Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A father and son story - Chinese style

Y did not attend college.  Perhaps because her father’s fortune went downhill after she was adopted.  Perhaps because her mother blamed her for bringing bad fortune.  Perhaps because she was adopted and she is a girl.  Perhaps because of all of that.  This is Y’s greatest regret - her lack of education.  But she is not bitter.  She knows that her father loves her, and her mother appreciates her, although grudgingly. 

Y’s elder brother did get sent to the best university in Shanghai, bearing the hope of the family.  That first winter the son was in university, the father went to Shanghai to deliver some winter clothing, himself dressed in those bulky, padded cotton Chinese jackets.  The son was not too pleased - embarrassed by his father dressing like a country bumpkin.  

When the son graduated from university, he wanted to get married.  He asked his father to give him 200,000 (RMB) for the wedding.  He knew his father did not have that kind of money, but he wanted his father to find a way to borrow the money.  When his father could not come up with the money, the son got really upset.  They are not on speaking terms now. 

I heard that such relationships are not atypical in China these days. 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Young and old

It is easy to look and feel good when we are young.  In Hong Kong, as in elsewhere, we worship youthfulness.  Young people are eager to flaunt their youth.  The not-so-young, even those positively old, try to look, and pretend that they are still, young.  We refuse to acknowledge that we are getting old.  We seem to wish that the old would conveniently fade away. 

Rarely do we find young people lovingly looking after their seniors. 

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Maid and Girl

They must have a good relationship.  The little girl being comfortable with her care-giver. And the Indonesian maid loving that little girl.  The girl’s parents should be happy, that their maid is taking good care of their precious child.  Do they know it though?

Friday, November 26, 2010


我從Y 那裡知道 著名的水鄉古鎮甪直 離開 我上課的會議中心只有約 30分鐘車程。星期六晚上,下課後,我和我的一些學生開車去那邊看。

相比同理,周莊等已經頗負盛名的水鄉古鎮,甪直沒有那麽出名。也沒有那麽商業化。但是也有幾百年的水道,橋樑和老房子。白天有大量的遊客。晚上,它很安靜,平和。唯一顯著的響聲是由一個家庭的喪禮傳出來。我們大約晚上8點經過時,幾個僧侶在念經。 晚上10時左右, 當我們再次經過他們的門口時,念經的僧侶不見了。只有幾個人在打麻將。按照習俗,家人要整夜做法事。也許,打麻將是保持清醒的好方法。

通過一些半閉的窗戶和門口,可以看到一些沿河的房子是有人住的。有衣服掛在裡面,有人在做飯,... 。但大多數的房子似乎已被改造成餐廳,紀念品商店等。多數人都搬出老城區。白天,他們回來古鎮經營商店。

我們找到了 沈萬三 的一個老房子。他是明代最富有的人,也是寓言故事聚寶盆的主角。後來明太祖嫉妒他,沒收他一半的財富,把他流放到雲南。 沈萬三 早已過去,儘管他的房子依然存在。

我們沿著河邊的老房子散步, 突然發現狹窄的水道對面有一排明亮的燈光照亮了一個高大的牌樓。牌樓內是一個巨大的公園,有許多獨特蘇州風格的白的牆壁和黑的傾斜瓦頂的建築物。這顯然是新建的。甪直像同理,周莊一樣。也慢慢成為一個商業化的旅遊景點。


根據我的字典,“甪”字是來自“角”字,廣東話發音像“鹿”。 甪直 擁有傳奇的過去,氣氛很好。儘管它慢慢變得沒那麽有趣了。

Luzhi (甪直) produce

Walking through Luzhi, we found a vendor selling goose eggs.  They looked like dinosaur eggs when placed next to chicken eggs.  We were not in the mood for such large eggs.

We did buy some water caltrop (菱角).  They look sinister, and - with those sharp “horns” - they can really be used as weapons.

When cooked, the “meat” is powder-ly white.  It tasted plain, but recalled childhood memories.  I ended up eating a lot of them at the hotel later that evening.

