Read The Tsar's Dwarf (Hawthorne Books)

Read The Tsar's Dwarf (Hawthorne Books)
"A curious and wonderful work of great human value by a Danish master." Sebastian Barry, Man Booker finalist (Click on the picture to go to the book's Amazon page)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

My Pretentious World Tour: Now at Lingnan University, Hong Kong

"Sterilize in every hour," says the sign at my hotel in Hong Kong.The sign is referring to the elevator keyboard - this potentially germ, bacteria infested death trap that will give you the swine flu the second you push any button.

Yes, it's not easy to survive in this world with so many dangers. The first time I was in Hong Kong everybody was afraid of SARS. Now it's the swine flu, but as long as you don't touch anything you should be safe.

Let's face it, life is a death sentence - even if we "sterilize in every hour".

Apart from the paranoia, Hong Kong is an upbeat town. I love its mixture of East and West, of double decker buses and sampans, of nerdy computer wizards and soulful soothsayers. However, I'm not here because I was born in the Year of the Monkey: I'm doing a reading and a workshop at Lingnan University in Tuen Mun.

Lingnan is far away from the sizzle of Kowloon. It's situated in The New Territories close to the border to China. This university is small and quaint with a landscaped garden, an Olympic size swimming pool, and a great collection of turtles.

I've also been invited to Lingnan to do a writing workshop, so Friday I return from Hong Kong Island to teach a Master Class for 15 adorable students.

It takes place in a classy room with freezing air condition and good tuna sandwiches. The participants are from Hong Kong, Mainland China, Malaysia, and Nepal. Several students have actually traveled from Lignan's sister university in Southern China to sit at my feet.

My Master Class (yes, I like using this word as often I can) is part of Lingnan's Life Writing program - an absolutely great invention where students write about their own life experiences. If you're a bore you could call it autobiography, but I like Life Writing much better.

I read and critique five stories, and some of them are very good. One student has written a moving tale about how a small gesture of trust from a stranger in Wales changed her life. Another story is a wonderful character study about a late uncle on the Mainland who was accused of counter-revolutionary tendencies, even though he was a mere loner.

But what impressed me the most were the students themselves. After an hour I wanted to put them all in my suitcase, so I could bring them with me to Denmark. They were wonderful, and so were the professors at Lingnan.

"We want you back," says chairman Richard Freadman. And who am I to argue with an Australian chairman? Or with fellow Dane Mette Hjort, chairman of Visual Arts, who invited me here and who knows more about Danish films than any quiz contestant?

Before I leave campus I go back to the turtle pond and kiss my new friends goodbye. "I wouldn't dream of making soup out of you," I whisper lovingly and return by train to crowded Hong Kong Island.

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