Mentoring in Hong Kong

I am going to start off with a brief news report about my neighbor Dr. Raymond Wu.  As an individual, he is one of the most vilified persons in Hong Kong.  In the June 4 march of 2004, some demonstrators carried this placard of him with his name transformed to the Hong Kong traitor known as "Dirty Dead Man's Face."  This is what passes off as political discourse for some people here.

Now I do not discuss politics with Dr. Wu.  He has no idea that I have any interest in politics, much less writing a blog.  Our contacts are mostly limited to the discussions about the physical health of my mother, whom he periodically visits to offer professional advice (without any fee, which you will be shocked to hear for money-grubbing Hong Kong).  It is the sadness of politics in Hong Kong that the demonization annhilates the human dimensions of people.

Anyway, here is the translated story:

The bestselling book <<The Final 14 Tuesday Lessons>> describes how a professor and his students meet every Tuesday to share their life experiences.  The Community Investment For Sharing Foundation's chairman Dr. Raymond Wu has also planned to launch a similar mentoring system for youth development.  He said, "Breaking away from poverty is not just a matter of materialistic support.  It is also necessary to expand one's social network and develop one's potential suitably in order to leave poverty behind."

The Chief Executive's report suggests that inter-generational poverty can be reduced by getting concerned citizens to act as mentors to young people in order to encourage those between 15 to 24 years old to continue studying.

Dr. Wu believes that social aid is sufficient to meet the basic needs of life, but poor families still need to expand the social networks of the children and expand their thinking through contact with different kinds of people in society.  "Knowing doctors, lawyers, accountants, knowing about their work and knowing what it takes."

Does mentoring matter?  For me, the evidence is ambivalent.  I know that it mattered to some people.  For example, I am riflling through the book by my father's classmate Zhang Zhilian, and here is how he explains his interest in French began:

Quand j'étais à l'école, un ami à moi qui se spécialisait dans la littérature occidentale m'a raconté les intrigues des romans de Guy de Maupassant, Une Vie, Bel-Ami, etc.  C'est pourquoi je me suis intéressé a la vie et la société française.  J'avais grand envie de lire en langue originale.  A l'Université j'ai choisi comme deuxième langue étrangère (la première étant l'anglais) le français.  Deux ans après j'ai pu lire des contes de Voltaire, mais ma prononciation était si mauvaise (parce que mon prof. était un américain qui ne savait pas distinguer les t, d, b. p aspirés et non aspirés) que je devais suivre des cours privés chez une vraie Française à Shanghai qui m'a corrigé avec patience.

This is a perfect illustration of how a random historical encounter determined the course of someone's future.  Zhang Zhilian would eventually become the founder and president of L'Association Chinoise pour l'Etude de l'Histoire de France.

But I also know that I am an auto-didactic.  Sure, I took many classes but I tend to draw all the wrong lessons from what the teachers say compared to what they actually do.  None of them really taught me anything, because I always claim that I can read faster than they can talk or write on the blackboard.  If I had mentors, then they are authors whom I have never met in person (e.g. Susan Sontag, Samuel Bowles & Herbert Gintis, Gabriel García Márquez, Marguerite Yourcenar, Milan Kundera, etc).  Still, offering a mentor to someone (as opposed to hoisting it upon someone) can only help.

This leaves me with a personal decision.  I am currently living in Hong Kong, I don't really do any work and I have the time to act as a mentor.  I can teach English, French, Spanish, mathematics, computer science, and probably anything and everything under the sun.  Profesionally, I have been told by many people that I was the best thing that ever happened to my co-workers and they would all come to work for me if I should ever form my own company.  As the last two words in Norman Rush's book Mating go, "Why not?"

But I don't say Je viens like the heroine in Mating did.  When I visited the Society for Community Organization photography exhibit in December last year, I had seriously thought about volunteering for their mentor program.  In the end, I held back because I looked at my forthcoming travel schedule: I will be away from Hong Kong for two weeks in January, two weeks in February and six weeks in March-April.  I would be an absentee mentor, and that is quite unfair.  

Someday, when my life stabilizes, I do intend to sign up for a mentor program.  I am a person without a lot of means and influence, and I cannot aspire to change society at large.  But my hope is that I can at least affect a few individuals.