It's a contemporary Greek tragedy being told with restrained emotion in a popular Hong Kong restaurant. Its narrator and chief protagonist is Yorgos Tountas, an astute businessman from an affluent family that ran a successful luxury car dealership near Athens for many years.

The family business sold about 100 new 4X4 vehicles every year but then, after the financial crash of 2008, sold just one more car - and Tountas' life imploded almost overnight.

His tale has all the ingredients of classic Greek mythology - an unexpected disaster imposed by the gods (in fallible, human form), an ill-fated love affair, a bitter family feud and the death of a patriarch. Except this tragedy is not fiction and similar tales - in countless painful variations - are unfolding in real time across Greece, a nation that has lurched from financial crisis to financial crisis in the past few years.

For Tountas, the family business failed, his father died after a severe stroke and the government death duties for his father's estate massively exceeded any realistic market value in a country where the only people with cash to spend are foreign criminals and drug dealers. His brother's marriage failed under the strain and the family now lives on his 73-year-old mother's old-age pension of €300 (HK$2,500) per month. The telephone was disconnected long ago and they are unable to make a fresh start. Tountas left Greece desperately seeking any opportunity and - having followed a lover who has since left him - ended up in Hong Kong. Unable to afford a ticket home, he now works 12-hour days as an unpaid volunteer on an organic farm near Sai Kung.

"I am 40 years old. It is not dignified to beg my own mother for €5 just so I can have a cup of coffee with my friends. Dignity is very important to Greeks," says Tountas, who is, according to consul figures and the Facebook page Greeks in Hong Kong, one of about 300 Greek nationals currently living in the city, all of whom have been affected by the economic meltdown in their homeland one way or another. Many, like Tountas, are in Hong Kong as a direct result of it.

"No one wants to leave Greece … to leave those things you love but, for some, it is the only way to escape the political system, the corruption and the economic crisis," says Tountas.

He is talking as Molotov cocktails burn outside the Greek parliament, the recent approval of a hugely unpopular raft of austerity measures, described by one politician as "social genocide", having provoked riots on the streets of Athens.

"My friends in Greece just tell me to stay where I am. There is nothing in Greece. It's game over. I would love to be in Greece but like everyone, I need to survive," says Tountas, who admits he is struggling to find an opportunity in Hong Kong despite his experience, work ethic and willingness to try anything.

"Somehow I just want to be part of this market, to find a job and establish a normal life in Hong Kong with the opportunity to return to Greece to see family maybe once per year. This is all I dream of," he says. Tountas accepts that the crisis is partially the fault of the Greek people.

"Of course, it is 50 per cent our fault because we voted for all those politicians and learned that everything is possible in Greece if you know the right politician; you can be a doctor without a medical degree and you can run a university without even going to school. If you are friends with a politician you can do anything you choose. I blame the Greeks for that," he says, warming to the theme.

"Listen; if you want anything from a public official - planning consent, a passport, to register a business … anything at all - in Greece it requires a bribe. If you don't pay you don't get served," says Tountas, who estimates at least 80 per cent of officials are corrupt but points to external factors, too. "I don't want to blame other countries but everyone was happy to lend us money for decades so we could buy German exports - no one said, 'Slow down,' or 'Maybe you are buying too much from us.' In 1952, Germany owed money to Greece and we wrote it off."

Back then, West Germany was granted a waiver on its external debt, including that to Greece, as the defeated country was helped to recover after the second world war. Now, a reunited, economically strong Germany is standing firm on its insistence there will be no debt relief for Greece.

The causes of the economic disaster are what the owner of Greek restaurant Santorini calls a "hot topic" among his regular customers. Commercial pilot Vasilis Stamatis has lived in Hong Kong for 19 years and set up the highly regarded Elgin Street restaurant with a friend, head chef Andreas Sourdas, two years ago. It has become the de-facto headquarters of the Greek community in the city.

"The discussions can get emotional over the wine but it always ends well with ' yamas' all round," says Stamatis, referring to the Greek for "cheers". "There are never hard feelings.

"I love Greece dearly but I would never set up a business or pursue a career there. My wife still lives in Greece and my four kids are educated there. I go back once per month and many of my friends have lost their jobs and suffered there over the last few years."

Like Tountas, he points a finger at government bureaucracy.

"The government of Greece has to be fixed," says Stamatis, referring to the whole apparatus of government rather than the six-month-old administration of Alexis Tsipras, specifically. "It must be lean and efficient. The government is fat and lazy and nothing gets done."

One of Santorini's customers was until recently employed by the Greek government and regarded as a high-flier in the Hellenic Ministry of Finance. Stratos Pourzitakis, from Alexandroupoli, near the border with Turkey, is studying for a PhD at Hong Kong's Baptist University and his family has not been immune to the crisis.

"No one in my family has lost their job, none of us have had to shut our business down like so many others, but the salary cuts of 30 per cent to 50 per cent have been hard to bear," says Pourzitakis. "My wife [who works at the ministry] now earns about 60 per cent of what she did in 2010, when normally she might have expected a modest increment over that period.

"All politicians are keen on making the ministry run cheaper but no one has yet thought of making it more efficient," he says, and relates his attempts to apprehend persistent tax evaders.

He explains that Greek tax authorities are legally permitted to freeze or seize the property of tax dodgers but first they must search land registry records to discover what assets those citizens may have accumulated.

"Unfortunately, there are about 145 land registry offices across Greece," says Pourzitakis, "and each one must be written to individually, with a separate stamped and signed letter, which is required for each individual inquiry. Investigating two tax avoiders means 290 stamped and addressed letters and, in any case, we rarely received a reply."

