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© 2019 by Department of Geography, The University of Hong Kong.

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Distinguished Geography Alumni

Claude COMTOIS

Professor of Geography, University of Montreal, Canada

After having completed a B.Sc. in political science and M.Sc. in geography at Laval University in Canada, I undertook studies in the department of geography and Geology at the University of Hong Kong where I graduated with a Ph.D. degree in 1984 and received an Award for Outstanding Postgraduate Student. My objective in coming to Hong Kong was to develop my expertise both on China and in Transport Geography. To reach this goal, my training at the University of Hong Kong proved extremely beneficial.

 

First, knowledge acquired on China has proven to be highly valuable. I have served as the transport project director for the Canadian International Development Agency in China for over 10 years, where I have contributed in creating three transport research centres in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Lanzhou, developed teaching curriculum and research programmes, and trained students and professionals in the field of transportation and network science.

 

Second, my sojourn in Hong Kong, a global hub, was instrumental in developing an extensive knowledge of transport geography. For the past 30 years, as professor at the University of Montreal, I have participated in more than 40 research projects related to ports and shipping, published over 100 manuscripts and participated in the successful supervision of over 40 graduate students. This interest in maritime transport geography has continued unabated as I currently supervise projects on the competitiveness of port systems, configuration of ocean shipping networks and adaptation measures of maritime transport to environmental changes.

 

Third, field and quantitative methodologies acquired at the University of Hong Kong were conducive to assessing corporate strategies, practices of shipping companies, and port authorities and terminal operators, along with performing meta-data analysis of the maritime transport industry including market organization, network structure, freight flows and infrastructure capacity.

 

By all accounts, the excellence of my training in the Department of Geography and Geology at the University of Hong Kong continues to seriously inform my work on both private corporate strategies and public policy orientations.

Bosco C K FUNG

Former Director, Planning Department, HKSAR Government

Have my HKU Geography degrees helped the development of my town planning career?  The answer is YES!

 

I obtained my BA Geography (major) and Political Science (minor) degree in 1969 and stayed on as a Demonstrator in the then Department of Geography & Geology while studying for my MPhil degree in Urban Geography.  In 1973, I was awarded the MPhil degree and a two-year Commonwealth Scholarship to study town planning at Sydney University, Australia.  After obtaining my Master of Town & Country Planning degree, I returned to Hong Kong and joined the Government as an Assistant Planning Officer in 1975.  I became a Chartered Town Planner after two years of professional practice.  From 1975 until my retirement in 2006, I held different planning positions in different Government departments.  I was Director of Planning from 1999 to 2006.

 

Looking back at my career path, I can clearly see the influence my HKU days have had on me.

 

Firstly, the subject matters in Geography and Town Planning.  Both are related to land and space, and the location characteristics of different land use activities.  Both involve broad training across a diverse spectrum of subjects, from economics, social/behavioral, physical/environmental/ecological studies, maps/plans, survey research/computational skills, to multi-disciplinary approaches.  My BA dissertation was about a squatter settlement in Diamond Hill and my MPhil thesis was about commuting patterns of resettled squatters in Hong Kong, both relevant to the planning of public housing in the city.  My transition from Geography to Town Planning was thus relatively easy.

 

Secondly, the teachers.  My MPhil thesis was under the supervision of Dennis Dwyer, and Terry McGee and David Drakakis-Smith were with the Department at the time.  I gained a lot of insights into cities from them.  Prof Dwyer was a Town Planning Board member and he was one of my referees for my applications for the Commonwealth Scholarship and the Assistant Planning Officer post in Hong Kong Government.

 

Thirdly, the alumni.  There was no shortage of Geography alumni working as town planners in Hong Kong at my time, like Peter Pun, Edmund Lo and Steven Chan.  They gave HKU Extra-mural (equivalent to the current SPACE) courses on Town Planning and showed me the way to become a town planner.

LIU Weidong

Professor and Assistant Director, Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources Research (IGSNRR), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), China

I studied in the Department of Geography, the University of Hong Kong (HKU) for my Ph.D. degree from 1996-1999. This 3-year study in Geography helped to shape both my research interests and capabilities. Before coming to study at HKU, I obtained my BS in Geography from Peking University and MS at the Institute of Geography, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) and worked at CAS for five years. With this background in mind, I find that HKU offers an amazing platform for students to learn globally while being rooted in Chinese culture. At HKU, students can access world literature and ideas very easily, but they can also immerse themselves freely in Chinese culture and literature, which I think is a valuable asset of HKU. Learning and understanding both sides is an advantage!

