Friday, August 31, 2007

Hanging Tree

Take a close look. The tree is sitting in a giant pot, and the whole thing is hanging in mid-air. Not sure if it is unique to Hong Kong, but pretty bizarre anyway.

You may recognize the place as the former Marine Police Headquarters in TsimShaTsui. From the lush, thick foliage covering the hill, a few trees have been chosen to be “preserved”. Of course, the tree looks nothing like the original, because only part of it remains. Between being chopped down completely, and “this”, I am not sure the tree would have referred the present state. Would you?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

向世界出發 - 以色列的苦路

Earlier there was a very good program on TV called 向世界出發. In one of the episodes in the second series, 蔡少芬 went to Israel to covered Jerusalem, the rebuilding of the nation of Israel, and the life of Jesus. To me, the highlight was the Way Of The Cross, the road through which Jesus carried the cross on the way to His death by crucifixion. It reminds me of the suffering that Jesus went through, that He did this for us, and what it means for me. I think it was very brave of her to share her faith and her struggles in such a public way.

If you missed the broadcast, you can still read about it in the book 向世界出發 (第二輯). Some of the other stories in the book are quite interesting too.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Infidel and (in)tolerance

Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Somalia and subsequently lived in a number of countries including Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Holland, and currently USA. Her observations reminded me of how diverse human beings are, and how universal intolerance and bigotry is.

In Somalia clans are all important. When strangers meet, one of the most important things to do is to find out how far back they can trace their common ancestors, and hence, whether they belong to the same clan/sub clan. People of the same clan help each other Different clans do not like each other, and is one of the main reasons for the civil war. In Kenya they have their tribes. The difference being that different tribes speak difference languages, while different clans speak the same language.

Arabs looked down on and called the black Somalis slaves.

Somalis tend to be tall and slim. They look down on other people who have a different physique. Many of their neighbours tend to be shorter and have flatter noses, hence considered inferior. Somalis consider the Ethiopian Christians despicable – they drank alcohol and didn’t wash properly. Ethiopians were even poorer that Somalis.

In Kenya there are people from diverse ethnic groups. Indians had a complicated system of social classes, all unbelievers in Muslim eyes. Pakistanis were Muslims but also had castes. The Untouchables, both Indians and Pakistani, were darker-skinned.

Recent Somali exiles are families of warriors, while older immigrants who had grown up in Kenya had poor grasp of the Somali language.

Some Arabs also had clans – e.g., some Yemenis considered themselves superior to others. All Arabs consider themselves superior to everyone else - they were born close to the Prophet Muhammad. Somalis and Yemenis were close, Indians and Pakistanis were close. Yemenis, Somalis, Indians, and Pakistanis considered Kenyans the lowest. Somalis treat Kenyans almost exactly as the Saudis had behaved toward Somalis.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Infidel and God

Ayaan Hirsi Ali concluded in her book “Infidel” that she did not want to believe in God anymore, after observing the oppression of women, the insistence of total submission, the opposition to critical thinking, and the tendency of violence in Islam. She calls herself an atheist now. That is a pity.

Men (and women) often do horrible things in the name of God. That does not mean God is really responsible for those things. God gave us freedom. It is men (and women) who are responsible for our actions. We should not blame everything on God.

Some religions were created by human beings. But that does not mean all religions are false.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Infidel - Ayaan Hirsi Ali

“Infidel” was written by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She was born in Somalia and raised in a strict Muslim family. She became a refugee because of the civil war in Somalia, escaped from a forced marriage and was granted asylum in the Netherlands. She fought for the rights of Muslim immigrant women and reform of Islam, and became a member of parliament. Because of her views and efforts, she was disowned by her father and attacked by reactionary Islamists. She made the movie “Submission” on the Muslim suppression of women with Theo van Gogh, who was subsequently murdered by an Islamist because of it.

It is a tremendously compelling book. I simply could not put it down, and have to fight with my two younger daughters to read it (I am sure my eldest would have entered into the fight if she were not at university in the US). Her story helped me to understand a lot more about Islam, its teachings, its treatment of women specifically and human beings in general, and its views towards non-Islamists (infidels).

Here are some quotations from the book:

“Female genital mutilation predates Islam … But in Somalia, where virtually every girl is excised, the practice is always justified in the name of Islam.” … “Sahra told Haweya how awful it was to be married. … Abdallah … trying to tear open the scar between her legs, how much it had hurt.”

(in Saudi Arabia) “They called Haweya and I Abid, which meant slaves.” “because this was the God’s house, all these people were kind. … But as soon as we left the mosque, Saudi Arabia meant intense heat and filth and cruelty. People had their heads cut off in public squares. … Hands were cut off. Men were flogged. Women were stoned.”

