Sunday, December 31, 2017

Getting ready for 2018

As 2017 draws to a close, thousands upon thousand of people crowd the streets, shopping malls, posh restaurants, and the water front waiting for the fireworks.  Millions upon millions of dollars are being spent.  

In the mean time, we have a team of students running a hack-a-thon in our laboratories. They are building big push buttons for the elderlies in nursing homes, to help them play computer games designed to help them retain their mobility.  As the population age, more and more of us are sent to live in nursing homes when we cannot take care of ourselves.  Over there many of us just sit all day, lacking the motivation and the care-takers to help them remain active.  One of our service-learning teams is designing computer games that encourage them to remain active.  Most of the computer games these days, however, employ gadgets that are just too intricate for the elderly.  Hence we are designing large push buttons that are more suitable for them.  Our students are using the last weekend before the New Year to do a marathon workshop to build these buttons.  

Another team is making final preparations for the trip to Myanmar, which will take place right after the New Year.  They will spend a little more than one week there, installing solar panels for a village without electricity.  They will be working with a team of students from Dagon University.  Our students have already gone through a semester’s worth of lectures, workshops, and practices.  At the final afternoon, I encouraged them to mentally prepare themselves to meet, learn to understand and work with people of a different language and culture - to be more competent as a global citizen.  

At the same time, I am getting ready to go to Indonesia to set up another project.  I am proud of our team and the students.  

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Hong Island Reservoir (萬宜水庫) East Dam (東壩)

A cool winter working day like today is the best time to go hiking to or from the East Dam of the High Island Reservoir (萬宜水庫, 糧船灣淡水湖).  We chose to take a taxi from San Kung Pier to get to the East Dam.  We checked out the volcanic rock formations of the Geological Park, and then walked roughly 9.5 kilometres back out to Pak Tam Chung.  From there we took a minibus back to San Kung.  

It was a cool day.  The sky was light blue, with just a bit of haze.  The temperature was around 20 degrees C, and very comfortable.  Just perfect for hiking.  

The rock formations were, of course, impressive.  Lots of lots of polygonal columns.  Some are actually hexagonal.  Millions of years ago, this whole area was said to be a gigantic volcano.  When the lava in the gigantic core cooled, they formed into vertical hexagonal columns.   

Sheer pressure even bent some of them into an "S" shape.  Extreme pressure eventually sheered some of them off, and in rushed more lava, filling in the gap between the sheered-off columns.  Such extreme pressure boggles the mind.  Yet the evidence is right there in front of your eyes.  

Erosion cut the tip of an island (破邊洲) off, exposing the columns in the cut, outside the East Dam.  But these columns are too far to see with the naked eye from the East Dam.  They have to be approached from the sea, which we did a year ago, renting a boat from Sai Kung Pier.  

Looking west from West Dam (西壩),  we could see the sun, slowing setting, illuminating the ripples on the sea, and the buffer area between the breakwater and the west dam itself.  A pretty sight.  

On the way, we also encounter dozens of cows, now a common sight all over the New Territories. 

This being a working day, even though it is December 27, right after Boxing Day, there aren’t too many people in San Kung or at the East Dam.  Yet, there were long lines at the minibus stops.  Eventually my daughter had to call a taxi using one of those taxi apps.  Again, technology came to our rescue.  I hope someone finds these experiences useful. 

At Sai Kung we got to check out some of the fantastic seafood, but did not have time to eat any.  

It was sad to see a big horseshoe crab struggling in a tank crammed with other seafood, all of whom would soon be someone's dinner.  That was the only sour note of the day. 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Student T

One of our students, T, has been on seven overseas service-learning projects.  I was quite surprised, and was not aware of that until our management asked for student stories and a staff suggested her.  Prior to taking service-learning for credit, she had participated in community service projects teaching robotics design and programming workshops to primary and secondary school students. 

The first time she went to international service-learning, she went as a student in the summer of 2011.  In those days students were not required to take service-learning subjects.  We offered a service-learning subject as a pilot in summer 2011, in preparation for rolling out the formal program in 2012.  She took it as an elective subject and went with us to Cambodia.  One can say she was one of the first “guinea-pigs”. 

