Hongkongers to flee, but nowhere to go

Quartz (brought to you by the 1950s tailfins-stylists Cadillac, among other cool and hip mega-corporations) delivers not the first, not the last, report on Hongkongers fleeing the encroaching grip of the Chinese Communist Party.

The Leaving of Hong Kong is as much a part of the local traditional culture and lifestyle as dim sum, quick money or Below Lion Rock. The city was founded for merchants on the make, it attracted transients (many later banished as unwelcome), and it was the departure point for impoverished Chinese on one-way trips to the mines and plantations of distant continents. For much of its colonial history, plague, riots and war convinced residents of all backgrounds to move on rather than settle. Government policy in the 1950s and 60s was to keep public services meager in order to make refugees feel not-at-home. In the 1980s and 90s, uncertainty about the resumption of Chinese sovereignty prompted the departure (often temporary) of around half a million of the middle class seeking the security of an overseas passport.

Since the handover, globalized professionals have loudly ‘left Hong Kong’ because of the air, or their kids’ schooling, or some other intolerable feature of life here. Curiously, they usually have a nice new job awaiting them elsewhere. Others often pronounce themselves on the verge of quitting, but never quite get round to sacrificing the low taxes and high salaries for the spacious and pristine surroundings of other locations.

This particular trend of expats/returnees being driven away is largely apocryphal, and probably exaggerated by foreign chambers of commerce with their own agendas. I can think of a couple of examples of people who clearly left with great reluctance, and in both cases it came down to housing. They were smart and productive non-millionaires with families to accommodate; regional cities with more foresight welcome them, while Hong Kong thinks it’s clever making a quick buck by selling homes to money-laundering outsiders to keep empty. In the grand scheme of things, the impact is probably marginal, but it’s a sign of corrupted housing policy priorities and does not bode well.

While housing affordability (and air quality, and no doubt other factors) have been deteriorating, the last few years have also brought post-1997 political contradictions to a head. Probably suspicious of the national repercussions for more representative government in Hong Kong, Beijing has driven the city’s political reforms into a ditch. Nothing personal: Xi Jinping’s no-nonsense clampdown applies everywhere – to the Internet, corrupt military/officials, potential rivals, academia, the law, Tibet, Xinjiang, foreign TV, cleavage on domestic TV, and so much else. To Hong Kong, it arguably or potentially points to broken promises on governance, intimidation of opponents, brainwashing in schools, pressuring of media and legal process and ultimately decline. Which naturally raises questions about whether we should go somewhere else, and if so, where?

Quartz-DisenchantedHKThe Quartz article echoes some recent chatter about Taiwan as a refuge for Hong Kong people (bottom line: better and slower lifestyle, but limited economic opportunities, and it too has a date with the Communist motherland). It also mentions South Korea, which sounds improbable, given the Hermit Kingdom’s unfathomable language and xenophobia. Korean pop culture is probably the superficial attraction – even I’ve tried the trendy-in-Seoul fake-retro-nostalgia Army Base Stew with 1950s US military Spam that has become fashionable here for no reason at all.)

Quartz also mentions Malaysia, which has some definite attractions in terms of balance between affordability and general levels of civilization (amazing food, at least). Less appealing in terms of this balance are Thailand and the Philippines, which are cheap but not coincidentally poor, corrupt and potentially scary. At the other end of the scale is Singapore, and most right-thinking people would sooner slash their wrists – things aren’t that desperate. For the daring, there are abandoned villages in Japan begging for newcomers. (We’ll skip the more distant alternatives like Canada, Oz, etc on the assumption that the Western world is doomed, as we are so often told, though the levels of visa applications from Greater China and elsewhere in the region suggest that not everyone is convinced about the joys of the forthcoming Asian Century.)

The different factors – affordability, quality of life, etc – are too varied and personal to measure objectively. Having kids must make a massive difference, as does the portability of one’s job/income. Where it gets really perverse is that, by some calculations, greener and better-planned bits of the Pearl River Delta on the Mainland look far more appealing than Hong Kong.