“They say women were in the grip of invisible forces that played with their minds and made them switch from one extreme mood to another. That was why Allah had ordained that the testimony of two women is equal that of one man, and also why women should not be allowed to govern or accept public offices”

(In Holland) “The Somali cases were almost always the same, again and again. The husband took all the welfare money, spent it on qat [a plant used as a stimulant], and when the wife hid the money he would beat her until finally the police intervened.” … “They were convinced that by accepting systematic, really merciless abuse, they were serving Allah and earning a place in Heaven.” … “Allah says husbands should beat their wives if they misbehave; it’s in the Quran.”

“This was an infidel country, … Why was it then, so much better run, better led, and made for such better lives than the places we came from?” … “why so many immigrants – so many Muslim immigrants – were violent, on welfare, poor.”

“They went on about Averroes and saving Aristotle, and how Islam discovered the zero, and so on. … So what has happened in Islamic civilization since the year 1200?”

“Between October 2004 and May 2005, eleven Muslim girls were killed by their families in just those tow regions (there are twenty such regions in Holland).” … “She has been raped by her uncle, and now she is pregnant, she will be punished for having sex outside marriage.”

“As Theo cycled down the Linnaeusstraat, … Muhammad Bouyeri … shot Theo several times. … Theo begged, `Can’t we talk about this?` … Then he took out one of his butcher knives and sawed into Theo’s throat. With the other knife, he stabbed a five-page letter onto Theo’s chest.” … “It opened with In the name of Allah Most Gracious Most Merciful … asking if I was prepared to die for my convictions, as he, the letter write, was.”

Friday, August 24, 2007

Old Congee Shop

Do you eat congee at these traditional congee shops? I like them more than the more modern ones. Here you can see them actually steaming the 腸粉 and frying the 油炸鬼, instead of assembling the final product from components taken from plastic containers.

My favourites are 艇仔粥, 及第粥, 腰潤, 牛肉粥, 皮蛋瘦肉粥, 魚片粥, 油炸鬼, 牛脷酥, 煎堆, 炸兩, 腸粉 … Well, I do seem to like most of them, if not all.

And the atmosphere is more like what I remember from childhood days, not a sanitized version. Here you are not likely to find smartly-dressed people in suits or high-heels. More likely they are mothers with young children, casually-dressed adults (truly-causal, not purposely-made to look casual), and older folks. Somehow there seems to be many more older women than men.

Just this morning a 40-ish woman was feeding a toddler congee, whom I though to be her son. He turns out to be a grandson. Today Hong Kong people tend to get married and have children late, or not at all. But there are evidently also people who have kids at a tender age. What they have in common is that neither raise their own kids. It is left to either grandparents or maids.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

University dormitory

My daughter just moved into her dormitory. The room is symmetric, about 10 feet by 10 feet, to be shared by 2 students. The door faces the window squarely. Each student occupies one side of the room, with one desk, one bed and one closet. There is no air-conditioning, hence it can get quite hot in 30+ degree weather in summer, with the door closed. However, the window looks out onto a nice view of trees with squirrels.

The campus is huge. With 40,000+ students, it is a small city by itself. It is quite appealing, with lots of grand old buildings, majestic trees, famous alumni and faculty. A good place for my girl to study.

After two days of registering, getting the university ID, opening bank accounts, moving in to the dormitory, buying bed sheets, etc., we have to leave. Five of us went to the campus, and only four of us left, leaving my eldest daughter behind. My daughter seems to be taking everything in stride. I am not sure I am.

Monday, August 20, 2007

American Apple Pie

My 3 daughters shared a mountain of an apple pie, topped by two scoops of ice cream, after dinner, in Champaign, Illinois. The pie was so big and sweet that they could hardly finish it. The soft drinks were huge too.

In fact, most servings in American restaurants seem more than enough for a single person. That probably have something to do with the number and size of fat people in the USA. While Americans were big before, when I studied there in the 70s and 80s, they seemed to have gotten even wider since then.

Highway Mirage

These cars were not driving through puddles of water. The road was in fact perfectly dry. But the pavement was so hot that it created a temperature gradient in the air immediately above it, which bent the light rays just enough to generate reflections of cars, etc. Quite a common sight on hot days on Canadian and US highways. Our eyes can be easily fooled.

Highway Mirage

These cars were not driving through puddles of water. The road was in fact perfectly dry. But the pavement was so hot that it created a temperature gradient in the air immediately above it, which bent the light rays just enough to generate reflections of cars, etc. Quite a common sight on hot days on Canadian and US highways. Our eyes can be easily fooled.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Granny Helpers

My parents with come of the certificates and cards showing appreciation for the volunteer work that my father does in recent years – supported by my mother. My father has retired for more than 20 years and is in his late 70s. He still does volunteer work 3 days a week, at churches, at the Showers of Blessing office, and an old-folks’ home. My father makes and keeps friends everywhere, in government, slaughterhouses, churches, old folks’ homes, restaurants, stores, airports, …, wherever he goes. Everyone who knows him is impressed by how helpful he is. My parents are two of the biggest heroes in my life.

The Goodness Gap

In “Why Good Things Happen to Good People”, I read these astonishing words: “The gap between what we feel goodness requires and what our lives really are will never be wholly closed. In other words, we all need to be forgiven.”

