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A life in the day


Running with a purpose

Nury Vittachi

Hong Kong’s humorist meets Institute member Peter Lee Chi-shing



At weekends, Hong Kong’s most heavily populated university was relatively deserted.

But on Saturdays and Sundays, there was one young man slipping into the Hong Kong Polytechnic University library just as soon as it opened in the morning. And, except for a break to go to church on Sunday morning, he’d be there until 10 p.m. on both weekend nights.

It was a grueling schedule, but it was a gamble that the young man, Peter Lee Chi-shing, was willing to take.

He did not come from a rich family, but was determined to make a career for himself in accounting – and that meant working a full week in his day job while studying every evening and weekend.

Peter’s father was an accountant, but not a wealthy man. So the boy had to earn a living. After finishing his form 7 studies at Rosaryhill School, he became a junior staff member of a bank while studying accounting at the university.

The years of hard work and zero holidays paid off, and young Peter found himself with an attractive choice. He could stay with his day job and become a senior staff member at a bank, or he could resign and use his new qualifications to become an accountant.

He chose the latter, and then followed a common-enough path, working as an auditor at several firms, and then moving to the private sector as a CPA.

But here’s where it gets really interesting. Despite living in money-obsessed Hong Kong, Peter realized that there was more to life than money. His favourite subject as a student had been English literature, and he had a strong sense of values thanks to his Christian faith. To live a fulfilling life, one has to have a meaningful existence, which meant making a difference to one’s society.

Peter realized that life was not about stuff. To serve the community, he moved to the non-governmental organization industry, with roles in organizations operating under the Hong Kong Council of Social Service.

This was a big change, because it meant a 40 percent cut in salary, but he felt it was worth it. As the saying goes: “To find fulfillment, work for a cause, not for applause.” Furthermore, the NGO sector was also hard work. He found himself leading a finance and administration department of 60 staff – and was also out on the street, selling flags to raise money and awareness for his NGO’s cause.

But a truth many people eventually discover is that working hard is a pleasure in itself.

Many Hong Kong people seemed to follow Sigmund Freud’s dictum that humans’ strongest impulse was to seek pleasure, instead of the more sophisticated view of Viktor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor who wrote a bestselling book of psychological wisdom: “When a person cannot find a deep sense of meaning, they distract themselves with pleasure.”

Today, Peter is Accounting and Administrative Manager at one of Hong Kong’s best-known NGOs, the Hong Kong Amateur Athletic Association. One of its regular events, the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon, has become the most high-profile athletic event in Hong Kong involving about 70,000 runners. Peter and his team start working on the marathon half a year before each event.

Linking the financial world of accountancy with the NGO world of helping the needy proved to be a great combination for Peter, so he decided to spend time helping others make the same journey.

He joined a group called CPAs for NGOs as an Accountant Ambassador. He found that participating in activities organized by the Institute and the Hong Kong Council of Social Service was very meaningful, as he could use his specialized knowledge to help people whose job is to help others.

Peter’s life has been one of hard work and long hours, but he doesn’t regret any of it. You need a period of rain to achieve the perfect rainbow. 

Nury Vittachi is a bestselling author, columnist, lecturer and TV host. He wrote three storybooks for the Institute, May Moon and the Secrets of the CPAs, May Moon Rescues the World Economy and May Moon’s Book of Choices.