Tuesday, June 21, 2011


A girl came to dinner in a shirt that proclaimed in huge letters: I AM NOT A LABEL WHORE!
While also wearing:

Louis vuitton monogram bracelet.
Chanel handbag.

It made me laugh. What a whore. Joking...

It's the occasional attitude I come across in Hong Kong which irritates me and leaves me with a metallic taste in my mouth.
I've heard it too many times, people describing their family as "working class."
While there is a live in maid and several namebrand sports cars sitting in the garage.

Well. Working class are people who work in factory towns and support families on minimum wage, and even they would probably be offended at the classification.
Being employed and working for a living does not equal working class... at least not since the 18th century English concept of the 'gentry', when people had money and property entailed on them. "Oh my dear, Sir soandso is working class! Why don't you know his father was a merchant! They actually WORK for their living!" :shock:

The gentry speech only works so well, the reaction is usually that I'm being a judgmental american snob. well yes I suppose so, but at least I'm not being a hypocrite.

The last time I had to say this was to my student who is preparing to apply to college in the U.S. Like most international students I teach, she has always had a live-in family maid who does her laundry, folds her clothes, washes the dishes, makes her bed, walks their 4 dogs. Her 12 year old sister and 4 year old brother both have ipads and macbooks (their school has made macbooks mandatory). The family doesn't have a driver, but she does have a car which her dad gave to her for getting As and Bs on her semester exams. They go skiing in the Alps every year, and she spends her summers volunteering and trekking places like Africa and Asia. She has a team of tutors, including myself who are paid by the hour to make sure she has an edge in school.

She's a really nice girl, and like most of my students, surprisingly very grounded. (I don't think that I would have been in that situation). But in this bubble, that lifestyle is the norm, and it never occurs to them to feel any awkward privilege.
So I knew she was being completely earnest when she told me her choice of college essay was about understanding others' struggles. She cited her experiences as a volunteer at an orphanage in Southeast Asia. It was well-written, sensitive, full of empathy, just completely unaware.

"We had helped build the roof of a school, and I thought about how lucky I was to live a normal life.


ending lines: "I waved to the children as we got on the bus for the hour long ride back to the hotel. They had taught me so much."

"As a daughter of a working class family in hong kong..."

cue: speech on the gentry.

I know this all sounds very negative. It's just that for all the things I like about hong kong, there is a current underneath it which makes me feel hollow. It's like a discordant note in a harmony I can't exactly pinpoint, and whenever I try to it makes me sound bitter.

It's better just to laugh.