As I say, this won’t be the last story on this theme. Speaking of which…

Same theme, new ‘theme’

It’s Monday morning. Peering through the murky, post-weekend blur, something seems sort of different – but you can’t work out exactly what it is. To put everyone out of their misery: this site has a new look. (In tech-speak, it is a new ‘theme’.) This is thanks to a miraculous scientific breakthrough allowing a fun picture-of-the-week at the top of the page, just like in the very old days from 2002-09 when everything was ever-so-backward. Otherwise, it’s all the same.

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17 Responses to Hongkongers to flee, but nowhere to go

  1. NIMBY says:

    Hey, why leave India off the list? It’s got everything old Hong Kong use to offer. Overcrowded Cities with filthy squatter huts and Kowloon City anarchist (read thuggie estate management) high rises, exotic cuisine right next to the toilet areas, a colonial admin on the take…

    There is another advantage, no public broadcast hosts/managers, who now bend over backwards to protect their children’s expat schooling packages.

  2. Cassowary says:

    How much effort did Hemlock put into his new shiny banner, when it’s only going to be up for a week? He had to have spent some time carefully masking off medals in Photoshop before turning everything else sepia-rust toned. Perhaps he has an intern to order about. Or maybe one of the Filipino Elves did it. I’ve always wondered how it could take more than one person to clean a single, childless man’s house. It almost makes sense if it turns out he’s actually employing the cheapest graphics department in Hong Kong.

  3. Joe Blow says:

    Come to think of it, you are sort of right: Hong Kong really is one big airport terminal, including glitzy, over-priced shops selling tat that nobody needs and bookstores selling everything except good books.

    Btw, I have lived in both the China-part of the Pearl River delta as well as in Manila and life in both places can be extremely pleasant. And oh so cheap.

    My compliments for the new look.

    I am Joe Blow and I approve of this message.

  4. Joe Blow says:

    @NIMBY: they are not bending over backwards. They are bending over forwards.

  5. Scotty Dotty says:

    New week, new look!

    Interesting final paragraph comment from that article: “By 2031, 58% of the population (pdf, p. 12) will be made up of “economically inactive persons,” compared to 49% in 2001, according to government predictions.”

    Anyone else thinking… there goes the 15% flat tax.

  6. The Listener says:

    Er, umm, ah, er, er, did you er, um, mean, ummmmmm, THIS public, er, er, er, broadcaster?

    Hey, you should get a job on the radio!

  7. gumshoe says:

    I’d rather go back to painting houses like I did during summer breaks in college than go to Mainland.

  8. Maugrim says:

    One attraction of moving not mentioned is the concept of a work-life balance, something that doesn’t exist in HK.

  9. PCC says:

    Hong Kong is in transition to a community where one must police one’s thoughts and words or risk liberty and property. That’s why people with the ability to leave will do so. Just ask Mr. Li.

  10. Knownot says:

    “broken promises on governance … brainwashing in schools”

    Tweedledum and Tweedledee
    Agreed to have a battle;
    For Tweedledum said Tweedledee
    Had spoiled his nice new rattle.

    One Country and Two Systems
    Will always disagree.
    Deng said we’d be autonomous
    To a high degree.

    “The promise was, for fifty years
    Our rights would be enjoyed.”
    One Country says, with perfect scorn,
    “The treaty’s null and void.”

    Two Systems wants autonomy,
    One Country wants control;
    Like hammering a square peg
    Into a round hole.

    “Reform the school curricula.
    Let children understand
    The culture and accomplishments
    Of the Motherland.”

    “The teachers and the parents
    And the students will resent it.”
    “No question Hong Kong’s patriots
    Will firmly implement it.”

    I left the pair disputing
    Like stubborn child with child.
    However long they carry on
    They won’t be reconciled.

    (By Lewis Carroll and Another)

  11. NIMBY says:

    Look what that turd, bird, minster Eddie, got for the people of Hong Kong after years of nearly free land rental on property worth millions, if not billions.

    The Singapore International School is for the first time offering blanket financial support to one lucky student from a local school who will enroll in either Secondary One or Year One of the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme in the coming academic year. (Source HK Standard Toilet).

