A system where things are not always what they seem

I'm a foreigner who is also a teacher in a local school here in Hong Kong. Call me 'Mr. Fat' (Fay Loh). No please, it's ok, most people here feel the need to comment upon my physical appearance at will. Am I fat? Not really, apart from being 6 foot 2' tall, my stomach is comparatively bigger than that of my workmates as is usually pointed out to me, 4 times a day. Some staff great me with 'Say Fay Loh' which apart from meaning 'I hate you, die, fat man' is meant to be a greeting of friendship. In a local school, a microcosm of the society at large, appearances are everything.

A traditional teacher will have no trouble in addressing students as 'the fat boy', 'the big girl', 'the Indian' or simply, 'Number 35' (their class number). Thankfully, my school is not your average Hong Kong High school and so some of these habits have been broken.

Back to appearances. Classes are lectured regarding their need to 'decorate the notice boards' both around the school and in classrooms. This is especially frenetic if there are to be visitors such as parents likely to be prowling the school. There is no need to put any marked schoolwork on the boards, what would the point of that be? No, it's better for the boards to be as banal and colorful as possible. Preferably with as many members of the Hello Kitty family as can be found. Appearances are everything.

Many large garlands of flowers will appear at any event where visitors may appear. Such tributes make the ones at a mafia funeral look somewhat anemic by comparison.

We have 'uniform groups'. A previous Principal stated his intention to have more such groups operating in the school. My suggestion of the Village People as candidates met with a muted response. Most Hong Kong schools would have: a road safety patrol, an air cadets unit, a Red Cross group a St John's ambulance group, a girl guides troop and a cub pack. What do each of these groups have in common? Apart from the need to role-play, all of these groups practice the same essential Hong Kong pastime. They practice their marching.

Go to any Hong Kong school on a Saturday and you can see them, marching around the playgrounds in a fashion that would make any drill sergeant proud. Why you ask? I'm not sure I know why either. The road safety patrol are never on crossing duty, the cubs are frightened by trees. The answer it seems lies in appearances and in Hong Kong, where a secretary who earns 10,000 HK dollars a month buys a 5,000 dollar handbag, this is what counts.

Keeping up appearances


This is my 5th year as a NET Teacher in Hong Kong. Your post about appearances is spot on. I wonder whether I will have any appetite for teaching when I return home next year.

Despite all my best attempts, I have all but given up on teaching here in HK, at least in the way I have known it for the past 20 years. This year I have even given up and started using a microphone.

The first year here I was told I had to put up a noticeboard for English. I spent two or three weeks getting students to make nice posters to put up only to have them all taken down and replaced by colourful paper cutouts and (yes, you guessed it Hello Kittties) When I asked why I couldn't display students work I was told that "we never do that in Hong Kong".


Re:A system where things are not always what they seem

I'm sorry to hear that. I know exactly what you mean about reaching that point where you've had enough.

Being a net is a lottery (I'm not a NET) though am lucky believe or not to work for a local principal who is probably a diamond amongst the rough here in HK.

Sure, we have to design boards, etc, though he has cut most of that bullshit out. he is concerned about real teaching and learning and about being as innovative as possible to teach, not for the kids to rote learn.

I'll still be here for a while though I'm probably luckier than most.

Keep your chin up. (i'm thinking about writing a piece ebout school cleanliness and the janitorial system)


Re:A system where things are not always what they seem

What are the ESF schools like? I'm coming to work in one soon. Are they ANYTHING like the fairly decent comprehensive I'm leaving?

ESFs not evil

Don't panic, Spam -- the ESF schools have a good reputation. They're not 'local schools' in the sense that most of us on batgung.com have been using the term, i.e. they teach in English and are mostly for expats' children. NET teachers aren't assigned to ESF schools; their purpose is to help raise the English language standard in local schools.

The big issue of the day regarding ESF schools is their funding: they receive an enormous government subsidy, which is coming under heavy fire from the HK public these days.

Mr Tall

ESF Schools

If you are interested in a govt-funded ESF school, do your best to find out its reputation, about its principal, its feeder system, the role it expects from parents, etc. I would say that big questions to be answered are how does the school review teachers, ensure uniform articulation (making sure that a year 3 child etc has learned all expected in the previous year) and a uniform homework policy across year bands.
I'm an American married to a Brit with a child in year 2 here. Sadly I have crashed up against an ESF principal who restricts interaction with parents and wants no role for parents save fundraising.

Help! What's a good international school in HK?

We're moving to HK shortly, and we're currently looking for a kindergarten for our four year old. Since we prefer the environment and ideals of American schools, we would like for our son to attend an international program. Any suggestions??


Well, well

I do not doubt that the expat teachers in Hong Kong are of the highest caliber in academics, atheletics, ethics, culture, manners etc., but they seem to be deficient in the aspect of irony. I came across another forum for expat teachers and most were bitching about how rude, judgemental and materialistic HKers are while readily admitting they were all here for the MONEY.

Less materialistic folks should instead join the Peace Corps, non?

Oh, there's plenty to gripe about, but it's rude and judgemental to impose *your* frame of reference onto others of a different culture and society, as we are all guests here, and not the other way around.

And there are also many things to love about HK which I don't ever hear from expats in general. I don't even know of any American or European society that is as open to foreigners and foreign workers.

Frankly, it is also distressing to see the expats holding themselves aloof from the locals, when in many other Asian cities, the reverse is true.

Not that there aren't ridiculous people and practices to make sport of - from another perspective, it might just be known as "different".

Re:A system where things are not always what they seem

ADifferentExpat, your name and posting would imply that unlike other expats, you have huge amounts of humility and respect for the local people of HK. This is definately admirable. Can you speak cantonese? If so then you really do stand out from the great white crowd.

I certainly agree that it is wrong to impose personal (or western) reference onto HK culture (in all of its glory...haha) as we are guests.

I have to say however, I strongly disagree with the comment made about European and American societies being less open to foreigners/foreign workers.
London, Amsterdam, Paris, New York and Los Angeles I would rank as all being more ethnically tolerant and certainly more diverse than HK. I mean, lets be honest, how often do you see a black guy in HK? (God help you if youre a black person on the mainland.)
Sure, HKers put up with gwailo... but lets not forget HK was part of the United Kingdom untill fairly recently in historical and generational terms. They really have no choice.

You also stated:
"Frankly, it is also distressing to see the expats holding themselves aloof from the locals, when in many other Asian cities, the reverse is true."

I am not quite sure where you have been in asia, but I have certainly never been to an asian city where expatriot americans or english have been mixing in any other than the upper end of the lifestyle range - and certainly none have considered themselves inferior to locals as you so suggest.