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From a Humble Beginning to a Journalism Teacher

Contributed by Mr. Victor Fung, Principal Lecturer, Department of Journalism

This is not fiction. This is a true first-person story. I am Victor the victorious. I am victorious because I dare to dream; and thank God most of my dreams have come true!

I grew up in a small village in Sheung Shui, in Hong Kong’s New Territories not far from the Shenzhen River, and was raised by a single mom who had to work 7 days a week to feed her 5 children. None of my siblings have finished high school.

My mom came to Hong Kong from Xinhui County in China’s Guangdong province in 1942, met my dad and got married. My dad deserted the family when I was 8. Never have I seen him again. I vaguely remember how he looks like. I have no idea whether he is alive or has kicked the bucket.

I wasn’t born with a high IQ. In fact, my nickname in primary school days was “moron” and in primary 2, my academic results were so poor that I needed to repeat for another year (I was ranked 42 among 45 pupils). I studied at Ho Tung Primary School in “Kam Tsin (Money) Village” near Sheung Shui, founded by Sir Hotung, patriarch of a successful clan in Hong Kong, many full moons ago. Indeed I was delivered in the Hotung Hospital, a stone throw from my village. Kam Tsin Village is half way between Sheung Shui and Lok Ma Chau.

When I finished primary school, my results weren’t bad at all. I was lucky enough to enter a church-affiliated high school founded by the La Salle brothers near my village. I picked this one because I could walk to school and save travelling expenses, as my mom could only afford a very low tuition. To me, international schools or government schools on Hong Kong Island were as far away as London or Armsterdam.

The summer before going to high school, I borrowed many books from a mobile library (a van), run by the government’s Home Affairs Department, which came to my village once a week. I loved Tang dynasty poetry and Song dynasty “ci” (a kind of classical poetry different from the Tang style). And I read dozens of novels authored by a famous female Taiwanese writer: Chiung Yao. Most of her writing was about meticulous fatal-romance stories such as her first novel “Outside the Window”. I continued to read her novels after I entered high school, a Catholic boys’ school. My classmates made fun of me all the time, calling me sissy and other derogatory names.

Although I was bullied by my schoolmates, I turned a deaf ear to those insults as I dreamed of becoming a renowned writer one day like Chiung Yao or Yu Kwong-chung. I adopted and imitated Chiung Yao’s writing style. It was “pay-back” time in the “Chinese essay writing” classes. Most secondary-1 students in my school received marks between 48 and 52 (50 was the passing mark). Mine was 78, a league above all other classmates. And more than once the teacher read out my essays in class to illustrate what good writing should be. My classmates were dumbfounded. They stopped humiliating me.

From devouring Chiung Yao’s romantic novels, I broadened my reading genres. On Saturdays I would take the train from Sheung Shui to Mong Kok’s Fa Yuan (Garden) Street, where I filled up my stitched bag with second-hand literary magazines published in Hong Kong and Malaysia. Out of passion, I often emptied my breakfast money on those magazines. I still don’t have a clue, after all these years, why I never picked up Kung Fu, or Wushu, novels, like most boys did.

When I finished high school, my public exam results were good enough for me to enroll in university entrance exam courses (called matriculation in those days). But I decided to quit schooling as, being a filial son full of traditional Chinese (Confucius) family values, I wanted to alleviate my mom’s burden of supporting a sizeable family (I am the third child in the family. I have two younger brothers). God knows that I love books. Successfully I found a job and became a teacher in the Raimondi primary school, next to Sacred Heart College on Hong Kong Island’s Caine Road. To save the 20 cents-per-journey bus fare, I walked 30 minutes to school in the mid-levels and dragged my tired body home near the Hong Kong-Macao ferry pier in Sheung Wan every day.

As I saw, a year later, some of my former high-school mates enter the Chinese University of Hong Kong (to enter HKU one needed to study for a 2-year matriculation course), I started dreaming of becoming a university student. I didn’t give up my job to enroll in one of those matriculation courses offered. I just self-studied, burning the midnight candles, in the evenings and weekends for the CUHK entrance exams and lucky enough I became victorious again and my dream was fulfilled. My results were good enough for me to choose any major subject I wanted to study. Initially I picked Chinese literature as my major since I wanted to become a writer, but after consulting one of my former high school teachers I changed my mind. My teacher said becoming a writer in Hong Kong would invariably end up in “starvation” or abject poverty. In those days, nobody could survive on the humiliating low fees for writers’ articles or books. The only exception was to write “pornographic” stories for newspapers, my teacher said, in which I had zilch experience.

So I asked my former teacher what I should major in if I loved writing and at the same time would get a decent salary to support myself and my mom after I graduated from college. He said: journalism. I had no idea what journalism was all about. But I told myself: if somebody was going to pay me writing stories, what else could I ask for?

