Category Archives: education

College Pt 1: the view from Hong Kong

final illu

Conceived by therockmom. Realized by Bonnie Wong.

Kids deserve your high expectations! No, no – they thrive following their own paths! The world needs engineers and doctors. The world needs creative thinkers. If you don’t get in to the Ivy League your life is over. What’s wrong with a state school? Don’t sacrifice Fine Arts in education! Everyone should learn to code!

How are we going to pay for all of this?????

My oldest is two years away from university so we’re already starting down the path: PSAT, IB, ACT, campus visits, personal essays, community service, summer prep work, faultless transcripts, blah, blah, blah.

I waiver from a rebellious ‘Does it really matter?’ attitude to a creeping anxiety that, as a parent, I should be more engaged, more helpful, more ambitious for my kids. Not helped by the fact that I live in Hong Kong, ground zero for Over Achievers Anonymous. A place where you can find a class, workshop or tutor for any and all intellectual, personal or cognitive failings.

It’s easy to say: well, I did this when I was your age and I turned out just fine. Yeah sure – in the ‘80s, when perms were awesome, Cosby was America’s Dad and China was a nation of peasants.

The world is a very different place now.

All I can say is: listen to your kids. And then find a good Physics tutor 😉

With many sincere thanks to Hong Kong artist & creative thinker Bonnie Wong for helping me realize the vision above. You can find her at:


Attention All Campers!

"...wear something bright and keep low." Tripper (Bill Murray) Meatballs

“…wear something bright and keep low.” Tripper (Bill Murray) Meatballs

Autumn is SCHOOL CAMP season in Hong Kong. The weather’s fine and dry, slightly cooler. It’s the perfect time for our upper primary and secondary school students to kayak, rappel, gorge walk, team build, stay up late, eat white bread and mystery meats, and of course wear the same t-shirt for four days straight!

But for some HK kids (species florem hothouse), camp is fraught with scary, new experiences, like making your own bed or hiking in wet shoes or gasp! horror! carrying your own suitcase.

In their honor I send out my deepest sympathies… to their teachers. (Next time you see your child’s teacher after camp week, please give him/her a hug and a shot of whiskey. Both will be much appreciated.) And I offer the following poem, sung to the tune of the classic camp song by Allan Sherman.

The lyrics are based on ACTUAL TRUE STORIES of HK kids at camp. You’ll think I’m kidding but I’m not.

Hello muddah, hello faddah

My school camp is such a bother

Camp is very intimidating

They’ve just told me that my helper won’t be staying


Expectations are so crazy

They don’t dress me, they won’t bathe me!

I don’t know buttons or even zippers

I can’t tie my shoes so I just wear my slippers


Not much longer, can I stand this

I cut my meat and, I choose my breakfast

I’m exhausted, by independence

How is cleaning supposed to help me with my confidence?


I don’t want to, be a baby

But this rucksack’s got me straining

Where’s my auntie, to play Sherpa?

It’s unfair to cause me any kind of hurtin’


On the trail I, dropped my jacket

But there was no one, there to catch it!

I hope somebody brings it to me

I heard you say it cost you quite a lot of money


Dearest muddah, dearest faddah

If you come get me, on my honor

I’ll be good and study harder

And I promise that one day I’ll be your doctor


But when you text’d me that you missed me

All my bunkmates, they cried with me

Then our teacher, she surprised us

And confiscated all our portable devices


So don’t call me, I’ll have to manage

Without feeling like I’m permanently damaged

I know you love me, but I’ve discovered

That it feels good not to be so very smothered



The Professional Kid – too big to fail?

Q: How many Hong Kong kids does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A: Is that with or without a tutor?

Just a normal academic day in Hong Kong.

Just a normal academic day in Hong Kong.

