Friday, May 31, 2013

Do we have enough universities in HK?

Each year more than 70,000 students graduate from secondary schools in Hong Kong, while the number of university places subsidized by the government is 15,000.  There are some degree programs offered by overseas universities or other private institutions in Hong Kong.  But they are either very expensive, or not very good, or both.  It is said that ~60% of the secondary school graduates can study post-secondary programs.  But those are mostly higher diploma or associate degrees.  Hence there seems to be a strong argument for more universities, or at least, more subsidized university places for bachelor degrees.

On the other hand, many professors complain that it is difficult to teach some of those entering universities.  The good ones are still very good.  But there is a significant number that are academically not well prepared to study in the university.  Some complain that the students’ language skills are not good enough, or that the mathematical and analytical capabilities are weak.  More often, however, the complaint is that some students simply do not know how to study without a lot of hand-holding and close supervision.  They are good at taking examinations, but not much else.

At university, students are expected to figure out what their aspirations are, and work towards realizing their goals, which are different for each student. Unfortunately, many who enter university are not equipped to do that. They get lost, while the society has not yet accepted dropping out from university as an option. From this point of view, admitting more students to universities will worsen the problem.

I am not advocating reducing university places. On the contrary, I believe more young people should have the opportunity to study in universities, to realize their potential and their dreams.  But we have to do a better job in preparing our students to study on their own.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Busy Summer of Service Learning

This will be a busy summer for Service Learning at our university.  In addition to the hundreds of students serving in Hong Kong and the Chinese Mainland, we are sending 4 teams overseas.

The largest team of 50 students will go to Cambodia in June, for the 4th time in as many years.  They will be accompanied by 8 staff members.  In Cambodia, they will be joined by ~30 students from a local community college, and a number of volunteers from the Cambodia YMCA.  The 100-strong team will be working with a hospital for children with AIDS, an orphanage, a community center at Phnom Penh’s old garbage dump, a primary school outside Phnom Penh without running water nor electricity, a shelter for trafficked women, ...  We will be installing a mobile computer laboratory, a hand-operated water pump, solar-powered lamps and chargers, running computer lessons, robotics lessons, digital story telling lessons, ...

A team of 12 students and 3 staff members will be going to Rwanda, Africa for the first time, in July.  We will be working with African Enterprises, targeting youths living on the streets.  We will be building a computer laboratory from scratch, making documentaries of their lives and their work, training their staff to teach computer lessons to the youths, and helping to build mud-brick houses.

A team of 20 students will be going to Indonesia for the second time, in June-July.  They will stay in five villages for 3 weeks, exploring opportunities for sustainable development, together with the students from a local university.

Finally, a team of 20 students will be going to Vietnam for the first time in June.  They will explore opportunities in working with the youths and families in the rural areas.

I will be going with the teams to Cambodia and Rwanda, and in between, hope to visit the team in Indonesia for at least a couple of days.  I will not be able to find the time to go to Vietnam this year, but I do hope to go in the future.

All in all, a very busy summer for Service Learning.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Curious fish

He has a painted face a little like a Napoleon wrasse, but he is not a Napoleon wrasse.  I haven't figure out what he is.   But he looked cute and he was curious about me - or my camera. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

QUIET - Introverts

The modern Western culture favours outgoing, gregarious, vocal, quick-witted, forceful people - extroverts.  Quick talkers are rated as more capable and appealing than slow talkers.  Being shy, quiet and sensitive - common signs of an introvert - is considered undesirable and practically anti-social.  Children are encouraged, even forced, to “overcome” it.

Time and again, however, research has demonstrated that introverts have their advantages.  Researchers such as Anders Ericsson says that one needs ten thousand hours of Deliberate Practice, almost always in solitude, to gain true expertise.  Too-forceful extrovert leaders can also brush aside cautions from more thoughtful colleagues and lead everyone else into disasters.  Such as the AOL-Time Warner merger which wiped out $200 billion of Time Warner share holder value.

