From Shenzhen to Hong Kong: 20 years of living in SAR

Ding Ding is sitting in the restaurant she is working for. Photo:

When Ding Ding was in elementary school in 1997, she and her mother moved to Hong Kong and got reunited with her father who was working in Hong Kong then, thanks to the return of Hong Kong to China that year.

“My living place in the mainland when I was child was quite spacious, but when I first stepped into my elementary school in Hong Kong, I felt that the playground was just so small,” Ding who has lived in Hong Kong for 20 years, recalled her first impression of the city. “But snacks in Hong Kong were quite cheap, and there was little annoyance compared to today.”

25-year old Ding, who used to be a preschool teacher, is now working as a waitress in a restaurant. She said that while making a living in Hong Kong is not that hard, there are just not that many chances for a person to get a “specialized job,” and thus hard to get a high wage.

“It ‘s very hard to get a job with 20,000 to 30,000 Hong Kong dollars per month, but jobs with 10,000 are everywhere. People do not starve here, but it’s difficult to pay for rent and save money,” she said.

Getting interested in psychology and Western kitchenware in recent years, Ding said there were few courses on such “unpopular” fields. Instead, people are too zealous in finance, and hence there are many financial courses. She cited an example of a Hong Konger who majored in astronomy, but left the city to work overseas in the end for high salary. “What is wrong with learning astronomy?” she quipped.

Doing back and forth between Shenzhen and Hong Kong, Ding said one of the happiest things she felt about living in the mainland is that people can retire at the age of as early as 55 and get healthcare in retirement, while the retirement age in Hong Kong is 65 years old.

With the rapid development of the mainland economy, the number of tourists to Hong Kong from mainland has increased since 1997. Having worked in the Ocean Park for four years previously, Ding said she had received all kinds of different types of tourists from the mainland. Tourists from the first and second-tier cities are more disciplined compared with those from the “remote” areas, Ding said.

“Once they are told that eating is forbidden and they should keep quite in the panda pavilion, they would immediately say sorry and do what they were told,” Ding said. “Although they are very rich, they never try to take advantage of you, while sometimes Hong Kongers think that customers are god.”

Usually visiting Tsuen Wan district, Ding said Mandarin is also getting more and more popular in Hong Kong. More people are speaking Mandarin in daily life and even some elementary school courses are taught in Mandarin together with English.

Living in Shenzhen for the first few years in her life, Ding was taught basic skills of speaking mandarin, which became one of her advantages in her workplace. However, she also worries that Cantonese may someday become inferior.

Talking about the young generation like herself living Hong Kong, Ding said she felt sorry that many primary and middle school students have committed suicide since the beginning of this year.  

“Many of them do not know how to express their emotion and how to communicate with their parents, thinking their parents do not understand them. Young people don’t know how to relieve stress,” she said.

She added that many of her friends have all confronted such problems and they rarely care about each other in terms of emotional issues. “In the end, they make it through all by themselves.  

“And so did I. But many who are too young may just find it hard to make it through, and there is no outlet,” said Ding, adding that the problem got intensified after the Umbrella Movement when she also began to think of her own life.

While Ding said her parents who like simple life may want to live in the mainland in their retirement, she is still not sure about her future career, and whether she should keep staying in Hong Kong or seek opportunities in the mainland, since the house prices of some areas in Hong Kong are still affordable to her and there are always ways to self-sufficiency. But no matter what the result is, she says she will always want to have a free and simple life.

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