Letter: Academic haven in Hong Kong

Sir: Paul Taylor reports Simon Gray as saying, of his late brother, Piers, that "it was the `boredom, boredom, boredom, boredom' of academic life in Hong Kong and a freak-filled common room `to which only Dickens could do justice' that drove him to despair and to the bottle" ("Intensive care", 5 August).

I was a colleague and close friend of Piers for nearly 20 years in Hong Kong. I believe that his brother's remarks misrepresent academic life in Hong Kong.

In my 20 years in Hong Kong with Piers, we had many academic visitors from Britain. Two reactions were expressed so frequently that they became almost commonplace:

(i) how pleasant it was, after the compartmentalisation of British universities, to visit the common room at the University of Hong Kong, and find oneself, as, say, a lecturer in English literature, talking to lawyers, philosophers, engineers, medics, chemists and marine zoologists.

(ii) how much more stimulating it was to be part of Hong Kong life - academic and otherwise - than to be stuck, as many were, for 25 years in British provincial universities.

The senior common room at the University of Hong Kong provided one of the most comfortable academic havens in the world. Teaching in Hong Kong was a joy; the engagement of the students (and I taught analytic philosophy!) was humbling. Piers Gray spent much of his time in the last three or so years of his life setting up a programme in American Studies. It was not Hong Kong that caused his so much regretted and untimely death.


Woodbury, Devon