Why we moved from Hong Kong to Germany

From January 2005 to December 2007 I lived and worked in Kunming (PRC) and from January 2008 to March 2018 I lived, worked, got married and got a beautiful child in Hong Kong SAR. Moving back to Germany after living in Asia for 13 years was quite a move. Somehow I feel like having to write down why we made that move in the end.

Summerfest at Kindergarten

Education – The Main Reason

It’s a common theme in Hong Kong: When folks find out they are to become parents they start freaking out – big time. That’s largely due to the clusterfudged situation of the Hong Kong education system. I’m sorry, but there is really no better way to describe that.

I remember when my wife was 5 months pregnant we had a nice dinner with friends – a couple who were roughly at the same stage. During that dinner he dad-to-be asked me: “Which school is your child gonna go to?” I didn’t know how to respond. Come to think of it, we didn’t even know the gender of our baby yet!

Parents are freaking out

To be honest, it really is like that. Even before you’ve given birth you should know where your kid goes to school. If you want it to be a good school, you got to make sure the child goes to the right kindergarten. To get into that right kindergarten, the child needs to go to the right nursery. Of course, there are entry tests (think job interview) for 2 year olds. So basically you’re building up your child’s resume from the birth onward. It’s like an arms race!

Private is expensive

All of this is regardless of how ridiculously expensive international schools are in Hong Kong. Let’s look at the German Suisse International School for example. The tuition range is HK$148,960 – HK$194,100 (€16,286 – €21,222), which can be paid at HK$19,410 (€2,122) per month, but before you are even allowed to join the school and pay tuition, you need to pay a debenture of about HK$500,000 (€54,668). Source GSIS Fees.

Let’s assume you have that money and are willing to pay for it. You still need to get (your child) in by going through interviews, submitting resumes, etc. at kindergarten level. It might happen that your 5 year old gets three photos placed in front of her: one of President Xi Jingping, President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin. Then she gets asked to tell their names and their current title. (I’ll let that settle…)

Public is in Chinese

Of course, there is the public school system too. However, most of such schools teach in Cantonese or Mandarin. For us to be able to support our child during education – may it be just simply being able to understand what the homework is about – we would need an English-medium school. There are still a few such public schools in Hong Kong, but as you can imagine, these are quite popular and therefore quite hard to get in as well. Their school fees are affordable as well at about HK$3,000 (€330) per month or so.

Memorize or Learn

Besides the “getting into the school” and “paying for school” topics, there is – most importantly – the whole topic of how your child is being educated. The style of teaching and what is best for your child.

Still today, many styles of teaching all across Asia are focused on memorizing knowledge rather than learning, understanding and creatively using your free mind to come up with a solution. It is something I personally embrace and it is also very important to my wife who was fortunate enough to receive a liberal arts education in the US. We want our children to be free thinkers who can create new things and make the world a better place because they can think way out-of-the-box. Think of it like that: If high ranking government officials in Hong Kong and China send their own kids out of the country to boarding schools and colleges in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia — you know what they think of their own education system.

Roaming BL City Arboretum

Health Reasons

In Germany the air quality is definitely better than in Hong Kong. The kind of food you can buy (at affordable prices) is also of higher quality here than what you can get in Hong Kong. Though the differences are (in my personal opinion) marginal, they are definitely there.

Future of Hong Kong

1997 Hong Kong was returned to China, which was sealed by a joint declaration signed between the UK and China, which guarantees Hong Kong’s extensive autonomy until 2047. Almost half of these 50 years have passed now. Hong Kong has prospered like never before, but politically, nobody knows where that incredible city is headed towards. No one has an answer about how Hong Kong will look like after 2047. The only thing Hong Kong locals are experiencing is that the China mainland is slowly but steadily creeping more and more into the everyday lives of Hong Kong people. There are many small cases that happened over the 10 years I have been there and it really felt it is getting more and more. Maybe that was objectively not the case, but let me give some examples.

