Class of ’97: The wealth disparity in Hong Kong shocks Karen Yu but she remains positive and determined to help those in need
As volunteer with Society for Community Organisation Yu has visited elderly and those living in caged homes – subdivided flats with a metal cage that can only accommodate a bunk bed.
Meet the class of ’97, born the year of the handover. Their childhoods tell the stories of Hong Kong’s first two decades after the return to China. Some remember Sars, others took part in Occupy. Now, they’re trying to work out what their future holds – and how Hong Kong’s own uncertain future fits into their plans.
Small in stature but with a big heart, Karen Yu is optimistic about her own and Hong Kong’s future.
Originally from Taishan in Guangdong province, she came to Hong Kong when she was eight with her mother and sister. They lived at first in Sham Shui Po, which she remembers as being “very terrible” because of the countless times strange men tried to follow her home.
“If you are a girl, you can’t go out if it gets late,” she says. “So, so terrible. When I got home, I cried a lot.”
Her family now lives in public housing at Kai Ching Estate, Kowloon City, minutes from the wet markets of Choi Hung.
It is more convenient and safer, she says.
Brushing back her long black hair – with a few white strands she apologetically describes as genetic – Yu recalls finding the city strange when she first arrived.
Her mother, a primary school teacher back in mainland China, stayed home to take care of her and her sister, who is now in Form Four. Her father was a construction worker.
Yu attended local school and went to free tutorial classes provided by the Society for Community Organisation, a non-profit group working with the underprivileged.
She became a volunteer with the organisation to visit the elderly, and those living in caged homes – subdivided flats with a metal cage that can only accommodate a bunk bed.
“The inequality in Hong Kong is terrible,” she says. “The rich are very rich, and the poor are very poor. Many people in Hong Kong live in poor conditions.”
Witnessing those conditions led Yu, now a student at Baptist University, to decide she wants to major in sociology and help those in need.
“Making money is not the most important thing in life, it’s more that you can find your value,” she says.
But still she believes Hong Kong is far better than the mainland, citing its education and health care systems and greater political autonomy.
However she feels the city has changed, especially with the growing political influence of the mainland.
“I think that China is controlling everything in Hong Kong now and it has only been 20 years [since the handover].”
It’s a sad thought, Yu says, reflecting on what she considers the weakening prospects for democracy and freedom of speech.
But despite this, she likes to encourage everyone about the fate of the city: “It’s positive. Stay positive. Hong Kong will be good.”