Asia is crazy about getting its young ones into the “right track for life,” beginning as early as possible. Preparatory in-womb Mozart for the baby is poetic and charming, even if unproven. One friend assured me her Malaysian pregnant mother ate a lot of hot peppers, since she felt she could begin the important taste bud schooling really early, in utero, to set the stage for the rest of her life. Sure enough, even in the first few months after birth, she was already able to handle hot stuff, given by her mother (of course), setting her up for a hot peppery lifetime, for which she thanks her adventurous mother. This lady became an adaptable missionary, and I can’t help but think the hot peppers had something to do with it. As a perinatal and neonatal doctor, all this quite intrigues me.
Everywhere, studying and studying is drummed into the Asian mind, and it seems that young couples in Asia all talk about how to get their children into the best schools, and even best after–school tutoring schools, to get maximum educational advantage. I was impressed that South Koreans, who have some of the hardest working students in the world, had to pass laws to stop kids attending tutoring schools late into the night. Literally way past 10 pm each night, when kids staggered home for a short sleep till the next day’s grind began again. Impossible to imagine that in most of the USA! Stop studying, Koreans, you work much too hard, and we can’t have such a small country beating most of the world!!
I’ve always wondered about the Asian mystique of getting into a good school, but somehow never thought it applied to me. Only recently, I suddenly realized that my own parents must have literally also had a headache trying to find a good school for me. Just like, I guess, modern day Asians.
And how did the school principal decide who to take into his school? There were no entrance exams then, so somehow, my parents had to prove to the principal of the excellent middle and high school my parents wanted for me, that I would do well, without the more “objective” evidence of exam results. It might seem strange today, but hey, that was 70 years ago.
I’m certain the school, known locally as DBS, an Anglican Christian run English school, never accepted bribes, and that my parents, who were strictly law abiding, would have never done that anyway. I hear that bribery in various forms exists today, especially for a good school in Asia, but I never heard even a whisper about that sort of thing then. I’m guessing, somehow, they still had to build a case with as many “brownie points” as possible, with whatever approach was permissible.
My elementary school grades likely were OK, so maybe that helped. In fact, most of my elementary grades were at the girls’ school, DGS, sister school of DBS! In other words, in order to get into a boys’ school, which started at the 5th grade, I had to go through a girls’ school…. pretty novel I think. I’m actually unsure why the girls’ school even allowed me in there. The story was, it was just after World II, so things were rather chaotic among the schools, and I got slipped into that school.
One year, I was only one of 3 boys among the girls. Not bad at all, and I “survived.” I’m guessing that being surrounded by females for those years helped me in my future relationships with females, maybe? At a minimum, I probably learned to be more “well-mannered.” Indeed, my survival there, at that sister school, somehow at least must have made a good impression on the boys’ school principal.
I can imagine dad using my mother’s American birth as a case for novelty, maybe even “semi-expatriate status.” The school’s traditions were strongly British, in a then British colony, but prided itself on being non-conventional, being in essence a forerunner of today’s “international schools,” except that was not a fashionable term then. In those days, my mom’s “American English” was often considered foreign and strange, definitely second class to the upper-class British English.
Certainly, I heard many off-hand comments by British teachers, who often laughed at “uncouth Americans,” which made me wince. Remember that the play and movie, “My Fair Lady” starts off with the English linguistics Professor Higgins declaring that Americans cannot speak English!
当然,我也听到过很多英国老师漫不经心的评论，他们经常嘲笑 “粗鲁的美国人” ,这让我很不舒服。 记住，在戏剧和电影“窈窕淑女”一开始，英语语言学教授希金斯就宣称美国人不会说英语！
What about “pulling strings?” I never heard dad flaunt his “doctor status,” so I don’t really think that helped my application. He had indeed been a surgeon at Queen Mary, flagship hospital of the (then only) University. But he was a humble person, and I suspect his frugal living, manners, and clothes would not have revealed anything except a very ordinary person. Nothing special there.
One day in Hong Kong, a few decades ago, I saw the great, great, great, grandson of one of the historically most renowned foreign missionaries to China, come into the office of our medical mission. Normally he was always in American casual attire, no ties, often in shorts. Well, this day, he was so smartly dressed, tie, jacket and all, that I did a double take. “What’s up today? I never saw you so nicely dressed.”
Jamie explained, with some embarrassment, that he was trying to get his American-Taiwanese mixed son admitted to the reputedly best Chinese school in Hong Kong (one Noble Prize alumnus), and maybe he should dress up for the interview. He was wise to do so, since I hear how you present yourself for your child’s interview, makes a huge difference.
This made me think that my own dad must have at least dressed up for that interview day also. Interviewing parents of the children might seem strange to Americans, but hey, you follow the rules. Later, I often felt a bit intimidated when many of my schoolmates were escorted to school in fancy Jaguars driven by elegantly dressed chauffeurs, so I can imagine their parental interviews by the principal must have been classy. In fact, I’ve always heard that wealth has been shown to be important in ultra-famous, though supposedly egalitarian, schools like Harvard. Multi-million dollar named buildings have clear implications. However, this concern was definitely out of our family’s league.
What about first impressions of the student? What might you conclude, from the photo below? The principal was a thoroughly British, scholarly gentleman, pretty stern-looking to me, and I don’t remember him being “impressed” in any way with me. But I had a flexible mix of English, since I spoke pretty fluent American English at home with mom, and had varied British, American and English-speaking Hong Kong friends that I had to communicate with. I suspect that my language skills were probably overall a positive point.
Actually, there was even a kind of affirmative action program in the school for Eurasian (mixed Western-Asian) children, who were discriminated against in society. My mother was American born, but of Chinese ancestry, so even though I was pretty much also a “mixed up” bicultural, even tricultural kid, I’m sure I didn’t really qualify.
事实上，学校里甚至有一种针对在社会上受到歧视的欧亚混血儿的平权行动计划 。我母亲出生在美国，但有中国血统，所以即使我是一个 混合双文化，甚至是三文化的孩子，我确定我真的不够格。
The headmaster finally accepted me, but felt I was too young, so I was diverted for one year to a Chinese school. Even after that, I was still the youngest in class, with its inherent pros and cons. The delay however was likely a good maturation step for me. Since my mother did not know Chinese at all, and I was decidedly English orientated, (British novels and storybooks, and American history and heroes), this move was probably more valuable than I realized.
In the Chinese school, all classes were in Cantonese Chinese, a language as different from the official Mandarin Chinese, as Portuguese is from Spanish. However, it was one positive step along my Chinese language journey. Later on, in my 50s, when I tried to learn (Mandarin) Chinese on my own, especially during my China medical mission phase, some words and phrases I picked up that one year in the Chinese school, probably gave me some unconscious childhood “language priming.”
Clearly, my school selection was really quite different from the modern-day Hong Kong/Asian hyper-exam driven system. Unimaginable today! Actually, I don’t even remember dad and mom ever really pushing me to study anyway, (strange parents), so exams might even have weakened my application!
Getting into a good school in Asia, unfortunately, might indeed set you up for life. Hence the great pressure to get into the “best schools.” I guess that could be reality in much of the world, even in parts of so-called egalitarian America. Maybe it is “less important” in general in America, because the options are greater, but inequalities often begin, unfortunately, quite young.
When Jesus famously said, “don’t forbid the little children from coming to me,” it was part of a broader perspective, that all children are precious to God, and should be preciously nurtured. Which fits perfectly my baby doctor bias! Good schools are truly important, hot peppers in the womb, less so.