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David Tang, entrepreneur and founder of ICorrect, offers advice on questions about property, interiors – and modern manners for globetrotters
I noticed there was a considerable amount of contempt and derision in the online comments following your article on domestic staff (“To master the art of managing domestic staff, think Sister Sledge”, December 20 2013) in the shadow of the Nigella Lawson incident. Were they justified?
Most of the vile ones were not justified because they were based on ignorance. In Hong Kong there are more than 300,000 domestic staff from the Philippines and Indonesia on whom many ordinary households rely, especially for childcare. These migrants are the linchpin of the growing white-collar class. It is hardly Carson from “Downtown” in tails and gloves. My lot happily go around in T-shirts and trainers and they have had children born and brought up in our homes and we all go to the same family doctor because we are one big family.
The vitriolic comments, which predictably came from writers using pseudonyms and stink of burnt chips on shoulders, were insults to the utterly loyal relationships between my domestic staff and myself. Our contracts are no different from any other types of employment. To be prejudiced with gratuitous connotations of slavery or abuses succumbs to the hang-ups of political correctness and is highfalutin absurdity.
What are the things which annoy you most in hotels?
Here is my catalogue: Not having enough light with which to read in bed or sitting down. A duvet tucked in at the bottom and, worse, the sides of the bed. A minibar without diet drinks or sugar-free chocolate. No fresh milk next to coffee and tea machines. Complicated electronic monitors. Lack of plugs and adaptors. Overhead lighting in bathrooms. Slippery marble floors. Limp showers. Oversized baths. Room service that takes forever. Check-in staff with small talk and insisting you lead the way when you have no idea where your room is. Policy speeches on check-in and check-out times. And being asked to remember what you had taken from the minibar as you check out.
As a foreigner, what is the best way of improving my English?
In 1983, when I was teaching at Peking University (sic not Beijing University), I gave English classes to the first batch of 13 PhD students who were destined to study abroad. I told them to practise the language by using it in real life. I even took them to a couple of drinks receptions at which I encouraged them to talk to others in English. “What about?” they would ask. “Oh, any old rubbish,” I’d reply. On one occasion, one of my biology students went up to Edward Heath (the former UK prime minister) and asked “Do you talk old lubbish?”
I also egged on my students to write letters inviting replies so that they might gain a better sense of purpose. My targets were members of the British royal family because I knew their staff would always answer. So a series of letters was sent off to Buckingham Palace. And bingo! Each letter got a reply eventually, with embossed crimson seals, waxed grandly on the back of the envelope and on top of the notepaper. All my students were exceedingly chuffed.
The top prize went to my physics doctorate who accused Prince Philip of using the helicopter too much when he was vocal about wasting energy. The Prince himself wrote back to say that he had no choice but to use the helicopter in order to carry out his many duties in far-flung places, and enclosed a signed photograph of himself as an Admiral.
Every Saturday I wake with great anticipation at the prospect of your words of wisdom. My wife thinks you are the second best-looking man in the world and I was wondering if you have a picture that you could send to her. Her name is Barbara and she is your biggest fan.
I am answering your question to demonstrate that I receive and deal with genuine questions from strangers, and not from ones I make out myself – as I couldn’t have concocted one like this! This reminds me of my first years in England when, trying to improve my English, I joined PEN, an exchange forum for pen pals. I was greatly excited when a girl from Finland wrote to me and sent a photograph of herself that put me in an Oriental orbit, as I had never seen someone so beautiful with blue eyes and fair hair.
Overnight, I was a Chinese boy in “luv” with the whole of Scandinavia. After months, my Finn came to London and we finally met in the flesh. To say she only scored a low degree of verisimilitude from her photograph would have been a litotes. The girl bore no resemblance to the photograph and my fantasy of her was shattered as sharply as the finishing bars of Sibelius’s Fifth. Therefore, I am not sending a photo of mine to your wife in case she eventually freaks out on meeting me.
Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org