Because I had 2 years of working experience I was more mature than most of my classmates in university. I was elected the class representative. I knew well that it was important to plan ahead. During the colonial era, one needed to speak good English to excel in society. So I made up my mind to study English whenever I could. I emptied all my breakfast money, as history always repeats itself, in buying English newspapers such as the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. I often took a one-hour train ride from the University station in the New Territories to Tsim Sha Tsui (TST). In those days, only newspaper stalls at the Star Ferry pier in TST had quality English newspapers for sale.

And I also identified business journalism as my career launching pad since few people knew how to write business news stories in those days. I was deputy chairman of the CUHK Journalism Society, honing my leadership skills and improving my E.Q. These were no less important than striving to obtain straight A(s) in academic performance. My dogged determination and good preparation paid off; and I once again became victorious.

I dreamed of working for the foreign business press, making use of my English and business news knowledge and skills. My prayers were answered. My first job after college was becoming a reporter for The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), an American business newspaper. The paper rented an apartment in Taikoo Shing as staff quarters for me and bought me a round-trip air ticket to New York to visit the WSJ headquarters once a year. While working I kept on studying English for another five years to reach the level of “almost native”.

After 8 years with the WSJ, I took a year off to study for a master’s degree at Cambridge University and pondered what I should do next. Meantime, I still loved journalism, nevertheless. Since I graduated first in my class (with first-class honors) in college (my final-term GPA was 4.0), the British government’s Foreign Office gave me a scholarship to study at Cambridge or Oxford University. The “ship” was worth $500,000.

For political reasons (forgive me for not going into details) I had to flee to another country and lay low for a few years. When I quietly returned to Hong Kong in the early 1990s, I got 13 job offers.

I never stopped dreaming. In the 1990s, the senior positions at the South China Morning Post (SCMP) newspaper were all occupied by the Brits, Americans, New Zealanders or Australians. I became the first local Chinese to be appointed deputy chief editor, the SCMP newsroom’s second-in-command. I worked extremely hard to prove to the 250 staff that I could manage them and edit a quality newspaper. I started at 10:30am and didn’t go home until 1:00am as I had to write editorials and sign off the news pages before the newspaper went to print. My boss left every day at 7:00pm to “entertain his business clients.” Nowadays, my old job was replaced by 2 deputy chief editors plus a managing editor. In those days I was the only deputy chief editor could turn to for help.

I was realistic. Since I was Hong Kong Chinese, I could never make chief editor of the SCMP due to historical and political reasons. I was pragmatic and simply enjoyed my work there. When there was an offer to become chief editor elsewhere, I jumped on it with both feet. I became editor in chief of Reader’s Digest’s Chinese edition on the day when Hong Kong was handed back to China by the British colonial government. (All Reader’s Digest stories were written in English so that they could be used by the other 42 editions of the magazine). I spent 7 years with Reader’s Digest and left to become a public relations professional in 2004. Being a Sagittarian, I feel bored if I stay in one job for too long. I can’t help it. Whenever the World Cup for the soccer tournament (every 4 years) begins, I am itchy for a job change.

I was head of the corporate communication department at Lingnan University, working for Professor Edward Chen, a noted economist. Six months into the job I was head-hunted by City University of Hong Kong. It offered me a promotion and a grade equivalent to a professor’s. What else could I ask for? My staff quarters next to Festival Walk in Kowloon Tong had an area of 2,400 square feet.

Four years later, I returned to my roots-- business journalism-- as I no longer had to work for money (my only daughter who scored a perfect 9 in an IELTS test, is a lawyer). In 2008, Hong Kong Baptist University’s journalism department started a master’s programme in international and business and financial journalism, and I had absolutely no hesitation in applying for a teaching job there. Once again, my prayer was answered and I became victorious. I am most grateful to Professor Huang Yu (now dean of HKBU’s School of Communication) who gave me the chance to teach at HKBU. I was appointed director of the MA in International Journalism Studies in 2010. This “baby” has grown and could stand on his own feet and it was time I moved on.

I became victorious again in September 2012. After a full year of preparation and hard work, my boss Professor Huang and I convinced the University Grants Committee of the Hong Kong Government to allow HKBU to start a brand new academic program: a BSocSc programme majoring in financial journalism with 20 student intakes a year. The programme is the first of its kind in Hong Kong’s government-funded universities. I will do my best to attract quality students and nurture them to become financial journalists.

My HKBU students often ask me: Hey Victor, how come your life seems to be always on plain-sailing and triumphant?

I have this to say to them: First, you must name yourself Vick, Vigor, Victor or Victoria (it’s a joke, of course); and more importantly, it is because “I dare to dream” and therefore I am victorious.

This is my advice to young people in Hong Kong who want to have a happy and successful life: have a dream, work passionately, have no envy for others’ success and no fear in flying sky-high like an eagle.

“No envy and no fear.”




Victor with journalism department colleagues

The first batch of graduates in 2009 under Victor's directorship of the MA in International Journalism Studies

Victor returns to visit Wolfson College of Cambridge University where he obtained his MPhil degree

Victor with his wife Bonnie and daughter Michelle

Victor has published 12 English learning books since 2008. This is the cover of one of them.


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