What are you smiling at? Oh, nothing…

29 Jan

Hong Kong panoramaHere’s a question. Why are so many Hong Kongers so bloody miserable? I hadn’t really thought about it until a Gallup poll of 150,000 people worldwide last month revealed that those living in the SAR and their counterparts in Singapore are among the most miserable anywhere on the planet.

Singapore came bottom in the poll of 148 countries, with just under half expressing happiness, while Hong Kong came in 73rd, with 69 per cent of respondents all smiles. As pointed out by SCMP, these two city-states rank third (HK) and seventh (Sing) on the World Bank’s per capita GDP table – in Hong Kong’s case the figure is ten times higher than that of the happiness joint leader, Panama.

So what can we deduce from this? Money can’t buy you happiness? Asians are intrinsically less likely to tell a stranger they’re happy than Central Americans? Such polls are a spurious waste of time? Well, a mixture of all three probably. The problem with this kind of research is that no matter what the results, you can drag some kind of expert out of the woodwork to validate it with their insightful social commentary.

So here’s mine. I can’t speak for Singapore but there’s a huge wealth gap in Hong Kong. Around one in six Hong Kongers live in poverty, according to a ten year study released last November by Oxfam. Bearing in mind the median salary of Hong Kong’s top 10 per cent is HK$88,800 (£7,300) per month this is pretty shameful. It would be difficult to imagine even Margaret Thatcher in her prime ignoring that kind of societal imbalance.

So that might explain why around a sixth of Hong Kong isn’t very happy. What about the rest? To put it bluntly, the acquisition of wealth seems to be one of the few things which binds the people of this former colony together. It’s why they run two or three jobs, working all hours; why they school their kids until all the joy is sucked out of them, wait until they’ve been to uni and then nag them to get hitched before they hit 30. Incidentally it’s also why you see men who’ve been beaten furiously with the ugly stick married to stunning brides. Money. Money. Money. It’s fucking relentless and, I imagine, it doesn’t make for super happy smiley people.

I’m not sure whether the survey was confined to indigenous locals, but I’d also posit the notion that there’s probably a difference between the happiness rankings of Cantonese and gweilos living in Hong Kong. I say that through no rigorous research of my own other than I’m having a cracking time here.

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