>Community College in Hong Kong

>Hong Kong has a community college system, but most of these colleges are associated with a particular university. They have something in common with the US in that they often have vocational programs and certificate programs. However, that is about as far as the comparison goes.

Community Colleges are self-financed so that students have to pay the full cost. It is the students who get into four year programs at universities (top 18% of students) who are subsidized. And as a person who works for CityU’s community colleges said to me, “the university is embarrassed by the presence of the CC students.” And so the universities don’t want the CC students to come and finish their degrees–they are financed by the government for 4 year students.

Now Hong Kong is moving to a 4 year undergraduate degree and the CCs have been told that they have to arrange for a 2+2 seamless system with the universities. But the universities have no interest in arranging for this. They don’t want the students and have never created articulation agreements to allow them to transfer credits. The CCs are powerless to negotiate their place.

This is so different than the issues in the U.S. In the U.S., CCs are seen as the entry point for first generation college students and non-traditional students–a bridge to the university. And colleges want these students because of the declining numbers of college age students and the rising cost of higher education. In addition, any NSF grant or foundation grants are interested in what colleges are doing to reach underserved populations and the CCs are often the collaborators in these efforts. The CCs have something that is desired by other institutions of higher education.

In Hong Kong there is not culture of inclusion in terms of obligations to underserved populations. If you don’t make the cut when you finish high school, that is the way it is. The universities also don’t have a sense of service to the community outside of trying to be ranked highly in the world in higher education. Faculty aren’t required to be involved in service to the community in any way, and in fact, would probably be penalized for doing so.

I look at all the young people on the subway and wonder, who is going to give them a chance?

>Chinese Organization of Space

When I lived in New Zealand, counting change was a problem. It took me some time to figure out why this was so difficult! The size of a New Zealand 10 cent piece was the same as a US quarter. And dollars were divided into fifths rather than quarters. I never could do it quickly.

In Hong Kong, keypads for the ATM and elevators are a problem for me. We have ATM machine numbers lined up like a telephone with left to right and top to bottom:
1 2 3
4 5 6
7 8 9

I think we organize elevator buttons in the US left to right, with the lower numbers at the bottom and the higher above

9 10
7 8
5 6
3 4
1 2

But look at the elevator above. HELP! I got into an elevator today with about 25 floors and I could not find the floor 8 button for the life of me! I felt like an idiot! I had to ask someone to find it for me! The order was somehow bottom to top and then starting at the bottom again and going to the top.

At CityU, the elevators are numbered to help people find the right color-coded section of the extended academic building to go up in. I noticed today that the same pattern is true as the elevator numbers as to how they number each elevator in the building. Think of looking down on a blueprint of the first floor of a building, with each elevators assigned a number and they are located on either side of a long corridor. We would number the elevators:

odd side of bldg even side of bldg
3 ———————–4
5———————- 6
7———————– 8
9 ———————- 10

But at CityU, the system of numbering elevators goes something like this:

1———————— 6
2———————— 7
3———————— 8
4———————— 9
5———————– 10

I did a workshop at HK PolyU this week. Even though each of their buildings has a name, they all have block letters also. It is the letters that are used for location. So I was in room BC310. You go up the elevator in Block B or Block C, separated on the ground level, up to the 3rd floor where they are connected. BC means the room is in-between the Block B elevator and the Block C elevator. But the letters of the building’s central elevator shafts are ordered somewhat like CityU’s elevators. So think of each letter as a building. This is how the buildings are arranged in relationship to each other:


I have yet to figure out the ATMs. Every time I go to get cash, I am paralyzed trying to figure out how to find the numbers for my 6 digit code.

