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《Lessons for Elementary Schools (6)》 __ Kong Shiu Loon (53)

Universities Are for Imagination and Friendship

“Guess what I have, Grandpa?” Nancy came home holding a paper with a big black dot on it, accompanied by a circle of the same size.”

“I see a dot and a circle.” Grandpa responds flatly, not showing much interest.

“Dr. Wei told us that they are a black hole and a white hole. He was explaining how time began and how it travelled from past into the future.” Nancy watches her Grandpa intently, showing how proud she is in what she says.

“That’s very interesting. Who is this Dr. Wei?”

“He is Mr. Shaw’s friend visiting, a very learned man from Cambridge University. They were classmates in high school. So Mr. Shaw invited him to talk to us about what he does.”

“Wow, a professor talking to elementary students, not an everyday event. So, what about this black hole business?”

“Dr. Wei told us that a black hole is an imaginary thing. It is ferocious in warping the fabrics of space-time in all sides. If any star tries to get in, for example, it will be cut into pieces. In the same way, if a star inside tries to break out, it will be sucked back.”

“That makes me dizzy.” Grandpa says, “This professor talks about a thing that is not real and a lot of ifs. Do you understand what he was saying?”

“Not all of it, Grandpa. But it is lots of fun for a thing that does not exist to be ferocious. Actually, Dr. Wei said that the concept might help us to feel dearer to the black sky and all the twinkling stars. They are so very far away, so mysterious and ever so interesting. He told us there was this professor Stephen Hawking at his university who had given more explanation in his book 'A Brief History of Time'. In it, he said he tried to understand everything about the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all. He then concluded that the universe is a nutshell. We all like the idea of a nutshell, Grandpa.”

“Um, I know a nutshell is good to eat.” Grandpa responds. “But I would not question why the universe should exist or not. Where could we live if it did not exist?”

“Dr. Wei also told us that Professor Hawking is a miracle. He suffered this strange illness call ALS on his 21st birthday. It made him totally unable to use his muscles. But he managed to live and think and teach and write books in the fifty years until now, enlightening the world. He inspired the making of a movie called 'The Story of Everything'.”

“Yes, I saw that movie. May be we can watch it on the internet together. It is so touching.”
Nancy clapped and said, “May be Mom and Dad too, this Sunday.”

“What more did Dr. Wei say?”

“He asked us if we wished to attend universities. Then, he explained why Cambridge is a great university, using his experience. Grandpa, did you attend university after high school? Mom always says I must do so when I grow up.”

“No, I did not. In fact, we were so poor that I had attended school for only two years. Being poor did not just mean not having money to pay for school fees. It meant that I had to work early in life. Your Mom is right that you should attend university after high school. You will know much to enable you to lead a good life and be happy.”

“But you know a lot too, Grandpa, and you have a happy life just the same. I mean without attending university.”

“You are right. But I would surely know more if I had the opportunity. Well, people like me say that we attended the University of Society, meaning we learn from work and friends, and testing new skills and ideas to make life easier and richer.”

“So why can’t I do the same?”

“May be you can. But I know your parents will not let you.”

“Why? I am not saying I would not go to university. I am saying I am also interested in your kinds of university too.”

“You will surely have both, Nancy. You are lucky. But I am telling you that life is quite hard having to learn without the help of good teachers and friends.”

“That was what Dr. Wei told us too. He said that Cambridge is great because of four special things. First, you make really good friends while living together in dormitories, discussing freely on every subject from your heart. Second, you can ask any question at any time and teachers and friends will respond respectfully, never say you are asking stupid questions. Third, the university emphasizes the making and study of fundamental knowledge and postulaing, regardless of how strange they may appear. Finally, Cambridge has more than eight hundred years of glorious history. It has had 98 scholars with Nobel Prizes, 15 British Prime Ministers, about 30 heads of state all over the world. Dr. Wei said that when you walk along the long corridors of any college, you can hear echoes of knowledge and devotion to new endeavors, and you feel you must try to do your best, no matter what, for fun, imagination or sheer joy.”

“Wow, did he give any example?”

“Of course he did. But I cannot remember all of them. I know Bacon who invented the scientific method: Newton, who discovered gravity while sitting underan apple tree; Darwin who says we are descendents of monkeys; Woolf who wrote the funning story called A Room of One’s Own; and Byron the great poet of love poems. And my favorite Jane Goodall, who spent her life with chimps. Do you remember we saw her movie together?”

“I surely do. Nancy, Grandpa is really proud of you. You know so much that I only hear the first time. You will learn much and plenty more when you are in university.”

“You know lots too, Grandpa.”

“Yes, dear. But I am so much older than you are. I will now tell you about my University of Society. We enjoy giving it the grand name of University without Walls. I read Maxim Gorky’s famous books about his childhood, his mother, and his university. He was a legend during the Russian Revolution. He insisted on writing freely, travelling across the huge Russian Empire talking to people. He was driven out of his beloved motherland twice. Then he was invited back as a hero because of his writings, which tell stories of basic human love, like being a child, a mother, and a patriot. Today, there is a Gorky Central Park of Culture and Leisure in Moscow.”

“What was your university like, Grandpa?”

“Well, I was a farm boy tending a cow and working in the fields and running wild until I was 13 years old. Then, I joined in with other people to fight the Japanese who invaded China and burned my village. We lived mostly in the hills. We had no guns. But we fought by making it hard for them to get food, and by stealing guns from them. It was a hard and dangerous time. I was 20 years old when the war ended, and I went to Hong Kong with my uncle who taught me printing and reading in a newspaper company. I got married three years later and got a permit to sell newspapers aat a street corner. Years later, your grandma died. Your Dad asked me to retire and join him in Canada when he had a good job and you. I am still learning today talking with you. So, you and your school are a part of my university.”

“That is really neat, Grandpa, that you and I are classmates, till one day when I enter may be Cambridge with you for fun and imagination. We will be with Dr. Wei and his many friends.”

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