How to set yourself up for disappointment

Tuesday 23 August 2011, 9.00pm HKT

OUR PINOY COMMUNITY in Hong Kong is setting itself up for disappointment.

You see, judicial review of right-of-abode status for Philippine domestic workers in Hong Kong began yesterday (22 August) in the High Court.

Already, the government’s opening arguments is hitting the abode-seekers’ case like hammer to anvil. The government said the Immigration Ordinance (the statute that regulates Philippine domestic workers here) IS constitutional and that the ordinance sets out in very clear terms the conditions that bar alien domestics from acquiring domicile in Hong Kong.

I’m not anti-Filipino or anti-domestics, and I personally feel the domestics have had a raw deal, especially those who’ve been living and working in shite jobs here since the 1980s.

But as a trained lawyer, it’s next to impossible to go against the tightly legislated language that is typical of immigration laws. Having personally gone through numerous different immigration procedures in several different countries, I know how painfully impossible it is to get any administrative decisions or judicial judgments that go against the language of immigration laws.

For those who are legally unwashed, strict statutory interpretation (‘stat-int’) is the default means of operating immigration laws (in Hong Kong as well as anywhere else in the world). Since our Philippine domestics’ contracts and leave of stay are covered under our Immigration Ordinance rather than a general-purpose statute like the Employment Ordinance or somesuch, they can expect little or no leeway because of the stat-int.

So someone please tell our nice Pinoys and Pinays that, really, they are facing an impossible task on their hands — and perhaps not a little misled by some of our social NGOs in the process.

* * *

“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious — makes you so sick at heart — that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.
(Mario Savio (1942-96), ‘Bodies upon gears’ speech at Sproul Hall Steps, University of California, Berkeley, 2 December 1964)

* * *

© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2011. Image via British-born Chinese Blog.

Amended 23 August 2011 for typographical errors – amen to that.

11 Responses to “How to set yourself up for disappointment”

  1. Yaxue C. said

    Really like this quote. The several “upon”s are so “verbing”, so to speak.


  2. Yaxue C. said

    I had no idea it was such a famous speech and delivered in such a fierce passion (just watched a youtube clip). It is interesting then how it rouses quietly, provoking both passion and thoughts when read in utter peace (the way I did initially).


    • Like I said many times before on this blog and the other one, that generation of people were all reared on a more literary education (as opposed to the more task-centred education we have nowadays).

      Much of our educational orthodoxy has misled many of us to think that a literary education is less objective-minded (or more subjective) than a tasked education, which couldn’t be further from the truth.


  3. Yaxue C. said

    I will not begin to tell you what education I got (if it can be called education at all) lest angry smoke comes out of my ears and nostrils. That’s another story, but I totally agree with you: We are considerably lesser, not more, than ourselves without a rich, literary education.


    • NiubiCowboy said

      I whole-heartedly agree with both of you. In recent years, it seems as if more and more people expect high schools and universities to be nothing more than job training centers and credential production facilities. An appreciation for the written word has fallen by the wayside in many cases as students view the acts of reading and thinking critically as means to an end (diploma) rather than a process of self-reflection and self renewal. Education should be something you undertake when you’re young and cease to pursue when you’re dead. Analysis, introspection, curiosity, and a willingness to seek out new and interesting experiences are the qualities I feel a literary education has given me and I’m continually thankful I had the right teachers, both human and text, to help give me the tools necessary to continue challenging myself for the rest of my life. Sorry for sounding so silly and abstract!

      Yaxue, though you said it’s another story, what was your education like? You’ve piqued my curiosity!


  4. No, it’s not abstract. It’s probably as concrete as it gets.

    Actually, I don’t mind universities being job training centres. That would be a return to the old days to the polytechnics in some ways – like the Bachelor of Commerce degrees of the old days where people were actually trained in import-export procedures, letters of credit, containerisation, etc. It’s a crying shame that most countries no longer have polytechnics, mainly because of a perceived lower status compared with universities. Alas, we have something completely different. More’s the pity!

    You’re right about reading and writing being an integral part of thinking critically (what in my day was described as ‘thoughtful’ or ‘have foresight’). My own take is that many of us nowadays are unable to enjoy reading and writing mainly because our brand of education (worldwide) has lost its ability to teach people how to read and write enjoyably. This is why we had people like Mario Savio who could come up with such powerful words off the bat even in stressful conditions – so powerful were the words that they can make it into a breakbeat tune (of all things) fully 40 years later. Which is why I quoted Savio because his words totally reflected what is happening with our Philippine community here.