>Women in China

>If anyone is interested in understanding women in China, I encourage you to read Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, by Jung Chang. This traces the lives of three generations of women in China, ending with someone about my age who grew up during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Another book I recently finished is emotionally difficult to read and comprehend. It is The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices, by Xue Xinran. She is just a bit older than Jung Chang, the author of the previous book, and was a radio journalist in China. She had a talk show that became very important right after the Cultural Revolution and ended up getting very interested in women’s lives. In the book she tells the stories of a variety of women that she interviewed and her own. It is hard for me to comprehend the total vulnerability and psychological and physical suffering that women have had to confront. You get the sense that there is a lost generation, or perhaps a lost several generations. Xue Xinran has a new book out called Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother that confronts the issue of enfantacide against daughters and the incredible pain that lies underneath society and mothers over this issue. I have not yet been able to get a copy. She is a “truth-teller” that does not let the pain be covered over.

It is hard to find any book about China that is comforting.

>Cultural Diversity and Bureaucracies

>If you asked any American about bureaucracy, they most likely think of “medical system!!!” How many times have you filled out pages of forms for each doctor you visit and perhaps each time you visit. How many bills have you tried to decipher? How many times have you had to call the insurance company to get approval for something or find out why something was not paid? I even get lost trying to find my way out of doctor’s offices, or confused trying to find the place you leave the stack of forms and pay the bill!

I am fascinated with how bureaucracies are focused in different areas in different culture. This week I had to go to the doctor in Hong Kong. I asked a friend how all this worked. She said to call the university clinic and see if I could get an appointment, or there were three walk in times a day–9 a.m., 11:30 a.m., and 2:30 p.m. Imagine that, they plan their schedules for walk ins! I arrived at 11:15 ready to face a bureaucracy similar to getting to use the gym–courses, passport photo for special ID, etc. Here is what I encountered:

I had to show my university ID and they put a little sticker on it with my number for the clinic. To get this I had to fill out a little card with my name, address, and date of birth. they told me I would have to pay HK$150 for the consultation (about $20 US). The person at the window had me lean over and she took my temperature right there by using an ear thermometer. I had no temperature so I got to sit on the non-isolation part of the room, but did have to wear a face mask. Soon they called me up and gave me a form for the doctor and told me to go to room 4–easy to find because it had a big #4 on it. I didn’t have a nurse escort me. I opened the door and the doctor was there in the room. A nurse didn’t weigh me for my sore ear or measure my height, or have to lead me to a room. The doctor looked in my ears, asked me some questions, wrote information on the form I had brought in and told me to put the form in the slot by window 3–easy to find. He was ordering anti-biotics for me and window 3 included a pharmacy. He also said they would give a letter so that if I wasn’t better in 5 days I would have the referral I need to go to an ENT nearby. After putting things in the slot, I waited 5 minutes, got my medicine (at no extra cost), and my referral letter–no need to come back if I didn’t get better. Total time? 30 minutes. Life expectancy in Hong Kong–one of highest in the world.

I have found that the face mask causes your glasses to fog up.

>Uncovering Places

I am fascinated with place names. Since I am a geographer, it is allowed.

I took a class in Roman archaeology as an undergraduate on a semester abroad in England. At our dig site the professor would tell us how the name of a field now, could tell you something about what took place there in Roman times (before 400 AD). Place names are echoes of the past, buried under centuries of history.

When I worked for the Houma tribe in Southern Louisiana my project involved establishing their early presence in the territory in which they now reside. In going through local present-day maps I found an “Indian Point.” I asked local people about this and they didn’t know why it was called Indian Point. I pursued the place name through old land records in the county courthouse. These records showed clearly that Houma tribal members owned land on that point, and in their present territory, much early that commonly thought. Place names do not lie–well at least not unless they are purposefully used to erase someone’s history. The Soviets were certainly good at that.

In Hong Kong I live in Kowloon Tong. There is also a Kwun Tong a few subway stops away. I finally asked someone what “tong” meant. They hadn’t really thought about it a great deal, but it meant “pond.” So I live in an area that once had a pond. Believe me, it is about as far from that now as anything could be! A huge, upscale mall sits in the middle of Kowloon Tong. The mall is called Festival Walk, but the meaning of the Chinese name for the mall is something like, “the little store next door.” It is really not fair that I miss all this meaning around me! And then there are the confused meanings when I think I should know what is going on. I was invited to a concert at City Hall. I couldn’t quite figure out why City Hall should have a concert auditorium, but eventually found out the building had nothing to do with local governance.

