Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My resignation from SOBEM-HK (香港恩雨之聲)

This is just to let my friends know that I have resigned, effective immediately, from my post as a director of Showers of Blessing Evangelistic Ministries - Hong Kong (香港恩雨之聲).

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Resignation from SOBEM-HK (香港恩雨之聲)

This is just to let my friends know that I have resigned, effective immediately, from my post as a director of Showers of Blessing Evangelistic Ministries - Hong Kong (香港恩雨之聲).

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Andes

Chile is extremely long (4,300 kilometers) and narrow (average width is less than 180 kilometers). Having visited the seaside towns of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar to the west of Santiago, we drove up the Andes Mountains to the east the other day.

The road zig-zags up the Andes, with very sharp turns. It was a nerve-wrecking drive, with something like 30 180-degree turns.

At the top, we were rewarded by stark but majestic views. The pictures speak for themselves.

We actually drove up to the border checkpoint between Chile and Argentina, and turned around only at the sign which says “Welcome to Chile”.

In winter, this is a poplar ski resort. Without the snow, the only people who live there are a skeleton crew at the hotel, and the soldiers guarding the border.

In more hospitable environments (such as the beaches of Vina del Mar), it is easy to get lost in the joys and hustles of living.

Up here in such harsh circumstances, I couldn’t help but to ask myself: Is it worth living (here, or anywhere) in this manner? Isn’t there a better way to live?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Computer Supported Collaborative Work in Design

The real (official) reason that I am in Chile is to present a paper at the CSCWD international conference. So I did. I reported on our work in building a framework to integrate together a variety of robot controllers and sensors, in order to research on programming and controlling groups of robots. What we reported this time is just some mundane foundation work. We are still working on the more challenging problems, and hopefully, will have something more exciting to talk about in the future.

Now this is interesting. This little animal is called piure in Spanish - a kind of sea squirt, I was told. It is a bit like a bright red oyster. Bite into a cooked one, and the texture even resembles an oyster. But the taste is something else: a mixture of metal and gasoline! I made myself eat several of them to memorize the taste; but my brain keeps trying to block it off. I am not sure I can recall it now. It is truly something else.

The lady at the small restaurant outside the market in Valparaiso (where we injested the piure) didn’t speak any English. But we still managed to order two great sea food dishes essentially by pointing and gesturing. Everybody there was warm and friendly. The couple at the next table even taught us how to add lemon juice and salt to the beer to spice it up. And it was good.

Time and again Chileans at the subway, on the street, in restaurants, ..., volunteered to help us. We like you Chileans.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A man, a woman and a dog

A man, a woman, and a dog. Pebbled streets, painted houses, and graffiti on the wall. Blue sky, white clouds, that’s life in Chile for you all.

The Cable Cars of Valparaiso

Much of Valparaiso sit on cliffs, with quaint little cable cars taking people up and down. All of them are very short but steep rides, taking only a couple of minutes.

But the views on top are great. Both the seaward-side and the mountain-side.

The Colors of Valparaiso (Chile, actually)

We took a bus and went to the seaside towns Valparaiso and Vina de Mar about 2 hours away from Santiago. Everywhere we went, it was colors, colors, colors.

People here use color boldly, but pleasingly. I don’t know how they manage it, but the colors seem coordinated, not just for a single house, but for the whole street.

Even the garbage cans are painted brilliantly.

Many of the houses are actually quite small, and not particularly expensive looking. But they look clean and tidy, and colorful. It is clear that people enjoy their houses, and life.

We noticed the colors in Santiago, as soon as we went into town. But the feeling here is even more intense, if only because there are few modern buildings (of glass and steel). Valparaiso is a small port, with ugly piers for cargo ships & dockyards lining the waterfront. And the coastal range of mountains slide right down to the Pacific Ocean. So people are forced to build their small houses on the slopes. But their colors make a fantastic mural!

We passed by a band playing music in a plaza.

Then we took a cable car to the top of a cliff. The colorful mural of little houses on the slopes open impossibly widely in front of us.

Then we discovered that the plaza with the band still playing in it was right below our feet. I got more than a little dizzy looking down, because of my vertigo. But the music kept washing up. It was fantastic.

The sun was setting when we boarded the bus taking us back to Santiago. Words fail me here.

As much as I love this place, I have to leave it behind. But at least I have the pictures, and the memories!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The People of Santiago

The conference has not started yet, so we went to the Plaza de Armas in downtown Santiago, where people and pigeons gather. Supposedly, the siesta (3 hour lunch hour) does not exist anymore in Chile. But there were a lot of people there that early Monday afternoon. Some were playing chess, strolling, feeding the pigeons, people watching.

We were struck by the number of people who seemed to be just sitting there, soaking up the sunshine and atmosphere. It was sunny and cool, a perfect day to sit outside. Perhaps they were still on lunch break? Or they really didn’t have urgent tasks to do? Unlike Hong Kong, the people here do not seem to be in a hurry.

There was a big crowd outside the beautiful cathedral watching a busker. He was just talking to the crowd and not doing anything particularly interesting at that moment. But the crowd seemed enthusiastic. There are a lot of elegant buildings such as this cathedral in Santiago. But there are also some boring modern glass towers such as this one behind the cathedral.

We then walked to the garden at Santa Lucia. And were surprised there were at least 2 police officers at each gate, taking down the names of people who entered the garden. It seemed to be for statistical purpose rather than security, since they were not asking for identification, and the officers did not seem to be in high alert.

The garden has many interesting fountains, sculptures, stairs, flowers, vegetation, ..., and people enjoying each other. The people here are warm, friendly, and wonderfully expressive.

