I am again leaving Hong Kong at the end of my latest stay. Now it is the 11th year, since the territory was my home and later my destination. The tree I planted five years ago in the jungle of Lamma Island has been succeeding in its struggle for light, and is now ranking above the bushes. The Bauhinia tree in front of my guesthouse window, at the steep edge of the campus of the University of Hong Kong, blossomed late this year. It was an exceptionally warm autumn. I will continue returning to Asia in the years to come. Even though Hong Kong is in a self induced decay, it is still a base in the centre of an exciting world region. And when it further merges in the Pearl River Delta region, it will also have a broader role to play again. Never the less, the size of such, is not why I am here anyway.
The University of Hong Kong
Following the advise not to do physical exercise after receiving my influenza vaccination (colloquially also known as flu shot or even "jab" for those who prefer to speak reduced vocabulary), I decided to instead visit the University Museum and Art Gallery of The University of Hong Kong. This is one of the few cultural stepping stones, you may set foot on when walking the territory, and not wanting to dip into shopping malls and crowds. I was attracted this time by the photo exhibition featuring the pictures of the Hungarian the surgeon Dr. Dezső Bozóky, taken during his travels in East Asia 1907-1909, and illustrating his impressions by quotes from his diary. As we all know, it was a very different Hong Kong back then.
I liked the exhibition a lot (which will be on until January 8th), and also I spent quite some time with studying the catalogue which is a documentation of views and thoughts by the visiting photographer from a different time. It is available for 150 HK$ (about 18 Euros) in the museum's tea house, which is also recommended, and one of the places I like to hang out when I am here. The rest of the museum is either redecorating or lost a few of its exhibits from the accessible areas. But it is still a nice place with a long gone Hong Kong spirit.
Last Saturday I taught the last class of my course on "Management Consulting" in the MBA Programme of The University of Hong Kong. As often said, you learn things by teaching them. It is because, you have to do the abstraction first, before you can teach. And in this case, I enjoyed it even more, because I had very smart students. My guest speakers, Joanne Ooi, Thomas Lesinski and Feibai made it even more colorful. Great fun. This, and of course the very nice faculty interaction at the Faculty of Business and Economics, made me decide that I will come back later this year. For now, it is time to say thank you and good bye. But also, as it is a term in anglo-american environments: take care and stay in touch. And I mean it.
After a whole day teaching on Saturday, our Sunday was quiet and we started off with a long morning walk up to the little and less visited summits around The Peak. I will resume on the basic concept of not working on weekends, I think. As our next stop is Australia, this will come quite naturally, I guess. In the afternoon, we went to a movie theatre to see a performance of National Theatre Live in London. It is really a great idea for a Performing Arts venue, to reach out to a world audience this war. Very well made.
We watched Frankenstein with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller. Watch trailer by clicking here. It was amazing. Of course, it is different than being in the theatre in London. But it also has its advantages, as you have the best angles through the camera and are not bound to your seat. The performance itself was spectacular. I was shivering in my seat, not because it is "horror", but because of the way the rather deep story was represented. Back to the campus, I swiftly signed up for their Newsletter (which I do rarely) and started to re-read Mary Shelley's novel.
Since I have arrived in Hong Hong I have been preparing course material, teaching a class of smart students at HKU, and catching up with friends. The week passed by very quickly, and perhaps I should have scheduled more than a month in town. But we can always come back. Yesterday, we visited my friend Magnus Barlett in his habitat on Lamma Island - the publisher of wonderful books and maps and owner of Odyssey Publishing Company. It is always a nice trip over to the island, specially off the beaten tracks. Sure, there is a bit of melancholy swinging for me when setting foot on the island. There were times I thought I should have never left it, perhaps like the pianist in the movie 1900. We had coffee on his sunny terrace and seafood, as you should never miss it, when you come here. Magnus' parents were painters and at his wall, in his study, he has a painting by his father, showing a bedroom in their house in Greece. It immediately resonated with me, like Chambre a Arles. I like it a lot.
When I left the Blacks College Guesthouse today, this was not only a farewell to this peaceful habitat for visiting academics. It was also not only the end of my summer lectures in Hong Kong. It was the end of being a Professor for five years - a time in which I have taught over 3000 students, executives, government officials and managers. Yes, I taught a lot. But I learned even more. This was a time in which I had the freedom to choose any perspective on any topic and explore it. Education is a lifestyle and I had the privilege to have a five year break from the corporate world, generously supported by the Volkswagen AG, which I will join again in December.
