Hong Kong riots force out-of-town talents to look elsewhere

By Li Qiaoyi, Cui Tianye and Wang Wenwen in Hong Kong Source:Global Times Published: 2019/9/16 17:44:55 Last Updated: 2019/9/16 19:51:03

Mainland "drifters" in Hong Kong feel estrangement as a result of months of unrest

The tense situation is prompting some people to seek education or employment in other major cities such as Shenzhen or Shanghai

Radicals set fires in Mong Kok on September 6. Photo: Li Qiaoyi/GT

It's a city full of vitality and opportunities. Over the years, people have been coming here to work and study. It could be said that Hong Kong, the global financial hub lived up to their expectations before the months-long unrest sowed the seeds of distress among them.

They are known as Hong Kong "drifters," people who mostly hail from the Chinese mainland and come to the city looking to change their lives for the better. They are less talked about than their counterparts in Beijing, where non-locals look to make a living in the capital. But in most cases, opting to become a Hong Kong drifter involves a more difficult mission, when you factor in the high cost of living and widespread use of Cantonese.

The majority of those working in Hong Kong through the city's talent admission scheme work in the financial sector, some drifters working typical financial jobs recently told the Global Times. 

"As far as I know, 60-70 percent of people who came here to pursue graduate studies and eventually choose to stay in the city work in finance. If you include those starting a career in the insurance sector, that could mean 90 percent," said Nick Yao, an asset manager at a local brokerage house.

Yao, from Ningbo, East China's Zhejiang Province, completed his undergraduate studies in finance at a mainland university before applying for a master's degree in financial journalism at a university in Hong Kong.

He began his career in the city as a financial reporter, but it was not long before he switched to a job in finance, betting that the financial sector would fit better into his career development.

Higher salaries for financial professionals also contributed to his decision to make the switch. 

Financial industry employees can earn between HK$30,000 ($3,826) and HK$300,000 per month, much higher than those from other sectors, whose starting salaries average only half of those in the financial sector, according to Ding Xue, an executive of a mainland securities firm's Hong Kong branch. Ding is from Wuhan, Central China's Hubei Province.

The contribution of the financial services sector to Hong Kong's GDP grew to 18 percent in 2016 from 13 percent in 2004, according to data from the Census and Statistics Department of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR).

Climbing the ladder 

Having built a career with a handsome salary, Yao and Ding have had a taste of success. 

This is even more the case for Gary Zhao from Hangzhou, East China's Zhejiang Province, and his wife Ms. Yuan, born in Shaoxing, Zhejiang. 

With the help of their families, the young couple made a down payment on an apartment in Hong Kong in 2015, something even many locals can't afford.

The couple, who both work in the financial sector, acquired Hong Kong permanent residence status after more than seven years studying and working in the metropolis. 

Zhao, an information technology major, pursued his graduate studies in Hong Kong and stayed in the city after graduation. But rather than developing a career in IT, he set his sights on the financial sector, citing concerns that the development of Hong Kong's IT sector remains restricted and that it is dominated by Hongkongers, as they have the competitive edge over most mainlanders who can't speak fluent Cantonese.

Zhao can speak Cantonese now, albeit with an accent. His wife, having been in the city for 13 years since pursuing her undergraduate studies, sounds just like the locals.

Cantonese fluency is an indicator of one's level of integration into the city, especially for those from non-Cantonese-speaking provinces and cities.

Another couple the Global Times met in Hong Kong also sound like natives. But unlike the four financial elites who got their tickets into the city mostly through education, the couple made their way to Hong Kong in a more traditional way.

Leung Ming-hing came to Hong Kong with his parents from Shenzhen when he was born in 1962. The adoptive father of Leung's father provided shelter for them. Although living conditions were much better in Hong Kong, Leung's family still had to work hard to eke out a living. He began working in a restaurant when he was 16 and has remained in the catering industry. His wife works in the tourism industry.

They have a daughter who's attending a local university and a younger son, which means they have now truly settled in the city.

Apparently, it is the prosperity of Hong Kong that has lured many people to it, although there are figures pointing to a decline in the number of people born in the mainland, Macao and Taiwan coming to live in Hong Kong.

People born in these three parts of the country made up 33.5 percent of the city's total population in 2006. That proportion shrank slightly to 31 percent in 2016, according to an article posted on local news site hk01.com in 2017.

The vast majority of mainland-, Macao- and Taiwan-born Hongkongers came to Hong Kong before its return to the motherland in 1997, while the number of new immigrants hailing from these regions, referring to those settling in the city over the past two decades, total roughly 400,000, the article said. 

The provisional estimate of the city's population stood at 7.52 million by mid-2019, according to the latest figures from the Census and Statistics Department. From mid-2018 to mid-2019, there were 44,400 one-way permit holders from the mainland.


Looking elsewhere

The few drifters, some of whom have already settled in the city, the Global Times spoke to could be considered standouts.

Still, they have faced obstacles in genuinely integrating into the local community, citing language barriers and different mindsets.

The riots of the past months seem to have exacerbated these issues. Failing to achieve fluency in Cantonese has become more of a concern among mainlanders coming to settle in the city, as they fear the widening rift between locals and drifters from the mainland in the wake of the protests might mean speaking Cantonese will become a major requirement for studying and working there.

This is really discouraging, Yao said, sharing his discomfort about feeling estranged in an environment where some Cantonese speakers appear to be putting on airs.

What's more, Yao, who has been living in Hong Kong for six years and has only one year to go before getting his permanent residence status, has plans to buy an apartment in the city. However, the riots might cause him to shelve his plans, he said, venting his anger over the vandalism of radicals in Tung Chung, a transit hub close to the Hong Kong International Airport, which forced him to walk back to Tung Chung from the port of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge for more than two hours.

"If the current situation continues to worsen, I might consider opportunities in Shanghai and Shenzhen," he said, noting that he still holds faith in the city's institutional advantages for the time being.

A commuter who relies heavily on the subway - the riots centered around subway stations - Ding also said her life has been greatly impacted by the unrest. 

There are no subway stations near Zhao's home and he commutes by minibus. That means multiple acts of vandalism have not had a big impact on his life, although he said he has been under stress because of the unrest.

Furthermore, Zhao and his wife Yuan expressed concerns over Liberal Studies in Hong Kong, which they believe had worsened the unrest. When they have children, they will make a list of schools in Hong Kong that are worry-free, in other words, those that don't have a tendency to influence students in a biased way. 

They will filter through more than 2,000 schools across the city, according to Zhao. "If it doesn't work, [we] might just send our children to a school in Shenzhen."

Leung and his wife, for their part, are now virtually jobless, as the sectors they work in are among the most affected by the unrest. The couple, saddened by the situation, hope for an end to the turbulence soon.

"Then our lives will return to normal again."


Newspaper headline: Spelling uncertainty

Posted in: IN-DEPTH

blog comments powered by Disqus