Thursday, September 29, 2016

French Quarter - New Orleans

90% of my time in New Orleans were spent in the service-learning conference and the hotel.  

Last night Kenneth and I went to the French Quarter to have dinner after a full day at the conference.  

We had deep fried alligator, which tasted a bit like a cross between chicken and lean pork.  

The French Quarter did not seem dramatically different from what I remembered from my last time here, almost 30 years ago. 

Perhaps my encounter in Buenos Aires spooked me, we went back to the hotel soon after dinner.  

I probably would have stayed longer before. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Black Swan foods

I am in New Orleans in the State of Louisiana in the USA to attend a conference on service-learning research.  At the end of the first day, we sat down at the Social Work Department in Tulane University to a meal catered by the Black Swan.  

The food is good.  The chicken and sausage gumbo has intense and pleasing favour.  The spinach salad is fresh and crispy.  The apple crumple is just the way I like it - soft but firm apples and crispy crumples.  

The Black Swan is a social enterprise.  Towards the end of the dinner, Nikki, the young Black lady chef, and her partner, Shana, sat down to tell us their story.  

Nikki used to be the only Black and the only female in the kitchen when she worked in restaurants earlier.  The only other brown or black employees in the restaurants were dish washers and cleaners. Even though Cajun food traces its roots to the black women in the kitchen, the restaurant business is in the hands of white men.  Nikki and Shana set up Black Swan to provide a chance for themselves and other coloured women.  

After dinner, our whole gang helped to put away the dishes, pack the left-over, and move everything to the Black Swan truck.  

Universities should provide an opportunity for social enterprises such as these.  

Saturday, September 24, 2016

One ugly building

When my wife pointed it out to me, I thought someone built a new public toilet at the centre of Whampoa.  

Upon a closer look, it turns out to be an entrance to the new MTR station.  It surely is ugly, isn’t it?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

All things durian

For us durian lovers, The Market restaurant at Hotel Icon is paradise.  They have durian cheesecake, durian custard, durian tart and fried durian.  The fried durian is crunchy on the outside and chunks of durian inside, but slightly oily.  

And durian ice cream - my favourite!  There is actually more durian than ice cream in it.  I could not help but to go back for a second.  

They actually have another durian cake, but I forgot to take a photo of that.  

Monday, September 12, 2016

UGC Teaching Award

On Thursday,  September 9, 2016,  our team (Dr. Grace Ngai and myself) was given the University Grants Committee Teaching Award.  

Here is what our team said in the ceremony:

Dear ladies and gentlemen, fellow colleagues, good evening. It is an honor to be sharing the stage with such role models as Prof Leung and her team. Likewise, we are proud to share the stage tonight with our own colleague Shirley.

We want to start by thanking lots of people who have helped us along the way. This award really belongs to all of us. PolyU gave us this opportunity, and their trust. Our colleagues and NGO partners supported us, collaborated with us, and critiqued us. Our students were co-learners and co-travelers along the journey. Our donors, some of whom gave millions, some gave hundreds, but all are equally important. Our families, for their unconditional support, even when they did not always understand.

Our teaching philosophy is actually rather simple. We firmly believe that we should have faith in the younger generation. We believe that they matter. That they have a role. That they can make a difference in the community and in the world.

Our own journey in service-learning started before 2005, when we started doing community service projects in Hong Kong. In 2006, we took one step further and brought a team of students to mainland China.

In 2010, we decided to really dream big and designed a complementary studies service-learning subject. This subject had a syllabus and assessment and lectures and everything, it just did not carry course credit. We also noted that global competency and cultural sensitivity would become more critical in the coming years. So we organised one of PolyU’s first large-scale international service-learning projects, to Cambodia.

We believe that much of this experience helped to convince PolyU that service-learning should be a core component of the new 334 curriculum – that all students should be given a chance to learn from it. From our experiences, we developed PolyU’s first service-learning subject in 2011. That subject has evolved to become one of PolyU’s flagship service-learning subjects. In 2016, that subject enrolled 150 students, working in projects in Hong Kong, Cambodia, Myanmar, Rwanda and Kyrgyzstan. 

