Saturday, October 30, 2010

Service-Learning - a celebration

We had a celebration of our service learning trip to Cambodia on campus yesterday.   There was a seminar at which our students shared their experiences.  Sitting there and listening to them, I was quite struck by their passion, the breadth and depth of the work, and how much they have learned from the experience.  The encounter with the Cambodian people, the Khmer language, the abject poverty, the lack of effective government, the chaotic education system, the weakness of the local currency, ...  It is a learning experience the impact of which even they themselves may not fully realize yet.

There was an exhibition of their stories, and lots and lots of photographs, some of which are really quite touching.  Several members of our senior management, including the president and the two vice presidents in charge of academics and research, came to the exhibition.  They seem genuinely impressed with the work of the students.  Hopefully there will be more understanding of what this is all about - and more support. 

Then in the evening, a glimpse of the future - in the form of a recruitment drive and orientation for the coming year.  Quite a number of first year students came.  It is gratifying to see that many of the wide-eyed first year students who were sitting there last year are now speaking about their experiences doing service learning projects in the past year.   That’s what we hope will happen - one generation of students becoming leaders and teaching the next generation.  That’s how the movement can sustain itself. 

All in all, a happy celebration.  I am looking forward to seeing students being able to earn academic credits doing service learning in the near future - perhaps as soon as the summer of 2011. 

Friday, October 29, 2010

Chile - colourful land

Chile is also very colourful on the ground. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Chile - from the air

The dramatic rescue of the 33 Chilean miners bring back some very fond memories of Chile from April 2009, when I went there for a conference.   It is a beautiful country from many angles.  Here are some lovely views from the airplane.  Including some of the famous Chilean mines. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

My cup of coffee

Friday, October 22, 2010

Kindergarten refugee

Imagine you are a mother fleeing with your child from the fighting in Congo.  You really want to go to Canada but somehow arrived in Hong Kong.  With help from Christian Action, an NGO, you are applying to the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to be classified as a refugee, and resettlement in Canada. 

While your application is being processed by the UNHCR, the Hong Kong Government allows you to stay in Hong Kong.  But you are not allowed to work.  Hence you can only survive on handouts from organizations such as Christian Action.  Your five-year-old child have to attend kindergarten, otherwise her education will suffer irreparable damage.  You really want to send her to an international kindergarten that teaches in English.  But it will cost at least 3,000 HK dollars per month, and there is no way to come up with that kind of money.  The only viable option is to send her to a local kindergarten that teaches in Chinese.  There the fees are lower and Christian Action can help you apply for a subsidy from the government. 

Your child speaks no Chinese.  Fortunately she learns fast.  But you don’t speak Chinese either, and you don’t learn as fast as your child.  You cannot even read the notices sent by the kindergarten.  Your child struggles, and so do you.  The people at Christian Action are overwhelmed with the hundreds of people the are helping, and they really cannot help with your child’s studies.  What can you do?

Wouldn’t it be nice if some kind-hearted soul would come to tutor your child and you in Cantonese, and help with at least some of your more critical encounters with Chinese?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Exported Garbage

So this is what we are exporting from Hong Kong - garbage - albeit in the form of recycled paper.   We can’t find space to dump them - nobody wants them dumped near where they live.  We can’t burn them - nobody wants them burnt near where they live.  And we cannot process them into useful products.  No space, too expensive, no knowhow - we do have plenty of excuses. 

So we just ship them some place where people are poor enough or smart enough to process our garbage into something useful.  Or, more likely, dump them some place where people wouldn’t, or couldn’t complain.

Should we be ashamed that we are exporting garbage?  Or should we be proud that we do have something to export?  Other than selling land to each other?  Or "serving" each other?

[Please excuse the poor quality of the photograph - it was taken with my old, ailing, dying iPhone. ]

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Chung Yeung Festival (重陽節)

It was Chung Yeung Festival yesterday.  Our clan, as usual, went to pay our respects to my grand father and his two wives. There were not as many people at the cemetery, as at Qing Ming Festival (清明).  But there were enough burning candles and incense to make people teary.  Particularly in the confined space in the columbarium. 

