Saturday, February 27, 2010

Professional and General Education

This morning I was in a intensive discussion with a group of Fullbright Scholars from the USA on the issue of general education. I was looking for an example to illustrate the role of general education in professional education, when these images came to mind.

One is, of course the user interface for Google. It is focused, simple, and elegant. It does only one thing, but does it exceptionally well.

The other is that of, a popular web site in mainland China. Very rich in information and features. What is shown in the screen dump is only about one-tenth of the complete web page.

The contrast between the two is extreme. There are lots of reasons for the differences: cultural, political, historical, psychological, economical, commercial, artistic, ... To do our job well, we - the designers of the interfaces and the systems behind them - must understand the multitude of issues and the relevant domains of knowledge. Here is at least one obvious place where a broad and general education can be of tremendous benefit.

Many of us professors and students understand that. And we are trying to design new four-year undergraduate programs to achieve that.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Long Valley (塱原) - Old things and people

There is a Hakka walled village (客家圍) in 松柏塱, to the south of 塱原. It was built in 1904, before the end of the Qing Dynasty. It is only about 100 years old, but quite well-preserved. It was locked up when we went there. So we could only look from outside the wall, and peek through the gated entrance.

There is also an old school building (博文學校). This building was built in 1963. And now no longer used as a school. Some things can change quickly around here, while other things stand better the test of time.

There are some houses with old-styled tiled roofs. Quite simple but effective. The tiled roofs remind me of my grandmother's house; and the wood-fired stove reminds me of my grandmother’s saw dust-fired stove in Ap Lei Chau, some 40 years ago. Both she and the stove are long gone.

We asked the old lady about the pretty flowering tree outside her house. She said she could not remember the name of the tree. But she reminded me of my grandmother.

松柏塱 is within walking distance from Sheung Shui train station, and quite worth a visit. One can also take the minibus.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Long Valley (塱原) Wild Life

There are quite a few egrets, turtle doves (斑鸠), and at least one dead finch.

Then there are these not-so-wild lives. Such as this sad-faced dog, this not-so-friendly-looking tabby (?) cat, this regal-looking white cat, and this contented water buffalo.

Long Valley (塱原)

On the third day of the Lunar New Year, we went to Long Valley. It has been said that it is the last significant piece of fresh water wet lands with cultivated fields in Hong Kong. And to try to preserve it, the railway from Sheung Shui to Lok Ma Chau went underground beneath it. We want to see it before it disappears.

We took the 51K minibus from Sheung Shui railway station in late morning. As the minibus turn off the main road to get into Ho Sheung Heung (河上鄉), a lady got off. As she got off, she gave a pack of traditional cakes to the driver. Apparently the driver knows most of the passengers, and the lady just came back from visiting relatives in the mainland.

The route terminates at the 居石侯公祠, a 200+ year old ancestral hall. It is now a declared “protected” monument and well-preserved.

Just a couple hundred meters away, we walked into some beautiful fields.

Lots of watercress, steeped in water even in deep winter. My father said it is easy to grow watercress. One just have to make sure there is plenty of water, and wait until it is big enough, like the field in the middle of the picture. Then cut off the top, like the field to the right. It will grow again, then one can cut again, ... It sounds easy enough.

The EastRail is less than a kilometer to the East. The spur railway line to Lok Ma Chau is right underneath us. The Fanling Highway is less than a kilometer to the South. And high rises can be seen at a distance.

It is so quiet that we can hear the turtle dove (斑鸠) crying. And when we look in a certain direction, we can pretend to be stepping back in time for 50 years.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Street Sleeper

In the evening of the second day of the Lunar New Year, we were coming home from visiting relatives when we passed by this street sleeper on Nathan Road. It was about 10 degrees Celsius at the time.

My father was just ahead, within sight. Earlier in the day he was telling me how he had to protect his neck and throat with a scarf, and his head with a hat. It is no longer enough to wear a down jacket. When he sleeps, he has to make sure his throat is warm, otherwise he will start coughing. But it is not surprising, considering that he is 80 years old.

It must have been bitterly cold for the sleeper to sleep that way. The blanket was not likely to be enough. Not for his body. Certainly not for his throat.