The Chinafication Hong Kong

Things like this happened: Booksellers who sell books critical to the China mainland political system disappear from Hong Kong and suddenly pop up somewhere in China at a police station. China law is being practiced in Hong Kong at certain border crossing stations due to ludicrous reasons, simply to create precedence cases of that. Independent, reputable and China-criticizing media companies that get bought over by pro-party mainland companies. Mainland liaison officials constantly targeting demonstrators with public statements that get broadcast all across HK, which in turn tries to influence public opinion and split the society. Liberal lawmakers getting disqualified for office (though some of them were serving as lawmakers for over a decade already) over an oath-taking ceremony that they felt being too pro-China. China having the power to re-interpret the Basic Law (kinda mini-constitution) that Hong Kong exists by. More and more public schools teach in Mandarin rather than Cantonese or English. Mainland Chinese business folks buying up property in Hong Kong en-masse in cash – probably with some kind of dodgy money – driving up prices and making it harder and harder for younger generations to find places to live. And so on …

If you look at each of these incidents individually, they are not that important. Yet, combining them, looking at the bigger picture and the (most likely) goal of the final reunification of Hong Kong with the communist mainland China; you can’t shake the thought of slow assimilation of Hong Kong into the China-System. I might be paranoid here, but it definitely has that kind of feel.

My wife and I were “foreigners” in Hong Kong. We possess permanent residency there, which means we can go back any time we want and don’t need a work visa. We are flexible and if SHTF it would have been easy for us to simply get out. But we also know a good number of locals who don’t have that kind of flexibility.

So again, this wasn’t a major concern for us at the moment, but it was a topic of concern and I truly hope Hong Kong’s people and politicians find a common ground with their China Mainland counterparts for a prosperous future of Hong Kong that guarantees individual freedom, rule of law and an open society as Hong Kong citizens enjoy right now.

Space

Another reason for us to move out of Hong Kong was space. As I mentioned earlier, Hong Kong’s property prices are ridiculously expensive. We were fortunate enough to live in a 990 sqft (91 sqm) apartment that we owned there. Rent for that would have probably been in €3,000 per month range or so. Yet, we only had 1 bedroom for the 3 of us. It was tight, but we managed for quite a while.

Besides normal living space, there are also these moments I remember from my childhood in Germany. I was able to just open the door, go outside, ride the bike around with friends, play somewhere in the woods and so on. That kind of play is simply not possible in Hong Kong. Because everything is so dense, there are people, cars, buses, trains everywhere and up until a certain age, you basically can not let your child walk around alone in HK.

Park with ducks in the city of Eschwege

Work & Friends

These were probably the only factors that were counter-arguments for moving out of Hong Kong. The majority of our friends are in Hong Kong — though quite a number have left already to other countries as well. Our work was in Hong Kong and everything we’ve built evolved around that incredible city. Though, most of work can be done online nowadays, certain things we’d like to do in person. I personally liked working in Hong Kong, I liked my colleagues and I liked the kind of work we were doing. It was great, inspiring, challenging and yes, even the controversial conversations I’ve enjoyed. So again, work and friends were the arguments for us staying in Hong Kong, but everything else eventually outweighed those.

Family

When it was just my wife and me, it was easy to live in Hong Kong. Even without any immediate family of either of us in HK, we could live there comfortably. We had the freedom to move around, go on holidays and visit our family whenever we felt like it.

With a child your life suddenly becomes quite a different one. You want her to grow up with her grandparents. That’s great for the child, but also for the grandparents. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have a baby sitter option at hand, but that wasn’t that much of a concern for us. At the same time, for your child to be with her cousins and other relatives is quite something. It’s just fun.

Conclusion

While there were many reasons for us to move back to Germany, we truly loved Hong Kong and it was not an easy decision to move to Germany. Hong Kong is a very diverse city and in the 10 years I was living there, it never stopped to amaze me. There were so many hidden gems that surprised us and that happened again and again. Yet, the final reason for us moving was really for the sake of our daughter. She’ll get some great education, she’s got space to grow, play and roam around, she’ll grow up with at least one side of her family and she’ll be among many kids of her age whom might or have already become her friends.

We’ve moved to the small town of Bad Langensalza where I grew up in. Some of my friends still live here, most part of my family lives here too. It is a very different way of live here. It’s much slower (especially the Internet connection!), but it is great in its very own way.

We’re now in the process of building a house for us to live in. Again, it’s a much slower process than I anticipated, but I am sure I will share some stories about here as well. You’ll laugh your butt off! Stay tuned. Subscribe to my blog or join my Facebook page.

