Letters from HongKongers
This will be part of a series titled “Letters from HongKongers,” a collection of stories of HongKongers I have met, of my family and friends, or of readers’ submissions. These are true stories of HongKongers about love, struggle, and hardship, and whose authors’ names have been changed or anonymized to protect their privacy. When I first came to Hong Kong, I felt that HongKongers are materialistic and are “fake” on the outside, because they never shared their true feelings. Boy, I could not be more wrong.
Hong Kong is a cruel place. One has to protect himself in public (e.g. the workplace) by pretending to be someone he is not, only to repress his true emotions in his heart. He has to be fake in front of others, only because he has been hurt before, for being true. The following is a 港男’s heartfelt story. 港男 literally means “(Hong)Kong guy”, who is our quintessential local Hong Kong guy who everyone looks down upon for not being good enough in every way.
“Confessions of a 港男”
I grew up in public housing
Hi, my name is Jeff (not my real name). I am a local Hong Kong guy, born and raised in Hong Kong. I grew up in a public estate. I have some rich relatives, but most of my relatives are “poor” like our family. Thing is, I never realized I was poor. Most people around me grew up in a public estate and our public estate was our playground. My dad is a minibus driver, and my mom a waitress at a Chinese restaurant. We were of course not rich (actually, quite poor) but our family was always happy.
My parents never went to university. Actually, most of my uncles and aunties haven’t either. I am the only child and the first in my family to go to university. I was my family’s pride. I always studied hard in school because I believed that education will allow me to expand my horizons, and lead me to good places. I ended up getting into the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), majoring in accounting.
I studied so hard that I got into an exchange program at the Wharton Business School, my dream school. This was the high point of my life. I believed that as long as I studied hard, I will be somebody. At Penn, I met Tammy (not her real name), my first girlfriend.
I met a girl from a different world
I met Tammy when I attended a Hong Kong Student Association gathering at Penn. She was studying psychology in her freshman year. Before that, she studied in Maryknoll. She was pretty. Her family did business, and she came from a well off background. Although I was not rich (again, quite poor), I was a determined young man, which charmed her. I never felt she was out of my league because I was so confident in my abilities. After all, I came from nothing, and was determined to be something. We started dating.
After I finished my exchange semester at Wharton, I returned to HKUST to finish off my accounting degree. Me and Tammy was in a long-distance relationship and saw each other during holidays throughout our studies. I finished with first class honours, and basically had early offers from every Big 4 auditor. Although it’s not an i-bank offer, I was satisfied.
Throughout the years, Tammy never once looked down upon me. She even admired me for my achievements. She would say, rather marry a poor guy with determination than a rich one with emptiness in his mind. I was poor and she did not mind. She did not date other guys and Skyped with me everyday throughout her studies. She did not care about money. She loved me. And I don’t want to disappoint her and I vowed to be successful so I could take care of her.
My girlfriend’s mother disapproved
Her parents were kind to me, although, I knew in the inside they looked down upon my family. Anyways, Tammy’s mom kept on asking my career plans and even offered to hook me up with an interview at an i-bank where she had connections there. I respectfully declined, because I want to be my own man. I want to prove to her that I will be successful, on my own. I thought, “I will be my own success story.”
Although Tammy was rich, she would choose reasonably priced restaurants on dates, because she didn’t want to burden me. She was the best girlfriend any guy could dream of. She gave up fine dining in order to date me. I was determined to marry that girl and spend the rest of my life with her.
After she graduated, she returned to Hong Kong and started working in a big consulting firm, where her mom was best friends with the HR. Her salary was already more than mine, and I was 3 years her senior. But she stood by me. Tammy’s mom was a smart woman. I knew that she wanted her daughter to marry well, and not to someone poor like me. She always tried introducing her to sons of her rich business friends, but Tammy would always resist. She told her mom she believed in me.
One day, Tammy’s mom asked her daughter if she would be interested in joining an “exchange program” to Beijing. This “exchange program” was really ran by a group of Hong Kong businessmen for their sons and daughters to visit Beijing government officials and learn about business opportortunities in China. Essentially, this was like a vacation for rich 2nd generation HongKongers. As Tammy never really went on vacations with me (to save money for me), she decided she could use two weeks of annual leave for a Beijing vacation.