I read in the newspaper later that in that same evening, two blocks away, a 101 old sleeper died in a back alley. He had slept in the street for years. He refused food and clothing. He would only accept cardboard, which he exchanges for money to buy food himself. I also read that half of the street sleepers are over 50 years old, and have been on the street for more than 2 years. They are used to sleeping in the street, have lost confidence in society, find it difficult to interact with people, and refuse help.

That does not absolve society of the obligation to be kind to them, and to each other. We are all children of God, and hence brothers and sisters. When one of us suffers, we all suffer together.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Why don’t some people give blood?

Selfish people would simply not care. But I know many caring and civic-minded people who have never donated blood. Why?

Some are too busy. In reality it does not take a lot of time. The actual process of donation takes only 6 to 10 minutes. Even including the preparation and the post-donation rest, it requires only 40 minutes to an hour.

Some are concerned that they might get infected by some disease. In fact, a new sterile needle is used for each donor, and it is discarded afterwards. So there is no chance of getting infected with anything.

Some are concerned it might be harmful for the body. Roughly one-tenth of the total volume of blood is taken. That volume is made up in 24 hours, and the human body soon makes up the the lost cells. Many people donate three to four times a year regularly. Some of them even run in marathons in between. They are fitter than most people their age.

Some feel they are too young, too old, too fat, too thin, too weak, or too unfit to donate. There might be some truth to that for some people. The easiest thing to find out is to give it a try. They check your age, weight, iron level, blood pressure, and certain risk factors before taking your blood. And to be sure, you can check with your doctor first.

Some are simply squeamish about the sight of blood. That, like other phobias, can be overcome if there is a will. Just imagine it is your loved one at the receiving end. Would you be able to overcome the squeamishness? Surely you would.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Who donates blood?

Just before Chinese New Year, I made a trip to the Blood Center in Central to donate blood. The center in Mongkok is closer, but they are always crowded. Once I had to wait for an hour. In Central, usually I don’t have to wait at all. Why is there such a big difference in the number of donors at the two centers?

Is it simply because there are proportionally more people in Mongkok? Perhaps people in Central are just too busy? I do notice that there appears to be very few blood donors who are very well-dressed, obviously business types. Most of them seem to be just common folks. Rarely have I seen business suits, shiny dress shoes, or high heels. Even at the center in Central.

Perhaps business people are just too busy to spare the time? Too worried about any possible adverse effects to take the risk? Too keen on money-making and self-advancement to care?

Selfish people would simply not care. But I have many caring and civic-minded friends who have never given. I know some of their reasons and will try to address them when there is time.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

年宵 Service

Went to Victoria Park to see some of my students yesterday, the last day of the year of the ox. They set up a stall there as a community service project. They made some small gadgets to sell, to raise funds for some charity.

They also share the stall with several primary and secondary schools in the past week. Each school was allotted a period of time, during which the school can sell their own goods, to raise funds for a charity of their own choice. It is a lot of work, and the students make no money. But they learn how to run a small business, learn how to sell, and have a lot of fun. A form 4 girl told me she discovered there were more children during the day, but more youths in courtship in the evenings. The children and the young lovers have different interests and different products sell better to each market. They seem to consider this a very good way to spend their holiday.

I cannot claim too much credit for this project, beyond giving it encouragement and spiritual support. But the colleagues, particularly E and V, who worked very hard to set this up deserve a lot of applause. Well done!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Life of a Boy

... somewhere in mainland China ...

“Hubby, I am pregnant!”
“Good. I will take you to Hong Kong to give birth. They have better facilities and they don’t ask so many questions.”

... Later, in a hospital in Hong Kong ...

“Doctor, is it a boy or a girl?”
“It looks like it is a boy, but the ultrasound image is not very clear. It is too early. We have to wait until the 14th or 15th week to be sure.”
“Is there some way that we can find out now?”
“Well, we can draw some blood and do a DNA test.”
“Why don’t you tell us earlier? Please do that, now.”
“Congratulations, you are going to have a girl.”
“A girl, and you congratulate me? Are you trying to make fun of me? We were hoping to get a boy. Now all our plans are ruined. We are going back to China now. And you can cancel our appointment to give birth.”
“Why? Where are you going to give birth? What are you going to do with the baby?”
“That is our business. You are just a doctor. There is no need for you to know.”

