Saturday, May 31, 2008

Crystal babies (水晶寶寶) 2

It turns out that, as expected, it is a kind of super absorbent acrylic polymer. It was originally used to improve the quality of other material such as concrete and soil. It can be used to replace soil for growing plants.

Other names include: 水珍珠, 天使的眼淚, magic crystal soil, 水晶土, 水晶泥, 魔晶土, ...

I still cannot figure out how it forms bumps and generate new ones - supposedly.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Water babies (水晶泡泡)

Does anyone know that they are? Some primary school students gave them to my wife. They call them water babies (水晶泡泡). But we haven’t been able to figure out exactly what they are. Apparently they are popular among primary school students. But most of the secondary school and university students we asked seemed to be unaware of them.

They come in the size of sesame seeds. You put them in water, and they start to grow bigger and bigger. Bumps start to form on the smooth surface - see the purple one in the upper left.

Supposedly the bumps will grow bigger and eventually fall off to become new babies. The babies start to grow ... You need more than one for babies to form - according to my wife’s little friends.

We doubt very much that these are actually living things. But cannot figure out yet what exactly what they are and they are doing.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Why do people suffer?

This is a man-made dam in the general area of the Sichuan earthquake. But in the areas actually hit by the earthquake, many lakes have been formed when landslides blocked the rivers. Now, these lakes are threatening to burst and flood the towns downstream, which have already been badly damaged by the earthquake. It seems the suffering will never end.

Many people, when faced with disasters of such immensity, ask “why?”Why do they have to die? Why do so many apparently innocent people, particularly the very young, have to suffer for no obvious reason? It has often been said that suffering builds character. But what is there left to build if a person is died? Where is the justice when evil people continue to live while the good ones die?

Such questions are difficult to answer, particularly in the heat of the moment, when the hurt and the emotions are high. But if we do not think of death as the end of everything, then it is possible to come up with answers. In a movie, the ending is often the climax. If we stop watching before the movie actually ends, we may miss the whole point of the movie.

If, at death, the “good” people actually go on to a better life, then life may not be so capricious after all. We cannot, in fact, be sure (in most cases) who is good and who is bad, being without the ability to look into someone’s heart - although in some cases we can be quite certain. For example, as to the teachers and mothers who died to save the young, there is little doubt that they have noble hearts and God looks on them with favour.

Through such heroic actions, not only did they save a few lives. They have influenced the lives of many more, and their actions will be talked about for a long time. I would definitely not say their sufferings are meaningless.

It is those of us who are living, particularly those who lead comfortable lives, who should ask ourselves: am I living just for my own enjoyment? Or am I doing things truly meaningful? And to whom?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Myanmar cyclone

The earthquake in Sichuan is a terrible natural disaster. But there is a general feeling that people are doing everything humanly possible to help the victims. Those who can, rush there to rescue, deliver supplies, treat the wounded, care for the orphans, ... Those who cannot go there in person can contribute with their money and there is a huge sense of camaraderie all around.

In contrast, there is a huge sense of helplessness watching the aftermath of the cyclone in Myanmar. So far, the military junta seems to be more concerned about possible “bad”foreign influence than the plight of the dead, the dying, the hungry, the homeless, and the sick. For three weeks, they have been blocking most assistance to the cyclone victims, and refusing entry of foreign aid workers. Given the poor economy of the country, they are actually in greater need than the people in Sichuan.

There is a stark contrast between the situation in China and Myanmar. China today gives the impression that there is genuine hope for the better, while Myanmar seems to be going from bad to worse.

But this was not the case not too long ago. This photo is not of Myanmar - I have never been there. But this photo of the lush green fields of Hubei taken last July reminds me of my image of Myanmar 40 years ago - that it was one of the three “rice barns” of the world, together with Thailand and Vietnam. The weather was perfect and the soil was fertile for growing rice. As a result, Rangoon was so prosperous that a sizable Chinese community grew up there. Today the economy is in ruins, the Chinese community has shrunk and the prospect is increasingly bleak. Vietnam went through a terrible war but is clearly on the mend now. But Myanmar (Burma) is steadily getting worse.

The cyclone is not the real problem that Myanmar is facing today. It is much more a man-made disaster, and it started a long time before the cyclone hit the country.

Earthquake - who needs rescue more?

This is a photo of another town in the mountains somewhere in northern Sichuan or southern Shaansi, taken in April before the earthquake. Perhaps it was not hit by the earthquake, but it was in the general area, with similar terrain. Roads can easily be blocked by landslides in an earthquake.

