Monday, July 13, 2020

SLS - Genesis 1a1 - Task Force - Civic Engagement

For the record, the following is the opening statement in the proposal to Senate to establish Service-Learning as a required component in the General University Requirement in the new 4-year Undergraduate Programs, in December 2010, to officially come into effect for the first cohort to enter PolyU in 2012. 

A university empowers its students to realize their potential.  On the other hand, society invests in its citizens through the university.  For both reasons, a university’s students should be engaged with society.  Leading universities offering service learning as academic subjects include Purdue University, Brown University, University of California at Berkeley, Cornell University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Stanford University, etc.  Some universities such as the University of San Francisco require all students to participate in service learning associated with academic subjects.   Campus Compact is a US coalition of more than 1,100 college and university presidents dedicated to promoting community service, civic engagement, and service learning in higher education.  

Our own university is committed to providing a holistic education to our students.   Our current strategic plan states that our core business is to “develop all-round graduates, with … social and national responsibility, and … global outlook … with attributes of responsible citizens …”  In fact, we have done very well in the core areas such as critical thinking, problem solving, professional knowledge, and career development.  We have also realized that we can do better in the more intangible areas such as civic responsibility, social justice and ethics. In the past several years our university has successfully encouraged many students to engage with society through community service, mostly in the form of non-credit bearing, co-curricular activities, both local and offshore.  We are now ready to take the next logical step, to strengthen the learning aspects of social engagement.   

We propose to give academic credits to qualified service learning, to recognize and formalize the learning efforts and outcomes in this form of experiential learning.   To ensure academic quality, these subjects must have proper teaching, practice, and assessment components. To ensure that all our students benefit from this form of learning, it will be made compulsory for all students.  As students have different prior experiences and interests, even though the fundamental learning objectives are similar, students should be provided with ample choices in terms of themes, scales, contexts, target clients, and nature of involvement. 

In time, we believe we can make active and effective social engagement a distinctive hallmark of Polytechnic University’s students – something that we can all be proud of.   

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Run to Tsuen Wan 荃灣 via Castle Peak Rd 青山道

There are two ways to run from Kowloon to Tsuen Wan.  One is via Lai King Hill Road 荔景山道, passing by Princess Margaret Hospital 瑪嘉烈醫院.  Another is via Castle Peak Road.  Both require you to run uphill from Lai Chi Kok 荔枝角 and then down to Kwai Fong 葵芳 or Kwai Chung 葵涌.  I have tried to run closer to the water, through the narrow strip between the harbour and the mountain.  But that area is occupied by the Kwai Chung container terminal and the Tsing Kwai Highway.  Both are forbidden to pedestrians on foot.  And the area is really filthy and truly hazardous to your health.  

Yesterday I started from home in Hung Hum and went through Castle Peak Road.  The climb was hard and it was hot.  I was completely soaked in my own sweat.  But I was fairly fresh and did not had too much difficulties.  Coming downhill wasn’t too hard either.  But by the time I reached Kwai Chung I was exhausted, and staggered towards Tsuen Wan West MTR station on the West Rail, from where I took the MTR home.  Both legs were threatening to cramp.  At one point, when I was almost home, the woman walking in front of me stopped suddenly, and I had to stop to avoid bumping into her.  The sudden exertion on my lower legs started severe cramping.  I couldn't move for a couple of minutes.  

Along the way, there were quite a number of interesting sights. In Shum Shui Po 深水埗  on Tai Nam Street 大南街, I passed by a colourful building.  It is rather striking and pleasant to have something beautiful to look at.  Why aren’t there more of these?  It does not seem to be too expensive to paint a building.  And there must be a lot of talented artists who are happy to have such a large canvas to showoff their talents.  

While I was standing at the street corner taking pictures, a piece of clothing dropped from above on to the street.  A woman shouted “Young man!” in Cantonese.  I looked up and couldn’t see who it was.  I don’t think I was being addressed anyway.  But one  South Asian-looking young man in a group chatting at the corner responded, in Cantonese.  It turned out the woman was the owner of said clothing.  She asked the young man to help, to pick up the clothing from the street, and she was coming down.  The young man did accordingly.  

