Sunday, October 28, 2007

Asia Photos

I've been doing some sightseeing here in Hong Kong and taking a lot of photos so I decided to put some online. Feel free to take a look at my Asia Photo Collection if you like. I'll be posting more as I get the chance. Since I've seen some great photos of the Hong Kong skyline and harbor taken from Victoria Peak, I went there with my camera a few weeks ago hoping to get some good shots myself. However, I found out that's impossible on most days due to the high degree of pollution in Hong Kong these days. From the peak, you couldn't even see the harbor with the thick layer of smog filling the sky. I've had better luck at some other locations though.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Chinese Students Choose EU Over US

An article in yesterday's edition of China Daily mentions that more Chinese students are attending universities in the European Union than the United States. While a few years ago, the U.S. was clearly thought to be the best place to get a college education, that view seems to be changing. Here in Hong Kong, students seem to talk about wanting to study in England, Australia, and Canada as much as they do about the U.S. While U.S. universities are still a fairly popular destination, they aren't by any means the only destination of choice.

I can't say that I'm too surprised since I've definitely noticed a decline in the quality of the American higher eduucation system over my 12 years teaching. Universities have become more business-oriented, focusing primarily on recruiting and keeping students (which translates into profitability through tuition) as well as fund raising. Obviously, universities have to be concerned with being financially solvent and there's nothing inherently wrong with that, but if its at the expense of educational standards, there's likely to be some negative long-term consequences.

I've personally witnessed a strong trend toward stressing entertainment in the university setting. What used to be considered "extracurricular activities" have risen to a level at least equal to (if not above) classes. Even in the classroom, there is a great deal of pressure on professors to provide entertainment in their courses. I'm by no means opposed to extracurricular activities (which can be a very important part of the college experience) or to making classes entertaining as much as possible. However, I think this can be taken to extremes which tends to result in less focus on academic rigor, dummying down of course content, and less educated graduates. As American universities are focusing more on entertainment and profitability, maybe non-U.S. universities have an opportunity to take over in terms of providing the best education. I've noticed during my limited experience so far in Hong Kong, that academic standards seem to be a bit higher than what I'm used to in the U.S.

It may be that trying so hard to satisfy students short-term interest in being entertained while in college may not be in their best long-term interest. Of course, if recruiting students and keeping them for 4 years is the overriding concern, then it may not matter so much what happens to them after the 4 years is over. I guess it just depends on what your priorities. are.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Asian Millionaires

An article in today's issue of China Daily describes the relatively high degree of growth in Asian millionaires. According to the article, Asia's economic growth helped 200,000 people enter the millionaire club in 2006. The number of people worth at least a million US dollars in the Asia-Pacific region increased by 8.6% in 2006 to 2.6 million, constituting 27% of the world's millionaires according to a study by Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc.
Overall, the wealth of Asian millionaires was $8.4 trillion, with Japan accounting for 43% and China about 20%. Of course a million ain't worth what it used to be so for those of you who aren't impressed, the Asian region's share of super-rich (with assets over $30 million) increased by 12.2% to 17,500, exceeding the global rate of 11.3%.
What does all this mean? I don't know for sure, but it seems to be another of many indications that Asia is experiencing greater economic growth than the rest of the world. Also, maybe it means I should move here permanently to have better odds of becoming a millionaire.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Lingnan Congregation

Lingnan University had its Congregation ceremony for last term's graduates today. I attended the ceremony for undergraduate and graduate students. Although the ceremony is very similar to what I've experienced at American universities, there may be a bit of a cultural difference reflected. While parents here are as proud of their sons and daughters as anywhere else, the audience applauds respectfully for each graduate as their name is announced. In the U.S., there's sometimes almost a competitive aspect to the proceedings as parents, relatives and/or friends in attendance try to outcheer or outscream others. Sometimes it even seems a bit like a circus with whistles and all kinds of other noisemakers. While this is merely a way of celebrating, maybe it also illustrates the difference between an extremely individualistic culture such as that of the U.S. and the more community-oriented culture of the Chinese.

In addition, Lingnan's new president, Yuk-shee Chan was officially installed in a ceremony attended by Hong Kong's Chief Executive Donald Tsang, who put his foot in his mouth a few days ago by saying that democracy might lead to a Cultural_Revolution-like climate (see this article). Mr. Tsang kept away from such controversial statements at Lingnan.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Brits Get Rich in China

I found this series of videos on YouTube about British entrepreneurs seeking their fortunes in China. It seems a bit sensationalistic to me, but kind of interesting. It shows the naive "gold rush" mentality many foreigners have about doing business in China (very cheap labor & 1.3 billion people to sell to) and how they routinely find out that easy money isn't usually easy and doing business in China has many pitfalls as well as opportunities. Here's Part 1 of the series & the other parts can be found here.

Monday, October 8, 2007

China: Taking Over the Internet

Asia is already the region of the world with the greatest Internet use and this is extremely likely to remain the case for the foreseeable future. In fact, Asia's share of Internet use is very likely to increase as more and more of the huge populations of China and India (1.3 billion and 1.1 billion respectively) get connected. Here are some Internet statistics that I find very interesting. Based on the numbers, it doesn't take a genius to realize that Asia, and especially China, is the place to be for many types of Internet-oriented businesses.

China is clearly the country with the greatest potential for growth. There are already 162 million people in China with Internet access (not even including Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan), second only to the United States' 211 million. China is almost guaranteed to overtake the U.S. within a decade or so since the percentage of the population with Internet access is still only about 13%, leaving huge room for growth. The United States is over 60% as are other highly-developed countries Japan and South Korea. China's economic growth has averaged around 10% annually for the past 10 years (the highest of any country in the world) and this is resulting in a rising percentage of the population being raised out of poverty with discretionary income to spend on things like Internet access. China curently has about 1.31 million websites which is about a 60% increase from 2006 and continues to increase rapidly.

If all this isn't impressive enough, China currently has over 600 million mobile phones which means that about one out of five mobile phone users in the world is Chinese.

Internet statistics are available on the Internet at the Internet World Statistics website.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Special Olympics in China

Next year, China will host the summer Olympics which, in addition to its importance as an international sporting event, will also be a spectacular showcase for China to the rest of the world. However, there's been a lot of news coverage lately about the Special Olympics currently being held in Shanghai, China (see this article or this one for example). This year's Special Olympics will involve 7,500 athletes with intellectual disabilities, including 1200 Chinese athletes (the largest national team in Special Olympics history).

The importance of this occurence can't be underestimated for many reasons. For one, this is the first time the Special Olympics has been held in Asia where people with disabilities haven't generally received the same degree of support that they get in the U.S. and other Western nations. China, with its 1.3 billion population, obviously has a large number of disabled citizens - its estimated that there are over 60 million people with disabilities in China. Historically, the disabled were mostly hidden away at home in China and received little government support. Since the 1990's, that's started to change gradually with the enactment of laws protecting people with disabilities, government support programs and aid from private organizations.

Last Summer, while co-teaching a study abroad course from Belmont University, we visited a school for the disabled in Nanjing (see accompanying photos). Out of the many exciting things we saw in China, this was one of the experiences that seemed to stand out the most for the students. While the school was nothing special by American standards in terms of its facilities, it was clear from the dedication of the staff and the attitudes of the students that they were getting education, training and attention that could help them lead better lives. One of the teachers told us that some of these students were barely functional before coming to the school, whereas with the training and support they received, they could communicate and express themselves reasonably well, despite their disabilities. Hopefully, the publicity from the Special Olympics in China will lead to increased attention being focused on helping the disabled in China and elsewhere.