Friday, November 30, 2007

Murder in the heart

I read somewhere that there was a study in the US in the 1980s in which people were asked: if they could eliminate another person by merely pushing a button and suffer no consequences, would they do it? 69% of the males, and 56% of the females said they would. So males were more prone to killing, but basically most of both sexes would kill. We are prevented from doing so only because there may be punishment, and the act of killing may be unpleasant.

However, if we hate someone so much that in our hearts, we want him or her to be eliminated, is it really any better than to actually kill? Most of us cannot kill a person, but we can gladly kill a fish, or chicken. Because they are considered less than human, and therefore, fair game. That is how some people justify killing other people, that the enemy is somehow less than human. Many reasons can be used – it could be the enemy’s beliefs, or the lack of it; their lowly birth, or heinous crime, etc. That’s what Matthew chapter 5, verses 21 to 26 was talking about. The Bible warned against calling people “idiot” (白癡), or other demeaning names, making them less than human.

Just a few days ago a Hong Kong study reported that men tend to bear a grudge longer than women – a surprise to some, but not all. The researchers speculated that it may be because women tend to talk about such feelings with friends and family, seeking comfort and release. While men tend to suppress such feelings without finding out the cause, and eventually the repressed feelings broke through as aggressive behaviour.

Hatred and revenge is one of the major causes of murderous behaviour between individuals, groups, nations, and cultures throughout history. Often the grudge-bearers suffer even more than the enemy. When our hearts are occupied with hatred, there is no room for love, for one another, or for God.

It seems impossibly hard to forgive. But with God, everything is possible, if only we trust in Him. It was in fact God who forgave us in the beginning. From Him, we can learn how to forgive.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Grass Carp (草魚, 鯇魚)

What was this? The head of a fish, a grass carp to be exact. The lower jaw was removed. So the red, spiky gills were now visible.

Looking at it from the side, it was easier to see what it was.

Another grass carp split in half vertically and lengthwise, and then laid on its side. The mouth was quite visible on the right. The white balloon on the left was the fish maw (swim bladder, gas bladder, air bladder, 魚鰾, 魚肚) – its floating device. The fish ascends or descends by filling the bladder with gas (oxygen) or water.

Some people find it horribly disgusting. Actually it does not have to be so bloody. The blood was put on it on purpose to make it look fresher, supposedly. Actually it was fresh enough already. The heart, slightly off center to the right, was still beating. Rather fascinating, wasn’t it.

Come to think of it. Since it was destined to be food anyway, stunning it with a blow to the head and then cutting it up quickly was probably as humane as it could be. In the mean time, one might as well marvel at the beauty of its anatomy.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Birds of Aberdeen

There is a surprisingly large number of birds in highly urbanized Hong Kong.

Within an hour in Aberdeen last Sunday, I was able to take photos of jumpy sparrows (麻雀), feisty magpies (喜鵲), elegant egrets (), and majestic kites (麻鷹, actually ).

There were some grumpy turtle doves (班鳩) and other unknown birds as well, but I didn’t manage to take their photos.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Tibetan Monks in TST

While jogging in TsimShaTsui East on Sunday, I bumped into this group of monks. They looked friendly enough, so I chatted with them a bit. They were from Tibet but they spoke Putonghua. And they were here as tourists.

Tibetan Buddhism is a bit different from the brand of Buddhism that we are familiar with in Hong Kong, as far as I know. They dress differently. Their brand is supposedly “big vehicle” as opposed to “small vehicle”. They seek more the enlightenment of all beings than personal liberation…

In any case, I thought it was somewhat incongruous for Buddhist monks to be tourists. Aren’t tourists are attracted by worldly sights; while Buddhists seek liberation from worldly snares? Perhaps I was missing something.

But I thought it might be a bit impolite to ask them. So I didn’t.

Monday, November 26, 2007


I did not know this couple and did not ask them to pose for this picture.

They were in a world of their own, totally oblivious to me and many other people who passed by within a few feet of them.

There was surely a lot of passion. But was it love?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Secret of marriage?

I was jogging near Laguna Verde just now, and overheard a young lady saying to another, “I am satisfied if he is good to me and my daughter.” Presumably she was referring to her husband. And she did sound contented, not bitter or resentful. So, apparently, a happy and contented family. My best wishes to you.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Adultery, or true love?

