Thursday 7 April 2011

My meeting with a HK man of leisure

During my business trip at Warsaw, Poland last year, I spent 2 nights at this hostel for my private trip extension.

On the 2nd day when I was ready to roam the city, I thought I saw a cool middle-aged Japanese guy checking-in. He was wearing a red bandana and black t-shirt and pants.  Looking very muck like one of those chefs at Japanese noodle bars.

In the evening when I was surfing the net in the common lounge area, he approached me. Only then did I discover he is a Hong Konger – not Jap!

He got 5 classical piano music CDs that he needed to copy into his netbook. And he needed my notebook since I got a DVD drive. He’s here in Warsaw to attend the live classical piano competitions – a classical music buff.

While burning and transferring these CDs to my notebook, I took the opportunity to ask him about his travels.

Little did I expect this chance meeting would turn out to be one of those memorable people encounters that left a deep impact on me..…..

This HK “man of leisure” is 55 years “young”. He left his top management job 7 years ago when he was 47. He was an engineer by training and worked at one of the big telcos in HK.

Lounge area of the hostel where we can meet and chat with interesting travellers. Taken Oct 2010

This is his story:

This HK man of leisure has been on the road for the past 7 years!!! To him, vacation is spending 3 months back in HK every year (to plan his next adventure). For the remaining 9 months of the year, he is traveling and exploring different countries.

Some of his travel pictures blew me away. I especially liked his trip through the countries of South America. He even took a sea cruise from Chile to the South Pole. Ice-bergs never looked so interesting!

Our HK man of leisure travels on the budget – staying at hostels instead of hotels. He prefers this arrangement since he can do his own cooking and meet other young travellers – it keeps him young and invigorated!

Sensing that I am “restless”, he offered me his life experiences:

1)     Work hard; work smart

In his youth, he has no problem going the extra mile (work hard). He is always eager to volunteer and lead projects that can help promote his competence and visibility to management (work smart).

2)     Save and accumulate our first nest egg

This resulted in a series of quick promotions all the way to top management rank. But instead of spending all his extra earnings on cars or fancy lifestyle, he diligently saved.

He did not play the stock markets in a big way. Only invested in small amounts here and there; more to get a feel of the market than anything else. He focused on developing his career and accelerating his earned income – he is very conservative when it comes to money.

He prefers not to be distracted by so called opportunities in properties or stocks. He wasn’t affected by his peers who liked to brag about how much they have made….

3)     Quitting the rat race

He surprised all his peers and boss at age 47 when he announced his “retirement”. Our HK man of leisure took all his savings and sank them into safe and boring utilities and telecoms stocks. He confessed he has little interests in monitoring the markets - his no.1 passion is adventuring. Just as long the regular dividends can cover his travel expenses, he does not care whether the Hang Seng is up or down.

Below are other relevant details about him as these are important to put things in perspective (his way suits him and him only – not anyone else; but it’s an interesting alternative!):

a) He is single and has no children. (Lifestyle decision)

b) He lives with his parents whenever he is back in HK.

c) He does not own any properties – hence debt free.

(I guess property not needed if he can inherit the property from his parents, and/or if he is never going to sink roots at one place - gypsy lifestyle)

There are many routes and vehicles we can use to reach our own version of “financial freedom” – it means differently to different persons. I guess the keyword is we have to know what we really want.

Financial goals are not the same as life goals.


  1. Hi SMOL,

    Thank you so much for sharing this experience. Seems like we all got something to learn from this HKMOL :)

    He must have seen that you're like him, hence his desire to talk to you :)

  2. Your onion peeler is working!

    I now feel more comfortable sharing my experiences and reflections.

    Thanks to you, I am rediscovering my childhood love of story telling.

  3. Hi SMOL,

    I think you have a talent in telling tales. The way you embroidered these tales skillfully makes it such a joy to read :)

    Do keep them coming!

  4. Hi SMOL

    Great story from your own travels. :-)

    Yes, there are people who decide to quit the rat race and with proper planning can be financially free and live on his dividends.

    In fact, I plan to do something similar but probably won't travel all over the world but rather plough my investible savings into safe (e.g. SPH) type of investments and live off the dividends plus rental income from my home to stay in a low cost country like Thailand :-)

    But there are still some challenges for me to overcome, i..e have to see my daughter all the way to independence and to either drag the spouse with me or work out some arrangement in 20-25 years' time! :-P

    Be well and prosper.

  5. Thanks Panzer!

    Your path is very interesting too :)

    Malaysia (Penang), Thailand, China are on my watchlist for potential retirement home in case Singapore gets too expensive. Plan B.

    Peace be with you too.

  6. Living with Parent seems to give us a really good headstart in retirement :)

    1. Yup. But I not sure whether our parents are pleased though...


  7. Way to go, Jarred! "Rediscovering childhood love". That's the key dude! Thanks for sharing. Awesome story.

  8. SMOL, what a refreshing post! I constantly think of "retirement", ever since I started working. And at that time when I disclosed my ideal retirement age, people thought why this fresh grad so lazy... But hopefully that conscious ideal supported by semi-evolving decisions and planning now will enable that "retirement", travels around the world and attendances at piano festivals.

    1. plumerainbow,

      I know. Kermit the frog expressed our situation well - it's not easy being green...

      You know why I am drawn to your adventures? You reminded me what I should have done when I was your age.