Two names that are littered across the Hong Kong landscape, especially in higher education, are Run Run Shaw and Jockey Club. Both City University and University of Hong Kong have Run Run Shaw libraries. Hong Kong Baptist has a Shaw Campus, Chinese University of Hong Kong has a college named Run Run Shaw. At Zhejian University in China there is a Run Run Shaw Hospital. It is never ending! DeVos and VanAndel don’t have anything over this Run Run Shaw person! Who is Run Run Shaw? He and his brother founded the South Seas Film studio in 1930 which later became Shaw studios, growing into a multi-billion dollar TV empire that is now one of the five largest in the world. He was knighted in 1977 and more recently established the Shaw Prize, for scientists in three areas not covered by the Nobel Prize–astronomy, math, and life and medical science. It is called the Nobel Prize of the East. Go Run Run!

I live in Jockey Club Hall. Yes, it is true. But not only is there a Jockey Club Hall at City University, there is one at almost every university. And then there are Jockey Club scholarships, social services agencies, etc. Is this a club of jockey’s? I don’t think of jockeys as being particularly wealthy or committed to phalanthropy. But Hong Kong natives ARE committed to horse racing! I’m told you have to experience one of the race tracks once. Well, maybe. But I did have to explore the meaning of the name of my apartment building. I’m still not quite sure what it is, but it seems that the Jockey Club is an organization that runs a horse-racing and gaming empire, but they have a charitable trust that gave HK$1.37 billion last year to some 100 charities. They must get money from individuals also because under the Living a Legacy on their website they say, “Death tends to be a taboo discussion topic in Chinese society, even though it’s something we all have to face eventually…” Go Jocky Club!

>Site and Situation


Two concepts used to describe and understand the geography nature of cities are “site” and “situation.”

A city’s site is the actual location of a city in terms of its physical characteristics—landforms such as mountains or bays, fresh water supplies, or soil quality for example. New York City is an example of a city whose site included a natural harbor with an unusually long sheltered coastline due to the arrangement of the physical features of the area. Many cities along the eastern part of the United States are located along the physical feature called the Fall Line, where the foothills of the Appalachians reach the coastal plain. This feature provided the opportunity for the development of early water power.

The concept of “situation” is much more fluid. A city’s situation is defined as the location of a place relative to its surroundings and other places—its location relative to elsewhere. Situational features might include accessibility to major transportation routes and resources. New York City grew in importance partially due to its location and accessibility relative to the Hudson River Valley and the Erie Canal, early major commercial routes that gave access to rich agricultural lands. Likewise, the poor site of New Orleans is overshadowed by its unique situation—the place where ocean ships meet river barges bringing the rich resources of the agricultural heartland of the U.S. to the world. Situational characteristics that affect places are extremely changeable.

Before I came to Hong Kong, it was a “site” in the most minimalist terms in my mind. It was an island and mainland area along the coast with a subtropical climate and I think I knew that it was mountainous, but now I’m not even sure how clear I was on that. If the site was pretty vague in my mind, the situation was perhaps even more so. I knew it had been part of the British colonial empire and returned to China in 1997, so in some ways, its relationship to the UK was stronger in my mental image of its situation than its relationship with China.

So what have I learned about the site of Hong Kong? Hong Kong is built on volcanic and granitic rock—85% of the total land area—that form mountains and hills with steep slopes. It actually includes a group of islands, including Hong Kong Island, along with a land area on the mainland. The highest peaks are almost 1000 meters (3000 feet). What is significant about this? The arrangements of the islands and mainland, much like New York City, provided for an extra long coastal area that allowed for the development of port terminals. This was Hong Kong’s great advantage over Macau. While the mountains have restricted some development, the hard bedrock certainly allow for the building on skyscrapers. And water has always been a challenge in Hong Kong. Imagine about 7000 people living in this rugged landscape when the British arrived and now there are seven million people. But there are few natural lakes or rivers, and no substantial groundwater—granite is not a great aquifer rock body. This is why there are many country parks in the mountains. These are the areas where dams were build to create reservoirs to provide water for the growing population.

