Sunday, June 29, 2008

Getting Baptized

Went to a friend’s festive baptism this afternoon. Before and after the service, everyone was having pictures taken with those who were getting baptized (in black robes). It is hard not to share in the joy even if you do not know them.

There were many touching moments. There was enough time only for two of them to speak, but all who were baptized wrote a paragraph on their experiences. A mother was brought to church by her daughter. Several spoke of how they were bitter and lost, but found peace and hope in faith. A man resisted going to church for more than 10 years; now that he has found faith, cannot wait to bring his wife and daughters to God. Many of our friends are taking beginner’s classes and will be baptized soon.

God is real and He can do wonders. Each person has his or her own sufferings, and each person who finds faith is a miracle. In the face of such life-changing moments, everything else suddenly becomes un-important. What can be more important than really saving lives?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Questioning Students

I found that, in general, there are three major types of students regarding questions and answers.

Type 1 are those whose answers to questions are always“don’t know”; and who usually say“no” when I asked them whether they have any questions. They are like black boxes - it is difficult to find out what is going on in their minds.

Type 2 are those who can answer my questions (they are paying attention), but rarely volunteer the answers, and almost never have any questions to ask or comments to make. They are a bit like sponges; absorbing everything, but rarely generating anything themselves. They seem to be the majority in Hong Kong.

Type 3 are those interactive students who volunteer to answer questions, and occasionally ask intelligent questions. They are most teachers’ favourites. At least among those teachers who believe in interacting with their students.

Are students born into these types? I don’t believe so. Can a student move from one type to another? I think so.

There was a student in my class last year who was a black box when I started asking her questions in class in the beginning of the term. Gradually she evolved into a sponge, and even a borderline interactive. Later she told me that when she realized that I would be asking her questions, she started paying more attention in class. So their behaviour regarding questions and answers is at least partially learned.

Waterfront Cafe at Hung Hom Ferry

Quite a nice way to spend a late afternoon.

You get a view similar to what you get at the TsimShaTsuiEast Promenade. Plus: You can get closer to the water. You can get the shade. You can take your dog here. Your dog can meet the other dogs.

The food costs only a fraction of the price at TST East. Hong Kong people are resourceful. If only they are given the chance.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Ladies in different styles

Seven ladies on Nathan Road with quite a variety of styles. The colorfully wrapped lady was probably a Hindi. The three in black were likely to be Muslims, very modestly dressed compared to the other ladies around them. There was a subtle difference among themselves - one of them had only her eyes exposed. At least they were not wrapped from head to toe in chadars. Sometimes Hong Kong can also be quite accommodating.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Banner Torn in Typhoon

At the height of the typhoon this (Wednesday) morning, a big banner off the entrance to the cross-harbour tunnel was torn from its frame. For a while it was fluttering in the wind like a giant flag. Then it was torn off completely. Such is the power of the wind.

In the 1960s and 1970s, when the typhoons hit, there were often heavy flooding, land slides, houses destroyed and ships wrecked, killing may people. Now Hong Kong seems much better prepared for typhoons.

Nevertheless there are still flimsy sheds built on shaky foundations on hillsides, such as these in Shatin. I wonder how they fared in the typhoon.

When I was small, most of the people I knew were poor. Life was hard but jobs were available. There were always work at the factories even though wages were low. Now many of them are living in relative comfort after years of hard work. But there are still poor people. Our places have simply been taken by another group, whose outlook seems to be worse than before. There is now a better safety net but jobs are much harder to find.

Being poor in a society where most people are poor seems almost "normal". Being poor in a society with much ostentatious wealth is much more depressing.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Blood Center - Central

If you want to give blood in Hong Kong, this center in Central is one of the best places to do it. Mainly because it is one of the least crowded. I have given blood many times there and I have never had to wait for more than a few minutes.

In contrast, I had to wait for more than one hour at the center in Mongkok both times I gave blood there. And I heard that it is also quite busy at the center in Causeway Bay. The one in Shatin is OK but it is a bit far away.

Central is the core business district, where there is a high concentration of business people, civil servants, and people in suits with well-paid jobs. In contrast, there appears to be more young people and blue collar workers in Mongkok. I do not wish to jump to conclusions. But the relative crowdedness of the centers seems to say something about who are the more likely blood donors in Hong Kong. In fact, I do not remember seeing anyone in suits in any of the blood centers.

