Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The farcical HKU council

The University of Hong Kong has been looking for a pro vice chancellor responsible for academic staffing and resources.  The search committee has already recommended a person, professor C, months ago.   Normally the council simply endorses the search committee’s recommendation.  For some reason, perhaps to “punish” HKU because some of its students and staff were so active in the recent “Occupy” movement, some in the pro-establishment camp started to campaign against professor C in the newspapers.  

Professor C himself does not seem to be in the active pan-democratic camp  He is simply independent-minded, which is what you would respect in an academic.  But apparently it is not something that the pro-establishment camp appreciates. In any case, the Chief Executive appointed new members to the HKU council.  The council subsequently decided to delay the appointment of the pro vice chancellor.  The excuse given is so lame that it is laughable - that they want to wait until the provost (superior to the pro vice chancellor) is appointed.  Many people, including staff, students and alumni, see this as an obvious attempt to subvert independent academic integrity. 

It is logical that the pro-establishment camp is unhappy with some of the staff and students at HKU.  But the heavy handed manipulation of the council and the inane excuse used to block Professor C’s appointment is not worthy of civic society, let alone higher education where independent thinking and integrity is supposed to be sacrosanct.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The butt directs the brain (屁股指揮腦袋)?

One pro-establishment type (Mr. Y) says of another (Mr. L): “the butt directs the brain”.  The context was that Mr. L was appointed to be a government minister, and people are complaining that Mr. L cannot be trusted to act partially.  Presumably Mr. Y is claiming that when Mr. L takes the position of a minister, he will act impartially as demanded by the position.  Many people remain unconvinced. 

Mr. Y, apparently, did not realize that the saying is derogatory. It implies that the person in question cannot think independently, and his behaviour will inevitably be biased by his position.  No one will use it on one’s friend on purpose.  What does that tell us when Mr. Y used it on Mr. L?

On the other hand, Mr. L is presently firmly pro-establishment.  But he was, in the beginning of his political career, in the pan-democrat camp.  That’s part of the reason he is the target of so much derision.  Others question his qualification. 

Such is the quality of some of the “leaders” of the pro-establishment camp. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Why is English so easy and Chinese so hard?

Currently a student has to achieve level 3 in both Chinese and English in the DSE to qualify for university in Hong Kong. Hence making Level 3 the passing grade for Chinese and English.  The passing rates for Chinese (52.6%) and English (52.4%) are almost identical.   It sounds as if Chinese and English are equally important, and treated equally.  

However, many students in the universities have difficulties understanding lectures in English, reading textbooks in English, and carrying a conversation in English. 

On the other hand, practically all of the students taking the DSE do understand spoken Chinese, can read books in Chinese, and carry a conversation in Chinese.  Yet as many as 47.4% of them fail in Chinese. 

Obviously many of the students who achieve Level 3 in English are not very good in English, at least not really good enough to study in English.  Yet many of those who gets less than Level 3 in Chinese are perfectly capable of studying in Chinese.  In fact, all the universities in Hong Kong are supposed to be teaching in English.  One does not need to be good in Chinese to study in the universities in Hong Kong.  

What, then, is the purpose of making Chinese so hard, and English so easy, in the DSE?  Political correctness, perhaps?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Management of Schools in Kwun Tong

Some of the primary schools in Kwun Tong seem to be having difficulties attracting enough students.  There are at least 2 schools which only have enough students to have two primary 1 classes for 2015-16.  That means they probably have to release some of the teachers.  Or even worse, the school itself may have to be closed if this persists.  This is surprising since the number of children in that age group in Hong Kong seems to have stabilised, after falling for many years. 

At the same time, I heard that 2 new primary schools have opened in recent years.  Apparently, some officials in the Education Bureau had estimated that the population in that district require new schools to be built. Obviously the projection is wrong.  

Perhaps there was a hidden agenda?  Perhaps there was a hidden plan to force some schools to close?  That’s an even more scary thought.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The West Rules - for now

Ian Morris developed an index to measure social development, defined as a measure of communities’ abilities to get things done in the world.  It is based on (a) energy capture, (b) social organization, (3) information technology, and (4) war-making capacity. 

His research showed that the West developed first, because the geography in region that we now call the Middle East favoured domestication of animals and plants starting around 14,000 BC. 

The West actually reached a high during the heydays of the Roman Empire around the time of Jesus Christ.  It then went into a long decline as the Roman Empire collapsed.  Around the same time, the East also reached a high during the Han Dynasty in China.  The Han high was lower than the Roman one.  But the subsequent post-Han decline was also not as deep, and the East recovered faster.  

Around 500 AD, the East surpassed the West in social development.  The East subsequently reached a high during the Sung Dynasty, which was as high as that achieved by the Romans. 

The West started to regain its lead when the Western Europeans discovered America, and particularly when the industrial revolution increased productivity tremendously.  The West pulled ahead dramatically in the 19th century.  

Now the East is catching up, while both are accelerating.  In fact, the East is growing faster and, at the present rate, is poised to overtake the West in the middle of the 21 century.  That is the optimistic view.  

There are a lot of wild cards, of course.  Environmental degradation, global warming,  the fight for oil, nuclear weapons, artificial intelligence, diseases, …, all add to the uncertainty.  There is no guarantee that we humans are capable of overcoming these challenges.  

Friday, July 17, 2015

Arc of Instability

Recently I spent a month and a half on service-learning projects in Rwanda, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam and southern mainland China.  At the same time, I have been reading Ian Morris’ “Why the West Rules - for now”.  And I realise that much of these places are part of a region often called the “Arc of Instability”.  

Based on Morris’ version of the arc, Rwanda is at one end of the arc, while Myanmar and Cambodia are at the other end.  All 3 places are very poor and face immense challenges.  

Rwanda went through a genocidal civil war 2o years ago and much of the country is still without electricity or running water.  

Cambodia went through a genocidal civil war 40 years ago, a large part of the country is still without electricity or running water, and corruption is rampant. 

Myanmar has been under decades of self-imposed isolation and social development suffered tremendously.  

Yet all 3 of these countries look at least partially hopeful.  Rwanda is exceptionally clean, both physically and in the government; the people are self-confident and optimistic.  In Cambodia the roads have improved a lot, and construction is accelerating.  Myanmar is opening up, and the Internet is much more accessible.  

We have also been invited to other countries in or near the arc, such as Pakistan, India, Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, …  In some of these countries, we have real concerns of security and are not quite ready to go there yet.  

What is clear is that those of us living in the more developed countries cannot ignore what is happening in these countries.  As Morris and other people point out, instability in these countries affect the whole world.   We are all in this world together.  

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Rwandan Tree Tomato (tamarillo)

I have never seen this before coming to Rwanda.  And I have not seen it elsewhere yet.  I heard that it is a native of South America.  But it is quite common in Rwanda.  It is related to eggplants.  But it certainly does not taste like an eggplant.  

We had them for breakfast, I bought some from a market, …  It tastes somewhat like a tomato - together with a heavy dose of lemon juice.