>University of Shantou


Classrooms open onto the outside.

The hills surrounding the campus and Shantou are just rocks.

The two students who gave me a campus tour.

New library–the faculty say it lacks materials for students to use.

Main administration building.

Sculpture in the reservoir which was created to allow the valley below to be developed for the university.

I visited the University of Shantou this week. Shantou is about one hour flight north of Hong Kong in Guangdong province. The university was financed primarily by a Hong Kong businessman with roots in this part of China. The campus was built in the 1980s and designed by the same Swiss architect that designed the Birdsnest in Beijing.

It was the international studies center that invited me to come and give a talk and meet with students and faculty. This unit is the only one to really teach “liberal arts” courses in the university. Most of the faculty are philosophy/anthropology background in the center: an American born faculty member married to a Greek national but they will return to Denmark where they lived for many years; a German married to a Chinese woman; A Chinese faculty member who lived in Japan for 18 years prior to coming to Shantou; an American who had the region has her study area for her dissertation and has stayed and been there for ten years; several faculty who are from Hong Kong and continue to live in Hong Kong but in Shantou during the week.

This is not a regional university rather than a top ranked national one. The students primarily come from more rural areas and are first generation college students. The faculty describe the students as particularly open, but go through extreme changes when they come to university because they go through the process of modernization all at once. The faculty in this program provide real mentoring for students who are seeking a different route for themselves. I met two wonderful young people whose stories particularly moved me. One young man is finishing up his journalism degree, but badly wants to be a grade school teacher. Another young woman is the top chemistry student but wants to be a social worker. Their stories are so typical–they enter the university through a testing process and have little choice when they come in and less once they are in a program. Unless they can find a way forward they face a work life that does not connect to their interests. The faculty in this unit become important in helping these types of students to try to find cracks through which they can crawl to shape their futures. It is such an incredible waste of humanity.

I sat in on a critical thinking class. It was a seminar-style course and students were working though some logic questions. What a challenge! They were trying to work on logic cases and problems in English that made subtle verbal distinctions.

The faculty told me that students are in class 24 hours a week, so little homework is ever done. Class time is the course time. They then are taking about 8 classes at a time. Of course the requirements that all must take is Maoism–which students told me was the most boring course of all. You could just find the answers to questions in the handouts so you didn’t really have to study. It is more like a junior college or trade school. What happens is that they then complete their coursework early (three years) and spend the last year trying to find a job and an internships. Faculty are paid very little. In some universities faculty have second and third jobs in order to make a living.

In Hong Kong and in many international publications, you are left with the impression that China is investing in higher education, but these faculty say it is just in buildings. They think highly of the Hong Kong higher education system and I have to say that it is much, much better than what I saw here.

I was left with the impression that these faculty will not be there forever. Shantou is somewhat remote, though a high speed train will link it to Guangzhou in the next couple years. But also, people get tired out by the Chinese government and lack of transparency. When I asked a group of this faculty what they loved about China, they moved into a frank conversation about not liking China. Why were they there? Obviously they loved the students. One stayed because it continued to present “cultural” challenges daily–it was stimulating and seemed to be a place where things were happening. Another quoted a famous author who said: “I love my wife.” Another had a wife who loved China, otherwise he would have been gone by now. They liked individuals, but not China or the region. They discovered in our conversation that they were all quite pessimistic in terms of the future of China. Corruption, lack of transparency, environmental pollution, and bureaucracy abound.

This pessimism was seen in the students who attended my lecture. I talked about climate change and they have no hope that will anything will change in China. The country is on a trajectory and they have no voice, no hope. This is in such contrast to my American students who are engaged, particularly with the Obama campaign. They are engaged in environmental issues, justice issues, etc.

It was a sobering visit. It might be quite difficult teaching in a place where you feel like you can only help students leave if you can. China is losing its future.

>The Port of Hong Kong


Hong Kong (which means fragrant harbor), is an entrepot for Southern China since the original British traders settled after obtaining Hong Kong Island from the Chinese. (An entrepot is a place where goods are taken off one type of transportation, sorted, stored, and then distributed out again.)

If you are interested in that history, an excellent historic novel is Taipan. The novel portrays how many thought that Hong Kong Island was merely a “rock” and not worth having. It is similar to views in the U.S. on the purchase of Alaska–“Seward’s Icebox; Seward’s Folly.” These skeptics were soon proven wrong. Like NYC, Hong Kong island and Kowloon peninsula have together a long coastline for port facilities. In addition, this harbor is deep and offers a safe haven for ships while being in close proximity to the Pearl River Delta Region. The Pearl River Delta region is a huge industrial region in southern China.

In the past, cargo was taken off ships by longshoremen. But gradually the world has gone to packaging everything in containers. These containers are the size of semi-truck trailers or train cars. This saves in labor and time. Hong Kong has been such a container port for almost 40 years. What you see in a container port are the rows of hoists that move containers around the port and on and off ships. If you’ve ever seen a ship loaded with containers, it looks very top heavy and you wonder what keeps it from tipping over. Oceanographers study Pacific Ocean currents by tracing cargo that has fallen off such ships.

In 2009, Hong Kong ports handed 21.0 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs). The port is a major hub port with container ships going to over 500 destinations worldwide.

The port is the key to Hong Kong’s continued economic prosperity, and that prosperity is tied to Southern China. Hong Kong, handles 89% of the total cargo that flows through Hong Kong. And about 70% of container traffic handled in Hong Kong is related to Southern China.

In 2009, 205,510 ships, comprising both ocean-going vessels and river trade vessels for cargo and passenger traffic, visited the port of Hong Kong.