 

Studying geography at HKU allowed me to intensively and extensively look into the globalizing world and economy and shifted my research interests to globalization, multinationals and foreign direct investment. My decade of experience in globalization studies together with my deep understanding of Chinese culture, economy and governance structure enabled me to grasp the research opportunities generated by China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). I am now a leading scholar in China on BRI studies and lead a large team contributing to planning and policymaking for the BRI. Looking back, my studies at HKU paved my road to this position.

 

So why study geography? For me, geography offers a comprehensive and integrated perspective for understanding the world, which enables students to develop their leadership skills. No matter what you do in the future, geographical thinking is one of the major advantages that help you to succeed because today, the world is becoming more and more connected. Regions are deeply networked and integrated, and the global and local are intensively linked. That is geography!

Daniel OLIVIER

Director, Business Intelligence and Innovation at Port of Montreal, Canada

It all started in September 2002 when as a fresh expat I set foot in Hong Kong, where I quickly grew  fascinated by the deep economic and social change affecting the territory and its colossal neighbor, China. Ethnic Chinese firms were rolling out globalization strategies right before my eyes and I was soon to discover that many had a central thing in common: they shared a maritime history! I thus set out to document the ascent of transnational firms in the port industry and how their globalization and innovation strategies set out to reshape the global transportation space. This story became my Ph.D., and my time at HKU.

 

My years at HKU were transformative. Coming from Canada, everything was new. The adversity accompanying a monumental task like writing a doctoral thesis was only matched by the resilience needed to adapt to an entirely new environment. Studying in a foreign country and a foreign institution makes a Ph.D. project a life experience. By the time I graduated in 2006, receiving an Award that year for Outstanding Postgraduate Student, Hong Kong, and HKU for that matter, had become my second home.

 

The strength of geography is in its breadth and horizontality: few disciplines allow one to discuss in a single chapter spatial patterns of investments, corporate organizational learning, innovation and entrepreneurship as well as sociological drivers of corporate behavior in-depth. Another highlight of my years in geography has been appreciating the relevance of fieldwork: addressing real-life business problems, interacting with local and global business people, visiting the booming coastal ports of China, and boarding container vessels were all highlights of my years at HKU.

 

A successful career path begins with making one’s research relevant, something HKU Faculty strongly encouraged. Here, I must acknowledge the strength of HKU Geography faculty, who have each in their own way steered and influenced my academic and professional paths.

 

Lastly, my HKU credentials have without a doubt opened several opportunities during my career. Today, as a business intelligence and innovation practitioner in a world-class port, I feel fortunate to have pursued the path I have set out for myself back in September 2002. I have the privilege of applying all those lateral skills I learned during my formative years at HKU.

TANG Shuk Ming Winnie

Founder and Chairman, Esri China (Hong Kong) Limited

At the University of Hong Kong (HKU), my major was Geography and my minor was Economics. At that time, Geography covered a wide range of topics including urban planning, environmental studies and even underground and ground surface building design.

 

When I was in Year 2 or 3, there was a class taught by a visiting professor on Geographic Information Systems (GIS). My first feeling was that GIS could provide a framework for a smart future.

 

GIS combines geography, cartography and information technology. When the data is linked with the spatial location, it enables comprehensive geographic data analysis and provides location-based intelligence for better planning, decision-making and improved productivity.

 

The GIS class enrolled only 20 students and I was fortunate to be one of them. Out of that class, I was the only one who continued in the GIS field after graduation.

 

It was satisfying to be able to complete the first vegetation map and ecological database for Hong Kong using GIS. The vegetation map is very important to Hong Kong, as it is the first map covering the whole territory of Hong Kong using insights from data. I was very proud to have the opportunity to apply my expertise and knowledge of GIS to contribute to society.

