by donning a grotesque coloured wig, floppy shoes and a red rubber nose.

Siu-chak has been in the clown business for eight years. He is also a coach at Ocean Park, teaching actors how to play Halloween characters. Although his main focus is always on how he can perfect his skills and knowledge as a clown artist, his business is clearly growing, thanks to well-off parents eager to give their children memorable parties. Well-to-do immigrants from the mainland also make up a significant portion of his business. For the new immigrants, a party with a professional clown performance is not only about giving their children something special to remember, but it also serves as an opportunity to socialise with the locals which helps them integrate into their new community.

"I saw the show twice. The performance completely captured my imagination, not just because of its colourful, fancy and dreamlike theatrical effects, but also the movement of the actors, the way they dance, jump, perform acrobatics and aerial acts, as well as their facial expressions. I know this is what I want to do, to be a circus actor," Siu-chak said.

If you're surprised by his career choice, Siu-chak would say he became a clown because he is blessed that he grew up in Hong Kong.

The story began with the Canadian circus company Cirque de Soleil's tour to Hong Kong in 2000. The circus company's signature production Saltimbanco was on show at the then-vacant Tamar site.

"I saw the show twice. The performance completely captured my imagination, not just because of its colourful, fancy and dreamlike theatrical effects, but also the movement of the actors, the way they dance, jump, perform acrobatics and aerial acts, as well as their facial expressions. I know this is what I want to do, to be a circus actor," Siu-chak said.

But he was only 16 at the time, and he was too young to join any circus(in any case, there's no circus in Hong Kong),or go overseas for circus school. So he embarked on a journey of making himself a clown.

"I went to learn gymnastics, hip-hop, jazz, ballet, contemporary dance, break dance and more. You name it, I learned it. For gymnastics, I found a coach to teach me. Finding a ballet school that accepts a teenage boy wasn't easy. For the rest, I went to community centres and schools that offered courses I was interested in and believed would be useful. I've got to train my body. I live in Tsuen Wan,I travelled to Sha Tin and Tsim Sha Tsui for those lessons. Skills like ball juggling, I learned from the Internet,"

"There is loads of information on clowning online. There are also quite a number of clown shows in Hong Kong. Most people don't notice them, but the fact is the government does invite overseas clown troupes to come to perform in Hong Kong. There are usually several shows a year. Quite often, especially in recent years, the artists also run workshops for the audience. Because the shows and the workshops are government sponsored, the tickets are inexpensive and the student tickets are even cheaper. So there are plenty of opportunities to learn from clown artists from around the globe."

After several years shuttling between school and after-school activities, Siu-chak went to read sports education at Baptist University. The choice was to allow himself maximum exposure to the skills and knowledge necessary to becoming a top clown. Over the course of three years, he did gymnastics and event management as well as classes run by the university's arts department. He also studied acting, dancing, literature, and even glass making.

"Being a clown is about capturing the complete attention of your audience and making them laugh with a series of subtle body movements. Clowning is an art form, the more you learn, experience and understand, and the more mature you get, the richer your show becomes and a better artist you are,"

"I always think if you want to be a scriptwriter, experiencing life maybe a better way to learn scriptwriting than taking a scriptwriting class. I think you can learn cooking through farming because you will know the crops and the plants better. To act well and run a good show, having great skills is not enough, I need a script, I need to know how to make transitions in a script, and I've got to be knowledgeable. Being a clown gives me plenty of excuses to try out various arts because everything I learn will end up enriching my performance. The best clown is one who has perfected every aspect of his repertoire, then throws all his skills away, and be as natural as one can be."

But Siu-chak knows that to succeed, he needs to achieve a fine balance between artistic creativity and eye-catching commercial elements in his shows. His business partner Eric Lai, a clown who specialises in balloon twisting and image design, is there to make their performances more commercially appealing.

In order to accommodate the demands of an expanding business and the inevitable accumulation of colourful costumes and stage props, the clowns have rented a 600-square-feet office in an industrial building near Kwai Fong MTR station. "We want an accessible location so clients can find us easily. We need a high ceiling, windows and a space that allows us to run on a 24-hour basis. Only industrial buildings close to a MTR station can satisfy our requirements," he said.

With a proper office, Siu-chak believes he can free up plenty of room at the apartment where he and his parent live. Also, he has now got an appropriate venue for client meetings and a place where he can train young people who also aspire to become clown artists. The goal is not just that more clown artists can perform commercially, but that more of them can bring some joy and respite to hospital patients, a voluntary service that Siu-chak has been doing for a number of years.

"For me to run my business, I only need a camera and a computer; I don't need any huge machine. In my case, work and living have been married. I believe, in fact, quite a number of people in Hong Kong have done the same so they don't need a separate office. They either work at home, or live in their office. I think you should consider moving to a loft," Fredie said.

I never expected to find comfort food when I stepped into this non-descript building of production plants and warehouses. Tonight, however, a veritable home-cooked dinner was laid out for me inside. Choi sum stir-fried with garlic, green beans stir-fried with black beans and chilies, a pork and potato stew and bowls of freshly harvested Yuen Long rice. As we ate huddled around a folding table in Fredie's 2000-square-feet loft apartment, I began to digest the housing reality facing Hong Kong's young generation today.

Although I was once a housing beat reporter, and am still proud of my ability to recount how the laws and policies in this area have changed over the years, my long chat with Fredie and his girlfriend Rachel Lee in the industrial building unit that he shares with four others made me realise I had under-estimated the difficulties confronting the young generation in their search for an affordable and decent home.

Because the city's laws forbid people from living in industrial buildings, I promised my friend that we would not reveal any details which might lead to his home being located.

