Tag Archives: singapore

We can’t fund no education: Hong Kong’s ‘screw you’ to foreign parents

23 Apr

HK clasroomEducation: another depressing postscript to the story of Hong Kong’s sad decline as a world class city. I’ve probably ranted about this in the past, but was recently reminded about the Hong Kong government’s woefully inept decision to phase out subsidies for non-local kids by a new feature in the SCMP.

It all revolves around the government’s English Schools Foundation subsidy – a HK$238m (£18m) annual sum which helps make schooling for kids not fluent in the local lingo affordable for their parents. The alternative is to send them (and there are over 15,000 of them) to local schools – where lessons are taught in Cantonese – or obscenely expensive international schools which all but the super rich cannot afford.

The article explains how one foreign HK resident – Amanda Chapman, who ironically is a teacher herself – is preparing to leave the SAR after 16 years because of the difficulty of finding a suitable, or affordable, school for her bairn.

“English-language education in Hong Kong is increasingly becoming a privilege exclusive to those who can afford it,” she told the SCMP.

“If you don’t speak Cantonese, then you have no choice but to go to international schools. And the government refuses to acknowledge there is a problem and so does nothing about it.”

No, no, no

Her story is echoed all over the former colony. This borderline racist stance from the government has also been criticised in the past for doing little to help even those wanting to integrate more fully into Hong Kong life, especially ethnic minorities.

Although the Education Bureau lists 83 fee-paying, so-called “direct subsidy”, schools as appropriate for “non-Chinese-speaking students”, the SCMP found almost 50 do not actually admit these kids because “either most of their lessons were taught in Chinese, or the subject was compulsory in their curriculum”.

Aside from the ethical implications of essentially removing the right to a free – or non-financially crippling – primary and secondary education for non-Canto speakers, the sheer short-termism of the decision to pull the plug on the subsidy is mind bogglingly stupid.

Hong Kong’s foundations as a free port, an international hub administered by the British crown but fundamentally a world city, are rapidly disintegrating.

It has always prized itself as a gateway to China and indeed much of its trade is derived from this fact, but since 1997 the SAR has also asserted a kind of ‘localised nationalism’ which is making it a less and less attractive destination for foreigners to settle.

empty classroom


For any normal city this wouldn’t matter, but for one so fundamentally dependent on trade and investment, and the settling of non-Cantonese speakers within its borders, it seems crazy to pursue this kind of policy.

It’s also a sad indictment of the current administration given the city-state’s history under British rule, which gave locals at least a decent English language education. Surely that’s one legacy of colonialism that most people would have wanted to keep – one which at least benefits the SAR and its avaricious locals?

Nope, it seems like post-97, Hong Kong is turning inwards, both in its trade with China and in focusing its education system on Cantonese and Mandarin.

When Singapore is a promising alternative, you know things are bad

If Hong Kong’s the loser, Singapore is undoubtedly the winner.

Most if not all lessons in Singaporean schools are taught in English, aside from “mother tongue” classes.

In stark contrast to the SAR government, the Ministry of Education believes “mastery of English is vital to Singapore’s pupils” because it is “the language of administration, education, commerce, science, technology, and global communication”.

Now, I might have nicked that quote from Wikipedia, but you get the point.

Education is one of the key criteria and expenses aside from housing when ex-pats come to decide where to base themselves.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out what will happen to HK post-2016. Now I’m not saying they shouldn’t teach Cantonese in local schools, far from it, but for a government with a budget SURPLUS which topped HK$64 billion (£5bn) in 2012-13 a piddling HK$238m would not be a big ask.

Not that the government cares and there are too few gweilo voters for it to matter anyway, even if they could directly elect their CEO.

The locals, meanwhile, are more focused on preserving their own educational independence from China, which recently almost managed to bully officials into imposing a “national education” curriculum designed to brainwash local kids.

Internatio-no thanks

What we can hear loud and clear from the HK government on this subsidy issue is that you can come and settle here, but if you have kids you’d better get your wallet out.

Christ, have you ever met international school kids? I wouldn’t wish them upon any territory or nation state. Soon these rootless offspring with whiny trans-Atlantic drawl and a misguided sense of their own pre-eminence in the world will be all that’s left of non-Cantonese speaking kids in Hong Kong. That day is drawing shudderingly close.

The hypocrisy is stunning. As Chapman told the SCMP: “The government’s argument that it should not have to support a non-local curriculum is nonsense when you consider that senior civil servants’ children are educated either overseas or in international schools here at taxpayers’ expense.”

Even the Education secretary’s kids apparently went to an Aussie international school here.

It’s almost as if the Hong Kong government only wanted rich foreigners to settle here, which I’m sure you’ll agree is an outlandish and libelous thing to say considering the billions it spends on social welfare and, er, care for society’s most needy…

So, to recap: come to Hong Kong and make shitloads of money, walk around in red chinos and drive white Maseratis. However, if you have kids they are going to international school or you can fuck off to Singapore.

Kommen sie hier Hong Kong und listen to Kraft-Blur!

9 May

kraftwerkHong Kong outdid itself over the weekend with the London bus-style arrival of two global musical giants of very different pedigree – Kraftwerk and Blur. Both showed up what’s best and worst about the city’s live music tastes.