I learned several things from the little episode.  This seems like a friendly neighbourhood.  Some of these South Asians speak very good Cantonese and are as much part of Hong Kong as you and I.  Many Chinese and South Asians live side by side amiably enough.  

A short while later, I was glad to see the Cloths Bazaar (布棚, 棚仔) is still there, under the shadow of the Lai Chi Kok Police Station.  

On the way up Castle Peak Road, I passed by Kai Wah Kang 九華徑 Village below me, at the corner of Mei Foo.  It looks pretty and idyllic, half hidden behind a forest of dense greens.  Much better than when I went there and saw it up close. 

Later, I reached Tsuen Wan, towards the end of my run.  There were many overpasses and criss-crossing highways.   Under many of the overpasses, the government installed rocks, concrete blocks and other impediments to make it difficult for street sleepers.  But it is obvious that when there is a need, people will find a way.   An old mattress or two will overcome the discomfort of sleeping on a bed of rocks.   

It just shows how petty and small minded some government officials can be.   Housing is so expensive and unaffordable for so many.  People have to sleep somewhere.   It is a indictment of our government that given such strong financials, we cannot find a more dignified and healthy solution.  


Thursday, July 09, 2020

Hong Kong Marine Life Stranding and Education Center 香港海洋生物救護及教育中心

The name is a mouthful.  But the facility is really interesting.  It is also a part of one of our service-learning projects.  

Dozens of dead dolphins wash up on the shores of Hong Kong each year.  Once in a blue moon there might also be a small whale.  Occasional a life one gets stranded somewhere.  This is the team that studies the dead ones and rescues the life ones.  

If this is not interesting enough, consider this.  Many of the dead dolphins die not from old age or other natural causes.  But from poisoning by heavy metals. Increasingly they die young. 

They are mammals and they eat fish.  We humans are also mammal and we, particularly us HongKongers, eat fish - the same fish that the dolphins eat.  

The HKMLSEC is inside Ocean Park.  But it is not open to the regular visitor to Ocean Park.  Once a month there are open tours that the public can join, and those are always full.  

Our team, led by Dr. PN, is collaborating with the centre on a service-learning projects.  Our students are photographing, making videos and otherwise documenting the work at the centre to create online, virtual experiences for the public - students, elderly, …  We are using technology to make science more fun and relevant to people, to students, to the public.  We hope to do something for the dolphins, and for ourselves.  We don’t want to suffer and die young from heavy metals and other pollutants, do we?

Hence we are very interested when their marine biologist explain to us how they scan the dolphins and whales, dead and alive. 

How they dissect the dead dolphins and whales on the operation table.  Sometimes the bodies are too big for the table, and they have to do it on the floor.  And the smell!

How they take samples from the dolphins,

make slides from the samples, and encase them in plastic, for the microscopes.

How they store the samples in refrigerators and freezers.  

And a lot more.   

The HKMLSEC is unique in Hong Kong, unique in Asia, and very rare even globally.  They are doing a fantastic job.  And we are very proud to be working with them. Our students seem to be enjoying it too. 


Saturday, July 04, 2020

My first fan

I “made” my first fan today.  I didn’t actually make it from scratch.  I bought a kit, composed of a blank fan “face” and a skeleton, when I was in Beijing last July.  

On one face I wrote the first verses from Dao De Jing (道德經), the “Bible” of Daoism (道家).  

On the opposite face I wrote the first verses from the first chapter of The Gospel According to John.

The word “word” in John is generally believed to refer to Jesus Christ.  It was translated into the Chinese character Dao (), probably sometime in the 19th century.  Dao has been, of course, the fundamental concept of Daoism for thousands of years.  The word Dao is often translated into the “way, or path”.  The translators of the Bible were, no doubt, aware of it when they translated the Bible into Chinese.  So they must have purposely connected Jesus Christ with the core concepts of Daoism.  

Why isn’t this discussed or taught in the church? 