To give blood, you have to pay a real but small price - being a bit uncomfortable for a little while (10 minutes is about all it takes). You give up one-tenth of the blood in your body but you will recover quick enough and there are no lasting effects. I have given more than 40 times in the USA, Canada and HK and it didn’t seem to have done me any harm. But you will feel great afterwards for being able to help someone - for whom it may be a matter of life and death.

Why not?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Ship Supply Shop

This shop in Yaumatei sells supplies for ships: gauges, hoses, pulleys, ropes, lamps, motors, pumps, life jackets, floats, and many other things I cannot name. There used to be a lot of these shops but few remain now.

The street corner where the shop is used to be the south-east corner of the Yaumatei typhoon shelter. The shelter has now been filled up to become the West Kowloon reclamation area; and the typhoon shelter has been pushed several hundred meters west of where it was. Such is Hong Kong. At a cursory glance, things seem to be the same. Yet at a closer look, everything is different already. The typhoon shelter is not really “the” typhoon shelter.

Here is a another interesting juxtaposition of the old and the new: (a) one of the remaining small fishing boats, keeping alive the fishing tradition; (2) one of the many boats that collect refuse from the habour, helping to make it look clean; and (3) a pleasure boat made to look like a sailing junks, keeping up the pretence that these distinctly Chinese boats still exist in Hong Kong.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Seafood on the sidewalk

I like seafood, whether fresh or dried. Here at my wife’s favourite dried seafood shop in Yaumatei, you can find salted fish, scallops, abalone, oysters, clams, shark fins, shark cartilage, fish maws, squid, octopi, sea slugs, shrimp, ... And you can also find mushrooms, herbs, cashews, almonds, peanuts, chestnuts, dates, sweat potato, ...

I expected to find seafood in the shop. But I did not expect to find naked octopi crawling bare feet on the side walk. They were not really crawling, of course. I was pretty sure they were dead. But they were just laid out on the side walk, without so much a newspaper to lie on.

The sidewalk looked clean, after the recent deluge. Still, it is going to go into your mouth. So, next time you cook them, you’d better make sure you wash them first.

Actually, I did see an octopus walking on the sidewalk in TsimShaTsui East a few months ago. I was jogging on the waterfront and saw someone caught something wriggly. So I stopped to take a look and found this little guy trying to get away. I have never seem someone caught an octopus before. But on that day I saw two. What is the probability of that?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Peipa Shrimp 琵琶虾

Have you had this before? The fish monger called them 琵琶虾. I know that 琵琶虾 usually refers to mantis shrimp, which is also called 虾蛄, 攋尿蝦, 螳螂虾. But I have also heard people calling another kind of shrimp 琵琶虾. So I am quite confused. Perhaps other people are just as confused as I am? Perhaps there is no definite definition? So what is it in English?

Anyway, it looks like a kind of lobster, and is the size of a small lobster. At about four to a catty and about 100 HK dollars a catty, it comes to about 25 dollars each. It has quite a bit of meat to it. The flesh is very much like that of the Pacific lobsters. Soft (but firmer than mantis shrimp), white, full of flavour. Really good.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Farming in Yaumatei

Yes, you can actually farm in Yaumatei. These people are growing vegetables on tiny plots of land provided by the government in the shadow of high rises.

The location was part of the typhoon shelter but is now part of the reclaimed lands of West Kowloon. Apparently, while the land is idling and awaiting development, some smart government officials decided to make it available for citizens to do a bit of farming.

These city farmers seem to be enjoying themselves. Indeed they should. Who would have thought it is possible to farm in the middle of Kowloon today at no cost?

This time, the responsible government officer(s) should be applauded for doing something right. Even though it is too good to last.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Yaumatei Dwellings

Within 2 blocks of each other in Yaumatei, I encountered these three types of dwellings.

This little bird (an oriental white eye 相思, I think) is in a neat cage, under a tree in the shadow of some old apartment blocks, and close to some very high prices high-rises. Its owner feeds it, cleans its cage, and hangs it in a nice cool place. It does not have its freedom, of course.

This man is apparently taking a break on a makeshift half-plank bed in front of his shop. He is, at least free to take a nap.

Twenty meters away from the bird, someone’s home is a sheltered bed behind a public toilet. You can imagine the constant smell, and see the permanently wet grounds. He (most likely a he) is probably one of those hired to take care of the toilet.

