Thursday, May 31, 2007

What would you do if your wife is about to die?

When 張達明’s wife was so sick that she was about to die, he arranged a farewell party for her, so that she can say goodbye to her friends. That reminds me of Morrie in "Tuesdays with Morrie".

I don’t know what I would do. I know I would be sad, but I also know that one day we will see each other again.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What’s so amazing about grace?

When my friend Grace recommended to me the book “What’s so amazing about Grace?” I was tempted to say to myself “What a megalomaniac - asking me to read a book about you! Perhaps you wrote it yourself?” Of course, knowing Grace, I knew that was not the case. It turned out to be an excellent book written by Philip Yancy. Half way through the book, I went out to buy a copy for myself to keep.

The world is full of “an eye for an eye” type of justice, and rightly so. Grace, on the other hand, is Christianity’s unique contribution to the world, according to C. S. Lewis. It is God’s love coming to us free of charge, no strings attached.

A Boston woman’s wedding was called off because the bridegroom-to-be had cold feet. But the banquet was already ordered. So the bride-to-be changed the menu to boneless chicken – “in honor of the groom” – and sent invitations to rescue missions and homeless shelters. Hyatt Hotel waiters in tuxedos ended up serving hors d’oeuvers, champagne, and chocolate wedding cake to senior citizens on crutches and aluminum walkers, bag ladies, vagrants, and drug addicts.

It is unnatural and underserved. Behind every act of forgiveness lies a wound of betrayal, and the pain does not easily fade away. It is pretty amazing that someone so wounded can forgive. Yet Jesus requires – no, demands – a response of forgiveness. Anyone can love friends and family. But love your enemies? Now, that’s truly amazing.

In reality there is no other way around some of the logjams. If everyone follow the “eye for an eye” principle of justice, observed Gandhi, eventually the whole world would go blind. Yet it seems so unfair, to forgive injustice. We are caught between forgiveness and justice.

In the final analysis, forgiveness is an act of faith. By forgiving another, I am trusting that God is a better justice-maker than I am.

All of the above, and a lot more, are in the book. It is highly recommended.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Roadside Shrine in Aberdeen (2)

Remember this little half-on-the sidewalk-and-half-on-the street shrine smack in front of a branch of the Hong Kong Bank in Aberdeen? When I posted this picture back in February, some of you wondered whether it was only a temporary shrine. I can assure you it was still there last week. Apparently, this shrine is older than the building behind it.

Aberdeen was and still is a fishing harbour. .That spot, where this shrine is, used to be a shipyard. And the shrine was there as far as anyone can remember, according to my mother. When the shipyard was filled in 30-some years ago, the local residents insisted that the shrine must stay.

I don’t believe in the shrine personally. But it is a part of the local history and culture. As such it is well worth preserving.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

How does a cow become a steak?

When I was younger I often found myself inside a slaughterhouse, because I lived near one, and some of my relatives and friends work there. Looking back, the slaughterhouse seems to me more like a factory than a place where our food come from.

Firstly, a cow is led into a tightly-fitting three-sided metal box. Then the door, the fourth side, is closed, with the cow penned in. From the top, a man presses the mouth of a gun onto the neck of the cow. A four-inch long pin is fired into the neck to sever the vertebrate, killing the cow instantly.

The long side of the box opens, spilling the limp cow onto the floor. A chain hanging from a conveyor overhead is wrapped around the ankle of one of the hind legs. A wrench retracts the chain, pulling the cow up into the air by its hind leg.

The conveyor carries the cow hanging up-side-down over a basin. A butcher with a sharp knife cuts its throat. Blood spills out, collected by a bucket below.

The conveyor then transfers the cow to another area, where butchers skin the cow, slit open its belly, and remove the intestines. I was always amazed at how much there were.

Then the head and the feet are cut off, and the rest of the cow is dismembered. Part of it becomes a steak. My favourite, however, is the tail. What is yours?

Monday, May 21, 2007

Reading and 菜根談一則

Do you understand what this is saying? This is an article in a book on 菜根談, which was written in the Ming Dynasty on Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism philosophies. My daughter was asked to write a report on this book (not菜根談 itself) for her primary 6 Chinese class. Most of the other articles are OK, but this one really baffled me. Is it trying to say that (1) we must understand and resolve the problems in the world around us in order to have peace of the mind (2) if we cultivate a peaceful mind and ignore the world then whatever happens in the world would not bother us (3) we can manage the world’s problems on the one hand, but do not let it bother us if have peace of the mind (4) …?

I tried to read the explanations in the book but it does not help. I have a feeling the writer of the book does not really understand what the article was trying to say. So it simply translated it sentence by sentence without trying to sort out whether it makes sense together.

What is my poor daughter or other primary school students supposed to do? I think it is great idea to encourage students to read more. But sometimes it is not easy to find suitable, well-written books in Chinese at the appropriate level.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

June 4th

Referring to what happened on June 4th 1989 in Tiananmen Square, Beijing:

“如果是屠城,4000名學生全都死光了﹗” “要燒一條尸至少要1000℃(熱力)﹐如果可以就咁在天安門燒﹐那焚化爐便不用排長龍了……指著一攤野就說是(學生)被坦克車輾過,那不如找一隻豬﹐用坦克車輾過﹐看看是否會變成肉餅?”

I did not make this up. It was the actual words of the leader of the largest pro-Communist party in Hong Kong. Was it a slip of the tongue, careless words uttered in the heat of the moment? Or was it true feelings that somehow found its way to the open?