We have been very blessed and rewarded by our work in service-learning and we want to share what we have experienced and learned with others. Therefore, very early on, we started taking on an advocacy role. We want to convince colleagues that “if even Grace and Stephen can do it, so can I”. We organised workshops, helped colleagues to plan and design their own subjects and programs, and opened up our course and invited observers into our class, to shadow us and see how service-learning could be taught and managed. All this has helped to build up PolyU’s service-learning program — from 5 courses and 200 students in 2011, we reached full implementation in 2016. We are also seeing the formation of a core of colleagues with a diversity of expertise and experience in various aspects of service-learning.

It is well known that reflection is an important part of service-learning for students. Some people would even go as far as to say “without reflection, there is no learning.” As teachers, it is even more important that we take a reflective approach to our teaching. To know what worked, what did not, and to understand why. Therefore, we pioneered research into service-learning pedagogy, and we also try to motivate and facilitate colleagues to do the same. We are very grateful to PolyU and UGC for funding our collaborative projects, forums, research salons and conferences. We have learned much from these activities, which have resulted in many publications in international journals and conferences. We are also being invited to share our experiences all over the world, in Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, even as far away as the US, Argentina and South Africa. PolyU is making a name for itself in service-learning, and we are proud to be a part of it. 

We started out learning to serve. Then we found that there is so much to learn from serving others. We have come full circle. Each cycle feeds on the last, and the snowball grows bigger and bigger. From our own little efforts back in 2005, PolyU has over 60 courses enrolling over 4000 students in 2016. It is our privilege, and blessing, to be part of something that is far, far bigger than we are.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Flute making as Service-Learning

One of the highlights of the conference is the panel of winners of the 2015 Presidential Awards for Service-Learning.  Teachers and students from three high schools from remote regions of Argentina presented their work.  

One of them was a teacher and a student from High School of Art No. 49 from Tilcara, Jujuy.  Jujuy is in the extreme northwest of Argentina, neighbouring Chile and Bolivia.  It is high in the Andes Mountains and historically at the southern edge of the Inca Empire.  The school was original set up for young people who somehow had to get back into high school but could not find a place.  

David Martinez Guillermo Cabrera is a music teacher at the school who formed a team of students and started fixing and making a flute-like traditional music instruments for the local people. They also travel around and perform for the local people.  Someone even made an app then can be used to tune the instrument.  Young people would spend 2 hours at Internet cafes downloading the app due to the slow speed.  Their workshops become very popular and now students want to get into the school, which was originally set up for dropouts. 

Both the teacher and the student spoke about their experience.  The student was so eloquent one would be excused in thinking he must at least be university age.  The teacher and student pair then performed together and activated the whole 500-strong crowd.  

It is a wonderfully romantic service-learning project, isn’t it?

Friday, August 26, 2016

Latin American Service-Learning

I am here in Buenos Aires to attend a Latin American International Conference on Service-Learning.  There are ~500 people here from all over South and Central America, completely filling up all the seats.  The organiser is CLAYSS (Centro Latinoamericano de Aprendizaje y Servicio Solidario).  I noticed that they pronounce CLAYSS in way that  sounds like “Christ”.  I do not know whether it was intentional. 

I was one of the speakers at a panel which presents service-learning in a number of countries: Uruguay, South Africa, Columbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Hong Kong (me). Each of us had ~12-15 minutes.  My talk (about service-learning at PolyU) was well received. They were impressed that we are offering ~70 subjects with 4,500 students.  And that we have some eye practical projects with solar panels, computers, networks, social media, eye examinations, tourism, health, …  

There was a big applause when I told them I always go with the students, and would not ask students to do something that I do not do myself.  Afterwards some people came up to have photos taken with me.  It was great for my ego.  But I am also aware that it is God who allows me to play a part in this great endeavour.  One of the speakers said that it felt good to be with students serving the community fervently.  Those are exactly my felling as well.