Which dwelling would you pick, if you were to choose among them?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

My Father and 咖哩勿食

When I had difficulties with English in primary school, my parents could not help since they did not know English themselves. Then a remarkable thing happened. My father’s supervisors volunteered to tutor me! Imagine that, superiors volunteering to tutor a subordinate’s son? Actually the significance of their act did not really sink in (in my mind) at the time. What registered more was the way they tutored me. When I had difficulty pronouncing the word “arithmetic”, they told me it sounded like “咖哩勿食” and actually write it down in my book.

My father had retired for 20 years now. But every time he comes back from Canada, his old colleagues would take him out to dinner. It seems they really like him. Because he worked so hard, was so good at his job, and he was so helpful to those around him, his superiors bent over backwards to help him (sometimes even bending the rules in the process, which I cannot disclose). What I can testify to is that once when I came back to HK for the summer while studying in the USA, my two former tutors took my father and me out to dinner. We had so many bottles of beer that evening I lost count.

Ever since he retired, my father has been a full time volunteer, at churches, charitable organizations, old folks’ homes, etc. And he keeps on making friends all over the place. It seems he cannot walk on the street in Hong Kong, Ottawa, and Toronto without bumping into old friends, some he has not seen for 20 years or more.

At home, my daughters would sometimes laugh at grandpa’s jokes - jokes that he told a long time ago, while he was not even there. Now, that is another remarkable thing. Even though they see him no more than once a year, when my parents visit from Toronto, they seem genuinely fond of him.

My father is great.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

1743 Bellechasse and my Father

This was our house in Ottawa. Not the actually object but a roughly 40:1 scale model of the house, obviously. It is an almost exact replica and brings back very fond memories for our family.

Not only is it in the right proportion and shape, there are minute details such as the lamps, mailbox, number plate, ... The doors and windows actually open. The roofs can be removed to work on the inside. How about the rain gutters? Can you imagine what they are made of? Hint: The whole thing was made with scrape materials.

I wish I can say I made it. The fact is, my father made it using just hand tools a few years ago. He never went to a proper school, yet he taught himself to be an excellent craftsman. I am fairly good with my hands myself. One of my proud creations was a playhouse made with two huge cardboard boxes that the washing machine and dryer came in. I stuck them together, cut through the connecting walls to make a big room, cut out windows and a door. When my daughters were small, they could stand up in it and they loved it (at least they used to). Sometimes I crawled in and lay down in it myself.

But my skills is only a fraction of my father’s. He is my hero.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Raining in Hong Kong

After weeks of heavy rains, the sky was preciously clear and blue early yesterday morning. Suddenly rain drops started to slash my window, and rain clouds started to move in from the East. For a few minutes this was what it looked like. Clear blue sky in the West and rain in the East at the same time. That’s moody Hong Kong weather for you. And it is beautiful if you don't have to go out.

For two weeks in a row, I booked the university’s one and only one soccer field to kick the ball around on late Friday afternoon with my colleagues. Both times the booking was cancelled by the university because of rain. Even if I was crazy enough (I was, almost) to go down there to play, the university would not have allowed me in.

I booked the field again for this afternoon. It is 9:30AM and ... it is raining again! Will it stop in time? I surely hope so.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Chopping Board Shop

This one specializes in chopping boards - look at those huge ones to the left, used by butchers, roast meat shops, restaurants, noodle shops, ....

There are also lots of Wooden buckets, bamboo products, wooden molds for moon cakes and all kinds of cakes in fact. Fascinating stuff. It actually represents an important part of our culinary culture.

Old Knife Shop (陳枝記老刀莊)

One of the oldest knife shops on Shanghai Street in Yaumatei. This one specializing in knives, obviously. You can get a big chopper for your kitchen for 100 to 300 dollars. Or a tiny Swiss Army knife for the same price. You can also get all kinds of kitchen utensils and gadgets.

Or you can watch this lazy cat lounging on one of the counters. It does not seem to be bothered by, or care much for onlookers. It seems to have saying: I have seen it all, nothing fazes me anymore.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

HungHom Peninsula 紅灣半島 then and now

This was what it looked like in 1994, when it was still called Hunghom Peninsula Private Sector Participation Scheme (PSPS) flats. It was similar to the Home Ownership Scheme (HOS 居者有其屋計劃), both being government-subsidized ownership housing.

