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香港夢:結婚、生子 The Hong Kong Dream: Married with Children

2015/11/6 — 12:56

香港家計會廣告片段截圖

香港家計會廣告片段截圖

在生活成本和社會期望的上升下,很多人都被迫繼續單身生活。方禮倫透過他的個人情況,探討在傳統家庭觀念中長大的這一代,何以這種無望感會越來越強。譯文由 Sally 提供,英文原文在譯文之下。

As costs and societal expectations rise, Evan explores through his personal situation the roots of a rising sense of hopelessness among a generation at once tied to traditional concepts of family and dignity, yet forced to survive in a more individualistic environment. The Chinese translation is provided by Sally.

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跟很多同輩的香港人一樣,我不再渴望自己能比父母享受更好的生活。生活其實是個管理衰敗的練習。我意識到,雖然有一天我的收入會比現在更多,但這將不足以負擔我所希望得到的有尊嚴的生活;而現實令「成家立室」的夢想幻滅,這更加令人難以接受。

我行年三十有五,跟伴侶一起也有 7 年。我很愛她,想跟她結婚了,亦到了一個想生孩子的階段。我們的母親,像同齡的母親般,想做祖母了。然而,這些最自然不過的想法,卻成了不切實際的夢想。

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有些人可能會問,誰能阻止我們結婚生子呢?像大多數我們這代在香港成長的人,婚姻和孩子是我們個人或在社會裏最重要的關係。對於那些不受這種關係束縛或不支持婚姻的人,我只要求他們不要貶低這種關係,因爲這關乎「我們是誰」這至關鍵的意義。

在一個家庭觀念極重的社會裏,婚姻不僅是兩個人的決定,更代表是兩個不同的家庭的結合。成立家庭是婚姻的根本和家人的期望,而生兒育女正是把家庭一代代地傳下去之核心。但可悲的是,這基本的成家立室在香港卻花費不菲,非我們所能承擔。

根據 EDSLife 去年做的一項調查,在香港結婚,去年每對平均消費超過港幣三十一萬。一家獨立的金融諮詢公司估計,中產家庭要供養一個孩子的成本,是港幣四百萬,恰巧跟 2006 年風之后李麗珊為恆生銀行拍的那富爭議廣告時說的不謀而合。姑勿論數字是否合理,它對社會上造成的影響是不容置疑的:很多家庭都不覺得這個銀碼不合理,而任何一個負責任的人也得預計需承受這樣的費用。

難民移民那一代,包括我的一些親戚,曾在狹小的臨時屋屋簷下與多人擠在一起。當年,他們在物質上面對的挑戰顯然比今天更甚。但預期往往跟社會生活指數緊密聯係。時下的年輕人在面對更高的期望時,向上流動的機會卻更少,要達到他們的夢想則更遙不可及。

以下一些數字清楚地說出了很多問題。過去十年, 25-34 歲的人口月均收入大概為港幣一萬兩千。這些還沒加上房價和通貨膨脹的數字。很明顯,支出已跟收入脫了軌。

還有的是,許多年輕人必須償還可觀的教育貸款,有些還要在這加上家人之前投入的那筆債。許多人還必須贍養父母和祖父母。縱使一日「打兩份工」,工作十六個小時,他們勞累一輩,卻仍無法支付自己的退休生活。

在我的家族裏,有不少人因爲一生在製造業勞碌而至今健康欠佳。那些兩代前透過剝削工人、使用童工等發大財的大亨家庭,今天則批評如今的年輕人被「寵壞」了,不夠努力,並選擇性地講述自己的故事,宣揚他們才是創造成功典範的香港精神。

年輕人似乎還要為過去幾代人的貪婪而造成的社會成本買單。

昨天上午,我跟一群年齡相若的香港大學畢業生談了一會。言談後,我感到自己比起他們還是相對幸運得多了。雖然我很敬佩他們供養父母的責任感,但至少我父母經濟上不需要我的支持。我也不需要為家族中有人病危而提供經濟援助。相反,我的家庭還可讓我得到一些能增強生活穩定和幸福感的種種小福氣——譬如是遠足、周末飲茶、家族旅行等。最重要的是,因爲我的出生和背景,我能獲得一般人不能涉足的私人空間。雖然我沒能力買一個屬於自己的家,但我從來不缺辦公或休閒空間。

那年輕人為什麼不找一份更高薪的工作,讓自己可以得到有尊嚴及合乎家人期待的生活呢?這是很幼稚的問題,因為這假設了世界上你想要什麽就會有什麽的機會。可悲的是,現實並不如此完美。

