Back to Stories
Gardening and “Kung fu fighting” with patients, for research

Turned out Prof Chung Man Cheung (Man) did not start off with research on Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) right away. “My first PhD focused on Schizophrenia(精神分裂症).” He recounted his journey from studying in Canada and the UK, to securing a teaching position in the UK, then inspired by his Iraqi student and ran off to the UAE.

Man has formed ties with psychology since taking “Psychology 101”. “My parents preferred me choosing Economics, for practical reasons. I was still an obedient kid in Year 1, thanks to the freedom of choosing whatever subjects I like. So I took both economics and psychology classes.” Soon enough, he confirmed his lack of interest in economics and commerce, while taking immense pleasure in the interesting psychology introductory course. Laying his parents’ objection aside, Man pursued his passion.

While teaching in the UAE, Man portrayed an Arab student at a fashion show. (Photo: provided by Prof Chung)

“I fancy a chat with them”

Originally planning to return home following graduation, Man took his teacher’s advice for a PhD in Psychology at the University of Sheffield in the UK, focusing his research on Schizophrenia. “I was partly inspired by my roommate in Canada; he had the illness, often developing illusions and hallucinations. Yet I enjoy our conversations.”

“Once he (Man’s roommate) asked me to come over and watch TV. There were scenes of the British Parliament debating. He claimed those lawmakers were talking about him.” That was clearly odd. But instead of being put off, he found it, as you guessed it, interesting, “I was keen to find out how they get this belief system.” Man eventually started volunteering at psychiatric hospitals, chattering and growing flowers with the residents. He even spent a year living with a patient, furthering his understanding of this community. “One thought he’s the American President, another believed she’s Saint Mary.”

He underlined the calmness of most patients. Just that once, when Man was alone in the hospital, a patient came up to him, “I would like to beat you up.” For some reason, courage welled up within Man, who invited the patient into his room, asking “how he’d like to beat him up”.

Man took hold of a phone book and taught the patient to strike, who came to be confused. “At the end, I briefly coached him in Wing Chun, channelling his aggression into martial arts.” When most would have been sent into a cold sweat, Man was instead filled with curiosity.

Moving house from UK to UAE

After his first two years in the UK, halfway through his PhD, Man was, on one hand, burying himself in his research, and with a plan to settle down, beginning his job hunt on the other. He was soon recruited as a research assistant by University College London, when he first got in touch with PTSD patients. He later taught at University of Birmingham and Plymouth University, with PTSD as his primary research focus.

Just as he got a stable job, which would only be gone “unless committing an offence”, he grew restless all of a sudden. “I had an Iraqi PhD student. Chatting with him, I realised my ignorance about the Islamic faith and Muslims.” Such inflating interest towards their culture, customs and religion paved the way for another major life event – his move to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Prof Chung instructing his students on the verdant campus in the UAE. A student captured this moment and sent him the pic. (Photo: provided by Prof Chung)

By Kary Wong@ORKTS
English translation by Cathy Wong@ORKTS