Friday, July 03, 2020

Justice - eventually

Last Friday evening, my wife and I were discussing the depressing turn of events in Hong Kong.  I felt that justice will prevail in the long run - if not in this lifetime, then certainly in the life to come.  Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” - says the Bible in the Gospel according to Matthew, chapter 5, verse 10.  I am sure people who suffer in the struggle for a more just society will be vindicated, if not in this life, then surely in heaven.  By the same token, the wicked people who oppress and exploit other people may be able to get away with it - perhaps even gloat in the misfortune of the just - but will surely receive their well-deserved punishment at the end of the world.  In fact, I added, I do not wish to see the wicked be punished.  Instead, I wish to see them repent.  That would be an even more satisfying outcome.  

We went to church on the following day.  Lo and behold, our pastor preached almost exactly the same message.  Pastor Y preached that God will not ignore the sins of the wicked.  That He will surely punish the wicked, if not in this lifetime, then in the next.  Pastor Y said also that it is God’s prerogative to punish - hence we do not have to do it for Him.  We felt that God was affirming our beliefs. 

I agree that we do not have to mete out punishment.  That is God’s prerogative, and I do not have the power to do so anyway.  But I believe we should point out their sins - so that they have an opportunity to repent.  We do want them to repent, don’t we?  Jesus says we should love our enemies.  If we do love our enemies, then surely we should not want them to perish, but rather to repent.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful for all?

Monday, June 29, 2020

How to eat pomelo peel

Nowadays it is not common to find pomelo peel as food in Hong Kong.  In the old days it was much more common, when society in general was less affluent.  People try to make use of as much as a pomelo as possible. 

My wife has been experimenting with a number of recipes lately.  First of all, one has to slice off the green, hard, thin rind.  That is my job. 

Then remove the peel, technically the pith, carefully - so that the peel comes off in big pieces. That is also my job.  

The flesh is delicious.  

Then my wife takes over.  

She soaks it in water, cooks it, and repeats the process a number of times, to get rid of the bitterness.  

Then it can be used to make a number of dishes.  One of which is steamed pork with pomelo peel and shrimp paste 蝦醬柚皮篜排骨

It is really good, and brings back fond memories.  Such dishes are not easy to find these days.  If we want to eat them, we often have to do it ourselves. 

Thursday, June 18, 2020

SLS - Genesis 1c - First Cambodia Trip 2010 - The Project Itself

Village Earth Community Centers - Lakeside, Youth School, Aziza

Finally, we were ready, and flew to Phnom Penh on Sunday, June 26, 2010.  On Monday morning, we sent out 3 teams, one to each of the 3 community centres run by Village Earth.  One went to Lakeside School, in the middle of a slum on the western shore of 90 hectare Boeng Kak Lake in the middle of the city.  (One hectare is roughly the size of a football field.)  When we got there in 2010, the lake was already 2/3 filled up.  By the following year, it was completely filled up. Gradually buildings and roads appeared on it.  By now (2020) there is no trace of Boeng Kak Lake.  Most people who lived in the slums have also been driven away, to give way to the more affluent new tenants. 

A second team went to the Youth School, one kilometre north of Lakeside.  The community centres offer mainly English lessons and computer lessons.  Our task was to help them set up or improve their computer and networks, and to run workshops on digital storying and other needed skills.  From a distance, the houses on stilts looked idyllic.  Upon closer look, many of the “houses” were no more than sheds barely bigger than a bed.  

Many little kids run around completely naked, with no shoes, and no clothes.  A man swayed tranquilly in a hammock - above a carpet of trash.  It was surreal.  Perhaps, one could get used to even really bad situations.  

We taught the youths image theatre, and asked them to look for real life stories to tell.  And we taught them how to take photos, edit the photos, and to use the photos to tell their story. 

One of the stories ran like this: a man drinks, beats his wife, the children cry, …, they make up, …, a happy family again.  We saw different versions of the same story - an indication of its pervasiveness. 

A third team went to Aziza, another community learning centre at the back of the notorious White Building near the Independence Monument.  The White Building was built in the 1960s, originally known as the Municipal Apartments, with an innovative design that attracted many artists.  Tenants fled during the Genocide in the 1970s, when an estimated 2 million perished - in horrible circumstances.  

