Although memory sports started in the western hemisphere, the community of memory enthusiastsin the east is growing with an enormous speed. Countries like China, Mongolia, the Philippines and India are booming, pruducing many marvelous memory athletes. One of them is Andy Fong from Hong Kong who is doing this sport a favor from four different angles: as a memory athlete, memory arbiter, championship organizer and last but not least putting memory techniques in an astonishing practice.
Memory-Sports: Hello Andy, can you give us a brief profile about you?
Andy: I am an Electrical & Computer engineer, a patent analyst, a Grandmaster of Memory and a Level 2 memory arbiter.
Memory-Sports: What was your kick-start experience with memory sports?
Andy: After my graduation in Canada, I worked in Japan for a year and then came back to my home town, Hong Kong. I applied for a government job which required me to take certain exams. I was having some trouble of memorizing the Basic Law of Hong Kong as I was more like a math person back then. One day I went to a memory seminar and I met Dr. Yip. He was demonstrating some memory skills such as recalling any word from a dictionary and reciting the entire “Dao De Jing”. I found it amazing so I took his classes and started my memory journey. A year later, Dr. Yip took me to the World Memory Championship (WMC) 2010. I found it very interesting so I decided to train harder after I came back. At the WMC 2011, I became a grandmaster of memory and the top memory athlete in Hong Kong.
Memory-Sports: You are referred to as the Walking Dictionary because you are able to recite the entire Chinese-English dictionary – word by word. That is very impressive and we want to know all about it: What was your motivation to learn that, what techniques did you use for it and how long did it take to memorize?
Andy: First of all, I wouldn’t claim myself as a Walking Dictionary as my mentor, Dr. Yip, memorizes a much thicker dictionary than I do. The reason I memorized it was that being too lazy to find new journeys for the Method of Loci. So by memorizing the dictionary, I had to find new journeys. With these new journeys, I was able to memorize 1.230 numbers in an hour, 13 decks of cards in an hour, and many other data at the WMC 2011. The technique that I used to memorize the dictionary is the same as Dr. Yip’s method. However, for the page 101 to 150, I used a journey from a video game, Yakuza. I also used these journeys to memorize the first 10 decks of cards in the hour cards event. It didn’t take me as long to memorize the dictionary as creating the necessary journeys. It took me one day for the first 50 pages. But it took a bit longer for the rest as I got bored for repeating the same process each day.
Memory-Sports: You are married to the lovely Angel Lai, who did win the 2012 Canadian Memory Championship. Together you are a famous memory couple. How does it influence you to have a strong woman at your side who shares your love for memory sports?
Andy: I think it is very important to have someone to share your interests. I met Angel since high school. Basically we do almost everything together since then. We went to university together, we worked together at eight different companies and we went to the WMC together. I would say I couldn’t have become a grandmaster or an arbiter or even host the Hong Kong Memory Championships without her support.
Memory-Sports: In 2011 you achieved the Grandmaster of Memory (GMM) in your second year of competing in memory sports. You are the founder of the Hong Kong Memory Sports Council and the Hong Kong Open Memory Championship. You became an official Level Two Arbiter and in 2013 you even joined the World Memory Sports Council (WMSC). A steep carrier! What are you thriving for?
Andy: To be honest, I never expected that I would become a GMM. I didn’t even know what it is until 2010. I have already started to set my goals for my next championships right after I got my title. Unfortunately, when I came back to Hong Kong, many people didn’t seem to care about the GMM. The reason behind is that there are already many trainers claiming themselves as GMM and people don’t bother to find out who is real. Someone even claims himself as the World Memory Champion. I realized that there is no way the sports can grow in this environment, so I decided to take the role of being a memory arbiter and to join the WMSC so that I can have the ability and credential to tell people what memory sports really is and to protect those who really respect the sports here.
Memory-Sports: You are a memory teacher in Hong Kong. What is the situation you experienced in that kind of expertise? Are there many memory trainers in your area? How well qualified are they?
Andy: Like many Asian countries, there are a lot of tests and examinations for students in Hong Kong. Their parents are more interested in using mnemonics in studying rather than memory sports. There are many memory trainers in Hong Kong. Most of them are really good at marketing rather than teaching.
Memory-Sports: Do you think there should be some official guidelines for the field of memory coaches? How do you like the idea of an ethical guild for memory trainers, where ideas, qualities and skills are shared to provide an international label of awesomeness and trust (just some crazy idea of mine)?
Andy: I think ethical guidelines are necessary but it would be really hard to implement and manage. For example, they are many so-called GMM or even World Memory Champions in Hong Kong. They obviously don’t care about the ethical issue. Right now we are trying to re-establish the standard in Hong Kong by setting rules and regulations. We are also not letting certain so-called GMM or World Memory Champions participate at any future ranked championships. We are not sure if it may help but that’s the least we can do at the moment.
Memory-Sports: Maybe letting them compete would be a way to prove their incompetence, or give them a chance to redeem themselves.
Now a critical question: Many fellow memory athletes became memory coaches at some point and stopped competing when they achieved a certain title. That includes a few former World Memory Champions. You have competed in 2010 and 2011. Now you are still dedicating a lot of energy to help the sport from behind the scenes – a big difference to simply disappearing from memory sports. But will you compete again?
Andy: I always want to compete again. Even when I was standing on the stage as an arbiter, I felt like I was memorizing like the competitors. But right now it is more important to let the public know what memory sport truly is.
Memory-Sports: You are a now an important figure in the world of memory. How do you envision the future of this sport and what will you personally do to make that happen?
Andy: There are many possibilities of how the memory techniques can change our world. I am working on different experiments, such as the neurofeedback training, effect of memory training with drug addicts in rehabs, memory training with seniors, etc., to find out how the memory training can benefit the public.
Memory-Sports: We are now coming to my favorite part of these interviews: How much does this sport and/or memory techniques influence us on a daily basis? How adoptable is this in practice for learning? I always hear the sentence that memory techniques are (only) good for shopping lists and PIN numbers from the media. That seems like a reduction to pure commercialization to me. What do you think?
Andy: I would say knowing the techniques are more than just memorizing shopping lists or PIN numbers. It is about knowing your ability that you can basically memorize anything. It is about the self-confidence.
Memory-Sports: Memory techniques are thousands of years old and have been a crucial part of ancient education in mystic and philosophy schools. You mentioned Dr. Yip memorized the Dao De Jing with them – clearly a marvelous step back to the roots. But if they are so powerful why don’t they teach that in all schools around the globe?
Andy: I can’t really tell why for many other countries. But it seems to me that, in Hong Kong, people with the skills tend to start their own businesses rather than serving the community by being a school teacher. Also, the government here considers memory sports as an extracurricular activity. I guess it is because when it is first introduced here, it is more like a magic show to everyone. Schools may not see the benefits right away. To get the memory techniques spread is not about teaching memory techniques in all schools, but to actually apply it in every subject, and it requires some really good mnemonists, time and effort to design a new curriculum.
Memory-Sports: If you could change one thing about memory sports, what would that be?
Andy: Memory championships seems not that appealing to many spectators as it looks more like an exam to them. I am still looking for ideas of how to allow the spectators to engage into the sports.
Memory-Sports: Thank you for your time, Andy.Andy Fong’s Memory Statistics Share