Hong Kong is no city for old folk, and an uncaring government is to blame

Peter Kammerer says high costs, pollution and pocket-sized breathing spaces make retirement in the SAR a daunting prospect, especially compared to his native Australia. But not everyone has an escape route

PUBLISHED : Monday, 07 November, 2016, 2:11pm
UPDATED : Monday, 07 November, 2016, 6:32pm

Retirement isn’t yet on my horizon, but it comes to mind each time I go on holiday. “Could I spend the rest of my life here?” is a fleeting thought after a day of exploring. I’m not intentionally going to places to plan my golden years, but it’s inevitable to have such feelings in middle age when away from Hong Kong. A city so unfriendly to the elderly is simply not somewhere I would like to stay after I stop working.

The old couple next door, he in his 90s and in a wheelchair, she in her late 80s and hobbling with a stick, moved a few blocks away last week to the Housing Society’s Tanner Hill project. Favourable rent terms and a waiving of fees and rates had convinced their children to shift their parents to the 588-flat complex in North Point.

A city so unfriendly to the elderly is simply not somewhere I would like to stay after I stop working

Their accommodation is just as roomy as before and their helper can still live with them, but they now have a range of elderly friendly facilities on hand. Included in what is termed luxury accommodation for people aged 60 and over are health care services, an indoor swimming pool, activities rooms and a library. Two small shopping malls are nearby and public transport a short walk away.

How retirement syndrome is hurting Hong Kong’s elderly

There aren’t many developments in Hong Kong that cater specifically to seniors. Tanner Hill is among the few, the focus being on easy access to facilities and services to ensure independence and privacy.

As pleasant as it seems, it’s not somewhere I’d be eager to retreat to, though. Retirement villages in my native Australia are far more appealing, their parkland, recreational facilities and clubhouses being more extensive.

That’s bound to be the case in a country with plenty of wide, open spaces. But there’s an even more significant matter to consider: a government that is caring.

If society has a duty to ensure needs of Hong Kong’s elderly are met, money should not be the priority

Hong Kong’s narrow footpaths, air pollution, lack of urban parks and recreation space, high food costs and inflated property prices say everything about what authorities think of the people they are supposed to serve. Visiting my pensioner mother in the Australian state of Queensland last month brought all those matters to the fore and more. The clear, blue skies and fresh air are one thing; cycling lanes, bus seats at all stops and greenery everywhere with trees, grass and potted plants are considered by citizens to be not mere nice touches, but necessities. There’s also a big difference when it comes to the means-tested old-age pension; my 86-year-old mother receives about HK$10,200 a month, more than four times the Hong Kong Social Welfare Department’s old age living allowance.

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The differences are stark when seen close-up. In Hong Kong, the elderly have few places to go when they leave their cramped flats, beyond food courts and pocket-sized parks. In my mother’s hometown, they are chatting in coffee shops, taking leisurely strolls in expansive parks and volunteering to help others. Financial means and an environment to enjoy life make all the difference.

Financial means and an environment to enjoy life make all the difference

A pensioner who once took me on a free walking tour of Brisbane that included a trip on a public river ferry that operates twice an hour for no charge put it all quite succinctly: the job of the people chosen to run the city is to take care of citizens. He was only too pleased to offer his time voluntarily to show off the place he lived in to visitors.

I’ve got the luxury of a foreign passport and can choose where I go when my working life ends. The conveniences and benefits Hong Kong offers drew me for work and circumstances meant I ended up also raising a family. But, as I age and notice the way the government gives such short shrift to the people who made this city what it is, I’m increasingly certain that it is no place in which to retire.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post