Saturday, August 20, 2016

Working on the Street

Many people work on the streets of Hong Kong.  

Many transport things.  

Some risk their lives riding bicycles in heavy traffic. 

Some fix the roads for us. 

The police also work on the streets.  Sometimes they actually make people smile.  

Some people collect our garbage for disposal. 

ome collect them for recycling. 

There are, of course, drivers of all sorts.  

There is a surprisingly large number and variety of them.  

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

What can be learned from buying a screw in Rwanda?

A lot, it turns out.  One of our projects in Rwanda in 2016 is to set up a community learning centre with computers and a computer network with connection to the Internet.  In order to reduce cost and to introduce the technology behind a micro-computer to the community, we decided to assemble a microcomputer based on the Raspberry Pi toolkit.  We designed a frame to house the circuit board, purchases peripherals such as a screen, keyboard and a mouse.  We taught our students to assemble it in Hong Kong, took everything to Rwanda, and taught local youths to assemble the whole system.  

The students forget to bring enough screws. So we went out shopping.  In Hong Kong, we know exactly what we need, and we know where are the hardware stores where we can find the screws.  In Rwanda, there are much fewer hardware stores.  And the hardware stores that we found didn’t have exactly what we need, and did not have the quantity that we need.  We ended up spending more than an hour wandering around downtown Kigali, and were only be able to find impact matches.   

As a result, we wasted much time in finding something relatively unimportant.  We did assemble the microcomputers but the result was not as good as we have wanted.  

One lesson that we have learned before, but reinforced by this experience, is the importance of detailed planning and preparation prior to departure.  If we had brought enough screws of the right size the problem would not have happened.   If we had known Kigali even better than we do (we had been here 4 times and know the city reasonably well), and have more control of our transportation, the problem could have been solved faster.  

Stepping back and looking more at the bigger picture.  We are experienced professionals and we have the expertise to carry out the project.  In Hong Kong the project could have been carried out more smoothly, in much less time.  It is because there is a much better supporting infrastructure in the form of abundance of components of the right size, numerous hardware stores where components can be found, online shopping and fast delivery, easy and efficient transportation, and so on.  

When we are in Rwanda, we are the same people that we are in Hong Kong.  But without the supporting infrastructure, we are much less effective and can do much less.  On the other hand, there are many people with similar types of skills in Hong Kong.   In Rwanda, there are probably much fewer.  Hence, potentially we can make a bigger impact, relatively speaking.  

Buying a screw in Rwanda has helped us, both professors and students, understand much better the developmental needs of under-privileged communities.  That is why service-learning, when properly done, is so important. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016


I have long heard of Santorini as this little Greek Island with pretty little white houses.  Little did I know that there is so much more about it.  First of all, it is actually a chain of islands forming the broken rims of one gigantic crater of a volcano.  

There was a huge eruption about 3,500 years ago, during the Minoan times.  Some people linked that eruption to the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt - the eruption supposedly caused some of the 10 plagues, and one big tsunami that consequently caused the ebbing of the Reed Sea / Red Sea that allowed Moses and the Israelites to cross.  Believe it or not.  

Much of the inner side of the island, facing the volcano caldera, consists of sheer cliffs 300 meters high.  The buses followed a road which zig-zag up the face of the cliff. 

Looking out of the window of the bus, overlooking the winding road, was vertigo-inducing, at least for me.  

There are other ways to go up.  You can walk.  Or you can ride a donkey.  You have to have strong legs to walk up.  And you need strong faith in the donkey to ride it.  

Once we got up there, it was surely worth it.  There are tremendous views everywhere you go.  I wonder how much white paint is needed to paint the whole town white.  And how often they have to do it.  The result is truly impressive.  And I am sure they feel it is worth it.  

Coming down in the cable car was another experience.  The cruise ship seemed so close, and yet so far  

One treat was to look at the donkey path from another angle.  It sure was pretty.  I would love to walk up, and down, if there was time. 

