How best to write to a knight – and why I find atheists bizarre

As for all my friends, they of course just write ‘Dear Tang’ or something more derogatory like ‘Dear Fatso’
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David Tang, entrepreneur and founder of ICorrect, offers advice on questions about property, interiors – and modern manners for globetrotters

I have a social dilemma. I wish to address a letter to Tang Wing, otherwise known as Sir David Tang. As he is a Sir, this introduces a dilemma in that I ordinarily start my letters to male persons as ‘Dear Sir’. Would this show the right degree of deference or do you address a Sir as ‘Dear Sir Sir’ in letters?

First, my Chinese name is a Tang Wing-Cheung (meaning forever brilliant!). My grandfather, who was also knighted, was known in Hong Kong as Sir Tang, which of course was inconsistent with the established British practice of using the given name after the title. So he should have been Sir Shui-Kin.

Anyway, if you were writing to someone you didn’t know, you would indeed address them as “Dear Sir”. If you knew you were writing to me, you could address your opening as “Dear Sir David”. Or even “Dear Sir David Tang”, which is less obsequious. And if you knew me, “Dear David” would be perfectly acceptable. As for all my friends, they of course just write “Dear Tang” or something much more derogatory like “Dear Fatso”. I have always wished I had another son, whom I would have named Price – so that if he were to be knighted, he would become “Sir Price” Tang!


Do you have the impression that cities at night are too brightly lit? Kensington Palace Gardens, for example, seems to be adequately lit. Should that be the model for street lighting? Also, it seems wasteful to leave the lights on when most people are sleeping. What do you think?

I know many “environmentalists” will regard night lighting wasteful of energy. But like most things in life, the issue is not one-dimensional. Has anyone ever not felt a sense of wonder, say, crossing Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong at night, or at some vantage point on a building in central Manhattan at twilight, or even just running across Battersea Bridge in London on a foggy evening and looking at the fairy lights at Albert Bridge? There are hundreds of thousands of other examples where the lighting of buildings at night provides a visual feast, or even just enough charming sustenance for our mental imagination, which I have always thought requires nourishing almost as much as, if not more than, our physical bodies. But my principle does not extend to vulgar over-lighting or lighting of ugly and worthless buildings. Step forward please Macau and Las Vegas where all the tinsel buildings, especially the faux Venetian replicas, are repulsive enough for me to think there was some advantage in having, as I did, a detached retina that cut off half the vision in my eye.

As it happens, I have a bungalow in Hyde Park, near Kensington Palace [note from Ed: “bungalow” is TangSpeak for the well-appointed hunting lodge where our columnist plays his organ] and I agree that the moderate illumination in the neighbourhood is just about right, with a soft reflection of a sense of thrift that is part of the endearing aspect of the British royal family, a few of whom live up the road.

And don’t think we always need floodlights to illuminate buildings. I remember being asked by the former wife of Lord Foster, Sabiha, where I would position floodlights to shine on to the mighty HSBC headquarters in Hong Kong. My reply was: “No need for any floodlights. Just ask for the lights on a few floors of the building to be left on.” I think that’s what they have done, although my suggestion might well have also been somebody else’s who had a bit more influence than me at the bank, given my overdraft.


Regarding your column on November 30, why is it bizarre for atheists to have good manners, to care about other people (atheists or not), and to be concerned about animals?

I have always found it bizarre that people should find serious matters of life frivolous and yet relatively frivolous matters considerably more important. Take the popular belief that the marriage contract is not worth the paper on which it is written. That’s usually the reason why people don’t get married. Yet these same people would not dream of regarding, say, their employment contract as worthless, nor even implied contracts into which they enter every day such as buying something in the supermarket and finding it rotten and returning it with a demand for restitution. That’s bizarre!

Of course I believe in manners and I am a fan of Winchester College with its excellent motto “Manners maketh man”. And I care about animals. I love them enough to cry and weep over them more often than humans. But I also regard religious belief as much, much more important in terms of priorities in my life. Therefore, as a Catholic, I find it bizarre that atheists should care about the less important things in life. Ergo, bizarre for me. Not bizarre for atheists perhaps.

Email questions to david.tang@ft.com

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