Before the face lift, they were expected to sell at about $15,500 per square meter. With a total guaranteed purchase price of $1,914 million, for all 2,470 residential units with a total saleable area of 123,500 square meters.

In November 2002, the Government decided to cease indefinitely the production and sale of HOS/PSPS flats from 2003 onwards, to pop up the market of private residential flats.

In February 2004, the Government agreed to let the developer sell the flats in the open market, after paying a pathetically low premium of $864 million to the Government. In November 2004, the developer announced plans to demolish and redevelop the whole project. After a huge uproar from the community, the developers changed their minds in December and decided to only renovate the project.

Three and a half years, a face lift and a new name (海濱南岸) later, this is what it looks like now. Other than the more shinny colors, it does not look very much different. Given its narrow, angular profile and small windows, it does not look very luxurious. The real difference? The price tag. It is now selling for about $70,000 per square meter.

You go and figure our how much money the developer is making, and who gave them this whale of a gift.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Rainstorm - monster sink hole

This is the monster sink hole created by the rainstorm on Saturday on Hunghom Road, not far from where I live. It is as long as a double decker bus and nearly as deep.

Apparently the rain washed away some of the underground water pipes and the earth under the pavement. Then the road surface just collapsed. Fortunately there were no cars around at the time. Scary stuff.

Probability of Disease - answer

A test of a disease presents a rate of 5% false positives. The disease strikes 1/1,000 of the population. People are tested at random, regardless of whether they are suspected of having the disease. A patient’s test is positive. What is the probability of the patient being stricken with the disease?

Most doctors answered 95%, simply taking into account the fact that the test has a 95% accuracy rate.

The answer is the conditional probability that the patient is sick and the test shows it - close to 2%. Less than one in five professionals got it right.

As for the answer. Assume there are no false negatives. Consider that out of 1,000 patients who are administered the test, one will be expected to be afflicted with the disease. Out of a population of the remaining 999 healthy patients, the test will identify about 50 to have the disease. (it is 95% accurate). The correct answer should be that the probability of being afflicted with the disease or someone selected at random from those with a positive test is:

= number of afflicted persons / number of true and false positives = 1/51

Alarming, isn’t it? If my doctor cannot interpret the test correctly, how can I trust him or her to treat me properly? I might actually do better to try to heal myself.

I found this case in “Fooled by Randomness” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. An excellent book full of examples of the role of chance in life. It also tries to explain why we misinterpret probability. Fascinating and highly recommended.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Weighting Scale Shop 計重秤 (稱)

Another of the remaining traditional shops. This one obviously specializing in Chinese style weighting scales. They have scales of all shapes and sizes and it can be quite fascinating if you have time to look through them.

When the old lady shopkeeper retires, will the shop continue to operate?

Many places treasure such shops, and try to preserve them as a part of their cultural heritage. It is also happening in China lately. Perhaps a bit too late, but at least the efforts are starting. Sadly, that does not seem to be the case in Hong Kong. All are sacrificed in the name of fast and maximal profit.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Probability of Disease

A test of a disease presents a rate of 5% false positives. The disease strikes 1/1,000 of the population. People are tested at random, regardless of whether they are suspected of having the disease. A patient’s test is positive. What is the probability of the patient being stricken with the disease?

I found this quiz given to medical doctors in a popular book. Most doctors answered 95%. Do you agree?

Will post the answer later.

Probability of Disease

A test of a disease presents a rate of 5% false positives. The disease strikes 1/1,000 of the population. People are tested at random, regardless of whether they are suspected of having the disease. A patient’s test is positive. What is the probability of the patient being stricken with the disease?

I found this quiz given to medical doctors in a popular book. Will post the answer later.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Bamboo Steamer Shop

One of the few traditional shops remaining in Yaumatei. This one obviously specializing in bamboo steamers.

It was said that traditionally all dim sum were cooked in big steamers all over China. A customer’s order was then taken out from the big steamer and served on a dish. After the war, a Hong Kong restaurant came up with the idea of individualized service by cooking each dish in a small steamer, and then serving the food in the steamer itself. This practice was very popular among customers and gradually became the norm that we are familiar with today. Now Hong Kong style dim sum is popular all over China.

Nowadays, these bamboo steamers are all imported from mainland China, of course. These bamboo steamers themselves are actually rather intricate artifacts and make very nice decorations.