Since then it went into decline and became known for poverty, drug use and prostitution.  I wouldn’t have dared to walk through the slum to the centre by myself had I not been led by our friends.  But subsequently I came through numerous times without incident.  The tenants there were actually quite friendly.  Most of the kids attend public schools for half a day.  They then come to these community centres to spend the rest of the day.  They seemed to genuinely like the centers, and some practically and literally lived in the center.  Whenever we can, we taught them to take photographs with digital cameras, edit the photos, and put together stories with the photos.  Kids love computers and cameras, just like kids elsewhere.  

White Lotus

One team went to a very special ministry, White Lotus.  It was run by two American lady missionaries, Sherry Lile and Debbie Tetsch.   They reached out to abused girls, many of whom young girls forced to become sex workers, subsequently rescued.  Some of the girls had been sold by their mothers multiple times.  White Lotus set up a place for the girls to live, taught them practical skills, and set up small businesses so that they can make a proper living.  It is very challenging work, with a not insignificant amount of risk.  They demonstrated tremendous courage, enduring dedication, infinite patience, and abundant love. Our team tried to help them with some computer work, and taught the girls some crafts.  The girls were very smart, and learned fast.  The organization could also use some help in making use of the Internet - to promote their cause and events, and to distribute the handicrafts made by the girls, for example.  We helped whatever we could.

A side story.  On Sunday, 4th July, we were on a 6-hour bus ride returning from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh.  Two of our students have gotten sick, running fevers, with diarrhoea.  The girl was vomiting, very weak, and seemed to be getting worse.   By 6 PM, and still 2 hours away from Phnom Penh, we felt we need to take them to see a doctor.  But we were really not sure where to go, not being familiar with the Cambodia medical system, and at such a late hour on a Sunday.   Stephen called Sherry.  She referred us to the SOS, a clinic run by Americans, which happens to be just 2 blocks away from our hotel.  So I took the 2 students to the clinic as soon as we arrived at Phnom Penh at 8 PM, with help from 3 other students, and sent the other students to have dinner.  The clinic was clean and tidy, and very well-equipped.  The doctor was very professional.  He felt, as we did, that the students had food-poisoning.  He  ordered a series of tests, and prescribed anti-biotic for both of them.  The girl had to be re-hydrated through intravenous drip.   Later that evening, my colleague Vincent came with 3 other students to take our place, so that Stephen can go back to the hotel to rest.  Eventually, after about 5 hours, we all came back to the hotel.   Both students recovered and came back to Hong Kong safely.  We were all very grateful to Sherry and Debbie for the much needed and just-in-time help.  And we told them so.  We have since became good friends and collaborated on many projects.

Emmanuel Christian School

The Emmanuel Christian School in Phnom Penh was a primary school for 150 underprivileged children who used to make their living on the garbage mountain.  The school was housed in an old former leather factory with gaping holes in the roof, in a village right next to the Stung Meancheay Garbage Dump.  It was then run by a Hong Kong NGO, the International Christian Concern. The school charged no fees, and even provided the children with uniforms.  Even then, many kids missed out.  Some had to work on the garbage dump.  

The children at the school were very well disciplined.  They were having their regular classes in their classrooms when we arrived.   They quickly took their own chairs, filed out of their classrooms, set their chair down, and in just a few minutes, all 150 children were seated in very neat rows.  Amazing.  

The children learned very quickly the songs and the movements that our students taught them.   They learned to play the games we taught them in very little time, and follow the instructions very well - even when they were enjoying themselves, laughing and screaming loudly.   They had obviously been taught well.  Not just in discipline, but also in English, and in Christian principles. The ICC also ran an international school in the city.  Some of the teachers at Emmanuel are seconded from the international school.  And when the kids graduate from Emmanuel Primary School, they could enrol for free at the secondary section at the international school.  The school had since been returned to its original sponsor, who greatly improved the building and expanded the ministry.  We are continuing to work with the school. 

