Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Joy of Running Outside

I have run from Hung Hom to Lohas Park (日出康城) 3 times now.  The route is roughly 21 kilometers, just about half a marathon, a good test of my fitness.   It also takes me through different parts of Kowloon, with a variety of scenery.  I run through residential areas, industrial areas, piers, and parks.  A significant portion is on the waterfront, or where I can see the water from above.  The most gruelling part is running up the Junk Bay Chinese Permanent Cemetery (將軍澳華人永遠墳場).  But it is also the most beautiful, where I can see views of Hong Kong not normally available.  

While I was going up the cemetery, I could see, right below, the typhoon shelter at Leu Yue Mun (鯉魚門). I could also see Sam Ka Tsuen (三家村), where people go for seafood. 

In the distance, there was the typhoon shelter at Shau Ki Wan (筲箕灣).  

Making the sharp turn towards the cemetery, I could see Shau Ki Wan and Chai Wan (柴灣) side by side, separated by a rocky hill. 

And then going down from the cemetery, Lohas Park in Junk Bay.  And the humongous garbage dump. It is still operating, but is said to be nearing capacity.  What will happen when it does?

Clearly Lohas Park was built on reclaimed land.  What is actually underneath and around it?

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Happy Chinese New Year?

On the first day of the Chinese New Year, we visited my three aunts, in Aberdeen, Ap Lei Chau and Tuen Wan.  We are glad to see them.  But it was exhausting.  Hence today, we got up late and just stay home.  Throughout the day, I have been receiving and sending New Year’s greetings.  Almost without fail, we wish each other good health,  good fortune and prosperity.  Many of us also invoke God’s blessings.  It is cool but sunny outside.  I just finished a book and will soon start a new one.  My wife cooked a very tasty pasta lunch.  I roasted some nuts and had a cup of tea, while my wife and daughter had ice cream.  My wife is sewing.  My daughter will cook tonight. All in all, a good day.  

All the time, however, I cannot help but think that there is more to life than health, prosperity, and blessings from God.  Less than a month ago I witnessed first hand people struggling to make a living in the slums in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  

Immediately before that I visited friends in Rwanda who live in houses of literally four walls of mud, with very little else.  Most have no running water nor electricity. 

Less than a month before that, my wife and I were in India, which has the largest number of people in absolute poverty, many of them women and children.  The situation was shocking, even though we were mentally prepared for it.  

Even in Hong Kong, right outside our homes and churches, there are plenty of people in poverty, ethnic minorities with few opportunities, … and so much injustice.  

For most of these people, what we consider as God’s grace and Good News seem alien.  

At the beginning of the year, we indeed should thank God for His grace, and wish each other good health and prosperity.  However, how can we reconcile our good fortune with these other scenes, unless we are working hard with God to bring God’s grace to them as well?

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Chinese New Year’s Eve Market

My wife and I went to the Chinese New Year’s Eve Market at Victoria Park last evening.  As in past years, we were not really there to buy anything.  But rather to experience the atmosphere, get a sense of what the community’s sentiments are, and see if there are some innovative ideas.  The 100Most (100毛) stall was one of the most crowded.  Lots of young people were buying books and stuffed toys. That is probably a reflection of the buzz that their magazine and online TV programs have generated in recent years.  

At the MINE (Money Is Not Everything) stall, a lot of young people were lined up to buy.  In this aspect, at least, it is very successful.  

We like, quite a lot, the stuffed vegetables at one of the stalls. The design and production were done very well. 

I like, very much, the stuffed Pineapple Bun with Butter. 

There were quite a few political-themed stalls and products. Some of them, unsurprisingly, were operated by anti-establishment political parties. 

Stalls operated by political parties were not attracting a lot of attention in general.  Among them, it is interesting to observe that those operated by pro-establishment political parties were completely devoid of customers.  That is quite revealing.  

There were a total of 4 aisles.  The two aisles selling mostly food and fun things were very crowded.  The one aisle selling mainly flowers much less so.  That has been the case for many years.  Why don’t the organisers do something such as widening the more crowded aisles and squeezing the flower aisle a little?  

Friday, February 05, 2016

The Rock Church of Adadi Mariam

Ethiopia has a distinctive culture and religious tradition. Legend has it that the child of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba came to settle in Ethiopia.  Historically, it was one of the earliest countries to adopt Christianity as a state religion.  Today a majority of the population belong to the Oriental Orthodox Church. One of its most visible symbols are the rock hewn churches, the most famous of which are the ones at Lalibela.  Lalibela is too far from Addis Ababa (9 hours by car).  So we settled on visiting the Adadi Mariam, about an hour outside Addis. 

Below the big tree, in the distance two crosses mark the top of the rock church.  The whole church is below ground level, carved from the solid rock.  

Around the church are houses for the monks who come to meditate. 

To get to the church, one has to do down the steps, roughly 20 of them.  There was a woman kneeling and praying at one of the doors.  This is a practice that I have not seen very often at other countries - kneeling and praying outside the church rather than inside.  But it seems to be common in Ethiopia.  

There are corridors, again carved from the rock, on both sides of the sanctuary.  The left for the men, and the right for the women.  

There is, naturally, an icon of Mary and Jesus.  

