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A life in the day


War and peace

Nury Vittachi

Hong Kong’s humorist meets Institute member YT Kwok

Imagine the scene: It’s World War II and Hong Kong has been taken over by Japan. A scared woman sees Japanese soldiers approaching and she smears dirt on her family’s faces. She wants to make it clear that they are part of the hardworking fisherfolk community in Aberdeen’s floating village.

In the event, the family stayed safe. The Japanese imprisoned Western members of the authorities, not the local Hong Kong people, and the fisherfolk community managed to continue their work as normal throughout the war.

The woman’s children also stayed in the fishing industry, but for her grandchildren – it was a different story.

Fast forward to the present generation, the turn of the millennium: a young man named Kwok Yiu-tung has done really well at school and won a place at Hong Kong University. During his second year, he sees a poster on the wall for an exchange programme, with destinations in Japan and Thailand.

Licking his lips at the thought of delicious Japanese or Thai food, he signed up and found himself sent to Waseda University in Tokyo for a year. Most people finding themselves in an alien environment, with no friends, communication difficulties and not enough money would have had a hard time.

But Yiu-tung always took a positive attitude to challenges. He carefully stretched out his tiny budget of 1,000 yen a day (about HK$70) for all his needs, learned as much Japanese as he could, did some part-time work, and ended up having a wonderful year.

The young man, also known as YT, returned to Hong Kong to finish his final year in college and then joined PricewaterhouseCoopers. Working as a young auditor was grueling: he often finished work after midnight. His contacts in Tokyo told him that life was slightly more survivable: since Japanese taxis are unaffordable and the last trains from the business district left soon after midnight, offices had to close by 12.

So once again, YT found himself flying back to Japan, but this time working in Osaka for PwC from 2005 to 2007. By this time, he could speak Japanese – but discovered that technical accounting terms in that language were a challenge and people in Osaka spoke their own dialect anyway.

In 2007, he returned to Hong Kong, dividing his time between Hong Kong and Japanese clients. “The books of Japanese clients were tidier, so I had an easier time than other audit managers,” he said.

Like many CPAs, he eventually decided to move on from audit. His contacts referred him to a Japanese company which was planning an initial public offering.

YT had lunch with a top staff member at there, a Japanese fashion company named Baroque Japan, and was immediately hired as Financial Controller. By 2015, he had been invited to move to Japan and become Group Chief Financial Officer.

This was extraordinary, since Japanese companies would not normally hand their purse strings to a foreigner, and particularly to someone Chinese, thanks to historical frictions.

In November 2016, the company was successfully listed on the main board of the Tokyo Stock Exchange, with YT, known in Japan as “Kaku-san”, being unique as a Hong Kong group CFO of a Tokyo-listed Japanese company.

Today, YT divides his time between Japan and Hong Kong. Although there’s much he loves about Japan, such as the blue skies, the tasty food and the cyclist-friendly road designs, he has a very good reason to spend time in Hong Kong. He’s married now, and his wife has just given birth to their first child, whose name is Harry. And the family also have a dog, and guess what? It’s a beautiful Japanese Shiba.

From his grandmother’s encounter with Japanese soldiers in the 1940s to YT’s role today, his family is living proof that great things can come from good relationships between two very different communities.

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.