Previous month:
February 2013
Next month:
April 2013

Fruit of the gloom

Does anyone really know the difference between Satsumas, Clementines, Tangerines and Mandarins?

20130321_144424Or the Mikan, sometimes imported from Japan or Korea?  Yes please, but they are more expensive.

20130321_144433Honey Murcott anyone?  No thanks, or at least not the ones from Bangladesh in Park’n’Shop.

For the last couple of years, Park’n’Shop have been importing Spanish satsumas, but this year they have been disappointing - dried up.

Just recently they have started importing Sunkist Satsumas and Mandarins from the USA.  No, I don’t think I can tell the difference, even though they are carefully labelled up as different products

Here are some of the fruit on display in my local Park’n’Shop









And here’s a lovely fresh apple:



I wrote about the Championship merry-go-round shortly after Michael Appleton had become Blackburn’s third manager of the season in mid-January.  Now’s he’s become the 32nd manager to be fired this season.  Where would Blackburn be without Venky’s  and their global football adviser, Shebby Singh?  Don’t answer that.

It was only a few weeks ago that Appleton was quoted as saying that “if Shebby Singh is global advising, he's not advising me”.  Now it seems that Singh has had the last laugh by getting rid of him.

Alex McLeish?  He lasted just 39 days as Nottingham Forest before leaving by “mutual consent” (which for once seemed not to be just a polite way of saying that he had been fired).  He left shortly after the peculiar business with George Boyd “failing a medical” on deadline day. 

Anyone else?  Ah yes, Simon Grayson was sacked by Huddersfield Town after a run of twelve matches without a win, though his successor has not been notably more successful.

And in the Premier League, Reading demonstrated that they could be every bit as ungrateful to a manager who had got them promoted as Southampton had been a few weeks earlier, by firing Brian McDermott.     

It’s all madness, I tell you.

Wolves remain in turmoil and face second successive relegation

Some decisions have been unfathomable. Sacking Mick McCarthy last February and replacing him with his assistant, Terry Connor, was madness. The appointment of Stale Solbakken in the summer was another error of judgment. Unveiled in May as the man to take Wolves back to the Premier League with a more refined style of play, Solbakken was sacked eight months later following a humiliating FA Cup defeat at non-league Luton Town. By that point, the players had long become exasperated with the Norwegian's methods.

Eager to get rid of "the Mick McCarthy culture", Solbakken felt the best way forward was to empower the players. Standards dropped, discipline disappeared – Bakary Sako went unpunished after reporting late for one game – and training lost its competitive edge, with some of the drills regarded as ridiculously basic. Johan Lange and Patrick Weiser, the assistant manager and first-team coach Solbakken brought in to work alongside him, had little authority.

When things started to go badly wrong on the pitch, Solbakken was reluctant to read the riot act, prompting Roger Johnson, whose own time at Wolves has been little short of a disaster, to confront the manager in the changing room during the run of three straight league defeats before the Luton game. Johnson, along with a few other players, felt that Solbakken needed to adopt a tougher line and urged him to point the finger. Solbakken, keen to avoid confrontation, refused.

If Solbakken's departure was inevitable, Saunders's arrival represented a surprise, in part because of the speed with which things happened but also because he was the only person interviewed. Sean O'Driscoll, who had been harshly dismissed by Nottingham Forest, was available, yet he never got a look in. O'Driscoll went on to take over at Bristol City, where he has picked up 17 points from his 11 games in charge. Saunders has eight points from the same number of matches.

Though, to be fair to Wolves and Dean Saunders, they did win last Saturday.

Pierce Lam is an idiot

As pslhk might say, I am too busy to read the SCMP myself, so thanks to Bruce for pointing out that Pierce Lam has hit back:

Make better use of subsidy given to ESF

Andrew Nunn's reply ("'Educational apartheid' hitting expats", March 1) to my letter ("ESF admission policy smacks of segregation", February 19) is premised on the allegation about local schools' reluctance to admit non-Cantonese-speaking children.

He claims that English Schools Foundation schools' preferential admission of non-Cantonese-speaking children is a remedy for native-English-speaking children sandwiched between extortionate international schools and unreceptive local schools.

However, according to the Education Bureau, it is "committed to assisting all non-Chinese-speaking students in adapting to the local education system and integrating into the community as early as possible".

In 2011/12, there were 30 "designated schools" each receiving a recurrent annual grant of HK$600,000 for the implementation of school-based measures for non-Chinese-speaking students.

If ESF schools' annual subsidy of HK$283 million is applied for this purpose, half of our local schools can be converted into "designated schools". This will be an equitable solution if the only alternative is to perpetuate Hong Kong's perverse tradition of educational apartheid.

In A Theory of Justice, the seminal work on fairness, the late Harvard philosopher John Rawls proposed that we should determine what is fair from the "original position". It's like a blindfold test where people who do not know their own ethnicities have to choose what is a fair social arrangement.