    Read a newspaper from the 1950s, 1960s or even the 1970s and compare with one from today, and the differences are great – just on a purely literary level (never mind the news content). The old stories were so much more memorable than today’s, and the most of us have no inkling why that is so. We have literacy, but no cultural literacy.

    Literary education is gone. The King is dead! Long live the King!


  5. Yaxue C. said

    Thank you for your interest, NiubiCowboy, I would love to give you a good answer, but I will be brief and try not to fume. The very first thing in my education history was Mao’s little book that we read aloud after the teacher in my daycare class. Then for several years the only thing available for me to read was the two subscriptions of newspaper we had at home and some picture books. I read newspapers from back to back (four pages only) every day from 1st grade to 3rd grade, believe it or not, and didn’t care about the picture books because there weren’t “enough words” in them. Starting 4th and 5th grades, I was able to get hold of some “poisonous books” (just about every book in the world was a “poisonous book” and banned, including books published in as recent as the 1950s). This was in the mid-1970s. The bookstore in the small town I grew up had a book rental, and I read every single book in that store (there were that many), and years later, I learned from the memoir of the editor-in-chief of People’s Literature Publisher (人民文学出版社)that I had read all of the trash they produced during the Cultural Revolution! I didn’t get to read a lot in high school because by then the national college exams were reinstated and we were in a frenzy to prepare for them. The high school had a decent library, and I remember among the books I checked out were Dream of Red Chamber (红楼梦)and a few studies of it. I went on to Peking University (北京大学) and for the four years I was there, I skipped just about all my classes except for math, and read and read and read in the library. I read the Russian novelists, Rousseau, Spinoza, Hegel, Kant (What was I doing with those two joyless men when I should be dating boys?), French novelists, French symbolist poets, among others. Plus some Chinese philosophers, especially the Taoists. All these I devoured, as you can imagine, without too much understanding. I used to joke with my college friends that I really wasn’t a “classmate” of theirs, rather someone who had sneaked into the university and pretended to be a student there. A lot of exciting books became available during the 1980s. I remember reading the translation of Rene Wellek and Austin Warren’s Theory of Literature, how I chewed slowly over every word lest I got to the end too soon. Then I came to the US to attend graduate school, I had the nerve, naivety and shame to choose to study literature when I had only an intermediary reading knowledge and could barely speak English at all! And that’s about it as far as my education goes. Of course I can’t agree with you more that education is a life-long process, but as far as schooling goes, that was it.

    My daughter for a while kept asking me what I read when I was her age (fifth grader). I said “nothing.” It must be hard for her to grasp what this “nothing” entails because she kept asking me the same question again and again. I kept explaining to her until, finally, she said, “They don’t want you to read because they don’t want you to get ideas.” Exactly! She doesn’t ask me anymore, but her question woke up some serious anger in me that just won’t go away. A lot has been said about how many people were starved to death during Mao’s era, but we haven’t talked enough about how they starved, mutilated the mind of people, old and young. It hurts so much to think I had virtually read nothing good, nothing nourishing, at all for the first 17 years of my life! Imagine how I screamed at and cursed you-know-who when I learned that the French children read Montaigne in 3rd grade and British children read Shakespeare at 10.

    At this age, I feel very much incapacitated by the starvation of mind I suffered when I was young. I feel damage was done and there is no way to make up for it. While I think I am growing mellower in general, my anger about certain things seems to grow stronger by the day, like some kind of purified substance, my education being one of those things.


    • Your bit about “mutilated the mind of people” is as true as it gets. I myself have long said that debasing even the basic education of the populace makes it tremendously difficult any society to move forward in a ever-more-competitive world.

      Many thanks for leaving those valuable words here.


  6. Yaxue C. said

    About the book rental, I meant to say “there weren’t that many.”

    I enjoyed the conversation very much. This is as good as it gets in our isolated, literarily illiterate society.


  7. Ed Hurst said

    I have enjoyed this discussion, too, as much of sounds familiar in some ways. Having worked in our American public education system as a teacher for a few years, I came to the conclusion we didn’t hide the books, but buried them under a consumerist entertainment culture. So while there are a few minds permitted to get an education in spite of the school system, most didn’t want the real thing. I still believe to this day I was nudged out of that system when I dared to tell the kids in one class school was about child time management — “we can’t simply let them out on the streets” — and not really education; that if they were going to get an education, it would be in spite of the system. It came up in class as a discussion question over “Flowers for Algernon.”


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