People's CornerLetter to the EditorA night to remember at Pantawan

A night to remember at Pantawan


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Two months prior to my return to the San Francisco Bay Area,  I had a unique opportunity to engage in a conversation with a group of graduate students and their coach from Beijing University at Pantawan.

These students had recently taken part in SCUBA diving at our renowned Apo Island dive site. Their coach regularly organizes annual SCUBA  diving trips for Beijing University students to explore various diving sites across Asia.

Mayor Ipe had suggested that I might enjoy interacting with these esteemed academic guests, leading me to join them for a dinner that evening.

Although I arrived a tad late, I was able to relish the meal which included rice, chicken inasal, batchoy, and the delightful halo-halo for dessert. I was pleasantly surprised to witness the enthusiasm with which the Mayor’s guests enjoyed the local cuisine.

The coach even remarked that the taste of chicken inasal evoked childhood memories of a similar chicken skewer dish from his grandmother’s house. The unanimous appreciation for halo-halo was also heartening, as it not only indicated their enjoyment of the food but also created a sense of shared experiences.

Post-dinner, my curiosity led me to delve into the academic backgrounds and research interests of the students from Beijing University. As an academician myself, albeit retired, I have a perpetual fascination with matters related to academia.

To my surprise I found that these students were meticulously chosen by  Beijing University often dubbed the “Harvard of China.” With an impressively low acceptance rate of one percent for domestic, and 15 percent for international students, it is acclaimed for prioritizing both instruction and research in fundamental sciences, while also venturing into the field of applied sciences.

During our conversation, I realized my misjudgment of the coach, whom I had assumed was merely a professional SCUBA instructor. It turned out that his involvement in SCUBA diving was a passionate avocation, driven by his love for observing underwater ecosystems and features.

I was astonished to learn that behind his cheerful and buoyant demeanor lay a Ph.D. in Genetic Engineering, and his current research focused on investigating the genetic triggers behind birth defects in children.

Seated across from me were two students who not only possessed impeccable English skills but also appeared strikingly youthful for graduate-level scholars. Their appearances seemed even younger than their Caucasian counterparts whom I had taught, and advised at California State University.

I pondered whether the higher melanin content in Asians compared to Caucasians contributed to these differences, making the latter less shielded from the sun and more prone to wrinkles and sagging. I resolved to ask a dermatologist to shed light on this matter.

One of the students, a young man who exuded a serene and composed demeanor, is pursuing a graduate degree in Applied Physics. I asked him whether it is in Classical Physics or Quantum Physics.  He replied that his specific focus is on the intricate realm of Quantum Physics. His research interests in quantum computing and cryptography held me captivated, as I marveled at the remarkable strides in technology, vividly demonstrated by the groundbreaking computational prowess of quantum computers.

Consider this: In 2019, Google executed a calculation on a quantum computer within minutes that would have taken a classical computer 10,000 years to complete. Just over a year later, China achieved a calculation in 200 seconds that would have consumed an ordinary computer 2.5 billion years – a staggering speed increase of 100 trillion times.

Seated beside the young man was a stylish young woman who exuded the aura of a model in her chic attire. She wore a white floral V-neck shift blouse elegantly paired with ecru wide-leg pants. Her presence was nothing short of statuesque, with porcelain skin that highlighted her beauty. Equally impressive was her academic dedication; she was nearing the completion of her graduate degree in Archaeology, specializing in the study of architectural designs spanning various regions of China.

I inquired whether there was a religious dimension to the designs she explored, such as Taoist or Buddhist influences. This question piqued her interest, prompting her to consider how contemporary designs had been shaped by a blend of global influences from both the Western and Eastern traditions.

Upon discovering that I held a position as a university professor in the United States, the students and their coach extended an intriguing proposition – that I might consider teaching for a semester or two at their University.

With a light-hearted tone, I informed them of my retired status, and the language barrier, as I didn’t speak Mandarin.

This exchange at Pantawan marked the culmination of a memorable evening filled with engaging conversations from extraordinary students of a real high standard university.


Efren N. Padilla



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