Generation 40s – 四十世代

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In my facekini: How wearing a mask to shield me from the sun couldn’t protect me from racist America

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
2016-01-28

Kelly Yang

Kelly Yang says her personal experience on holiday in the US has made her question the future of a nation that has welcomed immigrants for centuries and successfully profited from their skills and talent

Hate. Racism. Hostility. That’s what flew in my face this summer when I wore a facekini while on vacation in the US. A facekini, in case you are not familiar, is a tight lycra-blend mask, one which covers your entire face and neck. No more messy sunscreens! No more visors flying off in the wind! And while my facekini proved to be excellent protection from the blazing California sun, it failed to shield me from the torrent of racist comments, from “Look at that Asian freak!” to “If you don’t like the sun, why don’t you go back to where you came from?”

People said this to my face, even in liberal California. Maybe it was Donald Trump fever or the fact people forgot that, underneath my mask, I still had ears. Whatever the reason, I suddenly found myself on the receiving end of American xenophobia, feeling sad, alone and vulnerable under my mask.

They were not feelings I expected to experience in the US, a place lauded for its tolerance and openness. I grew up there and remember always being accepted, even when I wore pyjama pants to school and had the haircut of a poodle.

So, who were these people, I wondered, as I peered out at them. Was it the mask? I’ll admit, I did look weird. But then again, this was the US. Being weird is practically a birthright in America, no?

As the questions swarmed in my mind, a little boy came running up to me. As soon as he saw my facekini, he told his mother he wanted one too. The look on her face was one of fear and disgust as she screamed, “Oh no you don’t! See that, son? That’s what our future’s going to look like if we’re not careful!” That’s when I started thinking that all that hate was not about my mask. It was perhaps about what was underneath it.

And if it was, then the ramifications are far greater than one tourist’s bad experience. It would fundamentally change America as we know it.

For centuries, America has successfully welcomed, leveraged and profited from the skills and talents of immigrants. That is the key to America’s success – not its capital or education system, but the fact that it is able to consistently attract the best people from around the world. For this to happen, America has built a culture of tolerance and acceptance, one which welcomes and appreciates diversity. If America were to lose this, or even the perception of this, it could set the country back in ways it couldn’t even imagine.

At the same time, if America’s xenophobia continues, it will be an opportunity for the rest of the world. Nations, if they are smart, could fill the void and reap the benefits of a diverse and skilled workforce. Hong Kong, in particular, stands to gain a lot from this approach. Now, more than ever before, the city is in dire need of innovation. It can’t just rely on the same old refrain – property, tycoons, finance and tourism. That song’s been played one too many times and it’s simply not working. We need to reinvent ourselves.

We need to welcome, not fear, fresh blood. We need to learn from countries like the US and what they did right, when they were doing it right – which is to be tolerant towards others, and welcoming and accepting of diversity. Only then will we have a shot at success in the global marketplace.

At the same time, we need to equip the next generation with the tools to compete globally, which means being able to communicate well in a global language such as English.

I was disappointed not to hear any mention of how to raise English standards in the chief executive’s recent policy address. Leung Chun-ying stressed the need to innovate but, without the right language skills, how can the next generation, and their businesses, go global? Similarly, if we don’t raise the English standard, the best talent in the world will also have little reason to come to Hong Kong – because they simply won’t be able to communicate with local staff.

Unlike the US, where elections seem akin to reality TV shows at the moment, our politicians are not as beholden to “likes”, hashtags and sound bites. Let’s hope they take advantage of that and make bold, brave and smart decisions that truly transform Hong Kong.

Kelly Yang teaches writing at the Kelly Yang Project, an after-school centre for writing and debate in Hong Kong.


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You don’t have to wear a suit and work in an office to make a good living, in Hong Kong or elsewhere

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
2015-11-13

Bernard Chan

Bernard Chan says our bias against non-professional jobs, in Hong Kong and elsewhere, is limiting young people’s career choices and causing them – and their parents – much stress

There was a time, some 50 years ago, when only 1 per cent of young Hong Kong people could go to university here. A few others who could afford it would study for degrees overseas. For the vast majority of people, college was an unattainable dream.

By the mid-2000s, the figure had hit 45 per cent. Just a few years earlier, then chief executive Tung Chee-hwa set a target of 60 per cent of young people receiving tertiary education.

However, the term “tertiary education” covers a wide range of courses.

Expectations, ambition and a sense of growing competition have led young people – and their parents – to believe that they must have a full university degree. Yet only half of qualified high-school graduates get a subsidised place on a full degree course at a local university, which is equivalent to around one in five school-leavers.

Many students go to college overseas, some to selective or prestigious institutions, some to lesser-known schools. And there has been a huge increase in the number of young people studying locally at their own expense for associate degrees and diplomas. Some are attracted to courses that point to careers in particular sectors like business and finance.

The result is bound to be frustration for some of these students later on. They want and expect jobs in what they think are high-paying and high-status positions. As a Central Policy Unit study on the “post-80s generation” found, the number of opportunities in management and the professions has in fact been growing. The problem is that the number of college graduates is growing faster.

