Richmond has always been a popular destination for immigrants from Hong Kong and for good reason. A recent survey conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong shows that one third of Hong Kongers want to leave their hometown and that the most popular option is Canada.
Judy Lam, a Richmond freelance yoga instructor, said she is not surprised by the high percentage. Like many of her friends whose family are originally from Hong Kong, Lam, who moved to Richmond at age 5, went to the “pearl of the orient” after university to search for a better career, but chose to come back to her hometown six years later.
“I came back home to strike a work-life balance, instead of just working...I think I made the best decision ever,” Lam told the Richmond News.
According to the study, eight per cent of interviewees who want to move out of Hong Kong hope to go somewhere with a “less stressful life” and a “more relaxing working environment.”
Lam said her time in Hong Kong was "very exciting but also pretty exhausting.” She entered her dream job in the fashion buyer industry three weeks after she landed there and moved up to be a retail buyer for Ralph Lauren, planning products for the whole Asia Pacific region.
“I travelled a lot – 50 per cent of the time I wasn’t in Hong Kong. I would go to Milan, Australia, China... for the buying season. It was fun and the money was good, but it was very challenging and stressful," said Lam.
Working seven days a week was the norm for Lam as well as her other friends in Hong Kong, and she has stayed in the company till five in the morning weeks on end to complete a project or travelled to a different city once per day in China. She didn’t even have much time to see her boyfriend who was in the same city.
“I was tired. All the six years I was working non-stop," said Lam.
"We decided to come back together. We are so overwhelmed with the (working) environment in Hong Kong. It’s very competitive. You just don’t have time to lay back and chill."
But Lam said she does not regret going to Hong Kong, especially at a young age, to work with the most talented people from all over the world on a career she doesn’t have many opportunities to get here in Canada.
“If I have kid, I will definitely encourage them to try out international cities," said Lam.
"(But now) my life is finally my life. I love the environment (in Richmond), the lifestyle, the people, the food, and I’m doing what I’m enjoying everyday.”
HongKonger: Such freedom is wanning and I don't see a way out
According to the survey, the top reasons why people want to leave Hong Kong are political conflict and social divisiveness, as well as a crowded living environment. It is also why Ellen Li, a legal secretary in Hong Kong, is now thinking of leaving and joining her family here in Richmond.
“The Chinese government has cast their hand over our society in a very significant way," said Li.
"In the past three decades, we could enjoy some freedom, but now such freedom is waning. I don’t see a way out,” Li told the News through WhatsApp.
Li said fearful predictions now ripple across the community, pushing people against the wall and driving a wedge between the older generation and the younger one.
“People in my parents’ generation know how difficult life was long ago, so they said ‘you shouldn’t complain a lot, we are doing so much better.’ But for us, we don’t agree. We were born to enjoy more freedom than what we have now,” said Li.
The high housing costs have also stressed out Li, who said a 400-sq.-ft. “shoebox” in Hong Kong can cost CD$1 million.
“(Buying a property) is impossible at first, but now it’s like you are talking in the language of another planet," she said.
"It’s very frustrating. I’m getting older and want my own family, but I can’t."
Although Canada is top on the list of where Hong Kongers want to move to according to the Survey, Li said young people actually prefer to start careers in Taiwan, Japan and Singapore whereas Canada is more for upper classes.
“Canada is a place to strike a work-life balance, but it’s not a place for earning money, which is too much of a contrast for Hong Kong people,” said LI.
“I’m speaking for ordinary people...Traditionally Canada is for the rich ones – rich families at the age of our parents, they don’t need to work for the rest of their life, so they will come to Canada.”