Thursday, September 21, 2017

A taste of Ireland (Galway)

I feel that I am not sure whether I can say I have seen Ireland.  I have actually only been in Galway for about 4 days.  But I did get a taste of Ireland, at least that of Galway.  

During this time, I have tasted some very nice wild boar sausage, washed down with a local beer form Galway.  The only regret was that there were not more sausages.  I have become quite fond of wild boars, perhaps from reading a little too much Asterix.  Asterix and his pal Obelix always tuck into big, delicious roasted wild boars after a big fight.  

They must have a lot of cows here, because the beef steaks were quite inexpensive.  At least in comparison to Hong Kong.  They seem to be quite meticulous about their beef too.  You can get fresh beef, beef aged for so many days, etc. - even from a regular supermarket.  

They have a lot of cheeses.  And I did see a lot of cows, sheep and horses along the highway between Dublin and Galway.  

The seafood looked fresh too.  But I am not sure that all of them come from the seas around Ireland.  

You can even pick up apples from the grounds of the National University of Ireland at Galway.  They were edible, but small and sour.  Not my favourite.  But you don’t have to pay for them.  So I couldn’t complain.  

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Diversifying Service-Learning

I am here in Galway to attend an international conference on the serious matter of Service-Learning at the National University of Ireland at Galway.  Somehow I ended up staying at a hotel on the touristy Quay Street, with my room right on top of a row of pubs and restaurants.  It was very hard to sleep until the din died down way past 2 am.  

In the morning, on the way to the university, I get to count the number of kegs of beer each pub consumes in just one evening.  

And to imagine how it feels to sleep in the street in near freezing temperatures.  Somehow, the site of my hotel seem especially apt for the purpose of my trip here. 

At the beautiful campus, we discuss staff development, measurement of impact, public scholarship, recognising engagement in promotion and tenure, …

In the closing session, the incoming chair of the organisation asked for input on diversification.  I raised three issues that I feel are important.

Firstly, there are many more females than males in service-learning, among both students and teachers.  What are the gender-based differences and impact? and how can the imbalance be addressed?

Secondly, much of the service involve social sciences disciplines.  Why are the so-called hard sciences and engineering disciplines not contributing?  Engineering exists to solve problems. How can we get the engineers to contribute more to tackle these social issues?

Thirdly, service-learning is dominated by the (North) Americans.  But the culture and political situation is very different in other communities.  For example, advocacy is considered favourably in USA.  But it is not considered so favourably in places like Hong Kong, and downright dangerous in places like China.  How should service-learning be practiced outside USA?

As a teacher, administrator and advocate in our university, these matters are of immediate and critical concern to me and my colleagues.  

Friday, September 15, 2017

University and matters of national significance

Imanol Ordorika of Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (Autonomous National University of Mexico, UNAM) delivered the opening keynote at the 2017 IARSLCE (International Association for Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement) Annual Conference in Galway, Ireland.

He asked: where were the universities when the UK debated on Brexit - the British exit from the European Union?  … when the Occupy Wall Street was going on?  … when corruption led to constitutional crisis in Brazil?  … through the Black Lives Matter campaign?  … against the “alternate facts” frenzy in the USA? 

These are matters that captured the attention of the whole nation and were enormously important for the nation.  Yet the universities in the respective nations were strangely silent.  How can universities claim to be socially responsible, engaged in society when they are silent on issues that tremendously affect their nation?  

He didn’t mention Hong Kong specifically.  But we can equally ask the same question:  Why were the universities silent on matters such as Occupy Central? Why do universities think they have no role to play in the debates in society of such enormous importance to everyone?  Is it because of a lack of expertise?  information?  … or courage?  How can we teach students to be engaged, responsible citizens when we ourselves are not willing to be the same?

Thursday, September 14, 2017


Within just one week, I came through Heathrow again.  This time, I was not going to London, just changing planes to fly to Dublin, and then to take a bus to come to Galway - to attend a conference on Service-Learning.  

My first impressions of Ireland - both when the plane made landfall, and on the bus from Dublin to Galway - was that Ireland is very green.  

It also has a lot of animals: sheep, cows, and horses.  Particularly sheep, both the real ones grazing on the green fields and those cute ones decorating shop windows.  

Ireland also has a lot of bookshops and restaurants, which I like. 

Sometimes the two are linked, which I like even more.  

There are many many pubs, of courses.  Many are quite old, or at least look old.  

There is a lot of music, on the streets, in the pubs, …

At the beautiful cathedral in Galway, there is a prayer that I like a lot, perhaps because it speaks to my heart.

What is the link between alcohol, books and faith?