In the summer of 2013, she took a different SL subject as another elective and went with us to Rwanda.  In the same summer she went with us to Cambodia again, this time as an assistant, not a student taking the subject for credit.  Subsequently in 2014 she was asked again to assist in another two trips, to Rwanda and Cambodia again.  She has provided invaluable help to the teams, and the teachers, because of her experience, skills, enthusiasm, and maturity.   The teams have built solar electrical charging systems,  wired up many houses for electricity, built community learning centres, taught STEM workshops, …  She has grown tremendously together with the service-learning program itself. 

Twice more, she went to Cambodia as leaders of student-initiated teams.  The teams have built community learning centres, installed solar panels fo electricity, water collection systems, computer networks, and much more.   She has grown from a student, to student assistant, into a true leader.  

In the mean time, she has finished her bachelor’s degree, learned to do research, and completed her master of philosophy degree. She has learned to be more systematic, persevering, and creative.  She is due to start her doctor of philosophy research studies at a world-class university in Switzerland in January 2018.    While she has some time before her PhD studies starts, she is helping us in one of our research projects on the pedagogy of service-learning.  

This whole experience has to be considered in the context that she came to our university as a student in the "arts" stream (as opposed to the "science" stream) in secondary school.  Initially she struggled in learning programming.  According to her instructor, T was on the verge of failing at the beginning of the semester, but gradually learn to program like the best of students.  Now she is going to study for a doctorate in computer science.  I should also mention that the teacher who taught her programming is also her teacher for service-learning, and the teacher she has been assisting in subsequent projects.  A good teacher can do wonders for the students.  

She is so helpful for us that I hate to see her leave.  At the same time, I know she will learn a lot more away from here, so I am happy for her.  She will develop into a real public-minded scholar and that can only be good for herself, and for our community.  For our sake, I hope that she comes back to help our program.  But I suspect God may have bigger plans for her.  

Thursday, December 14, 2017

University of Macao

Our university if holding a management workshop at a hotel in Macao.  Looking south west from the hotel, one can see the western part of Macau and across a narrow channel of water, Hengqin (横琴), a part of Mainland China.  

A bridge links Macao to Hengqin.  Just beyond the bridge, located in Hengqin, is the new campus of the University of Macao.  A tunnel links the campus to Macao.  The campus is under the jurisdiction of Macao.  A wall surrounds the campus on Hengqin, patrolled by the People’s Liberation Army of China. One cannot cross from the campus to other parts of Hengqin, and vice versa.  

For all practical purposes, the University of Macao is part of Macao, yet it is physically located in China.  It is a surreal type of existence when one thinks of it.  

Tuesday, December 12, 2017


IIE is Institute of International Education.  Last evening IIE held a reception at the USA Consul General’s Residence in Hong Kong to celebrate 50 years of IIE presence in Hong Kong.  In 1975 I received a Direct Placement Scholarship through IIE.  It covered  my tuition for 4 years of undergraduate studies at the University of Rochester in New York State.  

Without it I would not have been able to study in the USA. Given the financial situation of my family, I could not even afford to attend university in Hong Kong, even though my grades were good enough.   With the bachelor’s degree from Rochester, I went on to a master’s at University of Wisconsin at Madison, and returned to Rochester for my PhD.  I am eternally grateful to IIE for giving me my chance for a quality education.  And in Rochester I met my wife …, who also received a Direct Placement Scholarship through IIE. 

Last evening I had a chance to thank Dr. Alan Goodman, current president of IIE, in person.  They really have done a lot of good and deserve an applause, and more.  

Saturday, December 09, 2017

Plover Cove Reservoir (船灣淡水湖) Hike

A bunch of us from ATS class of 1973 hike semi-regularly.  Today we hiked the hills north of Plover Cove Reservoir.   The views were awesome even though it was a bit hazy.  

We started from Wu Kam Tang (烏蛟騰). Along the way, we could see almost the entire reservoir.  It was, of course, formerly a cove (bay).  It was dammed up in the 1960s.  The salty sea water was drained and then it was used to store up the fresh rain water collected from the mountains surrounding it.  

Rising above it to the north is Pat Sin Leng (八仙嶺). In 1996, some students were climbing up the steep slope from the south, from the shores of the cove, when they encountered a wild fire, and several of the perished.  

Along the way, we found some of the berries that we used to eat when we went hiking while we were still at ATS.  Unfortunately, it is already winter and they are all dried up.  

