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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Institutional encounters and Hot topics in HK

I managed to beat the system and get my cash card pin number and use it!

Next challenge is the card for the gym--I am now signed up for the one hour course afterwhich I can get the card and use the gym.

I finally found my way to a local market where I can get things like kitchen items like drinking glasses, fruit, and vegetable without it being at american prices. It is within walkable distance.

The mall and everything else is being decorated for chinese new year--red for good luck and gold for prosperity. Everyone also fills their houses with flowers so the flower markets are arising. You are not supposed to clean on New Year's and if you sweep the day after, you are supposed to sweep inward. I will have to get some "lucky money" pouches and put some cash in it and put it under Karis's pillow on New Year's eve. You are supposed to have these to give our for two weeks to children you know.

I was at a meeting of the general education committee, overseen by the assoc. provost. I sat next to a woman who I work with and she would lean over and say "you need to weigh in on this point and emphasize the importance of this or that." Though a senior person, she did not say much. And you have to figure out what can really be discussed out in the open and what should be discussed behind the scenes. I've asked several people about westerners and "the rules" and they unanimously say that westerners do not have to follow any of the rules--you can speak up and say whatever you wish, etc.

I had lunch with a social work professor and asked questions about social problems and such. She said that social work is just starting in mainland chinese universities. I asked about the length of the work day. She said it was impossible to say "no" when your boss wanted you to work late. People don't want to lose their jobs and home obligations are not excuses of any kind. Both parents have to work to afford to live here and so the live-in houseworker is crucial. These, of course, are philipinos, who take children to lessons, etc. This all makes life incredibly intense. And you wonder if the time at work translates into greater productivity.

This professor also talked about gender issues--the university has no women at the upper levels. And of course, all decisions are made in informal settings among the men. When you get to formal meetings all the decisions have already been made beforehand. When such issues are raised, the men have no framework in which to process this. It is all quite fascinating. Americans who are here have to learn to live within this, which I think would be frustrating after awhile.

Language is a huge issue at the university. The university is supposed to be an english language university, but students do not come in prepared to do university-level work in english. In many ways this is all quite strange. I went to a choir concert last night and songs were in both chinese and english, but all introductions, etc. were in english. I looked around and I looked like the only person of European background in the audience. This emphasis on english is a necessity, but it means many are operating in a second language in something of an artificially-created context. And many faculty do not emphasize the english, so students are forced to the higher levels. And to add to the complication, mainland chinese don't speak cantonese, so english can sometimes be the intermediary language. What a challenge!

The entire university system and secondary system in Hong Kong is going through changes so it may mean that even more students are admitted with less than adequate english. And the culture is such that they only want to be able to understand at rudementary levels--utilitarian--not think in english. This is the same among many of the faculty.

These are all the reasons that Hong Kong employers do not want to employ Hong Kong university graduates, and it is the reason behind the addition of a GE component to university education and changes in secondary. Creativity, innovation, etc. are not fostered in the present system. There was just an article in the local paper that talked about mainland china wringing its hands over having no nobel prize winners.

The other big issue in Hong Kong right now is over democracy movements. The present governmental structure is complicated and involves (as I am trying to understand) representatives of trade unions, etc., mainland china, and some local representation. It is all very hard for me to understand, but there are protests as young people try to push it toward a more democratic system. It it an incredible balancing act between this movement and appeasing Beijing. Someone told me they thought that Beijing thought that after 20 years of economic prosperity nobody would care about democracy, which illustrated their lack of understanding. They are so incredibly removed.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Horace Poem


Much to his Mum and Dad's dismay
Horace ate himself one day.
He didn't stop to say his grace,
He just sat down and ate his face.
"We can't have this his Dad declared,
"If that lad's ate, he should be shared."
But even as he spoke they saw
Horace eating more and more:
First his legs and then his thighs,
His arms, his nose, his hair, his eyes...
"Stop him someone!" Mother cried
"Those eyeballs would be better fried!"
But all too late, for they were gone,
And he had started on his dong...
"Oh! foolish child!" the father mourns
"You could have deep-fried that with prawns,
Some parsley and some tartar sauce..."
But H. was on his second course:
His liver and his lights and lung,
His ears, his neck, his chin, his tongue;
"To think I raised him from the cot
And now he's going to scoff the lot!"
His Mother cried: "What shall we do?
What's left won't even make a stew..."
And as she wept, her son was seen
To eat his head, his heart, his spleen.
And there he lay: a boy no more,
Just a stomach, on the floor...
None the less, since it was his
They ate it – that's what haggis is.