Given Hong Kong's demographic reality where there is a 98 per cent chance that one belongs to either the non-English-speaking minorities or local Cantonese-speaking populace, it will be a logical impossibility for anyone to consider preferential education for native English speakers as a fair arrangement.

Pierce Lam, Central

Is that what Andrew Nunn was advocating?  He actually said that “we should have a "one size fits all" subsidised education system - one that accommodates everyone, whether it be local Chinese, mainland Chinese, Westerners, ethnic minorities or other foreign expatriates.” 

Interestingly, there was an article about "designated schools" in the New York Times this week (I read it in the International Herald Tribune), so we have a chance to consider Pierce’s cunning plan:

Caught Between Hong Kong’s Two Systems 

HONG KONG — Talwinder Singh considers himself a “Hong Kong citizen” and a native son of the city where he was born. Though he is an Indian passport holder, he has been to India only once.  But, unlike most Hong Kongers, he goes to what is called a “designated school,” in which 95 percent of students are, like himself, from ethnic minorities, mostly with South Asian or Southeast Asian backgrounds. 

[..] The designated schools were meant to help those who fell into the gap between ethnic Chinese — who make up 94 percent of the population — and the mostly Western expatriates who can afford English-language internationals schools.

It was also after the handover that Hong Kong implemented its “mother-tongue teaching policy,” in which more than 300 secondary schools switched from English to Chinese.  Of the remaining 114 secondary schools allowed to continue teaching in English, most were expensive private schools, or elite public schools that are extremely difficult to enter. The spots for minority children were drastically reduced.

“The move was too sudden. The teachers were not well-equipped to teach these minority children,” said Tahir Nadeem Khan, an English teacher and head of community relations at the Islamic Kasim Tuet Memorial College, a designated school. “Many minority students suffered from the policy change.”

“It is racial segregation,” said Fermi Wong, executive director of Hong Kong Unison, a nongovernmental organization that helps minority groups. “Students study in narrow social circles, and they are largely disconnected from the society. Because of the poor quality of education in these schools, they end up not being able to read and write Chinese,” she said. “Their inability to learn the language affects their education opportunities and, subsequently, their employment.”

Well, I am starting to wonder if Pierce Lam knows anything about these "designated schools".  

“The reality for many of these ethnic minority children is that they come from low-income families, and they cannot afford to go to the international schools,” said Lam Woon-kwong, chairman of the Hong Kong Equal Opportunities Commission and a former head of the Education Bureau.  Hong Kong students leaving the sixth grade have to apply to get into secondary school the next year. The system is based on exam scores, including one on Chinese language ability.

“The competition is keen because local Chinese parents desperately want their kids to get into elite schools to study English, too,” said Mr. Lam, who added that very few minority students made the cut. “It is easy to say minority students are lazy. But they are not slow learners. Many of these students are very talented. Yet no matter how good they are at English and mathematics, they often perform poorly at the primary level due to the Chinese requirement.”

In an ironic twist, ethnic minority students with poor Chinese test scores would not get into the elite schools that teach in their native English, meaning that they ended up back at the Chinese-language schools that failed them in the first place.

It was because of that problem that the designated schools were created [..] but lobbying groups, like Hong Kong Unison, have long argued that a better solution would be to allow more schools to use an alternative curriculum — with English as the first language, and Chinese as the second — and reduce the number of schools in which minority children are separated out.

“The government needs to stop the expansion of designated schools and get these students back into mainstream schools, with the condition that these schools receive effective support,” Ms. Wong said.

So, Pierce Lam’s solution is to take money away from the ESF and use it to establish more schools that provide poor quality education.  He’s an idiot.

I can scarcely be bothered to deal with his other point that “it will be a logical impossibility for anyone to consider preferential education for native English speakers“.  He’s just not listening, is he?

Pierce Lam vs. ESF (one more time)

Thanks to James for pointing out that Pierce Lam is still at it.

ESF admission policy smacks of segregation

The English Schools Foundation's intended change of its admission system is procedural and not substantive. ("ESF to end admission priority for non-Chinese speakers", February 5).

Its current admission system is designed to favour "children who do not speak Cantonese and/or read and write Chinese characters".  However, in practice, it has failed the policy objective of giving priority to non-Chinese-speakers. In the words of ESF chief executive Heather Du Quesnay: "It's pretty difficult to test if the child cannot speak Cantonese. We have never been able to do it. That's one of the reasons the system didn't work very well."

In order to better achieve the foundation's objective of running its schools primarily for non-Chinese-speakers, the ESF will test the children's English proficiency in stringent interviews and verify "the parents' commitment to an ESF-style English-medium education through a parental statement and interview".