Inevitably, many go into junior clerical or sales jobs, and they and their parents probably feel disappointed. This must add to the overall feeling in Hong Kong of inequality and declining social mobility.

As educational opportunities have expanded, we seem to have seen a growing bias against the option of learning a trade. The strange thing is that the pay for many skilled jobs in construction, hospitality and the clothing industry compares favourably with that in entry-level positions in local banks or big conglomerates.

Hong Kong offers a wide range of technical and vocational training options to prepare young people for such skilled work. Yet it seems everyone wants to wear a suit and work in an office in Central.

Speaking as someone who wears a suit and works in an office in Central, I can say that this sort of life is not really very glamorous. A small number of investment banking jobs offer huge salaries – plus extreme stress. Many other jobs in financial services come with sales quotas and are very much focused on marketing. It is no secret that legal and accounting work is not always very exciting.

However, there is clearly prestige attached to financial and professional careers. Our media portray businessmen as stars and quote them as if they are gurus. In advertising, the boardroom and business-class travel are images of success. Within schools and families, there is clearly a bias in favour of particular academic and educational qualifications.

This is not unique to Hong Kong. Canadian officials are worried that young people want humanities degrees when the big employment opportunities are for people like electricians. The Singapore media recently blamed the high status of business as a career for a shortage of mass transit engineers.

Maybe we should look at it the other way around: the real bias is a negative one – against certain types of training and trade. The media, parents and society in general have become so focused on particular narrow forms of achievement that anything else is seen as failure.

A task force on vocational education in Hong Kong found that much of the problem comes down to image and prejudice. A big contrast is with Germany, where market-driven and well-funded apprenticeships are a first choice, not a second one, for many smart young people. In Germany, a good mechanic has as much pride and respect as a white-collar worker.

We need to get the message across: skills in creating and working with actual things are a sign of success.

Bernard Chan is a member of the Executive Council


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Hong Kong high school students: If you want to stand out from the crowd, get a summer job

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
2015-07-08

Kelly Yang

Kelly Yang says if students want to impress US university admissions officers, they should get some life experience, not another perfect score

As a college admissions adviser, I work with a lot of Hong Kong teenagers to help them navigate the minefield of getting into a good US university. Invariably, though, whenever I ask them what they’ve done in summer, their response is the same: they studied, for their SATs, ACTs, APs and/or IBs. These kids can reel off a list of exam acronyms that will make your head spin. When I hear this, I cringe and tell them straight: by joining the dime-a-dozen club of Asian kids who only study each summer, they’ve squandered a chance to stand out.

Instead of studying for endless tests, high school teenagers should be working during summer. And, when it comes to jobs, “prestigious” isn’t better; what matters is the substance of the work. Is it meaningful? Is it challenging? Did you stick with it even though it was hard? I’d be far more impressed with a kid who sweats it out working at a frozen yogurt start-up in Mong Kok than someone who just fetched coffee and filed papers at daddy’s bank. The former shows initiative and imagination, not to mention pushing oneself out of one’s comfort zone. The latter shows you’re a wannabe princeling.

The US university admissions officers I talk to agree. They say they’d love to see, on Hong Kong students’ applications, not yet another perfect score, but something that really took courage, commitment and grit.
I learned valuable skills – how to deal with customers and respond to unexpected situations

Sadly, though, studying seems to be the only activity that takes courage, commitment and grit for too many students. And that’s true all over the world. According to the Pew Research Centre, last year in the US, the teenage summer employment rate was 32 per cent, compared with 58 per cent in 1978. Instead of getting a job, more teens are signing up for “prestigious” summer courses at universities and boarding schools. These kids or their parents think these courses will somehow give them a leg up in university admissions. It won’t.

As a kid, I had a job every summer. Mostly, it was pretty unglamorous work in a shop. Still, I learned valuable skills – how to deal with customers and respond to unexpected situations. I dealt with angry customers and learned to be flexible and compromise. These skills proved invaluable later in life, not just in work situations but also in school. They helped me become a more responsible and resourceful person, one who understands the value of a dollar. I could not have gained these skills any other way.

So whether you want to impress college admissions officers or you just want to best prepare yourself for life, the answer is the same: stop studying all summer and go and get a job.

Kelly Yang teaches writing at The Kelly Yang Project, an after-school centre for writing and debate in Hong Kong. She is a graduate of UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School.


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Why walking away from a successful career in finance is not so hard

South China Morning Post
Comment›Insight & Opinion
2015-12-23

Tan Chin Hwee

Tan Chin Hwee says set against the boom-and-bust cycle of the industry, material success is, in the end, only one part of a life well lived – which teaches loss and the importance of intellectual honesty

I always wanted to be in finance; I am drawn to the energy and intensity, but most of all the intellectual challenge. Managing money professionally is probably the best thing next to professional sports. The market is objective: it doesn’t care whether you have a PhD or a CFA, only three letters count – PnL, profit and loss.