Other researches have demonstrated that introverts are physically more sensitive to stimulus, such as heightened activation in the amygdala, a small organ in the brain associated with upsetting emotions such as the fear of rejection.  When a child is quiet, it may not be that he is passive or insensitive.  On the contrary, it may be because he is too sensitive - hence the need to avoid over-stimulation.  It is not that one is better than the other.  Introverts and extroverts simply work in different ways.

Research on brain-storming also throw up some fascinating results.  Trying to come up with new ideas in a group without preparation does generate a lot of ideas, but not particularly good ones.  It is when people are given the problem, and time to work on the problem separately, and then coming together to compare ideas - that’s when the best ideas are generated.

Introverts can also motivate themselves to overcome their natural aversion - when they are acting on strong convictions.

These are just some of the interesting stuff I found in Susan Cain’s “Quiet”. For those of us who are introverts, or who have loved ones who are introverts, it is highly recommended.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Wet cardboard

It was a cloudy day, but it didn’t rain.  The sidewalks and the streets in Hung Hom were dry.  So why were the cardboards wet?

It was a common sight - an old woman collecting cardboard for recycling. I heard that one can get one Hong Kong dollar for one kilogram of cardboard.  But I was puzzled to see the old woman cut up a cardboard box, folded it neatly, put it into a styrofoam box, and then pour water over it. 

Then she took out the wetted cardboard and laid it on top of the already-formidable-looking stack of cardboards - all dripping wet.  I suspect it was to make the stack weight more, so she can make a bit more money from recycling.

I also heard that because of the bad economic situation in Europe, the price for used cardboard has dropped to 70 cents per kilogram.  Perhaps by wetting the cardboard, she can make up part of her lost in income.  It sounds dishonest.  But seeing how hard she has to work to make a little bit of money, I hesitate to blame her.

Why do some people have to work so hard to make a very humble living, while so many people in Hong Kong are filthily rich?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

ICAC 廉政公署

I am no fan of British colonialism. They took land that did not belong to them with violence.  They exploited Hong Kong for their benefit.  There were blatantly racist.

But the British colonial government established the ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption) in 1974. Since then, the ICAC has done much in cleaning up the corruption in Hong Kong.  It has built up an enviable reputation for itself.

Hong Kong is now again part of China, and the Chinese is in charge of the government.  A Chinese head of ICAC is found, with apparently extensive and credible evidence, of doing what the ICAC was established to clean up.  How can people have faith in the ICAC anymore when we cannot trust in its head?  The damage is difficult to repair.

There is no escaping from the fact that the British established the ICAC, and the Chinese is destroying it.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

University is easy!

The minibus number 26 was making a big half-circle around the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.  Inside the minibus there is a family of 4: a father, a young mother, a 5-year-old boy, and a 2-year-old girl. 

Mother: “This is a university.”
Boy: “The university is SO big!”
Mother: “If you study hard, you will get to university.”
Boy: “...”
Mother: “Kindergarten and primary school are the hardest. Secondary school is easier, and university is the easiest.  That’s why you have to study hard now. You won’t have to study so hard when you get to university.”

Unfortunately, this seems to be the prevalent view among many Hong Kong people, students, parents, and teachers alike.  Students are told that once they get through the CEE/ALE/DSE, and secure a place in a university, then they will not need to work as hard.

At the O (orientation) Camp, they are told that the most important thing in university is to 上莊 (get on a committee).  Many feel liberated that they only have to attend classes for 15 hours a week instead of 30, no one even checks whether they come to class, no one tells them when to study, they have months to hand in assignments, and no one chases after them if they do not turn in assignments.

At the end of the first year, some of them are kicked out of university because they fail to maintain a GPA (grade point average) of 2.0 out of a maximum of 4.0.  Some are genuinely shocked to find that university is harder than they were told.  Many times, students plead that they perform poorly because they "have to" spend a lot of times serving in some student association.  

