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Foreigners flock to the city for job opportunities

by Chloe Kwan

Hong Kong’s obsession with all things Korean in recent years has spawned Korean grocery stores and restaurants and turned a corner of Tsim Sha Tsui into a Little Korea.

One of the arrivals on the scene is Norayo K-café, an upstairs Korean-style café. Online reviews for the Tsim Sha Tsui eatery tend to rave about the friendly staff and note that many of them speak Korean. This is not surprising as many of them, like Simon Park Yong-gwang, are young Koreans on working holidays in Hong Kong.

Many young people in Hong Kong dream of spending a year abroad on a working holiday and stories from those who have spent months picking grapes and travelling around Europe or working as baristas in Bloomsbury and exploring hip London corners are eagerly shared and enjoyed. But we tend to forget that working holiday visa arrangements are reciprocal and there are young foreigners taking working holidays in Hong Kong.

Park, 27, has been in Hong Kong since last August. While browsing job-hunting websites, he discovered there were companies offering jobs to Koreans in Hong Kong, so he applied for a working holiday visa.

Like many young people, Park has always wanted to experience living abroad and the working holiday offers him a great opportunity.

“To work overseas before 30-years-old is my dream, I am now 27 so I have still two years left, and I want to have lots of [overseas] experience,” he says.

Park had been studying Chinese in mainland China for a year and a half before coming here. He had thought Hong Kong would be similar to the Mainland but that view has now changed. “People in the Mainland are a bit impolite, but everyone in Hong Kong is polite,” he says.

Living in Hong Kong is expensive, especially with the high cost of renting accommodation. Luckily for Park, his employer provides accommodation for the staff who are here on working holiday visas. With a monthly income of about HK$13,000, Park can cover his monthly expenditure of around HK$8,000.

Park does not need to worry about money, but he does struggle with loneliness.

“Because we keep working here, we don’t have chance to communicate with people outside and this is a bit lonely to us,” he says.

However, he has met some local friends through playing football in Kowloon Park when he gets off work and that has helped to beat off the loneliness.

He thinks Hong Kong is a friendly place and welcomes foreigners, which is different from his home country. He says people in Korea are weary of foreigners but Hong Kong people treat foreigners as good friends. Also, in Korean culture, age and seniority are important so younger people must always show respect for their elders. Park finds it more relaxed in Hong Kong and he feels comfortable working with his younger colleagues.

Park’s colleague, 24-year-old Kim Hae Ri, is also on a working holiday visa. Kim works as a chef in a restaurant that specialises in Korean barbeque which is owned by the same company as Norayo K-café.

Kim has been here for less than two months and finds the language barrier to be a challenge. Before coming to Hong Kong, she had thought Hong Kong people spoke both Putonghua and Cantonese, but then she discovered that most people in Hong Kong usually speak only Cantonese. Still, she is satisfied with her job because it provides her with language training as well as accommodation.

Kim is majoring in Italian cookery in Ulsan College in South Korea and her college helped her to apply for the working holiday visa and find a job. However, as the working holiday visa arrangement forbids Koreans from working for the same employer for more than six months, Kim will need to find another job. She would like to work in an Italian restaurant.