$10,000 monthly allowance buys buys rich kids happiness

Anthony Woo

THEIR pocket money may be higher than the average worker's salary, but doctors claim the territory's rich kids lead shallow lives deprived of parental care.

The plight of the affluent youth is part of a Hong Kong still strongly divided between rich and poor.

While one young temporary housing estate tenant goes hungry during the day because she cannot afford to buy snacks, the territory's rich children are addicted to golf and making friends at the Royal Hong Kong Jockey Club.

One of Hong Kong's top earners - in pocket money terms at least - is 14-year-old Peak resident Chris Cheung Tin-fok.

His classmates call him names (Fatty and Darky being the most common sobriquets) and he admits he is spoiled. But Chris insists the $10,000 he gets a month - Hong Kong's average monthly wage is $8,416 - does buy him happiness.

He receives $1,000 a week for basic expenses, plus $100 a day for lunch and a $3,000-monthly clothing allowance.

'My mother sometimes tells daddy not to give me too much money. But daddy only says 'okay, okay' - he does not mind as he is rich,' said Chris, whose father owned a chain of restaurants.

A keen golfer, Chris claims he is the richest boy at Queen's College, Causeway Bay . . . but he still asked for more money recently to indulge his favourite pastime of collecting remote control model cars.

'My classmates tease me just because I'm rich. They call me names, but I think they are just jealous,' he said.

'I don't discriminate against poorer classmates as money is not the main criterion in choosing friends.' Having said that, young Chris reckons he makes his best friends at the Jockey Club. They all come from well-off families and so have mutual interests . . . besides, his father strictly supervises his choice of friends.

'Not many of my classmates know my home number and I am not allowed to bring them home either,' he said.

Dr Isaac Tam Chung-ngok, of Hong Kong University's Personal Development and Counselling Centre, says the 'poor little rich kids' are being short-changed.

While Western parents find time to spend with their children, Chinese parents are more likely to spend money on material rewards.

'They are deprived of essential parental care . . . they feel an increasing sense of alienation within the family,' Dr Tam said.

But other big pocket money earners denied this.

Robin Matthew Tsang, 14, whose father owns a land development company, receives $2,200 a month in pocket money and says he is happy.

The St Joseph's College student also has $130,000 in savings . . . but is not allowed to use the money because he has lost his bank card twice already.

'My mother saves money for me because she thinks I can't save by myself. My younger brother also saves his weekly $25 pocket money and now has $15,000 in his account. He is only seven.' Robin spends his money on cycling and playing tennis and golf. He values friendship and family, but does not think money is important.

'I don't think I'm rich. A friend I made on the tennis court gets thousands a week. He is really well-off,' he said.

But these are the children on the right side of the tracks . . . many others get nothing.

Lai Tsz-leung, an 18-year-old student whose mother is a law firm courier and whose father works in a hardware shop, receives $600 a month to cover lunch.

He does not think he gets enough, but manages to save some to buy comics.

'Once I bought a T-shirt worth several hundred dollars and felt guilty afterwards because my parents don't buy such expensive clothes,' he said.

Li Mun-chuk, 10, lives in a Chai Wan temporary housing estate. Her parents are too poor to give her any money.

'I don't ask. I understand daddy and mummy don't have any money,' she said.

'I don't need to buy snacks at school as I have already eaten enough at breakfast . . . or I simply bear the hunger pangs.' Mun-chuk said her clothes were mostly hand-me-downs from relatives.

'I spend my lai see on books and stationery instead of toys. I know daddy has already paid a lot of money on our education,' she said.