Late last month, Li Wai-chung, 15, had a nightmare. 'I was going to sing the [Chinese] national song on stage,' she writes. 'I was also holding a flag, and the audience was speaking in Mandarin. Suddenly I realised I didn't know the melody. I did not even know Mandarin. I was so frightened that I woke up.' After July 1, teenagers such as Wai-chung will be able to test their fears against reality. They will find out whether they are indeed expected to memorise China's national anthem, The March of the Volunteers, or whether they will be outclassed by students from the mainland. While Wai-chung's dream exemplifies the uncertainties students have faced during Hong Kong's final weeks of British rule, it also masks the optimism other teenagers feel about their future in the Special Administrative Region (SAR). Fifty students from Wai-chung's Heep Yunn School, Heung To Middle School and La Salle College shared their thoughts on the handover through essays specially commissioned by the South China Morning Post. This is what some of them had to say. 'The falling standard of English in Hong Kong is in sharp contrast to the rising standard of English in China,' says Helen Yau, 15. 'Immigrants from China are usually more hardworking, responsible, and they require very low wages. Obviously employers will prefer employing immigrants from China.' Chung Yeung, 18, has similar concerns. 'Would our education opportunities and career opportunities be affected by mainland students who are as competent, if not more competent, as we are? Although their English may not be as strong as that of Hong Kong students, their standards of science and many other subjects are better than ours. It's quite natural for us to worry because we could lose our advantage if they are willing to work harder to improve their English.' Students are fretting, too, that mainland-Chinese students may block their access to tertiary institutions in the territory. Says Bonnie Ip, 16: 'Some top students from China will come to Hong Kong. Students from Hong Kong may not have the ability to compete with them. Maybe most of the places in universities will go to the top students from China.' Apart from the threat of competition from mainland students, Hong Kong's teenagers worry about their proficiency in Putonghua and their inability to read the simplified characters used in China. 'At school, teachers encourage us to use simplified Chinese characters, but they never teach us any of the words,' complains Dora Si, 16. Her classmate, Cynthia Li Sin-ting, 15, remarks: 'I'm so glad that my school does not have to use Chinese as the medium for teaching. It is more difficult for students to understand some terms, especially scientific ones that are interpreted from English. I think that this would only further lower the standard of Hong Kong students.' Wendy Wong, 15, is another student who does not mince words when it comes to education. 'Textbook content will be restricted,' she says. 'For example, the June 4 incident may not be included in the syllabus as this incident is disgraceful to China. All syllabuses will be in favour of China; pro-China ideas will be taught. I really do not want to see this happen. I do not want China to control everything in my life! But there is nothing I can do to change the situation.' Corisa Wong, 17, echoes her fears: 'I worry that we will be forced to know more about China and love China. I think this should be done slowly and not forced on us.' Students had less to say about how Hong Kong's change of sovereignty might affect their standard of living. However, Li Wai-chung comments: 'I will prefer to live in China after the handover. Hong Kong is too crowded and everything is expensive.' And while Dorothy Leung, 16, is not considering leaving the territory, she fears having to put up with more cyclists and public displays of expectoration. 'Riding bicycles and spitting are awful to me,' she explains. 'I hope they will not happen after the handover.' One of the more pessimistic comments came from Wendy Tam Wing-yee, 15, who is certain Hong Kong people will have to give up their cushy lifestyles. Why? 'Since people from China are willing to accept low wages, bad working conditions and even long working hours, they will compete with Hong Kong people for jobs,' she says. 'Our living standard will surely worsen.' A few students believe Hong Kong's return to China will dash their career plans. Gigi Mak Wing-chi, 15, says: 'When I was little, I wanted to be a lawyer. This eventually became a second choice. British law used in Hong Kong now will be influenced by the Basic Law as well as Chinese law. If I really want to be a lawyer, I will have to study three laws. It will be very difficult for me. So as I've grown older, I've given up this dream.' A would-be journalist has also chosen another profession: business. 'Under the influence of my father, I've been interested in journalism since I was small,' says Miranda Shek, 16. 'But now, I think I should consider my future career more carefully. I think there will be more restrictions on the press after the handover. Journalism may not be a good job because it may become an insecure job. Maybe I will become a businesswoman.' The Independent Commission Against Corruption should take note that a number of students are so enamoured with its role that they are already considering devoting their lives to fighting graft. 'Being an ICAC inspector sounds like fun and would be worth a fortune!' says Lily Chan, 16, adding, 'To be serious, I just want to help check the corruption in China in the hope that she will one day be a terrific country.' Someone who has no doubts about his future profession is Eric Chan, 17, who is set on becoming a doctor. 