I studied chemistry for three years and earned a bachelor’s degree. The greatest conflict at the time was between ideals and reality. In an ideal world, I would be able to devote all of my time to scientific research. I became fascinated with quantum mechanics, which was the most difficult subject I had ever studied. In the microscopic realm, Schrödinger’s cat seemed counterintuitive. With several dimensions and multiple variables differentiation equations, the math was extremely complicated.
On the other hand, I had to be concerned about the possibility that I would be unable to find a suitable job in Hong Kong. Hong Kong was a global financial hub with a limited labour market and industries. For greater employment opportunities, all of the top students in public exams went to business school, and the chemistry faculty students morale was extremely poor. The study materials were really difficult, and the instructors were not interested in teaching because they prefered to conduct research. However, there are few exceptions, and my favourite lecturer in the physics department was Chu Ming Chung. In high school, he was a classmate of my favourite chemistry teacher. He was also a Caltech student of the famous American physicist, Richard Feynman. This Nobel Laureate appeared inaccessible until I sensed a connection through Professor Chu. He broadened my understanding of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity and piqued my interest in the universe. I was inspired to learn by a fantastic teacher, and I enjoyed pondering the law of physics.
Aside from academics, I gain a lot of knowledge outside of the classroom by volunteering at the student union. My student union in high school was mostly concerned with student farewells, such as shopping discounts and entertainment events. However, the student union in university was on a different level; we cared about society and political movement, we were involved in politics and took social responsibility. The majority of the active students studied public administration, but I was one of the few science students who join and could think rationally and logically. There were numerous philosophical talks in the student union, which piqued my interest in journalistic topics. We shared our philosophy and debated the right and wrong of ideas. We reviewed John Rawl’s philosophy of justice, debate for the proper and equitable distribution of our limited resources.
These debates revolved around the question of “why” the student union exists in the first place. Why is it necessary for the government to exist? Why should we vote in a democratic manner? Why did we relinquish some of our liberty to allow the government to rule us? Assume the government isn’t working properly, should we continue to pay taxes?
These concepts were available to debate, and we had a great atmosphere that welcomed a wide range of viewpoints as students investigated various ideologies. We appreciated the freedom of speech and expression that we couldn’t get under the communist regime. Meanwhile, we recognized the opportunity cost of publicly supporting sensitive subjects, like memorable to the Tiananmen Square protests in Victoria Park at Causeway Bay on 4th June. It is not permitted in Hong Kong these days, and all student unions were under pressure.
I was proud to be a student at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, which at the time had four colleges. Because of my passion for Chinese philosophy, I was thrilled to get accepted into New Asia College. Qian Mu (钱穆) and Tang Chun I (唐君毅), two outstanding Confucianism scholars, founded the school. They fled mainland China for Hong Kong and spent the rest of their lives fighting communism. They believed that the regime was attempting to destroy our Chinese culture and ideas. In order to preserve our Chinese history, they passed on their knowledge and taught pupils in Hong Kong. There were many successful graduates, but humanity and the moral standard they instilled in us was the essential education. Generations of students have been affected by the ethos of New Asia College. Our school founders recall the difficult times when the school first began and how students overcame challenges and took heavy responsibilities. Our school song came to my mind whenever I was frustrated, motivating me to keep moving forward. Our school taught us not only about the information but also about being a good human who values honesty, morality, and conscientiousness.
As an undergraduate, I took a couple of months off over the summer vacation to go on a working holiday. I travelled to the United States of America. Working in Kansas City, Missouri, in the middle of nowhere, was a lot of fun. My minimum-wage job was selling souvenir toys inside a theme park. That life experience was eye-opening because it was my first time living abroad. A complete cultural shock happened. For example, when I lived in Hong Kong, the nearest store was just downstairs; yet, in the United States, the nearest supermarket needed a one-hour walk. I was a student with no car and no driver’s license. Taking public transportation was an entirely other experience. Bus and train timetables are continually running in Hong Kong. In the United States, there were only three daily itineraries for going to the city. I went to the mall once, came out at 5 p.m., but was already late for the last bus at 3 p.m. Fortunately, I was able to phone a local buddy with a car to come to rescue me. It would be a major issue otherwise.
