Sunday, December 30, 2007

Brown-marbled Grouper 老虎斑

老虎斑 has a firmer texture but very tasty. This one is pale yellow and is wild. Be aware of those darker in colour. Those are farm-raised and the flesh is much tougher. They should cost less too.

老虎斑 resembles the Camouflage Grouper 杉斑. But take note of the small spots covering the eyes. 杉斑 does not have them.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Camouflage Grouper 杉斑

One of my favourites. The flesh is slightly firmer and tastes just as good as 東星斑 or 西星斑. But slightly less expensive.

Resembles and easily confused with the Brown-marbled Grouper 老虎斑. They both have larger blotches and small brown spots. On the 老虎斑 the small spots cover the eyes, but not on the 杉斑.

Many 老虎斑s are now farm-raised. Those from the sea are pale yellowish brown but those farm-raised are darker in colour. My father said it is because those living in the sea can swim to the bottom and get less sunlight. It is important to distinguish them because the wild ones are very tasty but the farm-raised are not as good.

Leopard Coral Grouper 東星斑

This is the famous 東星斑. A beautiful fish. It can come in a variety of colours ranging from red to pale gray to brown. With small blue spots all over its head, body and fins. Its flesh is soft, flaky, and quite tasty. Actually some people consider its taste to be on the “thin” side. But it is easy to cook because even a bit overcooking does not spoil the texture or taste.

Its cousin, the Spotted Coral Grouper 西星斑, looks similar. But its spots are larger and elongated.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Why do people suffer?

At our family Christmas Party on the 23rd, someone raised this age-old question. In particular, why do those who are apparently innocent, such as infants, suffer disabilities? My response was: I don’t know, most of the time. Not because there is no answer. But because the answer may not have been revealed yet.

In any case, we all suffer, to different degrees, and in different ways. What matters is not how healthy/unhealthy, rich/poor, pretty/ugly, smart/stupid, etc. we are. But how we act in the circumstances. God is fair not in the sense of giving everyone exactly the same. He is fair in demanding from a person according to what the person is given.

In fact, instead of asking (or in addition to) why some people suffer in a certain way, perhaps we should (also) ask why we don’t. There are lots of hungry people in this world. Why are we the ones with enough to eat? There are lots of people living in the fear of war or under repressive regimes. Why are we the ones living freely? Is there some purpose is that we are given so much already? Is there something we should be doing with what we are given?

Then on the following day (24th) we went to Hong Chi PineHill Special School to visit the kids with special needs. They seem happy enough, despite their sufferings. Their contentment, their smiles, and their guilelessness should teach us something about what is really valuable in life. And if our little effort can bring a little bit more joy into their lives, isn’t it something?

We have in our hands the power to make our lives and those around us more, or less, enjoyable and meaningful. It is our decision.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Hong Chi Kids with Special Needs

On Christmas Eve, a group of about 20 PolyU professors and students went to Hong Chi PineHill Special School at Taipo again to organise a Christmas Party for them. This was the second year that we had done it, and we had more students participating this time.

More than 20 kids from the special school came to our party. About half of them teenagers with mild special needs. They live in small houses, eight in one house supervised by a house parent. During they day they attend secondary school, and return to Pinehill after school. Most of them are slower than other kids in development, but can generally take care of themselves. They are very warm towards visitors, and treat you like an old friend right-away. It seems friendship is their greatest need.

They are very straightforward. Once a social worker was discussing differences among people with them. She asked why they thought she would not be able to become an airplane stewardess - expecting them to say “you are too short”, “you are too old”, etc. But one of them blurted out “you are too ugly” without thinking. They are really guileless.

Another half of them were pre-school kids with severe disabilities. One little boy’s hands were gloved with mittens. I thought perhaps it was to prevent him from scratching himself. It turned out his eyesight was so poor that his range of vision was only a few inches. You have to touch him in order for him to know your presence. Perhaps partly for this reason he liked to put his hands into his mouth - so deep that he puked! So his care takers tried to wean him from this habit by gloving and even tying up his hands. When you touch his face to let him know you there, and massage is shoulders, he calms down and makes faces.

Another very young kid just stared into distance, motionlessly in her wheelchair - she was paralysed from the neck down. Apparently she could hear but simply could not respond. Another girl could not talk but smiled broadly when you talk to her.

Certainly these kids can be happy in their own world, in their own way. What they crave the most seem to be human touch and friendship. Their care takers are very caring. But there are just too few of them and the needs of these kids are just too great.

