Only 16 months old and already behind in applying for school? Nothing new if you are a first-time parent in Hong Kong. Tania tries her best to keep up with the quickening pace of parenthood in HK without losing her mind…
Earlier this morning, about three thousand mamas were running around Hong Kong like chickens with their heads cut off. It is nothing like the Black Friday sale, or a NYC sample sale, or even preparation for Hurricane Irene. It is simply application drop-off day for one of the top local bilingual schools in the city.
Close to 3,000 parents started lining up at 7:30 am for application drop-off day. This particular school offers the best value for the education, and it is considerably cheaper than private ones and rigorously bilingual in Mandarin and English. Only 240 lucky children will be accepted to the nursery, after passing the assessment interviews. And how old are the children going to be? Why, only two years old, of course! And so life has begun for a typical Hong Kong family.
Space has always been an issue in Hong Kong, but being a parent elevates this issue to a whole different level. HK is a breeding ground for many women, especially for foreigners. For some, the move to HK from western countries gave them opportunities to afford helpers who can make child-rearing a less exhausting experience. In turn, many foreign women have multiple children in a shorter period of time. For others, if the babies are proven to be descendants and citizens of the P.R.C. (People’s Republic of China), they are eligible to receive the versatile HK passport and permanent residency. And finally, since Chinese zodiacs play an important aspect in Chinese auspicious beliefs, certain popular years such as dragon or tiger can see a spike in the birth rate. One can imagine how these impact the healthcare and education sectors in HK, let alone the housing market.
For this particular expat mama, it means countless sleepless nights and full time planning for everything child related. She has seen other mamas in near hysterics for not finding a room in their preferred expat hospitals. Since language can be a barrier, many foreign mamas prefer English-speaking institutions. This mama was wait-listed for three months, despite applying early at nine weeks pregnant, and before being granted a confirmed space at her preferred hospital. She thought warnings from experienced local mamas of applying early to schools were hyped-up, until schools told her that she was number 100 on the wait-list. Many schools accepted applications since birth without a guarantee of space. To complicate matters, the options are boundless. One can choose the international vs. local streams, the English vs. American streams, the monolingual vs. bilingual streams. Switching from one stream to another is quite a difficult task.
This mama, after many headachse and lots of advice later, decided to take a deep breath and try to put things in perspective. The most important objective is to raise a happy, well-rounded child. She can only plan for so much, after all her son is only 16 months old. To prepare her best, cross her fingers and let fate take its course seems to be the healthiest course of action.
So, 90 minutes later, this mama and her patient husband took off from the school, went to the nearest wine bar to toast to themselves. They just survived another parental manic event in Hong Kong.