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You might not immediately recognize the name Benjamin Au Yeung, but if you live in Hong Kong you very likely know him as "Ben Sir".
Formerly a senior lecturer at the Chinese Language and Literature Department of CUHK, now turned a light-hearted TV personality, Benjamin is an authority on the simultaneous significance and hilarity of colloquial Cantonese. His engaging brand of "edutainment" has seen him sell out stadiums and host several shows on HK television station TVB. He is also seasoned author of several books on Cantonese learning.
Benjamin, who undertook his PhD at HKUST, is frequent guest speaker of a series of talks on campus for students on the "deeper meaning behind the magic, the energy of Cantonese." But, surprisingly for someone so passionate, he was not always set on pursuing either Chinese or even academia as a career. He began his working days as a PE teacher, before majoring in English for his Bachelor's and Master's degrees. "Then I asked myself, if I am going to spend years on academic study of a language, why do it in a foreign language?" he says. “By choosing my mother tongue, I can spend more time digging into the theoretical level.”
He came to HKUST to work with his then-supervisor, Professor Samuel Cheung. “HKUST allowed us lots of flexibility – I couldn’t find any examples of that kind of flexibility during a part-time PhD in any other school in the 2000s,” he recalls.
Benjamin wishes to impart a “consciousness of the properties” of Hong Kong’s mother tongue, at a time when it’s more in need than ever. “If you can understand Cantonese in this deep way,” he says, “you can know the power of our language.”