My time as an undergraduate student

I spent three years study for a bachelor degree in chemistry. During that period, the biggest dilemma is between the ideal and reality. In the perfect world, I could spend the time to immerse myself in the pursuit of science. I got interested in quantum mechanics, which was the most complicated subject in my life. The idea of Schrödinger’s cat was counterintuitive in the microscopic world. And the equation was so complex with multiple dimensions and multiple variables differentiation equations.

On the other hand, I had to worry about the reality that I may not be able to find a good job in Hong Kong. Hong Kong was an international financial centre with a narrow job market and industry. All the best students in public examinations went to business school for better job prospects. Therefore the morale of students in the faculty of chemistry was so low. The study materials were so complex, while the professors may not be interested in teaching as they are more interested in doing research. There are some exceptions, though, and my favourite professor was Chu Ming Chung in the physics department. He was a classmate of my favourite chemistry teacher in high school. He was also a student of my most admire American physicist, Richard Feynman, in Caltech. This Nobel prize winner seemed unreachable until I felt the connection via professor Chu. He widened my horizon about Albert Einstein’s general relativity theory and made me fascinated about the universe. A great teacher inspires me to learn, and I pondered the law of physics and enjoyed it.

Besides academic study, I learn a lot outside of the classroom by contributing to the student union. My student union in high school mainly was about student farewells, such as stationary discounts and entertainment events. However, the student union was at a different level at university; we care about political issues in the society, are involved in politics and take social responsibility. Most of the active students studied in public administration, while I was unique to join as a science student with rational, logical thinking. There was a lot of philosophical discussion in the student union, which raised my interest in the newspaper issues, and we debated which ideology is right and which one is wrong. We talked about John Rawl’s theory of justice and thought about the right and fair way to distribute our limited resources. Why should the government exist? Why should the student union exist? Why should we take democracy for voting? Why do we give up part of our freedom to let the government rule us? If the government was not functioning, would we still be paying tax? All these ideas were open for discussion, and we had an excellent culture to welcome all sorts of ideas as a student exploring different ideologies. The freedom of speech and express ourselves was something the Chinese communist party would be most scared of. Meanwhile, we understand the opportunity cost to openly support sensitive issues, such as memorials of 4th June Tiananmen Square protests in Victoria Park in Causeway Bay in Hong Kong. It’s not allowed these days, and all the student unions were under pressure.

I was proud to study at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, which was unique as its constituents by four colleges at that time. I was happy to enter New Asia College due to my love of Chinese philosophy. It was founded by the most outstanding scholars in new Confucians, such as Qian Mu and Tang Chun I. They escaped from mainland China to Hong Kong, and their whole life was anti-communism. They thought the regime was destroying our Chinese culture and philosophy. Thus they inherited the knowledge and taught the students in Hong Kong. There were many successful alumni, and more importantly, it was humanity and the moral standard they taught us. Our New Asia College spirit influenced generations of students. Our song reminds us of the difficult times when the school first opened and how young people overcame obstacles and took responsibility. Whenever I felt frustrated, our song came up in my mind, and it motivated us to keep going forward. Our school was not only about knowledge but also about how to be a good human being, with honesty, moral standards, and also being conscientious.

During the summer holiday as an undergraduate, I took a couple of months to go working holiday. I went to the United States. It was a fun experience working in Kansas City, Missouri, in the middle of nowhere. My job was selling souvenirs inside a theme park with minimum wages. That life experience was eye-opening as it was my first time living in the U.S. out of Hong Kong. There was a complete culture shock. For example, I lived in an apartment, and the nearest supermarket was just downstairs in H.K. However, in the U.S., the nearest supermarket required me to walk for one hour. I was only a student without any car nor a driving licence. It was a completely different world to take public transport. In H.K., there are bus and train schedules which are always running. In the U.S, there were only three schedules a day to go to the city. I went to the shopping mall one time, came out at 5 pm, but already missed the last bus at 3 pm. Luckily I called a local friend with a car to save me. Otherwise, it would be a big problem.

