Just back from a long vacation on a small wooded island off the shores of Brit ish Columbia where the nearest available local paper does not carry news of Asian financial doings. But if it is a relief to be back it is not because a frequently updated Hang Seng Index is available. It is rather not having to answer that ever present question: 'So this 1997 thing, how's it going, huh?' You can say as often as you will that at midnight on June 30 two years ago the clock went 'tick' and that is about all that changed in the everyday lives of Hong Kong people. It produces only some sage shaking of heads and the conversation then changes to the other immediate topic of interest in Asian affairs. This is the sudden appearance on British Columbia's shores of a small shipload of illegal labour migrants from Fujian province, some of whom have been allowed to wander the streets with a small allowance of spending money while they appeal for refugee status. The local story is that they paid at least C$10,000 (about HK$52,266) each to their snakeheads to get them across the Pacific and as much talk is devoted to awe at this sum of money as to the predictable opinion that 'we ought to ship 'em all straight back, that's what I say'. But understand this. The awe is not only that anyone in the mainland should have the equivalent of $10,000 in available cash as that so few people in Canada seem to have that much at hand. Well, at least in British Columbia. Your correspondent grew up in Vancouver and is not much acquainted with life on the other side of the Rocky Mountains. Distinct as his homeland may be, it is a subject territory of the Greater Toronto Empire, one where many people still think of the rest of the empire as back east in Canada. This Toronto empire was put together by British civil servants who drew a line across the map as a spit in the face of the United States (Britain was stronger then) and a defiance of the French traditions of Quebec. But these roots of nationhood have hampered its subsequent evolution to such an extent that no one has a handle on how to govern it. The result is a government left free to become so swollen as to make $10,000 in cash held outside of government hands seem a marvel. Tax, tax, tax. It is no wonder that so many Hong Kong people who have emigrated to British Columbia come haring back across the Pacific in search of an income as soon as they have their Canadian passports. Your correspondent, for instance, was tempted by 8 per cent yields on investment property until his accountant told him he would pass a threshold making him subject to a provincial tax on capital inflows. That's their way of attracting foreign investment in Vancouver. Marvellous. But a marvel just as great is experienced by Canadian nationals who find employment in Hong Kong. This is the one they see when they find that the salaries they are promised are exactly what they are paid, that half of it is not taken from them before they see a cent, that they may have the prospect of bonuses to cover what taxes they do pay and that price tags are as stated with no taxman to hit them again. Canadians are fond of reminding visitors that the United Nations consistently awards Canada the title of the most livable country on earth and they have reason for this claim. Stretch yourself out on a rocky island shoreline on a sunny evening with the fir trees above scenting the clean air, waiting for a campfire nearby to give you baked potatoes while seals and otters break the surface of the sea in front of you and it's God's heaven, no doubt about it. It's a less heavenly place, however, for those who must feed, shelter, clothe and educate a growing family on a Canadian after-tax income. Hong Kong has its failings but it's good to be back.