Is it Time to Leave Hong Kong?
Hong Kong has been home for me for almost twelve years. I’ve spent my adult life here and consider myself a part of the fabric of Hong Kong. It’s a place where I have gotten to know myself, a place where I have grown, failed, succeeded, but ultimately, I’ve become a better person, and this city has always been my backdrop.
Recently, there have been a lot of protests happening because of the government’s wishes to push through an extradition bill that would allow China to essentially take anyone they wanted back to the Mainland for “questioning” legally. We have all seen what happened to the book store owners and countless others who have decided to speak out against the Chinese government. Inevitably, they end up on TV offering some forced apology that we all know is happening because the government has leverage over them or we never see them again. I am hopeful that the Chinese Government will improve and get better, but who knows.
This issue has forced all of us who call Hong Kong home to reflect on what this means for us, and we really have to ask: “Is it time to leave Hong Kong?” One of the interesting things I have seen is that the protests happening right now are acting like a string that is being pulled in peoples hearts and minds. One that, once you pull starts to come unravelled, and all that’s attached to it is brought to the surface. It isn’t just the protests that are making people want to leave Hong Kong. There is so much more attached to it. It’s more layered than that.
Housing is one of those issues deeply latched onto this string. Hong Kong consistently ranks at the top of the “most expensive place to buy property” list, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon. This has obvious ramifications for anyone living here, including yours truly. I don’t own a home, and the likelihood of me being able to afford one at this point is close to zero. As soon as you save up enough money for a deposit, the prices go up again, and you’re right back where you started. The Hong Kong Housing Authority is trying it’s best to fix this problem, but it’s best isn’t even close to good enough. The most impoverished among us have no hope, and it isn’t much better for those of us that work “normal” jobs, either. The housing market is directly responsible for causing fear and hopelessness in the general populous at multiple levels. At this point, it’s only the wealthy that can afford to buy their own apartments. When you are fighting an uphill battle for the pure privilege of owning a box, it’s no wonder many go “Meh.” and put it on their list of “Reasons to Leave Hong Kong”.
Right up there with housing, stress is something we all have to deal with in life, but when you live in Hong Kong, there are things at play that put an extra burden on you as a person living in this city. I’d almost consider it an entry cost. If you want to live here, this is the price you have to pay to do so. In an article on CNN, they mention just some of the contributing factors that cause stress like;
“The enormous pressure that people place on themselves to succeed and do well in a highly competitive, high-achieving system, the working hours and the fact that we live in a very cramped, urban environment,”
Hannah Reidy, Mind HK
The pressure to succeed is placed on you as soon as you enter this city almost by default because everyone else is chasing a dream, more money, more status, or whatever their metric is. For most, it’s money. Doink! Oh, and if you want to get it, be prepared to work constantly. Even when you’ve finished work, you will still be working. Being a teacher in this city is no different. I just started to say “No” to the extra demands eventually. You have to draw the line somewhere.
China is recently going through a trend called “9–9–6” popularised and supported by Alibaba CEO, Jack Ma, which he believes you need to implement if you are to be successful in life. Can we just stop for a minute and realise how crazy this is?! Twelve-hour days for six days! Hong Kong has had this mentality for a long time, and it’s a mentality that is causing people to snap. This stuff is real! You can’t work that hard and expect to get away mentally scot-free. Working this hard has a price, and it’s pushing people to look for an alternative place to live.
For people who want to start a family or already have children, Hong Kong can be a tough place to raise them. If you are one of the lucky few that is on an expat package and your kids go to school for free essentially, that’s great! For the rest of us living on planet earth, having kids isn’t always the best idea.
I don’t have kids, and one of the main reasons is the cost of having one (just one!). If you are happy for your children to go to a government school then the cost of actually having a child will be a bit easier to bear, however, prepare for a mountain of emotional stress dealing with school work and tight deadlines. I’ve seen the struggles these parents deal with first hand. My heart goes out to them. It is SO tough, and it sent shockwaves through my very being saying “Don’t have children!”.
The only alternative is to pick out one of these nice, shiny private schools that will take a good chunk out of your monthly salary, if not the remainder of it. Having a family of three living on beans doesn’t sound like my idea of a good time, and this is reflected in society, it not just me! The below excerpt is taken from the Fertility Trend in Hong Kong:
“Broadly speaking, Hong Kong’s fertility showed a declining trend over the past 36 years. After experiencing the historic low of 901 live births per 1 000 women in 2003, the total fertility rate once rebounded to 1 285 in 2012, and then dropped to 1 125 in 2017. During the whole period, the total fertility rate of Hong Kong has been consistently below the replacement level of 2 100.”
This yet piles on more pressure to the average person living in Hong Kong. Not only are you saving for a house you’ll never afford, but you are also working insane hours to do it. On top of that, if you want to enjoy the pleasures of having a family, you will have to do so by severely impacting your dreams of buying a home and even if you do manage to crack the family/home buying problem, you will be working so hard that you won’t be able to enjoy your home or your family. Talk about being on a treadmill. There are other places where they have this balance figured out.
Hong Kong’s air pollution (and every other kind) is terrible, and it’s something I was aware of when I moved here. What I chuckle at is how it suddenly gets better around Chinese New Year like clockwork. Factories close down; we get better air quality for about two weeks then we go back to breathing smoke again. As an educator, it is something you have to be vigilant of because there are parents who don’t want their children to join outings due to health warnings about being outside during high pollution periods. Fair enough.
The humidity during the spring and certainly the summer only compound this problem. People end up developing allergies very quickly after having spent time here. You’ll often hear people say “I have this cough, but it’s not a cold. It’s just a dry cough that won’t go away” then they end up taking asthma medicine, and it gets better. That’s right; you got the Hong Kong lung!
So, Should You Leave?
I’ve been here for a good twelve years, and Hong Kong hasn’t gotten rid of me yet. Even with all the protests that are taking place, my life has remained unaffected for the most part. I can go about my business, no problem. It’s true that the protests have made a lot of people think about all these underlying issues that have resurfaced and to each their own. If Hong Kong isn’t working for you, that’s fine. I totally get it.
For me, I have been fortunate to have the circumstances and the mindset to adapt to most of these underlying problems. Can’t buy a house? Fine, I’ll rent and put my money in the stock market and ride it out. I’ve stopped worrying about it. Maybe I can even buy a property somewhere else? Can’t afford to have a family? Okay, I’ll get a dog instead. If you really want to start a family and you aren’t pulling in the big bucks, it’s going to be tough for you. Is your job stressing you out too much? Find other, better ways to make money. The air quality problem you can’t really do much about except buy an air purifier and call it a win.
This is the way I have chosen to deal with these issues, and there are many other people who have beaten them in their own way, too. While it isn’t time for me to leave Hong Kong just yet, it may be time for you. Even if you are thinking of coming here to live, which a lot of people are, you will do fine. If you’re thinking of coming for a couple of years to teach, you will do well. Just don’t look at Hong Kong as a long term option. The long arm of China may start grabbing a little tighter, and when it does, I think those of us who can leave, will leave.