      But hey! I feel 21 all over now!

  9. The corporate world and its elements are just a waste of time apart from feeding one's hungry stomach. Such things don't exist in the other realms when one goes over. What a stupid waste of time to work in the office environment. Better take time out to learn magic, divinity to serve others and do amazing feats related to another realm.

    1. Anon 6:42,

      Hey! Whatever makes you happy!

      Remember to take your medication though ;)

  10. About 2 years ago. At a couchsurfing event in Vienna, I had met a 35 yrs old German MOL,

    When he recognizes that I am from Singapore, he goes on rattling about all the nice places that he had visited, ANNUALLY. 6-9 months a year, he is travelling in Asia. Yes, we both loved the food at certain little fav cafe in Bali. Great common grounds.

    Last year, I had a chance to meet him in Singapore and brought him to Tiong Baru market for brunch. He loves it and on my asking, shared his story with me.

    He was an IT specialist and had stopped working some years ago. Too much corporate nonsenses. He has a flat in Germany which gives him something like EUR500+ per month in pocket money. Did not ask if it was fully paid for. No cars, no kids and recently found that he has a Taiwanese girlfriend.

    His travel style - try to book the flights off season from Europe to Asia. Often landing in Bangkok, or somewhere in Malaysia. Then uses Air Asia for those across the sea flights. otherwise, it will be strictly public transport. Accommodations - couchsurf a few days here and there, so little or no cost involved. A lot of preplanning is required for this option.

    Envy him for the guts to do this. Perhaps, i had wasted some golden years having a car and motorcycles. But as one blogger once told me, it is never to late to start saving & investing. Hopefully, my passive income stream will grow over time and then I would like to have this leisurely pace of life - More worry about the weather than when my next paycheck will come in.

    1. SnOOpy168,

      I really appreciate you sharing of your experience with your German Man of Leisure.

      It's always good to have different perspectives from different angles.

      There are lots of man/woman of leisure out there than we think! Although in some quarters, we are also called "dropouts"...

      There are many "levels" of financial freedom. Sometimes its not about money - but more a lifestyle decision.

  11. Sorry, my bad. Mindless surfing brought me to your old post which I really enjoyed reading. Thought I'll revive it with a comment...

    There was once when I quit my job and went to work at a hostel, in Singapore no less. Amazing times with awesome travellers and some incredibly, out-of-this-world life stories. There is so much to learn from each and everyone regardless of where they are from, how old they are, what they do or what they did.

    Checked off my bucket list item after getting a guest review on TripAdvisor haha! Didn't know you are also a man-of-hostel besides being a man-of-leisure!

    1. Kevin,

      It real fun to stay in a hostel!

      At first I was a bit self-conscious as I thought I would be "too old", but heaven's no! There were many "senior" backpackers than me!

      We can't mingle as much when we stay at hotels. But at hostels, everyone has a ready story to tell!

  12. Yo SMOL !!!

    I think you need a SWOP. Singapore Woman of Pleasure.

    Otherwise too easy to stay single and have a great life of travel and fun.

    1. Chris,

      I'm country agnostic.

      Any woman of pleasure will do ;)

      Meanwhile, I'll sip the "susu" without taking the cow home :)

  13. I totally agree that Financial Goals is not the same as Life Goals.

    1. Welcome Living Free!

      Ah! A fellow blogger from the euro area ;)

      Have fun in what you do and cheers!

  14. I have read, unread and re-read this post numerous times. I finally grasped the reason behind the Hong Kong Man of Leisure's decision to retire in the seemingly young age of 47. Life is too short. I believe that he has earned enough savings to last him for his entire life span.

    He has chosen the less traveled path in choosing to be single and not to own property. This path is heavily criticised by most of the people. I think that it is fine as long as one is comfortable of such lifestyle.

    To each of one's own.


    1. Ben,

      I have to be careful to add that whenever he's back in HK, he stays with his parents ;)

      But I do agree there are a lot of alternative pathways beside the "passive income more than expenses" route so favoured by the less imaginative members of our "financially savvy" community.

      If only they can just sit down and realise their feet sizes are different. Why everyone seeks the same shoe size anyway?

  15. Hi SMOL,

    It's true that different people have their own perception of financial freedom. The HK Man of Leisure is a classic example of one individual who does not follow the usual norms of the commoners in which the property, car and other luxury items come into the picture. These items symbolise a form of enhanced status.

    I believe that a lot of people will be able to focus on their interests if they are willing to reduce their monthly/annual expenses. The reduced expenses will mean invested capital which will in turn generate the more sustainable passive income for them. This will mean that they do not rely on job with high incomes to support their lifestyle.

    One will be able to rely on part-time job which caters to his/her interest if the individual opts for a simple lifestyle in Singapore. I believe that this is achievable for the individuals in their 30s or 40s.


    1. Ben,

      And that's a path every individual has to find and walk on himself ;)

      One primary school classmate has a younger brother who has become a Catholic priest. The younger brother told me his monthly allowance is below $1K.

      Yet I see this Catholic priest as being "free" - financially, spiritually, and emotionally.

      Different path indeed!

    2. SMOL,

      A classic example of one living within means. I wonder how much a monk need for a month.


    3. Ben,

      Maybe around the same below $1K?

      I mean when we were in NS, "eat army; live army", we don't need a lot of money right?

  16. SMOL,

    True. Monk will be "Eat temple; live temple".



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