Mixed fortunes for Hong Kong rich kids: three stories from inside the gilded cage
You think it’s easy to have plenty of family money and connections and not need to worry about mundane things like affording food and rent? These three may disagree with you
Lounging in a family-owned studio in Tsim Sha Tsui festooned with contemporary artwork, Matt Chung has all the trappings of a privileged scion. Ironically, the 28-year-old media professional, whose family also owns a property on The Peak, thrives on exposing the extravagant lifestyles of other offspring of Hong Kong’s wealthy families.
He recently published his third Chinese-language book, Playboy Man. Among its real-life characters are a spoilt young woman who spurns her father’s gift of a 1,000 sq ft furnished apartment in Causeway Bay because it’s “ugly”; and a computer nerd with a private lift so he doesn’t have to mingle with the riff-raff, while the helper uses it to deliver his meals.
Chung antagonised many rich kids, he says, even before becoming an author, when he posted memes on Instagram. “Although I didn’t use names, they were unvarnished accounts of the experiences of acquaintances. Someone once smashed my car windscreen because of something I wrote.”
Social media posts by the children of affluent Hong Kong families flaunting their wealth are distasteful to the majority struggling to pay a mortgage and put food on the table.
But Chung, a Boston University economics graduate, and others say a privileged life can also be a gilded cage. It’s not always as easy as it seems, in part because expectations are higher.
“I wanted to study film but my parents thought it was useless. I’m not stupid but I’m lazy and didn’t like studying,” he says, adding that his elder brother studied at an Ivy League university and became a banker.
Unable to follow his chosen subject, Chung’s father, a highly respected retired journalist, pointed him in the direction of a large accounting firm.
“There was a four-month conversion course, which didn’t interest me at all. I was worried I’d let down my parents and my uncle who worked at the firm. Anyway, I became the first person in the history of the firm to flunk the course.”
Chung eventually got hired as a fashion reporter on a magazine, earning HK$8,500 a month. His father helped him with living expenses so he could maintain his lifestyle, shopping and socialising.
“I’d have lost all my friends if I’d had to survive on HK$8,500 a month,” he says.
After two years, he changed tack and worked at a 7-Eleven in Central for a month to seek inspiration for his second book, La Dolce Vitasoy, a semi-autobiographical account that pokes fun at rich kids.
“It was harsh waking up early; the working hours were 7am to 3pm. I had to stand all day and carry stuff. I was afraid of running into my friends, but the experience helped me write my book. I am the only writer I know. My classmates work as lawyers, bankers, architects, restaurateurs, help run family business or do start-ups .... But my dad gave my book to his friends, so he has finally accepted my choice.”
Chung now writes columns for several publications as an unconventional second-generation rich kid, and works as a TV and radio host. “I am glad that I have chosen my own path. The thing I want to do most is to make movies,” he says.
Andy Wong Tai-yip, the heir of a furrier, took the traditional path of going into the family business after graduating in fashion design from the International Academy of Design and Technology in the US.
“I spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on clothes in a season, sometimes a million dollars,” says Wong, a tall, dandyish young man who often appears in tabloid entertainment pages and has been romantically linked with starlets and Florinda Ho, daughter of Macau casino tycoon Stanley Ho Hung-sun.
Wong’s parents familiarised him with the business from an early age, when his father took him to the company offices.
“When I was in secondary school, my mum took me to the mainland to watch her do business,” he says. “By the age of 19, I was attending fur auctions with her in Canada, Denmark, Finland and the US. So I was fine joining the family business. I started as a general employee, doing everything including packing fur.”
He became a jet-setter in his first two years at the company, which was exhausting but rewarding. “I was flamboyant and very trendy. I had more than 50 pairs of Air Jordan sneakers and used to go to Lan Kwai Fong every week. My parents took me to task for being a spendthrift .... but I’ve mellowed as I’ve grown older, says Wong, adding he doesn’t see himself as part of the second-generation rich clan, because there are many who are wealthier.
Despite his silver-spoon pedigree, Wong says he’s not so lucky in love. “People think it’s easy for me to get girls. But the second-generation rich tag only attracts certain types of girls ... who have an agenda.
“I want a girl I can communicate with. I go to work, and then I go home. It’s robotic. Since reaching my 30s, I’ve wanted to chill at home and go for a late lunch with a girlfriend on weekends.”
Poman Lo, 36, granddaughter of Great Eagle Group founder Lo Ying-shek and vice-chairman of the group’s Regal Hotels International, acknowledges she is luckier than most.
“From the start, I was able to go to the best schools and my parents gave me many opportunities to nurture my talents,” she says.
Last year, she won Norway’s Business for Peace award, which she describes as the equivalent of a Nobel Prize for ethical business practices. The award recognised her animation company Century Innovative Technology, which makes edutainment apps for schools in China promoting moral education.
Lo joined the family business after graduating in psychology from Duke University, in North Carolina, and says the group’s senior executives coached her well.
“Of course the company’s other employees treat me differently, but I am honest and tell people when I don’t know about things,” she says.
Despite her blue-blooded background, Lo says she still encounters obstacles. “In 2005, I launched a business selling healthy food and drinks that were popular in the US and Japan. I paid a lot for advertising but it failed. I learned a valuable lesson – that more research and planning are required [before embarking on a new venture].”
Her next goal is a move into e-commerce. “We have launched in-room shopping in our hotels, where customers can order goods before they arrive at the hotel and earn loyalty points.”
Being born into wealth is a blessing, but Lo insists it cannot buy your heart’s desire.
“Happiness comes not from making lots of money, but from the difference that you can make to the world.”