I agree totally. I think this “what we feel goodness requires” is part of the image of God that we are created in. This gap is what some of us consider “sin”. And closing this gap is “forgiveness of sin”. Science and man-made religion can help us narrow this gap. But we cannot close this gap wholly by ourselves. Only God can do that. This last paragraph is not from the book. It is mine.

Why Good Things Happen to Good People

Why should we be good? One reason may be spiritual – because that’s what God wants us to do. Another may be moral – because it is right. Yet another – it brings good health, physical and psychological.

Over the past 10 years, there have been about 500 serious scientific studies that demonstrate the power of unselfish love to enhance health, including the following:

  • Giving in high school predicts good physical and mental health all the way into late adulthood, a time interval of over 50 years.

  • Giving reduces mortality significantly in later life, even when you start late.

  • Those who volunteer for two or more organizations have an impressive 44% lower likelihood of dying.

  • Giving reduces adolescent depression and suicide risk.

  • Teen girls are more giving than teen boys.

  • Offering social support to others reduces people’s anxiety over their own economic situation.

  • Giving to others helps us forgive ourselves for our own mistakes.

  • Helping friends, relatives, and neighbours, along with providing emotional support to a spouse, reduces mortality, although receiving the same kind of help does not.

  • Even the simple act of praying for others reduces the harmful impact of health difficulties in old age for those doing the praying.

When we give, it is likely that we turn off the fight-or-flight response. Giving pushes aside the brooding negative emotions, like rage and spite and envy, that clearly contribute to stress-induced psychological and physical illness. A full 50% of helpers reported felling the “helper’s high” in a study. Giving may be potent because it is built of three important qualities: a giving disposition, empathy, and competence, particularly social competence.

I did not invent any of these words, but read them in the book “Why Good Things Happen to Good People” by Stephen Post and Jill Neimark. One might say these are just common sense. What is interesting to me is that these ideas are confirmed by scientific research. Dr. Post is the head of the Institute of Unlimited Love at the Case Western Reserve University Medical School.

Volunteers and students were singing in the summer camp in July this year (2007), in YX, Hubei. The students and volunteers were both deeply affected.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Monster bait

Check out the size of this bait and imagine the size of the fish!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Lake Ontario horizon

We were standing on a rocky beach at the outskirts of Toronto looking south. This is the northern shores of Lake Ontario. If the earth were flat, we should be able to see the USA cities of Buffalo and Rochester. As it was, we were looking at the clean, straight line of the horizon. Looking carefully, you should be able to see a line of geese flying just above the water. Seconds later, the geese would flop down on the water, perhaps attracted by a school of fish.

Such a view is available to anyone who cares to come down to the waterfront in Toronto, where most days are clear. In my secondary school days, on Saturday afternoons, we used to climb the hill where the Ocean Park in Hong Kong is, and looked at the horizon to the south. Now, the hill is off-limits. Even if you can climb up there, all you can see would be just a gray blurry mist. The line between the sky and the water is no longer visible. We have lost a lot in the pursuit of progress.

Happy moments with students

Just before leaving for Toronto, at the end of July, a group of our students who have just graduated treated me and Vincent to a great dinner. The food was good, of course, but the company was just wonderful. In fact, it was the second time that they treated me. Both times we stayed until almost mid night, and the last time we literally got kicked out of Outback because it was past closing time.

DC is very intelligent, methodical, determined, and mature. JL is gregarious, eternally courteous, and hard working. KY is shy but always smiling. F is quiet and compassionate. B is funny but resilient. H is eloquent but unfortunately more intertested in business than IT. We drove them hard and sometimes criticized them rather severely. In the end, it is gratifying that they came back and treated us to dinner, after graduation. May be they meant for us to treat them but were just too shy to ask us to pay? :) In any case, they all have great futures if they can make good use of their strengths.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Alien Fighting

Someone was bravely fighting an alien. It struggled and threatened temporarily. But it was weakening. Eventually it succumbed and was chopped into pieces.

Actually, of course, it was just my father killing a 4 pound lobster for dinner. We had 2 of them last evening in Toronto. Yummy!

Moving Music

Some of our friends were being baptized. The church sanctuary’s walls produced strong echo. Someone called Angel was leading singing. Her beautiful voice and the music reverberated throughout the building. We were singing “…靜和寧 (peace and quiet)…” At that fleeting moment, I had a great feeling of God’s presence.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Life as a Spiral

Thirty-two years ago I went to university in the USA. This year my eldest daughter is going to university in the USA. I am missing her even before she leaves, and I am sure I will miss her even more when she actually leaves – if that is possible. I am now beginning to appreciate what my parents must have felt all those years ago. And my respect for my parents grows deeper day after day.

It seems life is running in circles. But 10 days ago my daughter was baptized, and I was overjoyed. I went to the USA many years ago as the only believer in my family. Now we are all praying for my elder brother who is still holding out. So, as I told my daughter, life is more like a spiral - there is progress in repetition, even if it is repetitious.