SCMP, May 10, 2003 THERE WAS a time when growing up in Hong Kong meant going to a local school, finding a job here and retiring here. Unless he moved overseas, the career of the typical Hong Kong worker would not have taken him elsewhere. Though geographically close to the mainland, Hong Kong under British rule regarded China as another country that was off-limits to locals because of its politically inspired closed-door policy. That predictable path changed in 1978, when China embarked on a policy of opening up to the outside world, a policy that was to drag Hong Kong back into its embrace. As local manufacturers seized the opportunity to stay competitive by moving their production lines across the border to the Pearl River Delta, they found that frequent travel to the mainland became necessary. Today, work is requiring more and more Hong Kong people from all walks of life to travel across the nation. Surveys conducted by the Census and Statistics Department have found that the number of people who had worked or were still required to work on the mainland rose from 42,300 in 1988 to 198,100 last year. The figures would have been much higher if cross-border drivers and others who went there occasionally to conduct business negotiations or attend trade fairs or meetings were included. Flying to Beijing or Shanghai in the morning and returning the same day or the next has become a routine for more and more Hong Kong professionals. Yet, although Hong Kong has been under Chinese rule for six years and its economic links with the mainland have deepened, many have yet to come to terms with living in a city that is part of a big country. The findings on the difficulties our workers encountered on the mainland were telling. Although over half reported no difficulties, more than four out of 10 said they were uneasy for a variety of reasons, including separation from family members, the mainland's legal, trade and commerce systems, communication using dialects, cross-border arrangements and transport, work attitudes of colleagues and medical services. The findings reflect the huge differences between Hong Kong and the mainland's social, economic and political systems. Unlike citizens of other big countries such as Australia and the United States, who face no language or big cultural barriers moving from one place to another within their country, Hong Kong people have to switch to another tongue if they move north of Guangdong, where local customs can be totally foreign. The reality is that we will just have to adapt. Those with ambitions to make a mark in Hong Kong, let alone the whole country, must master Putonghua and be prepared to overcome the challenge of working wherever in the country their careers take them. Discussion points ? What do you want to do after your graduation? ? Have you ever thought of leaving Hong Kong to find work? Where would you like to explore? Why? ? Are you prepared to work on the mainland? What are your strengths and weaknesses in competing with other candidates?