this is NOT what he recites, but it is amazing. "haggis", to Monty Python

Many cultures, many experiences

We had an interesting week. I went to hear a speaker at Poly U. with a dinner afterward. Life definitely starts later and ends later in the day. The dinner began around 8:30 p.m. Interestingly enough, it was western rather than Chinese--perhaps because the speaker was American?

I had an orientation at the American consulate this week where they told us not to speak for the American government... I discovered yet another part of the city called the midlevels. This is a beautiful area up the side of the mountains or hills from the main part of the city on Hong Kong island.

On Friday evening we had all the Fulbright people over for a potluck dinner, each housed at a different university. We are probably the most centrally located. The Freake family took over the kitchen and made Chinese dumplings and in general it was quite a feast. And Karis and Jacob Freake made an English lemon tart. Has anybody ever heard of pie weights? I went to the store and bought two types of fruit that I could not identify to add to the dinner. We didn't get to bed until 1 in the a.m. Several people brought us decorations for Chinese New Year which is coming. You can feel the anticipation in the air!

On Saturday we had yet a totally different cross-cultural experience. A Scottish staff member I had met invited to the Highlander's club for the traditional celebration of the birthday of Robert Burns. This was an incredibly upscale event and included the traditional bringing of the haggis with the bagpipes and speeches degrading the English and all others except Scots. We've included videos of the event including pictures of haggis and Karis tasting Scottish whiskey with a fork. Enjoy! Karis was in her element! The piper was Chinese... We again didn't get home until 1 a.m. I was pleased that I am starting to recognize places and figure out where I am in the city. And for the record--I tried the haggis. If I can eat goose intestines I can at least try haggis.

Sunday a.m. we got up and went to the early service at the Island Evangelical Community Church. We enjoyed it and may end up going there--a Calvin alum met us and we also saw several of Karis's teachers. It is in a high rise building where the main church meets in a first floor room but we went to the second floor room where you can have coffee, sit, had live music but then the sermon was streamed in. We heard more American voices that we have heard since we've arrived.

Household applicances

For those of you interested in household appliances, we've included a couple of pictures of the microwave. We were fascinated by what settings are present--not popcorn. We also have a rice cooker and something that boils water and keeps it hot. The stove has a burner just for a wok.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Figuring out the bank

I've been trying to get my bank card to work for about 10 days now. I was given an envelope that had a unique ID in it. Of course I could not read the chinese explanation for this but there was enough English for me to identify the password.

I tried to log on the internet and set up my account using the password. After collection all the information I needed to create my on-line account--passport #, password, account number, etc. I gave it a try--it rejected me.

I thought--maybe I need to activate my account by using by debit card! So I went and tried the cash machine. It didn't work. When I tried the cash machine, I got a piece of paper the came back at me. I couldn't really read the paper.

After a couple of days of contemplating all of this, I called the phone number for help. They in fact confirmed that this was the password on record, that my passport number was correct as well as the account number. They finally said--go to the bank and show them that it doesn't work.

The next day I went to the bank, determined to do this all myself without asking for one of my hosts to help me! The first bank teller looked at the slip of paper that kept coming out of the cash machine and said they could reset the password if I brought my passport #. I went and got the passport number--bringing a copy--only for the next teller to tell me that I needed the actual passport. I went back and got my passport. The third teller looked at it and at the slip of paper and confirmed, absolutely this was saying that the password was wrong. I needed a new one which would be sent to my address in one week. Why I can't say, but they concluded that it could not be sent to my address. I was instructed to come back in one week and they would give me my new password. Luckily, I got LOTS of cash when I opened the account, and I can use my debit card from home :)

Next challenge--getting visas to going into mainland china. The instructions say that we need to fill out the forms, bring passports, new passport photos, and our Hong Kong ID cards. However, since we are staying less that 6 months, we don't need to get a Hong Kong ID card--so...the question of the week is, will the bureaucracy allow us to get the visas without the ID cards which we are not required to get?

