What if you couldn't leave?

If you couldn't leave Hong Kong, would you still have chosen to move here?

I'm not suggesting you're about to be arrested, or the border will close. But what if air travel was so limited that you could only expect one flight to bring you here, then another at the end of say three years when your contract finishes and you fly home?

George Monbiot's book 'Heat' started this line of thought. The book is about the problems he forsees from global warming, and the solutions he propses. His main theme is reducing the amount of carbon dioxide we generate, and as part of that he proposes drastic reductions in air travel.

It would make a big difference to our life, and I suspect to the majority of expats that live here. No long flights back to our home countries to visit family and escape the Hong Kong summers. No holidays or long weekend breaks to local countries in Asia, and no more business travel around the region.

It seems hard to imagine now, but really the option of low-cost air travel is still a very recent idea. If we say the expat experience in Hong Kong covers the last 160 years or so, flying has only become commonplace in the last quarter of that time. Before that you'd probably have arrived by boat, stayed several years, then taken another boat home.

I guessed that without air travel, coming to Hong Kong would be considered more of a hardship, and that people with families would be less likely to move here. Maybe that's not the case though, as the 1901 census showed that around 24% of the western population was aged 15 or under, i.e. a significant number of families must have moved or started here. Surprisingly the figure for the Chinese population at that time was just 17%, so maybe the opposite was true? That people who could travel relatively easily from their hometown to Hong Kong would be more likely to be younger and travel alone, with the intention of returning home to settle, whereas if you were moving here from overseas you'd be more senior (older), and would bring your family with you?

Would there be fewer expats in general? I expect there would be fewer regional offices of overseas companies based here, and so fewer expats. Without the ability to fly around the region, there would be no major benefit to being based here instead of in a European or US head office.

Personally I think I'd still be happy here. I'd certainly miss the trips back to the UK, both for keeping in touch with family, and for giving our daughters at least a taste of what life there is like. On the plus side, the Internet makes staying in touch a lot cheaper, and more effective, with photos shared almost instantly, and webcams to show the grandparents how the children are doing.

I'd miss the holidays around the region too, but it wouldn't be the end of the world. I hear people say they need a regular trip away from Hong Kong to stop them going stir crazy. For me it's more about getting away from the crowds and the city, and there are plenty of places in Hong Kong to do that.

We could also hope that a much improved train system would lessen the shock of the change. Mr Tall described a friend who often takes day trips to Shanghai and Beijing on business. That's extreme, but many business people need to travel there several times a year. We took the train to Beijing on holiday a few years back. It was interesting - but took over 30 hours! I see the journey time today is close to 24 hours, but still that's too long for a business trip. But if they could increase the speed to that of the French TGV trains, the journey time would drop to 8-9 hours, making overnight sleeper-train travel a possibility.

Still, not much help for travel back to the UK. I once travelled by train back to the UK. If you take away the time for stopovers, the journey lasted 9-10 days. A week on a train with a one year-old and a three year-old? I think not!

If could see air travel moving out of your reach, would you stay or catch the last flight home?




I must admit, I probably wouldn't! I need a break from HK every now and then, and not just to a beach in the NT.

I miss different kinds of cities, ones with cafes spilling onto the streets (I don't mean starbucks or pacific coffee chains), markets selling things other than food, fakes or electronics, little theatres, wide leafy places where people walk or eat a leisurely lunch, and even just different climates.

I'd also really miss the opportunity HK provides to see other countries in Asia. My trips to places like Japan and Taiwan have made the experience here so much more worthwhile.

Come on scientists, invent an environmentally friendly airline fuel please!

We'd probably miss them more

for the very fact we couldn't see them. Not doing something because I can't usually seems a lot worse than not doing it but knowing 'I could if I wanted to'.

Monbiot takes a look at other options for airline fuel in his book, but sorry to say there don't seem any better options than what we have now. :(


If you couldn't leave

Well, I've just listened to a really interesting podcast from Ted Talks (actually 2) on happiness and choice, (www.ted.com), one by Barry Swartz about his book on the "Paradox of choice" - tied in nicely on a blog I did earlier on what I call the "tyranny of choice" this was followed by Dan Gilbert, who talked about "synthetic happiness" which is basically the way our brain helps us to be happy by convincing us the choice we made was the right one - PROVIDED (and this is an important proviso), we are more or less stuck in our choice. The talk is as amusing as it is enlightening. Based on this very interesting research, if we were stuck in HK and didn't have the choice of leaving we would be a lot happier than we are now! And the funny thing is that most of us actually "choose" to be unhappy due to the fact that we like to keep our options open! And its just because we don't know about the 'scientific' mechanisms of being happy.

That's reassuring to know

Interesting idea that we'll all feel happier when we have less choice. So close the airport and we'll all feel happier?!?

Regards, MrB

I'd stay

Yes, I'd stay here. I like it here and have enough variety. As you said, Internet access to keep in touch with family is very good nowadays. I don't "need" to leave HK (but then when I lived on Kauai I never got "rock fever" either when most of my friends did). As long as it's necessary to live here, whether that be forever or a few years, I am happy being here.

Perhaps because I don't live in Central . . .