The plight of those who died or were hurt in the earthquake moved the whole nation. In the beginning there was a frantic rush to rescue as many as possible. Now the focus is shifting to those who are living. Landslides blocked many rivers, creating lakes which are now threatening to burst and flood the towns downstream. Rotting corpses have poisoned the water and created health hazards. Many children are left without parents and families. A lot of people of all ages have serious wounds. A huge number have lost their homes.

Many who died or otherwise suffered have demonstrated noble spirits. Many of the living, on the other hand, have exhibited the ugly side of us humans. There are those in Hong Kong and China who were annoyed by the efforts to raise funds to help and to remember those who suffered. Worse, there are people who rob the trucks carrying supplies to the disaster areas, officials who pocket the supplies, fund raisers who pocket the donations, and more. Evidences of spiritual corruption is not limited to these, of course. These are simply some of the more obvious, recognizable symptoms.

Who needs rescue more? Many of those who died have noble spirits and may be in heaven already. On the other hand, many of the living are perhaps in greater danger of going to hell.

Jesus came to heal the sick. He does care about our physical afflictions, and heals many of the sick. But he cares more about our spiritual ailments. He wants to forgive our sins and to reconcile us to him. But we have to acknowledge our sins and recognize him as God. Then he can rescue us from our spiritual malaise. If only we are willing. Those who are saved from physical death and suffering will still suffer and die. Only those whose spirits have been rescued are truly saved.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Little Researchers

While jogging along the TsimShaTsui waterfront last Saturday morning, I was stopped by these three primary school students. They came from a school in SheungShui, and were doing a survey of tourists. They asked me a number of questions in Putonghua: where did you come from? which tourist attractions have you been to? ...

Of course I was not exactly a tourist, and I wonder whether my answers might have skewed their results. But that was probably beside the point - the training and the exposure was probably more important than the actual data collected. What impressed me the most was their boldness, and their fluent Putonghua. They made their questions very clear, wouldn’t take no for an answer, and were quite decisive in filling up the survey form. They said Putonghua was not their mother tongue, and they learned to speak fluent Putonghua in school.

They have an excellent attitude and I am sure they will do well. And if what they did last Saturday is representative of education in Hong Kong, I think we are moving in the right direction.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


What does it look like?

It is a fractured window. Beautiful, isn’t it? The pattern was formed un-intentionally, naturally, and can be described by the laws of physics. Yet without the man-made plane glass window to start with, the pattern would not have been created. So men contributed to its creation.

I can only admire its beauty.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Motorcycle Riding

Would you let your daughter ride a motorcycle like this? I won’t, as long as I have anything to say about it. Admittedly, the motorcycle was not moving. And presumably, the young woman would hold on to the man when the motocycle started moving. But it still looked mightily dangerous to me.

When you drive a car, you are wrapped around and protected by a metal frame. When you ride a motorcycle, you are wrapping yourself around a metal frame - at a high speed. I can imagine the thrills. But I shudder to think what might happen when there is the slightest of impact with anything.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Studying at Zhuo-Zheng Yuan 拙政園

Minutes after stepping into 拙政園, I found these students from an international school. There is a growing community of foreigners working in and around the science and technology park in the east side of Suzhou. In fact, the hotel that I stayed in used to be an international school. When the school outgrew the campus and moved to a new one nearly, the old school was then converted into a hotel. No wonder I thought the reception hall looked oddly small.

A teacher was pointing out the layout of different elements of the Chinese garden: the articulated ponds as the center of the garden, the strategic locations of the man-make hills, the variety of trees, the different styles of the pavilions, ...

About an hour later, when I exit the garden, I found them again sketching in one of the courtyards. The teacher was again pointing out the architectural elements, and asking them to find something interesting to draw. It surely beats sitting in a classroom.

I can’t help but think: while most of our children are being asked to draw imaginary houses while sitting within the four plain walls of their classrooms, some of these kids are being steeped in visually-rich sceneries distilled through hundreds, even thousands, of years of culture.

It is not hard to see which type of education is more preferable. But it is considerably harder to figure out how we can provide the preferred education to our children. It is not just an issue of money, it is also a matter of philosophy and imagination.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Zhuo-Zheng Yuan 拙政園

Suzhou is famous for its gardens. 拙政園 (Humble Administrator's Garden) is the largest and considered the finest garden in southern China. The garden belonged to a scholar in the Tang Dynasty. In the Yuan Dynasty it was a monastery. In the Ming Dynasty an administrator appropriated it as a private villa. The garden had been rebuilt extensively many times. So the way it looks today probably bears little resemblance to the earliest version. But it is supposed to resemble what it looked like in the late Qing Dynasty. This is my favourite place in the garden. An elegant study with windows opening onto a bamboo garden. I can sit here for hours, doing my calligraphy, reading or just daydreaming. Another one opens onto a row of bananas - it is just as good.

