Wednesday, 26 October 2011

per ardua ad noodles

These fragments I have shored against my ruins.
T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land.
Rise and Fall chronicles the melancholy recent history of Sham Chung, which was the most populous village in the Sai Kung peninsula in 1970 but now has a population that can be reckoned on the fingers of one person’s hands. Nature has almost totally reclaimed what was once the village’s ‘main street’, and because the main hiking path keeps to the cleared area that functions as an ersatz golf course, that main street is now almost completely overgrown and difficult to penetrate.

The first of the following photographs was taken in November 2007, when it was still possible to walk along the main street without impediment, and the rest were taken after fighting through the undergrowth in February this year.

Paula contemplates the fate of a traditional Chinese house.

There is an almost Marie Celeste feeling about some of the houses, as if the occupants had left in a hurry. This is a typical rural kitchen.

Traditionally, Chinese houses had double doors. These would originally have been locked but are likely to have been forced open by passing hikers looking for souvenirs.

These houses will not last much longer, now that trees have got themselves established.

As can be seen in this photo, many of the village’s less substantial houses were merely stuccoed mudbrick, making them easy prey for the encroaching vegetation.

No, this wasn’t a prison, but it must have felt like one for the occupants. Barred windows were a standard security measure.

There is little difference between indoors and out in a house that no longer has a roof.
Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what’s for lunch.
Orson Welles.
If anyone is wondering why Paula and I cycle the 45 miles from Fanling to Sham Chung and back every Saturday, weather permitting, the final picture should be explanation enough. A cautionary word if you plan to check the place out though: Tom Li is a friend of ours, so the plate he prepares for us is about half as large again as his ‘standard’ chow mein. This photograph shows last Saturday's lunch, our first at Tom’s place since I came back from the UK a month ago.

‘Special chow mein’ in England is never like this: pan-fried noodles topped with prawns, pork strips, choi sum (a Chinese brassica), sliced Chinese mushrooms and bean sprouts.

Monday, 24 October 2011

questions, questions

Michael is a 16-year-old Form 5 student in Hong Kong. His parents, neither of whom is a graduate, have high expectations, but he is already disadvantaged by not studying in a school where English is used as the medium for instruction. The number of such schools was drastically reduced after the handover of sovereignty to China in 1997, mainly as a result of pressure from academics who maintained that instruction in students’ mother tongue (Cantonese) is more beneficial. It is hard to disagree with such a sentiment, but for one crucial fact: entry to any of the local universities requires equal proficiency in both languages.

Michael has another problem: his teachers don’t like him. Why? Because he asks questions. He is often slapped down in class for daring, as his teachers see it, to challenge their authority. Hong Kong is a society in which respect for teachers has become entrenched, ossified into a sterile convention that stifles creativity and individuality. The influence of Confucianism, combined with a feeling among most students that by asking questions they may appear to their classmates to be stupid and thus will lose face, means that students like Michael, whose style of learning does not conform to local classroom norms, struggle to make headway.

Yet Michael is of above average intelligence. He recently passed the Grade 8 exam of the UK’s Royal College of Music in violin. However, his interest in and talent for music have also landed him in trouble: his mother frequently scolds him for listening to music while studying, even though he finds it useful because it helps him to remember key pieces of information by association with the music he is listening to.

What Michael needs is a sympathetic teacher or, since this is most unlikely in his present circumstances, an experienced mentor. This is where Paula entered the picture. His parents were worried about his academic progress, and a friend of Paula referred them to her. Her initial meeting with Michael was scheduled to last an hour but lasted three. Michael described, in quaintly unidiomatic English, the weekly ‘brain-draining’ that he received at the hands of his parents. They wanted to know what he’d learned in school that week, thus unwittingly piling even more pressure on him. However, most of the discussion was in Cantonese, and it is clear that Michael needs more practice if his command of English is to be raised to the required standard for entry to university.

When Michael recounted how his mother disapproved of his listening to music while studying, he was surprised (and delighted) to learn that Paula had always listened to rock music while studying at university, and that I frequently do the same when writing, although in my case I do have to be selective. I will have no problems if Led Zeppelin’s Rock and Roll or Deep Purple’s Highway Star is thumping away in the background, but something like Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues would be disastrous. Too many words.

