Summary: UFO research is the stuff of sci-fi buffs and conspiracy freaks, but in China it's treated seriously. Joseph Wong, a lab manager at Hong Kong's City University, is a man of science. His job is to assess the structural performance of buildings. But familiar as he is with hard data, Wong is also a fan of the unexplained.
CNN's Kristie Lu Stout
HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- UFO research is the stuff of sci-fi buffs and conspiracy freaks, but in China it's treated seriously.
Joseph Wong, a lab manager at Hong Kong's City University, is a man of science. His job is to assess the structural performance of buildings.
But familiar as he is with hard data, Wong is also a fan of the unexplained.
"If something flies over, there's a very good reason for trying to understand why they're here, why they come to us, what is their relationship between us and them," he says.
Wong is the Chairman of Hong Kong's thriving UFO club -- exploring "unidentified flying objects" or, to the uninitiated, "flying saucers."
The club meets once a month to explore otherworldly topics like "E.T. Civilization" and "Alien Kung Fu."
Members occasionally meet at a cyber cafe called UFO Station in Hong Kong's Tsim Sha Tsui district. The spot is home to Hong Kong's own version of the X-files.
The dark monitor-lit café has UFO books, newsletters, and old news clippings of close encounters -- material that UFO club members take very seriously.
A masters in UFOlogy?
"In order to understand UFO phenomena, we need to have a broad understanding of different disciplines," says Albert So, university professor and Hong Kong UFO club member, "including mathematics, physics, history, philosophy, even some sort of paranormal activities and all that."
Hong Kong's UFO enthusiasts, like So, are not dreamy stargazers, but researchers who see their passion as a science.
So much so that they're lobbying for a university degree program in "UFOlogy."
"The graduates of this program will grasp at least all the major knowledge in order to understand UFO phenomena, and also other technologies and any skills related to UFOs," says So.
"After students or friends finish this degree, they may have their own understanding about this universe," Wong adds.
"Maybe they will be able to come up with a new universe model, new way of life, or whatever."
It sounds like a tough sell, but it may not be hard to pitch in mainland China, where there is little taboo about discs that glow in the night or theories on visitors from out there.
Flying boats in China
China's state-run media reports on UFO sightings. Even the government's Ministry of Science and Technology treats the topic with respect.
"It seems that people in the East are more open to discuss issues related to UFOs," So says.
"Perhaps that is something to do with the culture of the races. In particular, Chinese. Chinese is a kind of race who easily believes in something supernatural."
And they may have been believing for a long time. UFO researchers point to an ancient drawing of the 100-year story of an emperor meeting a flying boat – a compelling artifact in support of UFO study, but not the only one.
"For me, it's not very important whether there is really a UFO that can fly or not," Wong says.
"It's when we are investigating this, I think it's the process that actually helps us to understand more about ourselves or our planet."
For club chairman Joseph Wong, the truth may be out there, but the payoff is personal – studying aliens helps to satiate a very healthy, and very human, curiosity.