Class of ’97: Juggling five jobs while studying in mainland China, Bosco Li hopes to get ahead in business
Studying in China has forced him to become independent, but also made him a foreigner in his home city – his Cantonese is declining, he cannot understand his Hong Kong friends’ jokes and is no longer obsessed with TVB dramas.
Bosco Li sells Korean facial cleansers, works part-time for a baby products company and plans to open his own coffee shop. He turned 20 just two months ago.
Li, a Hong Kong native, is doing five jobs while studying at Zhejiang University in an attempt to get ahead of his peers in the business world. “I don’t want to make HK$10,000 a month like many college graduates,” he says at a mall in a suburb of Hangzhou, his mother’s hometown.
The K-pop fan wears sunglasses, a Line Friends key chain and has a pack of Korean cigarettes. Occasionally, his phone rings and he talks to callers in a mix of Korean and Putonghua. “You need money to get married, to buy cars and houses and to feed your children. This is why I have to start now.”
Li says the struggles his family suffered during the financial crisis made him eager to build up wealth.
In 2008, his parents, then senior managers at a Hong Kong company, suffered salary cuts. As their stock investments were also losing money, they struggled to pay their mortgages. They sold all five of their flats and moved into a small rented apartment.
A year later, 13-year-old Li was sent to boarding school in Shaoxing, Zhejiang province.
Studying on the mainland has forced him to become independent, but also made him feel more like a foreigner in his home city, Li says.
His fluency in Cantonese is declining, he cannot understand the jokes of his Hong Kong friends and he is no longer obsessed with TVB dramas.
Last year, Li, together with two friends, started a business to sell facial cleansers on the mainland.
However, he admits he has struggled to persuade retailers to put the new products on their shelves, and now he hopes to open a coffee shop in downtown Hangzhou – though he has yet to find investors.
Li sometimes works until 3am and says the income is just enough to cover about two-thirds of his living expenses.
“None of these can be called a success,” he says. “So far, my only achievement is to understand how hard my mum and dad have to work to make money.”
Li, who returned to Hong Kong to take part in Occupy, says he was upset at the government decision to use tear gas and pepper spray against protesters.
“I never talk about this with my foreign friends,” he says. “It was humiliating that our government did this. If I was 100 per cent confident in Hong Kong in the past, now it is 20 per cent.”