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.  An 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 wit 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. 

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?