During this Beijing trip, she met many rich 2nd generations like herself. To her, they were not particularly rich (because she was rich herself). But they were really fun to hang out with. They introduced her to expensive clubs, private kitchens, invited her to balls, well basically, living the life. Once she returned to Hong Kong, she started hanging out with them, and going to their homes to play poker, or going out on boat trips on their private yachts. She even invited me to join, but I was always busy at work.
She met a guy
I trusted her though, because if she would wait for me all these years, she will resist temptations. Apparently, during the Beijing trip, she met a guy whose family did a similar family business as hers’ and after the trip, they started chatting a lot through WhatsApp. At first, I thought there was no harm in this, because she’s entitled to make guy friends.
But things started going wrong when I realized they started having lunches, then later dinners, together. She would tell me about them – she’s honest to me – and assures me there’s nothing going on between them. They are just friends. But I’m a guy. I know that when guys ask girls for dinners (especially at expensive restaurants), the guy is probably pursuing her. Anyways, I knew my place – I was not successful yet, and can’t afford to take her to those restaurants, so who am I to deprive her of a fine dining date?
Things went downhill from then. She started meeting up the guy more frequently, until one day, she told me she was very stressed. Her mother wants her to really consider dating the guy, and said that he would give her a real future, not me. At most, I will be an employee of a company, but that guy – he was the boss’s son. He’s the heir of a PRC empire. Tammy became depressed over the next few months. She loved me, but she was starting to be convinced by her mother.
I can never win
Despite it all, I only worked harder, and chased her harder, determined that I will win her heart and love will prevail. But the harder I tried, the more pain I felt. This is because I started to realize that no matter how hard I tried, I will not be the heir of a business empire. At most, I can only be a partner at Big 4, working for clients like that guy’s father. My heart was shattered into pieces and every night, I cried silent tears.
Not only mine, but her heart was broken too. She blamed me, for not being successful, so I could not win her parents’ approval. She blamed me, for not being rich, so I can’t meet her parents’ expectations. I blamed me too. I never felt so helpless in my life. I felt like I had no self-worth. I was nothing. I will never be somebody because I will just be another man’s servant slaving for him. I will never be like him.
Eventually, she became so broken, and she felt that she no longer could bare the pressures from her parents. She broke up with me. I cried. She cried. We both cried. I decreed, when she broke up with me, that I will become successful one day, and prove them all wrong, and she will come back to me. I was determined that I will win her parents’ hearts.
Time passed. We did not talk much. But she did send WhatsApp messages to me from time to time, telling about how her boyfriend (that guy) proposed to her. She even wanted to invite me to her own wedding. She never knew how much it had hurt me each time she messaged me. I was broken. I was really a broken man. I was broken not because I lost the girl, but because I was helpless and I cannot change this world.
Why is this world so unfair? Why does the world have to be like this? Anyways, time is the best healer of things. Eventually, I moved on. I progressed through the company I worked for, and my salary increased. Now, I make a pretty good salary. Of course, it did not and will never make me rich, but enough to save up a down payment on a very small flat and pay monthly mortgage repayments. I even bought a parking space and drive a BMW 3 Series. I became pretty “rich” in the eyes of many ordinary HongKongers.
I never heard from her since. Last I heard, she was busy making wedding plans. I was never invited to her wedding. She deleted my Facebook and stopped messaging me altogether. I guess she wanted to cut all ties with me, probably because she was ashamed she even dated me in the first place. But I moved on too. I realized that in life, we should not pursue something that was not meant to be. Even if you succeed, it will never truly be yours, and you will never be happy.
I am now at peace. Through this past relationship, I learned to accept myself for who I am. I can make my own life better, and take care of my parents, and accept that I cannot change the world. I am just an ordinary HongKonger who want to make my parents proud of me. I have done that by being true to myself and loving myself and my family – especially my parents who have done so much to raise me. I believe that I have made them proud, and have done justice, by being happy. My sweet revenge is to have a simple but happy life.
I am truly happy for being who I am.