Anyway, Michael went away happy, and his parents were also delighted when Paula told them that he already thinks like a university student. This remains a work in progress at the moment, however, and Paula will be successful only if she can educate Michael’s parents in the best way to encourage their son. As for all those questions, no one has said it better than Jacob Bronowski, in his landmark BBC television series on the history of science, The Ascent of Man:
It is important that students bring a certain ragamuffin, barefoot irreverence to their studies; they are not here to worship what is known, but to question it.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

lock, stock and barrel

For the past two years, Paula has run a series of workshops for newly qualified teachers on behalf of the extramural department of one of Hong Kong’s leading universities (see above). In the first of these, she starts by showing three short video clips of teachers in action and asks her students which of the three deserves an award for good teaching.

Professor Lock is an eminent German physicist at MIT, and the first video shows him explaining some fundamental concepts in electricity while drawing diagrams and writing formulae on a blackboard. Although he does turn to face his audience from time to time, usually to ask a question that he immediately answers himself, for much of the time he is scribbling on the board and talking simultaneously. He jokingly suggests that everything he is explaining is so simple that his audience will wonder why any explanation is necessary.

Dr Stock is an economist at the Harvard Business School. He is seen using all the latest multimedia gadgetry to augment his performance. Assessing the three teachers, Dr Stock’s style is most akin to that of a business presentation, and, like a typical businessman, he reads his PowerPoint slides aloud rather than using them as an aide memoire, something to be developed in greater detail.

Dr Barrel is a Chinese lecturer at a Hong Kong university who is seen addressing his students in heavily accented English. He is reading from a prepared script, and unlike in the first two videos there are shots of the students, all Chinese, who are writing furiously in an attempt to get everything down.

Alert readers will have spotted that Paula had set a deliberate snare here. None of the three represents a paradigm of good teaching, because what is missing in all three clips is any form of interaction between teacher and students. In the video of Professor Lock, at one point a small window opens in the corner of the screen, and the professor, apparently watching himself in action, suddenly realizes that he has made a basic error.

“Oh my God!” he exclaims, “I’ve got Ohm’s law wrong.”

And so he had. Instead of writing that the voltage in a circuit is equal to current multiplied by resistance, he had written that voltage is equal to current divided by resistance. The interesting point to make here is that no one in the audience ventured to point out the error, although whether this was because no one was aware of the mistake, or because, out of deference to the professor’s status, no one dared to challenge what everyone knew was incorrect, can only be guessed.

Two years ago, Paula ran this same series of workshops in China on behalf of an international NGO. Students there unanimously selected the professor as being worthy of the hypothetical award, because, they said, he was knowledgeable. As an aside, the NGO decided to dispense with Paula’s services and instead place all the materials online, thus missing the point of the exercise, which is to provoke discussion.

The students in China were clearly unused to being asked for their opinions, but one student did point out that the professor had started with a simple example and worked towards greater complexity. Hong Kong students are much more analytical, although they are invariably taken in by the deliberately misleading inclusion of examples from prestigious American institutions like Harvard and MIT.

The problem, as Paula encourages her students to work out for themselves, is that the majority of teachers in higher education do not understand the other side of the coin, the learning process, so they follow the worn-out paradigm of the ‘sage on the stage’, and the majority of students fail to notice that they are being short-changed, lock, stock and barrel.

Monday, 17 October 2011

I should have stayed in bed

The rain had been relentless all week, but by Friday afternoon the sky had begun to clear, and by evening it looked like conditions would be okay for us to visit our friend Tom in Sham Chung the following day. Unfortunately, it rained again overnight, and the wet conditions meant that cycling there wasn’t a viable option. The alternative was to drive to Yung Shue Au and walk the last two miles along the coastal path (Rise and Fall).

Traffic was very heavy on the main north–south expressway, and the road was wet, so extra caution was required. About two miles south of Fanling, three lanes condense into two, and with it the speed limit drops from 100 to 80km/hr. This isn’t really relevant, because the traffic was moving at only 45–50km/hr, and I continued to maintain a gap ahead of me that was roughly twice that of the red (city) taxi behind me.

In these circumstances, I tend to look beyond the vehicle immediately in front in order to anticipate any sudden changes, so I failed to notice at first that the car in front was braking so sharply that it quickly came to a standstill. Thankfully, the gap I was maintaining still gave me time to react, although when I did eventually come to a halt I was less than three feet from the stationary car.

