Sojourn in Berkeley

A Hong Kong Civil Servant Studies Public Policy; Reflects on the West

by Mary Leung

One afternoon in early December, I was looking through the windows of a room in the Public Information Office in Sproul Hall.

Students with their backpacks were strolling past the student union building. The beat of a drum to music played by some unknown musician on Sproul Plaza could be faintly heard.

Like one dismayed waking up from a sweet dream, I suddenly realized that I would have to leave Berkeley all too soon.

How does a Hong Kong civil servant like myself find her way to the prestigious UC Berkeley under the title of visiting scholar? Thanks to the Berkeley-Hong Kong Project, a joint undertaking of the Graduate School of Public Policy, the university and the Hong Kong Civil Service Commission.

The primary aim of the project was to enhance the problem-solving skills of selected government officials holding middle-management positions or above; to expose them to new settings and to extend their knowledge of public organization and administration. The project has trained 175 people since it began in 1986.

So for the last four months I was able to leave behind my hectic office schedules and go back to school. For the fall semester, the project enlisted 18 members from different Hong Kong departments.

The diversity of the group had enabled us to share our work experience and enlivened many discussions in the lecture room.

In fact, the friendship that course members had cultivated among one another was considered one of the most precious things that we had derived from this course.

It was in the Hong Kong Project Center, a suite in the off-campus Great Western Bank Building, that classical and the latest theories of organization and decision-making were introduced to us.

Under the spell of project director Professor Martin Landau, well-known for his theory on redundancy, some course members got so carried away that they began to see everything in the light of the Thompson-Tuden four-cell model on problem-solving.

Once we had a heated argument on which of the four cells the crisis depicted in the movie "Apollo 13" should be in.

At the center we also caught glimpses of a Western scholar's perception of the People's Republic of China and Hong Kong and learned about general public administration with particular reference to California.

We audited courses in areas of our own expertise and interest, making full use of the quality graduate programs and library facilities the university has to offer as we prepared our research papers on administrative problems in Hong Kong.

At the end of the semester, we spent a week or so with government or private agencies relevant to our tasks. That was how I, a government information officer in Hong Kong, ended up under the care of friendly and helpful officers in the Public Information Office.

California and Berkeley had many surprises and delights in store for us. We were perplexed by the complicated U.S. constitutional and government setup.

We were surprised by the ethnic diversity on campus, the large number of Asians in the Bay Area, people's obsession with the O.J. Simpson trial, the minor coverage of Asia and China news in the local press, the magnitude of the homeless program, the big portions of American meals and the coupons and large amount of junk mail in our mailboxes.

We envied the Americans for their apparently leisurely pace of life and the pleasant living conditions of their homes affordable to the middle class. We were impressed by people's non-discriminatory attitude towards the disabled and homosexuals.

We must admit that the threat of an earthquake was a little disturbing, but the California sunshine was great. We admired the freeway systems and National Park Service that made it so easy for us to enjoy picturesque landscapes in different parts of California.

Some of the fond memories we will bring home: giant sequoias standing in the morning mist, sunrise on sand dunes in Death Valley, sunset at Point Reyes National Seashore, the star-studded sky above the high Sierra National Forest and the tranquillity of Crater Lake in Oregon.

Through participation in activities organized by International House, we had the opportunity to mix with students and scholars from all over the world and to enjoy the hospitality of American families.

Wherever we went, we were asked the same question: What will happen to Hong Kong in 1997 when the PRC takes over? "No change for 50 years according to the Basic Law, the mini-constitution for the future Hong Kong, which will become a Special Administrative Region of China," was my standard reply.

I did not take this line just because I am a government spokesperson. I replied with confidence. Like every other Hong Kong Project member, I have undertaken to go back and serve the government for at least two years after the course. So, I do envisage myself serving as a civil servant in 1997--and beyond.

Mary Leung returned home to Hong Kong in time to celebrate Christmas with her husband and two young children.


Copyright 1996, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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