In the pavilion on top of the tallest hill in the garden, I found this window opening onto a view as beautiful as any painting. Low walls disappearing among trees. Makes one feel we are living in harmony with nature. The pavilion, the window, and the scenery were obviously planned that way carefully. There is a pleasing view at any spot in the garden, in any direction you look.

This is one of the most popular spots in the garden. From different angles, it is supposed to resemble a boat coming and going, a pavilion in the middle of the water, and a tower by the lake. It would be even better if the tourists were taken away. But I reminded myself I was also a tourist. I should be happy to be able to see it the way it was.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

People in the Earthquake

This is a photo of an area somewhere in northeastern Sichuan that I took in April, enroute from Hong Kong to Xian. This may not be the exact area most heavily hit by the earthquake, and it was taken before the earthquake. But take a look at the large scale landslides, particularly to the left of the photo. This is part of the reason the Huanghe and many other similar rivers are so yellow. Because the mud keeps sliding down the mountains, eventually ending up in the rivers below. We can imagine the effect of a strong earthquake in such unstable terrain.

It is impossible not to feel for the people who died and otherwise suffered in the earthquake, and their family and friends. It seems the world is extremely arbitrary, unfair, and even capricious. Why should so many who are so young, die or suffer through no fault of theirs? It just does not make sense. We human beings find it hard to understand and accept.

On the other hand, so many people have behaved admirably, even heroically. The teachers who died protecting the students, the rescuers using bare hands to dig out survivors, rescuers dying to save the others, ordinary people walking to the disaster areas to hand out food, taxi drivers volunteering to transport the wounded, people donating blood, donating money, ...

Why do people behave unselfishly? Why do people literally give up their lives for others, just like Jesus did? If this physical world is all there is to it, this is foolishness. The fact that we consider such acts admirable, even heroic implies ultimately we believe in the existence of another world, the spiritual world of God. Death is not the end of the story of our lives. In sacrificing ourselves for others and for God, we end up gaining an eternal life. it may sound like a cliche, but it is true.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Lake Tai (太湖)

I saw 太湖 for the first time in my life last Sunday. This photo was taken looking towards Suzhou on the eastern shore from a spot approximately on the north eastern shore. Looking over the lake, my mind was flooded with images and memories of history, poems, songs, rock formations, and ... seafood (it is well known for its fish and crabs).

Lake Tai is the third largest freshwater lake in China, after the Poyang in JiangXi and Dongting in Hunan. But at about 2250 square kilometers, it is a mere midget compared to the Great Lakes of North America. For example, Lake Ontario is about 9 times as big. There were patches of vegetable-looking stuff floating on the surface. I wasn’t sure whether they were the famous blue-green algae which was said to plague the lake a few months ago.

And what about these? They are yellow but they look like some kind of algae.

If you think 太湖 is in bad shape, then you should know 洞庭湖 and 鄱阳湖 are worse. They are supposed to be bigger than 太湖 but you would not think so looking at satellite images such as those in GoogleEarth. It is because they have shrunk tremendously. So much so they are now a mere fraction of what they were.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Rumors of Another World

I was touched by my friends who inquired about my well being when they found out I was in China during the earthquake. As I had explained yesterday, I was not in any serious danger since I was as far away from the earthquake as those who were in Hong Kong. But my friends’ concerns were genuinely treasured. And this time, they were relieved.

The friends and relatives of those who died or were hurt in the earthquake were not so fortunate. I am sure they would have given up a lot to have their loved ones kept safe and sound. But this choice is no longer available to them.

Ultimately, people find relationships much more valuable than wealth and other possessions. It is a bit strange and ironic, though. As China is supposed to be a socialist society, where people do not believe in the spiritual world.

I happen to be reading Philip Yancey’s Rumours of Another World, recommended by a good friend of mine. It is an excellent book which argues that there is indeed another (spiritual) world other than the physical one in which we all live. In this spiritual world the rules and values are markedly different from this physical world. And relationships is precisely one of the few things that transcend the two worlds. I thank God for my family and friends.

