The Britons who are behind (and thrived) in Hong Kong

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The Britons who are behind (and thrived) in Hong Kong

Twelve years ago this week, Hong Kong is no longer as a British colony. Shortly after midnight on 1 Chris Patten in July 1997 aboard the royal yacht Britannia and drove away to the strains of Land of Hope and Glory.

His departure coincided with rumors of an accompanying exodus of the British abroad. Traditional red letterboxe was green and purple and banknotes are no longer a picture of the Queen - for some, it seemed little sense to stay.

As it turned out, not all left when the last governor has. The British Consulate in Hong Kong estimates that there are currently 25,000 to 30,000 British expatriates in the city. And contrary to popular belief, we are from a variety of professions and backgrounds - from the former officials, clergy, and Wheeler Dealer washed-up backpack tourists.

Mechanic Derek Brooks followed his girlfriend to Hong Kong in 1994, found work maintaining a fleet of buses and decided not to return to Britain. When contracts began to Chinese companies since 1997, when the native of Harrow, Middlesex, has a job installing state of the art on the desktop, the floors of the international banks.

In a form of economic irony, the recent wave of layoffs in the financial sector means Brooks has never been busier. "I'm taking back out all the desks I put in," he jokes.

Mark Knight at the Hong Kong Civil Service in the late eighties and was impressed by the benefits. "We had a huge apartment, a maid, gratuities and generous travel allowances," he says.

If the privileges ended in 1997, Knight as an English language examiner and now specializes in corporate benchmarking across Asia.

"The opportunity to reinvent yourself is far greater here than back home. Switching careers in the UK would be much more difficult," he says.

David Tait would agree. Colonial Hong Kong was a popular booking for British soldiers and the Scottish Royal Navy officer liked what he saw, in two tours of duty in the eighties. He finished the submarine service and settled here permanently in 1993.

"I had no fixed career plans when I returned but the place was awash with money," recalls the former lieutenant. After a stay of sale of advertising space, Tait, for his own publishing house, in the economy for a decade this year.

In a time when the transfer of sovereignty has been causing anxiety for some long term expats, others have the chance of a lifetime. A large number of young Britons flocked to the colony for one last hooray, the preferential migration and employment and the opportunity to witness history made.

Clutching CVs of different tree, they slept on friends couches and hustled for jobs. This eleventh hour of arrival was known as Filth (bug in London, Try Hong Kong). Many are still here.

British backpackers came in droves. In search of a cash injection for longer trips around South East Asia, they could be in Hong Kong in the afternoon and serving drinks in a bar in the evening.

Paul Docherty, landed a job at Joe Bananas, a popular city nightspot. The realization, he was never too rich pulling pints for tourists homesick, he decided his own pub on rural Lantau Iceland.

The timing and location were perfect - the construction of the new Hong Kong International Airport had started and in the vicinity of thirsty workers fully in Papa Doc's from the date of opening. "The airport project definitely affected my decision to look for a place on Lantau," admits Docherty.

For another group of transplanted Brits, the Chinese passion for education is a blessing. No one has ever counted, but there are probably more British-born teacher as a banker in Hong Kong.

From tutoring in language clubs, lectures at universities, all with (and sometimes without) a qualification can usually a teaching position.

Dominic Abbott came in 1993, and in another: "It could only happen in Hong Kong" history, he combines English teaching with work as a bouncer in a bar in Kowloon. The elementary school teacher from Bradford, said his night job was infinitely more interesting than his job.

"Triads would come in and offer money to spend the night with the barmaids. I had to tactfully explain that it wasn't that kind of place without upsetting the gang members. Then after a couple of hours' sleep I had to go and teach grammar to a class of Chinese housewives."

Another type of violence was to explode, as a visitor, the decision whether or not the roots in the city. Reverend John Chynchen first ventured to the Far East in the sixties, the arrival in Hong Kong for the first time in 1966.

The Communist-inspired riots a year later, the former does not dampen the enthusiasm of Marine Surveyors, however, and he moved into the colony permanently not long after. Ordained as a deacon in 1989, he has no intention to leave his flock.

"I was all set to leave in 1997," he recalls "but I realised that I wasn't ready to retire." Like most "old China hands" Chynchen, originally from Enfield, deals with Bouts of homesickness after returning to the UK periodically.

"I would definitely describe myself as an expatriate," he says "but I still retain membership of my London club."

Under the "one country, two systems" policy, Hong Kong is rapidly integrating with the Chinese mainland. Colonial privilege goodwill and residual materials, dwindling resources and British expats are discovering that the adaptability and cultural awareness are more useful than the membership of the Cricket Club.


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