When Richard Eng isn’t teaching English grammar to high-school students, he might be cruising around Hong Kong in his Lamborghini Murciélago. Or in Paris, on one of his seasonal shopping sprees. Or relaxing in his private, custom-installed karaoke room festooned with giant Louis Vuitton logos.
Mr. Eng, 43 years old, is one of Hong Kong’s best-known celebrity “tutor gods.”
Hong Kong parents are often desperate to help their children succeed in this city’s pressure-cooker public-examination system, which determines students’ college-worthiness. That explains why many are willing to pay handsomely for extracurricular help. Mr. Eng and others like him have made a lucrative business out of tapping that demand. They use flashy, aggressive marketing tactics that have transformed them into scholastic pop stars — “tutor gods,” as they’re known in Cantonese.
Private tutoring is big business around the world. Programs that help people prepare for standardized tests — such as SAT-prep courses in the U.S. — have become a multibillion-dollar industry. Tutoring agencies are also booming in places like mainland China and Japan. Several years ago, Hong Kong’s government estimated that the city’s families spent nearly half a billion dollars a year on tutoring.
Hong Kong stands out, though, for instructors who boldly tout their success rate — and their own images. They pay to have their faces plastered throughout the city on 40-foot-high billboards and the sides of double-decker buses. They’re also known for buying ads that take up the entire front page of newspapers — space more commonly filled by banks and property developers. One local television station is even preparing to launch a fictional drama series based on the lives of the tutor gods.