147 minutes of my life…

These are the English Language Minutes taken from the “Seventh Staff Meeting” at a Hong Kong Government Secondary School –  these meetings are always entirely conducted in Cantonese, and rightly so – there is only one staff member who cannot speak it. Nevertheless, his presence at the meetings is still expected; these were the main points he understood from the meeting that occurred that day…


Agendas placed with care.
Desks aligned, chairs in order.
Projector on.
Rapid fire battles won and lost amongst faculty for prime seat positions – well out of management eye line.
Some arrive with the illusion of attentive professionalism; perfectly rigged ruses and cheap magician tricks – a magazine within a folder, a household budget – countless devices behind various obstructions.

The Three walk in.

A steady collective awareness takes hold. Neurosis lurks behind charming smiles and warm eyes, all eager to prove their allegiance.

The meeting commences…

Item 1. Confirmation of Minutes of the Last Staff Meeting

Settling period for all involved. Teachers move into the most comfortable position afforded to them. Noble attempts are made from The Three to entice a stray staff member into commenting on some issue from last month – to throw their chips in early. No dice.

Tough crowd.

There is a growing steeliness present now; some reluctant acceptance that this is happening, and that there is no getting off.

– 7 minutes

Item 2. Matters Arising from the Last Staff Meeting

The Capitalization of Nouns has, to me, always indicated one of two things – the supreme importance of the entities being dealt with, or a slightly desperate desire for them to be thought of as so.

10 capitalizations out of the first 15 words listed in this agenda so far scream officious authority…

Nothing new yet discussed.

– 27 minutes

Item 3. Matters discussed in School Development Team Meetings.

The eyes are now dropping. The elbows are now acting as headstands.

The Three smile as they speak. This merely serves to raise the threatening elements of the words I can only imagine they are saying.

Nothing is more terrifying than a well layered smile.

2 luckless staff members are speaking now, obviously press-ganged into this pantomime, squirming in front of us with their scripts for only as long as would seem polite, and not a second more.

– 39 minutes

Item 4. Upcoming School Functions
     4.1 Post Examination Activity
     4.2 S.S Career and Life Planning
     4.3 Final Assembly
     4.4 Release of HKDSE Result

I’ve noticed an idiosyncrasy with Hong Kong teachers:

Much like poker players, certain teachers have a “tell” which gives away either that they are intent on gaining managerial brownie points, or that they are not really listening to anything at all that is being said.

The Tell is this: words are spoken by The Three, and some teachers have this quirky automatic reaction – consistent slight nodding of the head, sometimes in perpetual motion, combined with plastered-on unmoving smiles. The serial offenders also voluntarily murmur barely audible intimations of agreement. And this can happen for the entire meeting in some cases.

Once I notice this, it is very hard to notice anything else.

– 75 minutes

Item 5. Stocktaking

A sense of desperation now permeates throughout the room. Knowing glances served from some of the grizzled veterans are directed at those of us who have yet to gain the composure that comes with experience. The old eyes seem to be saying ‘This too shall pass’.

The one time in my life I felt glad about that old phrase: ‘Nothing gold can stay’.

– 84 minutes

Item 6. Use of Funds and Manpower Handling

I have been mercilessly exposed.

A straw poll, a snap election, an unobservant mute – the democratic status quo of these votes is that all participate, and that there is only one selection on the ballot.

All hands in unison, a unanimous decision – challenged – history made – a differently pigmented hand raised, a second too late, a democratic right exercised for the first time. Eyes travel faster than light. Collective breath.

Motion carried. 89 – 1. Unprecedented!

Eyes jest, both in pity and mocking. This does appear to be the highlight of this meeting for many present.

A proper court must have its fool.

– 98 minutes

Item 7. Annual School Plan

I have made the assumption that, based on what I can see, there will not be a dramatic shakeup of the school next year, no educational revolution, no Captain my Captain. I start to imagine what other people in the room would look like naked.

– 112 Minutes

Item 8. Staff Appraisal

Outside my window, a man in a government uniform has been sitting down on the side of the footpath for the entire time that I have been sitting here. He smokes casually and often, between yelling bawdy abuse at his co-workers.

If I didn’t feel such a kindred bond with him in this instance, I might have considered writing a firmly worded letter.

– 121 minutes

Item 9. Renovation of School Premises

This item intrigued me. Jetson-like transportation tubes to the 4th floor, or living Flintstone appliances?

So – there will be mouse pad extension trays added to all staff desks. Diagrams are produced, testimonies tabled, and 18 minutes of my life slips slowly by like a page turned over in an old book.

– 139 minutes.

Item 10. A.O.B

This is the part where you work out who your friends are.

Two enemies noted, quickly dispatched. Last call.

A silence, a pleading – some of us are hanging on for dear life at this point. The longest 4 seconds in the close to 2 and a half hours that came before it.

The silence deepens. It is overwhelmingly loud. Gosh, what tension!

The Three exchange looks.


– 147 minutes




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