Left Hong Kong but Continues to Tell the Story

CommentaryThroughout October, I have been on the road in the United States and Canada facilitating the global release of the documentary “The Hongkonger – Jimmy Lai’s Extraordinary Struggle For Freedom.” Jimmy Lai was a pro-democracy media tycoon in Hong Kong who was crushed by the island’s communist government and arrested on trumped up charges. He is currently in jail on those charges and for participating in the pro-democracy demonstrations. I went to some small college towns, like Benedictine College in Kansas and Hillsdale College in Michigan, to conduct screenings and discussions about the film. Like the big state colleges with huge numbers of Asian students, some liberal arts colleges in the United States have also demonstrated a strong interest in knowing what is happening in Hong Kong. Although it is three years after the anti-extradition bill protests, the world has not forgotten Hong Kong and its people’s determination to fight for freedom, which was followed by the inevitable “path to exile” for a better life. I also deliver the film to groups of expatriate Hong Kong residents who resettled in different North American cities. Today’s article is not so much about Jimmy Lai, whom we know very well because of his lifetime dedication to freedoms. I want to talk about an ordinary person, a young trader with Hong Kong roots, how he “made it” in the once famed city, and subsequently took a “path of exile” in a relatively comfortable way. In a mid-size Canadian city, I met and had afternoon tea with a mid-30s investment trader who returned to Canada from Hong Kong due to COVID-19 restrictions and the political uncertainty. He decided to leave Hong Kong for good more than a year ago after he witnessed the deterioration of the city after the National Security Law (NSL) was passed. The conversation took place at a Hong Kong style café that serves the famous “Hong Kong milk tea.” I will call my young friend Joe (pseudonym). He is ethnic Chinese, and his parents left Hong Kong for Canada a few years before the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989. Joe was a youngster when the Tiananmen tragedy took place, but learned more about what happened as a teenager. Time moved quickly, and about 10 years ago he moved back to Hong Kong. He was a fresh graduate from university around the time of the Lehman crisis in 2008, and jobs were scarce. He bought a one-way ticket to Hong Kong, and first apprenticed as a head-hunting research assistant at a renowned recruitment agency focusing on the finance sector; and then, he entered the finance industry himself. Joe has a bachelors degree in finance from a major Canadian university. To make a long story short, as an associate portfolio manager managing a sizable portfolio for one of the medium-sized asset management firms (close to $1 billion), he, averaged $400,000 in total compensation per year over the last 5 years. Still single, and with an investment in a residential apartment in Hong Kong that he bought around seven years ago, his net worth had grown substantially. He said he sold his apartment more than a year ago, and netted a decent profit before the real estate market in Hong Kong crumbled. With a high income to start with, Joe built a net worth of over $2 million. However, because of COVID-19 and the NSL he quit his job and resettled in Canada. Joe likes to talk about the story and adventures of Jim Rogers, the legendary trader who once worked for hedge fund titan George Soros. Rogers left Soros Fund Management as a junior partner before he was 39, and “retired” to travel the world on his motorcycle. Joe wants to follow the path of Jim Rogers, and see the world in one way or another. He is thinking about spending $400,000 (US) on a property in one of the suburb cities where he used to live, and invest $600,000 in income-producing properties. The other $1 million he plans to put in term deposits. With rising interest rates now, the stock market has tanked severely. In Joe’s mind, cash is king. Joe is in no rush to look for a job, and definitely wants to see more of the world and gain some perspective. Joe and I talked for hours in the café. Joe said that over the past 10 years, he has seen the good and bad of life in Hong Kong. He vividly remembers the Umbrella Movement of 2014. He was in his late twenties when the movement happened, and could relate to the student leaders and knew what they were fighting for. He said he brought lunch boxes to the students who supported the democratic movement whenever he could during the lunch hour. The peaceful social movement lasted for 79 days. And for 2019, the fight against the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) intervention and “annexation” of Hong Kong was cross-generational, and Joe remained “super active” in the Fight For Freedom, Stand With Hong Kong movement. He was a “marginal case” and was arrested for his “front line” activism, which was unusual for someone in the finance world. Joe understands Hong Kong residents

Left Hong Kong but Continues to Tell the Story

Commentary

Throughout October, I have been on the road in the United States and Canada facilitating the global release of the documentary “The Hongkonger – Jimmy Lai’s Extraordinary Struggle For Freedom.” Jimmy Lai was a pro-democracy media tycoon in Hong Kong who was crushed by the island’s communist government and arrested on trumped up charges. He is currently in jail on those charges and for participating in the pro-democracy demonstrations.

I went to some small college towns, like Benedictine College in Kansas and Hillsdale College in Michigan, to conduct screenings and discussions about the film. Like the big state colleges with huge numbers of Asian students, some liberal arts colleges in the United States have also demonstrated a strong interest in knowing what is happening in Hong Kong.

Although it is three years after the anti-extradition bill protests, the world has not forgotten Hong Kong and its people’s determination to fight for freedom, which was followed by the inevitable “path to exile” for a better life. I also deliver the film to groups of expatriate Hong Kong residents who resettled in different North American cities.

Today’s article is not so much about Jimmy Lai, whom we know very well because of his lifetime dedication to freedoms. I want to talk about an ordinary person, a young trader with Hong Kong roots, how he “made it” in the once famed city, and subsequently took a “path of exile” in a relatively comfortable way.

