Thursday, April 18, 2019

Soviet Submarine in San Diego

B-39 was a Foxtrot-class diesel-powered attack submarine of the Navy of the Soviet Union.  It used to stalk the U.S. warships in the North Pacific.  It is now floating in the Maritime Museum in San Diego. 

Inside, one can see the torpedos, periscope, the iconic circular doors that seal off sections of the submarine, the torpedo tubes, …

In the museum shop, one can buy various souvenirs, including a mug that commemorates the B-39.  The mug was made in China.  

A mug that commemorates the purchase of a Soviet submarine by the USA was made in China.  

When the Soviet Union collapsed, many celebrated it as capitalism winning over communism. Many even proclaimed it as the end of history - expecting no further significant struggles among the competing political ideologies.  

Now, of course, we have radical Islam, a reviving Russia, up-and-coming China, …, Trump and the Trump-lites.   If anything, it seems to be authoritarianism, or authoritarian capitalism, that is gaining an upper hand. 

Who knows what is going to happen now?  History, if anything, is not dull. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Life in San Diego

San Diego has near-perfect weather, a deep water sea port, and a great variety of wild life, particularly of the marine kind.  At La Jolla Cove, one can find sea gulls, pelicans, sea lions, and people in close proximity.  

In the many tidal pools, there are anemones, little crabs, many types of shell fish, and so many other types of unknown (to me) sea creatures.  

At Coronado Beach, the sand glitters like gold under the sun.  Upon closer inspection, there appears to be little pieces of what looks like fools’ gold.  You can also find sand dollars if you look hard enough.  

At dusk, my family sat down for dinner.  I had an impossible burger, washed down with 4 different types of beer.  It really tastes like beef.  And for the first time, I detect a bit of liver-like texture and favour.  It is wonderful.  

No wonder so many people like to live in San Diego. 


Wednesday, April 10, 2019

What have we learned from “Occupy Central”?

Nine people have been found guilty for starting Occupy Central.  The establishment types gloat: How naive you are, dreaming that you can pressure the government to change its position on elections?  See how we (the establishment parties) have taken control of the legislature, while so many of you (the pan-democrats) have been disqualified, and you are now going to prison.  Serves you right!

The political scene is indeed quite depressing.  Just note how faceless, lazy, and inane some of the people who now sit in the legislature are; how disconnected and inept so many of the government officials are; and how disheartened and dismayed so many of the citizens are.  

How did it happen?  What lessons have we learned from Occupy Central / Umbrella Movement and what do we do now?   

Is continued banging of the head against the wall the only way to demonstrate our determination to seek social justice?  Is mass movement the only way to move forward?  Is there really no way to promote the cause within the current political system - without breaking the law and going to jail?  Are there not more innovative means to engage the citizenry in addressing social injustice? 

On the other hand, I wish to believe that at least some of the people on the establishment side truly believe that the current government is moving slowly towards a more open and fair system, despite all the inherent iniquities.  Given these assumptions, aren’t at least some of the idealism and disquiet of the young people legitimate? And if so, aren’t there more innovative ways to address those aspirations, other than disqualification and complete suppression of dissent? Haven’t we all been young and idealistic once?  

Or perhaps my assumptions are overly optimistic.  If so, it is just too depressing. 

“Innovation” is all the rage these days, at least in science and technology, and business.  Politically and socially, however, there seems to be a serious lack of imagination on all sides.    


Sunday, April 07, 2019

Ching Ming - How do we honour our ancestors?

At Ching Ming Festival 清明節, 20+ people in our clan went together to Aberdeen pay our respects to my grandfather and his two wives, our grandmothers.  We have been doing that for decades and decades, twice a year.  I note that people honour our ancestors with a variety of offerings.  

Candles.  Incenses.  Flowers. 

Tea. Wine. Rice. 

Oranges.  Bananas.  Apples.  …


Roasted pork.  Roasted duck.  

Steamed Chicken.

Dim Sum.  Paper money.  

It is often said that the Chinese (at least some of them) believe that the dead continue to exist in another realm, where they have needs similar to the living, i.e., food, drink, shelter, clothing, money, …  Hence the custom of bring such items to the graveside on Ching Ming Festival, to show respect to the dead.  

Many Christians oppose such practices, considering them pagan practices, superstitious.  

In reality, only some people would leave such items behind, and usually only very small amounts.  The left-behind items will actually be cleared away by the caretakers at the cemetery, shortly after the people have left, for very practical reasons.  

Most people would eat what they bring at the graveside, or take them away to be shared later.  The sharing and the ritual strengthen the relationships that bind the clan.  

What if some people bring the favourite foods/drinks to the graveside do not really believe that the dead will actually benefit materially from them, but just to honour the memory of the dead?

How is it different from the way some Christians bring flowers to the graveside?  Presumably to show respect and honour to the dead?