Towards dusk, we went up the small hill in Santa Lucia. There we found this band of youths playing the guita and singing. Not knowing Spanish, I couldn’t understand what they were singing. But the mood was magical. Soft singing, accompanied by light guita music, set against the golden-orange setting sun in a clear blue sky. It was so soothing we didn’t want to leave.


As our plane approached Santiago in Chile, we could see the coastal range of mountains. They are a range of mountains in between the Andes and the Pacific Ocean. We could also see how people have been trying to develop the land along the rivers into productive fields, just like farmers every where.

Then we saw the central valley in which Santiago is situated. The valley is in between the Andes, which we could not see from my side of the plane, and the coastal range.

Many of my friends wonder why I like to take photographs of aerial views of the earth. Other than the fact that they are so beautiful, it is also because they give me a different perspective of the world that we live in.

From on high, everything looks so small and insignificant - land, buildings, empire, people. Yet God relates to each and everyone of us. It gives me a great impression of the vastness of God’s creation, and the depth of his love for us humans.

Round Rainbow

If you see a round rainbow above the clouds in the photograph, you are not seeing things. Nor is the photograph a fake. It was taken this morning on my way from Toronto to Santiago, Chile.

You can sometimes see a rainbow when the sun is directly behind you and there is a mist directly in front of you. Normally, only half of the rainbow is seen because you are standing somewhere on earth. The sun rays below your feet - blocked by the earth - simply cannot pass through.

When you are in an airplane flying at high altitude, however, complete round rainbows can be seen. It is faint but very beautiful.

I think God made it for us to admire, and to remember him by.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Blue Ribbons

Each year, more than 3 million children in the USA are reported abused or neglected. About 1 million are confirmed. The women at the Presbyterian church in downtown Chicago remember those children with these blue ribbons on the trees outside their church.

It is in our human nature to love children, even those not our own. But there is also an evil streak in each of us which makes us mean to each other, even unto children. History and our own experiences have taught us that we cannot rid ourselves completely of this evil nature.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Rock of Our Salvation Church

I had missed the early service at 8 am. When I arrived, the congregation was finishing their communal breakfast of eggs, bacon, waffles, rice, mashed potatoes, and milk. There were about 200 people there. Other than 3 or 4 families of whites, everyone was black.

After the breakfast, the tables were cleared and then put away quickly. Chairs were set up for the second service at 11:30 am. The singing was, as expected, loud, powerful, and really really good. Some people were dancing spontaneously, though not as much as I thought they would. The choir led the singing for a while. Then the pastor led the singing of many more, and he was GOOD - a strong voice with a wide range, spontaneous, interacting with the congregation, mixing teaching with singing. The congregation responded to him enthusiastically.

Then he preached a sermon on decisions: God decided to resurrect Jesus on Easter Sunday. Jesus pleaded with his father to take the cup of suffering away, but decided to do his father’s will, to die on the cross for our sins. We also have to make the right decisions in life ourselves, including the decision to accept Jesus as our saviour. He used simple examples of daily lives such as food, buying a car, exercise, making and keeping a promise, etc. But the message was clear and powerful. At the end, he called for people to accept Christ and several people came forward.

I enjoyed the service, particularly the singing.

Because this was Easter Sunday, many people came in their best clothes. But it was clear that many of them are not people of means. There were quite a number of people who seemed sick, or overweight. A few were walking with difficulties, some requiring crutches. Some were praying on the side even before the service. Many responded spontaneously with singing and dancing during the service and were obvious moved. They looked like real people who were here because they knew they need God’s healing.

Then I remembered the crowd waiting outside the Presbyterian church on the Magnificent Mile, just an hour earlier. In contrast, there everyone dressed impeccably and expensively. No one was fat or obese. Everybody seemed healthy, energetic, and contented. I have a feeling some people came not just to worship, but also to see and to be seen. I do understand people wanting to dress well for church, to show their respect for God. But that may also cause some people who cannot afford it to shy away. This could just have been the cynical me speaking; or is it actually rational segregation?

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

In Search of the Rock of Our Salvation Church

My eldest daughter went with the IVCF to do some volunteer work at the Afro-American Rock Church on the West side of Chicago last December. So I decided to find out what it is like, since I happened to be in Chicago on Sunday.

It is almost at the end of the Green Line of the Metro. As it was Easter Sunday, there were few passengers when I boarded the Metro in the Loop in downtown.

The train was clean and free of graffiti. Even though the few passengers were all Afro-Americans as the train moved away from downtown, I wasn’t worried.

I noticed that as we travelled further West, there were more and more run down, deserted buildings and broken windows. At some point, I began to ask myself whether it was wise to continue. However, the passengers looked like decent people and no one was paying me particular attention. There was a mother with two girls in pretty dresses - it seemed like they were going to church. And the streets outside looked relatively clean, so I stayed on.

I got off at the station on North Central Street, and walked three blocks South to get to the church. There were some people talking outside apartment blocks; all Afro-Americans, of course. A young girl was walking leisurely along; that gave me some assurance that it was probably not a dangerous neighbourhood. Nobody tried to approach or follow me. Still, I walked quickly, with my head down, and avoid eye contact, although I was watching everyone around me from the corner of my eyes. I figured if anything should happen, I could run towards the church, which should be safe.

The church is actually in an old school house at a street corner. I had checked out the location and some photographs from Google Map before, so I recognized it from a distance. A black man in a striped suit greeted me at the entrance. I felt relieved and excited at the same time.

More on the service later.