Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Gamble’s Photos of China

Sidney Gamble was grandson of James Gamble, who co-founded Procter and Gamble.  He worked and researched in China in the early 1900s, when China was making the difficult transition from the collapsing Qing Dynasty to the construction of a modern republic.  He took many photographs, some of which were recently published in a new book.  It is quite fascinating and thought provoking, even today.  

In 1919, students protested in the Tiananmen Square in the May 4 Movement.  Many students were arrested.  Many more protests had taken place in Tiananmen and elsewhere in China since then.  Today it is impossible to protest in Tiananmen Square, or almost anywhere else in China.  Perhaps with the exception in Hong Kong.  And even in Hong Kong, the control is getting tighter.  Is this progress? 

In 1925, a wounded, protesting student was sent home from the hospital in a horse-drawn carriage by a businessman.  It looks like the protesting students received support from businessmen.  Would that happen today?  Would businessmen today dare to go against the establishment?

100 years ago, people as well as cargo were still commonly carried around in single-wheel wheelbarrows, which didn’t seem to have changed much for more than a thousand years.  China is proud of its long history.  But there is much that has not progressed for a long long time.  

Boys worked almost completely naked in coal mines.  That does not seem to happen anymore - at least not so publicly.  In that, and many other areas, there has been progress.  

There are many many more fascinating photos.  

The book is a really good read, and very good investment. 

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Books and Food

I have only been in the USA 5 days and it is the second time I eat in a place that look like a library.  The first one was Umami Burgers near Stanford University.  This one is Busboys and Poets near University of Maryland.  The name is based on the story of a poet who worked as a busboy before he became successful.  

My plate of oven roasted chicken was very good.  It was juicy and tasty, with French beans and finger potatoes.  I finished it in no time.   Too bad we were in a hurry and I didn’t have time to explore the books.  I would love to come back.  It is wonderful to have two of my favourite things in one place.  When I have to eat by myself, I always eat with a book, and take a long time.  

We are here for service-learning, of course.  Tomorrow we have meetings all day.  On the one hand, we have to work out the details of a joint course that we are running for the second time, between PolyU and Maryland.  This time we are taking on Royal University of Phnom Penh as well.  Some classes will be run through video-conferencing in Spring.  Then the 3 teams will meet in Phnom Penh in June, for further training and then to build a community learning centre in Kampong Speu.  We are excited about the great challenge.  On the other hand, we hope to develop other ways to collaborate.  

Wednesday, November 08, 2017


Our small delegation came here to learn about service-learning, build collaboration and explore learning opportunities for our students.  One big reward that I should have expected but did not is reminders of what a university campus can look like. 

I ate delicious “Impossible” burger in a burger place which looked more like a library, near Stanford. 

There is the Mission Santa Clara de Asia on the campus of Santa Clara University, a Catholic mission church originally set up by the Franciscan Order in 1777, and later handed over to the Society of Jesus (Jesuits).  

At the quaint Bancroft Hotel near Berkeley, I found myself sleeping in a bed facing a real book shelf, and under the gaze of J. R. R. Tolkien (author of Lord of the Rings) on the wall above my bed. 

 At UCLA, we walked among elegant buildings among even more elegant trees. 

We ended the day at University of Southern California, at the JEP House.  It is a historical house which was renovated by elevating the whole house and expanding the crawl space underneath the house into a full size basement work space for the students associated with the Joint Education Project. 

In Hong Kong, the house would have been torn down and replaced by a concrete and glass high rise.  I am constantly reminded of what a campus can look like. 

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Service-Learning USA

This is the third delegation from PolyU to come to the USA to liaise with the universities here for Service-Learning.  In 6 days, we are visiting 6 universities: University of Santa Clara, UC Berkeley, Stanford, UCLA, University of Southern California, University of Maryland and Brown.  We hope to learn from their experiences, and develop collaboration with some of them.  

In California, I was struck by signs of the social divide in American society. Near the Golden Gate Bridge, tourists watched enviably while fashionable paddle-boarders glided over the water.  

In the Bay area, a two bedroom apartment can sell for two million US dollars.  

However, next to posh hotels and office buildings in San Jose, homeless people sleep in the open in the park. 

On Sunday morning, a long line formed for free food.  

Sunday evening, at the edge of Berkeley, homeless people slept on the side walk.  On Monday morning, one was found under the national, state, and university flags flying at half-staff, presumably in remembrance of the people massacred in a church in Texas on Sunday.  

The USA is rich.  But not necessarily at peace.  

