Brain drain. The emigration of highly trained or intelligent people from a particular country.
But for those leaving Hawaii the phenomena is acute. Here’s my definition of the phrase: The emigration of highly trained or intelligent people from Hawaii to anywhere else for better economic opportunity.
Like many families in Hawaii I have relatives who were born and raised in Hawaii but can no longer afford to live in their home state. I also have friends who have made that move. Just from taking my Mom’s dog for a walk down my road is evidence of how many families are packing up and leaving. There are so many yard and garage sales on my street. People are seeking better opportunity elsewhere.
And why not? For a single room bath and kitchenette the going price is at least $1000 a month. Coupled with stagnant wage increase it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why people leave. I know people who work multiple jobs just to make ends meet. I’m one of them. I have two part time jobs the pay $14 and $13 dollars per hour. In Hawaii, the average worker would have to earn a whopping $37 an hour just to survive. With my two jobs combined I don’t even make that as a single person. So it comes as no surprise when friends tell me they are moving because I have also made that mainland move.
To mainland China that is.
Like the US mainland it is cheaper to live in China than in Hawaii. But there are some benefits a Chinese employer offers that even an American boss is unable to offer.
Salary: When I first started teaching in China in 1996, I was paid Y2000 a month. I’ll refrain from converting yuan to dollars because conversion is part of this story. This was enough for me to purchase groceries and pay for utilities and yet have disposable income. Since my employer provided housing and medical insurance I had a lot of money to do as I please.
Over the years I saw my monthly salary increase from Y2000 to Y5000 to Y6000 to Y7000 a month. During the fourteen years I was there I saw a tremendous improvement on the standard of living in that country. Skyscrapers started popping up all over the place. Multinational companies like McDonalds, Buick,Apple, and Wal*mart started opening up branch offices, factories, and stores, and thus increasing China’s economy as well as the standard of living for all who lived within its borders. In other words, my salary increased to accomodate for the increase on the standard of living.
Housing: This is one benefit an American employer cannot match. Most of my Chinese employers provided housing for foreign employees. Either employers provided on campus housing or they provided a stipend and offer assistance in searching for an apartment.
And yes, my monthly salary — if my apartment was off campus — was enough to cover my rent, utilities, and food and still have a sizable disposable income.
Medical: Most of my employers provided Chinese medical insurance. For those who didn’t I had to pay for private insurance out-of-pocket. But even then I could afford to pay for health insurance on income from just one job.
Transportation: In China the car is a status symbol. It projects wealth, prosperity, and personal connections to VIPs. People are so vain that they’d rather drive their cars over taking a short two minute walk from their home to their offices.
For me however, I didn’t need a car. Why would I need one when I could choose from a plethora of options like motor cabs, taxis, busses, or in some cases, a subway system? While I would be stuck on a bus with 8 million other people, I could still get around town without having to purchase a car, make monthly payments, or pay for gas and parking fees. The money I’d save could go to other things like food, travel, paying my bills, or buying new clothes.
The day I left China I felt I had left behind a fortune behind. When I had left Qingdao I had around Y6000 in cash. Y6000 is enough to buy at least a round trip ticket between China and Hawaii. Y6000 is enough for several months rent. Y6000 is…
When I arrived in Hawaii and converted my yuan to dollars in Honolulu my heart sunk. I saw my Y6000 converted to a meager $2000.
How can one live on just $2000?
Yes, China has its own problems. There are homeless people panning for money on the street. There is a rift between the western regions of the country and its wealthy east coast. And its once surging economy has slowed. Yet it has managed to lift 800 million people out of poverty.
Now before you stick a label me, do this. Take a look and see what other countries are doing to improve the lives of its citizens. Shop around. It’s humiliating that a country with just 300 million people, or a state with just 1 million people, can’t even take care of its own citizens.