 

Meanwhile, I also taught GIS for the Master of Urban Design and Master of Landscape Architecture in HKU. Initially, I was satisfied sharing knowledge about GIS, but later I wanted to do more to promote GIS beyond teaching. In 1997, I invested all my savings in a new business to promote GIS in and for Hong Kong. I was determined to create an ecosystem for my students to apply their GIS knowledge to their future careers. By doing so, I could bring innovative technology, innovative people, and creative thinking together to help society solve real problems. 

 

I am very proud to be a graduate of the Department of Geography at HKU.  If I did not choose Geography as my major study, I would not have the chance to make my dreams come true and make a difference to our beloved Hong Kong.

WONG Fook Yee

Former Assistant Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, HKSAR Government

Geography training in HKU helped me to develop my interest and passion in nature. I studied eight papers in Geography with an emphasis on physical geography and graduated in 1973.  In 1978, I received a government scholarship to study environmental forestry in North Wales and afterwards worked in the HKSAR’s Agriculture and Fisheries Department as a Forestry Officer.

Since 1978, I have been working in the Agriculture and Fisheries Department on the designation, planning and management of country parks and marine parks. This is a very challenging and meaningful job for geographers. My training in geography enables me to look at the spatial importance of natural habitats and the need to conserve them. Without a background in geography, I might not have been able to receive a scholarship to study abroad and become a Forestry Officer.

I was privileged to be involved in Hong Kong’s country parks programme, a major nature conservation project which is a great success. It has been well-received by citizens and has won international recognition. We now have some 40% of land area designated as protected areas, which is much higher than many other cities around the world. Hong Kong country parks help to conserve the most important natural habitats for the city’s people and future generations. It is imperative that we ensure their sustainability. I am glad that so far, they have remained intact from urban development, though the threat is always present.

Geography graduates have a special advantage in nature conservation. We look at things with holistic, social, physical, geomorphological and geological perspectives which can help to ensure regional connectivity and more comprehensive landscape protection. For this reason, when I retired in 2008, I tried to share my experience and knowledge with undergraduates of HKU and CUHK where I taught Protected Areas and their Management and Nature Conservation in Hong Kong, respectively, until 2018. It is my wish to prepare young people to take up the task to manage our protected areas in perpetuity.

WOO Ming-ko

Professor Emeritus, McMaster University, Canada

Why study Geography? For me, it was to satisfy my curiosity about the places and peoples of the world. I completed my BA (Hons) in 1964 and my MA in 1967, in what was then the Department of Geography and Geology. After obtaining a doctoral degree from the University of British Columbia in Canada in 1972, I was appointed to various positions at McMaster University, from which I retired as Professor Emeritus.  During that time I conducted research and advised students in Hydrology and Water Resources.

 

In the half century since my graduation, topics within the various fields of Geography have necessarily changed and research techniques have advanced. Concepts fundamental to the discipline, however, steadfastly endure. We study geography at local, regional and global levels, assessing issues from a spatial perspective. A focus on the human-land relationship covers a variety of subjects showing the diversity of physical and human environments and their place in local to international politics and economies. Geography impacts many aspects of our lives, and this broad knowledge base enabled me to participate and play lead roles in cross-disciplinary projects.

 

Fieldwork injected reality into my studies, sharpening observations and honing alertness in dealing with unexpected contingencies. It facilitated contemplation of my work, be it spent amidst the silent hills of Sai Kung Peninsula or in the vast and remote High Arctic. It enriched interactions with people from all walks of life, whether conversing with villagers in Lau Fau Shan, sharing kumiss with a Kazakh family in Tian Shan, discussing climate change with Indigenous people in northern Canada, or explaining Sahelian droughts to the Emir and his entourage in northeastern Nigeria.

 

In those distant school and university days, I was inspired by the instructors of different subjects in Geography. Perhaps I have passed on some of that inspiration, as previous students have nominated me for academic awards and an Honorary Doctorate of Environmental Studies from the University of Waterloo. I trust the HKU Geography Department will continue to inspire, sustain excellence, and evolve successfully to meet new challenges in a changing world.

Edward YAU Tang-wah 

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, HKSAR Government

If the pursuit of Geography as an academic discipline has given me any insight into my career in public service, it must be the awakening learning experience started since I first found my interest in this hugely wide and boundary-free subject called Geography. 

