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Dr. Chow Yiu-fai, Assistant Professor of Humanities and Creative Writing, HKBU

The BUddy Post reporter has interviewed award-winning lyricist and Assistant Professor of Humanities and Creative Writing Dr. Chow Yiu-fai who will share with us his dedication to pursuit excellence in lyric writing, publication and teaching.

Reporter: Please share with us your experience as a Cantopop lyricist and an Assistant Professor of Humanities and Creative Writing at HKBU?

Dr. Chow: I joined HKBU in January 2011. While I was almost finishing my Ph.D. degree at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands in 2010, I started thinking seriously about my career path. I realised that I enjoy teaching students at university, sharing experiences and exchanging views with them and teach them what they should know about. Moving back to Hong Kong is what I intended to do as I have been living in the Netherlands for 20 years since 1992.It so happened that the then Humanities Programme of HKBU was looking for a new faculty member. I applied for the teaching position. Fortunately, I got the offer and I started working here ever since then.

Reporter: What courses have you been teaching? Have you conducted any other research works?

Dr. Chow: My four core teaching areas are Gender Studies, The Present States of Arts, Creative Industries: Theories and Practices and Chinese Song Lyrics Writing.

Upon the completion of my doctoral thesis in 2011, I have only conducted some small-scale and short-term research studies. Yet, in the coming few years, I have two major research works in the pipeline. The first project is funded by Early Career Scheme of Research Grants Council of University Grants Committee to conduct a research on Hong Kong creative workers who have relocated to Beijing and Shanghai. I want to recuperate their experience and try to understand more what is going on in the creative industries between Hong Kong and the Mainland. The second project is funded by European Union. It is a collaborative project amongst three European universities, focusing on the research on single females in Shanghai and Delhi. As I attained both my postgraduate degrees from the University of Amsterdam, I have already established a close connection with these European universities. Given that part of my research interests have been on gender particularly in the Chinese context, they invited me to join the research team.

Reporter: How do you make your classes so interactive and interesting? Can you recall any unforgettable moments in class?

Dr. Chow: I guess most people don't want to be bored, and I understand that the attention span for my students is rather short, especially for a 2-hour class. Therefore, I would try to provide an interactive classroom environment to stimulate dialogues and discussions in class. I prefer my students to call me "Yiu-fai" instead of Dr. Chow and I also ask them to write their names on a piece of paper and place them on the desk so that I can remember each and every one of them. I try my best to strengthen bonds with them and urge them to ask questions boldly in class. Although I may not have a definite answer to their questions, I promise I will handle their enquiries seriously.

I encourage students to express their opinions freely in all my classes, though it is a bit difficult to do so in large class like Gender Studies. I will make the effort to respond to my students' enquiries. I believe that it is crucial for students to express themselves. With the view to raising students' gender awareness, I request students to do some weekly activities which are out of the social norm. For instance, I will ask male students to buy sanitary napkins and female students to buy pornography. In such a way, students are stimulated to examine gender issues from multiple perspectives and to become aware of gender power relations around them.

During my class of The Present State of Arts, I would invite students to share what they think is the most memorable piece of artwork. I found that students enjoyed very much the opportunity to share with one another interactively.

Regarding the most unforgettable incident, I recalled an occasion when I burst into tears in front of my students in class while I was playing a song by Lou Reed who just passed away. Actually, I was alright until some students asked me "Yiu Fai, are you sad?". Then, I couldn't help crying. I felt somewhat embarrassed. In hindsight, I don't think it's a big deal anymore as shedding tears is just a way to express my emotion after all.

Reporter: Can you share with us your tips on teaching the next generation? And what is your mission for education?

Dr. Chow: I am very inexperienced as a teacher. I am learning all the time, but I enjoy teaching very much. When I returned to Hong Kong, I heard about some negative news on Hong Kong youngsters and I was worried that I could not tolerate them. Therefore, I made a promise to myself that I would quit teaching when I started complaining about the next generation in Hong Kong. Luckily, so far, I still love teaching. I love getting in touch with students and sharing their visions and ideals make me feel lively and hopeful.

Similar to the mission of many colleagues, I think I simply hope that the youngsters will have more space, more freedom, that they will be courageous enough to choose their own paths and fulfill their dreams of making a difference in their own lives.

Reporter: You are a multi-talented lyricist who has received numerous awards and your style doesn't really fall into the mainstream. Why would you choose this path? What do you want to express through your lyrics?

Dr. Chow: It wasn't planned that way. Or, I didn't start off thinking I should develop certain style of writing. In fact, I didn't dream of becoming a creative writer at all. I majored in English Studies and Comparative Literature at the University of Hong Kong for my undergraduate degree, so I would say I was typically a product of colonial education. For my first job upon my graduation, I needed to write in both English and Chinese at work and I realised that I was not competent enough in Chinese language. I started reading lots of Chinese novels to improve my proficiency. Then one day, completely out of the blue, I asked a friend of mine Anthony Wong Yiu-ming if he could let me try writing lyrics for Tat Ming Pair. Anthony was part of the duo which already started a professional singing career at that point. I just wrote according to what I felt right, the diction, rhythms, metaphors, theme, and then somehow it became my style

What I want to do with my lyric writing is to open up alternative worlds. I believe there are more worlds than one. And I believe we should be free to move around these worlds, and live our lives differently. For instance, I sometimes wonder if love is confined to the life-long bonding between one male and one female only. I think there are many choices one can make especially when you are young.

Reporter: Any similarities between writing lyrics, publications and teaching? What are your successful tips for achieving excellence in these three arenas?

Dr. Chow: For me, the common goals of writing lyrics, writing publications and teaching are to make a better world for tomorrow with more choices for people. The coverage of lyrics is broad but there is the limitation of words. I can only use about 100 words in a few minutes to influence others. As for publications, there are also limitations. Although I can use more words to express my feelings, the readers need to buy my books at bookstores to share my feelings. As for teaching, the impact on people is the most intense as I can get in touch with students face-to-face and influence them instantaneously. After all, there are pros and cons for these three channels. And it's my privilege to be able to use them at the same time.

I do not know the key to success and I am not trying to be modest. I just want to share my thinking on life to everyone and try to make the world a better place to live.

Last but not least, I'd like to share one incident to end this interview. I came across a Humanities alumnus who visited a colleague of mine i.e. his former teacher. My colleague introduced us. Later on in another occasion we met, and he kept on talking about his former teacher, about how important she had been. He was so proud of his teacher and I could see that his eyes were sparkled with enthusiasm and admiration. Someday, I hope that my students will talk about me to another person like that.

Interviewee's Biography:
Dr. Chow Yiu-fai received his Ph.D. and M.A. degrees from the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. He is currently the Assistant Professor of Humanities and Creative Writing at HKBU. Apart from academic works, he is also actively involved in Chinese song lyrics and other forms of creative writing. He is an award-winning lyricist and his Cantonese pop song, Arrogant, has won the Best Lyrics Award of the CASH Golden Sail Music Awards 2013 organised by the Composers and Authors Society of Hong Kong. Dr. Chow has also written a lot of unique lyrics that cover controversial issues.




Dr. Chow Yiu-fai (Photo courtesy of Mr. Kenneth Lee)

He is the recipient of Best Lyrics Award of the CASH Golden Sail Music Awards 2013

Dr. Chow enjoys having cosy barbeques with his students at his rooftop

Graduating students of his lyric writing class showcase their final project at AC Hall in 2014

His students see him off at the airport whereby they have picnics before departure

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