I am sure God loves them as much as you and I. How can our hearts not go out to them, to want to touch them, to want to put a smile on their faces? Particularly for those of us who have experienced God's love? In fact we are all made in God's image. We all have God's love in us, haven't we?

I would like to think this is really the spirit of Christmas.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Starting work on Christmas Evening

I was jogging near the Hung Hom Ferry just now, around 7PM, when I was stopped by a young man. It was dark and the street was quiet. But he was wearing normal work clothes and carrying a shoulder bag. In other words, he did not look threatening, so I wasn’t scared.

He asked about a Yuk Tat Street. I vaguely remember the name, and that it was in To Kwa Wan, but I wasn’t so sure. Then he told me he was starting a new job, and showed me the address. It confirmed that he was looking for an industrial building in To Kwa Wan. Then I pointed him in the general direction.

Imagine having to start a new job on Christmas Day, when most people are out enjoying themselves. He had an open, sincere face. He was polite, and sounded earnest. I prayed to God for him as I continue my jogging.

A Single-Mom Family

For many years, our family has a tradition of inviting friends over for a Christmas Party, partly to convince them that turkey can be tasty, provided it is done right. But mainly to have a good time of sharing. I wish I can claim credit for this idea, but it is mainly my wife’s project - my main contribution consists of carving the turkey.

One of our friends at the party this year was a single mom, with a daughter who just turned five. She was originally from Shanghai but has been in Hong Kong for more than 10 years. The daughter has been living in Shanghai with relatives since she was born, and came to Hong Kong only about a year ago, after the divorce. Her former husband stopped paying alimony one year after the divorce so life has been difficult, since she has no relatives in Hong Kong. Added to that, she had suspected that her daughter had developmental difficulties but could not confirmed it through diagnosis until the daughter came to Hong Kong. She had been very unhappy for the past several years. And had even considered ending her life, but was deterred from it because of her daughter.

Then earlier this year a friend suggested that she try our church. She has since come to believe in Jesus, and started attending Sunday School. She still has many questions and life is still not easy. But she feels now there is hope. And the church welcomes her like her family.

Hope is precisely what Christmas and Jesus is all about. In Him, we can find peace. Jesus said we will continue to encounter difficulties in this world. But we can take heart because He has already overcome the world. [John 16:33]

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Nuclear Family - Hong Kong Style

A typical family taking a stroll on the Hung Hom waterfront. A mother with children. Except that there was no father. Instead, there was the ubiquitous maid.

Having paid for the maid, many fathers consider their responsibilities to the family fulfilled. Many children these days are effectively raised by the maid. Considering the added responsibilities, some have a legitimate claim to be underpaid.

In this particular case, at least it was the mother who was holding the children's hands, not the maid.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Examination Taking

Taking an examination is serious business, particularly in Hong Kong. It is fair to say that the education system in Hong Kong is rather examination-driven. Students have been trained to study for the examination, rather than to learn. Because the results of examinations, particularly the public examinations, are deemed to be so important that nothing else matters.

By the time they get to university, it is so ingrained that it is very hard to change. The examination is not just a way to measure how much and how well they have learned, it has become the goal in itself. It does not matter that material crammed into the students’ brains in the last day before the examination are forgotten the minute the examination ends. It does not matter that the examination is not the best indicator of the students’ achievement in learning – it is merely the most economical.

Having the student do a practical project under the supervision of a professor is a much better way to learn and to measure how well the student has learned. It is also closer to what university education should be like. Unfortunately it is also much more expensive and beyond the means of most people.

Friday, December 21, 2007

How (not) to answer Multiple Choice questions

We have often discussed this as a possible strategy by students to answer multiple choice questions, and what the expected outcome would be. But this is the first time that I have seen one of my students try this. The actual outcome is close to the expected value, and obviously it is not very good. It is really sad to see one of my students resorting to this.

Electricity Problem

What do you think of this? This is part of a popular text book on Physics in Hong Kong for Form 5 students preparing for the School Certificate Examination.

At first I thought it was just indicative, meaning to show that the current (15A) in one side of the ring and the current (15A) in the other side of the ring add up to the total current (30A) delivered to the appliance. In reality, of course, that the resistance in the two sides may differ, hence the current may not be carried equally in the two sides.

Upon closer look into some of the exercises following this, I realized that the student is expected to answer the questions exactly this way, assuming an even split of current. This is misleading, as if there are some hidden, sophisticated equipment that ensures the current is evenly split in the two sides. Either that, or there electricity is so smart that it splits itself evenly, seeing that there are two paths to the same destination.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Inside and Outside an Examination Hall

It is a sunny day in late autumn, as perfect as it ever gets in Hong Kong. A great day to be outdoors playing soccer or basketball, running, hiking, fishing, etc. Indoors, however, it is all serious business. University students are taking their examinations. They (most of them anyway) are totally concentrated, willing to make the sacrifice now, in exchange for the delayed reward. That’s the kind of discipline, part of so called emotional or multiple intelligence, required to be successful in life.