... One year later, the couple is back in Hong Kong, with the wife pregnant again ...

“Doctor, please do a DNA test and tell us whether it is going to be a boy.”
“Congratulations! You are going to have a boy.”
“Great. Here is a big fat Lai See for you. Now make sure my boy is delivered safely.”

... 10 years later ...

“You are so fortunate. Your son is so smart and so good looking.”
“Yeah. He is OK. But it is not due to luck. We worked hard to get such a good boy.”
“What is your secret?
“Actually it is no secret. I have many friends who did the same thing. And now they all get boys.”

... another 10 years ...

“Hey, why are you playing computer games again. Don’t you have better things to do?”
“This is fun. Besides, I have nothing else to do.”
“Why don’t you go out wth your friends.”
“There is no need for us to go out. We can all staying at home. We can still meet on line and play collaborative games through the Internet.”

... yet another 10 years ...

“Son, when are you going to get married?”
“How do I know? I don’t even have a girlfriend.”
“How come?”
“I don’t have a filthy rich father. And my father is not a high level government official with special connections and privileges. How can I attract the girls?”
“But not very man is rich or highly placed. There must be some girls who are not so materialistic.”
“Are you kidding? Don’t you know how many men are around these days? And how few women? Each girl can choose among 10 men these days. Who would you choose if you were a girl? A poor man or a rich man? A worker or an official? You know, it is all your fault.”
“Why is it my fault?”
“Why aren’t you rich? Why aren’t you a government official? Why did you have me when you were not in a position to ensure I have a good future? The least you could’ve done was to ensure your friends had girls.”


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Education - Why?

Why do bureaucrats with no obvious expertise in education dictate to parents in what language the students must learn?

Why do bureaucrats with no obvious expertise in education dictate to teachers and headmasters how the schools should be run?

Why do the bureaucrats try to take the control of schools away from the largest groups with proven commitment and expertise in education?

Why do the teachers refuse to take proficiency tests on the subjects that they teach?

Why do we not try harder to attract and train good people to be teachers if we really think education is so important?

Why do the bureaucrats in charge of our local public schools not send their children to the local public schools if the schools are so good?

Why do the parents allow their children to watch inane television programs when they know full well that the programs are making their children silly?

Why do the parents not read themselves while they are asking their children to read?

Why do we insist on testing rote learning when we know full well students who regurgitate well are not necessarily learning?

Why do the bureaucrats allocate school places by lottery instead of merit?

Why do we not allocate university places by lottery since we do that with primary and secondary schools?

Why do professors teaching in local universities not send their children to local universities?

[photo: Students seem to find computational clothing fun.]

Monday, February 08, 2010

Education Disaster

The following happened at a seventh floor restaurant in a shopping mall.

“Our daughter is already in K2. We have to decide which primary school to send her to.”

“There is no need to worry. Primary and secondary schools are free.”

“I don’t want to send our baby to the public schools. It is very difficult to get into the elite schools. She is already studying in an ESF international kindergarten. Let us send her to an ESF international primary school.”

“They are so expensive. How can we afford it? I am just a technician.”

“If we don’t send her to a good primary school, she will not be able to get into a good secondary school. Then she cannot get into university. It is so competitive these days”

“Let us apply to some of the cheaper direct-subsidy schools or private schools. They are less expensive than the international schools. Even if that does not work out, we can still take a chance in the lottery for public schools.”

“I don’t like it. You are gambling on our daughter’s future.”

“But we really cannot afford to send her to international schools.”

“We have to. Otherwise there is no future for our daughter!”

“What do you want me to do? How can we afford it on my salary?”

“If our daughter has no future, we might as well kill her now!”

“You are so unreasonable. How can you kill our daughter!”

“That is easy. I will just throw her down the building.”

“No, you won’t.”

“Yes, I will!!”

“You wouldn’t dare!!”

“No? I will show you!!!”

