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The Vice-Chancellor / President’s Blog
Having just ‘come home’ to Hong Kong after a long ‘journey’ abroad, and with Chinese New Year just around the corner, many of my childhood fond memories have come rushing to my mind.
I was the first Hong Kong born child among my father’s Anhui compatriots who had come as refugees to this southern city. Not surprisingly, my father’s friends, and particularly his former associates and subordinates from his former Army command who held him in high respect, all doted on me. Naturally, my customary New Year greetings to my elders were invariably rewarded with ‘red envelopes’ that carried a handsome windfall! I remember well the always exciting shopping trips with my mother to the Wong Tai Sin and Kowloon City markets, coming home with loads of New Year special treats, consisting of bags of sweet melon, coconut strips, lotus seeds, melon seeds, dates, and many other mouth-watering goodies. While mother was busy getting everything ready for the New Year, I would help to pile all the goodies high and neat on the large, decorative plate in the middle of the dinner table, ready for picking for many days of festivities!
My time with my father was often as a helper in preparing crispy Dan San (蛋饊), the bowtie shaped fried pastry. Dad was an absolute expert! He would prepare the well-kneaded dough, roll it into a thin sheet, slice it into rectangular pieces, make a clean slit in the middle, and hand them to me. My assignment was to carefully fold the pieces over and through the slit in the middle to form butterfly bowties, decorate them with sesame seeds, thinly sprinkle them with some dry flour, and lay them on a tray, while Dad was preparing the hot pot of oil over the charcoal stove. When the oil was hot and ready, I would help to slowly and carefully lower the floppy pieces of soft dough into the hot oil, and watch them gradually turn into golden, crispy, and absolutely delicious Dan San! What a wonderful and memorable transformation! Turning a soft piece of dough into a crispy piece of butterfly bowtie required skill, care and patience; every time I messed up, I would have to start the whole process again, rolling the pieces back into a lump of dough, which would need to be turned into a thin slice again. Proper frying also required oil of the right temperature. My father often told me that making the perfect golden brown New Year crispy treat depended on skill, care, and patience, and the willingness to correct one’s mistakes and start over. When I reflect upon those wonderful childhood days, I must admit that these are indeed some of the most important lessons one should learn in life.
The Chinese New Year is always a time for family reunion. Regrettably, during my childhood days, my parents and I were separated from my grandparents and other relatives on the mainland, so we could only send them our good wishes from afar. In many ways, Chinese New Year is like the Thanksgiving holiday in the US, my home for many decades, and in my mind, the common theme is the expression and sharing of gratitude and thanks. We all came to this world empty-handed, and along the way, we have all come to be blessed—family, friends, health, happiness, and love. It is important that we are thankful and grateful for all the blessings that have brightened our way along each of our life’s long and winding road. The New Year gives us pause to consider and be grateful for all the good things that have happened to us over the past year, including our health and the company of those who love and care about us. Life is first and foremost about all the small and everyday things.
I sincerely wish every member of the CUHK community many happy returns of the New Year!