The people’s openness to sex was another cultural shock for me. It was prohibited to discuss it in the Hong Kong education system and people were too embarrassed to do so. My housemates in the United States at the time were Jamaicans and Columbians. They openly invite various women to have sex, right next to my bed. Hearing the bed’s springs jolt up and down was loud and disrupted my sleep.
In general, the Americans I met on the job were pleasant. We held a competition every day to see who could sell the most souvenirs on the street. At first, I was too hesitant to approach strangers and try to sell them toy lightsabers. However, as time goes on, I realize it’s a matter of the number of individuals I approach, presuming the probability of a buyer buying remains constant. Without any differences in sales abilities, the more people I approach, the more I could sell. I also discovered the secret to direct selling: be cheerful and enjoyable to approach. They were mostly tourists who came to the theme park to have a good time. I was astonished that they cheerfully spent the money on a toy made in China at a low cost.
It was also enjoyable to meet new people at the theme park. Some Americans have Chinese tattoos, which I thought was amusing. Because what they scribbled on their bodies was illogical. For instance, the Chinese word power consists of two characters: force (力) and volume (量). Volumes of force denote strength, yet it’s ridiculous to have a tattoo that just contains the last word “volume” without the term “force.” There were so many amazing moments on this trip in the United States that I couldn’t possibly write them all out. During the journey, I met a Chinese girl from Xian, and suddenly my mandarin improved tremendously. We saved money at work and travelled to New York, Washington, DC, and Chicago along the east coast. I miss the good old days in the United States.
Unfortunately, when I returned to Hong Kong, I had to break up with my Xian girlfriend, and our long-distance romance was doomed to fail. Before this relationship, I had a high school girlfriend named Doris. We attended different universities. She went to business school and majored in accounting. She only wanted to graduate with a secure job, purchase a home, and build a family. However, I was romantic, studying science and volunteering at the student union. We held opposing ideologies, and she was very materialistic. My best friend attended the same institution as her. He told me one day that he observed Doris in the classroom holding hands with another guy. I was surprised and furious. Immediately I called Doris to clarify this matter. She answered the phone while on the bus, and her new boyfriend was sitting next to her. I could sense her anxiety. She was unfaithful to me, and I was annoyed. Eric was right in informing me about Doris. It’s known as “offering me a green hat to wear” in Chinese slang. I could not take it anymore, and we should go a separate way. Our relationship ended, and I had no regret.
Meanwhile, time passed, and the happy university days were drawing to a close. Graduation day came and went in the blink of an eye. The joy was fleeting, and I was soon back to worrying about my job search. I was depressed. For business school students with relevant experience, an exceptional employment vacancy as a management trainee was reserved. My chemistry grade wasn’t great, so staying in the field to conduct research would be impossible. I knew I needed more work experience before getting my first full-time job, so I got a part-time position at Uniqlo, a Japanese clothing retailer.
I read a book about the company’s founder, Tadashi Yanai, who rose to become Japan’s richest man. I was eager to work there, but it was a difficult environment to work in. I worked in Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong’s busiest retail shop. It opened fairly early, so I had to catch the first train out of the station. Then it was unloading clothes, folding and arranging the shelf, and greeting customers for the rest of the day. My feet were aching at the end of a hard day. The task was like punishment as in Greek mythology - when Sisyphus push the immense boulder near the top of the hill, it rolls back down again and again. Similarly, whenever you folded all the items and nearly finished tidying up the shelves, some clients would walk in and make a complete mess as if it were the first day.
Fortunately, after a few months of working part-time, I got another full-time job offer as a test engineer in a laboratory that tests the chemical safety of food utensils. Working at Uniqlo made me ponder the meaning of life and why I spent so much time studying science and learning worthless facts about black holes. At the very least, test engineering was a career that was somewhat related to my chemistry studies. By the way, before starting the new job after my graduation, I went on a trip to Australia, which changed my life, and you can read about it in the following chapter.