Three weeks ago, during a trip to Taipei, I asked Professor Huangfu Ho-Wang out to lunch. The professor, my former journalism teacher, didn’t say no, and joined me at a restaurant at a pre-arranged time.
However, after arriving at the place he informed me: “I am terribly sorry I am not feeling well this morning. Please excuse me for not being able to partake of a meal with you today.”
As it turned out, he did not even have a sip of water. I came to know that he’s been having a hard time since his last chemo session.
How I wished he had just turned me down that morning or just not bothered to show up! But then, I knew that this is not Professor Huangfu’s way of doing things: If there is any value that he holds dear, it is the importance of sticking to an appointment.
Coming short of something to say, I brought up the topic of investigative journalism. And that hit the spot like steroid: He broke into animated discussion on the subject, telling me everything I needed to know about the issue during a 30-minute non-stop session.
After an enchanting conversation, I finally bid him farewell, saying that I looked forward to seeing him in Hong Kong soon.
Little did I know that it was to be our very last conversation. Last night, I was informed that the 74-year-old had passed away peacefully in Taiwan, where he had taken up residence after his retirement and had been undergoing cancer treatment recently.
I am forever indebted to the gracious professor who brought me a bowl of beef noodle in Ximending in June when he looked completely healthy and sought to engage further with journalism students.
Two and a half years ago, Professor Huangfu called me and asked if I was interested in teaching young students a financial journalism course at Hong Kong’s Chu Hai College of Higher Education.
Having no professional training before, I took up the challenge, thinking that it would be an easy job. I was terribly wrong because I found out that no one really understood anything from what I said in the first class.
It turned out to be a two-year exploration to try to figure how I could get youngsters to be interested in financial journalism, a subject that is increasingly important in a global financial city like Hong Kong, where journalism students often do not read financial papers thinking they are all about boring numbers.
I tried to prove otherwise, letting them know of my own personal experience which saw me seek out interesting topics and have fun in my daily routine, after I started out in the Hong Kong Economic Journal in mid-90s.
During my teaching journey, I received timely support from Professor Huangfu, whose career history includes taking journalism classes at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in the early 80s.
An embodiment of a Confucius scholastic belief of education for all, Professor Huangfu was a kind and patient professor who also had a strict requirement on students. And he was the single reason why Chu Hai graduates usually fared well in the industry.
I may not be among his students who are currently heading major media outlets in the city, but I must say I’ve learnt a lot from watching the professor from up close during journalism school.
During my last two Taiwan visits, Professor Huangfu spoke on man-bites-dog journalism, and how it evolved from the commonly understood news doctrine about an unusual and infrequent event to the current situation wherein we have all sorts of emotional stories about man and dog.
Thank you Huangfu for being such a gentle but curious professor who proved the axiom: “Once a journalist, always a journalist”. May you rest in peace!
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