There’s a sad/funny story going round about the parents at an international school here in Hong Kong. The school in question is considered one of the most well-regarded, expensive and academically rigorous of the international schools in town. Dual-language learning (English & Mandarin), loads of homework, low student-teacher ratio and a tough admission policy including an exam (sorry, they call it an assessment) and an interview for the child and parents. My kids don’t go there and we never considered it for them, mainly because it’s super expensive and a long bus ride from where we live. I have no doubt the school and its teachers are very dedicated and prepare children well for ‘the challenges of the 21st century’ but, having learned a little more about its academic demands, I jokingly call it the kryptonite school. It seems to leech away any time a child may have had for sports, hobbies or, well, free time.

Next year the school will open a sister campus in mainland China and will begin a policy of sending its Year 10 students (age 14-15) there for a year of boarding and instruction. Five a.m. Calisthenics, The Little Red Book’s Lasting Legacy, Crafting Algorithms for Fun and Suppression! and Theories of Insurrection Management will be offered as electives.

Kidding, totally kidding about that last part.

It seems the parents are split, about 50-50, as to whether they think it’s a good idea for their kids to spend a year in China. Some are very supportive, recognizing an exchange year as a wonderful life experience. Some are not so keen. When I heard from a friend about the parents’ objections, I asked if they were concerned their kids would get homesick, or maybe the parents would miss their children too much. My friend said half the parents (50 percent!) are worried about their children being away from… their tutors.

I am not kidding now.

You’ve heard of the military-industrial complex? Well, here in Hong Kong, we have one of the world’s most sophisticated education-industrial complexes. And I use ‘complex’ as both the adjective, intricate and multifaceted, as well as the noun – a personal hang-up.

But set aside for a minute questions about the cost of this huge, sprawling mass of after-school educational centers, private tutors and prep courses. Not to mention the money we’re already paying in teachers’ salaries, school facilities and that laptop that every kid needs. Hey, let’s not think about what this says about the curriculum itself i.e. are we forcing our kids to punch above their weight class? Or whether they’ll be able to succeed once those tutors are no longer around. “Excuse me, boss, but I’ll be paying a guy to come in and help me with my spreadsheets.”

Let’s focus on the bigger picture. Let’s narrow it down to one fundamental ask: why is failure not an option?

I think it’s because in this age – in our post-Boomer, middle and upper class demographic – our children are ourselves. We’re the Meta-parents, the Type-A over-schedulers, the anxious Mommy and Daddy bloggers (Yes, I cop to it). We’ve gotten ourselves on to this hamster wheel and we can’t seem to get off.

We obsess because we can. Because society rewards it. Because technology encourages it. Or just maybe because our parents, who were divorcing and finding themselves in the ‘70s and ‘80s, didn’t.

I don’t know. I don’t have the answer. I know I want my kids to do well, give their best effort, in whatever they choose to do. I want them to be happy but I also brag about their achievements and I fret about what they’re doing online. And I’m not sure if I’m comforted by the fact that they’re way more focused and goal-oriented than I ever was at their ages. Should I be comforted? The other day I asked EO and her friend a question: would they use a private tutor if it meant the difference between an A or a B? They both said ‘Yes’ without hesitation. And when I asked why, they asked me, “Won’t it help you in the future? It’ll lead to better opportunities, right?”

At first, when I thought about the bigger picture and what my fundamental question to you readers should be, I thought I should ask: will our children remember a happy childhood? But then I thought, oh, that’s just me spouting hyperbole, thinking everyone should have a Tom Sawyer kind of childhood. Of course, our children, who don’t have to scrounge for food or worry about drone attacks, will be perfectly happy. Reasonably happy, at least. But it will be their kind of happy, and unless we make some fundamental changes, it will include Kumon and SAT prep and hours of homework and a whole lot of expensive, instructional bullshit because we think that’s the path to a good future. And they won’t know any different.

I’ll leave you with another anecdote, a brief conversation I had with a neighbor a few years ago. She has a son and a daughter, who both go to prestigious local schools, really the cream of the crop in Hong Kong education. We were chatting about summer holidays and she was excited because they’d made plans for a big trip to Italy. She said, and I quote her verbatim, it would be their ‘last hurrah’ before her son started at this fancy, all-boys school. So how old was her son, you ask, as he enjoyed one last carefree summer?

He was seven.