The story so far… For the past several days, thousands of parents – or paid proxies – have been lining up outside kindergartens in the New Territories in order to get application forms for their little ones to enroll. These institutions are privately run local places that handle applications individually and limit the number of forms they distribute to keep processing manageable. But now Mainlanders are turning up, and the apparent competition for the paperwork has raised fears that there will be too few pre-school places, prompting mothers and fathers from both sides of the border to line up days and days ahead of time and to clamour for forms from a larger number of kindergartens.
The result is yet another example of the weird semi-mayhem for which history will one day recall Hong Kong in the 2010s, in this case with people sleeping out overnight for no earthly reason, cops getting called, and accusations flying. It has become a frenzy of McDonalds Snoopy Doll or car-parking-space-bubble proportions, significantly spiced up by the intrusion of Yakult-grabbing, non-taxpaying Mainlanders into the equation – all of course greatly magnified in seriousness by the fact that it is about your precious child’s one and only chance of a head start in the Hunger Games that is schooling and exams and homework and piano lessons and ballet classes and language tutoring and all the other types of child abuse essential to Hong Kong’s definition of success in life.
Officials’ initial response was hand-wringing. This soon gave way to visibly nervous arm-flapping. And now the government is urging the kindergartens to sort of get their act together. There is talk of a possible centralized clearing system, and even of giving priority to local kids. But for this year’s cohort of tots and their parents, it is already too late. The situation has gone past the point of you-couldn’t-make-this-up and started to lurch towards the downright surreal.
Parents from Henan Province whose kid was born in Hong Kong are among the application form-crazed mob. They are bitter about waiting 50 hours and angry that the child’s interview will be in Cantonese. The infant breaks China’s one-child policy, so schooling on the Mainland is harder to arrange. See how the bizarreness piles up: days far away down south sitting on a sidewalk; a kindergarten so serious it requires an admission interview; the interview in a language the kid can’t understand; the kid – illegal. If the South China Morning Post’s Hunanese is the same guy, eight kindergarten applications and a similar number of properties back home add to the wackiness.
A Hong Kong man says he has given up his university registry job – let’s repeat that: given up his job – to join in the Gold Rush-type scramble for application forms. Seven and counting. “It’s totally a waste of time,” the Standard quotes him as saying. A grandfather from Shenzhen is sleeping at nights in a park (and I’m sure my fellow taxpayers will join me in wishing him a comfortable stay). Some poor wretch bought a toddler an electronic device that miraculously teaches English to kindergarten-admission-interview standard.
The hallucinations continue with a vision of some cretin of a former Chief Executive who was so mesmerized with thoughts of sky-high profits for private hospitals and dreams of Hong Kong becoming a ‘health care hub’ that he didn’t bother to plan ahead to handle the influx of Mainland kids a few years later, let alone pause to consider the impact on local people forced yet again to battle for resources with outsiders. Compared with him, the sidewalk campers in the New Territories are pretty sensible. It’s just that when circumstances multiply actions based on what seems to be rational self-interest a thousand times, you end up with collective lunacy.