Elsie and Tucker was a couple in a church. Tucker was active and a leader in the church. Elsie was slightly moody, and strict with the children. They had a young daughter. Cheryl and Ken was another couple. Both were new believers. Ken was quiet and polite. Cheryl was vivacious and friendly with everyone. They had a young son.

One day Tucker declared that he was in love with Cheryl, and he was no longer in love with his wife. He asked for understanding from Elsie, and a divorce. He said it was not because of Cheryl that he wanted to divorce Elsie. He felt they were not right for each other even before he fell in love with Cheryl. But now he simply could not be without Cheryl. He was seeking a amiable divorce.

Cheryl did not make any public declarations but did not contradict Tucker either. Privately she made it clear that she wanted to divorce Ken, but did not say explicitly that she would be with Tucker. She wanted to keep her son.

The preacher and other church leaders tried to convince Tucker that he was making a mistake. They pleaded with Tucker to pull back before going to far, to try to repair his relations with Elsie. Elsie was, of course, deeply hurt but willing to forgive him should he decided to return. Tucker declared that there was now no turning back. He said he loved his daughter and did not wish to hurt Elsie. He would try his best to part amiably and to minimize the damage to Elsie and his daughter. He believed that he could achieve it if the church did not interfere.

It was a tell-tale sign that Tucker refused to pray with the leaders of the church.

This was a case that we discussed in our weekly Bible Study Group this week. We were studying Matthew chapter 5, verses 27 to 32, on adultery. What do you think of it? Should Tucker follow his heart to go with Cheryl? Or to return to Elsie whom he does not love anymore? What should Cheryl do?

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

North Point At Night

From across the harbour, each point of light in North Point looks the same. Yet each point of light is a window; behind each window is a family. Each family has a story. In each family is a bunch of people. In fact, each person has a story, and each story is different. Isn’t it just fascinating?

Such variety, such complexity, such beauty. It is impossible that there isn’t a purpose behind all of these. Life is just too absurd if all these are just going to vanish without a trace in the end, that there is no meaning behind all of it.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Suzhou Watergate

This is the real WaterGate in Suzhou – the entrance into old Suzhou walled city for boats. The city walls have mostly been torn down, except a few sections including this one. The gate opening is quite small and low. And it is made up of two walls with a trap in between, making it quite easy to defend.

Suzhou has retained a lot of the waterways and bridges. Garbage colleting boats keep the waterways free of refuse, and boats are banned from most of the waterways.

It is really quite pleasant walking among them, particularly in the morning. The place is still quite clean and quiet. People are getting up, getting to work or school, setting up the stores, shopping for groceries, preparing food.

It seems they are trying to tell us it is possible to live and work in this place without having to obliterate history. They paint a picture of quiet optimism.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

無償獻血 (Blood Donation Without Compensation)

I saw many people giving blood at a mobile blood center outside the Beijing Book Building in October. Mostly young people, it seemed. It warmed one's heart to see people making a sacrifice for others, without expecting compensation.

Wait a minute! Don’t people always donate blood without demanding or expecting a reward? In Hong Kong, Canada, USA, ... In fact, in most places in the world?

The fact that it was emphasized that the blood was to be donated without compensation implied that some people did sell their blood for a price. In 余华’s book 许三观卖血记, people sold their blood when they were desperate for money. Each time they could sell 400 cc of blood, about two bowls in volume, for about 35 reminbi. Each time, before they sold their blood, they would drink as many bowls of water as they could, often directly from the river, to help them with the blood giving. The book was written in 1995, before the scorch of AIDS hit China. The picture that it painted of blood selling was not a very bleak one. It could even be said to be somewhat romantic. Selling his blood helped 许三观 through several crises in his life. The novel was very influential, and highly recommended. The book was, of course, a novel. But in realty, many people did sell their blood for a price.

Later on, the reality turned bleaker and bleaker. And HIV transmission was strongly linked to illegal blood selling. According to the web site, Vice Minister Yin Dakui reported in 2001 that "about 30,000 to 50,000 people have contracted HIV through blood selling". In this context, Blood donation without compensation became especially poignant. Hopefully, as more people give blood without compensation, illegal selling of blood can be reduced and even totally eliminated.

