Renowned Cantonese opera actress Bak Sheut-sin once recalled a conversation with her late partner, Yam Kim-fai, who was also her stage partner.
Bak said although Yam was very talented, she never practiced singing or acting at home.
“Why would I sing if I am not paid for it?” Yam said. “But I would kill a tiger if you paid me.”
“What a scrooge,” Bak replied.
“You have never suffered from poverty. You have no idea what it’s like without money,” Yam retorted.
Born in 1912, Yam fled to Hong Kong during the second Sino-Japanese War.
Like most first-generation Hongkongers, she struggled to establish her career and live a better life, and money was a big, if not the most important, issue.
But today’s young Hongkongers, often referred to as the post-’90s generation or sometimes known as the fifth generation of Hong Kong people, see the world in a totally different way.
Money is no longer such a big deal to them.
From this perspective, the Occupy Central movement can be interpreted as a war between different generations in Hong Kong, triggered by very different value systems, the Hong Kong Economic Journal Monthly said in a report.
The post-’90s were born into a much richer society with abundant resources. Even those from relatively poor families were protected by the basic social net: none of them had to suffer from hunger when they were kids.
“To these youngsters, Hong Kong should not be a city only for making money; it should be a place where people can realize their dreams and achieve loftier values,” the magazine said.
“They are more than happy to give up economic benefits to fight for democracy, freedom, justice or a greener environment.”
Gary Leung Lin-yin is one example. He scored nine grade As in his Hong Kong Certificate of Education examination in 2003 and graduated from the Chinese University of Hong Kong with a bachelor’s degree in quantitative finance.
Last year, Leung gave up a well-paid job as a financial analyst to realize his childhood dream of becoming a bus driver.
“I gain work satisfaction from this job. If all I wanted was money, I could just go back into the finance industry, but I know I am not after a luxurious lifestyle,” Leung said.
Although he was a straight-A student, he criticizes society for overemphasizing academic qualifications.
“Actually, there is no need for everybody to be good at studies. Society also needs bus drivers, construction site workers, handymen and all sorts of workers,” he said.
It used to be common for students who don’t do well in school to go to vocational training schools, but now, even if they know they are not good at it, many kids just keep on studying for a high school diploma or associate degree.
Many parents believe blue-collar work is not the road to a bright future for their children. They don’t understand that money is not the most important thing on young people’s minds.
Instead, the fifth generation is more aware of the problems arising from economic development.
From the Queen’s Pier preservation campaign to the anti-express-rail-link movement, Hong Kong’s youngsters are telling their society that to them, there are things far more important than economic development.
Things like justice, diversity, work-life balance and making their dreams come true.
A former colleague of Leung quit her job to study ballet in London.
“She was concerned about the money issue, but ‘dancing is something you can’t wait for as the body ages’,” Leung said, quoting her.
Some older Hongkongers said they cannot understand the mindset of youngsters nowadays.
Ling Kit-sum, an accountant who retired last year after working in Big Four accounting firms since 1977, said she does not appreciate the way young accountants behave these days.
“Many young people think working for the Big Four is too demanding. Some quit their jobs after two or three years,” Ling said.
“But there is a clear-cut career path in this industry; all you need is a few years of hard work, then you can enter the management level.”
“Work should be a source of pleasure, not pressure. I don’t know why they are so short-sighted.”
Ling recalled that in the old days, “even if we had to work until midnight, we never complained; we respected our jobs. All we thought about was how to pull the family out of poverty and achieve a better living standard. The idea of quitting never crossed my mind once.
“Young people nowadays, on the other hand, would choose travelling over working. Doing what they like is the most important thing to them.”
However, some employers are becoming more flexible in their policies, taking into account the different priorities of their young employees, so as to retain talent.
For example, some companies let their employees enjoy bonus holidays or have introduced schemes that promote a work-life balance.
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