Fredie Chan became an independent filmmaker after he spent several years filming and producing current affairs programmes at Radio Television Hong Kong. An expert on moving images, he taught me what I had to consider about camera angle and distance in relation to the human subjects being filmed in order to give the material emotional weight.

In this shared loft accommodation of five people, Fredie has a 100-square-feet private section which also functions as his studio. Furnishing in this wall-less and door-less bedroom is most basic. There are only seven pieces of furniture: a bed, two desks, two chairs, a bookshelf and a wardrobe. He uses the desks, the bookshelf and the foldable wardrobe to mark the bedroom boundary. "Packing will be a fairly simple task for you," I said as I surveyed his corner.

"For me to run my business, I only need a camera and a computer; I don't need any huge machine. In my case, work and living have been married. I believe, in fact, quite a number of people in Hong Kong have done the same so they don't need a separate office. They either work at home, or live in their office. I think you should consider moving to a loft," Fredie said.

The young film director loves his home. "This is a very nice place, spacious and quiet. Where can you find a 2000-sq-ft apartment in Hong Kong for only a few thousand dollars? The only problem is I know I'll be evicted one day. I'm sure it will happen. I will either be evicted by the government because the law doesn't allow residential use of industrial buildings or by the landlord when it becomes more profitable for him to sell."

It's true that Fredie can pack up his furniture quickly but it doesn't mean he can find another loft if he has to move out. His rent is relatively low and sharing it with like-minded friends makes it possible for him to take up socially meaningful but unprofitable projects. Right now, he's spending less than HK$2,000 a month on rent and other miscellaneous expenses.

While Fredie was preparing dinner, he kept asking me where else he could find decent accommodation as cheap as the loft he occupies. "Think about how much a young person earns nowadays, even if we live in a partitioned flat, it's going to cost half of our monthly salary. Then we also have to give money to our parents. How much have we got left after paying rent and paying our parents? Many young people don't get along well with their parents but they are forced to stay with their parents because they can't afford to move out. I left home during my first year in college, my mum always says I should move back, but I have no plan to do so, I can't live with my family again. But not everyone is like me, my loft mates, for example, some of them go back to stay with their parents regularly. They only come here for a break."

Fredie stresses that he does not resist the idea of living in remote rural areas. "Do you think we can get a cheaper rent if the five of us move into a village house together, not just one floor of a house but the entire block?" Calling himself a community person, the big dinner he prepared was good for four people since he's also cooking for one of this loft mates who usually eats dinner at home. If there are leftovers from the generous servings he cooks, whoever wants to bring a packed lunch to work the next day can take the food. The five residents of the loft apartment share their food and other resources, including their expertise. Fredie always turns to the musician loft mate for assistance when he needs original music scores for his films.

The loft has no partitions or walls. The residents use the few pieces of furniture they have to mark their boundaries. The furniture-built-boundaries form a wide corridor that bisects the rectangular shaped loft. Chairs, sofas, paintings, a bicycle, and other named and unnamed miscellaneous items lie scattered on two sides of the corridor.

Most of the miscellaneous items that are free for everyone to use, such as film set tools, are kept on a nearly three-metre-tall shelf that the residents patched together using unpainted wood pieces and iron bars. The self-made shelf stands near the entrance. Facing the huge shelf is the only room of the loft. Inside the room there are a number of second-hand musical instruments, including a piano, an electronic keyboard, a drum set, and several pieces of Chinese musical instrument. The room is where the musician fixes and records music. At the far end of the loft is their shared living room where they hang out, eat and watch DVDs.

Despite the constant uncertainty that he's living in, Fredie prefers the government to leave the laws regarding the use of industrial buildings unchanged. He worries that if the government somehow relaxes the laws, a surge in demand – and rent – for the suddenly available spaces will follow, leaving him and other artists with nowhere to go.

Fredie grew up in a public housing estate in Tai Po and he likes public housing. "Public housing is good. I will have a place where I don't have to worry about eviction. I know living in public housing nowadays means living in a place that's even more remote than Tung Chung, but the location doesn't bother me, I am home office."

Fredie thinks any attempt to understand how independent artists are using industrial buildings in the pursuit of their musical dreams will not be complete without meeting his friend Lai. So I went to meet the man at his loft.

Lai is a vocalist, lyricist and drummer in an independent band. He has been living in various lofts for more than 10 years and is one of the pioneers of loft living in Hong Kong. "My first loft was on the rooftop of an industrial building. There were four of us sharing and the rent was HK$1,400. Since then, the number of bands using industrial building units as studios has mushroomed. Only a dozen or so bands did that 10 years ago but now there are over 1000," Lai said.

Despite the fact that there are now many more bands in Hong Kong and that turning formerly industrial spaces into band studios has become an established phenomenon, Lai assured me there are big enough crowds to support the bands. "The problem we face is there are too few spaces for us to perform live," he said.

The space Lai now occupies is a one-bedroom apartment conversion in an industrial building. Second-hand furniture and audio-visual equipment are tidily placed around the 200-sq.ft space. His home is one of the 11 studios he and his flatmates "built" out of a 3000-sq.ft space in the 40-year-old industrial building.

A sofa, a table, some drums and a piano are scattered along the wide corridor that runs between the rooms. There is also graffiti on the walls. Lai said the ‘occupation' of the corridor would fail them in a fire safety inspection because the furniture obstructs the fire safety escape. "Why don't you move them back to your rooms?" I asked. "But we did this with a purpose. It is about sharing and a communal way of living. This is where we chit-chat."

They share a toilet and a shower. The size of the rooms varies: some are used as storage, or as studios of independent bands, while others have been converted into residences, like the one where Lai lives. At least two independent bands share each studio so for some users, the monthly rent can be as low as HK$100.

"The quality of sound insulation we have here is rather low. So it is rather noisy when someone is practising. But it bothers no one because it is a way of living," Lai said.