Time to reflect

Well H’s return from Vietnam after two weeks has changed the household dynamics again but unfortunately with a mess up of her work permit she has decided to return to the UK. They are saying it could be another 2 months. This is disappointing given she had secured a job but realistic for her to abandon it given her finances. She has become part of the rhythm of life here in Hong Kong so her departure will produce another change in the dynamics of this experience. We had a good night out once she had made her decision, drinking at an expensive Harbour bar, watching the nightly light show on the harbour and then at Ned Kelly’s which is an enjoyable traditional jazz night out.

Ned Kelly's bar, TST Hong Kong

Its been a couple of weeks since I reflected on life in Hong Kong so now may be the time to do so. I have had the positive experience of enjoying some CityU open lectures. I guess it is because I am more in control of my day and the convenience of them that I have now attended three of these in the early evening.

Recently I went to one by  a Swedish-based Dutch scholar, Professor Pauline Stoltz, Called “Silent assumptions, assumptions on silence—Fiction, non-decision making and the politics of memory”. exploring the impact of non-decision making on policies concerning Indo-Europeans in the Netherlands. It was a powerful and thought-provoking lecture on the way in which, in her example, literature has begun to expose the treatment of the former dutch colony, Dutch East Indies which became Indonesia, some two generations after it had occurred. She pointed both to the silence of those generations about the trauma and raised questions about how far into the future do societies need to acknowledge and deal with mistakes of their ancestors or just remain silent. She commented:

There are all kinds of assumptions about silence, whether it is good or bad to be silent about trauma experiences. Silence seems in the long run not to work for societies, but it does for some individuals,” she added. “Political scientists do not usually use literature or fiction as a source in their science.” 

It provoked a wide-ranging debate in the audience with many examples of how silence had resulted from bad events for sometimes a generation or more whilst new generations then asked more searching questions. One example which interested me was that of the Belgian Congo and I am picking up some references mentioned at the event to follow this through. I reflected how my father and grandfather rarely talked about the world wars whilst I was growing up despite their omnipresence in film. Whatever their personal stories they did not want to revisit them in too much detail. What the lecture also illustrated is how cross-disciplinary studies can shed light on aspects of social policy just as dynamically as any academic study. Literature in particular but I guess all the arts can have this illuminating impact and I am finding this in reading the Man Asian books shedding light on historical events in ways which are not always captured authentically in the histories within nations. The Ha Jin book ‘War Trash’ did this on the experience of chinese prisoners of war in the Korean War for instace. Referring back to the speaker she commented that there is little mention of the treatment of indo-europeans in the histories told in dutch classrooms which offer a sanitized, dutch perspective on what happened. Again I have sent for a book which she recommended about the events. This lecture was part of the launch of a new cross-disciplinary centre at the university.

The second lecture was on the topic of Education and Ignorance and the title of the lecture had intrigued me – ‘The Knowledge Every Educated Person Should Have’ and was focused on the development of a general education curriculum in the new 3-3-4 educational arrangements for Hong Kong beginning in 2012. This will create a general first two years in the 4 year degree structure and raises questions about what should be taught during this period. I did not find the answers given by the speaker, Professor Bazeman, particularly convincing and he seemed imbued with the notion that USA’s approach had  most of the answers. I did not think he engaged with the educational approach in the East and it was only in the latter stages of his talk that he focused on teaching and learning which are crucial to approaching higher education in a world where access to ‘knowledge’ is easy via the internet but so vast that it cannot ever be effectively captured so it is how you capture knowledge and use it as a learning tool which to me is crucial. He only touched the surface of those issues. I did not attend the second of the lectures.

These experiences remind me of my days at the University of York as a student when Open lectures were designed to engage students beyond the curriculum. whilst these occur now at Hallam, life is so hectic and unremitting that time to prioritize and attend them as a spectator is just so limited. At York as a student I heard some great lectures which were as varied as – a series on the musicality of the Beatles (remember this was the early 1970s); the rise and fall of the British Communist Party; perspectives on TS Eliot’s The Wasteland’ and various histories of York. This sparked my enthusiasm for learning for its own sake and I am beginning to find that the clear gain of my stay here is this renewing of interest in learning.

I think the environment here feels not unlike my old university days. I am on campus, life is easy to negotiate, I can order my own time much more and because I am not a slave to the TV or to others I find time to read more for pleasure. As this blog testifies I have read over 14 books since my arrival and I have read so much towards my articles.

I am now getting down to the business end of my sabbatical as I begin to write the articles I have been doing my reading around. I am about half way into my sabbatical and have the balance between my work and other commitments just about in balance now. But most crucially, my intellectual curiosity has been stimulated by my period here. I am thinking about learning, I am wanting to explore new ideas and new thoughts. I think the clutter of my mind on work-related tasks is beginning to clear giving me the platform to write with energy and enthusiasm. This feels like an unfreezing which is so difficult when you are busy running an active and unrelenting contract research centre. The breathing space I used to get when doing conventional teaching in years gone by has been lost in the pursuit of income and the demands of an external set of clients blissfully unaware you have any other commitments to meet.

As I enter half time on my sabbatical, to use a football analogy, I can eat my fruit (paprya!!), have a drink of water and get ready for the challenges of  writing the articles for publication. Place has become significant in helping me achieve these goals and I now feel optimistic about this place and how it can help me achieve my goals.

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