Instead of bracketing Chinese-speaking applicants as auxiliary candidates to fill places not taken by non-Chinese students, ESF aims to ensure segregation more effectively by adopting a personalised approach based on subjective appraisal of applicants and their parents.  It is Ms Du Quesnay's belief that the new admission process would not reduce the number of non-Chinese students at ESF schools. In fact, it may even reduce ESF schools' Chinese enrolment.

In education, diversity means an equal opportunity to take part in different education experiences. It differs from segregation, which restricts students' education experiences according to their socio-racial backgrounds. The ESF's intended change is not meant to rectify its divisive education policy, but to strengthen its function as a bastion of colonialism that promotes segregation and perpetrates unwarranted privileges for non-Chinese and non-residents based on perverse discrimination.

The HKSAR government must withdraw from the colonial practice of offering two segregated systems of subsidised English-medium education - one for Chinese and the other for non-Chinese.  For sustainable long-term development, we must respect our local schools and demand that expatriates who wish to partake in our city's opportunities respect the system where our own children receive their education.

In Japan, if expatriates want public education, they have to send their children to local schools. It's time expatriates in Hong Kong learned to respect our local schools which, both in language standards and in the various academic measures, are generally considered superior to schools in Japan and in most of our expatriates' home countries.

Pierce Lam, Central

'Educational apartheid' driving away expat families

I refer to Pierce Lam's letter ("ESF admission policy smacks of segregation", February 19).  I agree with Mr Lam's argument about segregation in Hong Kong's education system, and would even go so far as saying that this city is currently plagued by an "educational apartheid".

I share his view that the practice of offering two segregated systems of subsidised English-medium education - one for Chinese and the other for non-Chinese - is long out of date and no longer relevant in post-colonial Hong Kong.  I wish to add that, instead, we should have a "one size fits all" subsidised education system - one that accommodates everyone, whether it be local Chinese, mainland Chinese, Westerners, ethnic minorities or other foreign expatriates.

Mr Lam insists that we must respect our local schools, and further states that in Asian countries like Japan, expatriates who want public education for their children have to send them to local schools.  He even boasts about Hong Kong's local schools supposedly being "superior" to schools in Japan and in most of our expatriates' home countries.

I would like to ask Mr Lam one question. If our local schools really are so superior to schools in other places, why are we seeing so few non-Chinese members of our society sending their children to these schools?

One answer to that I can give is that local schools are reluctant to take on non-Chinese or non-Cantonese speaking children.

On the one hand, Mr Lam criticises the English Schools Foundation for promoting educational segregation, but on the other hand, he fails to acknowledge the local schools' contribution to this dilemma. So, because of this, the choice given to the city's expatriates is loud and clear: extortionate international schools, the ESF, or leave Hong Kong.

As many of us are aware, due to limited places at international and ESF schools, many expats are left with only the third choice.  As your correspondent correctly points out, we hear about expats in other cities in the region sending their children to local schools with seemingly little trouble.

I'm sure that this is another reason why many foreigners are leaving Hong Kong, as they search elsewhere in the region for better schooling opportunities for their children.

If this city is supposedly Asia's world city, why is our "superior" education system failing to adopt a similar approach to those of other parts of the world?

Andrew Nunn, Tai Po

Then in the online comments to Andrew Nunn’s letter we have Pierce Lam trying to defend himself.  As James correctly points out, it’s where we really see his  true colours.  What he appears not to understand is that you can’t win this type of debate by insulting your opponents and blindly repeating your own arguments – you have to engage with them.

Continue reading "Pierce Lam vs. ESF (one more time)" »

Not so baffling

Big headline on the front page of the ‘City’ section of the South China Morning Post today, but it turns out to be the usual load of nonsense:

Pictures baffle Dragonair workers

Three mysterious branding-type photos are raising questions on whether the airline is moving to align its image with parent Cathay

Phila Siu and Keith Wallis | South China Morning Post | 2 March 2013

A new image may be in the works for Dragonair, judging from three photographs that appear to herald a brand relaunch.

One of the pictures shows a model standing in front of a plane with the words "Cathay Dragon" emblazoned across it. Industry insiders say the images are part of a genuine effort to sort out the future relationship between Cathay Pacific and its wholly owned subsidiary.

The pictures have been circulating among Dragonair employees. The airline said: "The photos are not from us," but would not say if it had commissioned the photography.

When Cathay Pacific bought Dragonair for HK$8.22 billion in 2006, it said it would allow Dragonair to operate under its own brand for six years. The deadline passed last year.

So Cathay is now allowed to re-brand Dragonair.  Which makes it neither baffling nor mysterious that it should be looking into the possibility of doing just that.

And it is somewhat strange that the Dragonair name is still used outside China.  For example, Cathay flies to Ho Chi Minh City, whilst Dragonair flies to Hanoi (and soon to Danang).  Dragonair flies to Bangalore whilst all other destinations in India are served by Cathay (though I think they are going to do something about that).