I barely had time to think “Phew! That was close” before we were slammed from behind by the taxi. I felt as if someone had just whacked me across the back of my head with a blackjack (thank goodness for headrests). When I got out of the car, my first impression was that at least six cars had hit the one in front, but in fact only the car immediately behind the taxi had failed to stop. The others had been able to brake in time.

The police were quickly on the scene, and we were instructed to follow a police motorcyclist, who led the three cars involved in the collision off the expressway at the next exit point to a small car park in the large town of Taipo. At this point, I was asked whether I wanted to go to hospital for a check-up—two ambulances were already on hand in the car park—an offer that I took up because although I couldn’t accurately describe how I felt, I didn’t feel ‘quite right’. I wasn’t dizzy, and I didn’t have a headache, but I simply couldn’t find the right words.

So it was that Paula and I were ferried to the nearest A&E department, where my condition could be assessed. Being in the back of the ambulance, I was unable to see precisely where we were going, but I did note, with dismay, that we seemed to be making a lot of turns at various junctions. How, I wondered, would we find our car again.

The medical staff at Nethersole Hospital decided that it would be prudent to keep me under observation for a few hours, which in practice meant that a nurse came to check my blood pressure and shine a light in my eyes every hour. This gave rise to an interesting observation. You might think that my surname is not difficult to pronounce, but I remember from my time at the local Outward Bound school that many local Chinese do have a problem.

In my home town in northern England, the local pronunciation of the third most common surname in the town omits the ‘g’ altogether, but many Chinese omit the ‘d’ while pronouncing the ‘g’ as a cross between a howk and a glottal stop. I have always been slightly puzzled by this, because I’ve never noticed that local Chinese have any difficulty with words like ‘badge’, ‘wedge’, ‘ridge’, ‘lodge’ and ‘fudge’.

Anyway, the nurses here avoided having to attempt a pronunciation of my name by adopting one of two strategies: either they would notice that I was the only gweilo in what I would describe as a holding area and beckon me to them using hand gestures, or they would ask me for my ID card number, which would have been registered when I arrived in A&E. Paula has told me that she experiences similar difficulties at work. Some ask how her name should be pronounced, while others address her as ‘Dr Yung’ (her maiden name). She tries to pre-empt all of this by saying “call me Paula” when meeting someone new.

Things started to look up immediately I was discharged, several hours later.

“I’ll buy you dinner if you can find our way back to the car without asking anyone for directions,” said Paula.

Dinner or no dinner, this is the kind of challenge I relish, as Paula well knows. It was easy to get started, because we were in an extensive hospital complex with only one way in and out. The first decision came when we reached a T-junction. By this time, the sun was out, so it was easy to determine north and south, and I could see that we were close to the northern edge of Taipo. We therefore turned south. We were in luck. At the next junction, a crossroads, there was a blue sign with an arrow indicating that anyone wishing to go to Fanling should turn right. It was then simply a matter of following this road for a mile or so until we came to a right turn that I recognized as the point where we’d turned left when we came off the expressway. The easiest dinner I’ve ever earned.

So we headed back home, at which point our first priority was an afternoon nap. I mention this only because I had an incredibly weird dream. Paula and I were cycling around the New Territories, but this wasn’t the real New Territories. At one point, we encountered a group of Tudor houses, and at another we passed a section that reminded me of my home town. One road into town approaches the railway at right angles, passing a terrace that was built in the 1850s. However, the terrace in my dream was unmistakeably Georgian in both style and grandeur. When it reaches the railway, the road turns left, continues for about 50 yards then turns right over a bridge across the railway, which gives this part of town its local name: ‘over the bridge’. However, in my dream, there was an imposing church next to the bridge, which doesn’t exist in reality. There were many other strange events in my dream, but this brief account gives some idea of just how bizarre it was.

We spent the evening sitting on our balcony talking about education over a few bottles of Tsingtao (a Chinese beer), and I decided that over the next few weeks I would discuss here some of Paula’s ideas on the subject. None of her theories are particularly radical, but she does know what she is talking about, being one of the few people working in higher education to have a formal teaching qualification. She has taught in primary and secondary schools, vocational training centres, and universities, and she understands the teaching/learning process far better than the kind of arrogant politician whose opinions on education are driven more by ideology than by what works.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

heart of darkness

The horror! The horror!
Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness.
It isn’t often that I comment on a contemporary news item, but I’ve just read this report on the BBC News website. I was so horrified that my immediate reaction was to post the link on a blog discussion forum in order to elicit comments from fellow bloggers. Among the comments posted was a link to an article describing a similar and equally appalling situation in the same part of the world.