P.S.: Check out www.weitsprungmeeting.com (long jump meeting) which took place in Bad Langensalza two weeks ago. The world’s best long jump of the year took place right here in the green heart of Germany. Can you believe that?

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Hong Kong’s Not So Rich People

Just some days ago during an event at Cyberport, Hong Kong’s Tech Hub, I took a look out the window and noticed that right downstairs a rich guy and a not so rich guy (should I call him poor?) are living.

I find it interesting that these kinds of things are defined somewhat differently in other countries like Germany for example 🙂

P.S.: This post is more in the non-sense category, but after all the ‘serious’ stuff recently, I wanted to share another view about live in Hong Kong. By the way, none of the cars are mine and I am also not living there unfortunately. The houses are small, but they are bloody expensive.

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Traveling the Silicon-Valley-Style Tech Startup Road

Though, I don’t find much time to write articles these days, I believe I should write down my experiences as long as I still remember them properly. My fellow regular readers might have noticed a slight change in logos on the right sidebar which now sports the TreeCrunch logo; a company I co-founded a couple of months ago. In a nutshell, TreeCrunch is a social, viral, open-ended customer engagement platform with an incredible potential to influence companies and society.

From the beginning, we wanted to form a company that accomplishes four major goals:

  1. Build a successful tech company with global reach based out of Hong Kong.
  2. Help companies understand their social media audience and improve their business.
  3. Create a workplace where coders are kings and everyone loves to come to work.
  4. Expand as quickly as possible by raising funds internally and externally.

Building a tech company in Hong Kong is not easy. Yes, infrastructure is incredibly good — super fast non-firewalled Internet connection (that’s actually all a hacker needs), according to OECD most economic freedom, considerably low tax rates, access to all kinds of conveniences in life, a very good life style and any kind of beer your can imagine (important for us Germans) over one hundred “AAA” rated beaches. Yet, there are disadvantages and obstacles to overcome: recruiting of the best programmers available (remember, we are in competition with banks, hedge funds and property companies that are loaded with cash), high cost of lodging, cultural differences (to most uni grads is not as “cool” to work at a startup as it is silicon valley for example).

Helping companies understanding their social media audience is not the big problem. Our technology is superior, our prototypes are working, our first clients have committed to enjoy our services and work with us; growing with us.

Creating a great workplace for hackers is also the easier part for us. Over the past years we have been gathering a lot of information about how to make a programmer’s life fulfilling and fun. It can be quite boring when you are cramped in a 2 sqm area behind a tiny desk right next to the guy who showers once a week. Let’s start with small things like free soft drinks and snacks, free Friday lunches, air hockey tables, going over to purposely not enforcing too harsh deadlines (taking off pressure) and ending up in private rooms for each developer with two 23 inch (or bigger) monitors and the fastest desktop computers money buy. It is a very “not typical HK style” workplace and it is obviously not the right place for everyone. We believe the ones who like to work without too much supervision, but a lot of responsibility and creative ownership – those will change the world and they will change other people’s worlds.

Expanding as quickly as we can is not easy either. With S4BB, Skylab and Slate Takes (the other logos on the right) we have always pursued the way of self-sustaining growth without external funding. So for years now, our strategy has been exclusively: get profitable first; then spend money. That came with a lot advantages like not being in debt, having complete control over the direction the company and its products need to go. For example, a couple of years back we decided not to do any contractual mobile development work with S4BB and Skylab which obviously had a negative effect on cashflow in the short term. We decided to spend our time (==money) to build our own products that became assets of our business and have helped us a lot over the long term to create sustainable constant income to fund the creation of an awesome hacker workplace. On top of that, I don’t like to bring someone else’s dream to life.

With TreeCrunch on the other hand, we are going down the typical “Silicon-Valley-Style Tech Startup Road” with a slight twist. We are three co-founders that invested their own money, have a unique vision, developed superior technology, come with over 30 years of combined industry experience and (most importantly) we have run companies before; without going bankrupt. Even though we had enough ‘internal’ funding that we wouldn’t need to raise more, we are still doing it. Everyone knows this, but sometimes it has to be spoken out loud: “You got to raise money when you don’t need it.” That is one of the reasons why we are about to close our first pre-seed funding round raising our cash reserves by about 50%. Furthermore, TreeCrunch just got awarded the Cyberport Creative Micro Fund which comes with a grant of HK$100k.

