China, Hong Kong: Day 18

After a great night’s sleep (without the need to wake up really early), I checked-out of the hotel and made my way to the Prince of Wales Hospital. This was my primary reason for coming to Hong Kong, as I intended to meet with another colleague of my supervisor.

Professor Roger Yat-Nork Chung of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) agreed to meet with me to discuss a variety of matters. Professor Chung is an Associate Professor [soon to be Professor] in the School of Public Health and a Primary Care. His predominant research areas include: healthcare policy, population ageing, palliative care and ethics, health of migrants (globally, over the life-course), and the relationship between income and health quality. So a jack of all trades in the world of Social Science you might say. Actually as we discussed, and contrary to my prior assumptions, there is one broad theme throughout all his research: health inequalities. This just goes to show how different someone can be from a title, or job description. Before I met Roger, I assumed his research on ‘health policy’ (as described on the University’s website) would be loosely connected to my own interests. However it transpired that our interests were very much aligned. He helped me to realise that my own interests appear to be focusing on the same theme, health inequalities. Particularly as my dissertation is to be focussed on care for the elderly in China, and quantifying the province-level burden of (informal) care provision. It was reassuring to learn that, if I made the choice to progress into a research-based career, there is no need to restrict oneself to a single field. The world is becoming increasingly multi-disciplinary, and our conversation supported that.

We discussed topics ranging from the general experiences of life at CUHK, to postgraduate opportunities, his own research, emerging topics and current gaps in research (to help support my dissertation ideas), and even the philosophy of research and how better to bridge the gap between the public, academia and policy-making. Our conversations went on for some time, in fact, we unintentionally overran by about 30 minutes. But I’m convinced that was a good thing. Sometimes sacrifices must be made!

Before I knew it, I was back out in the blistering heat. The relief from the air conditioning was short-lived. But I was faced with an even greater challenge: to find where my family used to live, in the rural hinterland of the New Territories. Armed with just a single photo, and having been shown a rough geographic area on the map, I set off on a true expedition. This was to be the greatest test of my abilities as a Geographer! Forget the technical skills I’ve acquired as a Population and Geography student; forget life tables, Lexis charts, cohort component models, GIS and spatial modelling, this was good old fashioned grassroots geography.

Contrary to the assumptions of you pessimists out there, 3.5 hours later, I did it. I had found the exact location of the photo my mum gave me. One taxi, a bus and a local minibus ride later, I found myself at a small train station. The train station was located in a secluded clearing; away from dense forestry, residential settlements and low mountains. I had befriended a local farmer along the way, who very kindly agreed to assist me on my adventure – despite the fact he was on his way to work! Our conversation was limited due to the significant language barrier, but we persisted [I think he merely felt guilty because he saw how desperate I was to reach this location]. We parted, rather reluctantly on my part, once we reached this train station. My journey becoming increasingly difficult – especially as my farmer friend parted with a shrug of the shoulders, a simultaneous smirk and a shake of the hand. All of which implied: “good luck my friend, I have no idea!”. But I lost no confidence in my own abilities. I resorted to my final method: to use the mountain outlines as landmarks. As ridiculous as it sounds, that is exactly the method that worked. I hopped on a final local minibus, packed with local residents all going about their daily chores. Using Google Maps to judge when to disembark the bus, I fortunately timed it perfectly, despite (rather disconcertingly) being the last man standing on the bus. I asked local residents and cafe owners if they had seen the buildings – showing them the photo I had on my mobile phone. Five people later, I was beginning to lose hope. But I was in luck, the last individual I asked pointed north-east and said “turn right, after gas station”. So that’s what I did, and sure enough I had found where my family used to live almost 40 years ago. The bungalows almost identical to their original state.

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