By Kelvin Chan
HONG KONG—There is a quiet migration occurring of young educated people from the developed countries of the world to a small former British colony in East Asia.
I took part in it as I stepped off my plane into the modern terminal at Hong Kong’s airport neatly a year ago. I was part of an unpublicized brain drain, not of Canadians leaving to work in America, but of young overseas-born-and-raised Chinese leaving Canada for Hong Kong.
My goal was simple—to get a job that would advance my career and make me a lot more money. The fact that I had family connections didn’t hurt either. But, as I soon discovered, I was just one of a flood of young overseas Chinese (YOCs) with the same idea. When the Trudeau government liberalized immigration during the 1960s, a wave of immigrants settled in Canada. My parents were among those who left a generation ago in search of opportunities in Canada. I made the opposite trip for the same reasons. In the three decades since my parents left the city. Hong Kong has transferred from a colonial outpost into an economic powerhouse.
Hong Kong in the 1960s was just starting its transformation into one of the world’s capitals, as manufacturing and exports helped build the city into a financial centre and filled it with gleaming skyscrapers and Rolls Royces. Now that Hong Kong has passed from British to Chinese rule, fears about instability have been put to rest. The city continues to be a good place to do business and make money. Hong Kong’s 4.3-per-cent unemployment rate, compared with Canada’s 6.9-per-cent, makes it easy to find a job. The 15-per cent income tax rate, and lack of any sales taxes, means you keep more of your money. Plus, the weather’s good, too, only dipping to the low teens in February.
“There are two reasons people come to Hong Kong,” Man-Men Lee, an acquaintance of mine, once said. “To make money and boost your career.” Lee, who was born and raised in Bristol, England, came to Hong Kong three years ago, where she works in Sony Music’s public relations department.
But there are reasons other than money, and jobs for coming to Hong Kong. Take Edward Chung, who works for the Hong Kong iMail newspaper. Born and raised in England, he attended the University of Sheffield but never really felt accepted in England. Fellow Brits always asked him where he was from even after he told them he was from England.
But I believe there’s a deeper reason why YOCs arrive in Hong Kong: history. Most Chinese people, no matter where they live, are proud of their culture and try to make their children learn the language, eat the food and abide by the customs—although in my case I rebelled and now regret it.
I came to Hong Kong spurred by a deep impulse to relearn all those Cantonese words I half-learned, learn to read the writing. After all, 5,000 years of civilization is not going to die easily, if ever.
But after nearly a year, I’ve learned that Hong Kong is just another big city, filled with superficial people obsessed with money. I’ve learned hardly any new Chinese words, probably because everyone speaks English after 156 years of British rule. And the only people I hang out with are expatriates like me, visitors in Hong Kong for short periods of time before they move on somewhere else.
I’m getting back on an airplane in a couple of weeks to come back to Toronto for a short vacation. I’m not sure how long I’ll be staying. But I know now that my home is in Canada, not Hong Kong.