With society getting more and more sophisticated, people lose interest in simple foods such as these - they are considered plain and boring.  Instead, people look for, and create processed foods with "new" flavor.  I am not sure it is such a good development.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Luzhi (水鄉古鎮甪直) at night

I found out from Y that Luzhi (甪直) is only about 30 minutes by car from the Xian Jiaotung University - University of Liverpool Conference Center in Suzhou, where I was teaching over the weekend.  On Saturday evening, after class, I went over there with some of my students.

Luzhi is one of those old water towns, such as 同里, 周庄, that have become quite famous, for their waterways, bridges, and old houses.  During the day, I was told, there are lots of tourists.  At night, it was quiet and peaceful.  The only significant noise was made by a family having a funeral.  Monks were praying there when we passed them on the way in, around 8PM.  When we passed them again on the way out, around 10PM, the monks were replaced by people playing mahjong.  According to the custom, the family have to stay up through the night.  Perhaps playing mahjong is a good way to stay awake. 

Through some of the half-closed windows and doors, we could see some people were living in those houses along the river.  There were clothes hanging inside, some people were cooking, ...   But most of the houses seem to have been converted into restaurants, souvenirs shops, etc.   Most people have moved out of the old town.  During the day, they come back to the old town to man the shops.  The few people that we saw in those houses were likely to be house-keepers.

We found an old house belonging to the richest man in the Ming Dynasty, 沈萬三.  He was the rich man in the fable 聚寶盆.  He was so rich that the Ming Emperor (朱元璋) became jealous.  Half of 沈萬三 ‘s wealth was confiscated, and he was exiled to Yunan (雲南).  The man is long gone, even though his houses remain. 

While we were strolling along the river, we were suddenly dazzled by the bright lights illuminating a grand entrance, just across the narrow waterway from the row of humble old houses.  Inside the gate is a huge park, with numerous buildings in the distinctive Suzhou style of white walls and black sloped roofs.  It was obviously newly built.   So there is no escape for 甪直. It is also turning into a commercialized tourist attraction like 同里, 周庄.

Later I found that 甪直 is also the hometown of 蕭芳芳.

According to my dictionary, 甪 was derived from 角, and is pronounced like 鹿 in Cantonese.   It is still an interesting place, with a storied past, and great atmosphere, even though it is fast becoming less and less interesting. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Lady driver’s story

Y was left at the backdoor of an orphanage in Shanghai 30 years ago. She was adopted by a family but got lost in Hefei, Anhui.  She was very small when all these happened, so  she had very little re- collection of her first foster family.  When she was seven, she was adopted by a family who lived in Suzhou. 

Her father was an educated man with a respectable job and 3 children.  Later he lost his job and the family went back to farming.  Y’s mother blamed Y for this poor turn of fortune.  The family put the eldest son through the top university in Shanghai.  But Y never went to university.  The lack of an education is Y’s greatest regret.

Y went through many jobs, including cleaning the toilet.  She got a break when she went to work for an electronics firm.  Despite her lack of education, she was actually quite smart and worked very hard.  She soon got promoted to foreman.  She was, in her words, not afraid to “eat bitterness”.  Unfortunately, she was also not afraid to speak up when she saw injustice.  She ran afoul of a supervisor who wanted to raise production rates by taking short-cuts.  She lost her job. 

She became a street hawker.  She made some money.  And with some additional money from her father,  she bought a car and started taking driving jobs, illegally, like many other drivers in China. 

A man made a deal with her to rent her car for a good sum, so she agreed.  But he refused to pay her the promised rent, and would not return the car.  So Y went to the police.  It turned out the man had connections with the police, and the complaint went nowhere.  She protested at the police station, and was driven away.  She protested on the main street with placards, and was arrested.  In desperation, she went to the mayor’s office during the Chinese New Year’s holidays.  She waited for days - until she saw a stream of expensive cars coming to the office.  She jumped in front of the cars and protested.  It turned out the mayor was in the second car, and took pity on her. 

Y got her money back.  But the kind mayor also advised her: that she should not continue to take driving jobs illegally.  So she bought another car, and is now taking legal jobs only.  That’s how she ended up being my driver when I went to Suzhou to teach this weekend. 

