“Let’s Put on a Show” in Hong Kong with American Myths – Eleanor Heginbotham – Hong Kong 1998

Four “Senior Scholar” Fulbrighters arrived in Hong Kong, a year after the handover, when many potential students had left for Canada and elsewhere. Our universities (I was at the University of Hong Kong, the high rise above the bay while others were in Baptist and Chinese University) were taking steps to de-emphasize western influences and ramp up Chinese scholarship.

Nevertheless, my job was to lecture and hold tutorials in the large American Studies Programme (funny to use British spelling for that) where the teaching load was fairly hefty, and meeting students in these large auditoriums and in small groups of tutorials crammed in my office on a terraced tropical courtyard was a pleasure. But the most fun came when Glenn, a fellow Fulbrighter, and I became Judy and Mickey and decided to try for a series of programs celebrating American popular culture and history. We gathered allies in our respective departments, including film experts, historians, musicians, and we fought over which movies would fit our goal: to introduce our myths as depicted in great films.

The meetings with Hong Kong film makers and scholars, with our own colleagues, and with our students were richly rewarding and sometimes fiery as we fought for our candidate for one of five films. For example, students were not used to talking about sexuality, a subject that came up with The Wizard; they were interested in Jimmy Stewart’s beating against intransigency in Congress in Mr. Smith, and now that they are having their own desperately serious political problems, I think of them, wondering who may have been inspired to action and what their danger might be.

This series of discussions following films was not all – I invited classes to my apartment to see any part of the six hour Scarlet Letter. I expected drop ins and quick departures after perhaps an hour, but so many crammed into the space at the beginning and stayed the entire time — silently watching and scarcely eating the nibbles — that I wondered how they could be so different from the students I had left behind in Minnesota and Maryland. Another day, we chartered a bus for a trip to Chinese University’s Faulkner holdings (remarkable treasures left by a previous Fulbrighter), and they entered into the seek-for-manuscripts or translations contest I set up.

All of it was fun, as was listening to Hong Kongers recite — passionately — the words of Emily Dickinson and Henry David Thoreau. Yes, I learned from them constantly about their sometimes imperiled island; I was fascinated by the glimpses into their successful film enterprises; but I also loved seeing America with them through the riches we brought along.

Eleanor Heginbotham – Fulbright to Hong Kong 1998

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