Having spent Saturday afternoon drinking Tsingtao and listening to krautrock our expectations were suitably piqued ahead of the electro-pioneers’ 3D gig at Kowloon’s Kitec centre. There was only one problem – no bar in the venue and no drinks allowed inside. At a gig? Seriously? So after muttering to the box office staff something about my inalienable rights and that I’d see them in Strasbourg, we rejoined to the venue’s apparently only café, to find it had stopped serving half an hour before the gig was due to start.

It is a testament to Kraftwerk’s magical electronic plinky plonkings that being forced to drink warm Blue Girl Imported Premium Lager and chow down on a microwaveable 7-11 hot dog did not ruin my evening before it had even started. 3-D glasses firmly in place we were treated to two hours of a Kraftwerk greatest hits show, complete with nicely retro three dimensional projections. Autobahn, Robots, Tour De France, The Model, Trans Europe Express, Musique Non Stop – the music and visuals just about distracted from the appalling skin-tight bathing suits these four portly middle-aged men were wearing. For the record, Kraftwerk dress auf der linken Seite.hiroshima - kraftwer

Apparently chief songwriter Ralf Hütter is the only remaining original member of the band. To be honest one Teutonic sounding sex offender looks very much like another when plonked behind a plinth wearing a skin-tight bathing suit, so no great loss there. Good tunes. No banter. A simple auf widersehen and then they were off to go cruising Lockhart Rd, or more probably back to the hotel for a slice of strudel and a sleepy. Quality.

Blur was an altogether different beast. In what was billed as their farewell tour the English indie legends blasted through a 90 minute set of such quality it was almost impossible to choose the lame song to go to the toilet during. Albarn spent the gig jumping and spazzing about like a 23-year-old, with Coxon coaxing unearthly howlings from his geetar (solo highlight: Trimm Trab) and Alex James, well, standing off to one side looking louche and thinking of cheese. Age has certainly not withered them, although Albarn managed to throw a bit of a hissy fit when his guitar malfunctioned during Tender and the crowd had to step in to calm him down with an impromptu a cappella version of the chorus, like a long-suffering mother dealing with an ADHD-riddled child.

The highlight, early on, came when the Gorillaz front man apologised for not having made it to HK with Blur until now – 25 years after forming. Their upcoming gig in Japan had been cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances, he continued, meaning the boys had a week free which they planned to spend in the SAR trying to write a new album. Cue screams of delight from the audience. Whether we’ll ever see the fruits of this week’s Blur holiday in Hong Kong remains to be seen, although Albarn has already penned the imperious Hong Kong with Gorillaz.

So, thanks Hong Kong, but can we have more of this in future please and sort the bar situation out? It’s pretty embarrassing when you begin to get out-muscled on the live music front by Singapore, although judging by the noticeable gaps in the crowd at both venues, it’s no more than some of us deserve.

(PS I might add some videos to this post if I can work out how to do it)

What are you smiling at? Oh, nothing…

29 Jan

Hong Kong panoramaHere’s a question. Why are so many Hong Kongers so bloody miserable? I hadn’t really thought about it until a Gallup poll of 150,000 people worldwide last month revealed that those living in the SAR and their counterparts in Singapore are among the most miserable anywhere on the planet.

Singapore came bottom in the poll of 148 countries, with just under half expressing happiness, while Hong Kong came in 73rd, with 69 per cent of respondents all smiles. As pointed out by SCMP, these two city-states rank third (HK) and seventh (Sing) on the World Bank’s per capita GDP table – in Hong Kong’s case the figure is ten times higher than that of the happiness joint leader, Panama.

So what can we deduce from this? Money can’t buy you happiness? Asians are intrinsically less likely to tell a stranger they’re happy than Central Americans? Such polls are a spurious waste of time? Well, a mixture of all three probably. The problem with this kind of research is that no matter what the results, you can drag some kind of expert out of the woodwork to validate it with their insightful social commentary.

So here’s mine. I can’t speak for Singapore but there’s a huge wealth gap in Hong Kong. Around one in six Hong Kongers live in poverty, according to a ten year study released last November by Oxfam. Bearing in mind the median salary of Hong Kong’s top 10 per cent is HK$88,800 (£7,300) per month this is pretty shameful. It would be difficult to imagine even Margaret Thatcher in her prime ignoring that kind of societal imbalance.

So that might explain why around a sixth of Hong Kong isn’t very happy. What about the rest? To put it bluntly, the acquisition of wealth seems to be one of the few things which binds the people of this former colony together. It’s why they run two or three jobs, working all hours; why they school their kids until all the joy is sucked out of them, wait until they’ve been to uni and then nag them to get hitched before they hit 30. Incidentally it’s also why you see men who’ve been beaten furiously with the ugly stick married to stunning brides. Money. Money. Money. It’s fucking relentless and, I imagine, it doesn’t make for super happy smiley people.

I’m not sure whether the survey was confined to indigenous locals, but I’d also posit the notion that there’s probably a difference between the happiness rankings of Cantonese and gweilos living in Hong Kong. I say that through no rigorous research of my own other than I’m having a cracking time here.