Sunday night’s TV: Better off Abroad – ramping up the expat envy in Hong Kong

There are many Irish living lavish lifestyles in Hong Kong – but don’t get too jealous, the clock is ticking down to a return to full Chinese rule

 George Lee meets some of the 5,000 Irish expats living in in Hong Kong, in Better Off Abroad

George Lee meets some of the 5,000 Irish expats living in in Hong Kong, in Better Off Abroad

 

We’re seeing a lot of programmes these days about the Irish living the good life abroad, with portraits of Irish expats making big moola in Australia, Canada, California, Dubai and – most probably – a freshly terraformed Mars.

Is RTÉ trying to make us jealous of these prosperous Paddies? Or maybe they’re hoping we’ll up sticks and follow these emigrants to the promised lands so they won’t have to put on children’s programmes to entertain our brats. As we huddle in our threadbare armchairs in our cold, damp, negative-equity gaffes, it’s hard to ignore the siren call of sun-tanned expats standing in front of a stunning skyline and looking as if they own the bloody place.

On Sunday night, George Lee hopped on a jetplane to meet the Hong Kong Irish in a second two-part series of Better Off Abroad (RTÉ1). There’s an implied question mark there – we’re asked to consider whether the 5,000 Irish people living in this bustling Asian hub really are “away on a hack” or are they losing something out of the deal.

We meet Ann Coughlan, an executive with one of Asia’s biggest insurance corporations, AIA. With big designer handbag in hand, she shows Lee the many fabulous shops just a high-heel’s clack away from her office.

Big cabin-cruiser

Art and finance broker Bill Condon greets George on his big cabin-cruiser, and shows him round his big, luxury pile in a tranquil suburb away from the fast pace of life in Hong Kong. It’s probably not his fault he comes across as a bit smug.

Lee also travels to Macau, Asia’s gambling mecca, 60km west of Hong Kong, and meets Ciaran Carruthers, senior vice president of the sprawling Venetian casino, who’s onto a winner here.

The money might be good, but the downsides are high property and rents, expensive schools and choking pollution. And you better come home before you hit 65, because the Chinese government isn’t going to look after you in your retirement.

Then there’s the Great Uncertainty hanging over the city – Hong Kong is halfway through its 50-year transition to full Chinese rule, and who knows what the future holds for this hugely westernised hub?

Chained-up offices

Even journalists get well paid in Hong Kong (seething jealous rage) but – as Ann Marie Roantree, bureau chief of Thomson Reuters, points out – freedom of the press is a serious issue here. Lee brings us to the chained-up offices of Causeway Bay Books, which once sold “politically sensitive” books, and whose five staff members “disappeared” in 2015, some turning up in custody in mainland China.

When Lee moves away from the cosy expat lives to focus on the realities of Hong Kong, it all feels a little more real. We meet the Filipino domestic staff who work for a pittance to prop up their employers’ high-flying lifestyles, and the Hong Kong Chinese priced out of the rental market and living in cramped squalor in the city’s poorer areas.

You’ll not tempt me with your shiny buildings and stunning skyline, Hong Kong, but any big media organisations are welcome to call me at . . . (sorry, you’ve run out of space - editor).

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