    Disregard that the scholarships should be in the dozens and the backlog as well, as the whole thing will be crooked to the parents who had the best red packet to the board over the Lunar New Year.

    @Listener (Are you in public radio? If you are worthy of that nom-de-plume, you’re not qualified to be a talking empty head.)
    I don’t have the addiction to gin that’s required for service here, nor the addiction to coke that seems to be de rigueure overseas; that and an education heavy in sciences would make the service intolerable to my constitution.

  12. Monkey Reborn says:

    Live low profile anywhere in Asia – Thailand or Malaysia or Taiwan or Bali or rural Nippon for quality of life; Shanghai or Tokyo/Osaka for urban kicks. Fuck Korea (all due respect to Koreans); too many full on nutters who love physical violence there. Aus and NZ very liveable but bit too distant from Asia to do business effectively there.

    Register company in Hong Kong and then apply for an APEC card, to get right to enter almost any Asian country without restriction (exit/reentry runs every 3 months only – no restriction on number of visits per year – as with tourist visas).

    Develop a monetizable skill (or leverage an existing skill) that is salable in the global marketplace (or which can support a scalable services organisation). China-related skills (speaking Chinese as well as experience and expertise in Chinese technology/manufacturing/supply chain/financial industries) still commands a premium in corporate EU/USA and Middle East.

    All financial flows through Hong Kong registered company, in order to optimise tax burden, minimise admin costs and financial costs. Withdraw living expenses from HKG accounts via ATMs and convert to local currencies based on short term trends in the USD index. Leverage double taxation agreements to legally avoid withholding taxes for any countries that use them to take a slice of outward bound payments, for payment flows for your services or goods.

    Best done as a citizen of a Western state with no tendency towards implementing income taxes retroactively on expatriates, cos Western expats still treated preferentially in almost all Asian nation states by government personnel.

    Recipe for secure, prosperous and enjoyable living in the 21st century. Make sure you come back to HKG at least once every year to maintain HK permanent or regular residency rights. And don’t invest in Asian property until during/after the next global property crash and Asian contagion. Buy farmland in Aus or New Zealand and outsource the growing and selling. Keep at least 15-30% of personal assets in physical gold or silver, stored outside the banking system in Singapore or Switzerland.

  13. Real Tax Payer says:

    I like the new look !

  14. Joe Blow says:

    Yes !!! It’s official !! Hurrah ! Kumbayah ! The east is red !

    Christine Loh is now officially a patriotic, China-loving Hong Kong politician. Prof Chen said so in the New Xinhua Morning Piss. She would be ‘acceptable’ as a (no-hope) candidate for the 2017 CE erection.

    Well, Christine, you have come a long way since you sold out 2 years ago and decided to serve the most despised and hated politician that Hong Kong has ever known. This calls for celebration: why don’t you and Regina go shopping for a new Chanel suit (red is in this season) and have tea with Bonnae at Sevva afterwards.

    In 2006 you were voted (?) or simply announced as ‘woman of the year’. I forgot by whom. It wasn’t Penthouse magazine because the hos in Penthouse are honest about selling out to the highest bidder, unlike you. You wouldn’t make the cut anyway.

  15. Flip-Flopper says:

    Love the new header, but I think the new font is too high-brow. This blog should be a sans-serif, irreverent red-top.

  16. Cerebos says:

    The gentleman 3rd from left in the banner was my grandfather’s batman and then mother’s pet ostrich keeper when she was a little girl in the CAR. They both attest that he was far smarter and more malicious than any of the other individuals honoured above are. The HK contingent doesn’t even come close. As usual, the best we seem to produce are poor approximations of the real deal.

  17. Gooddog says:

    Monkey Reborn – seems like you’ve got it all figured out – a bit like Clooney in Up in the Air. It is all a bit too clinical for me. Better to sweat and curse and swear with the best Hong Kongers on the streets. You might take some hits and it might be a doomed escapade but at least you are fighting, you are connected, you are loved and you belong.

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