Cultural Encounters with Institutions

I've had interesting discussions and observations in the past week over cultural differences. Here are some of what I have learned:

The morning is the only quiet time of day. Most people do not arrive at work until quite late, but they work very late as well.

Meetings last longer, so I've had to learn to leave bigger blocks of time for one meeting--this is true whether it is meeting with an individual or a group.

In a meeting, the younger faculty do not participate, but rather let the more senior faculty carry on the discussion.

In most meetings, all the decisions have been made prior to anyone walking into the room.

In face-saving approach, if students have a problem with a faculty member, they go to the supervisor to tell them about the problem so the supervisor can communicate with the faculty member and then the faculty member can change their behavior without losing face by having been told by a student. This, of course, is the opposite of what we would do in the United States. We would tell the student to first go talk to the faculty member.

Change and disruption is normal. So, meetings my be scheduled, but then you expect everything to change or be rearranged beforehand by those above. Change is normal.

Cultural Encounters with Cantonese Food

Last night I was truly initiated into the culture. I went out to dinner in Kowloon City at a Cantonese restaurant. Here is the list of what I ate in order of course (and I ate with chop sticks). I was determined to eat whatever was put in front of me:

Chinese beer
Very strong tea from a dish the size of a finger bowl
Pickled cabbage
Goose intestines (looked like strips of leather)
oysters in rice soup
squash deep fat fried with sugar coating
tea again

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Developing Work at the University

I had a good first full week at City University. It appears that I will be busy which is of course my preference! I went to a meeting of the general education committee which helped me get a feel for the issues they are facing and the politics of the changes.

Language is a huge issue. This is an English-language university, but many students and staff are not comfortable with English. So not only do they have to do the work of getting students to think in more abstract terms, connecting theory and practice, but they have to do it in a second language. It sounds like many courses do not really even require much complex reading in English. There is also great pressure to get good evaluations from students which further tends toward "dumbing down" the English. And then many faculty do not feel proficient in English. In many ways these are the same types of discussions we have in the US--do you push in order to encourage them to rise to the challenge, or do you move toward the lowest common denominator?

Next week I am going to meet individually with many of the faculty who teach GE. This should help me build relationships, find out faculty needs, and get me "out of the mall." I also am going to go to several departmental seminars. I'm preparing for a seminar on interdisciplinary teaching as well as several research lectures. Another project I will work on involves evaluating the GE courses that are already being taught. They have been giving students pre and post tests but the results have not been great. My impression is that the students are not very self-reflective on what it was they have been learning. When you talk individually with them, it is clear that the GE courses have had a big impact on them, but the survey doesn't seem to be catching these results.


Some of the general observations of the way things are:

There are women everywhere washing glass doors, sweeping, washing the walls of the walking tunnel, etc. I'm wondering if the huge number of people that are always everywhere is a factor in this.

Photo IDs: We are working toward having the norm here--we had to get more passport photos in order to get what we needed. We have our passports, we might have to get Kong Kong ID cards, Karis has her school ID with passport photo, we both have university ID cards with passport photos. I have to have a gym photo ID. We have to have passport photos to get our visas into mainland China.

Everyone is incredibly helpful when we look confused :)

A visit to Sai Kung in the "country country with the Pfisters

We went with the Pfisters to Sai Kung which is the east of Kowloon on the water on Saturday and had dinner. We took the MTR two stops north of our apartment and they met us there in their car. And there in front of us was an IKEA.

Lauren teaches philosophy at Baptist U. and I had their daughter, Athania, at Calvin as a student. Sai Kung is supposed to be a "fishing village" but has turned into a sort of suburb and tourist area. The harbor is lined with seafood resaurants--as many of you can image, Karis has a hard time thinking about food when she saw all the options in front of her, live, waiting for her to pick them out. She went with french fries. Lauren's father, who is 87, has been visiting them for several months. He says he has lost 20 pounds.

