Hong Kong

It almost concludes my short trip back to Hong Kong. Asia is blooming. Nothing can hide this fact. To my surprise, the cost of living in Hong Kong even excluding housing is on par with the US now. Food is no longer cheap. I still have the impression that going out lunch is less expensive than in the US. It still is. Especially given the great competition in the dining industry in HK, but the gap is getting close. I even feel that eventually Hong Kong will become a very expensive city (it already is if I include housing) as Tokyo and London.

Lunch in a local chinese fast food chain cost around 25-40 HK$, it is about 3 to 5 US dollars. But as I grew up here, I find food suit my taste buds much better.

I have chance to chat with a number of friends, both inside and outside academia. My impression is that indeed it is hard to pursue high end technical research in Hong Kong. There are too much easy money flowing around. Honestly, I even don’t think it worths pursuing this path. That is exactly the philosophy behind global trade; emphasizing regional strength rather than weakness and acquiring the insufficient from trading.

Local people here think that HK people lack of imagination. But I think the otherwise. Creative industry can be a path to success. Its past success in movie industry illustrated that. Though it is going way down now. I came across news articles about high school students patented new designs for bottle opener and egg cracker. I think these are some signs supporting my argument.

Pre-university education is getting much better now. I visited my mother middle and high school and I totally envied the students there now. As the principal explained, the students come to school to have fun. It is a very enjoyable experience. They build robot in class, visit museums and beaches, and learn by working on projects. They spend the whole middle school life learning to work on one big project. They do literature survey from online articles, propose ideas, pursue viable one, conclude with short report and presentation. Of course, the bill is not small also. It needs about 50 million HK dollars to run a secondary school per year. That is about 6 million US dollars. The majority of this lump sum goes to the salaries of staffs and teachers. Only about 4 million HK dollars (500K US dollars) is left for other expenses. There are about 1100 students in the school. Therefore, about 6000 US dollars are spent for each student per year. Comparing students from the past, students now are more active and less likely to be satisfied by mere book grinding. But that is exactly the trait of the workforce needed for the years ahead. I am most interested in how to attract students into science and engineering disciplines. It turns out to be very difficult especially in HK. As I said, HK has too much easy money; from stock and derivative trading, private tutoring, and tourism. The best students right now are first attracted to finance and business area. After that, some students go to STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) displines, finally to social science or so. But on average, the local has excellent math skill for daily life. The grinding culture for math is one possible reason. Olympic math for primary kids is very popular. Arithmetic skills are needed for commerce and trading also. All these contribute why HK kids can rank first in math globally. On the other hand, science and engineering is getting much less emphasis.

Housing market is getting incredibly expensive. It is now even above Tokyo and becomes the most expensive place to live in asia. The luxury housing can go up to $5000 US per square feet. It is still way below London. But in a long run, I think it can still go up. Somehow Hong Kong is a very attractive place, both to Chinese and the others. I heard of stories of non-chineses are willing to turn down offer from UCLA and EPFL and teach in HKUST and CUHK. As a result, competition in academia is fierce. However, funding situation is great. I heard that the funding rate for new PI is 100% for physics discipline. However, funding amount is about 1/8 of the US.

Finally, pollution is not as bad as I thought. But it probably is one ultimate factor in detering growth. The city’s wealth is actually very relied on its image and air pollution can be one big negative factor.

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