Rhenish School

A team of us spent 2 days in Rhenish School, an orphanage then ran also by the International Christian Concern about an hour and a half’s drive outside of Phnom Penh.  The last stretch of the road was unpaved, and full of potholes.  The school was in a village of rice fields.  The rainy season has just started, the fields were filled with rain water, and the young shoots of the rice were being planted.  It made very pretty pictures.  

Rice is the staple food here.  Our meals consisted of rice in soup.  The food was simple, fresh, and tasty.  I was told an extra meat dish has been added because we were guests.  And the kids let us get our food first.  The kids could eat a lot, and very quickly.   Our hosts were afraid we might not have enough if we did not go first - we could believe that.   All our food were cooked using big pots on these 4 charcoal-fired stoves.  They remind me of the orphanage in DingXi, Gansu.   There they used coal, because coal is plentiful in China.  Here charcoal was the cheapest fuel.   Another reason was that there was no electricity supplied.  This orphanage ran a generator for lighting purpose.  And the generator was shut down in the evening after 8:30PM, when the kids went to bed.  There was also no piped water.   The villagers collected rain water using huge water pots under the roof.  They also drew their water from the local water hole behind the orphanage - it was essentially also rain water. Collecting rain water was far from sufficient for an orphanage with 90 kids.  So the orphanage dug 2 wells, costing several hundred US dollars each.   Fortunately, because it rains a lot here, they did not have to dig very deep to reach the water table.  Such was the primitive situation in which the kids live.  But, for them, this was paradise compared to what they were used to.  Many used to make their living picking trash from the infamous garbage mountain.  Some had stolen.  There were 4 brothers here whose father ran away, whose sister died, and whose mother sold fruits in Phnom Penh but was often sick and could not make enough money to feed them.  Here they had a warm bed, clean clothes, nutritious food, caring teachers, an education, a future, and God - all for free.  

Anjali House

One team was sent as far away from Phnom Penh as Siem Reap, near Ankor Wat. The team served at Anjali House, a charity serving vulnerable children.  Anjali House specialises in using photography and gardening to nurture creativity, telling the story of the children through photos taken by the children and entering contests.  

Ankor Wat and What It Means

When the service projects were completed, we took the whole team to visit Ankor Wat.  It is a temple complex, said to be the largest religious monument in the world.  In the 12th century it was the capital of the Khmer Empire, which was then the dominant political entity in the region.  With a population estimated at over 1 million, it was thought to be the largest city in the world until the industrial revolution.  The architecture, the art, the history and the culture represented is very impressive.  It also causes you to ponder many questions.  The Khmer Empire was obviously very powerful, rich and cultured, in the 12th century.  Fast forward to the modern day.  At one point after the Genocide in the 1970s, the country could not find enough books in the Khmer language to stock a small national library.  How and why did the great Khmer Empire decline to such an extent, in just a few hundred years, in so many aspects - political power, economic vitality, and cultural richness?  Fortunately, there are on-going indications of recovery in many aspects recently. 

Building a Foundation and an Offshore Base

This time in Cambodia we ran our most ambitious range of projects, in terms of diversity, up to that point in time.  In the past, in Hong Kong, Hubei and Gansu, we targeted a specific community each time, and most projects were directly related to IT: programming, robotics, etc.  In Cambodia we found so much need among so many diverse groups - we felt compelled to do as much as we could.  We ended up serving multiple groups at the same time, or one after another, in so many different ways.  In the process we learned to be adaptable, and trust our students to work and solve problems on their own.  We learned to take calculated risks.  Our experience from this first trip to Cambodia became the foundation for so many international projects.  

Little did we know at the time, but soon after we returned to Hong Kong, we had a chance to present to our management the Cambodia project in the form of a syllabus for an academic subject - and found that it compared favourably to a regular 3-credit academic subject in terms of time, effort, and rigour.  It then became one of the key pieces of evidence that gave confidence to our management to decide to make service-learning a required academic subject for all undergraduate students at PolyU.  

Gradually Cambodia became an offshore base for us. Satisfied partners introduced us to more partners and needs.  We have since developed many more projects, collaborated with many more NGOs, and brought along many other teams from PolyU.  None of these could have been envisioned at the time.