Another cultural shock for me was the people openness towards sex. In H.K., it was taboo to talk about it and too shy to do it. In the U.S, my roommates at that time were Jamaican and Columbians. They openly welcome different women to have sex right next to my bed. It was noisy to hear the spring of the bed goes up and down, disturbing my sleep. But overall, the American people I met in the job were friendly. Every day, we had a competition to see who sold the most souvenir on the street. At first, I was too shy to approach visitors to sell them toy lightsabers. But later on, I realise it’s a matter of the volume of people I come, assuming the probability of buyer buying is constant. Without the difference in selling skills, the more people I approach, the more could I sell. And I also learn the secret of selling is to be happy and be fun to approach. Overall, they are visitors coming to the theme Park to have fun. I was surprised they spent the money happily to buy a toy made in China, which probably has a low cost to make. It was also fun to meet different people in the theme park. Some Americans have a Chinese tattoo, which was funny to me. Because what they wrote on their body did not make sense. For example, power is a Chinese word composed of two characters, force and volume. It means power to have total force volume, but it’s ridiculous to have a tattoo only containing the last word “volume” without the “force”. There are many memorable things in this trip to the U.S. that I could not write everything down. I met a Chinese girlfriend from Xian during the journey, which was why I could speak mandarin fluently today. We saved our money at work to travel along the east coast to New York, Washington D.C., and Chicago. I miss all the good times in the U.S.

Unfortunately, coming back to Hong Kong, I separated from my girlfriend, and my long-distance relationship could not last. Before this relationship started, I had a girlfriend in high school. However, we went to different universities. She studied accounting in business school. And the further distance between us was that we started to have different paths about life. She only wants to graduate with a stable job in life, buy a house and start a family. But I was very idealistic, pursuing science and contributing to the student union. We had a completely different ideology, and she somehow became materialistic with the influence of her classmates. My best friend was at the same university as her. One day, he told me that he saw my girlfriend was holding hands with another guy in the classroom.
I was shocked and irritated. I called my girlfriend to clarify, and she was on the bus when she answered the phone. I asked her if my best friend was telling the truth, and turn out he was right, and her new boyfriend was sitting next to her on the same bus. She cheated on me. In Chinese slang, it’s called giving me a green hat to wear. I can’t believe it and accept it. After I calmed down, the problem was there a long time before the third person came in. Even without the third person, we were separated by different universities and different ideologies towards life. We choose different paths, and I wish her the best with that guy.

Meanwhile, the happy university life passed so fast in a blink of an eye. Pretty soon, I had to worry about the job hunt before graduation as the last day was approaching. I feel depressed. An excellent job opening such as a management trainee was reserved for the business school students with relevant experience. My score in chemistry was not the best, and it would be impossible for me to stay in the field to do research. I knew I needed more work experience to find my first full-time job, so I took a part-time job to work in Uniqlo, the Japanese clothes shop. I read a book about the founder, who became the richest person in Japan. I was motivated to work there, but frankly speaking, it was harsh. I worked in the busiest store in Tsim Sha Tsui in Hong Kong, it opened very early, so I had to take the earliest train in the morning. Then, it was a whole day unpacking clothes, folding and tidying up the shelf and greeting customers. At the end of long hours, I can feel my feet were so sore. The job was like a punishment in the greek story that every time you push the rock near the top of the mountain, it rolls back and falls again to the beginning.

Similarly, every time you fold all the clothes and are nearly perfect for tidying up the shelves, some customers would come in and make it a mess like the beginning. It was a job that makes me question the meaning of life and why did I work hard to study chemistry and learn useless knowledge about the black hole? Luckily after working in a part-time job for a few months, I got a full-time job as a test engineer in a laboratory for testing the chemical safety of food utensils. At least, it was a profession relevant a bit to my study in Chemistry, And I took a graduate trip to Australia before the job, which changed my life, and it is a story in the next chapter.

By Victor Leung

Experience in software development, consulting services and technical product management. Understanding of business and technology with an MBA in Finance and a Master degree in Computer Science. AWS Certified Solution Architect with experience in building products from scratch and serving as a charismatic leader.

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