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Interview with Visiting Faculty- 8

An Interview with Dr. Albert Tsui Ka Cheng

The Institute was very fortunate to welcome a successful researcher from the National University of Singapore, for 3 months stay from May to July, 2015. He has long been committed to the good relationship between his university and Hitotsubashi as a bridge, with many outstanding joint projects, for over 10 years.   
Dr. Albert Tsui Ka Cheng, is very popular among our faculty members for his open mindedness, friendliness, and his strong commitment to his researches.  Dr. Albert Tsui Ka Cheng research interests include finite sample distribution of OLS estimator in AR(1) models, multivariate GARCH models and applications to economics, social security and retirement adequacy in Singapore, and some studies using NSFIE dataset in Japan.  
We were very fortunate to have had this opportunity to directly hear from him, simple things which we should never forget in life.  We hope you’ll enjoy his interview. 

Growing up in Hong Kong

Q: How was your childhood days? 
I was born and grew up in Hong Kong, in a small village, with my parents and 2 elder sisters and a brother.  Both of my parents worked, so I was quite independent, which turned out to be very fortunate.  Among my siblings, only I had this opportunity to go to a public school far away from home, 2 hours 30 minutes ride on a bus every day.  So, during the travels, I learned the joy of reading, and somehow has become interested in watching movies, which made me think one day I would become a movie director!  As a child, I utilized my limited time and money effectively on watching movies, all kinds of movies, so budgeting and planning my schedule was important. I didn’t have similar companion involved, so I was always on my own.
Q: Such an interesting childhood you’ve spent!  So, when did you move over to 
About 20 to 25 years ago.  It was after I got married, and have completed my Ph.D. in the US, then we moved over.  Since then, I have not moved outside Singapore.  
Q:  When did you first think about becoming an economist? 
Actually, it was by coincidence.  My first choice at the university was not economics. It was mathematics and physics, actually.  As freshman, I studied these subjects and others.  But somehow I did not want to continue physics, so I changed my major to economics.  I still like mathematics, but I shifted more to the mathematical application side, which is economics.  Then I graduated and became a civil servant in order to financially support my family.  I worked for seven years, and then returned to the academic world as I always wanted to be a researcher.  I went to the US to study econometrics and after graduation, I moved over to Singapore, bringing my family and my mother together at her age 78!  She studied English for about 4 years in order to communicate with my daughter and our housemaid, which she finally succeeded. 
Q:  That is such a wonderful story!  Has her way of living, especially in learning other language, given you any motivation to study Japanese? 
Yes, my mother gave me lots of inspiration and encouragement.  That’s why I strongly feel that I can still learn Japanese, if she could learn English at the age of 78!  

Life with Hitotsubashi and the people around

Q:  When was your first time to know about Hitotsubashi? 
It was about 10 years ago, when I was joining the JSPS program.  At that time, I knew a few outstanding Japanese researchers, such as Professor Kimio Morimune from Kyoto University, Professor Koichi Maekawa from Hiroshima University. So, I wrote to them if I could pay some visits to them during my JSPS program, and they said yes.  So I went, and then my human network expanded in getting to know Professor Noriyuki Takayama, and Professor Yukinobu Kitamura of Hitotsubashi University.  That was my first encounter with Hitotsubashi.  Indeed, IER has given me many opportunities, together with a good research environment, friendly people around and the beautiful and peaceful campus.   So I became a fan of the university, which made me come over quite often ever since then.  For instance, a small episode to symbolize my longtime relationship with the university is that I even have my own rice cooker here which Professor Kitamura kindly keeps for me!  So you see, the most attractive part is the human relationships with the best and welcoming researchers here.   
Q:  Out of all your visits, this time for 3 months stay might be your longest stay here. How do you like living in Kunitachi International Guest House? 
For the past few times, I had stayed in International House of the university.  There, life was more convenient with more movements going on in everyday life, since it was on campus closer to the station area of Kunitachi city. International Guest House, because of its location, you do not want to get out once you go back after a day’s work, walking over 1,300 meters one way. But I must say that this residential area is very peaceful and quiet, and after all, walking is good for your health. In fact, I enjoy my stay at the International Guest House in general. 
Q:  Please describe in one phrase, how do you like living in Kunitachi? 
Okay.  寧静致遠.  That is: A quiet and peaceful mind breeds success.  Lin cheng zi yen, in Cantonese, and lin tin chin yen in Mandarin.  