As a college student, my rude introduction to finance almost ended up in bankruptcy as I speculated on options with no understanding of the Black-Scholes-Merton pricing model. Ironically, that episode was also how I managed to “sweet-talk” my way into my first job on the buy side in 1995 as the interviewers were impressed with my risk-taking abilities and intellectual curiosity.

Even so, I was still not adequately prepared for the 1997 Asian crisis as a young finance professional; my first credit default happened on my mother’s birthday in 1997. I will never forget that defining humbling experience.

From then on, I was determined to be the best in the industry in Asia. I began to devote my life to being a better investor. That included uprooting my young family and moving to be near New York, for four years, starting again from the bottom of the trading floor at a major global hedge fund.

Fast forward to 2015, one could argue that I have had a successful investment career, yet, I have always felt like I am a square peg in a round hole in the industry.

I have watched four economic crises ravage and cut short many careers in the financial industry over the past 21 years. The winner-takes-all mentality prevalent in the industry is a constant challenge to my upbringing. To be a successful financial executive, every part of you has to be devoted to success, but at what cost?

I grew up in a one-bedroom rented flat but I have never been attracted by the money in the industry. The money was very good but, overall, we are very much overpaid for what we actually do. Clearly, there are many positive attributes of being a finance professional. We work hard and provide for our families but at the same time, stress levels are high.

I remember telling myself, when I finally joined the best hedge fund industry in the early 2000s, that I would quit once I made “X” amount of money. Sadly, that mental goalpost kept shifting and I kept finding a reason to stay. But what is enough?

It was only the premature birth, and near death, of my daughter that prompted me to stop this meaningless rat race. And I began to set the ball in motion by investing in a new asset class: the next generation.

I devoted myself to teaching and mentoring young professionals and capping it with a book that indirectly documented my investment journey. I have also started doing pro bono advisory work for regulators as a small step to levelling the private-public playing field.

Ethics can be taught and I experimented by using financial education to influence the next generation. The masters classes I taught at Shanghai Jiao Tong University over the past few years were particularly memorable as the Chinese students opened their minds, and more importantly their hearts, to my ideals that making money alone is not, and cannot be, the only end goal.

Finally, the day of reckoning has come, 21 years on, to call it quits. My long-suffering wife, who has seen first-hand many a career go bust, will be the most relieved. From my teachers and mentors, I have learnt so much – in particular about the value of intellectual curiosity, intellectual honesty and intellectual independence.

Tan Chin Hwee, an institutional investor based in Singapore, is author of Asia Financial Statement Analysis: Detecting Financial Irregularities


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集中營看到人生

信報財經新聞
回眸英倫
2016-1-16

毛羨寧

除夕至1月第一周,不知從哪裏得來病毒,感染了上支氣管,整天整夜咳嗽,不能躺下入睡,幾天後更擴散至左眼結膜炎。患病雖然辛苦,在家養病的時間也迫使自己整理家居、重看名著To Kill a Mockingbird、定下新一年計劃。十天以來只吃粥水和瓜菜,已是最見效的減肥餐單!許多人的新年願望,我竟然在生病中完成。唯一令我晝夜思索的,是一位同事在平安夜跟我討論的問題──人活着為了什麼?人們經常把這個大題目交給宗教學者和哲學家去分析,同事之間閒話家常,很少研究宇宙奧秘和人生哲理。於是我們短訊來往了兩小時,直至她稍為開懷,想睡了。

索取者vs付出者

我想,「人活着為了什麼」的答案難以解釋,不是因為沒有答案,而是問的方法本身負面,導向成「人生只有生老病死,沒什麼意義可言」或是「冥冥中有主宰」一類非黑即白的結論。年多前去過德國慕尼黑近郊的達豪集中營(Dachau),再讀「意義治療」(Logotherapy)創始者弗蘭克(Viktor Frankl)所著Man’s Search for Meaning,發現宗教和這門存在主義提倡的人生意義一樣,就是要超越自我──人不應該去問他的生命意義是什麼,反而要問人生對我們有什麼指望(what life expects from us)。

追求人生的快樂實際上相當於「索取者」, 而要過有意義的生活則是做一位「付出者」。二次大戰期間,弗蘭克和他家人因猶太人的身份被關在達豪和奧斯威辛等納粹集中營,最後只有弗蘭克及妹妹幸免於難。他眼見集中營裏很多殘酷現象,總結這段時期的體驗:一般心理上較為舒泰的人較懂得面對困難,能在惡劣環境中創造一種心境,例如藉創作、發明、工作獲得成就感。我在達豪看到一些由囚犯所製的瓷器,其中有一頭坐着的小鹿,神情安詳,其實他們身處恐怖的集中營。弗蘭克再寫道,愛與被愛是人一生中最大的動力,單是掛念也能令人活下去,然後是自己擁有的意志和抉擇權——「人所擁有的任何東西都可以被剝奪,惟獨人性的最終自由,也就是在任何環境中選擇一己態度和生活方式的自由,不能被剝奪。」這就是創造、經驗和態度的價值觀。

我鼓勵朋友繼續尋找,這樣人生才有進步。「我們終會發現生命的終極意義,就在於替人生問題找出路,並完成它不斷賦予每個人的使命。」