In a mid-size Canadian city, I met and had afternoon tea with a mid-30s investment trader who returned to Canada from Hong Kong due to COVID-19 restrictions and the political uncertainty. He decided to leave Hong Kong for good more than a year ago after he witnessed the deterioration of the city after the National Security Law (NSL) was passed. The conversation took place at a Hong Kong style café that serves the famous “Hong Kong milk tea.”

I will call my young friend Joe (pseudonym). He is ethnic Chinese, and his parents left Hong Kong for Canada a few years before the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989. Joe was a youngster when the Tiananmen tragedy took place, but learned more about what happened as a teenager. Time moved quickly, and about 10 years ago he moved back to Hong Kong. He was a fresh graduate from university around the time of the Lehman crisis in 2008, and jobs were scarce. He bought a one-way ticket to Hong Kong, and first apprenticed as a head-hunting research assistant at a renowned recruitment agency focusing on the finance sector; and then, he entered the finance industry himself.

Joe has a bachelors degree in finance from a major Canadian university. To make a long story short, as an associate portfolio manager managing a sizable portfolio for one of the medium-sized asset management firms (close to $1 billion), he, averaged $400,000 in total compensation per year over the last 5 years. Still single, and with an investment in a residential apartment in Hong Kong that he bought around seven years ago, his net worth had grown substantially. He said he sold his apartment more than a year ago, and netted a decent profit before the real estate market in Hong Kong crumbled.

With a high income to start with, Joe built a net worth of over $2 million. However, because of COVID-19 and the NSL he quit his job and resettled in Canada. Joe likes to talk about the story and adventures of Jim Rogers, the legendary trader who once worked for hedge fund titan George Soros. Rogers left Soros Fund Management as a junior partner before he was 39, and “retired” to travel the world on his motorcycle. Joe wants to follow the path of Jim Rogers, and see the world in one way or another.

He is thinking about spending $400,000 (US) on a property in one of the suburb cities where he used to live, and invest $600,000 in income-producing properties. The other $1 million he plans to put in term deposits. With rising interest rates now, the stock market has tanked severely. In Joe’s mind, cash is king. Joe is in no rush to look for a job, and definitely wants to see more of the world and gain some perspective.

Joe and I talked for hours in the café. Joe said that over the past 10 years, he has seen the good and bad of life in Hong Kong. He vividly remembers the Umbrella Movement of 2014. He was in his late twenties when the movement happened, and could relate to the student leaders and knew what they were fighting for. He said he brought lunch boxes to the students who supported the democratic movement whenever he could during the lunch hour. The peaceful social movement lasted for 79 days. And for 2019, the fight against the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) intervention and “annexation” of Hong Kong was cross-generational, and Joe remained “super active” in the Fight For Freedom, Stand With Hong Kong movement. He was a “marginal case” and was arrested for his “front line” activism, which was unusual for someone in the finance world.

Joe understands Hong Kong residents’ demands for democracy and freedoms, which is universal across all nations. He sees that a lot of Hong Kong people have given up on the city, and the unfulfilled promises from Beijing mean that Hong Kong is on a downward spiral. He sees that citizens have lost hope, and quite realistically, the whole city has entered a dark period of political persecution. The core values of Hong Kong, that is, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of political thought, and an independent judiciary, have disappeared in just two years since the NSL went into effect.

As Joe reminisced about the old Hong Kong, he said he still doesn’t understand why Beijing wants to kill the city while paying a big price for doing so and leaving people with no alternatives. Joe would never have thought that the NSL would be a deadly weapon to suppress all voices.

Just a reminder that during the anti-extradition bill and pro-democracy movement of 2019, more than 10,000 people were arrested in Hong Kong, and that around 200 plus people, be they prominent business leaders, activists, students, politicians, or professionals, are alleged to be in violation of the NSL. Most of them are still locked up in detention centers awaiting trial.

Joe concluded over a year ago that this is the end of Hong Kong as he knows it. For immigrants who called Hong Kong home over the years, the disappearance of the city’s dynamic spirit, the crackdown on freedoms and democracy in a financial hub, and the potential confiscation of personal assets, arbitrary detention, shut down of venues, freezing of bank accounts, have already made the once famed city below par as a dwelling and business place. He feels it is surreal to see how much the city has fallen. A lot of talent has moved to neighboring countries like Japan and Singapore.

What will happen next to Hong Kong? Nobody knows, but a lot of people have sacrificed to defend what Hong Kong used to be even as they are persecuted, suppressed, or imprisoned. For Joe, who has experienced and benefitted from Hong Kong, and considers himself to be an outsider who knows the city well, I hope he will remember the better side of Hong Kong, including its magnificent mountains for hiking, its culture, history, dynamics, and efficiency.

And on a more serious note, I hope Joe remembers that Hong Kong people have been selfless, and came out fearlessly to defend their freedoms and rights during the Umbrella Movement of 2014 and in the fight for freedoms over the last three years, whether they were still living in Hong Kong or were “in exile” abroad. As for Joe, he has promised to tell the Hong Kong story, the good and bad of it, wherever he goes next.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


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Edward Chin was formerly Country Head of a UK publicly listed hedge fund, the largest of its kind measured by asset under management. Outside the hedge funds space, Chin is the Convenor of 2047 Hong Kong Monitor and a Senior Advisor of Reporters Without Borders (RSF, HK & Macau). Chin studied speech communication at the University of Minnesota and received his MBA from the University of Toronto. Email: [email protected]