This is a view of the China coast near Fujian on my way from Hong Kong to Suzhou last Friday. It gives me a feeling that I am half in this world and half in the other one.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Earthquake in China

Actually this posting may not have too much to do with the earthquake. It is just that I was in China over the weekend, and some of my friends have been worrying about me. So I feel I should make a report.

I was in Suzhou over the weekend, and flew back from Shanghai on a 6:15PM plane last evening, the day the earthquake occurred. I didn't know about the earthquake until I arrived at the HK airport at about 9:30PM, even though I was at the Shanghai airport when the earthquake struck around 2:28PM.

I had booked a DragonAir 7:00PM flight originally. But I finished my business early so I went to Shanghai early, arriving at the airport at about 2:00PM. I tried to take an earlier 3:30PM flight. I had done that before and never had any problems because they have flights every hour. But this time they said there were delays and all flights were full. I could not get on the 3:30, the 4:30, and finally got on the 5:30 which was delayed until 6:15. We got on the plane at 6:15 and sat in the plane until 7:00 when we finally got the permission to take off. We were told while sitting in the plane that we were waiting for permission from the military. Never did anyone mentioned the earthquake even though it happened at about 2:28.

Some friends and my taxi driver felt the delay was due to the earthquake, and the military was simply used as a convenient excuse. I don’t really know. It has happened many times before that commercial flights were interrupted by the military. And the interruptions seemed to start before the earthquake.

In any case, I was annoyed that I had to stay in the airport for 5 hours. And I am surprised that such a serious earthquake was never brought up during that 5 hours. On the other hand, I am happy to be back safely.

I snapped the photo of the new terminal 2 of the Shanghai Airport (it opened only about one month ago) because of its unusual shape. What does it remind you of?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Church in Taicang (太倉)

We were driving through Taicang City on our way from Suzhou to a famous fish restaurant on Yangtze River for dinner. Suddenly I saw in the distance a building that resembled a church. With a rare quick action, I took out my camera and snapped this picture. It turned out to be the only picture I took in Taicang.

Taicang is a small city on the Yangtze River, northwest of Shanghai and northeast of Suzhou. It is famous for being the port from which Zhenghe (鄭和) launched his great voyages in the early 1400s. There is now a Memorial Hall of Zhenghe here. Taicang was most prosperous in the Ming Dynasty when the voyages were launched.

Now it is just a small and unremarkable city in the vast landscape of China. This church is a Catholic church named after Saint Francis. Beyond that, I know nothing about it. But it seems to be in reasonably good shape, and is a testimony to the strength of the church in China today.

According to the government, there are about 14 million Christians (including Catholics and Protestants) in China. Unofficial figures put the number at about 50 million.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Ocean Eddy

From three thousand feet up in the air, the blue-green ocean to the south of Hong Kong looked perfectly calm. But note the eddy in the center of the photo just off the island. It was probably caused by the ocean current flowing pass the island. Danger lurks just beneath the surface.

There are numerous small islands like this to the south of Hong Kong, many of which seemingly deserted. Wouldn’t it be neat to buy one as a vacation home?

Friday, May 09, 2008

Near Collision

What do you think happened here off the Western tip of Lantou?

I believe the boat in the middle realized it was heading towards a collision with the boat at the bottom. So it turned right to avoid the other boat.

What would have happened had it not turned? I guess we will never know. May be the other boat would turn? What would have happened if both turned, but in the wrong directions, e.g., both turning to the left of the photo? What about the boat at the top?

If this were a game of “chicken”, the boat in the middle would have been the chicken, having been scared off the confrontation. The loser in some people’s eyes. In situations like this, I would prefer to be called “chicken” rather than killing myself or someone else. What would you have done?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Death of a Christian Volunteer in Inner Mongolia

Mr. Roy To Sze-chung was the young man killed in a car crash on Tuesday in Inner Mongolia. I found out later he was a Christian and he was on a voluntary service mission for World Emergency Relief Hong Kong.

World Emergency Relief is a non-denominational Christian charity. They try to bring help to hurting people, especially children. They are working in places such as Inner Mongolia, Philippines, Burma, and Sri Lanka.

Mr. To lived a short but colorful life - he was only 25. He studied civil and structural engineering and worked as an insurance agent. He wanted to change the world. He wanted to make a lot of money and donate a lot of it to charity. He participated actively in volunteer work, and recruited some of his friends to join the service that helps fund the education of 150 Mongolian children.

He is an admirable young man. The world would be a better place if there are more people like him.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


It was said that Edison Chan, the main character in the saga of racy Internet photos back in February, has become a Christian. When it was first reported in a gossip magazine about a week ago, I was sceptical. When Pastor Jaeson Ma confirmed it on his web site, I had to believe it.

