The grass is always greener…

…over the septic tank.

As soon as Hong Kong’s government unveiled its new stamp duties on property, expatriates who were not permanent residents started complaining that the 15% ‘Locust Levy’ would stop them from buying an apartment here. That anyone – least of all people with relatively fresh memories of less insane overseas housing markets – was planning on buying at current prices was a bit of a shock. But there it was: they felt victimized, and clearly envied those of us still entitled to pay HK$11,000 a square foot for a little concrete box in a distant cramped estate with a silly name.

Now the tables are turned. Expatriates (with or without full residency) are allowed to reserve places in the English Schools Foundation network for their children by paying HK$500,000 for a debenture. Locals – anyone who can’t produce a foreign passport – have lower priority, and they are seething at the injustice of it.

Just as expats demand the privilege of buying a grotesquely overpriced apartment, the Hong Kong Chinese insist on the right to give their children the lame, homework-lite, project-based, teamwork-oriented, namby-pamby education that puts Western countries so far behind Asian ones in international rankings. Rather than give their kids the rigorous, exam-based, ultra-competitive, high-pressure, results-focused schooling that has them doing calculus by age 10, they would prefer the liberal environment of the gwailo school, where the kids’ finger-paintings aren’t graded lest it hurts the losers’ self-esteem, the guitar is considered a musical instrument, and it’s cool to get drunk and stoned and put the video on YouTube.

On the subject of covetousness, a rash of red-eye disease breaks out whenever the government appoints a new gaggle of fresh-faced and other semi-misfits as Deputy Assistant Sub-Undersecretaries and, even worse, Political Assistants, as happened yesterday. The reason is simple: the Political Assistants get HK$98,700 a month (because HK$100,000 would look like too much), and the Under Secretaries’ pay is so great I can’t cram it all in here.

But hold that jealousy. These jobs are less desirable than you would imagine. First, these people are disposable and may not be around for more than a few years. Second, the job will not be much fun. There are grumbles that they are duplicating civil servants’ roles, and it is true that the Under Secretary awkwardly shares her bureau’s number-two slot with a non-fireable civil servant Permanent Secretary who is an expert on everything. But political appointees are now supposed to do things the bureaucrats are increasingly reluctant to do.

Much of this involves arguing the government’s case before the media. Civil servants have increasingly shied away from this for the understandable reasons that the policies they have had to defend have been dire and people recognize them in the street and laugh. The really nasty bit is appearing before and lobbying members of the Legislative Council. Dragging Liberal Party tycoon-legislators out of bed at 1.00am to get a budget passed is the least of it; going 10 rounds before a Legco committee with a belligerent radical lawmaker bringing down the full might of People Power upon you, all live on TV, is, by all accounts, harrowing.

They won’t have a nice time. Fortunately, many of these new political appointees are ex-journalists. As we all know, and have seen so vividly in the past, former reporters have a near-magical ability to make even the cruddiest, stupidest and most malevolent policies appear wonderful and become instantly popular across the community.

Is no-one ever satisfied? As Headline of the Week in today’s Standard makes clear, even microscopic infectious agents are complaining…

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12 Responses to The grass is always greener…

  1. EDB says:

    Is that red eyed or green eyed?

  2. Lois Beluga says:

    Political Assistants actually receive 99,999.90 per month, when hairdressing allowance is added. You get a free lint roller with every ten.

    Anyone from the 1960s (and you occasionally play pieces of its musical detritus) will know that you don’t get drunk and stoned. It’s an either/or. Perhaps you did neither.

    You don’t know anything about education. You know even less about education in Hong Kong. As far as I know, like most people, you failed to get into a first-rate university, for example. There’s nothing wrong with that.

    Stick to what you do best, whatever that is.

  3. mjrelje says:

    LB “Anyone from the 1960s (and you occasionally play pieces of its musical detritus) will know that you don’t get drunk and stoned. It’s an either/or. Perhaps you did neither.” WTF??? Perhaps you did neither.

  4. Stephen says:


    George Adams (Lois Beluga) went to Oxford and has been dining out on that ever since and this would appear to be a rant – ignore it.

    BTW Sino’s Robert “I should have gone to jail but for the Governor” Ng was spouting off in the sub standard today (or yesterday). Is it true or an urban myth that when Bobby Ng vents property prices have a habit of falling, quite drastically?

  5. PropertyDeveloper says:

    I personally found Oxford rather stuck-up and narrow. Cambridge has a much airier atmosphere, but in any case both are slipping down the international ratings.

  6. stanley gibbons says:

    Ng was speculating in futures contracts on the Hong Kong Futures Exchange through two Panamanian-registered companies when the October 1987 global stock market crash began; his paper losses reportedly reached HK$1 billion. At first, Ng refused to pay, claiming to be protected by the limited liability of the companies through which he had traded. This led to the collapse of the futures exchange; trading was also halted on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange for four days. An investigation by the Commercial Crime Bureau of the Royal Hong Kong Police revealed that Ng had avoided required margin calls through collusion with one of his brokers. However, in the end, no charges were laid against Ng because the colonial government of Hong Kong felt that prosecuting him would pose a risk to overall market stability.Instead, a deal was worked out which saw Ng repay HK$500 million, with Hong Kong taxpayers providing the rest of the funds needed by the Exchange through a government bailout.[ Ng reportedly lost a total of US$250 million in his various investment holdings as a result of the crash.

  7. Kenny says:

    Talking of the sub standard, I am alarmed to see today’s news that the government is tendering a piece of land behind Pier 8 and 9 in Central for use as the site of ferris wheel. Has the government lost its mind? Sorry, rhetorical question. Can’t it be put somewhere else? Mongolia maybe?

  8. Vile says:

    You can’t call yourself a world city if you don’t have an iconic Ferris wheel. Get with the programme. Speaking of piers 8 and 9, I was pleasantly surprised by the illustrated hoardings which show that the Wanchai bypass and associated waterfront works will not result in massive superhighways, tunnel portals and shopping centres. In fact, it will be a rather large lawn with some nice trees dotted about for shade.

  9. Dawei says:

    Vile, the hoardings are indeed true, and the evidence speaks for itself, only yesterday did I spot a blade of grass growing in CRIII, between the numerous roads that now litter the site.

  10. PropertyDeveloper says:

    The artists’ impressions are pure fiction, as they invariably show vast expanses of manicured lawns, a near-impossibility in HK.

  11. On Da Lo says:

    Whatever happened to the annual Hemlock-NTSCMP podcast?

  12. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    Hemlock has wit. NTSCMP has a half wit. I guess the combined result of the two in the podcast was not integral.

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