South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
Peter Kammerer comes to terms with his son’s decision to give up a well-paid job for love, overcoming the typically Hong Kong attitude that prioritises work and making money over life experiences
When my 26-year-old son told me he was going to throw in his well-paid job as a personal trainer to go to live with his girlfriend in Paris, I went nuts. Had he bothered looking at the unemployment statistics for under-30s in France? Was he aware of how difficult it would be getting a job in a place where speaking fluent French was essential in his line of work? Why wasn’t his girlfriend doing what so many of her country men and women had done and come to Hong Kong instead?
But my son is single-minded when it comes to what he wants. He also has an EU passport, which makes handing in his resignation letter, buying an air ticket and packing up straightforward. To placate me, he argued that he wants to see the world before he’s married and besides, in his line of work, it’s relatively easy to find business. Anyway, if things don’t work out in Europe, as a Hong Kong permanent resident, he can just return and pick up where he left off.
It’s the same logic that took me to Britain and then Hong Kong in the 1980s. I’ve never regretted those decisions, the enjoyment and knowledge gained being, as they say, part of a rich tapestry. Yet, after all the arguments with friends and work colleagues, it’s only recently I’ve been convinced. I believe it’s because having lived in Hong Kong for so long, I’ve been brainwashed into thinking that making money is more important than life experiences.
It’s a conclusion apparent from the starkly different opinions of people born and bred in Hong Kong and those raised elsewhere I’ve broached this with. The Hongkongers typically believe anyone who puts fun before money has their priorities wrong. Those with an overseas upbringing wondered what I was worried about, contending that when someone is young and financially unburdened by a mortgage or children, they should make the most of it. Besides, the latter group says, in a world of borderless job opportunities, what’s the problem?
I’ve a feeling Hong Kong has made me narrow-minded. Certainly, it’s the way many young Hongkongers seem to have been raised. They want the government to assure they get meaningful jobs, homes of their own, a decent standard of living and the rights and privileges of Western democracies. They are being unrealistic.
The cost of living in a city is naturally going to be high for anyone low on the employment ladder, as most recent school graduates are. Hong Kong’s housing prices appear steep for those who are just starting out, but if the widely accepted gauge of paying about one-third of income on rent is applied, shared accommodation or a subdivided flat is affordable for the majority. Experience, hard work and dedication improve circumstances, as my son well knows. Political aspirations are something else, though; there’s no perfect system of governing and there will always be those who are dissatisfied, which is why governments have to be as inclusive as reasonably possible when it comes to making decisions.
But for those who feel stifled or don’t see hope, there’s also a big, wide world beyond Hong Kong’s 2,755 sq km boundary. It’s full of possibilities. A foreign passport isn’t necessary to access them; all that is required is a sense of adventure. The mainland has far more than Hong Kong can hope to offer and it’s even in the same country, if biases can be set aside.
But there’s something else for younger Hongkongers to keep in mind; there’s more to living than making money. My elder son is following that principle as he plans the next chapter of his life. In his case, it’s about love – and who am I to argue with him about that?
Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post