I should warn you that you will need an exceptionally strong stomach to read either of these reports, which describe child sacrifice and the trade in albino body parts, respectively, in East Africa. Both practices are linked to a widely held belief in the efficacy of magic spells in bringing good luck, good health and, especially, increased wealth, even when they involve the cold-blooded and brutal murder of children and albinos.

I’ve always advocated respect for indigenous cultures and beliefs, even when to a Westerner these cultures and beliefs are no more than ignorant superstition, but there is a clear and sharply defined dividing line between harmless superstition and the kind of practices illustrated by these stories. Unfortunately, the revulsion that all people with a claim to being civilized are likely to feel when reading these reports is likely to be overlain by a feeling of helplessness.

According to the BBC report, a witch doctor in Uganda who has been identified by both a child survivor and a BBC sting operation as a leading player in the ritual murder of children remains free to commit further atrocities, on the pathetically weak grounds that the child’s testimony is ‘unreliable’. Given that the majority of the customers for the services of this disgusting specimen of humanity are alleged to be members of the country’s elite, it is difficult not to reach the conclusion that police corruption and/or collusion is a significant factor in the rise in demand for such services in recent years.

Although post-colonial development in sub-Saharan Africa has been patchy—one has only to think of such home-grown grotesques as Idi Amin in Uganda, Jean-Bédel Bokassa in the Central African Republic, Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire and Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe—and the legacy of colonialism still casts a shadow over the continent, this is one area where progress towards a more enlightened and humane world view ought to have been a priority.

It is difficult to imagine that the men now in charge in Uganda and other former colonies might be prepared to acknowledge that they have anything to learn from their former colonial masters, but the example set by the British in other parts of the old empire is instructive. In tackling superstition, the suppression of thuggee in India in the 1830s provides some useful pointers, while the paradigm for the eradication of corruption is the establishment of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in Hong Kong in the 1970s. Unfortunately, whether adopting these or other possible measures stands any chance of success must be remote, given that ignorance and greed form such a potent cocktail.

Monday, 10 October 2011

it’s ruddy ’ard

Just as a scientist who discovers a new species of plant or animal has the right to name that species, so it is the prerogative of the first rock climber to lead a new climb to name that climb. Kipling Groove, on Gimmer Crag in Great Langdale, was climbed for the first time in 1948 by Yorkshireman Arthur Dolphin and is one of only three climbs in the Lake District to be widely known by its initials, the other two being Overhanging Bastion on Castle Rock of Triermain and Central Buttress on Scafell. The 1967 Langdale guidebook described it as
A superb way up a very impressive piece of rock.
It is also my all-time favourite climb.

So why did Dolphin name his climb Kipling Groove? His choice had nothing to do with its being an exceedingly nice cake, which British readers will recognize as a reference to the other Mr Kipling; as anyone who attempts the climb will quickly discover, it isn’t a piece of cake in any sense of the phrase. In fact, it’s ‘ruddy ’ard’! For anyone unfamiliar with regional dialects in England, ‘ruddy’ is a widely used mild expletive ‘oop north’ that, like the Cockney ‘bleeding’ and the Australian ‘flaming’, avoids the blasphemous connotations of ‘bloody’, while the second word reflects a widespread habit among working-class speakers, that of dropping any aitch that has the misfortune to start a word:
In ’ertford, ’ereford and ’ampshire, ’urricanes ’ardly ever ’appen.
Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady.
I climbed Kipling Groove for the first time 42 years ago today. I was the same age as Dolphin had been when he pioneered the route. The date is fixed in my memory because it is also the day my grandmother died, and my mother was extremely upset with me because I chose to go climbing rather than stay at home to await the inevitable news. I was accompanied by two friends, with whom I’d been climbing for four years, and this was the hardest climb we’d ever attempted together. In climbing parlance, we’d be ‘pushing the boat out’.

Although it is situated 2,000 feet above sea level, Gimmer is one of the few ‘high crags’ that can be climbed on in October without your fingers dropping off because of the cold, mainly because it faces south and attracts whatever sunshine there is. The crag itself is cut at half-height by a huge ledge (Ash Tree Ledge, although the trees are long gone), and climbs above the ledge, such as KG, have the added fear factor of 150 feet of air beneath your feet before you even start.

