In Hong Kong today, it's the Brits who are the 'coolies'

You can hear the noise from the Papa Doc bar on Lantau island, close to where Hong Kong's new airport is being built, well before you get there. It is the sound of young Brits determined to get completely legless.

We know about Geordie brickies heading for Berlin, and Essex nurses putting up with purdah in Saudi Arabia, but the latest destination of the Brit in search of a better life is Hong Kong. As Britain prepares to depart from one of its last colonial outposts, its own citizens are taking over many of the most menial jobs. "Coolies", once a pejorative term for cheap Chinese labour, could now be more accurately applied to the former colonial masters.

"The money's far better than back home," says Paul Crighton, a 27-year- old labourer from Manchester, "but it's bloody hot out there at the airport." There are Filipinos and Thais doing similar work, but the Hong Kong Chinese, he says, "wouldn't be seen dead doing these jobs".

Gone is the time when young gentlemen came to the colonies to join great trading firms who strictly organised their social as well as their working lives, and frowned upon mixing with the natives. Now Hong Kong sees young British men and women fresh from the dole queue and ready to do work which many Chinese think distinctly inferior. The number of British passport holders living in the colony has more than doubled in the past five years to more than 34,000.

Young Brits can be seen on building sites, serving in bars and restaurants, despondently giving out leaflets on street corners and hauling themselves around town as messengers bathed in layers of sweat.

Ten years ago Hong Kong's newspapers were excited by the news that a Brit had landed a job as a doorman at the 1997 bar in the trendy Lan Kwai Fong area. It was unthinkable that a person from Britain would take such a job more typically the preserve of sturdy Indians who had lived in the colony for several generations.

Today, door-keeping is considered one of the better jobs. Well-qualified but inexperienced youngsters are willing to take whatever employment is on offer. The owner of a local sandwich shop boasts that he only employs British graduates with a good degree to deliver his sandwiches to the surrounding offices.

The pay for Brits at the bottom of the ladder is not spectacular, hovering around about pounds 420 to pounds 840 a month, but it is far higher than most of them could expect to earn at home. However the lure of Hong Kong is more than money - many of the backpackers and others making their way to the colony want to be here in just over a year's time when it is handed over to one of the world's few remaining communist states.

Some professionals are still lured by the enormous sums of money which can be made. Members of the London Bar, for example, often refer to Hong Kong as "Treasure Island" because the fees for appearing in Hong Kong courts make British fees look decidedly anaemic. A top silk can pull in almost pounds 9,000 a day.

A British passport, pink skin and a public school education used to be enough to guarantee good jobs to the most mediocre of expatriates. They used to be known as Filth - Failed in London, Try Hong Kong. Now, employers want executives who actually speak Cantonese, or at least Mandarin, and they want MBAs from somewhere such as the Harvard Business School, rather than Oxbridge degrees.

In the bars on Lantau and Lamma islands, where the new British poor gather, sales of canned Boddington's beer and Malaysian-brewed Guinness are roaring away. The talk is familiar to anyone from back home - about jobs and where to get them.

Here in Hong Kong it's not so much a matter of "Auf Wiedersehen Pet" as "Joi Gin Ying Gwok Loh" - or Goodbye English Person: well, goodbye a certain type of English person.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before