An increasing number of post-70s and post-80s generation are saying that Hong Kong is no longer the city they want to live in.
The high cost of living is usually cited as the main problem, but a surge in discontent over gloomy democracy prospects is pushing more young people to search for greener pastures.
Sharon Lee is in her early thirties. She had been an editor of lifestyle magazines in Hong Kong for nearly eight years before moving to Taiwan. Her story may partly reveal why younger people nowadays would choose to leave Hong Kong and start a new life elsewhere.
Married for two years, Lee and her husband were staying separately with their parents because renting a place was too expensive and both considered it not worthwhile.
Last year, she decided to quit her job and planned to start her own business. Again, because of high rental cost, Lee finally gave up her thought.
An idea then suddenly crossed her mind: why not move to Taiwan.
Hong Kong people can emigrate to Taiwan by applying for the “investment immigrant” status.
When Lee applied, Hong Kong applicants were required to invest at least HK$1 million (US$129,000) and live in Taiwan for no less than 11 months, in order to become Taiwan residents.
Taiwanese authorities later raised the investment threshold to HK$1.5 million, in part to stop the flood of applications.
After going through tedious paperwork with the Taiwan immigration office, she finally settled down in Taipei four months ago.
Lee is now an owner of a lifestyle shop, Uncle Three Store, which sells vintage toys and hand-made accessories in Yuanshan Maji Maji Square.
The market square is the brainchild of well-known Taiwan designer Eugene Yeh, musician Harlem Yu and some like-minded friends who love design, collectors’ items and music.
Lee initially she did not have much confidence in her start-up. “I didn’t know anything about running a business. Everything is based on trial and error, and that’s a challenge for me.
“I was prepared for the worst: if I lose all the money, I will go back to Hong Kong,” she said.
But after three months, business has proven to be surprisingly good.
Lee leases her booth for NT$12,000 (US$395) a month.
Revenue in the first month reached NT$25,000, which exceeded her expectation. Then sales grew exponentially in the next two months to hit NT$100,000.
In Hong Kong, rent to operate a similar business, depending on location, could easily surpass HK$10,000.
“I am more than pleased with the initial result,” Lee said.
Her next goal? “I would like to open a store with an air-conditioner installed,” she said.
Lee said a “lack of choice” is the main reason why she chose to leave Hong Kong.
She gave an example. “Say if you want to have a bowl of noodles, it would cost you at least HK$30.
“Things are different here. You could, of course, pay several hundred dollars here for lunch. But if you want to, you can also get some delicious stewed pork rice for just a few dollars.”
The situation is similar in many aspects of life, according to Lee. “You could be whatever you want and still earn a living with a decent lifestyle.”
In Taiwan, you can be a carpenter, a surfer or anything you love to be, while making enough money to make ends meet.
But it is quite hard for most Hongkongers to live their dream.
“Instead of just surviving in Hong Kong, we are living our life in Taiwan,” Lee said.
The number of immigrant applications from Hong Kong has been surging in recent years.
“Those who choose Taiwan over Hong Kong have one thing in common: being rich is not our goal. We are, instead, searching for another possible lifestyle that we are happy with,” Lee said.
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