I visited the Clear Water Country Park, an area the juts out from the Kowloon Peninsula into the South China Sea on the east side of Kowloon. We walked above the fishing village of Po Toi O where many aquaculture plots were seen. Small fish are put into the enclosures and very little feed is actually required and when they are a good size they are sold, providing quite a good living for local villagers. Fishing regulations are very lax in Hong Kong–even more so than China. In New Zealand it is a very rigorous process for getting a license to establish aquaculture plots–research on flow of water, etc. need to be done. In Hong Kong the locals are able to continue to put the plots in the same place with high levels of fish droppings below.

In spite of this, on this east side of Hong Kong, the fish are good. A strong current comes down past Taiwan and washes out the toxins on this side of the Hong Kong. A great deal of pollution is released into the waters on the west side because of all the industrial development in the Pearl River Delta. The only way to know for sure where your fish come from is to go to a restaurant right by the waterfront 🙂

>Inland Revenue Service

>Alas, I had to take on the challenge of dealing with two years of income taxes in Hong Kong. Their tax year ends March 31, so my time here is split over two tax years. In addition, I can’t leave Hong Kong unless I have a release saying that my taxes have been paid.

I had just files my US taxes–I can’t tell you how many pages made up my federal, state, and local returns–it was too many to count at any rate.

So here is what I did in Hong Kong: two single page forms were send by my employer to the Inland Revenue Office of Hong Kong. One was for last tax year, and one was related to stating that my employment was ending in Hong Kong on June 8. I also was given copies of the form.

I went to the Revenue office on Hong Kong Island. I arrived at the building at 8:45 a.m., took a number, and was soon called and sent up to the 25th floor. Someone there looked at my copy of the form, had me show them verification that I had a daughter, took it all to a case manager, came back and had me fill out a simple form by hand with my present and future address. I will be sent a release letter within a week. I left with the name and telephone number of the case manager. Total tax liability? $0. Total time spend? 35 minutes.

Afterwards I had a capaccino at Starbucks across the street and read a newspaper. Total time spend? 40 minutes. Cost? $31 HK

>Placenames and language revisited

My colleagues are amused that though I don’t know how to say “good morning” in Cantonese, I have figures out that “po” means inlet; “wan” means bay; “kok” means corner; “tong” means pond; and that I noticed that two stops on the MTR, Chai Wan and Wan Chai are, in fact, not the same Chinese characters merely with their order switched. Why is it that I can remember placenames and their meaning, but not “good morning?”

Karis and I have had discussions over the issue of sarcasm in language. As it turns out, Chinese cannot read sarcasm through tone–the means we use to denote this in English. I asked a linguist about this and he said that there is an article that is put at the end of a phrase to denote sarcasm in Chinese.

I asked colleagues what a rooster says in Cantonese. They looked at me strangely, and had no idea. They don’t do numerous animals sounds with their children! Dog and cat are about the limit. So, you wonder, when we are endlessly playing the game with out toddlers, “what does a cow say?…” What are they saying to their toddlers?

>How we are forever changed…

>Karis and I are now moving into closure and reflection mode. Whenever you live abroad, certain aspects of the host culture become integrated into your own personal lives–they have so influenced you that you can’t leave them behind. Sometimes it is a phrase that is so perfect in its meaning that you keep using it. Other times it is a holiday or national emblem that now has meaning to you. While these don’t often appear to be profound, I believe they do represent a deeper integration cross-culturally.

Years ago I lived in southern Louisiana where they spoke Cajun French. I still find myself saying “come see (ici)” rather than “come here.” Certainly we hang out our New Zealand flag, support the All Blacks rugby team (a problem in the recent movie where its was the South Africans who were the underdogs), and having a deeper understanding of the Haka war dance that the All Blacks do prior to each game. We sometimes do our own version at home behind closed doors. And I continue to say, “no worries” and occasionally but less often, “good on you” (as in gudonyah), or fizzy drink for soda or pop.

What are we thinking about as we move toward closure in Hong Kong? I find myself ending emails that acknowledge the receipt of something with “noted with thanks.” During Chinese New Year I could not help myself from imaging others by ending emails with “Wishing you well in the Year of the Tiger.” These phrases represent a beautiful sense of graciousness that I have grown to appreciate in Hong Kong. This week Karis came to school in the rain and a school guard insisted in holding the umbrella over her and then gave her the umbrella. One of my colleagues brought me a cup of tea when she knew I had a headache. When I arrive at a meeting each place is set with a bottle of water, paper and pencil. When I have given a lecture, I am often given a small token of appreciation such a pen with the university insignia on it. And you are never handed anything with one hand–for example you give your business card to people using both hands. I am to the point where I find myself feeling like I am quite rude when I hand money to a clerk with only one hand. I’m not sure I will ever be able to fully revert to the Western way of handing out or over items, and I think I am going to have to have a stash of gifts to give visitors or speakers.

All these cultural gifts are what I would call “lagniappe,” using a Louisiana term–the little extra gift, a 13 piece dozen.

They are here noted with thanks.

>Escalator Commuting


If you are commuting on the escalator, beware!

Cities build on steep hills each have their special “places.” In Wellington, there were the Plimmer Stairs–a foot route that goes from the main street downtown Wellington up the side of the hill on which the city is built. At the bottom of the stairs you find a statue of Plimmer, an historic figure in the city. In San Francisco everyone has to see Lombard Street.

In Hong Kong I finally went and found “the escalator” after I met someone who commuted daily using this route. The escalator is actually a series of escalators that goes from near the Central Station up to the midlevels on Hong Kong Island. Like San Francisco and Wellington, this is no little change in elevation! The escalators only go UP and have carport type coverings so they are all outside. Steps follow the escalators so that those going down have to walk.

I have added yet one more type of transportation to my life list of transportation modes.