The first time for Mr. Oh to come to Hong Kong was during a business trip in April 2014. He had a good impression on Hong Kong and felt Hong Kong is not a typical Asian city given the cultural diversity. While he was planning to move out from Korea back then, Hong Kong was one of the options in his mind.
When I asked Mr. Oh why he was so determined to move out from Korea, he quoted the term "Hell Chosun" - an infernal feudal kingdom during nineteenth century and it is now used as the popular term to describe the life in Korea. (Related - Young South Koreans call their country hell and look for ways out)
In details, Mr. Oh mentioned few things why people would like to call Korea 'hell'. "The work culture is a big problem and 80% of stress at work is from the interaction with your boss and colleagues. You have to 'create' another personality that will make the bosses satisfied and make yourself adaptable to the office atmosphere, and part of that is hiding your personal feelings. You will feel stressful when you become another person who is not you. The situation can be even worse in domestic companies where drinking and showing up at after work gathering are mandatory. If you don't join the gathering, you will easily be left out alone in the company, colleagues will think you are very unsociable and you won't be promoted because of this."
Apart from work culture, Mr. Oh said the soaring housing prices and the some deep-rooted values caused the life in Korea unpleasant. He explained why these values caused problems to the society.
"Koreans in general are too dichotomous, not open to discussion, and very close-minded. They would attack others who have different opinion from themselves. Rather than listening to them, people force their thoughts to others. Koreans also get easily affected by other people's assessment. People can't really pursue what they want to do because they or their parents care so much about what others think about them, specifically whether or not others will appraise them as a successful person. And Korea has one of the worst job discrimination in the world. In this environment, it's hard to focus on the things which you really like. There's so many worldly factors that bothers you, making yourself more and more snob, and make you less happier. Some people might like to be advised and leaded, but for some people who has very different opinion it could end up being a big stress"
Since people in Korea are judged mostly by 'absolute' measures and most people cannot show their real feeling, Mr. Oh feel it makes sense why Korea has the highest suicide rate among developed countries and the lowest child happiness rating in the world. (Related - Why Korean children rank below England as the worst nation for child happiness; South Korea suicide rate has been the highest in the developed world for over a decade)
After one year since Mr. Oh first visited Hong Kong, he moved to Hong Kong through internal transfer and feel it is a better environment to work.
"In Hong Kong office, it is more autonomous. You get to make more decisions on your own and it is less hierarchical compared to the Seoul office. The relationship with colleagues is totally different. I did not think any colleagues or managers in the Seoul office are friends of mine outside work. However, I made few good friends in the Hong Kong office and had a good relationship with my manager outside work - we play tennis together almost every week. If I play tennis with my manager in Seoul, it will make me feel a bit uncomfortable but it is a fun thing to do with my manager in Hong Kong."
Mr. Oh also added that the atmosphere in Seoul office is not productive that people pretend to work hard whenever the senior manager is in office, even they don't have much to do. And colleagues seldom talked about their off-work life in the office.
As Mr. Oh has been to Hong Kong two times before officially moving in, I asked him about the new discoveries as a resident in Hong Kong.
"I later found out there are a lot more to do in Hong Kong apart from the tourist places. A lot of great places for hiking, running, water sports, drinks and dinning out. On the flip side, the cost of living is much higher than what I expected. And the amount of work is actually more compared to Seoul, even though my time staying in office is less since face time with the manager is not a requirement in Hong Kong."
The utilization of space in Hong Kong and the crowd of maids during Sundays also surprised Mr. Oh as he spent more time in Hong Kong.
"Everyone knows Hong Kong is a really packed city but I am amazed by how people utilize the limited space. For example, it was surprising for me to find a little secret bar in between buildings. On the other hand, I once wonder why the maids like to protest every weekend, but I later realized they were just having fun. I heard from other colleagues that hiring a maid in Hong Kong is much cheaper compared to places like Japan and Singapore."
But Hong Kong is perfect in every aspect. Mr. Oh was not satisfied with the taxi drivers' service, the passive smoking in public areas, the limited number of blue sky days and the cleanness in certain area of Hong Kong. (Related - Passive problem: Like banning idling engines, Hong Kong’s campaign against smoking in public is an embarrassing flop; Surge in complaints against Hong Kong taxi drivers as passengers complain of rudeness, overcharging and hire refusals)
Weighing the pros and cons of living in Hong Kong, Mr. Oh is quite pleased with Hong Kong, but he does not think he will stay in the city for long-term.
"If I am given the opportunity to move to New York, I will take it. I value the diversity of my life experience more than everything else. It is not saying Hong Kong is not a good place to stay, but I want to try on new things at this age."
When I asked Mr. Oh how he thought about young professionals in Hong Kong are planning to move out of the city, he pointed one thing that is better in Korea than in Hong Kong.
"Hong Kong is a good place to stay unless you have the money. In Korea, even though it is also expensive to live, most people find it affordable to look for a place to stay near where you work. But this is not the case in Hong Kong. There are a lot of good stuff about Hong Kong, but you need the money to enjoy them. "
As the last note, Mr. Oh highly encouraged other Koreans to come and stay in Hong Kong. He think will they be happier living in Hong Kong compared to Korea.
Even though I traveled to Korea as other Hong Kong locals did, I never expect the word "hell" would be linked to the country. It is reasonable why people would call it hell after learning more from Mr. Oh. It is glad that 'hell' is not commonly used to describe Hong Kong as a city even the life is not easy in general. Hopefully Korea will not be associated with this word anymore in the near future.