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Banker Writes Heartfelt Letter on Why It’s Time to Leave “Hedonistic” Hong Kong

Posted: 02/2/2015 11:40 am

The blog post below has been shared widely on Chinese social media in the past few days. The author is David Zhu, and it was originally posted on his blog. It is reproduced here with his permission.

When my colleagues first found out that I was leaving banking for private equity, they congratulated me. After all, moving to the “buy-side” after 2 years of banking was something to be proud of. But when they found out I was leaving Hong Kong for Beijing, their jaws dropped. What??? Are you forreal? The air there is toxic, the food is poisonous, the traffic is suffocating, and the tax is demoralizing. What is wrong with you? Do you hate Hong Kong or something?

No, the truth is, I love Hong Kong. The two years I have spent in Hong Kong are probably the most carefree and purposeless fun I will ever have in my entire life. But I had to go – because something was missing in Hong Kong.

67/F Cheung Kong Center, where I have spent longer hours starring at a computer screen than my entire pre-work life combined.


No, I’m not talking about the work experience of pumping out models and PowerPoint slides like a machine around the clock, or the deal experience of closing cross-border M&A’s to earn bragging rights among fellow bankers, or the travel experience of flying business class with corporate executives from New York and London.

I’m talking about living the Hong Kong-style life, under the neon lights of Lan Kwai Fong, about the materialistic life that makes living and breathing the Hong Kong experience a young bachelor’s must-have in a lifetime. When I boarded flight Delta 173 on August 17th, 2012 from JFK to HKG, the city with the highest concentration of Rolls Royce’s and the most tall buildings in the world, I knew it was time to lay off the gas pedal and just enjoy the ride.

Grand opening party of a new club in LKF, the name of which I can no longer recall. The club closed within a year.


As affluent Hong Kongers are some of the world’s best practitioners of hedonism, you will find yourself quickly blending in the Hong Kong lifestyle around happy hours, dinners, boat trips, birthday parties and other forms of wine & dine experiences. You go from ordinary food establishments like Tsui Wah and SimplyLife to private kitchens and Michelin stars; you start to turn down tourist bars along LKF hill in favor of whiskey bars, cigar bars, sheesha bars, ice bars, dining-in-the-dark restaurant & bars, liquid nitrogen ice cream bars, your friend’s bars, your friend’s friend’s bars, and so on. If you can think of it, it’s there in HK. You find dining & entertainment expenses escalating over your rent in almost no time (particularly if you are male, the gender which always pays). Slowly, your spare capacity goes from planning your life as a great [insert dream here] to planning your next fancy dinner, your next epic weekend, your next marvelous holiday, your next fabulous birthday party… and the list goes on.

Probably the best city view in the world.


Gradually, the comfort and safety of Hong Kong bring you what you’ve always desired – the pure enjoyment of life itself, without having to feel sorry about it because everyone around you is doing the exact same. You don’t see the negativities of society anymore around you. Poverty doesn’t show its faces, crime doesn’t come near you, pollution isn’t broadcasted as a social problem, food safety is almost guaranteed, healthcare services are among the best in the world, and tax is definitely not getting any complaints – if utopia existed, it would look something like Hong Kong Central.

But once you’ve spent long enough time here, you will see that Hong Kong is a concrete jungle not only for its buildings and underground tunnels, but also for zero social mobility. The resulting social structure under these circumstances is not one where everyone is talking about the global power dynamics, debating the benefits and harms of creative destruction, pondering the philosophical nature of the human existence, or even whispering the future of democracy. No. That is not Hong Kong. At least not the Hong Kong I have experienced. Living in Hong Kong as an expat is much more like attending the grand parties of the Great Gatsby, where the crème of the crop of the Ivy League and Oxbridge graduates proudly settle in the most fit-and-proper professions ranging from doctors, lawyers, accountants, to bankers and civil servants, toasting and celebrating the greatness of their own achievements.

Magnum, where film “Lan Kwai Fong” was filmed. Magnum Entertainment listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange in January 2014. The offering was over 3000 times oversubscribed. Currently shares trade 50% below its first week’s performance.


But the most mercenary aspect of Hong Kong is the ease of leaving her. During SARS, those who could leave deserted the city and made it a ghost town almost overnight. In the 1990’s (think 89 and 97), those who could afford to emigrate from Hong Kong have all obtained foreign passports, with Vancouver being one of the favorite destinations – and the reason behind my conversational Cantonese having grown up there.

Hong Kong, in this sad existence, is Mr. Gatsby himself. If he dies, no one will be staying for the funeral, because his guests are busy and have got other parties to catch.

