Saturday 23 July 2011

English and English Schools Foundation in Hong Kong

This is an excellent letter in the SCMP (see below), defending the internationalism and apparent multiculturalism of Hong Kong. The only slight kink is that the writer—no apparent relation to Friar—lives in Macau!

Tuck also makes the excellent suggestion that those Hongkies who claim domestic helpers are "privileged" should swap places for a month. Wife-maid-swap reality TV anyone??

English has always been an integral part of Hong Kong's international trade
Jul 20, 2011

Cynthia Sze, in her diatribe ("If English is so important, firms should move to Belfast or Glasgow", July 15) not only shows ignorance of Hong Kong's history but the worst kind of flag-waving chauvinism. Claiming to find previous correspondents' opinions "one-sided", she essentially shouts "gweilo go home" and expresses her views against "foreigners" (read: domestic helpers) as well.

Demanding to know who needs "foreign firms and workers that can't compete in the local business environment", she conveniently ignores the integral part English has always played, and continues to play, in that very environment.

Hong Kong was built, from the beginning, on international trade, much of it British and most conducted in English. If foreign firms today help make Hong Kong a world city, it is not, as Ms Sze states, the business opportunities that China has made available to the city, but rather the business opportunities that the city itself has made available to the world.

Betraying her true stance, she states categorically that "ESF schools discriminate against Cantonese-speaking students". Really?

Is it just possible that the admissions process at the aptly named English Schools Foundation favours English-speaking students? Perhaps, if Cantonese is so important, Hong Kong's non-Putonghua-speaking businesses should set up shop in Guangdong?

Interestingly, on the same day there was on the facing page an article by Amy Ho, a senior recruitment specialist for banking and financial services ("What it takes to make city a home for talent"). She said: "ESF is not a colonial hangover, it is an important element in Hong Kong's standing as a world city", and went on to say that if the Hong Kong government "wishes to fill jobs with international workers, it needs to confront issues that increasingly deter those workers. If it wishes jobs to be filled by local candidates, it must address deficiencies in education and training. If it does neither, we all know which cities stand to benefit."

Hong Kong has always been a city of immigrants, multicultural and multilingual. And if Ms Sze truly thinks Hong Kong's domestic workers are "privileged", I suggest she take the job for a month. Perhaps she would enjoy six 12- to 15-hour work days per week, disciplining someone else's children, scrubbing their floors and their toilets. Perhaps she would enjoy sharing a flat with her employer, effectively placing her on call 24 hours a day. This, after all, is the privileged life of a domestic helper.

Reuben M. Tuck, Macau


  1. For someone with so little regard for the English language, Ms. Sze has spent years writing letters to the city's top English-language newspaper. She has a legacy of using the SCMP to rail against everything foreign, from languages, to schools to people.

    Go back through the archives and you will see a trend of Sze picking on foreign domestic workers, non-Chinese Hong Kongers, and even Commonwealth war veterans who tried to defend the city generations ago.

    Take her letters, and replace "Chinese / real Hong Konger" with "white"; and "foreign" with "black," and see how they read back.

    Here's the question -- do you think she really means what she writes? Or is she just some sort of agitator / propaganda tool?

  2. aimlesswanderer24 July 2011 at 21:44

    I think she is angling for a cushy job in the CCP's or HK govt's propaganda, err, information department. Or she is already an employee.

    Maybe a gweilo once dumped her, and her maid ran of after she got abused by her employer. Either way, she has some pretty clear prejudices.

  3. Thanks Joyce and AW.

    The problem with newspaper op-eds and letters is the lack of transparency of the writers' or columnists' conflicts of interest. Without meeting and questioning people like Ms Sze, it is difficult to answer the question posed by Joyce. Newspapers should be more responsible and make it compulsory for contributors to declare any bias or conflicts of interest. There are plenty of scary people who are able to get their dodgy letters published in the SCMP; thus giving them a platform or soapbox to air their dangerous views. It would be nice if newspapers were more responsible.

    Yes, Ms Sze certainly appears to have a huge chip on her shoulder. The source of her prejudice would be revealing, and best of luck to anyone who knows her or happens to come across her.

  4. aimlesswanderer28 July 2011 at 22:44

    Much easier for all concerned if she wears a big "I hate foreign devils" badge.

    I really hope that she doesn't have a maid, though there seems to be a good chance that she is on the "banned" list.

  5. I'm pretty sure, as Joyce likely inferred, that there is a far right nationalistic "group" out here. If only they would provide a list of all their members! Speaking of which, Norway has got the attention at the moment and far right groups from places like Russia and Germany are reportedly supporting Anders Behring Breivik and his scary manifesto.

    A "banned" list of Hong Kong employers? I don't think that really exists, or if it does it is filed in the bin. Serial abusers of domestic helper simply move on to the next maid agency who jump at the chance of making business. Sad but unfortunately true.

  6. aimlesswanderer3 August 2011 at 23:18

    There may be such a group, quietly nurtured by the CCP, to be unleashed when needed.

    See occasional anti Japanese/South Korean/Taiwanese/Evil Western Imperialist riots on the mainland.

    Umm, I would have thought that the Philippine embassy would make sure that the really crazy people with bad histories of abusing maids couldn't hire any more. That makes sense, but since when is that an issue?

  7. Agree AW!

    Also, I am not quite sure what is going on with the Philippines government!

  8. I guess they have trouble making sure the country runs, and in a way the unfortunate maids are sacrificed so that the people don't starve. Without the overseas remittances the Philippines would be a basket case.

  9. Filipinas in general are such happy, cheerful and bright people. It is just so sad that their government and the governing elite are so incompetent or corrupt or both.

  10. Yeah, seems like the only people who can get anything done are the rich and the powerful. Everyone else gets ignored at best.

    So all these ladies (and some men) find work overseas because things are so crap at home... sad, but true.

  11. learn English in Ireland-You can learn English in your country in a local English language school. However, the experience and knowledge acquired is not the same as learning English where it is a native language.