HONG KONG — When Henry Ng took a job in mainland China, the Hong Kong native saw it as nothing but a means to advance his career and figured he wouldn't be staying more than two years.
Six years later, the software marketing executive is mapping out a long-term career on the mainland with no thoughts of leaving Shanghai.
"China's where the future lies," said the 30-year-old Ng, sipping tea in a Hong Kong hotel during one of his few visits home each year.
China is potentially the world's biggest consumer market. Its 260 million urban population — those among China's 1.3 billion people most likely to become viable consumers — is 36 times that of Hong Kong's 7 million people.
With growing integration between the economies of the two places, and Hong Kong having returned to communist China's rule in 1997, Hong Kong residents have become less anxious about the mainland.
To be sure, more people want to move here from the mainland. Hundreds of thousands want to seek their economic fortunes in Hong Kong, the former British colony recognized as one of the freest capitalist bastions in the world, but the numbers let in are strictly limited.
Still, migration for economic reasons is no longer a one-way street.
Previously, Hong Kong residents who moved to China were mainly older people who had moved to the territory to make money and wanted to go back to live out their lives near their ancestral homes.
Things have changed. Ask 28-year-old John Chan, one of those who has moved north for economic reasons.
For Chan, China's a good deal. He said he's able to run his own garage with a local partner for two-thirds of what he would have to pay for rent, utilities and wages in Hong Kong. And he figures he pulls in 50 percent more in monthly revenue.
To top it all, living expenses and the mortgage payment for his family, including a wife and 6-year-old daughter, come to less than 10,000 yuan a month, or about $1,200. He'd spend twice that in Hong Kong.
"The costs are much lower; I have more disposable income, so why not move?" Chan said in a telephone interview from Panyu, the city in Guangdong province where he moved in 1998.
No official figures on this type of migration are available. But the Hong Kong Immigration Department said the number of individual trips to the mainland — most of them just for visits — totaled 45.2 million last year, a 16 percent rise from 39.1 million in 1998.
There's no doubt more people are moving to the mainland, said Michael DeGolyer, director of the Hong Kong Transition Project, a joint university group monitoring the territory's development under Chinese rule.
"The quality of life has improved in the mainland, and that's become more and more attractive," DeGolyer said.
A survey of 1,121 people by the Hong Kong-China Relation Strategic Development Research Fund in April found that one in seven would consider moving north to escape the high costs of living here.
The growing interest in China can be seen in the purchase of Chinese residences. While such buys in the early 1990s were often for speculation as Hong Kong people tried to take advantage of a booming Chinese economy, recent sales have been more for long-term investments, real estate agents said.