Admittedly, for the better part of my 2 years in Hong Kong, I was one of them. I lived my life as a guest in Mr. Gatsby’s party, and I gave my love to every moment I have spent inside his doors. I have been there, standing in the VIP areas of Dragon-I/Volar/Levels/Magnum, on the floor, on the table, on the stage, feeling like I’m with the most important people in the entire world. I have been there, dropping my entire month’s salary hosting parties and treating friends ranging from my future best man to someone I have never even met and will never meet again. I have been there, posting photos of drinking and partying festivities on Facebook to gain popularity and social status, making acquaintances so numerous that deleting them all would probably be faster if I got a new phone and reinstalled Whatsapp.

What to expect on the table on a normal night with a large group of friends who work in finance


Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of very successful people in Hong Kong who have found the right balance to achieve happiness across the spectrum of one’s life desires. But your 20’s is meant to be spent in a way to maximize your potentials, and the 24/7 work-party-sleep cycle isn’t exactly “maximizing” – it’s in fact “burning”, eating away the fuel and the drive to reach the dreams you once had.

After an all-nighter at the printer for a company’s IPO. Long hours typically result in a binary lifestyle swinging between extreme work and extreme play.


So as one of the most junior attendees of Mr. Gatsby’s great parties, I have chosen to walk away. After all, what is the point of devoting my most productive years to a grand party, only to be handed another glass of champagne, gazing upward to tycoons who will always be tycoons, and dancing alongside white-collars who will always be white-collars. Leaving Hong Kong was not because it was destroying my body or polluting my mind, but because it was killing who I could be.

  • Zen my Ass

    So, this dude is moving to Beijing where, in order to move on to a very successful career, he will have to lure hoards of government officials to local ktvs, weekly of course, bribe his way out to close as many deals as possible, survive pollution and heavy traffic, destroy his health by constant drinking and “business” meetings with potential clients… yes, I can see how this will improve his life.

    • Jason Bonello

      Same as Shanghai. You totally nailed it. Then he’ll marry a local girl because she will put a sewing needle threw his condoms.

  • Neobooper

    Bragging in another level

  • dapast

    Speaking from the perspective of a girl, growing up in NA working in HK in the financial industry, this is exactly how I felt. It’s fun, it’s exciting, but nothing beyond that. People don’t come to HK to get to know the city or its people, only a handful of expats actually steps beyond the circle between Causeway bay and Central.

  • dumdilada

    Agree with this – though I think it’s the same (in different scales) with all places where you can earn fast money. Most people I meet here have little substance and are just interested on what they can do next to stroke their own egos. The whole city is built around this though with the influx of mainlanders, expats, and even the hongers in general.
    Where do you see a city where people carry Rolex bags to carry their lunch so people know they once upon a time bought a Rolex? Silly Silly hk.

  • Ferdie Mostert

    In all my visits to Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and other southern China cities I have experienced these circumstances several times but this does not differ from other big cities and bright lights where things move fast. We still have our own choices to make and those choices come with the consequences and responsibilities as a package. I suppose more difficult for someone chasing image and position especially in the competitive financial buzz. Who we are and where we go still comes from within and we can never blame our surroundings or other outward causes or people. Whether we are in HK or alone on a deserted island or in the quiet country side, we are suppose to be ourselves anywhere. I have too many fantastic experiences and great friends in HK and southern China to make negative comments about the region. I still love every visit and look forward to my upcoming April 2015 return. Maybe for those feeling caught up in the negatives of big city lights and parties…try seek other friends and get past chasing the lie of financial imagery.
    Hong Kong is not to blame, Beijing or Shanghai will do the same to anyone because we cannot get away from ourselves. Where ever we travel in the world, we will still be there and the personal issues travel with you….rather sort yourself and overcome then all the world will be fantasic

  • HKGrappler

    The problem is not Hong Kong, but this guy and the culture of his profession. So he comes to Hong Kong, parties it up like some douche expat from the finance sector, has too much of his own doing, and then blames Hong Kong for his poor life decisions? There are plenty of expats in Hong Kong who’s lives don’t revolve around getting wasted or over eating at the most expensive places. There are plenty of expats that don’t just limit themselves to the “safety” of Central or Causeway Bay, as if Mongkok or Yau Ma Tei are dangerous, lol. Then he moves to Beijing as if that’s the answer to his self made problems. How about growing some backbone and getting over himself instead of blaming a culturally rich city for his lack of foresight, self control and imagination. Another problem is a lot of people like this are also racist and classist, whether they know it or not. They will only participate in things that involve other expats, and will look down on locals like second class residents, and refuse to even make an effort to assimilate into to the local population (they make exceptions for rich Chinese of course, but the rich Chinese are typically the outsiders or tokens of the group). Then this douche brings up the social economic inequalities of the city as if by acknowledging them he’s somehow beyond the system of his own dysfunction. HE’S the problem. If he really wants to make a change in that respect, how about stop being a banker-wanker, and do something that actually helps the local population… But we all know that’s not going to happen, cause entitled little expat is just going to whine about how it’s Hong Kong, and move onto some other Asian city to be a 1%er that lavishes on the backs of the local population.

  • richyoung

    The only solution is “self-control and discipline”

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