There are people who are still sceptical. Perhaps this is just a ploy to rehabilitate his image, they say. Only he himself and God know the truth, I guess.

I didn’t have a very good impression of this young man. But I remember praying back then that someone might be able to approach him and tell him there is a way out of that mess. I remember saying how wonderful it would be that he would turn to God in that terrible moment in his life. I remember thinking it would not be impossible but how unlikely it was. I was of little faith. God has converted much worse sinners before.

I pray that he will truly put his trust in God.

Monday, May 05, 2008

愤青 and 五四

The article 我们这一代的五四宣言 posted yesterday in a forum in mainland China generated intense interest.

In the article the author rejected the label “angry youth (愤青)”for his generation. It is a label often used to describe the mainland youths exhibiting strong nationalistic fervour. Such as those rigorously defending the Olympic torch, criticizing the western press’ negative reporting on Chinese rule in Tibet, and advocating boycott of the French supermarket chain stores.

The current situation in China is probably the best in the past 150 years, starting around the time of the Opium War. The past 30 years have been, with some interruptions, relatively peaceful, open, and prosperous. Compared to 1919, the year of the May Fourth Movement (五四运动), China is in much much better shape today.

That does not mean this generation of youths are without their own angst. The author presented the frustrations of his generation graphically this way:


The proclamation has its positive elements. It opposes violence and treasures peace. It admits possibly simplistic understanding of the western civilization. It proclaims a genuine desire to communicate despite imperfect English.

It definitely struck a cord with a lot of people, judging from the response it is getting.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Civilizing citizens

I was going to fly from Xian back to Hong Kong. There were about 200 of us taking the same plane. The border control was quite efficient and courteous - the officer who stamped my passport actually smiled at me.

But there was only one X-ray machine for security check and they were quite thorough. I lined up in about 10th place. Five minutes later, I was still at 5th. The people lined up automatically. But the area between the border control and the security checking was quite small, so the line grew and twisted quickly into a snaking S shape.

Suddenly another team appeared to prepare to open a second station for security checking. A couple of men near the end of the line jumped quickly to the second station. The lady in white (bending over in this picture), who was at the second bend of the S and nearest to the second station, also jumped over. Amazingly, she did not join the second line but pulled the men back! She said loudly that it was not fair because there were lots of people ahead of them who had been waiting longer. Even more amazingly, the men got back in line without another word!

I was impressed. The quality of our Chinese citizens (at least some of them anyway) is surely improving.

Then a lady security officer announced the second counter was open. The lady in white asked her how we should line up for the two counters - obviously hoping the officer would make an equitable arrangement. To my surprise, the officer said she didn’t care.

It was like an invitation to riot. Pandemonium broke loose, the S-shaped line disintegrated, and people jostled for places in the ill-formed new line. They did sorted themselves out quickly though. This photo was taken after I got through the security check, with more than a hundred people still behind the security stations.

The two lines seemed to be no faster than the original one. When I boarded the plane a full half hour later, some people were still waiting in line.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Olympics - Tibet: The actions of two young people in Hong Kong

On the one hand, a young man is so concerned about possible disturbances to the Torch Procession, that he is organizing a team of volunteers to try to protect the torch bearers. The last time I heard, he was negotiating with the police to try to find a role for his team to play. The police was polite, but they were essentially saying thanks, but no thanks. He was also checking out the route to find appropriate spots to place his team. He is not getting a lot of attention, perhaps because there are actually a lot of people on his side. There are few, if any, complaints against them either.

On the other hand, a lady university student 陳巧文 is organizing a protest in support of the Tibetans seeking more autonomy. She claims she does not support Tibetan independence but she is waving the 雪山獅子旗, which is used by people seeking Tibetan independence. So far, she has been advocating peaceful demonstrations as far as I can tell. But she is facing tremendous opposition, some of them rational, but more are not. She has been called traitor, running dog, whore, ignorant, naive, and worse. Plastic bottles have been thrown at her. I sincerely hope that people stop at that. Excrement have already been mentioned.

The actions of both of these young people should make us proud of Hong Kong. We do not necessarily agree with either of their views. but we should admire their courage to speak their minds, and the determination to act on their beliefs rationally and peacefully. They should be able to speak and present their arguments. Other people should also be able to voice their disagreement. Rationally and peacefully.

It is the crass, vulgar irrationality of much of the criticism that is shameful.