The mother threw the four year old daughter over the rails on the seventh floor. She then jumped over the rails herself. The daughter was saved by a net that was intended to catch debris. The mother did not survive.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

雀仔街 Bird training

This lady in 雀仔街 (雀鳥花園)clips the wings of small birds so that they cannot fly away. Take a close look at the wings of the love bird on the stick. The largest feathers have been trimmed by about a inch. It is just enough to still enable the bird to flutter for a short distance, but no more than that. It must be very frustrating for the bird.

She then ties them to a stick through a string, and trains them to sit still. Then to climb over her. Finally, to hide inside her clothes. She claims that they do not suffocate, and actually likes to hide inside her clothes.

The birds seem to be mostly love birds and cockatiels. I counted at least 3 birds inside the sleeves of her jacket while we were watching.

I imagine some people may object to such treatment.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Collapse Alley

The day after the building collapse in Hung Hom, I nosed around the alley behind the collapsed building. The site was blocked off, and guarded by a police officer. But I did get a good look in the alley, about 50 feet from the site.

The alley itself was cleaner than I thought. Upon closer inspection, however, the buildings appeared to be in serious decay. The walls were moldy. Plasters were falling off, And there were many cracks of various lengths and widths.

At the back of one of the buildings, the rear exit was completely blocked off by debris. It could not have been comfortable and safe living there. Most of the people probably don’t want to, but they don’t have too many choices either. The rent is relatively cheap and the location is convenient. It was confirmed by listening to the crowd gathering in front.

Hong Kong has many rich people and posh residences. But there are also many many people living in substandard and downright dangerous dwellings. As the collapse had so vividly demonstrated.

Thursday, February 04, 2010


The distinguished-looking man seems to be curiously getting ready to bed down, right in the middle of the street-side wet market in To Kwa Wan. On the opposite side, the lady’s expression is also rather amusing.

Tourists in To Kwa Wan (土瓜灣)

I was mildly surprised to bump into a group of Putonghua-speaking tourists in front of a fruit store in the To Kwa Wan wet market. I quickly realized they were not shopping for fruit. Rather, they were coming out of a posh-looking chocolate shop next door, right underneath an old-folks’ home and drying laundry.

The tourist guide was telling them those fancily-packed chocolates were good gifts to take home. However, I couldn’t identify the brands. Perhaps I have not eaten enough chocolates? But I do eat quite a bit. And I did notice that the shop was hiring Putonghua-speaking keepers. So it was not targeting the local population.

The guide was taking the group across the street to have lunch in a restaurant. Only then did I notice that 4 big tour buses were parked around the corner. Why is there a posh-looking chocolate shop in the wet market? And why are there so many tourists here?

More curiously, the restaurant was devoid of decorations, menus, fish tanks, promotional pamphlets and other paraphernalia typical of restaurants in Hong Kong. It seemed as if they have no need to advertise. Perhaps it is because they have these tour guides who bring them the customers? Ditto for the chocolate shop?

I have heard of the jewelry shop with a toilet made of gold in Hung Hom. But I did not know that the wet market in To Kwa Wan has also become a tourist attraction. Where else of Hong Kong did the tourists get to visit? Hong Kong is indeed a very strange tourist destination.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Preserved Stuffed Liver (金銀肝)

I haven’t had it for a long time. In fact, I haven’t seen it for a while. Yesterday I saw it in To Gua Wan and had a sudden urge to buy some. But I know someone will object.

It is actually strips of pork liver, stuffed skillfully with pork fat, and air-dried. When it is steamed, the white fat turns translucent and crisp. Bite into it, you get a mouthful of strongly sweat meaty liver at first. Then a sudden burst of fragrance, released from the firm, crisp texture underneath. Steamed over rice, the oil leaks from the stuffed liver and flavors the rice. Add a bit of good soy source; it is heavenly, and a perfect meal by itself. Perhaps a bit unhealthy, but a very fulfilling experience.

It is a dilemma, isn’t it? Eat an unhealthy food, and die a little earlier. Or stay off that tasty food, and live s little longer. I am not sure the later is necessarily better than the former. :-)