Winter of our discontent update

What are we supposed to be frothing at the mouth about today? Professional sport is corrupt! The real news story here is that someone somewhere thought it wasn’t. If someone offers to pay you money for letting some oaf in shorts kick a ball past you on a field, you will do it. It’s hardly news.

Richard III, whose remains have been found in Leicester, England, had a sword thrust up his rear end! That was nothing. He was (probably) already dead. Edward II was dispatched in similar fashion with a red-hot poker while alive. They heard the screams miles away. (For the curious, they used a metal funnel – according to my mother, who told me all about it when I was at an impressionable age.)

Hong Kong households are wallowing in debt

The helpful Standard table does indeed show significant rises in mortgage and credit card/consumer loans in the last four years. But is this risky borrowing by a money-grubbing, get-rich-now, speculative refugee society that likes to live on the edge? Or is it prudent behaviour by a generally financially literate population at a time when interest rates are so low and inflation sufficiently high that you are virtually paid to borrow? Are people crazy to (say) take out a tax loan to buy some extra shares in the Link REIT, or crazy not to? The Hong Kong Monetary Authority cares about the banking system rather than families’ finances per se, so they’re not saying. And no-one else seems to know, either.

The English Schools Foundation is to admit students based on how good they are at English rather than how bad they claim to be at Cantonese. Something like that. Someone has to froth at the mouth about this, but who? Is it the dim expat Westerners who will have no school to attend because they are beaten in the English tests by dazzlingly bilingual Chinese students? Or is it the local families whose kids’ English is a bit imperfect but who previously could con their way into ESF schools by pretending not to speak Chinese? Again, no-one seems to know. (It would also be intriguing to find out what Hong Kong’s patriotic pro-Beijing camp, and indeed Central People’s Government officials, think about the phenomenon of Hong Kong citizens denying knowledge of the national language – but I guess that’s asking for too much.)

Evil parallel traders are overcoming the two-can limit on infant milk formula by splitting the powder up into single portions in plastic bags. You’d think this stuff was cocaine or something. Indeed, maybe the traders will start to stamp on it, as drug traffickers do, by diluting it with baking soda. Then word will get out that it has been adulterated, and Mainland mothers will go back to buying their old local product. By Jove – problem solved.

But wait! There’s more! Evil distributors are forcing pharmacies to buy unpopular as well as popular brands of baby milk powder. And so formula, previously impossible to find, now clogs up the shelves. This raises the question of what makes a brand of this commodity ‘unpopular’ when it’s all much the same (and from an innocent onlooker’s point of view, incredibly overpriced). And if a brand is ‘unpopular’, why don’t you just stop making it?

Edward II’s killers had it easy. If I had four feet of red-hot steel and all the parallel traders and baby milk producers lined up before me, I wouldn’t know where to start.

And where’s Rita Fan while all this going on? Not a day passes, usually, without the former Legislative Council President popping up to give us her opinion on every tiny thing that’s going on. Suddenly, just when you’re curious, she has vanished.

And why is it still only Tuesday? There’s a five-day weekend with my name written on it taking way too long to come round.

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26 Responses to Winter of our discontent update

  1. mumphLT says:

    The misleading adverts for the infant smack formula are partially to blame.
    The little shit that thinks the stuffed bear is bigger than the stuffed bee wants shooting in the face too.

  2. Bela Botha says:

    The “popular” brands of milk powder promise that they contain the added brain enzymes your child needs to grow up smart and rich. And thus not have to go to ESF after all. Join the dots!

    ESF isn’t levelling the playing field. It’s part of the deal to get more money out of the Government. It looks good on paper when presented to Peking: another nail in the coffin of colonial privilege. But there is no privilege attached to going to ESF. It’s turning into just another version of the Hong Kong Brain Dead Edukayshun system. Tutorial schools have never been busier.

    Now…after considerable research…


    US million-dollar Lincoln Continental ‘ruined’ by lone gunman says Warren Commission

    Paris: shopping schedules under threat following Royal tunnel death traffic chaos

    Hong Kong tourists’ holiday anguish – Tiananmen latest

    Tsunami: most buffet sushi ‘saved’ say Kwok group hotel chefs

    Danger from falling maids: residents seek Government guarantees

    Incoming domestic helpers to fill out suicide screening questionnaire

    (We get it. Ed.)

  3. PCC says:

    My friend says that the ESF is positioning itself to go private and make billions on the mainland whilst Beijing and it’s supporters will be only too happy to see the back of all the too numerous non-wealthy non-Cantonese speakers who will be forced to leave the Big Lychee because there will be no affordable schools for their children to attend.

