August 23, 2007

Tutor Gods

According to Jonathan Cheng, ("In Hong Kong, Flashy Test Tutors Gain Icon Status", WSJ, 8/14/2007):

When Richard Eng isn't teaching English grammar to high-school students, he might be cruising around Hong Kong in his Lamborghini Murciélago. Or in Paris, on one of his seasonal shopping sprees. [...]

...a popular [English-language] tutor might teach 100 students in a single lesson, each paying as much as $12.50 to be there. So a tutor working 40 hours could gross $50,000 in a week. "It's a big business," says Ken Ng, a well-known tutor god. "That's why I'm driving my second Ferrari."

The motivation?

Hong Kong parents are often desperate to help their children succeed in this city's pressure-cooker public-examination system, which determines students' college-worthiness. That explains why many are willing to pay handsomely for extracurricular help. Mr. Eng and others like him have made a lucrative business out of tapping that demand. They use flashy, aggressive marketing tactics that have transformed them into scholastic pop stars -- "tutor gods," as they're known in Cantonese.

[via Victor Mair, who comments: "It's important to know that this is going on in HK, because what happens in HK presages what will happen in the PRC. "]

[And by the way, Murciélago may be the name of an Italian car, but it's a Spanish word -- meaning "bat", in the flying mammal sense. And in case you're wondering, as I did, why Lamborghini would name a hot car after a small nocturnal insectivore, generally (if unfairly) regarded as slightly creepy, they didn't. They named their car after a bull, who was named (in Spanish) "bat".]

Posted by Mark Liberman at August 23, 2007 04:24 PM