Thursday, February 19, 2009

Vote With Your Feet

By Chip Tsao | published Feb 19, 2009

As the Hong Kong government continues to recommend “patriotic education” for all of our schools, with guidelines such as the mandatory hoisting of the Chinese national flag, required Putonghua lessons, and courses on contemporary China (it is, of course, unlikely that books revealing the ugly face of the motherland, such as “Mao: The Unknown Story” by Jung Chang would be included), students and their worrying parents are continuing to vote with their feet. On a single day, a recent British education fair attracted over 3,700 parents seeking a better education for their children in Britain, a 5 percent increase compared with last year.

No surprise. If I were a Hong Kong parent, I would certainly refuse to be treated as an idiot, especially when you consider that most senior officials, executive council members and rich businessmen have sent their children either to the United States or to expensive boarding schools in Britain. These are the same privileged few who preach to Hong Kong schoolchildren about how honorable it is to gaze at the Chinese national flag, learn about the achievements of great-granddad Mao and generally feel proud to be a Chinese. Meanwhile, their own children are shipped off to have a good time in Harrow or Winchester, being trained (although with little result in most cases) to speak English like James Mason or Lawrence Olivier and behave like an English gentleman.

That’s why Lan Kwai Fong is always so crowded on Christmas, Easter or during the summer. It’s the peak season for government official’s children, who enjoy three return air tickets every year as part of their “overseas education allowance.” They’re back on holiday to practice their native Cantonese with their old friends and schoolmates. They are the lucky ones who have been spared the indoctrination of the patriotic education of Hong Kong, and have learned the difference between a martini and a Babycham—knowledge some secondary school students in Tuen Mun would love to learn (although as far as sex education is concerned, studying in Britain or America nowadays offers very little advantage).

So little wonder the large crowd who swarmed to the British education fair created a scene as spectacular as a horde of Vietnamese boat people queuing up for an immigration application to the United States in the 1980s. Both needed some sort of screening—the boat people had to prove they had a necessary skill, and for those who are keen to seek a better academic home in England, money.

The bad news is that living in Britain even as an overseas student remains as ridiculously expensive as ever. The good news is that the pound is falling, with some forecasting HK$8 per pound soon—the same rate as in 1977 during the time of Jim Callaghan, which is also the time I first landed in the UK. London looked like a ruined Sarajevo, ground to a halt by strikes and with rubbish piled up to overflowing at Piccadilly Circus.

Those are the days I miss, when the colonial government didn’t give a damn whether you grew up as a patriot or a Triad, and you were never taught how great the British empire was in local schools.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home