The list of people I want to thank is long. But it clearly starts with those who made it possible at all, that this experiment could be done at all. It was Professor KC Chan, the former Dean of The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology Business School and now Treasurer of The Government of Hong Kong, who replied by e-mail on his Blackberry and invited me over. It were Professor Steve DeKrey, the Senior Associate Dean, and Chris Tsang, the Diector of the MBA Programme, who pushed for practitioners in Business Education. Professor Gary Biddle, the former Dean of The University of Hong Kong Faculty of Business and Economics, who entrusted me the launch of EMBA Global Asia with London Business School and Columbia University Business School. Professor Chris Chan, the former Dean and Director of the HKU MBA Programme and now Dean of the Cornell University Hospitality School in Singapore, helped with advise and shared his experience how to run a programme during this time. Sachin Tipnis, the current Executive Director of the HKU MBA, I wish all the best for running and contiunue building the programme. Thanks also for the support of Dean Eric Cheung and Professor Amy Lau, the Director of the School of Business, and Professor Mervyn Peart, the former Head of the Geography Department. Thanks also to my colleagues for sharing whit and wisdom, the aministative staff for making possible things first impossible and then possible again. Last but not least, I thank the students for not choosing the easy way and for making my experience in and beyond the classroom a very memorable one.
Sometimes I am asked whether it was "worth it". Well, when I leave now, I do it with a better understanding of the world we live in. I have seen countries, people and ideas which I would not have seen otherwise. I built friendship with people I would have never met. Whether this is worth it, everybody has to answer for himself. For me it was and always will be.
Just finished my second of 10 weeks summer teaching. After that I will be involved in more traveling and from December work again "in corporate", as my 5 years sabbatical is then over. This time feels a bit like decades ago when I went to work after graduation with thousands of ideas. Back then I was lucky to find environments that were very conducive in turning ideas into projects, products and profits. And I feel the same excitement when I will return to Volkwagen in December. Just a few differences are that I do not graduate from University, but I am a Professor. And then there is this strange difference, that I feel short breath when I run up a mountain and somehow 4 times 50 push ups as morning gymnastics don't come so easy any more. But other things come much easier.
Of course I am asked a lot, whether such a sabbatical "makes sense". Depends a bit on what "makes sense" means. Efficiency and "having new ideas" (I deliberately don't use the term "innovation") seem to be bi-polar forces. If you are only efficient by staying on the strait path then you have no new ideas. And if you only have new ideas, then you get nothing done. So, playing with both of them seems the key to "getting new things done". Perhaps this is the true sense of "creativity" in terms of creating something. And after 5 years being inefficient, I am exactly looking forward to do that: getting new ideas on the road - and I mean this not as a metaphor, but quite literally.
As I have just now the teaching load (that's how they call it strangely) of two tenured Professors (104 man weeks) in only 10 weeks, I am actually ten times more busy if you see it in teaching density. Having said that, I already see myself getting lynched on the lift to the Senior Common Room next week: "Did you just say we are lazy? ..." ... Nono, you are just so much more creative! Better have a drink. But only one for me, because I (!) have to get up early, haha!
I have the privilege of staying in an Ivory Tower for 8 weeks, which is the Blacks College Guest House of The University of Hong Kong. At the breakfast table, I am surrounded by very nice people from all over the world, visiting the University. Some of them are “old fellows”, which mostly have spent their lives in academia, others are young academics who start this path. Because my own lectures are mostly in the evening, there is still time to run up to the Victoria Peak, do one or two rounds on the trail around it, and return. Summer has arrived and it is really a quite demanding exercise. On the way, mostly older Hong Kongers are doing similar routes - everybody at his/her own speed. The former Pinewood Battery plateau is a gymnastic an Tai Chi place in the early morning. People know each other, are relaxed and in a good mood and very friendly. Most of them are actually amazingly fit. Also some younger ones are up and running. But most of them have to get ready for their office cubical (and don’t like physical things anyway). But this seems to be “the other Hong Kong”, because these attributes are bipolar to what the city is in other parts. The scene reminded me of the movie “Morgens um Sieben ist die Welt noch in Ordnung” (At seven in the morning the world is still in order). I guess there must be an old Hong Kong Movie which describes better what I mean. Some of the fellows from the breakfast table, also run and walk around the steep forest slopes behind Pokfulam. Well, education is a way of life. And a nice one.
The University Museum and Art Gallery, which is hosting an exhibition called “Dance Melodies in Colors” featuring paintings of Lalan (Xie Jinglan, 1921-1995). The picture above shows, Enraged Tree, from 1969. It reminded me why I am here, and that the few weeks might be one of the last chances to explore the city a bit more. Let’s see, because the time will be also overpacked with lectures. I already witnessed the final round of the HSBC / McKinsey business case competition which was hosted by HKU and saw how the team from the National University of Singapore (NUS) outperformed all local competition easily. They were really great. The only team which came close was from Tsinghua University. They were also very good, but got caught in the final round by a topic, they were not familiar with (coffee farming in Laos). Anyway, both of the finalists: well done and congratulations to NUS.
Tonight I start my lectures off with “Decision and Risk Analysis”. This is always a fun course, because we have to bring so many dimensions together, ranging from the very technical to the very human. Students usually squeak a bit when it comes to maths. But in the end I hope some are convinced that the “scientific method” makes sense also for some unstructured problems.