22 October 2016
As they need to renew their visas by midyear, mainland students and graduates in HK ponder over tough choices about their future. Photo: Internet
As they need to renew their visas by midyear, mainland students and graduates in HK ponder over tough choices about their future. Photo: Internet

To stay or not to stay: Dilemma of mainland grads in HK

It’s that time of the year again when numerous mainland students and graduates have to renew their Hong Kong visas, either to pursue higher studies here or to seek work in an extended-stay program.

Understandably, it is also a time when many of the mainlanders are faced with a mental struggle as they have to decide whether they should stay on in the territory or just pack up and go home.

On social networking platforms such as WeChat, we often find two kinds of posts from the Chinese nationals: either photos of their new visas or “goodbye HK” proclamations.

A mainland girl born in 1990 who goes by the pseudonym Bulanqi recently announced that she has decided to go back after working for almost two years in Hong Kong.

When asked if she might regret her decision in future, here is what she said on “SexandtheCity-HK”, a WeChat group popular among young mainlanders:

“I’d be lying if I said I won’t miss the place. But if I stay on, I would lose my head in Hong Kong’s hurly-burly and superficiality. When most of my friends back home are married and have babies, I would still be surrounded by loneliness if I stay on.”

Bulanqi never saw Hong Kong as her home as she didn’t have a sense of belonging in the city. Thus, when the time came to bid farewell, it was quite easy for her.

“I already experienced how life in Hong Kong feels like… When I still have time to start my career anew in the mainland and when I can still afford such a change, I must leave,” she wrote.

Bulanqi has now moved back and settled down in Shenzhen.

Though her new home is just across the border, there are still some things that she is taking time to adjust to, like the messy overcrowding on trains and buses.

Meanwhile, her decision to return has confounded her friends, relatives and colleagues back home.

“Why did you come back when so many of us just want to go if we had the chance?” is a question that Bulanqi has been asked several times. 

As she puts it, decisions on relocation can be made on the spur of the moment as well as after a prolonged period of agonized deliberation.

In her online posts, the 25-year-old shared various snippets about her stay in Hong Kong.

After she graduated and started looking for work, she said she sent out her resume to more than 200 entities but didn’t get a response from a single one of them. With less than HK$5,000 left in her account, she faced some anxious moments.

Bulanqi eventually landed her first job but it took more than two months of frantic search.

In another post, she detailed how she once had to find temporary lodging in a friend’s home and sleep on a makeshift baby cot in the living room. 

Seeing Hongkongers live in shoebox-sized subdivided flats barely large enough to stretch one’s legs, and working long hours to get a meager pay that can never match the skyrocketing home prices, Bulanqi says one needs to have amazing fortitude to live like that.

Witnessing first-hand the difficult lives that many Hong Kong people lead, it made things easier for the mainland woman to go back home.

She now works at an e-commerce startup firm and finds her job more meaningful. She says she likes Shenzhen’s entrepreneurial culture and the city’s drive to promote technological innovation.

Bulanqi believes she is now a member of the emerging army of young entrepreneurs who put ideas into experiment, something that involves prohibitive costs in Hong Kong.

While some are leaving, those who choose to stay are equally determined to plough ahead.

Shortly after Bulanqi’s post attracted more than 15,000 viewers on WeChat, a mainland youngster who calls himself Zhang Chaoshuai (literally ‘dreamboat’) wrote a post in Gangpiaoquan (港漂圈) – a public Sina Weibo account also set up by mainlanders – about why he chose to stay.

He noted that every once in a while he will hear that some of his classmates or acquaintances are leaving. But there are newcomers too.

Besides the still robust increase in mainland applicants for tertiary education in the territory, there are some who left Hong Kong initially but chose to come back later.

His roommate, who is working at a local fund house, once had a lot of heartburn when trying to sustain his long-distance relationship.

This roommate met his girlfriend while pursuing a master’s degree at a local university but she returned home after graduation and found a decent job in her hometown. The guy was then in a dilemma: Should he give up his promising finance job or his girlfriend whom he loves very much?

But things took a sudden turnaround as the girl quit her mainland job and flew back for reunion before the expiry of her visa.

The reason, Chaoshuai learnt, was both for love and for the sake of the girl’s own career advancement, as her previous job in a lower-tier city in the mainland could not deliver any substantial value and she felt she wanted more than just the easy and comfortable lifestyle.

Choosing Hong Kong for study and work means that you may get married three to five years later than your mainland peers but that is fine with Chaoshuai.

Compared to many of his classmates who are now parents, he gets a few more years of freedom and youth time, he noted.

He can freely participate in various social activities, mingle with new friends and travel regularly to Southeast Asia and Europe.

When asked what has made him stay, he says it is not the permanent residency or other benefits but the endless possibilities that Hong Kong presents, either a new home or as a stepping stone to other destinations.

These possibilities, along with the territory’s level-playing environment and free flow of information, are elements that China still lacks.

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Mainlanders in Hong Kong have mixed feelings about the city. Photo: Internet

Mainland students and job starters typically live in cramped, subdivided flats in Hong Kong but they find greater freedom and possibilities in the city. Photo: Sina

EJ Insight writer

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