Close to Culture, Close to Creativity, Spot on Asia.

Articles by Jennifer Lien

Jennifer Lien

Jennifer Lien

Jennifer works to get fresh research into curious minds.
Jennifer Lien
Photo by Gary Elsasser.
Photo by Gary Elsasser.

Hong Kong – A City for Dreams

Posted on April 14, 2014

When I land in a city I love, I feel nervous. My countenance turns eager as I try my best to drink in every second, knowing it can’t last forever. After the raw nerves settle, I become thankful for the sweet days I have and do my best to see, to experience, and to pocket away gems of inspiration for the future. A few weeks ago, I experienced this when I travelled to Hong Kong.

To me, Hong Kong is magic. The energy, the attitude, the frantic pace of the city will forever be charming. In most cities, I appear impatient, always trying to get ahead a little faster. “Don’t people know there are things to do, places to see?” I joke. There’s no need to explain this to residents of Hong Kong. Whether waiting for the exit escalator at the MTR station or simply walking down the street, they are the ones challenging my usually most-aggressive walking style and veering me out of the way. It’s a nice feeling, meeting a global counterpart.

In an unfamiliar city, there are certain aspects that are grounding. No matter where I am in the world, I always find inspiration in skylines. Their vast, expansive nature always awakes feelings of wonder in me. Little surprise then after a meeting in Tsim Sha Tsui  that I couldn’t resist walking across the road to the Promenade and staring across Victoria Harbour at the tiny lit-up boxes on the Island’s skyscrapers. Powerful lives and ideas packed together so densely. I wondered, what was being created at that very moment? Perhaps the joy of cities can be encapsulated as places where anything can happen. Cities are places for dreamers, both young and old.

In Sheung Wan.

In Sheung Wan.

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Image Source: Charles KOH
Image Source: Charles KOH

Eating for One

Posted on December 4, 2013

On a recent trip to Beijing, I made a friend, someone who offered to show me around the city. After taking in sunset at Jingshan Park and exploring the hutongs near the Drum and Bell towers, we stopped to eat at one of the many restaurants lining the streets. “This place comes highly recommended on Yelp,” my friend said, so in we went. After glancing through the endless menu, I asked if Yelp recommended any particular dishes before stopping short. Checking out reviews before making a decision was a habit I was trying to kick, I explained. Paying for a bad meal is annoying, but stomaching the occasional misstep is worth it if I can keep the beauty of surprise.

With almost one zettabyte of information at our fingertips, it can be easy to go overboard when searching for information. Thinking about making a reservation at that new brunch place on [insert street name here]? It just makes sense to check out reviews on YelpHungryGoWhereBurpple, or wherever the Google search lands. More than just the food quality, others may feed you in about what you can (or should) expect from the ambiance, service, crowd, whatever you are curious about. This can be helpful of course, say if you are trying to pick the right place to host a special event or a large crowd. But for everyday meals, it can unnecessarily taint an unblemished palate and ruin the joy of discovering something new. When you finally arrive at the restaurant, and your mind is chirping with reminders of others’ opinions, do you dare order an unreviewed item?

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Men and Women

A Third Kind of Human

Posted on July 24, 2013

What comes to mind when someone utters the phrase “third kind of human”?

A 10-foot tall blue-skinned humanoid? How about a pale-skinned mind-reading vampire? On a recent trip to Shanghai, I learned that many Chinese believe there are three kinds of humans: men, women, and women with PhDs.

I was in Shanghai to participate in a 10-day program focused on higher education policy and planning. Participants came from highly ranked educational institutions from across the globe including Columbia in New York, Tsinghua in Beijing, and Nagoya in Japan. As a new Masters student, I was happy to learn from both my counterparts and seasoned PhD holders who challenged my biases and debated my thoughts. About two thirds of participants were female and I was encouraged that Asian educated and Western educated female students alike were unafraid to ask tough questions and be bold. Being surround by brilliant female minds was energizing; a scene like this is exactly what I like.

Imagine my surprise then, when an informal “get to know each other” session shone light on the elephant in the room: that some of our peers considered the female PhD students to be a third kind of human. At a later dinner in Shanghai, it was explained to me another way. It is also commonly believed in China that there are three types of women and they follow three distinct life paths: second class women marry first class men, first class women marry second class men, and third class women? They get PhDs. In a culture where many still judge a woman on her husband’s success, unmarried at 27 is practically considered a social disease. Parents become embarrassed if their daughters are “leftover” or “sheng nu”. If a woman is smart, and attractive enough to find a good husband, why would she waste her youth and prime child bearing years in school?

Source: Flickr, @USDAgov

Source: Flickr, @USDAgov

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Photo by Jiahui Huang
Photo by Jiahui Huang

The Best Kind of Welcome

Posted on May 31, 2013

Comfortable

My younger sister moved to Singapore for the summer two weeks ago. We have been exploring the city together, and on more than one occasion I have caught her expression out of the corner of my eye – wide-eyed with a dopey smile taking in her new surroundings. From bus lanes near Bras Basah to the bright lights near Marina Bay, everything is new and represents unexplored possibilities. She is excited about building a life in this city I am sure, as I felt the same way when I moved to the Lion City.

We are from a small Canadian city of 100,000 people. Despite its size, it is globally aware and was named the world’s smartest city by the Intelligent Community Forum not too long ago. But being globally aware is different than being international, just as traveling extensively is different than living abroad. Craving the latter, my sister pursued an international internship just as I did before her. Pursuing the unknown is an intoxicating experience. Out of your comfort zone, beautiful idiosyncrasies constantly colour outside your lines. And you let them. You notice, witness, experience like never before. The beautiful gift of realization is a gift from one country or community to the curious. It is an extended hand welcoming you to understand the culture, hoping that you will enjoy it and share your own.

The Davis Centre Library at the University of Waterloo. Photo by lytfyre.

The Davis Centre Library at the University of Waterloo. Photo by lytfyre.

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Source: Beedieu
Source: Beedieu

The OER Movement: A 21st Century Solution for Improving Education

Posted on April 12, 2013

The past decade has seen a shift in global power. That there is no longer a preeminent Western superpower becomes increasingly clear with time, as does the economic rise of the Global South. One reason for this can be attributed to education. Many countries in the Global South emphasize education as a key method for improving economic realities. The desire for improved education systems is there but the resources often are not. A recent movement championed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) aims to change this. The Open Educational Resources (OER) movement encourages educators to share, and allow others to amend and distribute, their content for free. Educators worldwide can then access the best of what is available to meet local needs saving research time and increasing action time. While OER is young, it has the potential to play a key role in improving education worldwide both within a country and across global borders.

History Behind the OER Movement

There is no universal definition for the “open” in OER, or for its sister terms open access, open source, or OpenCourseWare. However, the origins of OER’s definition can be narrowed to July 2002 at the conclusion of a UNESCO forum on the Impact of Open Courseware for Higher Education in Developing Countries. Attendees united to define it as,

“Technology-enabled, open provision of educational resources for consultation, use and adaptation by a community of users for non-commercial purposes [that] are typically made freely available over the web or the internet.”

They went on to describe such resources to include lecture material and syllabi, references and readings, and experiments and demonstrations.

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