Notes from the dorm

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 March, 2010, 12:00am

In an English public school, wealth is omnipresent, if slightly taboo. These institutions are seen as an elite option for education, in a way justifying their high fees to maintain their reputation.

Public schools, although largely uniform in their fees, include students from a wide range of backgrounds. Some students live in cramped flats like in Hong Kong, while others retreat to palatial mansions in the English countryside or the Caribbean during the holidays - the 'spoilt rich kids with their trusts and their floppy Boden hair', as journalist Jeremy Clarkson puts it. Thankfully, the status of 'charitable organisation' obliges most of the schools to offer scholarships of, at least in my college, up to 30 per cent, softening the impact of the gap.

The times when wealth rears its ugly head are at formal occasions, most notably charity balls and speech days. At charity balls, boys wear tuxedos, complete with dress shirts and strange collars, bow ties and cummerbunds; and girls happily flaunt their shimmering cocktail dresses, occasionally from 31 Rue Cambon. In a customary auction where girls bid for strapping young lads to become their slaves for the day, bids will, without a doubt, break the GBP100 (HK$1,200) mark, and once even topped GBP200, a feat ascribed to a certain pampered prima donna.

During speech days, parents jump at the opportunity to display their wealth. It is not uncommon to see rows of Jaguars, Bentleys and Aston Martins neatly lined up.

The high-society Cheltenham races top them all, allowing students to bet away their ample allowances on the fastest horse.

It may seem daunting, but in reality this provides an interesting backdrop to college life. And who says your rich friends can't help you out when you're in dire straits?