Departing from the island, we got another look at the shear walls of the cliff.  White houses perched on top.  The cable car line running up and down.  The winding donkey path.  It was fun.  

It is worth coming back for more.  

Friday, August 12, 2016

Manchester United

I suddenly realised that the new football season is starting when I saw a video of Jose Mourinho walking around in a stadium that looks familiar.  Of course, he is now the new coach of Manchester United and I was there in July, at the spot where he is now.  

I started getting interested in Manchester United in the late 1960s, when I had to play football at Aberdeen Technical School every day, 5 days a week.  I was one of the worse players in my class, but that was the only sport that I knew anything about.  And I have been following them ever since. 

This time I got a chance to see the stadium, visit their dressing room, stand at the spot reserved for the home team, …  

They do have some exciting young players, and now a new coach.  Hopefully a better season than the last few.  

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Cats of Greece

Greece is a cats’ heaven.  They are just everywhere.  At the island of Mykonos, where people go to take photos of the windmills, white churches and little houses, …, we sat down at a seaside restaurant to watch the sunset over dinner.  While we were tucking into a delicious grilled blue fin tuna steak, there was this little kitten that begged for food under our table.  But when my friend gave her some food from his plate, she didn’t want it.  This lovely kitten has lots of character. 

At Santorini, the island famous for little white houses, where people go to take wedding pictures, there was this lazy cat oblivious to the throng of humanity squeezing by her to get to the scenic spots. 

At St John’s Monastery on the island of Patmos, where Apostle John was believed to have written the Book of Revelations, there was another lazy cat, catching the late afternoon sun.  

In Athens, we had dinner in the shadows of the Acropolis.  Outside the restaurant, some one laid out a feast for a dozen cats.  We encounter this same scene again and again all over Greece. 

In the Archeological Museum in Athens, there was this head of a lion made of gold, which is also a cat.  It is more than two thousand years old. 

At Ephesus, actually in Turkey but close to Patmos, someone laid out water in a dish for another gang of cats. 

On the side of the ancient road leading to the famous library of Ephesus, a cat was perched on the top of a broken column. 

Perhaps she is an archeologist guarding the ruins?

Saturday, August 06, 2016


There are so many interesting places in Greece it is hard to say which is my favourite.  But Delphi must be one of them.  I have long heard of the oracle at Delphi, who prophesied that a great empire would be destroyed upon King Croesus of Lydia’s enquiry prior to his crossing of the river to attack Persia - which turned out to be his own.  Pythia was the oracle at Delphi, who spoke for Apollo.  The exact location of the oracle is said to be on the outside of the Temple of Apollo.   The ruins of the temple is there on the hillside today, overlooking the valley.  Unfortunately, the site of the oracle is unreachable.  

Straight above the Temple of Apollo is the theatre, which is largely intact.  Really really impressive.  Particularly considering that it was built more than 2,500 years ago and it is still standing, and functional.  

There are numerous buildings belonging to the many city states that came to Delphi to worship at the Temple of Apollo, and to consult the oracle.  One of them is called the Treasury of Athens.  

On the foundations of the Treasury there is an inscription in reference to Marathon.  

I am not quite sure whether it is a reference to the Battle of Marathon itself, when the Greeks defeated the Persians in 480 BC, or to Philippides who ran from Marathon to Athens to report the victory, then collapsed and died.  

In any case, many of my dreams came true here at Delphi.

Friday, August 05, 2016


I made a number of interesting friends at Manchester Museum earlier in July.  Other than the red-eyed leaf frog from Costa Rica that I posted earlier, I also met a chameleon.  It seemed unfazed by me and the other people, even though some of us were afraid of him.  It was calm and moved slowly but steadily.  I also learned that it changes colour due more to its changed mood than for purposes of camouflage.  

I also met a python.  I thought I would be sacred a bit.  Surprisingly, no.  Like the chameleon, it didn’t want to stay in place but kept moving around.  It looks slimy, but is actually quite dry to the touch.  

There was, of course, this amazing tree frog.  

We should have a place like the Manchester Museum at our university.