And its situation? Imagine the situation up until 1997—growing population, limited fresh water, and a hostile country next door. Many of the water projects related to this context. In one area they even closed off the ocean, pumped out the sea water, and let fresh water accumulate. Today most of the water comes from the Dongiiang River in China and seawater is used for toilet flushing to limit demand for freshwater. The reservoirs are in a sense a backup in case they get backed against the wall. But this change in source of water represents both a real and metaphorical change in situation for Hong Kong.

Before 1997, Hong Kong was a significant outpost of a major western power—Great Britain was at their back. Now imagine the change. Hong Kong is now a Special Administrative Region of the Peoples Republic of China. Hong Kong has 7 million people. The PRC has more than 1 billion people with cities like Guangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing, etc. And the economic power of the PRC in enormous. Imagine what would happen if all the universities in Hong Kong had to accept students from the PRC on a competitive basis with local students? Imagine trying to negotiate your way toward a more representative form of government with Beijing? What is to keep all the major financial institution in Hong Kong, now that China is open for business? Many of the eduational changes taking place in Hong Kong are driven by a concern that the Hong Kong SAR will become a backwater, a minor player in the Chinese context. The “situation” has been changed by the decisions of two of the world’s major players and Hong Kong is left trying to sort out the results. Hong Kong’s water source has changed.

>Residency Requirement

>How long do you have to have spend in a place to say that you have lived there? What is the cultural residency requirement?

On my last sabbatical, which we spent in New Zealand, I remember talking with my older daughter about two months out. I asked her why she thought we had come to New Zealand to stay for more than four months. She quickly replied, “because it takes two months to get used to everything.” There does tend to be something almost magical that takes place at around two months. After two months in New Zealand I had mastered driving on the left and begun to match the way Maori place names were spelled with how they were pronounced. We all knew what the All Blacks were and who Helen Clark was. I had started to master the names of all the bays of New Zealand, used as geographic markers in conversations. And life took on a routine. And we had come to know Great Barrier Island.

I went through a similar, though shorter adjustments when we lived in Guelph, Ontario for 3 months. By two months I had found the best route to walk to the university. We knew where the different grocery stores were. We had discovered that Canadian Tire did not sell many tires, but we could find household items there. My favorite potato peeler is still in my kitchen drawer at home, acquired that summer. After two months we had found our favorite places to walk and visit when friends came. We knew that when someone told us to turn right at the Ontario Hydro facility, we did not need to look for water, but a power station. And we had fallen in love with the Niagara escarpment, having traced it from Niagara Falls to Tobermory.

I was much more purposeful, intentional, and conscious of our adjustment to Hong Kong. Karis and I talked about it before we left and she said she knew we were going to have an adjustment.

Probably that magical moment came earlier than two months. What are the signs? I just showed somebody where the Chinese Resource Building was on HK Island, how to get a visa, where to find the line, and where to go to get Starbucks coffee after you had gone through the process. We now ride the subway without having to look at our guide (mostly) and take some buses. I can get in a taxi and explain myself in various ways that result in getting near to home–which works because I recognize the neighborhood and can then find my way. In fact we are learning the SHORTEST ways home.

I am comfortable taking my walk which takes me through an estate development, down to an athletic field, and back along my street to stop at the Wellcome grocery store for a few things, and then pick up a South China Post newspaper at the 7-11 on my way home. And I will be the only non-Asian along the entire route. And I can count change without having to just hold my hand out with a pocketful of coins for the clerk to choose from.

The CityU guard and I greet each other every morning as I go past his post on my way into the tunnel that goes from CityU to Festival Walk and my office. And the young man at the Starbucks just looks at me and says: skinny capaccino grande?

OK. And I just found the full length mirror which was on the back side of a closet door I rarely use.