With TreeCrunch we joined several programs so far, these are two:

Fund raising in Hong Kong is an interesting challenge. There are plenty of semi-governmental funds (like CCMF), fully covered government schemes as well as private companies (like Microsoft) with their programs. These are great opportunities which we will look and enter into when it makes sense. There are also a lot of wealthy people and families around who made a fortune with properties, stocks and other businesses. The usual way of investing their wealth is not related with startups – and the sub-group of tech-related startups is even further away from that.

For example, you won’t believe how incredibly hard it seems to be to set up a simple thing like a “shareholder’s agreement”. In the U.S. there are templates for this, you can go to almost any lawyer in the bay area and you will get a template for a couple of bucks or shares. For those who don’t know: Hong Kong’s economy is built on two major pillars: the property and the stock market. Other major factors of Hong Kong’s economy include the financial industry, import/export and tourism/retail. Then, for quite a while there is not much coming along the list of important industries and at the further end of it some creative industries like movie production, media or IT are popping up. Hong Kong is an incredible place for business and life – yet it surprises me again and again that there are not that many companies actually creating assets like intellectual property for example. We want to create a successful tech company with global reach and along the way help transforming Hong Kong into a more diversified economy and create long-term highly qualified jobs.

We know that our biggest assets are our co-workers and we hire only the best we can find. This is where we put our money and it will help us fulfill our dreams and help our customers to solve their problems.

More information about TreeCrunch Limited: www.treecrunch.com

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B.L. Flyers Weihnachtsturnier 2011: Wieder den Pott geholt!

This one is in German. Feel free to use Google Translate to a rough idea of what the heck I am talking about.

Wie schon seit mittlerweile vielen Jahren habe ich über Weihnachten mal wieder den Weg in die Heimat angetreten. Das ist doch immer schon was besonderes. Seit mittlerweile über 10 Jahren findet bereits unser alljährliches B.L. Flyers Weihnachtsturnier statt. Dabei sind immer alle aktuellen und ehemaligen Flyers eingeladen. Der Koz hat fast 10 Jahre gebraucht, um das Turnier und somit den Pokal zum ersten Mal letztes Jahr zu gewinnen. Dieses Jahr wurden die Teams ausgelost und wahrscheinlich war es Glück, aber ich bin in dem Sieger-Team gelandet. Von daher gab es dieses Jahr den Pott zum zweiten mal in Folge — nur aufgrund unserer Korbdifferenz (wahrscheinlich weil ich den letzten Dreier reingedrückt hatte ;)).

Achja, die Presse war auch vorbeigekommen. Aus irgendeinem Grund war meine Anreise von Hong Kong wohl sehr interessant und somit habe ich es mal wieder geschafft der netten Journalistin einen guten Titel zu verschaffen. Gern geschehen “cb”.

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Not all ships are equal

Who finds the ship that doesn’t quite fit in?

Deutsch: Wer findet das Schiff, was nicht so richtig hier rein passt?

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How long do you need to get to your office?


Hong Kong is a nice place with lots of offices and most of those are cramped up on Hong Kong Island, often around the Central area. Therefore, a lot of people are rushing onto HK Island day after day, from the outlying islands, Kowloon the dark side or some even from Macau or China Mainland.

As we recently moved office, I finally got my direct sea harbour view and (coincidentally) got the office closer to my apartment. 🙂 For some reason, I woke up 5:45 this morning and could not go back to sleep again. I guess my usual sleeping pattern of around 7 hours worked last night too as I went to bed quite early. It was quite a weird feeling to walk through the streets of HK with barely any people out there. I passed may be 100 people on my walk and that is a crazy low number for a walk of a little less than 1 km. I even stopped by an ATM to get some cash and then continued walking.

At fluffy 24ºC and 57% humidity it took me pretty much exactly 8 minutes and 45 seconds door to door from home to the office (including the ATM stop).

How long do you need to get to work?

