SUBJECTIVITY AND NORMALISATION AT 35 DEGREES
The ‘expat experience’ is a long-exhausted topic. It’s been documented, dissected, analysed and categorised. However, there’s one aspect of this phenomenon that I still can’t quite fathom. It’s the monumental king of Hong Kong ironic cultural paradigms and that is the over-whelming social expectation and focus on ‘high-end’ education. This is permeated into the Hong Kong psyche to the point where 'celeb’ tutors are splayed across buses wearing grins like they should be promoting some new brand of spreadable fucking cheese.
Okay, so there’s this well-established social construct and I can accept that but what off-sets this is one particular facet of the Educational culture. The wide-spread employment of 'N.E.T’s’ whose experience and training in English teaching stretches no further than showing their younger siblings how to make a water balloon from a condom (go extra safe, excellent water retention). The only reason I’m being so harsh is because I myself was one of these educational imports. Being a Journalism graduate, teaching English is far from my forte as my experience lies in the effective construction, regurgitation and contextual conveyance of the language (a plight I often struggle with) and yes perhaps many of these traits are transferrable and relevant, but as I’ll explain later, I feel it doesn’t really matter.
I was told fresh off the plane that I should pursue a job teaching English as it was easy work to find that pays well and as many fresh Journalism graduates will know, finding a job in the field is about as easy as explaining to mainlanders on the MTR that their suitcase filled with powdered milk and Yakult isn’t a fucking person and therefore, shouldn’t be accommodating a priority seat, all-the-while the woman in the middle of the carriage, who was probably in her teens when the Brits arrived pulls a John Wayne stance so as not to fall face first into the guy with the rolled up t-shirt whose belly looks like a sweaty chewed orange.
It turned out that I was given solid advice and within two weeks of arriving I had two interviews lined up based off nothing more than a quickly typed up C.V with relevant experience including such sought after traits like ‘dictionary owner’. My first interview took me to a bustling and notably un-westernised pocket of Hong Kong. I waded through the crowds observing dutiful citizens adoringly holding old newspapers beneath their dogs puckered anuses to lovingly catch the nuggety treasure it bequeathed. The first thing that struck me as I was waiting to be interviewed, filling out the obligatory application form was the fact that they asked me what my ‘expected salary’ would be. Now to many reading this, this would come as no surprise, but back in Scotland you kind of expect the minimum then make up the difference in stolen pens and blu-tac. I resisted writing ‘ALL DE MONEYZ’ and left a kind of in-decipherable squiggle to give me some haggling room. The interview itself involved sitting in a baby chair that created an awkward kind of man’s camel-toe and had me answering scenario based questions. But the standout had to be when the interviewer had me do a rendition of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ to the wall, he asked me if I knew the accompanying dance to which I politely responded by doing the robot, no dice. So he gave me a demonstration that played out as a kind of jazz-hand heavy interpretive dance that seemed to portray the actions involved in milking a horse for its semen.
In the end, I was offered the position and was given the classroom at the window so that all those who walked pass could see me robot to frightened and confused children. Now this may be reading as a kind of Magnum Opus of my vocational life thus far as opposed to any kind of eloquent or enlightening social commentary, but the story stands for itself. What qualifies me to teach children, especially in an environment that is so obsessed with results and an objective perception of ‘success’. The interview seemed more like a gauge to measure my preparedness in interacting with the children as opposed to my skill in imparting my native language.
It begs one question that can be applied to so many facets of Hong Kong culture; is the ‘N.E.T’ phenomenon another part of a westernised cultural hangover? Is this tendency towards aesthetic imitation, and the preference for a white face to promote pseudo-credibility, serving only to stunt the use of relevant skills? This may come across as throwaway exposition, but that’s why subjectivity is such a beautiful word for a journalist - or maybe it’s a case of we-were-all-thinking-it-anyway.
Written by Graham Mckinnon Turner – Scottish expat, 27 years old, writer. Enjoys self-deprecation and putting my face in the freezer.