Wednesday, July 22, 2009
When I was in College back in Hong Kong, I love to stare at the blue sky and just watching pieces of cloud floating from my left to right. There was much open space in the University. My favorite thing to do is to skip classes and watch some clouds.
To many of my friends, that is a ridiculous habit. Though most of them see that as just part of my little eccentricities in my little unsung college career. In another words, I have done worse. :) So they are not truly surprised and I am not that disappointed by their misunderstanding of clouds.
My true disappointment comes when I tried to share this interesting hobby with a mathematically-oriented friend. This guy is genuinely smart. In terms of Math, I think he is about 5 years ahead of me. So I thought he would understand.
So I told him my true intention of watching cloud - I would like to predict weather based on observing the cloud. That, to me, is a totally reasonable application of Mathematics. This is his response,
"You read "Wind and Cloud" too much.".
("Wind and Cloud" is a popular martial art comic book in Hong Kong. It's about two martial experts, "Wind" and "Cloud" and their adventure in China.)
Many people asked me why I chose to live in US instead of Hong Kong, or even Bigger China. This story is probably an example of why.
In Hong Kong (or probably the bigger China), it is a difficult thing for students to imagine that advanced mathematics could have anything to do with complex subjects such as metereology at all. Also, there is a big gap between the expert knowledge of a certain field and the general public. So even if you have a technical background and you are smart enough to learn, you could still be ignorant on branches of other fields.
Of course, an even deeper problem is that imagination and creativity is not an emphasis in technical subjects such as Science and Mathematics. In the secondary school curriculum, they were usually not taught to inspire students to discover Mathematics themeslves. This explains the behavior of my smart friend. (I am grateful to the team of smart Math teachers back in St. Stephen's College, Stanley. All of them truly know how to inspire. )
There are social consequences of this, students grow up like this will probably unable to appreciate interesting thought from the youngs. That is to say scientific and technical workers are not truly appreciated. This compounds with the general money-loving attitude in Hong Kong. You will not surprised that Science and Technology is tough to develop there.
We cannot say the States' education is perfect, there are tons of holes and problems in it as well. But perhaps because Americans are always more adventurous in nature. They always see possibilities. That's why if you asked a smart student in U.S. the same question, you would probably got an account of General Circulation Model, how the basic equations is written. How Stoke-Navier equation can be used in this problem. (If we digress, then we would chat about how Stoke-Navier equation could be one of the 7 Millenium problems.)
I don't resent my friend's comment. What I see was that a smart person like him was wasted in the system. How many more of these situations happened in the past? I have no idea. What I know is that this is the true impedance of generating good scientific and technical workers.