Above the door to the sanctuary, there is an icon of the Trinity.  At the 4 corners are the 4 animals representing the 4 Evangelists: human (Matthew), lion (Mark), ox (Luke), and eagle (John).  This is, again, common in Ethiopian churches.

The Adadi Mariam was quiet and peaceful, modest and unpretentious.  There were few tourists.  People can come, and they do come, to pray and worship.  It is obvious they are very serious about their faith, which is very much alive.  I like this place.   


Wednesday, February 03, 2016

El Hambre (Hunger)

Ethiopia is an old country with a rich culture. It is also one of the poorest countries in the world.  It is estimated that 20 million people (out of a population of 94 million) live under the US$1.25 (per day) poverty line set by the World Bank.   In simple terms, they are not getting enough to eat. 

India is said to be the country with the largest number of hungry people, roughly 363 million. 

China is not far behind, with 157 million.

There are also lots of hungry people in Cambodia, 3 million.

All together, it is estimated that 1,000 million people in the world live under the poverty line. 

There are, of course, many reasons for the hunger: natural disasters, soil erosion, lack of land, lack of fertilizer, lack of seeds, poor farming technique, laziness, corruption, exploitation, colonialism, land grab, greed, …

Books such as Martin Caparros’ “El Hambre (Hunger)” observe that the world actually produces enough food for every single person on earth to eat.  There is really no need for anyone to go hungry, to starve, to die hungry.  Why do we allow this to happen?

It is easy to pretend that these are just numbers that do not concern us.  But they are actually real human beings that are just like us.  The more we see their faces, the more we hear from them, and the more we get to know them, the harder it is to not care.  How can we allow this to happen?  How can we live and sleep in comfort, knowing that these people are hungry, starving and dying from hunger, and we are doing nothing?

Monday, February 01, 2016

Ethiopian Coffee

From Kigali in Rwanda, we flew to Addis Ababa in Ethiopia to explore opportunities for service-learning.  The day we arrived happened to be January 7, Christmas Day for Ethiopia.  Our meetings had to be scheduled on the day after Christmas.  That gave us an opportunity to try Ethiopian coffee.  Ethiopia is believed to be where coffee drinking originated.  And they do it distinctively.  The young lady started by roasting some coffee beans on the coal fire.  

Then she stuffed lots, and I really mean lots, of ground coffee beans into a long-necked pot.  Then she set it directly on top of the burning coals. 

She then sprinkled frankincense on some burning coal.  I think it was frankincense or some similar incense - it smells exactly like the incense used in the Catholic mass that I attended.   

The coffee that she served was almost pitch black.  But it tasted very good.  I tried Ethiopian coffee a few more times since then, in different environments, and it was always good.  

Ethiopia is distinctive, and not just because of the coffee.  

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Kigali Airport

As I was leaving Rwanda for Ethiopia, an incident at the Kigali airport left me with a deep impression and even more respect for the Rwandan people.

We had to go through security check when we entered the airport.  I had to place my  suitcase and my backpack on the track that led into the scanner, take my laptop computer out of my backpack and place it in a tray, empty my pockets and put everything in a tray, …   It was a bit of a hassle but I had done it a hundred times before and I managed it without too much trouble.  

We then went through passport control.  No problem.  

We had arrived at the airport more than 2 hours ahead of the time of departure.  Then we found out that the plane was delayed for more than an hour.  So we had more than 3 hours to kill.  But we had time so we were not worried.  I went to the lounge to see what was available.  It was already midnight and there wasn’t much left.  So I had a coffee and read some newspapers.  

When it was about time to board the plane we had to pass through another security checkpoint to get to the boarding gate.  I had to take my laptop out of my backpack again.  Except that my computer was not in my backpack!  Where could it be?  Had I lost it?  Did someone steal it?  What a disaster!

My colleague tried to help me recall what happened.  I remembered that the last time I saw it was when I took it out out my backpack at the first security check point at the entrance to the airport.  I did not remember putting it back.  So I might have left it there.  Would it still be there?  Could I get out there again?  It was already way past midnight, would someone still be there?  

We rushed back to passport control.  An officer was still there.  I explained my situation. He told me to leave my passport with him and to get to the first security check point to see whether I could find my computer.  I rushed down the stairs.   I was glad at that point that the airport was not big.  

As I approached the check point, I could see a computer sitting on a small desk next to the scanner, and two officers, one female and one male, were standing around.  I explained that the computer was most probably mine.  They asked me to prove it.  I suddenly realised that I had no ID on my body.  The male officer asked me what was in my computer and what would appear on the screen if they open it.  I started to describe the mail program, the Safari browser, …  I gave them my name and assured them that my name would be everywhere in the computer.   I was probably not very coherent at that point.  I don’t think I was panicking but I was certainly excited.  The man spotted my boarding pass in my shirt pocket and pulled it out.   Then we opened the computer and of course everything was as I described.  They gave me back my computer and I breathed a big sigh of relief. 

It was only then when I noticed that the security officers were smiling and friendly throughout the while time.  The immigration officer was also helpful.  Everyone was behaving honourably and respectfully, while dong their jobs.  

I couldn’t help thinking that my computer had been sitting there for 3 hours, with few people around.  If it happened in some other country, I probably would not be able to see my computer again. 

Ever since I came to Rwanda for the first time in 2013, I have always had great respect for the people here.  This episode just enhanced that respect, tremendously.   Thank you so much, my friends.