Boy Peeing

Actually this is more about the boy’s parents rather than the boy himself. Less than 10 minutes ago, I was passing by the entrance to the Hung Hom KCR station. A boy of about 3 years old was standing still facing the wall, with a woman kneeling down by his side, holding him tightly. It seemed odd and I thought perhaps they needed help.

Upon closer inspection, of course, it turned out the woman was helping the boy urinate. It was a busy entrance with hundreds of people walking by every minute. And about 10 meters away, a policeman was watching the traffic. But nobody paid any attention.

Less than 100 meters away in the main hall of the train station, and a shorter distance away in the university in the opposite direction across a footbridge, there were clean toilets accessible for the public. Why do people still do this?

Again, it is not about the boy, but the boy’s guardians.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Old House from the TaiPing Uprising (太平天國) Age

Suzhou is an old city, with many historical buildings. This is one of them. This one on 大新橋巷, facing a canal, and quite close to 藕園, is not that old, comparatively speaking. About 150 years only. I was walking towards 藕園, saw this house with the door open, and this old man sitting down in front of the house to have tea. So I chatted to him.

According to this man, this house and those around it used to belong to a general in the 太平天國. And he himself was a descendent of male and female servants of the TaiPing general. Believe it or not.

What is not in doubt is that this is a protected historical house. It is also well known that 忠王李秀成, one of the more respected leaders of the TaiPing, was the general who captured Suzhou in 1960 when the TaiPing was in its heyday and was also beginning to decline. His palace in Suzhou is now the Suzhou Museum. Suzhou is full of history. Everywhere I turn, I half expected to bump into some ghost from the past. Too bad they are just ghosts.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Suzhou Wells and Fish Cleaning

Suzhou is a watery city. It is situated on the eastern shore of Lake Taihu 太湖. To its east is Yangcheng Lake, home of the famous big binding crab (大閘蟹). The rectangular old city is surrounded by a moat 護城河, and canals criss-cross the city. So water is everywhere. So much so that wells are also everywhere, in the middle of walk-ways, on side walks of busy street, etc.

This man was cleaning a fish next to a well on the sidewalk of a busy street. The fish seemed to be a , or . The famous 武昌鱼 is a kind of . It is very tasty, but also full of numerous small bones. Half an hour before that, I saw a woman cleaning anotherbesides another well. It seems when it comes to cooking, the sexes are more equal in Suzhou.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Emptying Chamber Pots

When was the last time you used a chamber pot? In fact, did you ever use, or even see a chamber pot? Do you even know there is such a thing?

In many older cities in China, such as the old city in Suzhou and the hutongs in Beijing, many houses do not have indoor toilets. That’s why there are so many public toilets. And that’s why these women are emptying and cleaning these chamber pots early in the morning in Suzhou. You really have to get up quite early to catch them.

Why is it always the women who empty and clean the pots? Don’t the men use them too?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Children and IV Drips

I was walking towards 石街 and 山塘, which, I was told, was the place to be in Suzhou 蘇州, other than 觀前街. Suddenly I found myself in front of a building with brightly-lit rooms, and many people with children going in and out. It looked like some kind of children’s hospital or clinic. I wasn’t in a hurry, so I decided to take a look inside.

I was prepared to see parents with sick children. But I was not prepared to see so many children with an intravenous drip in their little arms, with their parents holding up the bag of liquid. These pictures are really fuzzy, because I did not dare to use flash (I don’t like to use flash anyway). I was also worried I might upset some of the parents, and worse, the security.

Suzhou Tea House 蘇州評彈

I took a walk around the Xuan Miu Temple (玄妙觀) in the evening when I came to Suzhou the first time in 2005. Suddenly I was captivated by a heavenly voice floating out of this little tea house (茶社). At first I wasn’t sure whether it wasn’t just a recording because the place didn’t look too promising. But I did take a chance and poked my head in, and found this couple singing to a small audience of people having tea. The cheapest cup of tea cost 20 yuan, and a request for a song also started at 20. I thought I would give it a try, bought a cup of tea and sat down. I wasn’t disappointed. They sang folk songs (小調) and commentaries (評彈) in the Suzhou dialect, which I could hardly understand. But the singing was just so enjoyable, particularly the小調, that I stayed for almost two hours in sweltering heat. Since then I come to the tea house if I could, every time I am in Suzhou.