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Buddha’s Birthday on Cheung Chau: Bun Mountains, Heat and Thousands of People


It felt like every single person out of Hong Kong’s population of around 7,000,000 came to that little island. Yet, nobody was able to tell me how old Buddha would have been if he still lived. On top of this it was so hot on Cheung Chau Island (30+ºC, 95% humidity) that I had to jump into the first half-decent looking store and buy an original Chinese cowboy hat! Looks cool, huh?

The picture on the right was taken quite a while after the parade which we attended from a spectator’s position. I took a couple of short clips of some of the attractions of the parade and so I also took some minutes just now and experimented with Apple’s iMovie app. Check out the short(!) 7 minute cut of the parade:

After the parade we walked around a bit and found the “bun mountain” 包山 which is being climbed up by people during the Cheung Chau Bun Festival 包山節 or Cheung Chau Da Jiu Festival 長洲太平清醮 which “is a traditional Chinese festival on the island of Cheung Chau in Hong Kong. Being held annually, and with therefore the most public exposure, it is by far the most famous of such Da Jiu festivals, with Jiu (醮) being a Taoist sacrificial ceremony. Such events are held by mostly rural communities in Hong Kong, either annually or at a set interval of years ranging all the way up to once every 60 years (i.e. the same year in the Chinese astrological calendar).” Source: Wikipedia

Because Cheung Chau is such a small Island, there are no cars allowed. In fact, there aren’t even buses and I haven’t seen motorbikes neither. The authorities, firefighters and police though, need their cars and therefore, they drive around in mini-versions which looks pretty funny I have to say. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the firefighter quad bike – that one looked really cool!

Later that day we wanted to go back home to Hong Kong Island and the only way to do so is to catch a ferry. Even though New World First Ferry had additional ferries operating, there were far way too many people on Cheung Chau and queue for the ferry was incredibly long! So we decided to stop at the next local Döner Kebab place and try their “Turkish Pizza” (which was good) and their “Kebab Roll” (which was crap). After one and a half hour of waiting we thought there might be less people now and tried to find the end of the line. Turned out we had to walk 1 km to find that one!!! Check out the map:


Source: Google Maps

Summary: It is good to see it – once. No need to go there next year 🙂

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Hong Kong Central Tram Jam

It doesn’t happen very often, but from time to time there is a tram jam in Hong Kong. For those of you who don’t know the Hong Kong Tram (called “Ding Ding” by locals because it ‘ding dings’ all the time to scare away all those jaywalkers); it is probably the oldest public transport system in Hong Kong which commenced operation back in 1904. With a fare of just $2 (US$0.26, €0.18) the tram provides the cheapest way to get from Hong Kong Islands most western station Kennedy Town to the most eastern station Shau Kei Wan in just under two hours (taxi 15 minutes).

Anyway, a couple of days ago I went home by tram and luckily I was traveling towards the right direction (west). Eastern bound trams got stuck for ages in Central due to some incident which I didn’t really see – I just noticed an ambulance standing in the middle of the road and blocking everything. Anyways, here are some photos from that day:

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Creativity with Colored Pencils at Work

I felt a bit like back in Kindergarten where I was encouraged to draw lots of funny pictures with pencils and crayons. (Yes, socialist Eastern Germany had colored pencils too!) Today I could really leverage from those years of experience and bring in all my creativity to colorize some squares on a sheet of paper. One of the most important questions these days had to be answered: What color pattern will the new office floor have? Nearly everyone participated and a couple of minutes later we had some funky sketches flying around:

Yes, at a workplace where nearly everything is done digitally there is still space for some ‘offline’ work.

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Afternoon Dark in Hong Kong

And again I have a short video to share. This time we see Hong Kong on a Sunday afternoon (today April 17th, 2011) at 3:30 p.m. (for my European readers that’s 15:30 ;)).

The past days we probably had the best weather you can imagine. With an average temperature of 22.5˚C (72.5˚F) April is one of the best months of the year (source Climate of Hong Kong – Wikipedia). It was warm, yet not too warm and still felt very comfy. Yesterday, it got a bit more humid and sticky which – like everywhere – was an indication that rain was about come upon us. At the above video you saw how that can look like — compare that to the sunny day a week ago 🙂

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