It is easy to imagine this bright, erudite young man quickly becoming disillusioned with a system in desperate need of structural reform while sticking stamps on hundreds of letters that will never be answered about tax-dodgers who will never pay.

He says that in 2011, having completed his master's degree in Osaka, Japan, he returned to Greece "very keen" to help solve the crisis. He would perhaps apply for an influential role in Athens and build some economic bridges with Asia, but it did not work out and he says that "he did not find much room for career development".

"I am really worried about the future of my country. I doubt very much this latest EU deal will be a success," says Pourzitakis, of the most recent aid-for-reform deal between Athens and the European Union. "There is no point in raising tax rates if you have no effective way of collecting them."

Pourzitakis is "proud to be Greek", he says, and surely, he is just the sort of person essential for any future recovery. Sadly, though, he is not the only highly educated multilingual young Greek who does not see much room for career development in his own country. There has been a brain drain of some 300,000 of the nation's smartest citizens since 2008, most of whom have headed for Britain and Germany, many others going to extended family in Australia and the United States.

ABOVE THE CHOKING STREETS of Wan Chai during evening rush hour, Ioannis Roussis, 30, from Athens, is leaving the offices of Infiniti, where he works as a manager in after-sales and marketing. He was recruited by the luxury car group to work in Paris and was then transferred to Hong Kong. He sees no prospect of ever living in his homeland again. Before being appointed to his current role in the city, he had considered changing jobs, and applied for about 100 positions, mostly back in Greece.

"Despite my qualifications and experience overseas, I was only invited for an interview with a handful of Greek companies. When I told them what I was earning, they could not stop laughing, even though I told them I would take a big cut to return to Greece," says Roussis, who explains that even if he had managed to get a job with a lower salary, the taxes would have meant he could no longer support his struggling parents.

"Most of my school and college friends in Greece are struggling. Some of them run an export business but it is now almost impossible because of the lack of trust that bills will ever be paid. The banks are not even open. How can anyone run a business?

"My generation probably got the last jobs on offer but those who come after me have nothing. If they cannot go abroad I do not know what they can do," he says.

Roussis is highly critical of the so-called austerity measures, which he believes just freeze all economic activity. "That is why so many people in Greece voted no in the [July 5 bailout] referendum, because they know from experience that is just doesn't work," he says.

Like Pourzitakis, Roussis holds out little hope for the most recent EU proposals, because even helpful measures will never be implemented by a politically weak administration.

"What makes me so sad is that ours is a lost generation. I want to contribute to my country but I will not have the chance to do so," he says, bleakly.

This is the essence of the tragedy that is modern Greece and, at Santorini, even the owner's eldest son, Tilemahos, 17, seems to have given up on the country.

"My future is here, not in Greece - not the way it is now. There are those who work hard to change things but those in charge want to keep Greece the same," the teenager says.

BANKER AND RISK ANALYST Kyriakos Plagianakos joined a "big bank in Hong Kong" six months ago, when his former employer, Citibank, pulled out of Greece. He says he will not consider going home, given a choice, at least until Greek government bonds mature, in 2021. He takes a less emotional view of the situation and regards the 2008 financial crisis as a turning point, when markets "lost their appetite for risk" and Greece just looked too precarious. He thinks blaming other countries, politicians, corrupt officials or elite families makes people feel better but exonerates Greeks from taking responsibility for their own problems.

"I just don't agree that it is someone else's fault - it is only the Greek people's fault," he says.

But was Tountas at fault for the failure of his family car business after the global financial crash?

"I don't mean individuals are at fault. Of course, my grandmother who can't pay her bills has done nothing wrong, but we are all complicit. When I avoid paying my parking fine by calling a friend in the ministry, I am part of the problem," says Plagianakos.

He thinks the euro zone is the only viable option for Greece, despite the humiliation, but, he believes, like Pourzitakis and Roussis, that it is pointless raising tax rates if no one is collecting effectively.

"Increasing tax rates just increases the incentive to avoid paying them," he says.

And what of the suggestion, emanating from the popular press, that Greeks have been paying virtually no tax at all.

"Of course Greek people pay tax," says Plagianakos. "When I worked in Athens, my tax was deducted at source, I had no choice. But the official statistics say that 25 per cent of activity in Greece is in the black economy, so clearly someone isn't paying tax."

"You cannot fiddle your tax bill, but it is possible to bribe the tax auditors who assess your business for tax," says Pourzitakis, drawing on his experience at the Ministry of Finance. "The political leadership do not want to confront this issue."

And the other popular element of modern Greek mythology is that the problems in the economy are down to laziness on the part of the Greek people, who prefer sleeping in the sun to the hard labour necessary to lift them out of economic gloom. Even the affable and sanguine Stamatis is quick to contest that view.

"I think people must go to Greek islands on their holidays in the summer and see local people sleeping. They must think we only go to the beach and drink ouzo but don't realise the Greek working day starts at 7.30am," says the business owner and pilot.

Tountas - who has not touched a drop of ouzo for a very long time - is obviously anxious to challenge this stereotype, which damages his employment prospects.

"Everyone tells us we are lazy but, according to official figures produced by Eurostat, we work longer hours [an average of 44.2 per week] than any other European nation," he says. "If you run your own business, like I did, you have to be productive, you have to take care of customers and work very hard or you have no business."

Perhaps the most dramatic scene in this epic Greek tragedy is yet to be played out. With those best qualified to help the country back on its feet forced out by economic necessity, often pessimistic and disillusioned, and those like Tountas, unable to find an opportunity, any opportunity, to put their lives back on track, it's very difficult to foresee a happy ending.