Alpais Lam

The curious incident of the foul-mouthed teacher

Mike Rowse tries to understand how a street quarrel became a major political row in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 August, 2013, 3:08am

For the past two weeks, I have been trying to wrap my brain around the incident where a young female primary school teacher swore like a trooper at police officers. But all I have to show for my efforts so far is a headache. There are just too many loose ends.

Apparently, it all started with the Falun Gong undertaking one of their regular propaganda exercises. Now, I lost all sympathy for this organisation some years ago when I learned that the founder, Li Hongzhi, believes in apartheid.

In his writings (which most of his followers never read), he argues that there is a separate room in heaven for each ethnic group. Therefore, he does not support interracial marriage as there would be nowhere for the souls of the children to go when they die.

As a father of four Eurasian children, and having several mixed-race grandchildren, I take exception to nonsense like this.

Nonetheless, Falun Gong is a lawful organisation in Hong Kong and its members have the right to peddle their views, however batty.

The trouble apparently began when a different organisation - the Hong Kong Youth Care Association - conducted a demonstration of its own in the same place to block the Falun Gong.

The website of this organisation (now apparently inaccessible) said it is dedicated to youth causes. Nothing there about wider political objectives, so why was the association running a spoiling operation? Is there, perhaps, a second Youth Care Association somewhere with this agenda?

Be that as it may, along comes the teacher, Alpais Lam Wai-sze, who sees the competing demonstrations and forms the opinion that the police are not affording sufficient protection to the Falun Gong. Rather, by inaction, they are permitting the association to bully them. Does Lam film the incident and file a report to the Complaints Against Police Office, her legislative councillor and the media? She does not. Instead, she screams like a banshee and scolds the officers on duty, including choice references to different parts of the human anatomy.

The whole scene is captured on film by someone else and uploaded to the web.

Enraged by the insults to Asia's finest, someone organises another demonstration to show support for the police. Fair enough, but which organisation was it and did it have a permit?

A retiring police officer, Gregory Lau Tat-keung, no longer exercising constabulary powers because his warrant card had been returned, addressed the crowd. Was he entitled to do so?

While we are still mulling answers to these questions, along comes a different organisation to run a counter demonstration, in support of Lam's right to call the police whatever she wants in the name of free speech. The two parties scuffle.

Meanwhile, Lam apologises - to her school, the parents, the children, the public - to everyone in fact except the police she had insulted.

Complaints pour in from all sides. Some are about Lam but by far the majority are about pensioner Lau.

To maintain the force's reputation for impartiality (or its role as a punch bag?), he should have refrained from participating in a political event, they said.

The answer to these challenges should have been perfectly simple. Lau is no longer a serving police officer and he has the same civic rights as any other citizen. Obviously, that would have been too easy, so instead the police headquarters issued a statement which defied all logic by claiming that the demonstration was not a political activity.

Before you can find the appropriate reference to Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, this extraordinary statement is backed up by no less than the chief secretary and the chief executive.

What lessons should we draw from all these events? Most people still respect our police and support them, but expect them to be impartial, and that includes protecting the right of unpopular organisations to propagate their views unimpeded.

Most teachers understand that they are professionals who hold a special position in society because they have a unique role in shaping the next generation, and the community expects them to behave accordingly.

Someone needs to explain to Lam that apologies should be directed to the people she has maligned, not just those in a position to question her own position.

And will somebody please get a grip on government public relations.

Meanwhile, no apple for this teacher, just a bottle of mouthwash.

Mike Rowse is managing director of Stanton Chase International and an adjunct professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.