Many Chinese believe that the dead continue to have needs.  They can feed on burning candles and incense.  And they can receive money, gold, silver, food, clothes, shoes, mobile phones, iPADs, ...   If our dead ancestors and relatives are comfortable in the afterworld, they would be more inclined to help the living.  Particularly in the confines of the columbarium.  Hence all the burning.  Fire can be beautiful and mesmerizing.  But I could not stand the smoke.    And I do not believe that it helps the dead.  Even though it may make the living feel better.

I tend to believe that the fate of the dead are sealed.  Hence it is futile to try to send things to them, or otherwise to try to do things for them.  It is much better to try to treat people better while they are living.   But there is nothing wrong in showing the dead respect.  In fact, it is an honourable thing to do, to show respect to those who particularly deserve it.  It is also a way to remind ourselves where we stand. 

Like Cai Yuan Pei (蔡元培).  I come here to his grave every time I go to the Aberdeen Cemetery.  As usual, there is nobody there at the grave on Sunday.   But it is clean and tidy.  There are no burning candles, incense, or paper money.  But there are flowers.  Obviously there are people who take care of the grave. Considering he has been dead for 70 years, and he has no known descendants in Hong Kong, that is no mean feat.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Words by Liu Xiao Bo (劉曉波)

Some people have been making comments on Liu Xiao Bo based on some of the things that he said 20 years ago, which were also taken out of context.   Here are some extracts from his own book, published recently.  He has my respect not only because of what he said.  But also because of his courage, persistence, and insistence on peaceful means.  

 To read more, please buy the book.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Son and his Father

Son: “Father, stop drinking and eating and gambling with our family’s money.  We need the money for food.”

Father (beating up son): “You insubordinate son!  How dare you talk to me like that.  Go to the little closet and don’t come out until I say you can.”

Son: “Father, we don’t have enough to eat, and we cannot go to school because we cannot pay the school fees.  It is not right that you enjoy yourself while your children suffer.  You have to stop doing that.”

Father (angrily): “You are bad-mouthing me.  You are trying to destroy my authority.  Keep doing it and you will never come out of that little closet.  I don’t care even if you get sick and die.”

Neighbour (hearing the commotion): “Mr. Hu, please stop beating up your children.”

Father: “He should be punished because he is disobedient.  And you.  Why are you interfering with my family’s affairs?  You should mind your own business.”

Neighbour: “But your son is right. You shouldn’t take your family’s money for your own enrichment, while they go hungry.  And you should not beat him up and confine him.”

Father (getting agitated): “Stop it.  You have no right to criticize me.”

Neighbour (loudly to the whole neighbourhood): “Mr. Hu’s son is a brave young man.  He should be commended for standing up to his tyrannical father.  Even though he is under extremely unreasonable pressure, he does not resort to violence.  He is really a man of peace.  He deserves our support!” 

Father (angrily): “Stop it!  You are being disrespectful.  You are criticizing me only because you are envious of my success.  You are damaging our relationship.  You are not my friend anymore.”

Friday, October 08, 2010

Liu Xiao Bo (劉曉波)

A man (woman) should have the will to think independently, the wisdom to discern right from wrong, the courage to speak up without fear, and the strength to persevere.  A man is a man of peace when he resists injustice with truth and non-violence.  Liu Xiao Bo deserves to be called a man of peace, and he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. 

「你不是試圖搜集四川大地震中死難學生的名單嗎,這就涉嫌“顛覆國家政權”了;你不是試圖為死於有毒奶粉的孩子的家長提供法律援助嗎,這就涉嫌“顛覆國家政 權”了;你不是試圖幫助因賣血而染上愛滋病的農民兄弟討一個“說法”嗎,這就涉嫌“顛覆國家政權”了;你不是試圖揭露無數的母親被計生人員強迫墮胎的慘劇 嗎,這就涉嫌“顛覆國家政權”了。這個國家,這個政權,怎麼像一個紙糊的房子那樣無比脆弱呢?」


High-speed Rail

Recognize this place?  The construction site in front, that is.   A piece of it (the waterfront piece) will become a part of the West Kowloon Cultural District.  The rest will become the West Kowloon Terminal for the High-Speed Rail linking Hong Kong with the High-Speed Rail system of the mainland.  In a few years it will be totally un-recognizable.  This photograph will be an interesting record for history buffs. 