  4. Maugrim says:

    PCC, I’m not so sure. Around 2000-2002 I think the big plan was to take the ESF into China. At the time, the handover or at least its effects hadn’t quite reached the ESF. What happened since then was that they got burnt on some of their local expansion plans, they were under scrutiny with regards to the top heavy management, pay scales, expensive recruitment practices etc that was a feature of their hubris, then the Government froze their subvention, teacher costs became more of an issue and they aren’t quite what they used to be with regards to teacher quality etc. They should have downsized years ago and gone private, but didn’t. They are reaping the results of that inaction today.

    So, whilst there is demand on the Mainland for a ‘brand’ in this area, they are Brits who are good at patting themselves on the back, but not so good with the natives so to speak. I don’t fancy their chances if they can’t work with local officials and cultural practices. I mean, its working so well here in HK, what could possibly go wrong?

  5. Stephen says:

    With regards to the ESF something is definately up !

    My guess is they have been effective in showing the Government that their schools are not full of “whitey’s”. To alleviate anger amongst “Locals” in the ESF system (70% I think is the number) they’ve agreed to retain the subvention of those already in. Those coming into the system will not receive the subvention and will they increasingly be “foreign” ?

    So what’s in it for the ESF ? Well fixing up those old schools won’t come cheap. And for the HKSARG ? All locals go to local schools where eventually they will have national education rammed down their throats.

  6. PCC says:

    1. The earlier attempt to take the ESF into the PRC was blocked by the HK government because the entity designed to spearhead the expansion was set up as a private company.

    2. According to the ESF, 70% of their students are HK permanent residents (of whatever race or nationality) and 44% are ethnically Chinese.

  7. Big Al says:

    My kids go to ESF so I won’t bore you on that topic …

    However, I will bore you with something else. I have it on good authority that certain “people” who prowl around public housing estates will pay around $10 for an empty formula can (more for a “popular” brand). Obviously these cans will make their way over the border to be refilled with something that isn’t quite top noch, yet sold on as such.

    Therefore, you can’t blame Mainland parents who doubt the food production system in China and want to get their hands on real formula (overlooking the fact that 50% of parents have the stuff on tap for free). At least we have the good stuff in Hong Kong, or so we’re led to believe …

  8. Jeff says:

    Hey PCC, I’m one of the ‘all the too numerous non-wealthy non-Cantonese speakers’ here, who has paid Hong Kong taxes for 18 years, and thus helped to provide housing, local schools, and medical care for 40% of locals during that entire time.

    My kid is on the waiting list at ESF, and which we cannot afford anyway, she will never get in though she is exactly the candidate the ESF was set up for, and has no English school to go to next year as yet, affordable or not, despite my taxes.

    At least when I do leave in a year, taking my skills and taxes elsewhere, I sure won’t miss people like you.

    Thanks for your considerate comment, and fuck off very much to you.

  9. Jeff says:

    And no, I am not a useless Net teacher who could not cope at home, nor a bartender, nor a bongo playing DJ.

    I’m a skilled professional that has helped my employers profit year after year here, adapted to Asia with enthusiasm, and I will be missed.

    Such people do exist here, believe it or not, but not for long. And we don’t need people like you giving us even more shit.

  10. Jeff says:

    Apologies to all. This is too fun a site for ranting like this. I will attempt to control my outbursts in the future. If I have nothing amusing to write, I will not write.

  11. Bela Botha says:


    I quite sympathise with your woes regarding children and ESF/international school entry. I have met and tried to aid many such parents. Best of luck. It is a positive disgrace that there has, to my knowledge, been no Government policy or initiatives on the education of the non-Cantonese the past quarter of a century. It’s a shambles.

  12. EDB says:

    @ Jeff:

    Good job fighting snobbery with, well, more snobbery.

    Not sure how to put this to you but however vitally important and superior a job you may think you have at the end of the day there is likely very little real difference between what you do and what a skilled bartender, musician, or a professional trained and dedicated teacher does. You might also be surprised to learn that they typically pay taxes, contribute directly or indirectly to the HK economy and/or perform a service to the society, and have a set of ‘skills’ too.

    Anyways, good luck in your next port of call, just hope you can hack it there.

  13. Ramerkang says:

    I totally sympathise with Jeff and other fellow expats struggling to find good schooling for their kids. As he says, having paid taxes here for xx years there ought to be decent options out there besides the stupidly expensive international schools. God knows the government can afford it. This is supposed to be ‘Asia’s world city’ – wtf?

  14. Jeff says:

    Thanks all for the kind words, and apologies for being rude to PCC, just lost it for a bit.

    And yes everyone contributes, did not mean to denigrate anyone. And of course I can be replaced. I do not have an inflated opinion of myself, too old for that.

