Saturday, May 13, 2017

Socially Responsible University

Our team was awarded our university’s President’s Award for Services in 2016, for the work that we did on service-learning.  The following is the speech I made on behalf of our team, and the service-learning community at the university, on Friday, 12 May, 2017. 

Here is service-learning at Hong Kong Polytechnic University in a nutshell.  Our university’s motto is: “To learn and to apply, for the benefit of mankind”.  How do we accomplish that?  When we help our students become responsible global citizens, they in turn change the world for the better, for the benefit of mankind.  In order to achieve that, we need a staff that embody these values.  Students come and go.  It is the staff that stay and carry the values of a university.   


Here is a scene from a sample service-learning subject.  The team went to a village in the mountains in Rwanda to provide electrical power to households without it.  They install solar panels on the roof of a house.  Our students work together with the Rwandan young people.  Not how the people on the ground hoist the solar panels to the two persons standing on the ladders.  The two on the ladders in turn pass the solar panels to the two on the roof, who then set up the panels down on the roof.  The whole process takes perhaps an hour.  But a lot of planning and training and preparation have to be done before it can happen.  The solar panels generate electricity to charge car batteries. The car batteries power LED lights, mobile phone chargers, and radios.  The students learn to use their academic knowledge to organize the work, to solve real world problems. The panels generate 240 watts, just enough to power 2 light bulbs in Hong Kong.  But that is enough to power 30 houses with 120 people in Rwanda.  Through the service, the students learn about socio-economic issues, such as why Rwanda is so poor, why there is no electricity and no water, what are the consequences, why there is green grass but no trees, why Rwanda is now so safe, 20 years after the terrible genocide.  And what can be done about these issues.  This is experiential, just-in-time learning.  

This is just one project from one of the SL subjects.  We now have 60+ such subjects from 20+ departments, across all 8 faculties and schools.  Here are two pie charts.  One shows where students serve.  Three quarters (in red) serve in Hong Kong.  18% serve (in blue) serve in Mainland China.  7% (~250 students, in green) serve overseas.  


The other pie shows the distribution over the 5 foreign countries: Cambodia (blue), Vietnam (purple), Myanmar (green), Rwanda (red) and Kyrgyzstan (coffee). 


There is also the growth of the number of subjects and students.  From just a few subjects, we have grown to 67 subjects each year.  More importantly, from a couple hundred students we have grown, in 6 years, to 4,000 students taking credit-bearing subjects in service-learning.  This scale, depth, breadth and growth rate is unprecedented.  


This amount of work could not have been done by a team of 5 people.  Hence, I accept the President’s Award on behalf of  
Our 5-person team, but also 
all Office of Service-Learning staff, 
the 171 SL subject teachers, 
Educational Development Center colleagues who help with staff development, 
Academic Secretariat staff who help students register for SL, 
Alumni Office staff who help to raise donations for SL, 
Finance Office staff who help to finance SL, 
Human Resource Office staff who help to recruit and develop staff for SL, 
Industrial Center staff who help to train the students, 
International Affairs Office staff who help to develop international SL, 
Communication and Public Affairs staff who help organize the staff project, 
Global Youth Leadership Institute staff who jointly organize the Cambodia Summer School of SL and Leadership, 
China Mainland Affairs Office staff who help with the Mainland projects
University Heath Service staff who help with vaccinations and health precautions
Center STARS for helping with the SL scholarships for the students 
… 
a Service-Learning community of >200 staff.  They carry the torch of service-learning at PolyU. 



Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Ice-cream Wong (黃廣)

What is going to happen to 黃廣’s ice-cream cart?  On Sunday, it sat quietly across the street from the school which provided many of his customers.  


It was said that 黃廣 has been selling ice-cream around Shek Kip Mei for 60 years. He has long since become a fixture of the neighbourhood, a part of the lives of many generations of school children.  When he passed away several days ago, at around 102 years old, many newspapers reported his passing.  


When I went over there on Sunday to have a look, his cart cut a lonely figure in the quiet afternoon.  Passers-by’s might have thought that the owner was simply taking a break.  But the many flowers and notes gave the game away.  He is not coming back. 


A number of people came by.  A couple with a young kid stopped by, and the kid held out his hand towards the cart. The father stopped him, saying that he should show his respect toward the good man.  


Mr. Wong might not have been richer or powerful.  But it is obvious many people remember him fondly.  






Sunday, May 07, 2017

Castle Peak Road (Sheung Shui to Yuen Long)

Castle Peak Road is one of the longest roads in Hong Kong, perhaps even the longest.  I believe it is approximately 50 kilometres in total length.  I have run the whole length, but not all in one go.  Yesterday I ran from Sheung Shui to Yuen Long, covering 20 kilometres.  Right outside Sheung Shui MTR station, the infamous import-export business seems to live on, although it is not making as much news as before.  


With the expansion of the roads and all the construction, there is less and less space for the trees to grow.  Many continue to struggle for survival on the sidewalks.  I had a feeling someone was slicing into my neck with a knife when I looked at some of them.  


I tried to stay on the sidewalk.  At one point, I had step off the sidewalk in front of a machine shop because a car was sitting on the sidewalk.  A dog came out of nowhere to bark at me and chase.  I was glad it gave up after a short while.  It was so annoying and slightly scary.  

At the “yellow bus” station where the buses take people to and from the border checkpoint, the billboards give the impression a nasty and mighty confrontation is going on.  However, few people, if any, seem to be paying attention.  


Just around the corner, a brand new shopping mall is being built, for the shoppers from Mainland China.  The concept is that shoppers can do their business right after crossing the border.  It will save them time, and ralso educe the possibility of confrontation with ordinary Hongkongers.  Will that work?  


There are numerous temples along the way, wherever people live.  Sometimes you get the impression that there may be more gods and goddesses than people.  


