Read: For Starters (Part 4)
The battle continues. I used to live in a seminary next to a rather prestigious kindergarten, separated by a basketball court. Mom worked for the Anglican church. Once a year, I navigated through the court, filled with eager parents, babbling multilinguists, bawling musicians and drooling athletes waiting in line to be interviewed at the Sheng Kung Hui Kindergarten. These days, children have to be multitalented. Mom’s colleague has his five year-old granddaughter sleep over three times a week—not because the child’s grandparents want to spend more time with her—but because their home is closer to the girl’s tuition centre. “She’s very busy during the week, with music and art classes. It’s better if she stays with us for her language and math tutorials”, Mom’s colleague said.
Private tutoring is big business in Hong Kong, and the main source of income for university undergrads. Every other undergrad I went to school with was signed up on tutorgroup.hk, a website which matched students with, well, other students. I was matched with a girl who lived in a swanky apartment with a white marble lobby and concierge. On my first day, Yvonne’s mom presented me with a stack of books that toppled over upon touching the table. “Yvonne—she’s already four—is attending a course on kindergarten interviews,” she said, picking up the books, which read: CAMBRIDGE YOUNG TALENTS. “This is course material. I want you to go through these interview questions with her in English. She will ask you to tell her stories, but if she doesn’t complete at least three sets of questions, no stories. Is that clear?” I nodded. I looked at Yvonne, who was hiding behind her mother. “How old are you, Yvonne?” I asked in my best sing-song voice. She raised three fingers. Her mother looked at her sternly. “Yvonne, what did I tell you?” Yvonne paused to think, and raised one more finger. Her mother turned to me, “Make her talk.” With that, she sauntered into her room. “Do you want to do this?” I asked Yvonne. She shook her head. “Do you want to play?” She whispered, “Yes.” I asked her an interview question from the course material anyway. “What is your favourite book?” She rummaged through the stack of books and pulled out an anime version of Beauty and the Beast. “What is this called?” I asked gently. “Beat”, she said, lips quivering. I started reading to her. By the end of our two-hour session, her mom was horrified to find Yvonne rolling around on the floor, laughing. She pressed four hundred dollars into my palm. “You don’t have to come back.” I took the money without saying anything. It was not like I wanted to make money off of forcing kids to grow up faster than they should.