Interviewed by Eric Yin Liu
Could you please tell me about your academic background?
I did my PhD in New Zealand, where I focused on language use in sexuality education classrooms. I found a secondary school teacher who was willing to let me come into the classroom, record sessions and do ethnographic research. Before that, my Master’s dissertation focused on online chat-rooms. I did a corpus-assisted discourse analysis of online chat-rooms. Most of my publications emerged from those two projects. After that I was Assistant Professor at City University of Hong Kong for 6 years, before coming to HKU last year.
You said that you had been in HK for over six years. How do you like life in HK?
It’s good, I like Hong Kong. I’ve always thought I would like to live here. It is a difficult city to live in – I think – if you are under a certain amount of income, especially as a visitor because we are not entitled to public housing or anything. However, as it turns out I’m quite happy here. It also works well because my husband, Leo, is from Korea, so being based in Hong Kong is good for us as an international couple.
After working previously at CityU, how do you find the HKU School of English?
It’s great. I think the School of English is a very collegial environment. People here get along well, and I like the atmosphere. It’s a nice place to work.
How does your research fit into the School of English?
My research fits here because of the school’s strength in discourse analysis through colleagues like Christopher Hutton, Adam Jaworski and Olga Zayts, as well as others who have come and gone. That makes the School of English the best department in Hong Kong for me right now – especially since my research is turning more and more towards health communication, a specialization of Olga, who’s also a colleague in the field. We are hoping to collaborate more.
How do you see your research against the backdrop of Hong Kong, China, and greater China?
From the point of view of sexuality more generally, I think one of the things that I noticed when I came to Hong Kong was that sexuality education is taught in a very limited way in Hong Kong schools. That’s true of a lot of places; for example, in my opinion most schools in New Zealand are not doing enough for sexuality education. So Hong Kong is not necessarily unusual, but, I have to say, it’s very hard for me to do sexuality education research here. I’m not exactly working with sexual minority populations here, at least not at this stage, because I think there are other people who are already doing that quite well – and they are fluent in Cantonese. So I’ve turned my attention more directly towards intersex embodiment. And of course, that research as such is not about sexuality. That’s about sex, about bodies, males vs. females vs. people whose bodies don’t fit into that binary. Those people have many gender expressions. Some of those people say, “I’m actually a man but I have this (intersex) body,” while others say, “I’m a woman but I have this (intersex) body,” and there are people who say, “I’m non-binary!” I’m focused on this issue now because I think I can contribute to the Hong Kong context: I have people here in the city – intersex-bodied people – who want to collaborate with me.
Could you offer some suggestions for our research postgraduate students?
For PhD students, the main thing to keep in mind is that the thesis is only a starting place. The thesis starts to look insurmountable if you regard it as something other than a starting place. It’s a way of proving yourself – but it’s only a beginning. And I think if students see it that way, it’s liberating. (The MPhil is on another level, but not so different.) The most important thing is to get your thesis finished! And to get it written with lots of advice, care and attention.