The first pitch of KG is just a scramble, so most parties don’t bother with ropes until the second pitch. This is the much-photographed ‘undercling pitch’, which is much easier than it looks, although you wouldn’t think so given the meal that many climbers make of it. It entails a 20-foot traverse left underneath a large overhang on big footholds, followed by a straightforward ascent of a wide crack to a small stance in a deep recess—the so-called ‘cave stance’.

For reasons that are now forgotten, I was given the responsibility of leading the final pitch, a 100-foot runout on extremely steep rock. The start involves climbing out on to the face on the right to gain a thin crack. I’d been reading the guidebook the night before, and the details were fixed in my memory:
…ascend a thin crack, past a peg runner, until the face begins to impend, necessitating a step right to a small foothold below a bulge. The next move is the crux. A strenuous arm pull brings a diagonal crack above the bulge within reach, and, a little higher, a sharp-edged horizontal crack….
Guidebooks were quite verbose in those days, although there is no mention of the fact that it is both ‘bold’ (meaning that protection is poor, so a long fall is likely if you come off) and ‘exposed’ (meaning that it is impossible to ignore just how far down it is before you hit the ground). A word about the peg (or piton): this is a piece of steel that had been hammered into a thin crack in the rock, making it semi-permanent. In a footnote in the list of first ascents, the guidebook writer had added the following:
The peg appeared on the third ascent. Time and fear have hallowed its use.
Before the Second World War, rock climbing had been an exclusively middle-class pastime, and Arthur Dolphin was probably the last, and most talented, climber in that tradition. However, the climber who placed the peg, Joe Brown, was the spearhead of mass working-class participation after the war and already a legend in climbing circles when he ‘desecrated’ Dolphin’s masterpiece. Much has been made of the class angle here, but in fact Dolphin’s regular climbing companions were all working-class lads from West Yorkshire who held him in such high esteem because of his boldness and innate ability that two of them did the fourth ascent of KG in a bid to remove the peg. They failed, but they didn’t use it.

And neither did I, feeling that if I had clipped it, I would have been dishonouring Dolphin’s memory, because he hadn’t had the psychological reassurance of this extra protection when he pioneered the climb. Tragically, Arthur Dolphin was killed in a freak accident on the Aiguille de Géant in 1953 as he tried to prove his fitness for the successful Everest expedition of that year.

As the guidebook makes clear, the section above the peg is the hardest on the climb, and the foothold mentioned in the description is the only one for about 15 feet. I reached the diagonal crack with my right hand and secured a solid finger jam—and immediately beat a hasty retreat, not because it was hard but because it seemed so easy that I thought I must be missing something. However, once I’d convinced myself that I could do it, I repeated the sequence I’d already done and, following a very difficult pull on the finger jam, I was able to reach the horizontal crack, slightly to the right, with my left hand.

Beginners are taught that crossing hands in the way I’ve described is something they shouldn’t do, but it’s a ‘rule’ that few people follow nowadays. You do what works. However, I’ve noted over the years that many climbers faff about trying to arrange extra protection in the diagonal crack, which I regard as a dumb thing to do given that you’re hanging on with one hand with no proper footholds. After all, once you’ve reached the horizontal crack, a quick hand traverse will bring you to a small ledge and an end to the major difficulties. The rest is straightforward.

I never expected to climb KG again, because I came out to Hong Kong in 1974, but I reckoned without Paula, who was dissatisfied with the easy climbs I’d been taking her up when we moved back, temporarily, to the UK in 1989. Once again, I didn’t clip the peg, which was still there. Then, in 1995, I climbed it again, this time with Siegfried, who was only 16 years old at the time. I must have found it easy, because we then climbed a route called Gimmer String, which breaks out left from the cave stance and is a grade harder than KG. I climbed it for the last time (to date) in 1999, again with Siegfried, who led the hard pitch. He didn’t clip the peg either.

I’ve never seen a good picture of anyone on Kipling Groove, so I’ve included a couple of pictures of a route called Gillette Direct, which I climbed in 1996, shortly after my fiftieth birthday, and which is two grades harder than KG. It is the best single-pitch climb I’ve ever done and is located on Neckband Crag, on the other side of the valley facing Gimmer Crag. It therefore faces north, hence the sweater.