The Pfisters were wonderful! They have lived in Hong Kong for 20 years.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Starting work and school

Karis had her first full day of school. She is taking British lit, US foreign relations, Asian studies, choir, Bible, and auditing Mandarin Chinese. She went with the son of another Fulbrighter after school to buy uniforms for school--she had to buy an extra large size which barely fit. I don't know how we are ever going to find black shoes for school. They might have to give her an exception for now.

I had my first meeting with the entire team of Fulbright faculty working on the general education curriciulum change at the universities here. It was good to finally meet them after being part of email correspondence in the fall. They each talked about the challenges of each institution. This helped me get a better idea on what we all are doing. Some of them are teaching a class this semester, but primarily they review course proposals, meet individually with faculty, attend the major meeting related to the curriculum changes to offer advice, and organize workshops for their campuses. Following this meeting I had a welcome lunch with several administrators from the Provost's office including the acting provost. We had an interesting conversation about Hong Kong and Mainland China. Two of the administrators are British but have been in Hong Kong for a long time in higher education. Culture--Hong Kong people would rather let their mother's die than miss a good financial deal. There is clearly a sense that Asia is where the world is going while parts of North America are beginning to look like the Third World. Top faculty are being recruited because resources are there for people to be top notch in their fields. They also described Hong Kong as a large village. When I asked about the cross-cultural context, one said that while it can be extremely frustrating at times, he worked at building relationships and clearly both of these men are well respected.

We ended the day having supper at the last minute with the Freake family, the Fulbright family from Connecticut. They are the most adventurous of all the Fulbright families here--they've eaten scorpions, taken the subway in Beijing and were almost crushed, tested the results of running out of money on their octopus card and trying to ride the bus, for example. If you need to know something, you just ask the Freakes and they can tell you how to do it.

The other good event of the day was that I discovered an old set of speakers in a box in my office. I brought them home and hooked them up to my computer and listened to NPR while doing the dishes in the kitchen. And now I have them hooked up to my mp3 player--music. It could feel like home if we could bring some order to our stacks of things laying around. I can't seem to organize myself. I think it is jetlag, though today I finally could work through the day without zoning out in the middle of the afternoon.

Monday, January 11, 2010


We spent the morning at the school that Karis is going to attend, working through the bureaucracy. It is a short ride with only one change in trains. When you get to the final stop, you can pretty much see the school. As with all international schools, it is highly competitive and the students are driven. I think it is going to be a challenge for her, but not overwhelming since she is taking a light load and auditing other courses. We got to the point where we were going to have to wait 2 hours to talk with the principal to finalize her schedule, when Karis decided I could leave and she could do the rest on her own. Yeh!!! I took the train back to City U. and went to work. This is good. This is very good.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sunday adventure to church

Karis and I managed the subway to get to an Anglican church today. I was impressed with how easy it is to navigate the metro system. When you are on the train, a lit panel shows you which direction you are going and which stop is coming. There is even a light that tells you which side to exit the train for the next stop. The subway was totally packed, even on a Sunday mid morning. The church was also full to overflowing with people, primarily Chinese, but the pastor is Australian and you could see Indians, an African, and a few Europeans as well--you could see the British empire before you. They have youth service at the same time because the church itself is full without the young people. The service was a mix of contemporary music and more formal liturgy--great worship! I think we will go back next week and see if Karis can hook up with the youth.

Karis was comfortable enough that when we got back to our local station that she headed home while I headed to get some good coffee.

Yesterday I took a walk in one direction from the university, wanting to get a sense of the place. I can tell it is going to be difficult to find a place to walk. There is just too much traffic to get up to a good pace. The mall or the university gym might have to be where I go. In the hills right behind the university there are some incredibly expensive houses in closed off developments.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

day three in the life of Hong Kong Karis--food

On the day we arrived (to the apartment by about 6.30 maybe 7PM) we found, of course, no food in the house. I plugged in our Computer right away and got on facebook, email and skype. I gave my friend Debbie our home phone number and went to bed. about 10 minutes later, the phone rang. Very confused as to why anybody would be calling at this time at night (about 8), my mother answered the phone and was very confused to find that the person on the phone asked for a Karis Roper. How on earth did they get our number when even she (my mother) didn't know it. She gave the phone to me and I preceded to make plans for the following day.
The next morning's breakfast consisted of Popcorn.
That afternoon I went shopping with Debbie for about 6 hours plus dinner at Ruby Tuesdays with a bunch of girls from school. They are as wild as my friends back home, only far more Shopping oriented.