Some claim that people started bringing flowers to the graveside thousands of years ago to mollify the ghosts of the dead who were believed to hang around the grave.  Some claimed that flowers were brought to funerals to camouflage the stench of the rotting corpse.  Christians simply picked up that practice.  The practice does not seem to be in the Biblical accounts.  

Some cultures do not being flowers, but something different.  Many Jews would place small stones on the grave.  For a variety of reasons: as a sign that the grave have been visited, that the grave is taken care of, to symbolise that the soul is permanent (like a stone), …

Bringing flowers to the grave is not necessarily Christian or Biblical.  And bringing the dead’s favourite food or drink is also not necessarily superstitious by itself.  It is not the act that matters. It is the motivation.  


Thursday, April 04, 2019


What does a man in Oakland, California and a cat in Hung Hom, Hong Kong have in common?

They are both homeless at a respectable university.  They are also probably both feeling miserable.  

I know nothing about this man, whom I saw in November 2017 at University of California - Berkeley, USA.  I know a little more about this cat, whom I saw several times also in November 2017, at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University.  More accurately, just behind Building Y.  Soon afterwards, it disappeared and I have not seen her again.  Someone put up a poster looking for her, but the poster also disappeared soon afterwards.  

Many years ago, there were several cats on campus, and the students loved feeding them.  One day, the university decided that no cats were allowed.  And they disappeared.  I did suggest to our management, at our annual management workshop, in front of 127 of the most senior persons in the university, to let the cats back, and to make the students responsible for taking care of them and keeping them under control.  There are many advantages of having cats on campus, including better mental health for students and staff alike, and a warmer and more humane campus.  I am sure others have made similar pleas.  But sadly, all to no avail.  

The cat probably remains homeless.  And I suspect, so does that homeless man in Berkeley. 

In July, a team from PolyU is going to the University of Southern California to study social issues such as homelessness in Los Angeles, together with a team of students from USC.  Then both teams will come to Hong Kong for a similar study.  

It would be great if they can meet the cat, but I suspect they will not be able to find her.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Why do we want this Hong Kong?

Why do we try so hard to keep Hong Kong as it is, not to become just a part of China? 

Certainly not because it is perfect.  In fact, we are very angry with a lot of things.  Take recycling as an example.  Many of us are quite willing to do our part to recycle newspapers, other paper products, glass, plastic, metal, …  But Hong Kong lags so far behind most other civilised communities in recycling, it is pathetic.  We basically are doing nothing.  Hong Kong’s efforts in recycling paper consist of nothing more than shipping them to China.  When China refuses to take our waster paper, we are stuck. 

While China is becoming the leading producer and user in the world of renewable energy such as solar panels to generate electricity, what have we done?  Nothing. Zilch. Aren’t we supposed to be setting an example for China on modernization?  We should be ashamed.  

Housing for the poor, and even the middle class, has been said to be a top priority for decades, by multiple chief executives.  Yet the problem is getting worse and worse, not better and better.  

Public hospitals are so crowded, nurses and doctors are so overworked that it is unbearable.  Yet the government officials in charge seem to have no solutions.  If you cannot solve the problem, why are you occupying the post?

I once had the unenviable task of trying to explain to a failed politician masquerading as a government minister some educational initiative (service-learning).  It felt like speaking to a wall.  

Hong Kong’s education system is so examination-driven it is killing the curiosity of generations of young people, turning them into efficient but docile number crunchers and bean counters.  

Yet we are here again, marching on the street, against changing our law to make it easier to extract someone to the Mainland.  Why?  It is because we have better faith in the laws of Hong Kong.  We feel we have a much better chance of a fair trial and judgement.  We enjoy the relative openness and freedom of many sorts. 

If we feel something is important, we should treasure it and be willing to work hard to keep it.  That is why we are on the streets again.  I look around.  We are young and old, poor and middle class.  I saw one colleague, and heard that another was also here.  We are not alone.  We are Hong Kong.  

Friday, March 29, 2019

Service-Learning Stock Taking

There is an exhibition of service-learning at PolyU at the Alumni Atrium running from March 27-29.  

It is a good opportunity to get an overview on what service-learning means at PolyU, as well as some of the details on what, how, when and where it is done.  

It has a lot of photographs, as usual, of the students and staff in action, carrying out projects.

In Hong Kong, Mainland China and overseas, in Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Kyrgyzstan, Rwanda, …  

It has nicely-designed infographics of the structure of a service-learning subject: the philosophy behind it, how the students are taught and prepared for the service, the service itself, and the reflections which are critical for learning. 

There are samples of the tools, equipment, and products designed and used in the projects.   Indications on the scale of the program.  

Publications and other stuff generated from the projects and research, building up a nice international profile. 

Lots of informative and fun stuff.  

Finally,  it is interesting to note that service-learning figures prominently in the photo collections at the Alumni Atrium, right along other PolyU achievements in sports, research, ...

Come and enjoy.