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Engineering Service-Learning in the Philippines

First I spoke at the School of Engineering at University of Santo Tomas.  Then I spoke at the International Conference on Engineering Education, also held at the University of Santo Tomas.  Both times I spoke about Engineering Service-Learning, but the talks are actually quite different.  In the first talk, I was speaking to the teachers in the Faculty of Engineering.  I focused on the subject itself: how are the objectives, what the students are supposed to learn to do, what we teach them, what projects do they do, how we grade them, how to teach them to reflect on their experience, etc.  

In the second talk, I was speaking to administrators of Schools of Engineering from 50+ universities across the Philippines.  I spoke about the rationale and design of the service-learning program for the university, how we develop the subjects from across the university, train the teachers, make service-learning general education for all, link teaching with research, etc.  

The universities in Philippines is doing a lot of community service.  Perhaps it is because of the strong Catholic heritage which stress service to the community as integral to their faith.  What they want to do is to strengthen the learning aspect and integrate service-learning more into the academic program.  This is what we have done and also what I wish to encourage them to do.  My talks seem well-received.  There were a lot of questions and I tried to answer them as well as I could. I may yet come back to do more.  

I was impressed by some of their projects, and people.  There is this lady professor J at the University of Philippines - Diliman.  She was interested in humanitarian engineering but there apparently is no such program at her university.  Nor is there such as thing at other local universities.  So she went to the USA to learn about it, and single-mindedly start to build such a program.  She gathered a number of like-minded people and sent out a proposal for funding - to develop a communication system for remote areas under threat of disasters such as the famous typhoons.  

One of the messages in my talks is that engineering exists to solve problems. Yet engineering has not been big players in service-learning, with a few notable exceptions.  Why is that and what can be done to address that?  There is also many cultural, political and otherwise significant differences between the American society and ours.  For example, advocacy, even to the extent that it disrupts lives, is considered positively in the USA and western society in general. Yet advocacy is not always encouraged and can be downright dangerous in many Asian countries. I believe strongly that in Asia, and in specific countries and universities, we may have to develop own own way to do service-learning.  

I learned a lot and see a lot of potential from my first visit to the Philippines.  

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Flower Selling at the Traffic Light

Your car stops at the traffic light.  While you wait for the light to change, a young girl, may be 10 years old, knocks on your window, wanting to sell you a small ring or string of small flowers.  Typically jasmine or some small, white, fragrant flowers.  

Sometimes, there is a even younger child tugging at the clothes of the young girl.  You are in the middle of the road, the light will change at any minute.  There are cars on your left, on your right, in front of you and behind you.  Everyone is rearing to go, stepping on the gas as soon as the light changes.  In fact, they are going to step on it just before the light changes.  

It is dangerous for the girl, even more so for the even younger one.  Yet this scene plays out many times in Manila each day.  And in other cities in South East Asia.  It tucks at your heart.  What what can you do?  Yet if we do not do something, what does it say about us as people?

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

University of Santo Tomas

UST is a 400 year old, Catholic University in Manila, one of the top 4 universities in the Philippines.  I was invited here to talk about service-learning for engineering.  I gave a talk on the design and implementation of a service-learning subject in engineering to the Faculty of Engineering this morning.  On Friday, I will speak about a service-learning program for a university to a conference of engineering educators from across different universities in the Philippines. 

The campus is quite small.  Its perimeter is almost exactly 2 kilometres long, as I measured by foot yesterday. It is basically a square, surrounded by fences, inside the huge city that is Manila.  

It is almost unbelievable that you can cramp 40,000 students in such a small space.  Yet they have managed to keep a big, green, grassed soccer field in the middle of the campus, surrounded by big old trees.  There are students on the field, around the field, everywhere.  It reminded my of my days in Aberdeen Technical School.  In late afternoon, more than 100 students would be involved in 7 different soccer matches on the same concrete soccer field, with 7 balls flying around.  I don’t know how we knew which ball to chase and kick.  

Some buildings look old and elegant.  The students wear uniforms, with different uniforms for different disciplines.  One of the teachers said it is so that they can easily identify their students, and which discipline they are in.  

I was surprised to find a tombstone, engraved in Chinese, in the middle of the campus. 

Right underneath a statue of St. Thomas Aquinas, after whom the university was named. 

There is a church in one of the elegant buildings, where masses are celebrated in the morning, and then again in the evening. 

They kicked off the workshop this morning with a prayer, and closed the workshop in late afternoon with another. And they are keen to learn about service-learning. I was told they might want to apply for some funding to bring me back to provide training for the staff on service-learning.  I like this school.