In retrospect to undergraduate years: Efforts and rewards

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Ly Ha Nguyen (Photo: Ly’s Facebook)

HONG KONG_ For most of her counterparts, their time spent at the university is usually pleasant and romantic, but for Doan Ha Ly Nguyen, in retrospect to her undergraduate years, it is more of a challenge. Fights and rewards of those days will always be unforgettable to her.

Doan is an international student from Vietnam. Having worked as an editor, and then a marketing executive for one year after graduation in her home country, Doan is now pursuing her MA Degree in international journalism in Hong Kong Baptist University. Looking back to undergraduate years, much has subsided, yet still something lingers.

During her third year in university, Doan, along with 19 of her classmates, took part in a competition held by The Media Alliance, an organization aiming to identify significant public issues, arouse public awareness and stimulate action. To compete for the sponsorship to carry out their plan, the team was to come up with a proposal to prove their proficiency in this field.

One year’s efforts finally paid off as they stood out and got sponsored. However, the achievement did not come easily.

“For a group of 20, it’s difficult to agree on one idea in the first place,” Doan says. “It called for great effort and cooperation.”

After the first round of brainstorm, the group came up with six ideas to be voted on. Two were selected and trialed. However, one did not come out satisfactorily and was finally ruled out. At this point, the one who came up with it decided to leave.

“We were sad and disappointed,” Doan says, “but we knew we had to carry on.”

With the major theme of ‘climate change’ settled, the group then separated into several sub-groups, each focusing upon a specific segment. They held regular discussions to communicate their progress.

Meanwhile, the time for graduation drew near, accompanied by exams and graduation thesis immediately due. Under such pressure, two other members decided to leave.

“It was significant for us to carry out the plan, to arouse public attentions on this issue. We were under great pressure. But our inspiration, our motivation support us all along,” Doan says.

The triumph of winning the sponsorship did not last long. Soon they realized that the difficult part, far from having come to an end, had only started.

Once again, the team immersed themselves into another round of hard work. Their final goal was to produce two video clips to arouse public awareness on climate change and stimulate action accordingly.

Among all three types of promotional clips, – product, service and idea – what they were trying to produce (clip of ideas) was the most difficult.

“Ideas are intangible,” Doan says, “It’s more difficult to express and reflect through video clips.”

Even Doan herself cannot tell how much time and energy the team dedicated to the project. However, they finally made it. Now their work (Conserve water and Conserve electricity) is available on YouTube, attracting wide public attention.

“All have been worthy of all our efforts.” Doan says, with a proud expression on her face.

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HK Reader: Peace within Noise

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image (2) Billboard of Hong Kong Reader among others (above) and entrance to the bookstore (below) (Photo by Eileen)

HONG KONG_ Bustling streets fill the space between rows of shops, as buried under dazzling billboards and signs. Such a scene is typical of Bang Kok, where it is difficult to distinguish the plain, blue sign of “HK Reader”, an independent academic bookstore on seventh floor of one building. 

Quiet, yet cozy, the bookstore makes a striking contrast to the hustling streets downstairs. Nearly four-fifths of the 800-square-feet space is devoted to books, neatly lined on shelves according to categories; while the remaining makes the reading corner.

Bell jingles on the door, welcoming every coming customer. Though, usually there are not many of them.

Opened in 2007, Hong Kong Reader was co-founded by three graduates from Chinese University of Hong Kong. Unlike many other upstairs bookstores, it specializes in humanities and social science titles rather than bestsellers. It sells secondhand books as well. Additionally, it holds reading clubs, literary salons and guest lectures regularly, providing a platform for like-minded people to communicate and exchange thoughts.

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Daniel Lee, 31, one owner of Hong Kong Reader (Photo by Eileen)

 “Literary salons and reading clubs in university were our initial inspirations,” says Daniel Lee, 31, one of the co-founders, who majored in philosophy in his undergraduate years and sociology as a postgraduate. “We want to bring more people to read, not just students, but society as a whole.”

They were aware that the goal was ambitious, nearly impossible to achieve through the sole efforts of the three of them, but they still think it is worth their perseverance.

“The bookstore is a starting point, through which we can connect people of similar interest, establish a community and gradually promote cultural and academic thoughts, just as its name indicates,” Lee says.

Hong Kong Reader, also known as “Xuyan (序言) Bookstore” bears three layers of meaning: Firstly, “Xuyan”, meaning “preface” in Chinese, suggests a starting point in reading journeys; secondly, it implies the initial step for promoting cultural and academic thoughts; thirdly, “Xuyan” resembles “juxian (聚賢)” in Chinese pronunciation, meaning gather of talents.

Having operated for six years, the bookstore has already attracted a large readership – 3,500 members by now – and is attracting more. It has also held plenty of activities with three to four regular activities per month.

There has been an increase in Hong Kong’s readership throughout the decade. The phenomenon might be attributed to the rise in public concern about social issues, Lee says. Relevant publications have also witnessed a concurrent increase. Under such a trend, he is quite confident and optimistic about further achievement of their original goal.

“I think we’ve accomplished a lot during the past six years,” Lee says.

Their future plan is to further promote mutual permeation between the academic field and the public. “It would be difficult, but we’ll keep on doing,” he adds.

Book review: In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote

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Picture from the Internet

Reviewed by Eileen

On November 15, 1959, a family of four in Kansas was savagely murdered in their house. Given the slightest hints of details, the scene can be terrifying to imagine, even after half a century has passed. Those who first got the news were overwhelmed by sympathy for the victims and horror against the brutal, cold-blooded culprits.

However, imagine the mindset of someone who might sympathize with the criminal. You might be astounded and doubt whether such a person could ever possible exist. Capote did, at least from certain subtle, elusive perspectives.

Truman Capote, an established American author, serialized the story in ‘The New Yorker’ as he investigated the murder.

After six years’ tracking and investigation, having conducted numerous interviews with the criminals, he went so deep into the case and came out with “In Cold Blood”, the in-depth, yet thought-provoking non-fictional novel based upon the real murders.

Unexpected to most readers, no bloody, terrifying scene has been painted, not even hinted. Instead, the writer records experience of the two criminals throughout the entire investigations. Perry Smith, 31 (when he committed the crime) was one of the two murderers, also the major character depicted. As the case developed, a multi-faceted Smith – image, personality, psychology, etc. – gradually takes shape and extends in readers’ minds. The retrospective descriptions of his youth and growth are stealthily incorporated, yet invisibly unfold a different Perry in readers’ minds, as a average person with a miserable youth, rather than a labeled criminal. It also helps to change the attitude of those who have been horrified by the cruel murderer, to show how he has hesitated, struggled, agonized – the hard psychological journey, or rather torture. As you read through, there might even be a passing thought to be mentally on his side, though soon vanishes as you find it extremely guilty and unfair to the victims. However, it did appear! That’s what Capote brings to the readers in the book.

Whatever happens, there might be many facets to view it; however a person is, he/she is unlikely to be born to be this way; whenever reminiscent of the past, there is always something lingering; whichever phase or situation you are through, there is at least someone observing, even feeling intimacy with you, though he/she might be at a distance.

In Smith, Capote saw the reflection of himself as they share similar experience: broken family; abandoned lonely childhood …. He went so far as to once observed, “It’s as if Perry and I grew up in the same house. And one day he stood up and went out the back door, while I went out the front.”

Immersed and involved psychologically in to a great extent, Capote came up with insights into the violence from a novel angle, hinted his position against sentence of death, and most significantly, suggested another perspective of looking into human nature.