When I got in the car at the Shanghai airport, I was fully intending to take a nap on the 2.5 hour ride to Suzhou.  It was past 9 PM and I had had a long day.  My plane was changed and delayed, and since we could not get in touch, she had to wait at the airport amidst much confusion.  She was apologetic and I was apologetic.  Added to that, it was the first time I had a lady driver, so we started talking, and didn’t stop until we got to Suzhou. 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Paper export

Hong Kong exports a lot of paper.  Unfortunately, these are not elegant, sophisticated products made of paper.  Not even mass market paper products.  Or no-name low grade paper products.  But simply bales and bales of used paper - presumably to be re-cycled, most likely on the mainland. 

Re-cycling them is marginally better than throwing them away as garbage.  But why can’t we do the re-cycling in Hong Kong?   Products made of re-cycled paper are more valuable than waste paper.  Even re-cycled paper as raw material is more valuable than just waste paper.  We certainly have the technology to re-cycle paper, and to turn them into sophisticated products.  Space may be an issue, but it is not such a big issue any more.  Since all the factories have already moved to the mainland, we have no shortage of industrial buildings and space. 

We keep saying we have to transform our industries into high technology, high valued-added industries.   Certainly turning recycled paper into high grade products is more high technology, higher value-adding than packing bales and bales of waste paper to be shipped away?

Perhaps we have simply turned lazy?   Both in body and mind?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Whose side are we on?

What is the Church so fearful of the Rich and Powerful?

In the case of rich Mr. L versus priest L, most people feel that priest’s offense, if any, is relative minor.  It is essentially the personal opinion of one priest at one light-hearted moment.  So why is the Catholic Church so apologetic? 

Many people have brought up - in fact, Mr. L’s associates themselves have alluded to - the fact that Mr. L is a big contributor to the church’s very large charity organization.   If the fear of losing a big donor is really a major factor, then it is really sad and disappointing.   The Catholic Church has a well-earned reputation of taking care of and standing on the side of the poor and oppressed.  In South America, in Eastern Europe, ... and even in Hong Kong. 

Now, if the Church leadership is trying to appease the rich, it is really pitiable.  First of all, God Himself is most definitely on the side of the poor and the oppressed.  It is stated numerous times in the Bible, and numerous times by Jesus Christ.  Secondly, is God so poor that His followers have to depend on the largess of the world’s rich?  I don’t think God is that small. 

It turns out this is really a test of where do we actually put our faith.  On the visible but ephemeral power of money?  Or the unseen, but just, loving and eternal God? 

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Might is right?

On the mainland, Mr. Z found that the milk he fed his baby was tainted by harmful substances.  So he complained and protested, and tried to fight for justice for himself and his fellow suffers.  He was never violent.  Yet he was put into prison for a long period because of this.  Outrageous! Abuse of justice! - we all say. 

In Hong Kong, priest L complained, at a seemingly light-hearted moment at Halloween, that an extremely rich Mr. L was like the devil because he built apartments with inflated floor areas.  The words priest L chose was perhaps a bit harsh, but no more than many people were saying privately.  However, Mr. L was quite upset.  The church was then pressured into saying they were sorry.

The mainland case is, of course, much more serious than the Hong Kong case.  But the messages behind the two cases are the same: Don’t criticize us the powerful.  If we don’t like what you are saying, we can hurt you.  So, don’t!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Lady Samaritan

On a Saturday morning, S was running along the TsimShaTsui East waterfront.  He was an hour and 15 minutes into his run, and was feeling so good he felt may be he could run for 2 hours.  After rounding the old clock tower he was right in front of the Culture Centre, returning towards Hung Hom, when his right foot caught something on the ground.  He stumbled, leaned to his right and tried to stay on his feet.  In a split second, he knew he could not maintain his balance, and was going to fall.  He let himself fall to his right, and rolled over, hoping to reduce the impact. 

S found himself sprawled on the ground.  He sat up, and took stock.  Skin was peeled off and hanging from knuckles on two fingers on his right hand, and the knuckles were bloodied.   Skin was scraped off his right knee but there was no blood - yet.  His palms and wrist felt the impact but he was able to move them freely, without much pain.  For a minute he sat there examining himself.  Nobody paid him any attention, even though there were a lot of people around.  Locals waiting to get on leisure boats from the pier, and lots of tourists just looking around and taking photographs.

A lady came over and pulled S to his feet.  In Putonghua, she told S that he should get up and asked if he was OK.   S was thankful that the lady jolted him into action, him having been stunted into a half daze, and for a moment, not knowing what to do. 

