March 4, 2011 10:01 pm

East or west, boarding’s best

Sir David Tang, globetrotter, entrepreneur, and the man about too many towns to mention, divides his time between homes in Hong Kong, mainland China and London. Here he invites readers’ queries for his advice on property, interiors, etiquette at home (wherever you live), parties and anything else that may be bothering you.

Having exiled myself in New York for several decades, I’m pondering a return to my native London. I left town in the mid-1960s and seldom visited. The problem I face is a nostalgic desire to return, like the proverbial salmon, to the pool. Methinks, however, ça n’existe plus . I have seen change aplenty here, but I fear that London has not assimilated change as gracefully.

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Judging by the use of your language, I should remind you that London has moved on since the days of Sheridan. I can’t imagine New Yorkers understanding you. I love New York, especially as a gentile in Manhattan. There, I can order takeaways and call for plumbers or electricians without hesitation, whereas I sigh every time I need services in London. So you might be right that London has fallen behind, although its cultural diversity is precisely why it is more interesting than New York. Just think of all the people living within the capital: Belgravia, Mayfair, north of the park, south of the river, or east of Bow Bells – all so close, yet all so different. You won’t find that rich landscape in Manhattan.

If unmarried, which is the proper hand on which to wear a signet ring? In what direction should the initials be facing – towards the wearer, or away? Same with initialled cufflinks – towards the wearer, or away?

The signet ring, which has always been the symbol of the Sloane Ranger or the British upper-class twit, should always be worn on the last finger of the left hand. But snobbery dictates that it is one’s family crest and not initials that should be inscribed on it. If you have no family crest, you shouldn’t really be wearing a signet ring. If tortured for advice, I suppose the crest should face oneself, as it should be worn for pride and not for flaunting.

Where would you recommend children be raised: east or west? I am of Chinese stock and have lived in London for the last 20 years, but am becoming increasingly worried about what the future holds for my children in this country. There is the consumerist, instant gratification culture. Should I think about moving back to the east, where the values of self-discipline and hard work will be more easily inculcated?

I still regard the English boarding school as providing the best education in the world for young people. It teaches one both how to be independent and how to live with others. At university, the one-on-one tutorials at Oxbridge and one or two others provide a unique way of teaching that is not found even in any of the Ivy League institutions in America. So think twice about sending your children back to the east where the education system is at best for regurgitation, and at worst for insularity. And talking of instant gratification, that kind of culture is surely more rampant in China than Britain – so if that’s your main concern, you’d be sending your children from Scylla to Charybdis.

Having recently endured a 12-hour flight sitting next to two alternately crying babies who artfully prevented me from finding sleep, I wondered how would a gentleman such as yourself have reacted, confronted by such parenting incompetence?

Being a gentleman implies being extra considerate and polite. and therefore I would simply put on my earplugs and keep quiet. After all, the commercial flight is public transport, and anyone who pays is entitled to exercise normal human behaviour which, in the case of a baby, is to cry. I was once woken on the plane by a fellow passenger who accused me of snoring too loudly in the cabin. I assure you that I read him my rights and challenged him to a duel on arrival, as I try to be a gentleman to the last.

E-mail questions to david.tang@ft.com

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