I declare my bias: I attended my first June 4th-related protest/march/vigil before it happened, in May 1989 in Ottawa. I have been attending June 4th candle light vigils in Hong Kong almost every year and most likely will be there this year.

It is a dark moment for humanity when truth is sacrificed and noble spirits rediculed for political expediency.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


This matter has generated a huge amount of interest in Hong Kong recently. There is more to it in the student magazine, but the following are the questions in the survey which seems to be the core of the matter.


What do you think of it? Is it

1. a serious attempt to investigate a controversial issue?

2. a serious attempt to challenge a societal taboo?

3. an inept or inappropriate attempt to do the above?

4. a mis-judgement of societal moral standards?

5. a matter of freedom of the press?

6. indecently titillating?

7. a small matter for the Chinese University which got blown out of proportion?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Mathematics in School Certificate Examinations

My youngest daughter told me x is 70 degrees, while y is 20 degrees. She does not know what z should be. No wonder, she is only in primary 6, and this question is for form 5. You know z is also 20 degrees? Congratulations, you will get 4 marks from Mathematics Paper 1 in the School Certificate Examinations.

Not good at geometry? No problem. Can you calculate the selling price of the vase? And percentage profit? 4 marks.

Not good even at percentages? What about the least possible length of the metal wire? Another 2 marks.

That’s 10 marks altogether. And you think mathematics is hard?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Fighting for “Free” newspapers

No, this is not really about press freedom.

In a popular fast food restaurant, an old lady rushed in and grabbed the complete, 5 inches thick, stack of free newspapers. In less than 10 seconds, she was already out of the restaurant, before anyone can stop her.

On another day, an old lady (perhaps the same one, I could not tell for sure) rushed in and tried to grab the newspapers. But this time, several other ladies were ready for her. They started scolding her for being selfish, depriving others access to the newspapers. She fought back: “死八婆! 關你X?” No physical violence, just violent words.

Rumour has it that at another fast food restaurant, the newspapers are stacked behind the counter and handed out only one by one to customers. At one point, a member of the staff threatened to cut off the fingers of a lady who tried to grab the newspapers, scaring off the lady for a few days.

Since the papers are free, why do people still fight over them? Apparently you can get 70 cents per kilogram for them for recycling. That’s as simple as that.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Hanging Trees

I have heard of hanging gardens. Now we have hanging trees in Hong Kong. These are grand old trees at the former Marine Headquarters in TsimShaTsui. A few of them are being preserved in this manner while the site is being redeveloped. Giant pots and scaffolding were built around and underneath them, while construction and traffic continue happily about and below. You may wish to check it out before the sights disappear.

These majestic trees have extensive root systems, depending on the air and water seeping through the earth for nourishment. One of their cousins in the Kowloon Park nearby is found to be near death because of packing of the earth around it by the paving stones and people walking around it. I shudder to think what is really happening to those hanging trees up there, and for how long are they going to survive.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Born on a Blue Day

Daniel Tammet was born on a Wednesday. For him, Wednesdays are always blue, like the number nine or the sound of loud voices arguing. Prime numbers are smooth and round like pebbles on the beach. Numbers are his friends. Eleven is friendly, and five is loud, whereas four is both shy and quiet. Some are big while others are small. Some are beautiful while others are ugly.

When multiplying, he sees the two numbers as distinct shapes. The image changes and a third shape emerges – the correct answer. He once recited 22,514 digits of pi without error in 5 hours and 9 minutes.

He has Asperger’s syndrome, a milder form of autism. He also has savant syndrome, as the Dustin Hoffman character in the 1988 Oscar-winning movie Rain Man. His visual, emotional experience is called synaesthesia, a rare neurological mixing of the senses, which most commonly results in the ability to see alphabetical letters and/or numbers in colour.

He is rare among people with savant syndrome in that he is able to describe his experiences, which he did in the book “Born on a Blue Day”.

The phenomenon is fascinating, offering interesting insights into how the brain works, particularly in combining different sensory modalities. It boggles the mind to imagine what can be achieved if the potentials of the brain can be fully utilized. It also saddens to think that many are not utilizing their brains to think.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

What happens when people die?

Where are these people now? Their graves sit on top of a beautiful hill overlooking Kowloon. But where are they themsleves?

Last Thursday I attended the funeral of one my father’s good friends, whose son happens to be one of my good friends as well. The following day I attended the funeral of the wife of a pastor, that I have known for many years. These days I seem to encounter more funerals than weddings and births of babies.

The pastor was sad that his wife was going away and he will miss her. But he was comforted that he will see her again. That’s the reason Christian funerals are not matters of despair. We are sad that we won’t see our friends and beloved for some time, perhaps for a very long time. But eventually for those who have faith in God, we will meet again in God’s presence. That’s what gives us hope and the strength to love one another.

I thank God for it.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Celebrating Labor Day with Betting

What were they doing on Labor Day? This is a common sight outside any of the 125 Jockey Club Off-Track Betting Centers. No wonder the Jockey Club employs thousands of people (including some of my students) just to take their bets.

Observe their concentration and palpable tension. The one scene that comes to mind is perhaps that of candidates waiting to enter the examination venues of the Hong Kong Certificate of Education Examinations. Few of my students seem to bet on horses or soccer. And the crowds at the off-track betting centers tend to be working class and more adult-looking.

But there are definitely lots of young people betting on soccer these days. And there are many ways to bet without having to go to the tracks or even the off-track betting centers. If only such efforts were put into their studies! Or even actually playing soccer or some other sports.