S thought of walking home.  But he was a bit annoyed that his plan to run 2 hours, having been running well so far, was interrupted by a silly fall.  He knew he was not seriously hurt.  He was more annoyed at himself for being careless, and for not being able to remain in balance when he stumbled.  However, it was nobody’s fault but his own.  He decided to try to run a few steps, even though his knuckles and one knee were now quite bloodied.  He was surprised to find that he could run without much pain.  So he continued, and eventually finished his 2 hour run.  While he was running, he did notice bruises starting to form around his wrists. 

It was only later, after buying a 10 pound melon, that he realized his wrists were hurting so bad be could not lift the melon.

It was 12 days ago when it all happened.   S has almost completely recovered by now.  He is still thankful to God that he was not hurt more badly - such as banging his head on the ground.   And thankful to the lady who came to his aid.  He never found out who she was.  Although he is quite certain she was a tourist from mainland China.  Among all the people outside the Culture Centre on that Saturday morning, many must have seen him stumbled and fell.  At least one person cared enough to try to help.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Heavenly wealth

Lots of news about the rich and the famous (or infamous) these days in Hong Kong.  A Catholic priest called an extremely rich real estate developer the devil, which provoked some angry responses.  Another extremely rich man’s unmarried son suddenly came up with three sons, after his younger brother produced two daughters.  A merely rich man’s company gave his employees a raise, but made previously-paid lunch hours unpaid; then changed his mind after noisy protests.   These shows to what extent the rich will go, to make another dollar. 

But it is not just the rich who are keen on making money.  Those of us who have little, are also very keen on securing our own apartment, building up investments in stocks, gold, foreign currency and such.  We all know the value of money.

Do we?

In The Gospel According to Mark, Jesus told a rich young man who had kept all the commandments: “One thing you lack.  Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Jesus is saying that, instead of investing in treasure on earth, we should invest in treasure in heaven - things that have truly long-lasting value.  What exactly is treasure in heaven?  It is to love God, and to love our fellow men (and women, and children, and old people, ..., and particularly the poor and the oppressed).  It really is better than the love of money. 

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Animal-friendly Chile

We encountered numerous animals in the few days we were there.   There was this fierce-looking caged dog at the Central Market in Santiago.   Cats resting under the statue of some famous person near the Central Market.  A dog sleeping under the statue of another famous person near our hotel.  Another dog sleeping peacefully under the feet of a bunch of noisy primary school kids visiting the Cathedral in Plaza de Armas.  A pigeon perched on the head of some saint outside another church near the Plaza de Armas.  A horse standing patiently hitched to a cart laden with vegetables at the market in Valparaiso.  A dog named Miguel sleeping in his own doghouse in Valparaiso.  A cat that climbed onto the shoulder of one of us at the market in Valparaiso.  A sand mother rhino with young on the beach at Vina de Mar.   A friendly St. Bernard at the hotel at the ski resort Laguna del Inca up in the Andes Mountains. ...

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Chile - more people

... The young couple playing on the beach of Vina del Mar.  The man riding (pushing) a bicycle up the Andes Mountains towards the border with Argentina.  The electrician hanging in mid-air above the traffic on a busy street in Vina del Mar.  The whole family riding a horse together in San Jose de Maipo.  The young lady sitting across from The Lady in Los the city of Andes.  The man carrying a baby on the streets of Valparaiso.  The street performers.  The hand-holding young couple with their dog.  The lady who sold us pungent-smelling piure.  The young couple who taught us to drink beer with salt while we were eating piure.  The old lady who warned us of shoulder-bag-snatchers. ...  I love the Chileans.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Chile - the people of Santiago

Ultimately it was people that I remember the most from Chile.  The crowd at the main square of Plaza de Armas in central Santiago.  The young men playing soccer in a park on Saturday morning.  The men pulling a cart laden with fruits and vegetables.  People playing dress-up at a street fair.   The vendor who sold me delicious grapefruit juice.  The men praying in a church.  The cops I mistook for ninja turtles.  The laid-back young men singing up on top of Santa Lucia at dusk.  ...  Chileans are fun-loving, pleasant, ..., and friendly.