If Hongkongers - particularly those who had earlier fled the Cultural Revolution - were thinking about seeking a new home after the Joint Declaration returning Hong Kong to China was signed in 1984, the Tiananmen Square crackdown gave them the final push. More than 450,000 people are estimated to have left during the massive brain drain between 1989 and 1997. And while many have returned as the feared chaos did not ensue after the handover, others have stayed away. Some have even become 'astronauts', splitting their time between families in foreign lands and businesses in Hong Kong. Walter Sin Wai-keung, 58, is one of them. An electronics engineer and an expert in photography, Mr Sin was invited by an Australian businessman in 1987 to become a manager of a camera company. He did not take the opportunity at the time, bowing to his wife's wish to stay in Hong Kong and take care of her mother. But, when the crackdown happened, her mother insisted they leave. Mr Sin approached the businessman again, flying to Australia just seven days after the tragic events, but the manager's job was no longer open. 'The boss was very understanding,' he said. 'He said he would help us with the immigration application because he knew we were scared of China. But the only position he could offer was as a technician.' The engineer's wife, Janet Ng Wai-kuen, said she felt as though she owed it to her husband to move. 'I had wanted to stay with my mother. But after June 4 my mother insisted we leave. However, the position offered to my husband was no longer as a manager.' There were immigration delays, however, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Mr Sin thought his work visa was ready in April 1990 and was about to move his family when he was told there was a problem and had to return to Hong Kong. 'I was very confused at that time; there were so many uncertainties. I did not invest because I always thought we were going to leave Hong Kong soon, even though we did not know when.' The application was sorted out in 1992 and the family put their flats on a market that had soared since the downturn that followed the crackdown. 'In 1990, the economic situation was so bad and the property market slumped,' Mr Sin said. He sold his flat for about HK$3 million in 1992, but it would have been worth a lot less in 1990, he said. As the plane took off, the family thought they were going to Australia for good. But Mr Sin's job became unstable when the Australian economy unexpectedly slumped. In 1995, he found a teaching job in Macau through a former colleague in Hong Kong. Since then he has been an 'astronaut' husband, separated from his family and flying to Australia once a year. Ms Ng initially came to Hong Kong once a year but has done so more frequently as the children grew older. 'The experience has not been easy. I feel sad as I cannot take care of my husband, and my children did not have daddy at home. Many Hong Kong women in Australia are worried that their husbands are having affairs. Some divorced. Some children turned unruly because they did not have their father at home.' When it became clear the handover was not going to lead to chaos, Ms Ng admitted she questioned the decision to emigrate. 'I think about this every year. However, we have already invested all our money in Australia, so we have to go on,' she said. Mr Sin agreed the move changed his life and career forever. 'Though I could not be with my wife and kids most of the time, I believe the advantages outweigh the disadvantages,' he said. Like Mr Sin, Mak Hin-wing, 53, made the decision to leave after the crackdown and sometimes questions the wisdom of moving his family to Canada. But he did not become an 'astronaut', forgoing the possibility of a better income in Hong Kong to keep his family together. 'We were thinking about moving to overseas countries in 1986 for the sake of our daughter,' Mr Mak said from Toronto. 'However, we did not make up our minds as we were doing quite well in our professions. But we acted fast after the June 4 crackdown.' Preparation took time and Mr Mak handed in his application to Canadian authorities in early 1994. It was approved in a few months, much quicker than he had expected. 'The whole process was a bit out of our expectation. We thought the application would not be settled until 1997,' he said. A holder of a master's degree, Mr Mak believes his career prospects would have been better if he had stayed in Hong Kong. 'Many people, including people more senior than us, left in 1994. There were many opportunities in terms of our careers if we had not left.' While in Hong Kong, Mr Mak worked in administration at Cathay Pacific; now he is a service agent with Air Canada. He believes his decision was correct, especially for his only daughter. 'She had education opportunities in Canada. This allowed her to become more independent.' Mr Mak sometimes regrets lost career opportunities, 'but I can spend more time with my family. I had to bring work back home when I was in Hong Kong, but this has never happened in Canada'. Looking at Hong Kong after the handover, he wonders if he overreacted following the crackdown. 'After a few years, I did ask myself: did I have to be so scared? But this was my decision and I have to believe in myself.' Unlike Mr Sin and Mr Mak, Helena Hung Shuk-woon said she has not questioned her departure from Hong Kong for a moment. After the crackdown, Ms Hung decided to leave any way she could. 'I applied for all kinds of jobs which might be suitable for me all over the world. I was so relieved when Amnesty UK gave me an offer. The United Kingdom is not my favourite country because I prefer warmer weather. I also took a big cut in my salary. But this was not important because I could go to a country where I could have the freedom I want.' The determining factor for Ms Hung was her mother's painful experience during the Cultural Revolution. 'She suffered a lot because of the Communist Party. My grandfather was only an ordinary businessman but he suffered a lot. My grandmother was forced to kneel on scattered glass and to sweep streets in public,' she said. 'What happened during June 4 substantiated what I heard from my parents. The whole world saw the communists kill people.' Ms Hung is the oldest of three sisters scattered across the world, with one in Canada and one in Australia. It is difficult for them to get together, but Ms Hung still thinks it was a good decision to leave Hong Kong. 'We enjoy our lives. We cannot get together as we wish. This is our sacrifice.'