Genie in a Bottle
They wear Gucci, they have personalised number plates on their Lamborghinis and they command the kind of money normally reserved for European footballers. Peter Shadbolt examines the wild world of Hong Kong’s celebrity tutors
elcome to the high-octane world of Hong Kong’s celebrity tutors, where salaries of HK$80 million are not unknown, where teachers are inundated with fan mail and where jealous rival tutors sometimes try to stab their colleagues in the back—in front of their classes. With the stakes so high, it’s little wonder they’re marching into each other’s tutorial rooms and taking their competitors down a peg.
Wilson Liu, a maths teacher at cram school King’s Glory Education Centre, explains that “viciously attacking other tutors” in front of students is par for the course in the competitive world of after-school tutoring. He says one colleague even accused him of bribing tutoring centre staff to boost his student headcount, in an industry where popularity will make or break you. “If they repeat these lies 10 times, students may believe it,” says Liu. “I usually choose to avoid [fights].”
Naturally, grooming their public image via billboards, bus hoardings and on social media is essential. Celebrity English tutor Kelly Mok, a “tutor queen” at King’s Glory, posts pictures of herself prepped and ready for a photo shoot. Her site attracts the kind of fawning language no harried teacher in the public school system could ever hope to garner. “Kelly, I really think you have a good camera face,” says one breathless fan on Mok’s site. “I notice that you are a little slimmer than a few years ago. What have you done?”
Last October, two of Hong Kong’s top cram schools—home to the “tutor kings and queens” of the industry—went public in their war for top celebrity tutor Lam Yat-yan, a 28-year-old Chinese language teacher with close-cut suits and K-pop good looks. Modern Education published an open letter in a newspaper offering him HK$85 million if he jumped ship from rival Beacon Group and boosted its enrolment by 25,000. With 10,000 students to his name, YY Lam, as he is known to an adoring student body, is believed to have generated as