The route is quite tough, running up and down steep slopes with loose pebbles.  It is not life-threatening but you can get hurt if you slip on the sand or pebbles.  

We were rewarded with much memories from the old days.  Such as these “Big Headed Tea” flowers (polyspora axillaris 大頭茶).  They produce a fruit that looks like a big olive, that we called  山欖

There were these leaves which have been eaten by caterpillars into skeletons, which would make nice bookmarks.  

Some trees have turned red.  They were not maple, but nevertheless very pretty.  

When we returned to Wu Kam Tang, we found some very nice-looking roselle (洛神花).  You can make tea, jam and a lot other foods with the red fruit.  

There were lots of bamboo all over the place.  One particular reflection from a small pool made a very nice criss-crossing pattern.  

All in all, it was a very relaxing hike. And a very timely break from my very hectic week.  

Monday, December 04, 2017

Service-Learning 2.0

We have been asked to set up a booth at the Open Day in celebration of the 80th anniversary of the university.  The focus of our booth is a floor map showing the numbers and varieties of service-learning projects in each of the 18 districts of Hong Kong.  There is also a wall map of the world, showing the projects in mainland China, Taiwan and foreign countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan and Rwanda.  These maps and the samples of products produced by these projects highly the achievements of service-learning at our university so far: that we offer 60+ subjects each year to 4,000 students.  That’s what we refer to as SL 1.0

When we reflect on what we have done in the past seven years, and the state of service-learning education at some of the best universities, such as those we visited in the USA last month, we realised we have come a long way, but still have much to learn, and a long way to go.  

We are now moving on to SL 2.0.  We need to take service-learning to the next level.  Our focus is better, more advanced, and more impactful service-learning subjects and associated projects.  We need to provide a path of continued development for the students, perhaps integrating leadership education into the program, perhaps allowing the students to take a minor in social engagement.  We need to further internationalise service-learning, providing more overseas opportunities, collaborating more with foreign universities, setting up more student exchange.  And all of these have to be backed up by rigours research. 

Then I noted that the VIPs on stage at the opening ceremony are all male.  It is a symptom of the need for more diversity in the university, and also for service-learning.  We often found more females than males among the more enthusiastic and better-performing students in service-learning.  There are also plenty of females among the more junior teaching and administrative staff for service-learning; but the higher the level, the fewer is the number of females.  The situation in the USA appears to be similar.  

There is indeed much to do yet. 

Friday, November 24, 2017

Service-Learning at Stanford

Stanford University is, of course, one of the best research universities in the world.  It produced the largest number of Nobel prizewinners (7) in this century.  On the other hand, Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck was named a recipient of the inaugural Yidan Prize (worth US$4 million) in recognition of her innovative contributions to education.  Her research on the grow6th mindset, the belief that intellectual abilities are not fixed but can be nurtured, has long had far-reaching impact, and has long been a core component of my own beliefs. 

Stanford is also a leader in public service.  It’s president calls their university a “purposeful” university, meaning a university that promotes and celebrates excellence not as an end in itself, but rather as a means to multiply its beneficial impact on society.  Stanford established the Haas Centre for Public Service more than three decades ago.  The building which houses the Haas Centre is not particularly remarkable.  What is remarkable is the work this is going-on. 

As Stanford celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2016, teh university lunched Cardinal Service, a campus-wide initiative to renew their commitment to public service.  It encourage students to take cardinal courses - which apply classroom knowledge to address real world societal and environmental problems.  Courses such as Perspectives on Assistive Technology (ENGR100), Ending Poverty with Technology, (SOC 157), where students can design their solutions at the Poverty and Technology Lab, and Sustainable Cities (URBANST 164).   There are more than 150 Cardinal courses offered across 39 departments.

Student can pursue cardinal quarters - a full time summer or quarter-long public service experience, to integrate classroom knowledge with field experience.  For example, work at a refugee camp in Greece, help to construct an adult community centre and facilitate educational programs for adults, unaccompanied minors and children at the camp.  492 students completed a Cardinal Quarter in summer 2016.  

Students can make a Cardinal Commitment - declare a major, join a student-led organization, etc..  270 students tutored and mentored local youth through signature Education Partnership programs in 2016-17. Students are encouraged to pursue a Cardinal Career - seek jobs in the public interest or integrate service into a career.  

Stanford is admirable in many ways.  

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.