首先,晉升中等階層的年輕人雖説得到了有尊嚴的工作,但不代表他們會相應得到有尊嚴的生活。它不僅是因爲金字塔底部越來越寬以支持頂部膨脹的那百分之一,更是因爲即使寄身中間,再也不能提供你曾經希望擁有的尊嚴。在一個極端的社會裏,能達到尊嚴的生活的重心還會向上轉移。因此對於許多人來說,現實上這種生活更遙不可及。 

這種社會位置不變,但生活質素卻向下移的情況是顯而易見的。我最近遇見一位老朋友。他和太太都是在公立醫院工作的醫生,家庭背景也相當優秀。然而,他們在晚餐時顯出的憂心和慨嘆卻出奇地熟悉。

他說:「我們將永遠無法負擔得起我們父母享受的生活條件。如果我們沒有了父母的支持,我們連婚禮的開銷也付不起。而我們已經挺高薪了!」

他知道我經常跑一些社區採訪,就問道:「那些賺平均收入的人又怎樣生存?」

我說:「他們懷著的希望就當然更少了。很多你現在認為是理所當然的那些,他們想都不敢呢!」

我身方愈來愈多背景優越、躋身中產階級的朋友,正在考慮離開香港。哪些能力稍遜的,才別無他想必須留下來。

其次,對於人數越來越多的少數族裔,「工作」的意義不再跟父母一代的一樣。

馬克思正確地看到不同工作會引致不同資產階級。當然這個發現非常重要,但我更感興趣的是一個人的成長對他如何看待工作的影響。當你比較兩代——一代是難民移民、一代在相對穩定富庶的環境成長,他們的取態預期不一樣是必然的。這些年輕人,包括我自己在內,都在這種環境下長大,我們繼承了傳統的家庭觀念,但也有我們獨特的 「亞洲價值觀」。我們關心自己在做什麼,因為我們關心香港,不再視香港爲短期停留的地方,這裡是屬於我們的,這裡是一個我們稱爲家的地方。

越來越多的年輕人與我討論時表示,現在社會分配不均的情況同樣是不道德的。社會上有那麽一小群既得利益者,他們付出不多但瓜分了社會絕大部分的發展成果。這背後也代表了某些已被扭曲了的價值觀卻被視爲社會典範。雖然這典範剛開始看起來可能合理,其實不然。撇除接受西方教育的中產小眾,大多數本地年輕人也無法解釋清楚,他們並非從公平和社會公義的框架下出發,因為這典範的根早就牢牢被植下。

可能有一些會把我標籤為「寵壞了」的「鬼仔」。不幸的是,社會某部份的人越來越以貌取人,我的白人臉孔對我來說既是福也是禍,因爲無論是社會還是家庭對我的期望也自然會提高了。事實上,雖然我從小在外籍人圈子長大,我仍然只是一個植根於此的歐亞人士而已。這個身份,賜給我力量之餘,也成了我的一個負擔。

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Like so many Hong Kong people of my generation, I no longer aspire to a better life than that which my parents enjoy. Life will be an exercise in managing decline. I accept that whilst my income may well one day be more, it will buy me less of what one needs today to live with dignity. But nature has made the loss of another dream far more difficult to accept: the dream of being able to afford to have a family.

I am in my mid-30s, and my partner and I have been together for 7 years. I love her dearly, and we would like to get married. We have also reached a stage in our lives when we would also like to have children. It feels right. Both our mothers want, like other mothers of their age, to be grandmothers. And yet having a family of our own, something by nature we both instinctively feel we should do, also feels like a luxury beyond our reach.

There are those who may ask what’s stopping us from just getting married and having a child? We were both raised, like the majority of my generation in Hong Kong, to see marriage and children as integral to our most personal and socially critically relationship: that with our family. To those neither burdened nor supported by these ties, I ask only that they do not demean the importance of such ties for those of us for whom they are critical in defining who we are.

In a society in which familial bonds are central, marriage is not a decisions to be made by two people. It is a union between two families. Marriage is defined by the family, and dignity in marriage defined by familial expectation; and to have and raise a child responsibly is similarly defined by ones family. Our children will also be grandchildren; our sons and daughters also nephews, nieces and cousins. Meeting the most basic of our familial expectations costs money we frankly do not have. 

This was not always the case. Families of immigrant refugees, including some of my relatives, had once crowded into temporary squatter settlements, and coped with conditions that were materially far worse than those today. Expectations more closely matched what people could afford. However the young of today must contend with a far higher bar of respectability - and with fewer opportunities and also fewer reasons to fail the bar has been raised far beyond the reach of most.