But this time, the tea house was not there anymore. In retrospect I should have anticipated its demise because there were not too many customers each time I was there before. Perhaps with the changing times, this type of art is appreciated by fewer and fewer people, and mostly older folks.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Extreme Accommodations

I heard that some suites at the Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong cost more than HK$40,000 a day. I was also told that the larger swimming pool to the left on the roof top is shared by the hotel’s guests. But the two smaller ones to the right are private, each being attached to a penthouse suite. I wonder whether these are the $40,000 ones.

On the other hand, there are still plenty of places in Hong Kong where people don’t even have private kitchens or toilets, such as this one at the ShekKipMei Estate where the woman does the cutting and cooking outside. Actually this building has been cleared out and is being torn down, and I have no idea where this woman is living now. But there are plenty who are living in even more cramped conditions.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Odd Couples

Humans are really fascinating beings.

Is it really true that opposites attract each other?

Between Concerts and Classes

Three students were sitting in a university cafeteria around 8 am. The young man was slurping his noodle. The two young women were eating quietly. Another young man walked in.

“I was in the Hung Hom Coliseum talking to my friends after the concert until 2 am. If I went home, I would have to get up in a couple of hours to come back to the 8:30 am class. So I went to sit in a 24-hour fast food place for a while and then come here to meet you guys.”

They then started to discuss the registration of general education subjects for the next semester’s classes. Various subjects came up: Japanese, wine tasting, etc.

“Is this subject easy to get into?” “No, I got there several hours after the registration opened and I was successful.”

“How is the subject? Are the multiple choice questions extremely difficult?” “Nah, they are OK.”

“Wine tasting sounds good. You get to visit a winery.” “What winery? It is just a small shop next to the big supermarket in Harbour City.”

“Are you going to the Axxx Lxx concert in early January?” “My friend has a job collecting tickets and I am thinking of getting a similar job there so I can get to the concert.” “They only let you stand at the entrance! Is that what you want?”

“I had put down two florescent sticks wrapped in a piece of paper and wrote on it: ‘for tickets to the concert’ – to reserve a place in the line for tickets. The attendant there said I should go back today to attach a large piece of cardboard. That way no one will dare remove it.”

“Time for class. Let’s go”

They were polite to each other. None used any foul words. The two young women were particularly soft-spoken, and seemed kind. And they were attending the 8:30 am class, even leaving the cafeteria before 8:30 am. That’s more than what we can say about many of our students.

How would you feel if you were their parents?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Death and Life

It is hard to know the truth behind death, and hence life, since hardly anyone has lived through it and come back to tell us about it. Perhaps life simply vanishes. Perhaps we come back to life as someone else, or something else, ad infinitum; but perhaps not.

Perhaps there is a release, but how? Based on our own sense of justice, perhaps the good people will be rewarded and the bad punished; but how good is good enough? It is so hard to be truly good; no matter how hard we try, we simply cannot be completely free of the selfishness, the jealousy, the hatred, the laziness, … Some of our wise people seem to have grasped part of the truth, yet we know deep down it is but a shadow of the real deal.

It seems if there is really a personal God, it is hard for us mortals to truly get to know Him, unless He reaches down to us Himself. Fortunately, He did, in the form of Jesus. He is the reason these young Canadian Christians came to act out the Christian story at the TsimShaTsui Ferry one day earlier in February 2007.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Dead Butterfly

When is a butterfly a dead butterfly? A dead butterfly does not look, at least initially, any differently from a live butterfly. There are people who have mottephobia, the fear of butterflies, whether dead or alive. There is, of course, a real difference between life and death. Yet it is not easy to pin point what it is, and it is impossible to put that something back once it is taken away. Why is that?

When someone dies, is the life transformed into some other form of existence? Or the life simply extinguishes? Or is it wrong to think of individual lives, that in fact all lives are connected as a whole, hence one never dies but simply returns to the whole?