How the Other Half Lives

Hong Kong is an interesting place because there can be such an extreme difference between how the various communities live here on what is one of the most densely populated areas on earth.  I happen to straddle across two very different communities — my student community at CUHK up in the New Territories, where I cross through Kowloon, and the vast ex-pat/finance community who primarily live Island-side.

In my small classes, we have one Dutch guy, a few Koreans, including a Korean HK resident, a Japanese student or two, and one young lady who hails from Kowloon Tong, but has spent the past few years studying law at Oxford.  I know a few of the students from the other levels, which includes another English-educated HK resident and a few Americans.  Based on our cafeteria (or canteen — because it resembles the Chinese word 餐廳(can ting)) conversations, the lifestyle I have chosen as a student is very different.

I appear to be one of the oldest of our group (although I know there are a few older students in other sections), and I’m lucky in that I’ve squirreled away a bit of savingsfrom my life as a lawyer and still have some income flowing from the family biz, so my choice to live in a serviced apartment in Wan Chai is relatively extravagant.  I also have spent a substantial amount of time with the working ex-pats, who tend to hail from the finance industry, make a whole lot of dough and typically benefit from decent tax benefits.  Quickly I learned how differently this other half lives.

The junk boat party I attended on Saturday seemed like an entirely common occurrence for ex-pats.  They work so hard all week long, that it is not uncommon for them to wind down nearly every weekend on a boat for hire, complete with unlimited drinks and food.  The cost is about 500-600 HKD per person which, while not a lot compared to the cost required to do the same in NYC, is an awful lot of money in HK when you consider that a meal typically goes for about 20-50 HKD.

In contrast, it was not something any of my classmates, including those who have now lived in HK for a year, even heard of.

Evert, my Dutch classmate, who lives on a very small budget, lives in an idyllic town just north of the University.  There he is surrounded by a very Eastern atmosphere, and does not seem to feel infused in a Western world, as I do here in Wan Chai.  He doesn’t have the funds to come out and experience the Westernized Island life, and surely neither do many other Hong Kees, as they affectionately refer themselves.

I look forward to figuring out more of the differences.  Not all of Hong Kong is glam, glitz, and shopping.


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