Unusually, the numbers tell much of the story. The median monthly income for people aged 25-34 has for the last decade been stable at around HK$12,000. The average Hong Kong wedding last year costed a little over HK$310,000, according to a survey by EDSLife. The costs of raising a child, with the degree of dignity afforded by a middle class life, was estimated by an independent financial advisory firm to be HK$4 million - coincidentally the figure windsurfer Lee Lai Shan stated in a controversial 2006 advertisement for Hang Seng bank. (Whether or not this figure is accurate does not take away its social influence: many families do not consider the figure unreasonable, and any responsible son or daughter would be expected to afford such an outlay.) Even without factoring property prices and inflation, the sums do not add up.

Coupled to this, many young people must pay back substantial loans, often accumulated on their behalf by family’s keen to invest in their education. Many must also support parents and grandparents who, though often having spent a lifetime working double shift (16 hours a day), could not afford retirement when forced to take it. The young, it would seem, must also pay for the social cost of the greed of past generations.

In my own extended family their are many who today continue to suffer from poor health resulting from a lifetime spent working in Hong Kong’s nascent manufacturing industries. The same tycoon families, who two generation ago refused to pay a living wage to “these Chinese” and happily turned a blind eye to child labour, today lecture the young for being “spoilt” and not working hard enough, whilst offering their own selectively edited stories as examples of success and the Hong Kong spirit.

Yesterday morning, whilst talking to a group of Hong Kong University graduates of a similar age to me, I was reminded of the relative fortune of my circumstances. Though I share their sense of obligation to do so, I do not need to support my parents or family financially. Neither do I have a critically sick or vulnerable relative to support. I have a family who can pay for me to enjoy those little highs on which, for me personally, a sane and stable life is dependent: long walks, Sunday yum cha and family holidays. Most of all, I am privileged by my birth and background to have access to private space. If I do not own a home, I do not lack for office or recreational space.

Why don't young people just get a better paying job that would afford them the dignity their families expect? There is something very child-like about such a question, for it presumes a world where for every want there is an opportunity. Sadly, real life is not like this.

Firstly, the hollowing out of middle incomes has meant that whilst there is still the possibility of young people landing a job that affords them dignity, it can no longer be reasonably expected that they will. It is not only that the bottom of the pyramid has expanded to support an inflated 1%, but that to even find yourself in hollowed out middle no longer affords you the dignity it once did. In a society of extremes, expectations as to what represents a dignified life too shifts further from the centre, and thus for many, from the achievable.

That to be in the middle no longer equates to middle-class security was apparent when I recently caught up with an old friend. He and his wife are both medical doctors working at public hospitals. Both come from privileged backgrounds. Yet over dinner their concerns and sense of resignation were surprisingly familiar.

“There’s no way we will ever afford the lifestyles that our parents enjoy”, he said. “We would not have been able to afford our wedding if we hadn’t had our parents support. And we’re pretty well paid!” 

Knowing I have run community interviews for some years, he asked, “how do people earning average incomes survive?” 

“With even less hope,” I replied, "of that you still take for granted."

Like an increasing number of my privileged, middle-class friends, they are considering leaving Hong Kong. They see that they elsewhere their income will stretch that bit further in securing them quality of life. Having already wed, it is the cost of setting up home that they must now contend. But it is the majority less fortunate than them for whom I most relate and for whom I have most sympathy. It is those with less that must stay.

Secondly, and for a growing minority, work is no longer understood as it was for their parent's generation. 

Marx was right to highlight the alienating effect of work. But whilst he sought to understand this by focusing on the alienation of a system, I believe a better understanding is to be found in the more personal: in how our upbringing shapes how we understand and relate to work as an idea. A more mercenary understanding, more prevalent when Hong Kong was a society shaped by immigrants, today being challenged by a generation who relate to Hong Kong differently. These young people, myself included, are ironically often those in our community closest at heart to those “Asian values” of familial piety. We care about what we do because we care and define ourselves through our families, whom we no longer see as in transit, but as increasingly rooted in the fabric of Hong Kong.

This changing relationship with work means that an increasing number of young people I speak to share with me a sense that it is equally immoral to accept too much as to offer too little. Behind this is an understanding that to distort value is to distort what we perceive as the norm. Whilst this may at first seem intellectually driven, outside of a small westernised and foreign educated minority, it is not. Most young people in Hong Kong with whom I have spoken are unable to frame their sense of fairness and social justice within any set of values or principles, but instead describe an inherent feeling derived from a personal and deepening sense of their local roots.

There may be some who will label me as one of the “undeserving young” or an “expat brat”. Unfortunately, looks are exceedingly deceptive in a society shaped by face and first impressions. Whilst my upbringing meant I moved within expatriate circles, I did so as a distinctly locally rooted Eurasian. These roots give me strength, but they also burden me with an expectation, both as a member of my family and, within society, as a Eurasian.

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