Of course, most students make a smooth transition, or adjust the way they study successfully.  But a significant number never recover from the shock.

Friday, May 10, 2013

知識分子 (Intellectual)

My colleague and I observed the other day there seems to be wide variations on how the term is used in different places.   In Hong Kong, the term is commonly used, and often with a positive connotation.  As in, “大家都係知識分子... ( We are all intellectuals here, hence it is assumed that each of us will behave honourably. )”  Knowledge in general, and academic standing in particular, is a respectable attribute. Perhaps partly because of the traditional Chinese respect for knowledge, and also partly due to the relatively low level of academic achievement among the population. In 2000, only 15% of the adult population has attained post-secondary education, and the average years of schooling was 9.47.

It seems that the term is not as commonly used in the USA and Canada.  In my 18 years of living in North America, I don’t recall hearing or using the term much in normal conversation.  Not because the term has a negative connotation.  Perhaps more because academic attainment is so high, that being an intellectual is not as an uncommon achievement as in other places.  In 2000, 50.1% of the adult has attained post-secondary education, and the average years of schooling was 12.25.  Hence there is no need to bring up that fact.

It seems, however, the term is not used as often on the Chinese Mainland.  And when it is used, it is not often with a positive connotation.  That might be due to the attitude towards the intellectuals as exhibited by the Chinese Communists.  As in Mao Tse-tung’s famous saying, “知识分子最无知识!(Intellectuals are most ignorant!)“.  As in “知識越多越反動 (The more knowledgeable, the more reactionary.)”, and “臭老九 (Stinking number 9 - second lowest rank in society, where 1 is top, and 10 is the beggar.)”. Hence it is understandable educated people do not wish to be considered intellectuals.

That also reminds me of the situation in Cambodia during the reign of the Khmer Rouge.  Even knowledge of a foreign language, or wearing eye glasses, can be a cause of persecution, torture, and death.  It is not unlike the situation during the Cultural Revolution on the Chinese Mainland.  It should not come as a surprise, as many in the Khmer Rouge were trained in, or by Communist China.

Culture, evidently, is extremely variable from place to place, and can actually be a matter of life, or death.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Bearded Fish

A bearded scorpionfish?  At the Chicago Aquarium. 


Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Electric Eel

What does he look like?  A toothless old lady?  In any case, he lived at the Chicago Aquarium.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Giant Garoupa

He was living at the Atlanta Aquarium, in a tank with 3 whalesharks. 


Saturday, May 04, 2013

Communists and Workers

The Communists started out fighting for the rights of the workers - the underdogs exploited by the capitalists.

When the Communists become the ruling party in places such as China, the workers supposedly become the rulers.  In reality, however, there is no such thing.  Contrary to the party line, the workers remain the underdogs.  The Communists themselves take over the role of the capitalists - they become both the rulers and the exploiters themselves!

In Hong Kong, there is another twist.  The government is chosen by the Communists.  But the capitalists - now backed by the Communists - continue to exploit the workers.  Do the Communists fight for the workers now?  Of course not.  Who fight for the dock workers now?  The non-Communist unions, students, and common citizens.  Where are the Communist unions?  Nowhere.  They are the establishment now, remember?  How can they fight against the capitalists?  They are allies now.

Such is the truth exhibited by the dock workers’ strike.  A sad commentary for Labor Day.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

A Mean-looking Fish on Labor Day

I was just looking through my fish photos this morning, when I came upon this photo of a piranha.  Perhaps because it was Labor Day, it reminded me of an image I saw on TV a few days ago.  It was a big boss of the port operator company  involved in the strike by the dock workers.  The strike has been going on for a month now, and it does not look like it will be resolved soon.  He was commenting on the strike on TV for the first time.  He was so full of contempt for the dock workers and the unions that his face seem twisted.  The people who have to work for him deserve our sympathies.