'I believe that there will be no threat to my pursuing a career in the medical profession, except perhaps for the possible influx of talented medical graduates from China, thereby causing greater competition for jobs among the 'to-be' doctors. 'On the positive side, the handover may give me the opportunity to treat patients using a combination of Chinese traditional medicine and advanced Western medical theories, as the status of Chinese medical practitioners, and of Chinese medicine, will probably greatly increase after the handover.' Having a career appears to be equally important as finding a husband for Dora Si. The 16-year-old looks forward to having a larger pool of males to choose from when she is ready to tie the knot. 'I will have a wider choice. Maybe I will get married with a man in Beijing and live in Beijing forever. This will be a good idea.' She adds that 'the transfer of sovereignty is great because I will be able to proudly tell others that I am a real Chinese. The handover seems to give me prestige'. Chan Nga-shan, 16, the only student published here who wrote in Chinese, agrees: 'We will wash away the indignity brought forth by more than 100 years of colonisation, increase our unity and build a better and brighter future for Hong Kong.' Chan's views are laudable if only because, in Michael Leung's view, very few Hong Kongers are patriots. 'Most people in Hong Kong show little, if any, patriotism at all,' the 17-year-old says. 'This is somewhat understandable since for so many years, Hong Kong has existed on the map as Hong Kong (UK), and people find it hard to be patriotic to either Britain or China. And I am no exception.' This will probably change, says 17-year-old Wong Chi-pan, because: 'People's social awareness and sense of patriotism have been enhanced by the handover issue.' While this may be the case, Hong Kong people will retain their own identity, according to Raymond Ma Shui-lung, 17. 'Right now, we are Chinese people from Hong Kong. After July 1, 1997, we will be Hong Kong people from China. While this concept may seem rather abstract to most people, the basic meaning is: even though we will geographically and politically become a part of the People's Republic of China, I believe Chinese and Hong Kong people will most likely remain two separate strata for the foreseeable future.' On the subject of freedom, students also had opposing views. Says Hilda Chan, 16: 'My father always tells me that there will be no freedom after the handover. He says that no demonstrations will be allowed and burning the national flag will be prohibited.' Dora Si, meanwhile, believes we should have more trust in Beijing. 'Politicians think there may be no freedom in the future. However, I do not agree with them because the Chinese government promised liberty to people after 1997,' she says. 'Limited freedom is enough to live happily. On the other hand, too much freedom would mean no law and order.' Steffi Tang Wai-yan, 15, is adamant that her way of life is not going to be affected by the handover. 'However, I have to adapt to changes in society. I believe demonstrations as well as freedom of speech and the press will be restricted. In my opinion, these should be inalienable rights.' Fighting for these rights may have disastrous consequences, however. 'When there are public demonstrations, the government will send the army to stop them,' says Cecilia Hui, 15. 'Anti-government feelings will be aroused, and there will be more conflicts between the government and the people. What will happen then? Chaos, of course.' The essays included other comments, some serious, many amusing. Fifteen-year-old Fiona Yuen, for instance, thinks the handover will cramp her style. 'I have to change my life. I have to speak Mandarin,' she says. 'I may not wear fashionable clothes because the Chinese officials are conservative.' Being part of China, however, will teach materialistic Hong Kongers to value their possessions. 'We shall learn to treasure everything we have because we shall know more about poverty in China,' says Dorothy Leung. Her classmate Phyllis Tam, also 16, foresees a Hong Kong with fewer cars. 'After the handover, city construction may be different from now as more roads may be paved for building bicycle paths - as in China. I think at that time, all of us must learn to ride a bicycle and to own one, as bicycles are the main type of transportation in China.' She adds as an afterthought: 'We may also have to wear a little red scarf as part of our uniforms.' Ginny Lam, 16, is more concerned about a possible rise in crime. She reasons: 'I am afraid that new immigrants from mainland China may make Hong Kong even more crowded. Some people won't be able to find a job. This would force them to steal.' Ever willing to look on the bright side of life, Kiu Mei-kam, 15, jokes: 'No big changes will happen to me. After all, I will still go to school at 8am and endure boring lectures for hours on end. Listening to the head mistress's speech every morning assembly is certainly killing me . . . but wait! What if we have to sing the national song during assembly after the handover? That sounds good! . . . I will be proud to say I am a Chinese and love my own country.' Not surprisingly, the 'conscience of Hong Kong' makes an appearance among the thousands of words students penned. Says Michael Leung: 'I recall Chief Secretary Anson Chan's words when asked last July 1 about her confidence in Hong Kong's future. 'I shall take great delight in proving our sceptics wrong, once again, one year later on the day of the handover.' I believe she will indeed.'