Sadly, many of them cannot make it last long enough. Over one full semester, for example. Given one week to complete an assignment, many will not start on it until the last day. Given a month for an assignment, many will also not start on it until the last three days. Given two months for a term project, incredibly, many will still not start on it until the last week.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Logistics – Philippino Style

A common scene in Central on Sundays – Philippinos sending parcels home. There are more than 4 million Philippinos working as overseas foreign workers. They send home more than seven billion US dollars annually. No wonder they are referred to as the “new economic heroes”. Among them, more than 70% are women.

About 150,000 work in Hong Kong, making up 2% of the Hong Kong population. No wonder sending parcels home has become a big business.

Flower Lady of Yaumati

She was preparing 白蘭花 for sale, on the steps of a busy MTR exit in Yaumati. At two dollars for a pack of three flower buds, it was a bargain. Certainly much cheaper than in Central, where they are going for 10 dollars a pack. They are very fragrant, pretty flowers, and bring back a lot of memories.

These flowers are much harder to find these days, and the people who sell them seem to be always older folks. I suspect many people buy them for the memory more than the fragrance. This lady is in her late 80s – it is a pity that she has to do this at her age. I am afraid the buying and selling of 白蘭花 may pass away together with her generation.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Yaumati Street Sleeper

This was a Friday morning and he wasn’t sleeping. Instead, he was carrying all his belongings on a shoulder pole (扁擔). But he normally sleeps on the streets in Yaumati, sometimes right in front of some of the shops which sells expensive stuff such as 燕窩 (swallow’s nest) and 冬蟲夏草 (cordyceps sinensis).

He reminds me of the story of the beggar Lazarus in the Bible who lied in front of the house of a rich man. When they both died, Lazarus went to paradise while the rich man went to hell. [Luke 16: 19-31] Talk about a story with morals - you cannot get any more explicit than that.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Suffering and Christmas

This is one of the wards of Grantham Hospital in Wong Chuk Hang, near Aberdeen. It is clean, airy and tidy; the staff are professional and kind. One of the 70+ year old man there has been there for several months. He has cancer of the lungs, as well as other ailments including some form of dementia. He can recall many people and events in the past, but cannot remember whether he has had breakfast. He remembers a visitor as a son of his brother, but not the visitor’s name.

He is suffering more and more as the days go by. Lately the doctors have started to prescribe morphine to help him bear the pain. His wife has to come to the hospital twice a day to feed him. He does not like the hospital food so she has to make soup, or porridge for him, even though he can eat only very little. His two daughters and two sons take turns to keep him company. Sometimes they have to stay overnight because he was suffering so much. His brother and sisters, nephews and nieces also come to see him. Some would read the Bible to him, and pray with him.

He is one of the more fortunate ones because he has family and relatives who care. Many of the others in the same ward do not often have visitors. In any case, when one person suffers, the whole family and others suffer with him, one way or the other. In such a state, how can they enjoy the trees, lights, decorations, parties, and gifts of Christmas?

But Christmas is joyful precisely because this is a needy world, precisely because the world is full of suffering.

A family that has everything will accept a gift politely, and then set it aside. It means little to them. A family in need, on the other hand, will accept a gift with true thankfulness and joy. What does the suffering world need? Not just relief from pain, not just prolonged life in this world. A man healed of sickness will still die, either from re-occurrence of the illness, or simply from old age. What the suffering world really needs is hope, true redemption from sin and its consequences. That’s what the Christ of Christmas brings. That’s why there is joy in Christmas. Don't you think?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Aberdeen Fishball Shop (山窿謝記魚蛋)

This is the famous 山窿謝記魚蛋. I remember them as a small stall hidden in the alley between a rock cliff and a building in the old Aberdeen, when I was going to secondary school in Wong Chuk Hang. Now they occupy two units on a side street nearby. It is full almost every time I go there. You have to share the table with someone else, unless you are really fortunate.

A small bowl of fish balls with noodles is 16 dollars. But I recommend the large bowl of mixed balls (什會) with noodles. At 32 dollars a bowl, it is not cheap, but it is well worth it, in my opinion. You get to try 魚蛋, 炸魚蛋, 魚片, 魚餃, 墨魚丸, 牛丸, and . Isn’t it great?

