Hong Kong is a pretty small place so the networking can be somewhat limited however I think the Universities have all worked really hard to ensure that there are still opportunities.
Despite being small and not necessarily hosting lots of international conferences Hong Kong is a busy location for transfers and stopovers when people travel long distances. A lot of academics therefore are willing and able to pop in and visit us so researchers get a good opportunity to be exposed to international research.
For the postgraduate symposia where final year students presenting their work and second year students normally present a poster, the different Chemistry departments in Hong Kong have all joined forces and run the symposia together. Sadly this means that only one or two students from each University present a lecture but it is really interesting to be able to mix with people from the other Universities and look at student research however we don’t really see visiting speakers from other Hong Kong universities.
This is a personal viewpoint and some people may not agree with me, however, like the UK there is some mostly friendly rivalry between the universities. To a lesser extent the older institutions look down a bit on the younger institutions – but in my experience that happens everywhere and most of the time it is not a problem. Human beings are fickle creatures!
Another personal observation, which is where I think the cultural differences really become apparent is people’s willingness to talk to me. In the UK, restaurants, lifts etc. are usually quite quiet…. here they are really quite noisy as everyone talks to everyone else. The difference comes when it involves talking to someone you don’t know and most of all if they are foreign. This topic has come up several times when people ask me about living and working in Hong Kong. Outside the tourist haunts barely anyone speaks to me (apart from other expats). Generally it seems to be because I am foreign and apparently they are quite embarrassed and don’t want to talk to me because they are frightened in case their English is not good enough! I think most of us English speakers aren’t too offended or worried by this…. I speak barely any Cantonese! It is a shame because it leaves me feeling very isolated but also, most people at the University speak good English (and the best way to improve is to practice). It is very much a cultural thing and I guess us native English speakers take it for granted very often.
The lack of space almost certainly exacerbates this. The population density of Hong Kong puts all space at a premium – residential and business places are all squeezed in. There is no formal common room so the opportunities to chat to staff and students over a tea/coffee doesn’t happen. Each research group does their own thing. In the case of my department, the academic offices are on the sixth floor (rooms with a view) and the labs are on the ground and first floor (with no windows) there is less interaction between academics and research staff/students. My supervisor comes to the lab most days but we don’t really have any interaction with any other faculty which I think is a shame.
In terms of maintaining networks, I try and stay in touch with people in the UK who I have worked with – the age of e-mail and other social media makes that a lot easier. I use Twitter to keep up to date with information on science funding, policy and key bits of information. I still receive e-mail newsletters etc.