There are elegant bridges over peaceful waters.  Sometimes development and nature can seem to be in harmony.  


At one point, I was suddenly made aware of a sweet and tasty aroma.  That was way before I saw the famous soy source factory.  


When I saw a man taking a leisurely nap in the shadows of the MTR station in Yuen Long, I felt all my energy drained away.  


I struggled on for another couple of kilometers.  But it was a lost course.  It was a hot day, and I just could not push on anymore.  I fulfilled my promise to myself to run at least 20 kilometers, and hopped onto a RT train, to start my journey home.  I was dead tired, but it was a satisfying run.  






Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Food and government

On Sunday my wife and I went to the Tsing Yi Bamboo Theatre.  There were more than a hundred food stalls with a wide variety of traditional and modern street food, thousands of people and a festive atmosphere.  We all had a good time.  

On Monday I ran past 2 food trucks that the government set up in Central.  I ran through Tamar Park where there were thousands of people.  Then the 2 food trucks in no man’s land.  Then the Central Piers where there are again thousands of people.  

There were few customers, if any, at the food trucks.  Compared to the festive atmosphere at Tsing Yi, this is miserable.  I am sure the food trucks would love to locate themselves either in Tamar Park where the people are, or the Central Piers where the people are.  But they have to be stationed here because this is where the government want them.  Why?

Why does the government have to do this?  There are plenty of things that are local, home-grown, distinctive to Hong Kong, which could be nurtured into something attractive to locals as well as tourists.  

Why does the government have to import something, spend huge amounts of money, impose suffocating restrictions on them, and demonstrate again and again its incompetency?


Monday, May 01, 2017

Scenic Victoria Road

Where can you find cotton in Hong Kong?  


It turns out you can find them along Victoria Road.  I discovered that this afternoon when I ran from Causeway Bay to Aberdeen via Victoria Road.  


I got a glimpse of Green Island, the small, uninhabited island off the coast of Kennedy Town at the Western end of Hong Kong Island.  At one time, it housed an explosives depot for the government.  Not anymore.  Now it looks so peaceful and almost lonely. 


There are many tenacious banyan trees.  


Such as this one which digs its roots into the seams between the paving bricks along the sidewalk.  They just fight and fight and fight to survive and grow.  They are full of life and so hard to kill.  


Then I stumbled upon these cotton-carrying pods of the cotton tree (red silk-cotton).  


It took me a while to recognise them for what they are.  


I read that in the old days, people in southern China actually did use the silk-cotton to stuff their clothes, since cotton does not grow in southern China.  


There is also this scenic cemetery in Pokfulam.  


The cemetery is said to have good Feng-shui because it sits on a slope looking out to the sea, with low hills on both sides - making you feel like you are sitting in a comfortable armchair with a broad sweeping vista over the sea, where water symbolises wealth.  

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Tsing Yi Bamboo Theatre (青衣戲棚)

My wife wanted to visit the 青衣戲棚.  So we did.  


To be honest, we only peeked into the theatre (made with bamboo) before the show started.  


Some people went there to pay their respects to Tin Hou (天后).  


Many were praying for children, wealth and status. 


We were there mainly for the street food: smelly tofu (臭豆腐) and pig intestines (豬大腸).  


Some of the food is rather delicate - and expensive.


Before getting to the theatre, we had stopped in Shum Shui Po for noodle with pork liver (豬膶麵). 


And tofu snacks.  


So it was a very food-full day.  We are happy.  

It was certainly a much more satisfying and successful project than the so called food trucks.  Why can’t the government give more room for home-grown events with true local colour to grow organically into something distinctive and attractive?  Why does it have to copy something from elsewhere and choke them with disingenuous regulations so they have no chance to succeed?  Why does it insist on demonstrating how incompetent it is, again and again?  







Sunday, April 23, 2017

Where is my fish?

There is a restaurant serving roasted fish hot pot (烤魚) in Hung Hot which seems to be quite popular with students, particularly those from Mainland China.  My wife was not too keen on it.  But a few days ago I persuaded her to try the roasted fish hot pot.  The menu says the fish weights 3 pounds.  3 pounds is equal to 2.333 catties.  We were not sure whether we could each eat 1.5 pounds of fish.  Hence we inquired whether we could order half a fish.  The answer was no.  So we ordered a whole Sabah Grouper.  


When the fish came, it was smothered under a small mountain of green onions.  But the rectangular metal pan itself was surprisingly small. It was certainly shorter than a 3 pound fish. And the fish was chopped up instead of a whole one, nor just split up into 2 lengthwise.  It was a sign that something might have been amiss.  But we were not naturally suspicious.  So we tucked away happily.  My wife picked up a piece of fish, which turned out to be the dorsal fins at the back of the fish with little flesh attached.  That was odd.  I picked up some bones to chew on, and gave a chunk of flesh near the anal fin to my wife.  She picked up the tail.  I gave a piece of the belly near the pectoral and pelvic fins to my wife, and picked up half of the head myself.  I looked for the other half of the head, the opposite side of the belly, and the opposite side of the flesh, …, and could not find them.  

So roughly half of the fish was missing.  When my wife lined up the backbone of the fish, it looked too short for a 3 pound (2.333 catty) fish.  Over the years, I have bought more than 1,000 fish at the wet market, mostly in the 1 to 1.5 catty range.  And this fish is smaller (even when whole) than the fish that I usually buy and eat at home.  No way it can be a 3 pound fish.  

When we confronted the staff, they insisted that it was a whole fish.  They admitted that it might have been a bit small.  We are of the opinion that not only was it too small, it was not a whole fish.  

I regret taking my wife to the restaurant.  The only saving grace was that we gained a bit more experience on how certain restaurants might cheat.