Friday, September 08, 2017

Global Teaching Excellence Award finalist and afterthoughts

Over the weekend I made a quick trip to London to attend an event.  It was the Global Teaching Excellence Award organised by the Higher Education Academy of UK.  The Hong Kong Polytechnic University was selected as one of the 27 finalists for the award. So I have to attend the dinner and award ceremony with my colleague G on behalf of the university, because our submission was based on our work on service-learning. 

The award was eventually given to University of Huddersfield.  Among the 27 finalists, 16 were from UK, 5 from Australia, and one each from Hong Kong, Canada, Norway, Switzerland, South Africa and Netherlands. We heard that ~300 universities were involved.  Evidently PolyU is the only university from Hong Kong (in fact, from all of Asia) shortlisted as one of the finalists.  But we do not know how many from Hong Kong (or Asia) have entered.  

Being a finalist for the award is, of course, an honour for our university.  It also caused me to think about how ti came to be.   That fact that so much have been done in the past 7 years is nothing short of a miracle.  If Prof. Walter Yuen had not become our Vice-President of Academic Development; … if there were no transition from 3 year undergraduate programs to 4 years, giving us one more year to design a proper general education program; … if we had not developed a extra-curricular, sizeable, community service learning program by then; … if we had not had some passionate service-learning advocates to lead the effort from the beginning; … if subsequently we had not had strong backers in Prof. Timothy Tong, Prof. Angie Yuen and Prof. Daniel Shek; … if we had not developed a community of passionate teachers; … if we had not had the funds raised by our alumni office; … if we had not had the strong support of “supporting” units and administrators …  then all these most likely would not have happened. 

People might consider this a happy coincidence.  But some of us know better.  It is God’s providence, more than anything else, that caused it to happen.  I have been in the thick of it from the beginning. I certainly did not plan it this way, and I don’t believe anybody else did.  

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Bardo Museum

Towards the end of our stay in Tunisia, we went to the Bardo Museum.  Some people many remember it as the place where, on 18 March 2015, 21 people, mostly European tourists, were killed in a terrorist shooting.  Around 50 others were injured.   

When we visited, tow years after the shooting, there was no trace of the attack other than a memorial for the victims.  The place was quiet but not completely deserted.  The shooting at the museum and another on a beach in Sousse scared away the tourists.  During our stay of 8 days in Tunisia, we saw few tourist groups.  We never have to wait in line to get anywhere.  

I feel safe in Tunisia.  We have visited museums, beaches, mosques, oases, deserts, dried-up lakes, caves dwellings, and have never had any problems.  I have run on the streets and people have been friendly.  

Bardo itself is a very interesting place and quite nicely set up.  It has a lot of wonderful mosaics.  Many were carefully removed from archeological sites and placed here for exhibition and preservation.  Many are placed on the wall, making it easier for visitors to see them.  

There are a lot of Greek legends.  

One of the most famous is the one in which Ulysses encountered the Sirens.  The Sirens sing beguiling songs that lure you to your destruction.  So Ulysses plugged the sailors’ ears with wax so that they do not hear.  But he wanted to hear the songs so he had himself tied to the mast so he could not escape.  Since the sailors could not hear the songs they looked towards home, while Ulysses looked in the direction of the Sirens.  The Sirens have beautiful form, but were betrayed by bird-like claws.  It is amazing that these are all depicted in granular mosaic.  

In another, Theseus killed the Minotaur after navigating the Labyrinth.

Poseidon was surely a popular figure.  Many mosaics showed him riding his chariot pulled by four horses.  He was accompanied by other sea creatures and lesser gods.  

Another showed him with gods and goddess representing the four seasons.  

A fierce lion bits a centaur, a half-human, half-horse creature with great strength.  

There is a very wide range of themes other than legends.  Such as food.  All kinds of fishes, lobsters, quails, deer, … 

A beautiful baptismal font was covered with beautiful mosaics. 

I can spend hours in there.  

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Cats of Tunisia galore

Not sure why, but there are many cats in Tunisia.  In the busy street in the medina (old city) in Sousse, a cat inspected a black plastic garbage bag gingerly, pretending that there was a fearsome monster hiding inside.  My wife and I had a good time watching it play acting with the bag.  

There are cats in the streets medinas, in the neighbourhood with pretty white and blue houses, and above all, in the markets.  Some eyed us curiously. 

Some are just curious.  

Some were skinny and seemed fearful. 

Some eyed us cautiously while trying to pick up bits of bread crumbsworom the floor.  

Some were huddling for warmth and security. 

Some were feeding while the mother eyed us with concern.  

A black one was grooming itself and ignoring us. 

Some watched the traffic behind shelters. 

A golden tabby looked at us confidently.  

A two-thousand-year-old fiercely biting lion hangs in Bardo Museum.  A lion is, of course, also a cat.  

Why are there so many cats in Tunisia?