By the way, 20 years ago the whole site did not exist.  It was part of the Victoria Harbour.  The buildings to the left marked the then waterfront (more-or-less). 

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Phantom Runner

S was running along the TsimShaTsui East Promenade, in the direction of Hung Hom.  He was about 3 km into his 10 km run, and was already sweating profusely.   He was running past the just-torn-down New World Hotel, when he heard heavy steps to the right and behind.   “This person seems to be running fast,” he thought, expecting to be passed anytime. 

A minute later, the thud-thud-thud-thud was still there.   “This guy does not seem to be so fast after-all,” he thought.  Without turning his head, he stole a glance out of the corner of his right eye.  He could see only a blurred figure, the upper half white and the lower half dark.  “Strange, it almost seems like he is wearing a white shirt and long dark pants. Who would run dressed like that?”

S thought about speeding up to pull away from this person.  But that would be a tacit acknowledgment of his presence.  S did not want to gratify him by giving a reaction.  So he decided against it, and simply continued running at the same speed.  This continued for about 200 meters.  Thud-thud-thud-thud.  Right at S’s shoulder.  Now it sounded more like the heavy pounding of dress shoes. 

Suddenly, it was gone.  Back to the serene solitude.  So what was it?  Perhaps a bored tourist who felt S was running too slowly, who wanted to show S that he could run faster, who then discovered that it wasn’t so easy, and gave up after 300 meters?

It was destined to remain a mystery. 

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Is competition good?

Competition is often touted by evolutionary biologists as the driving force behind adaption and ultimately evolution.  Social darwinists credit it as the mechanism to determine the best-suited group politically, economically and ecologically.  Economists say it allocates productive resources to the most-highly valued uses and encourages efficiency. 

It is essentially how practically all organizations work.  Among countries, companies, sports teams, musicians, universities, departments, professors, students, schools, ...  Often even among organized religions, churches, NGOs, charities, ...

At the same time, it creates rivalries, losers, bad feelings, duplications, wastes, ...

Wouldn’t (A, cooperation) two people working cooperatively and then sharing the results achieve better results overall than (B, competition) each trying to beat the other with the winner taking everything while condemning the other to go without?

Cooperation is hard to achieve because men are selfish.  While competition have been proven to promote efficiency by exploiting men’s inherent selfishness, competition promotes even more selfishness, hence entrenching it.  Ultimately it may lead to men’s final destruction. 

Cooperation, while difficult, is a more lofty and noble objective.  Love is the ultimate driving force of cooperation.  And men are capable of love, particularly with God on their side.  If we can not cooperate in a church, there is probably little hope for the world outside.  If we cannot cooperate in a university, which is supposed to educate our young people on more lofty goals in life, it is also very sad and depressing. 

Friday, October 01, 2010

Examination Scripts

After the examinations are over, universities in Hong Kong generally do not return the examination scripts submitted by the students to themselves.  Earlier this year our university decided to change that - to allow the students to read their own examination scripts, but not to take them away.  That caused great concern from the professors. 

Some were afraid that a great number of students may ask to see the scripts, generating a large amount of work, and taking a lot of time.  Some were afraid that the students might abuse the arrangement - argue with the professors, complain about the marking, perhaps even change the answers.  Many meetings were held to debate the policy, and to set up the relevant procedures.   Elaborate arrangements were made, special rooms were reserved, and staff were assigned to manage the process.  Proposals were made to photocopy the examination scripts for viewing, and to video-record the students reading the scripts - although I am not sure whether it was actually done. 

Personally, I thought many of the worries, and the elaborate arrangements in anticipation, were unnecessarily.  I decided to simply ask the students to come to my office at the reserved hour if they want to read the scripts.

University management insisted that the students have the right to see their own examination scripts.  And I agree with them. Even thought the policy does generate some additional work. 

In the end, only a small number of students came to see the scripts.  And very few appeals arose after the viewing.  For example, in one class of about 40 students, only one student came.  He was the top student, and he left after 5 minutes without saying very much.