    Enough of this, too depressing for all of us, and I imagine everyone here, including PCC, has a full plate of shit to deal with too, which is why this blog provides a welcome diversion.


  15. Property Developer says:

    Remember Regaina’s passing remark that some non-Chinese were going so far as to try to “take root” here? (as distinct from the more human-sounding “put down roots”)

    Symptomatic of (a) racism and (b) the aim of some to eliminate all foreign influence from China and her colonies.

    The ESF is the obvious target, followed by the foreign and alien law system. The English-language media went a long time ago.

  16. PCC says:

    Dear Jeff,

    I think you’d better return to your Anger Management classes. If you re-read my original comment, you’ll see that I cast no aspersions whatsoever, but merely describe how a certain segment of the ESF community is viewed by Beijing and it’s supporters.

  17. Maugrim says:

    Jeff, my interpretation was that PCC was, as he said, merely describing a view that others may have.
    Property Developer. The irony is that Regina is as ‘rooted’ in the west as much as all the other usual suspects in HK. Her first degree is in Eng Lit, Victorian, from memory. I’m sure her daughter lives in the US, etc, etc, like ‘most of them’. Anyway, while there may at times be anti-whitey agendas out there, the ESF has dealt with things in general rather poorly and only have themselves to blame for playing catch up now.

  18. Anon says:


    You say you’ve ‘adapted to Asia with enthusiasm’ and have lived here for a staggering 18 years. Then I presume both yourself and your kids are fluent in Canto.

    Why not just send the kids to a decent local school whether it be CMI or EMI?

  19. Oik says:

    I’m in a similar boat to Jeff yet won’t be forced to leave HK as a result. I can understand his frustrations and temporarily ‘losing it’.

    How come English and Cantonese are both our official languages yet free schooling is only available in the latter?

    The supposed English-medium government schools are nothing of the sort – written Chinese is essential for some subjects and spoken Chinese for others where the teacher is unable to cope in English.

    I despair.

  20. PCC says:

    My view on government policy toward the ESF, which I have expressed on more than one occasion in editorials appearing in a local mass circulation publication, is that the HKSAR should double or triple ESF-style education, either via the ESF itself or through the creation of a similar vehicle, possibly under the aegis of the Education Bureau, to meet the almost-limitless demand from both local and “expatriate” parents for an ESF-style, English language education for their children. The limits of my influence on government policy are all-too-apparent.

  21. Joe Blow says:

    …more than one occasion in editorials appearing in a local mass circulation…

    That wouldn’t be the “Dollar Saver”, would it ?

  22. Headache says:

    This place never gets more snarky than when the subject is ESF.

  23. Mongkok Mzungu says:

    Anon, whether Jeff or his wife are fluent in Cantonese is really besides the point. A person in his situation should be able to find satisfactory education for his child(ren) without having to leave the territory. And language is not the only concern, there is also curriculum, educational philosophy and school values that play a decive role in parent’s school choices. For many locals and expats alike, the ESF fits the bill, not just because it is EMI.

    And if only it were just Jeff, but the severe mismatch between the demand for ESF places and their supply shows that the government, who has insisted on keeping a big say in these matters (rightfully so, but that is a different point) has really been messing this one up for more than a decade. The proliferation of private schools like Harrows is symptomatic and actually relieves some pressure, but is out of reach for most of us from a fee perspective. The situation at ‘decent’ local schools is, if anything, worse. Getting into the likes of DBS/DGS, St Paul’s or other classic Band 1 institutions is an even tougher endeavour (especially for the child) and not necessarily cheaper (once you’re done with almost indispensable private tuition to prepare for the entrance exams) than getting a spot at ESF.

    PCC (in his 7:46pm comment!) above is spot on: we are in dire need of serious measures to address a large unmet need for quality eduction (English speaking or otherwise, local curriculum, IB or other) in Hong Kong. Even I can easily think of 4-5 measures that would be easy to implement and not even cost an arm and a leg, and help a lot of people a lot more than HKD 300 subsidy in their CLP account.

  24. PCC says:

    Dear MM,

    I agree. It borders on the criminal, and is certainly well within the definition of cruel and incompetent, that people are expected to stump up HK$500,000 (or more) to access basic primary and/or secondary school education for their children, especially on top of paying salaries tax. The fact is, under present circumstances, ESF could make their non-refundable reservation fee HK$1 million or HK$2 million, as the private international schools do, and still not slake the demand.

  25. mumphLT says:

    Coming to HK for a day (or less) to buy milk powder & trinkets is not tourism.
    Catering to such is not a tourism industry.

  26. Incredulous says:

    With the revelation today that people “with connections to ESF” can get their kids in, shouldn’t this be cause for investigation by the ICAC?

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