In a city where homes have become unaffordable to the majority of families, what does it make more sense to do with 20 hectares of space: build housing, or build a white-elephant stadium for bores who want to run/cycle/hop backwards round and round in circles? Under the administration of Donald Tsang, the answer would have been obvious: you do whatever best suits the tycoons who profit from both housing scarcity and pointless infrastructure construction. But in the zany, Mainlandizing-but-pro-welfare world of Chief Executive CY Leung, some officials dare to think otherwise.
Some things, on the other hand, never change – like the Big Lychee’s embarrassing families. I was wrong about the role of US education consultancy IvyAdmit concerning the family of Gerald Chow, dentist and director of Chow Sang Sang jewellery chain. IvyAdmit did provide tutoring and hand-holding for the Chows’ two boys in the US, and is being sued by the Chows for return of US$2 million intended to help get the kids into Harvard. But the consultants’ tutors also researched and wrote essays for Gerald himself as he did (or ‘did’) his Masters in Public Administration at the Kennedy School of Government. Lots of snarky discussion here, here, etc, and the campus paper joins in, with some readers demanding that Harvard withdraw the degree.
I’m most freaked out by the fact that it’s Chow’s own legal team that submitted such damaging evidence for all the world to see. They presumably feel that the documents bolster his case against IvyAdmit’s Mark Zimny, and to hell with however else the materials might incriminate their client. The only explanations are that Chow needs his money back really badly, or has a hypersensitive attachment to principle, or – could it just be? – simply doesn’t think that paying for essays for a degree is in any way wrong. (You mean you’re supposed to do all that yourself?) But he must have studied in person for his DDS dental degree, right?
As a story about the deranged lengths people go to in order to get their kids into a particular school, it’s sordid enough. Now it’s doubly, trebly, and deliciously, horrible. If Gerald Chow were, say, the Under-Secretary at the Education Bureau – and in the wacky CY Leung era it’s bizarre that he’s not – this would of course be a big story in the Hong Kong press. As it is, his main public role apart from directorship of the listed family company is a 2010-11 part-time spell at the government’s so-called think-tank, the Central Policy Unit. Under Donald Tsang’s administration, such appointments were mostly pats on the head for docility (spot the tycoons’ kids and second-tier plutocrats in the current line-up). It is quite possible that Chow did no meaningful think-tankery, thus it’s not much of a ‘Government advisor cheated to get degree’ story.
One possible angle is that Chow is not the first Hongkonger to get a Masters in Public Administration at KSG: Donald Tsang is a fellow alumnus (and yes, that does make you wonder what sort of qualification it is). But will the South China Morning Post news editor think that makes it any more newsworthy? Probably not. File under ‘pathetic’ rather than ‘scandalous’. The story’s worth – especially if Harvard strips Chow of his degree – is as a morality tale and a reflection of Hong Kong’s values (which is a euphemism for ‘lurid, embarrassing, crashing of someone’s reputation that we can’t take our eyes off’). Tons of stuff for investigative reporters to browse. But this just doesn’t rank with taking photos up schoolgirls’ skirts or offering half a billion bucks to straighten out your gay daughter. Perhaps the real story is one of desperate, Kamikaze legal tactics (neatly summarized as a), b) and c) here).
Chow Sang Sang have frequently taken advertising space in the South China Morning Post; I’m sure nothing will happen that will prevent us from seeing the ads again.