These people are lining up not to eat in the shop, but to buy take out. Many people drive there to pick up 雲吞, 魚餃, etc. My favourites are 炸魚蛋 and 魚片, at 70 dollars a catty. They make great snacks. But get there early, they normally get sold out by mid afternoon. The proprietress is a jovial woman who sits at the counter collecting money and selling take out all day. When asked why they don’t make more of those, she replied that they want to keep the quality up.

It is a family business, many of the people who work there seem related. And they seem happy, particularly the proprietress. She seems to be in high spirits, and jokes with the customers all the time – many of whom are regulars.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Hong Kong shrouded in smog

This was what Hong Kong looked like at 8:20AM on Saturday 8th December, 2007. The sun was high in the sky, and there were no clouds. Yet from Tsim Shau Tsui, I could barely see the outlines of buildings in Wanchai and Causeway Bay, and North Point basically disappeared.

The highest roadside Air Pollutant Index was 151 on Friday, the highest of the year. The government, as usual, blamed it on light winds and regional air pollution, a euphemism for Southern China. According to some academics, however, the index readings would have been much higher should Hong Kong adopt the World Health Organization air-quality guidelines, rather than the existing guidelines which are 20 years old. For example, the WHO guidelines are 3 times tougher in certain aspects. The government defended the current Hong Kong guidelines as similar to other places in Asia such as Singapore, Taipei, Bangkok and Indonesia.

Hong Kong claims to be a world city, and regularly compares itself to first world countries and cities in things such as standard of living and economics. In other aspects such as democracy and environmental protection, however, it prefers to compare itself against second and third world places.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Napolean Wrasse (Humphead Wrasse, 鬚眉)

The Napolean Wrasse is a really beautiful creature. For a fish, it looks thoughtful. These ones are about 2 feet long, still only juveniles. Their colour will deepen and the humps above their eyes will become much more pronounced as they get older. The largest will grow up to seven feet. These will not get the chance.

They normally live in the waters around the reefs in the south Pacific, such as around Indonesia. But they are relatively common in the tanks of sea food shops in Hong Kong, because they are very tasty. For this reason they are now endangered in many areas due to over-fishing.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Dog Stroller

At first glance, you might think the woman was pushing a baby in a stroller. Looking closer, you will find there was no baby, but a little dog. Some dogs in Hong Kong are really pampered. They don’t even have to walk; instead, they get pushed around in strollers. For many people, they have taken the place of children.

The average number of children per woman in Hong Kong was estimated to be 0.91 in 2004. Even though it has been rising slowly but steadily, to 0.98 in 2007, there are still not even enough children to replace those who die. No wonder there are fewer and fewer students in our primary schools. And a large number of primary schools have to be closed – not necessarily because they are operated poorly, but often simply because there are not enough students in the area. The effect is now beginning to affect the secondary schools.

This appears to be a good opportunity to move towards smaller classes in schools, in which each student can receive more attention, and hopefully, a better education. Unfortunately, our education officials insist that the benefits of smaller classes have not yet been established, that more studies are necessary, and refuse to put up the money needed to reduce the size of classes. Recently, however, there seems to be some indication that the government, for some reason, may change its stance again. Do there may still be hope after all.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Freebie Snatchers

What were these women doing? They were waiting for the right moment to sneak in and grab as many of the freebie newspapers distributed at this fast food joint as possible.

I heard that recycled newspapers can fetch as much as one pack of instant noodles for every 5 kilograms.

Why are they all old women? Perhaps they are the only ones wth the time and patience? And the thick skin to withstand the stares, ridicules, and even occasional curses?

Monday, December 03, 2007

Fishing for Rabbit Fish (釣泥鯭)

This man fishing in the Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter was an expert. Within a minute of dipping the lure into the water, he would be flicking out a 泥鯭. And he repeated it something like 10 times in the short time I was watching.

This one in his hand was about 5 inches long. You probably need 10 to 20 of these to make up one catty (一斤). Smaller ones he simply threw back into the water. He said in a good afternoon he could catch 200 of these, weighing more than 10 catties altogether.

I picked up the plastic bag into which he threw his catch. There were lots of them in there, and my guess was that they probably weighted about 3 catties altogether. He said there were larger fish to catch even in the shelter. Because the shelter opened into the harbour, bigger fish, such as foot-long mullet (烏頭) would come into the shelter. But he was fishing for 泥鯭 today, using a dough made of flour as bait.

He was fishing mainly for fun, not to sell them. He said he would eat some, and give most of them away to friends. I am not sure I want to eat them though, knowing where they came from, and what they eat.