Appearances can be deceptive
Dear students, parents and teachers of Ning Po College,
I delivered a talk at an awards conferment ceremony at Ning Po College on 26 January 2018 in a pair of running shoes.
A doctor had advised me to wear slippers after I had injured my foot running the Standard Chartered Marathon the weekend before. Thinking that I was attending a fairly formal occasion, I put on a pair of running shoes instead in spite of the pain.
After I arrived at the campus, I ran into the school supervisor, who asked out of curiosity after spying the sporty footwear, "Where did you just come from?" This seemed to be an innocent enough question. He might have been asking where I physically came from or the location of my hometown.
There were several possible answers: I came from Kowloon Tong; or I came to Hong Kong from the US nine years ago; I went to the US from Taiwan more than 40 years ago; or I was born more than 60 years ago in Taiwan and grew up there; or I came from Hebei on the mainland from my father's generation and earlier.
The question could have been referring to my profession, in which case I could have replied that I worked in the education sector or that my profession was engineering.
And I could have replied to him that I was wearing running shoes because I had participated in the recent Standard Chartered Marathon.
It was difficult to genuinely know what the question was referring to, but I have to assume that I was being judged by my look. This is, of course, a common occurrence in life. We've probably all encountered people judging others by their appearance, i.e. their look, clothes, behaviour and the way they talk.
Common sense tells us we shouldn't do it, just as the old Chinese saying states that water in the ocean cannot be measured by buckets. But even Confucius was guilty. He once reproached himself, saying "It was a mistake that I judged Ziyu by his appearance," apologising for not having given Ziyu due attention at first because Confucius hadn't thought him very talented judging by his homely looks.
In fact, it is not only people who get judged in such a shallow way. We do the same to other areas of life, too. For example, I have been invited to deliver talks or attend ceremonies at local high schools many times over the past ten years since I first came to work in Hong Kong. Every time I go, I ask students about their university choices. More often than not, they tell me that they prioritise a well-known local university even if the discipline of their choice is not that well regarded there.
When I press then for details, asking them for their impression of CityU, they often say that CityU is too young, not knowing that engineering at CityU is ranked among the top three in greater China, even counting in universities in mainland China and Taiwan. As a matter of fact, CityU's engineering is second only to Tsinghua University in Beijing.
Also, the students tend not to know that CityU's business studies ranks second in the whole of Asia or that other disciplines like linguistics, media, accounting and finance, mathematics, social policy and management, among others, rank among the top 50 in the whole world. It may be meaningless just to talk about rankings. CityU, in its endeavour to integrate teaching and research and promote overseas exchange, actually does even better than the credit shown by its rankings.
Seeking medical care, we should look for good doctors rather than well-known doctors. Likewise, when choosing schools, we should choose good universities and universities that offer the disciplines we like rather than universities that are just well known. Only then, can each person contribute to society by giving full play to their strengths.
12 March, 2018