Although this is the steepest part of Gillette Direct, it is also the easiest. It gets much harder from here. Note the temporary protection device in the crack below my feet.

This photo was reproduced in the 1999 Langdale guidebook, where it is confusingly captioned “Dennis Hodgson on the crux of Gillette Direct”. The crux is actually reaching the handhold being used in this picture. This involves trusting a rounded dimple in the rock for the left foot as you reach for the hold. I fully expected my foot to slip as more and more weight came on it, and in fact Siegfried did come off at this point. He swung out into space, and I had to lower him to the ground so that he could start again. He was successful at the second attempt. The climb continues up the narrow corner, and difficulties are relentless all the way to the top.

Monday, 3 October 2011

maid in hong kong

There are some interesting aspects to the recent ruling by the High Court in Hong Kong that a Filipina domestic helper who has lived in the territory since 1986 has the right to apply for permanent residency status. However, the most significant point to note is the hostility of many local politicians to the idea, which probably reflects the inherent racism of many local voters.

When large numbers of Filipinas first came to Hong Kong to work as domestic servants, in the 1980s, the correspondence columns of the South China Morning Post often contained letters from local residents complaining about the behaviour of such women. There were frequent accusations of both sexual promiscuity and general dishonesty, usually with not a scintilla of supporting evidence, and it was impossible to avoid the conclusion that the accusers were virulently xenophobic racist bigots.

It is to this constituency of opinion that unscrupulous populist politicians such as Regina Ip seek to appeal. Ip, chairwoman of the New People’s Party and a former high-ranking government functionary, has suggested that if the Court of Appeal upholds this decision, the Hong Kong government should refer the matter to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress for an interpretation of the Basic Law on this issue.

This procedure can be used to overturn Hong Kong court rulings, but to invoke it would finally kill off the illusion that the territory’s judicial system is independent of the mainland’s less than transparent arrangements. And this would be despite Hong Kong’s autonomy being guaranteed, in theory, by the Basic Law.

In other words, this is a local matter that should be decided by local courts. If the Hong Kong government were to ask the Chinese government to step in, anyone who wanted to sue on any matter to do with individual rights in the future would not need to trouble Hong Kong’s court system.

Overriding this compelling legal argument is the moral argument. I wonder how many of the hundreds of thousands of families who have employed domestic helpers over the years are aware of the level of economic exploitation that this arrangement entails, and how much more prosperous they are because having a servant allows a second adult to go out to work, invariably for a salary that is a significant multiple of the servant's. It should not be forgotten that domestic helpers are the lowest paid segment of Hong Kong society, and when their statutory minimum salary was cut a few years ago, it was not because the measure would ameliorate the severe financial conditions of the time. It was imposed because these women were an easy target, and the measure would be widely applauded by their employers, who had a vote in local elections, while their servants did not.

And this is not the only financial burden that domestic helpers have imposed on them. The vast majority find employment in Hong Kong through agents, and the going rate for setting up an initial two-year contract is seven months’ salary! Fees for subsequent contracts are much lower, but only if the employee remains with the same employer. It would be wrong to label these agents ‘vultures’, because vultures perform a useful role in removing carrion from the landscape. ‘Blood-sucking parasites who prey on the vulnerable’ is a more accurate description. Part of the problem is that the negotiation of contracts is extremely complicated, and government documentation is provided only in English and Chinese, but natural justice demands that any justifiable fees be paid by the employer.

A lot can be deduced about a person’s attitude to this matter by the term they use to describe the many women from the Philippines and Indonesia employed on domestic duties (they are legally barred from working in any other capacity). The original term used in the 1980s was ‘maid’, but as someone whose mother worked in domestic service in England before the Second World War, I regard this term as both demeaning and offensive. The morally neutral term is ‘domestic helper’, which emphasizes that the relationship is one of employer and employee, but I frequently refer to them as ‘servants’, because this is how they are often treated by their employers.

Overturning the High Court’s verdict, especially if this involves the connivance of the Chinese government, would torpedo Hong Kong’s claim to be ‘Asia’s world city’. The single most important criterion for any city to be considered world-class and cosmopolitan is that it operates under the rule of law, and venal politicians like Regina Ip should remember this when they propose that the Hong Kong government sell out.