I have done nothing for the past 2 days. Went food shopping with mum, but other than that I have not left our apartment.
It has come to my attention that some, perhaps many, of you are under the impression that I plan on eating Chinese food. This is a ridiculous notion. About the extent of my orient food experience shall be expressed on this blog. thank you, and good night. or rather, good Morning.

Judging culture by store aisles

We have been getting a sense of culture by looking at store aisles--what are the items that take up more space than at home? Cooking oil--which comes in six packs. The instant noodle section is enormous. There are many, many types of tea, but Lipton only comes in "witch-doctor" varieties like "mind-refreshing" or "eye enhancement." Black tea is hard to come by. The drug store has a Chinese medicine aisle. There is a six floor complex with only computer stores. Cell phones are easy to come by--we've learned how to put in sim cards to activate phones and get phone numbers. There is this amazing concept called an Octopus card, which is an epic debit card that can be used as a train ticket, as well as being excepted at many stores as a debit card. And it doesn't have to be put through anything or taken out of your purse--you just run your wallet over the scanner. Karis's friend talked about people who keep it in their back pocket and run their bottom over the scanner. Shopping is the culture of Hong Kong.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Our first day

We had a busy first day. Karis spent the morning on skype with friends while I went with my hosts from the university. They were wonderful in getting me through paperwork at the HR office, and settled in my office. My office is actually in the office tower in the Festival Walk mall. And at the bottom of the elevator is a Starbucks.

We went and got Karis for lunch and then managed to get cell phones, go to a grocery store so we had food, and get a bank account established which involved meeting a someone from the Fulbright office with my paycheck, and someone from HR with a letter formalizing my address at the same time at the bank. Everyone has been incredibly helpful and I've had someone with me along the way to translate which has made the process go faster.

Karis ended the day by meeting the friend/classmate she has been corresponding with over facebook and skype for supper. They went off on the train to meet a group of girls from the school. We managed to stay awake the entire day so we slept pretty well last night.

I'm in the office today while Karis skypes at home. I have lunch today with another Fulbright person who is at Baptist University across the street and my first meeting with afternoon. Karis may go off with her friend today to buy her school uniform. It is great having Karis at this age where she can be quite independent!

The word is--chocolate is greatly valued. If you come see us, bring us chocolate chips so we can make cookies.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


Our Apartment

We have arrived

After 15 long hours on the plane, we arrived in Hong Kong at 6 p.m. and everything went well. We were checked into our apartment by 7:30. The apartment is very comfortable and actually bigger than I expected with a good sized livingroom/ dining room. We have a nice little balcony as well.

We knew we were headed for Asia on the plane because the food choices were predominately noodles over chicken amongst the crowd!

I saw two Starbucks in the airport so I knew everything would be fine. Karis's first observation was that is was certainly a high tech place--an interesting combination of British (driving on the left, small lorries and cars, roundabouts--things work a bit like New Zealand), Asian high tech (tall buildings with lights, etc.), and Chinese language. It is in the 50s and 60s so it is pleasant.

Karis immediately sent a note to a schoolmate she has been corresponding with here and so our first phone call was from this friend. Karis is invited to a gathering tonight of a bunch of the girls from the high school who are going out to supper as a "end of break" gathering. They are going to the mall, which is across the street.

Our location could not be better--the mall is something of the center for many gatherings in the city and we are right on the doorstep! It should also make grocery shopping easy.

Today my goal is to get cell phones for us, try to get some Hong Kong dollars, go grocery shopping and work at getting a bank account established.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Ready to leave

The bags are just about packed and the last details are finished. Today Karis finished her last speech in her speech class at school and her last two math assignments. When we do our next post, we will be in our two bedroom apartment at City University in Kowloon. Not looking forward to the jetlag...

Everything has shrunk since we went to New Zealand on my last sabbatical--computer is smaller, no CDs (only an i-pod), new Kindle so few books, PDF documents rather than photocopies. Wow! We have room and weight to spare. Anyone want to come along?