Attitude makes your altitude

Q:  What is it that you always appreciate in life? 
I always appreciate people around me.  We are to respect each other, right?  Sharing experiences, good things and bad things, that is something nice in life.  I appreciate people’s willingness, patience and respect too. 
Q:  What does talent mean to you, and how should it be further developed? 
Everyone has his/her own talent.  But you are the one to identity and uncover it.  It’s a matter of self-awareness and persistence in the pursuit of your rainbow. Knowing your talent means knowing your limitation as well.  But it’s important not to make that as an excuse for not trying your best.  You are the only person who really knows the difference between your limitation and not trying.  Trying your best is a very subjective matter.  If something fails, first thing you ask yourself would be whether you have tried your best or not, right?  
Q:  So what do you do when you face challenges in life? 
I would try my best in whatever I am doing.  But then, after my best efforts, if it unfortunately fails, I’ll change my attitude.  You have to accept the reality sometimes, attitude is very important.  I believe that good attitude will make altitude.  
Q:  Interesting!  So, is there anything you would like to accomplish in your lifetime? 
Yes! I would like to play the saxophone, which I bought a few years ago.  I want to play the tune-“Baby Elephant Walk”!  I heard someone play this tune when I was a secondary student, which is still very touching, deep in my heart.  Well, of course, if you can play that, you can play many good pieces.  Hope that I can play this melody soon. 

Be persistent, and the life goes on!

Q:  What a good dream, very ambitious!  So, kindly share briefly about your current researches.  Why are you interested in those themes?
There are two research topics. I have just completed working with my honors-year student on a new survival function, which is able to model adult mortality and to forecast life expectancies at various ages.  The proposed function, in the form of a modified exponential-type function, consists of two components: the youth-to-adulthood component and the old-to-oldest-old component.  The former captures a constant and low level survival probability from birth to adulthood, which starts declining linearly and slowly from age 35 to 75; and the latter also captures a constant but high survival probability from birth to age around 50, but starts declining exponentially around age 55 to 110.  In combination, these two components are shown to be able to closely fit adult mortality of the US men and women from the life tables for each year covering the period from 1950 to 2010.  We also examine its dynamic version by allowing the model parameters to be time-varying.  Estimates of parameters of the proposed function for each year over the sample period are obtained and treated as samples of time series in order to map out their dynamic paths.  We are happy to find evidence that the forecast of life expectancies by the proposed function compares favorably with those obtained by popular models in the literature.
The second research topic is on Nelson-Siegel (NS) model, which is widely used to fit the term structure of interest rates, and has been credited for its high efficacy in the in-sample fitting and out-of-sample forecasting of the term structure of bond yields. We’ll study the term structure of the Japanese bond yields by employing various Nelson-Siegel-type models and other competitor models, using five different sets of zero-coupon bond yield rates data spanning from January 2000 to November 2007. This period has been chosen because it clearly exhibits the prolonged duration of a liquidity trap in Japan, which forces all bond yields to hover around zero.  Due to the presence of the liquidity trap, we find that the out-of-sample expanding window forecasts by NS-type models in general perform less satisfactory than non-NS models. However, the results show that the NS-type models can be useful in forecasting longer horizons and can work well with conditional volatility structures in terms of volatility forecasting. Currently, we are still in the process of identifying an appropriate model of the Nelson-Siegel-type, which could outperform the competing models, even in the presence of the liquidity trap.  
Q:  What would be your lifetime researching theme, do you think? 
It has been very exciting to be able to understand different models and fit them with different kind of empirical data sets, including financial time series, life tables and household survey data. I guess I’ll keep up with the momentum and continue to be an applied researcher. 
Q:  One last question.  Please write on this piece of paper, one phrase, some encouraging message to the young researchers in the same field. 
Ah, it is difficult!  I know that I’m not a very successful researcher, but I’ve learned a lot from my own failure.  I think “persistence” is important, which in Chinese is “堅持”, cheng zi.  Hence I would like to say, “Persistence, persistence and persistence!” What do you think?
We sincerely would like to thank Dr. Albert Tsui Ka Cheng sharing a lot of time with us, not only for this interview, but also in everyday life, inspiring us a lot about how to live positively, sharing many examples so that we could understand deep in our hearts.  We wish him and his family the very best in their future endeavors. 
Interviewed on Tuesday, June 23, 2015, by CEI staff, Akiko Ito, and Cindy R. Suzuki.