Wednesday, 9 July 2008


"Those that can - do: those that can't - teach".

I've always thought that saying unfair for teachers, but perhaps it is apropos for my current situation. I can't do anything else in Hong Kong, so I am teaching English (as the head teacher no less) in a 'learning centre' to the privileged offspring of Hong Kong's moneyed elite. It makes a rather big change from previous jobs in criminal and counter-terrorism intelligence. (Perhaps I should re-tell the interesting incident where a colleague and I were led through darkened and deserted office corridors in order to be amateurishly intimidated by some organised crime types. Another time, maybe).

My parents ask me all the time if I enjoy the job and don't seem convinced when I tell them that, on balance, it's actually quite good. Certainly it's the least stressful job I've ever had and it can be rather rewarding when the kids are good. Many of the kids are just that: good. The younger primary kids can be a heap of fun and listening to some of the crazy stuff they come up with usually puts me in a good mood.

On the negative side, it pays poorly and the hours are long and non-negotiable (i.e. 6 day weeks). There's little flexibility in working arrangements and no internet access, which means no blog updating or checking during the day. We're not permitted to leave the premises unless it's lunch time. Actually, the list of things we're not allowed to do is quite long and that stands in stark contrast to the freedoms I enjoyed in previous jobs. I also only get one week of leave each year, which can only be taken at the end of the contract period. This makes traveling in the region (or back home for Christmas) rather difficult (getting time off for my Bangkok birthday present for T was a bit tricky).

Anyway, there are many things I would like to say about English education in HK; I'm not an experienced educator, however, and I think I will leave those musings for another day. I want to talk, instead, about the amusing names I've encountered in my short teaching career.
  • Jeffrey - nothing too strange here, except that the name has been appended to a girl;
  • Royce - another girl, either named after the car or the cake shop (she's definitely not the Rolls Royce of students!);
  • Mini - as in tiny, not Minnie that famous mouse's girl;
  • Shiny - not because she's bright;
  • Tweety - yes, that tweety;
  • Toto - I want to tell her she's named after a plumbing company;
  • Yoyo - why?;
  • Kitty - named for Hello Kitty, she tells me.
My all time favourite, however, is Cheryl. This might seem like an odd choice given the list of names I've provided above, but what sets this name apart is that this Cheryl insists on having the 'ch' sound pronounced the same way it is in the word 'change'. And she's an awful eleven year-old, too, who regularly tells me she hates me, has thrown pens at me and just recently commenced criticising my dress sense and concluded that I was obviously poor, since all I ever wear are jeans. Another wonderful representative of Hong Kong's allegedly prestigious DGS.

Cheryl the chunt, as I like to say, Fumier style, to my fellow teachers.


Jenny said...

Haha, Cheryl sounds such a delight! I have little girls called Nana, Ringo, Circle, and Cream. Yoyo comes from their chinese names like Chun Chun or Lum Lum. I do wonder what the parents (or children themselves) are thinking when they name the kids things like Circle or Monkey...

I didn't realise learning centres were so inflexible. I've only ever done cover shifts for friends so I guess I don't encounter the negatives as much, it's just an easy way to earn extra cash!

ulaca said...

Can't be *that* prestigious as it rejected my daughter. Minor quibble: if she's 11, she'll be at DGJS.

Mat B said...

Yes...she's in the junior school. I must confess to being underwhelmed by most of the students I've met who attend DGS/DBS and their variations. It's probably better your daughter didn't go there.

shatin_gal said...

Agree with you about the inflexibility of language centres here and how it's easy to feel like you've been taken advantage of when working for them. Good centres which treat the staff well are few and far between as most of them are just focused on $$$ only and thinking short-term.

I have worked with some really genuine and down-to-earth kids from DGS & DBS. I too, have heard some horror tales from other kids about the behaviour & attitudes of the spoilt princesses & little emperors who attend those schools, which didn't surprise me in the slightest, given the good number of spoilt brats who have been sent there.

gweipo said...

well done on lasting so long. I tried teaching at one of those about 8 years ago and left after a few rather strange episode - teaching the poem tarantella to 7 year olds? playing monopoly with a 5 year old who was bent on world domination starting with winning that particular game.
decided life was too short and went back to accounting where at least the debits and credits didn't answer back!