I was wide awake at 3 am this morning so decided to watch ‘Strictly, the results’ on live at that time in the UK, nothing much else to do when your circadian rhythm refuses to fall in line. Still got back to sleep (after Strictly had finished!) and now back from breakfast and ready for the day ahead. I’m off to the university to meet with ex-colleagues to have lunch. Should be fun.
Transport connections have always been one of the joys of HK. Whether by bus, underground (MTR), train, taxi or even tram on Hong Kong Island it is efficient, cheap and air conditioned! I decide on taxi this morning so I can get to the campus and take a few photos. It is a sunny clear day and quite hot for this time of year. I go to City University one of at least 7 universities in HK. It is this one that I have worked with for the past 14 years. You cannot teach independent of local colleges in HK so my university twinned with SCOPE, a department in City U, to run a degree programme in social sciences. We share the teaching duties and I was lunching today with colleagues I have worked with since we started in 2004.
The philosophy of eating is very different here to the UK. In the UK we are essentially private eaters, ordering our own food and eating it often without sharing. Typically Chinese are much more communal eaters. The food comes to the table not an individual and that is shared amongst the gathering. In the U.K. I was brought up to finish and clear my plate and would be criticised if I did not do so. Here if you clear the plate it implies you want more and you are likely to be given more. In an early meal here it took me a while to realise this and I kept clearing my plate only to find more food there. Eventually, when so full I could burst, I realised what I needed to do to avoid further mountains of food arriving. I guess our cultural pattern is changing a little in the UK with the advent of Chinese and Indian food where some sharing takes place although many remain reluctant to see ‘their’ meal passed around the table.
Today was a typical meal – a range of food arrives on a spinning circular top and we take what we want and it passes on. I enjoy my food and tucked in just leaving the jellyfish alone, I have learnt this is not quite my cup of tea. Tea is served constantly, in this case, Jasmine tea, which cleanses the palate as you go. I was able to renew my chopstick skills which just about pass muster and enjoyed the varied meat and fish dishes offered. One thing that always surprises me is that the variety of food on offer is rarely repeated. Today a simple cucumber served warm with a scallop in the middle and vegetable surrounding was a dish I have never had before. It was good. As always I declined the dessert I have never really got used to various red bean concoctions and other sweet foods but as always I finish replenished and over full.
It is great to catch up with everyone and hear their latest news. You can see a collective photo below. Most of this group I have known since 2004 onwards and have taught with them in a variety of programmes. They are very student-centred in their approach to teaching and still have the space that in the more mass produced university education in the UK has become more difficult. I recently had lunch with two wonderful ex-students of mine from the 1980s. It was a joy to see them and remember our engagement. This became a lot harder as class sizes grew and the demands of teaching cohorts of over two hundred made such personalised attention difficult. In HK they try and engender that student support though pressure of numbers has begun to impact on them here too and there is a tension between that desire to engage and support students and the economics of modern higher education. Education is about engaging with students in discovering the joy of learning and this becomes more and more difficult as class sizes rise.
HK students can be passive and are reluctant to engage in direct discussion in the classroom. This may partly be a lack of confidence in their English skills but is also a philosophy of respect for their elders and a reluctance to question before they are confident in their studies. But they are hard working, polite, usually understand my jokes, no mean cross-cultural feat, and engage happily on a one-to-one basis. Often at the end of a class I would ask if there are any questions ad no questions would be asked. I would finish the class and begin to pack away my bags. When I look up there was often a queue of 20 or more students waiting to ask questions. I was often there for 30-40 minutes more.
But they also looked after you and one year when I had a cold they brought numerous, (I have to say rather vile tasting) medicines for me. In the evening group they brought food to eat as they travelled straight from work and often shared their fare. We often had a battle with the air conditioning. I would turn it down relishing the colder air, whilst when my back was turned they would turn it back up. In my very first year I often arrived hot and sweaty. It was July and the humidity was through the roof. So at the end of the course they gave me a present. This was some towels so I could use them to cool down. I really liked these students.
We reminisced today about our teaching together and it was so good to see everyone so well and still engaged. They tried ideas to get me to return to HK in the future and of course when I am here it is difficult not to feel the pull to return. A great start to the week.