On the top floor of S-Meg Tower, in the heart of Asia’s throbbing international financial centre, the Big Boss absent-mindedly sifts through the morning pile of ‘incoming’. In a modern, Western corporation, a personal assistant would toss away the junk mail, the glossy brochures, the tedious announcements and the routine circulars. But in a Chinese family-owned company, the emperor must see and control everything.
Ms Fang the hunter-killer secretary opens a white envelope and pulls out a manila file and a letter. “It’s from Mr Fan,” she announces, and our dynamic and visionary Chairman and Managing Director swiftly takes it. He and TS Fan – of the Fan rice-trading dynasty – have been friends since childhood. The families have ties going back generations to an obscure Guangdong village. They are godfathers to each other’s kids.
The Big Boss takes a quick look and then nudges the folder towards the Company Gwailo, who is glancing at his watch and counting down the hours and minutes to the official opening of the weekend. “What do you think?”
I read the covering note. This is the resume of the son of one Mr Kang Jianjun of Stubbs Road, with whom Fan does some sort of business in Shanghai. Kang wants to get his little prince Teddy, currently age five and a half, into St Paul’s Co-educational Primary School, an oh-so-high-class, ultra-elite institution for high-achieving geniuses. Would the Big Boss, with his outstanding reputation, social standing and extensive network of important and wealthy friends, pass the resume on to the school and strongly recommend the child?
Does the Big Boss know Kang? Yes. Well, he’s vaguely heard of him. So, no, he doesn’t. The 12-page resume begins with date of birth and other details and then lists little Teddy’s academic and other attributes: bilingual, good at numbers, a fast learner, creative, sociable, musical, shows promising leadership skills, and all the usual. Flicking through, I see the father’s dazzling entrepreneurial achievements, various directorships and golf club memberships. Then, on page 4, it gets bad.
‘Family educational background’, it says. The father went to Harvard and Yale; mother went to Stanford and Yale; father’s brother went to Harvard and Stanford; father’s sister went to Yale and Colombia; mother’s sister went to Harvard, Yale and Stanford. And then I find why the kid needs a dozen pages in his resume: there are photocopies of all the relatives’ degrees. Rather grainy photocopies.
The Big Boss is tempted to do TS’s bidding – indeed, he is excited by the urge to see what benefits could follow a favour. This Kang fellow might be well-connected in Beijing. He might have links with huge state-owned companies or government ministries. There could be multi-million dollar contracts or deals going. A slice of whatever TS Fan is getting.
But, I gently remind him, you have no idea. We could check him out, but is it really worth it (as the clock ticks its way towards the weekend)?
“How do you know he’s not connected with, say, Bo Xilai?” I ask. “How do you know his wealth wasn’t stolen from a state enterprise? How do you know his corrupt patrons aren’t about to be arrested? How did he get his wealth out of the Mainland?” The Big Boss is torn. I make a big show of peering at the Xeroxes in detail. “I’m not sure if they’re real,” I tell him. “But the admissions people at St Paul’s would spot a fake a mile off. They’re experts.”
As I slide the folder back to him, I see he is nervous. The Big Boss of S-Meg Holdings peddling influence with phony degree certificates? But then again, saying ‘no’ to TS Fan? Turning down the opportunity to shoe-shine? This will be, for him, an agonizing weekend. And I hereby declare it open.
The trick in HK is to get a referee of such stature that there’s no need to examine whether or not siblings attended Harvard or not, that the name of the ‘referee’ alone is enough to move things along. Maybe Big Boss needs to work on his gravitas.
If anyone in Government in the PRC really wanted to do something about corruption, a good place to start would be foreign schools and universities. Find out which Chinese pupils at, say, Harrow (like Bo jr) are children of Goverment officials, whose salaries should not stretch to school fees at Harrow, and go from there. Repeat at schools and Universities in the UK, USA, Australia and so on.
Of course, this will never happen.
The nice thing about education in Hong Kong, from the point of view of Westerners afraid of the rise of the East, the Yellow Peril and associated chimeras, is that is appears to have no effect whatsoever.
I think the edukayshun system of Hong Kong was designed by the British Foreign Office as a system in institutionalized mass idiot production in 1842. Keep the natives down. Give them the education system they want, which is based on Tao meets Confucius in the fog with a hangover.
The dream of many in our Mouldering Pearl is to sail through the education system, gathering credentials, but to remain the same uncreative, immoral, acquisitive and essentially unmalleable Kulturphilister as he was before.
On the face of it, this ought to be highly cultured society but it has never produced as far as I know any discernible significant contribution to world culture in music, literature, art or philosophy.
Incidentally, the Hong Kong Education Idea is now taking off in Britain and elsewhere. It’s the way to go: look good, make dosh, mumble like Beckham and be pig-ignorant, on TV or Facebook if possible.
I am sure we all know this already but perhaps the view is now outdated and things are changing. I’m getting old. Even the undead age.
Bela, oh, so its Hong Kong’s fault that Britain has become a sanctuary for obese, welfare dependent, lazy, drunk , violent chavs? Hoisted by its own petard of not wishing to be racist to the point that it has lost many of its cultural values.
Say what you like about HK’ers they are hard working, honest, mind their own business are respectful of the elderly and of authority in general and with British leadership have produced a society that whilst hardly perfect, is the envy of many.
Which is why both you and I choose to live here.
I notice the Sub-standard took a stab at education this morning with an “opinion” on the ESF.
Whatever the rights or wrongs of the ESF the Sub Standard’s take was based on an 8 year old critical Director of Audit report (what were you doing in 2004) and a dodgy Chinese teaching kit at a “prestigious” ESF school. This was naturally blamed on foreign nationals working at the ESF.
Isn’t it about time Tobacco Charles staff had a closer, more current look at the ESF where 70% of children studying there have at least one parent holding permanent HKID’s. In addtion to asking why the ESF is full with huge waiting lists?
Mr. Adam’s above offers some very good reasons above as does the blog’s author. Strangely so does Michael Suen who belatedly is now tackling one of HK longest running scams – The school text book con.
The university is called Columbia. Colombia is the South American nation.
Looks like Bela killed it on this occasion. Happy weekend all.
— father’s sister went to Yale and Colombia
Colombia? Was that to do some research on Charley chump dust? Or was it really ‘Columbia”? You know the one uptown between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue?
Fannie Law in ExCo ?
Could that possibly pre-empt a Vagina Ip appointment ?
Is there still hope ?
Bravo Bela, spot on
Maugrim, I normally agree with every word you say, but my experience and my version of “say what you like” doesn’t quite match yours:
Hard working – in the white collar set, only a minority;
Honest – sort of, if we’ll permit disengagement with unwanted topics;
Mind their own business – absolutely not;
Respectful of the elderly – probably so;
Respectful of authority in general – to its face, yes; behind its back, no; I don’t believe authority should be respected for its own sake so I wouldn’t necessarily call this a negative.
Bela makes a good point. I would however like to note that, after three days of intensive processing, my enormous encyclopedic brain has recalled that Wong Kar Wai was a graphic design major at Hong Kong Polytechnic.