 

I joined the public service upon graduation from the Department of Geography and Geology at HKU in 1981. Like serving in the highly complex city of Hong Kong, the process of learning Geography is a humbling one, for how little we know about our globe against the vast territory we are exploring.  Perhaps the one small thing geographers are quick to learn is knowing where we stand – the position in which one can define and differentiate the dynamic spatial relations between people and territories.

 

Memories from my HKU days remind me of my many puzzling thoughts then. For example, why did we need to choose between "physical" and "human" geography, as we knew how inseparable they were?  Would one day the subject of Geography become obsolete and our identity lost as scientists took soil, rocks and climate away from the discipline; town planners sprouted from urban and industrial geography; and even political scientists proclaimed some territorial interest in our geopolitical frontiers? Just to recall some thoughts...  And why was the Geography Department in those days a part of the "Arts" Faculty? (Although I had absolutely no complaint for that identity, which gave us a prime location on the second floor of the grandiose Main Building and an office premise right next to the then Faculty Office for our social club GGAS, a unique status envied by many others.  These are the things that young greenhorns in Centenary campus now miss.)

 

Over the years, Hong Kong went through fascinating times of challenges and opportunities, from the reunification with our motherland to the unprecedented practice of One Country Two Systems; and from a manufacturing-based economy fast forwarded to a global financial, trade and professional service hub.  But the bedrock of Hong Kong - constitutional and societal - remains solid and sound with dykes firmly anchored in the sedimentation of wisdom and experience by generations of people.  They have kept Hong Kong shining, notwithstanding the weathering of time, struggles and hard trials.  I am sure this is all due to the uncompromising strength built by generations of pioneers, leaders and emerging talents, who have shaped Hong Kong in very much the same way teachers, alumni and undergraduates have supported our Department of Geography.

 

Blessed from our learning, geographers are often more alert to the delicate balance between nature and mankind intertwined in the fabrics of time, space and civilisation.  It is therefore our common and shared responsibility to live up to the call for actions in coping with all the problems that confront our world, as it gets smaller, denser and warmer.  Hong Kong, though a tiny place, exemplifies how mankind can make cities a greener, more livable and sustainable place in the geography of the world: with a better designed city environment; friendly and cleaner energy; a policy inducing behavioral changes to reduce waste; and a move to join global efforts in promoting geological knowledge through the designation of the Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark.  These beliefs and steps made what I learnt in college days relevant to my various roles in the Government.

 

In my almost four decades of public service, I take pride in joining hands with many fellow geographers who in various key positions have helped make Hong Kong a better, if not the best, city in the world.  And we geographers are easy partners to any teammates who share the “can-do” spirit and are willing to take an extra step to do things better.

 

Cheers for Hong Kong, cheers for the Department of Geography, and cheers for all of us who are privileged to be part of this big and wonderful family.

Yeung Yue-man

Emeritus Professor of Geography

A geography major graduate of HKU in 1962, I took a sustained detour away from Hong Kong before being appointed Chair Professor of Geography at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 1984. I stayed away from Hong Kong before returning home after 20 years.

Three points are noteworthy of change and challenge in my career. I was fully supported by scholarships in my three degrees in Hong Kong, London Ontario and Chicago. It took me 20 months each to complete my degrees at the graduate level. Professors Jim Simmons and Norton Ginsburg were my advisors and later friends. These exposures away from Hong Kong gave me a truly worldly perception of geography not otherwise easily encountered. Almost a decade of Canadian development assistance work based in Singapore and Ottawa roundly plunged me into the complex worldly connections. It was enlightening to be working as a donor representative in Canada towards developing countries across the world.

Secondly, my career with almost a decade away from academia with a Canadian development aid organization, gave me a worldly outlook and experience. It was intensive and truly worldwide experience and work, giving me much experience beyond academia. A decade of travel and interaction with professionals across the world called for and intensified my knowledge of geography. I developed efficient working habits and exposure to the world.

 

Thirdly, with a mind half inclined towards returning to academia while fully engaged in development work, I worked doubly hard to stay in tone with geography and cities. When the chance presented itself with a chair professor appointment in 1984, I worked doubly hard to make up in Hong Kong. I published on average a book a year from 1962 to 2017, averaging a book a year in 55 years. Many of my books are found in leading university and city libraries in the world.

MORE TO COME!

If you would like to nominate a distinguished HKU Geography alumni to be featured, please write to geog@hku.hk

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