Monday, February 28, 2011

Ineffective Government

Why do we keep getting government officials who are oblivious of what citizens need?  Why do our officials boast of encouraging people to drink expensive red wine, yet are completely ignorant of how much the men on the street are paying for food?  Why is that when they do try to hand out small favours, they end up enriching already-rich fund managers?  Why is it that they can only give inane answers such as “I don’t like fish and corn” to fair and reasonable questions?  Why is it that we seem to be governed by a bunch of aliens, who eat and drink and live in a different world?

The obvious reason is that these officials are accountable not to the citizens they claim to serve, but only to their overlords.  Lower ranking officials are accountable to higher ranking officials in HK, who, in turn, are accountable only to their overlords to the North.  They have no motivation to understand how normal people live, and what they need.  Even when they try to do something to help the men in the street, they don’t know how.  They don’t even know how to answer questions, nor to respond to criticism.  So they either stone-wall, or worse, get upset. 

If the process used to select a government is more open and democratic, then officials will have to learn to listen to and answer to their citizens.  They will be forced to spend the time and effort to learn about matters the citizens are concerned about, such as food, housing, education, clean water, retirement, hospital care, etc.  The result will be a more knowledgeable and effective government.  This is a good argument for a more open and democratic selection process, quite apart from the fundamental principles of human rights and equality. 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

United in Anger

One of the most valuable qualities of Hong Kong is the freedom of speech.  Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, and to express it.  Because of that, it is rare to see us Hongkongers in complete agreement. This time, the government has done it - again.  In 2004, the proposal to implement Article 23 of the Basic Law (which threatened to criminalize many activities lawful in open societies) unified Hong Kong people in opposition. 

This time, it is the serious incompetency and blatant disregard of the needs of its citizens that unite the people in anger.  There is no real long term vision, and no concrete measures to support the big words about objectives such as the development of the 6 major industries.  As an example of poor planning, one of the so called major initiatives - to inject 6,000 into MPF accounts - is full of holes.  Many people are not covered.  The funds cannot be accessed until retirement. And much of it will simply be eaten by management fees, fattening fund management companies instead of benefiting the citizens. 

When challenged on many of the items, the financial secretary could only say repeatedly the proposed was the best they could come up with, instead of providing concrete justifications, or comparing different options intelligently.  On many details affecting daily living, the officials are shockingly out of touch, such as setting an hourly fee of $250 for hiring university students as tutors for primary school students, when the going rate is less than half of that amount, or the ignorance about the cost of popular dishes at a cha chaan teng. 

Why are we stuck with these officials who are unable or unwilling to understand and address the real needs of the citizens?  Or to formulate longer term visions and concrete policies?  


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

No long term commitments

The Hong Kong government is very rich.  It is unique among governments, in the way it has been accumulating surpluses year after year.  It is HK$71.3 billion for 2010-11. There is probably no other government in the world which has built up a reserve equal to such a high percentage of its GDP. 

So it must spend some of that surplus. 

But it is extremely reluctant to increase recurrent expenditure, which has to be spent every year.  Since it does not want to make any long term commitments, it can only resort to giving one time handouts. 

It is better than doing nothing.  But it does not really help Hong Kong build for the future.   


Monday, February 21, 2011

Surviving Marathon 2011

I would like to thank all my friends who have been praying, or otherwise concerned about my well-being regarding my running in the HK Marathon 2011.  I completed the full marathon in 4 hours and 50+ minutes, my best time by far.

I missed the marathon last year.  So this is the first time I got to run on the Stonecutters Island Bridge (昂船洲大橋), which links Tsing Yi Island (青衣島) to Stonecutters Island (昂船洲), spanning the Rambler Channel (藍巴勒海峽).    

It was said the Sharks were running again this time, but I did not see them.  I do have some photos of sharks in my postings two years ago.  But I did see a bunny this time.  I also saw at least two blind runners with their guide-runners.  Amazing people, all running the full marathon. 

Coming out of the Western Harbour Tunnel (西區隧道) was the hardest part.  My legs were already threatening to cramp before I entered the tunnel from the Kowloon side.  But I wanted to keep running, hoping that it will go away.  Surviving the foul air inside the tunnel and climbing up from the bottom of the tunnel to the exit was grueling enough.  Immediately upon seeing the light again at the exit on the Hong Kong side, however, we had to climb up the elevated highway.  I almost stopped, but eventually forced myself to slowly run up the slope.   I was so happy I texted my wife at that point. 

Then I saw and heard the cheerleaders from our university in a multi-storey car-park across from the highway, which gave me a second wind - for about 5 minutes.  Soon afterwards, around Admiralty, and about 3 km from the finish, the cramps in my thighs were so painful I had to stop running, to try to walk it off.  I was half limping and half running the rest of the way.  For the last 100 meters, it was essentially the cheering that carried us across. 

But I survived.  At the finish, I saw again Mr. Leung Yiu Chung (梁耀忠).  Two years ago we finished at the same time, just like this year.  I respect his efforts to speak for the underprivileged, and his perseverance.  So I had another photo taken with him.

I slept the whole afternoon afterwards. 



Saturday, February 19, 2011

Lamma Island - Snail Army

We were crossing a sandy beach when I stepped on some tiny dead snails.  There were a lot of them, and they looked a little odd, so I looked closer.  Then I realized why they looked odd - they were all pointed in the same direction. 

And they were moving - they were alive!  It was just that it was low tide, they were exposed to the sun and their shells were dried, that’s why they looked dead.  They seemed to be crawling towards the water - that’s why they were all pointed in the same direction. 

I estimated that there were roughly 500 of them per square feet.  The sandy beach was very flat, and quite large, perhaps as big as 200 feet by 100 feet.  That means there were 500 x 200 x 100 = 10,000,000 snails on that beach.  That is more than the population of Hong Kong.  Truly awesome, isn’t it? 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Fish farms on Lamma Island

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Service-Learning - Memory Game for Seniors

When we get old, one of the problems we face is the lost of memory.  It can be caused by a disease such as Alzheimers’, or simply deterioration of brain functions.  As a service learning project, we have been visiting and discussing with the Lam Woo Center for Seniors in ShumShuiPo run by the YWCA.  Our students have developed a prototype of a game that asks the seniors to try to remember and match pictures of people and their names.  On Saturday, we took the game over to the center and demonstrated it to their staff and tested it with some of the seniors there.  We learned a lot about their needs and collected many ideas on how to improve the game. For example, we have to make the game very simple, and easy to understand, perhaps starting with just pictures and no words.  We also have to give people a lot of time to watch the pictures, to think, and to recall.  The game have to be flexible, to suit different needs.  We are happy that we seem to be on the right track, with lots of ideas to work on.  We have already started on other related projects and have bigger plans being developed. 

The experience reinforces our impression that seniors often behave like children.  They are often skeptical of things they are not familiar with, and are afraid to fail, to look bad.  If they are given friendly support and guidance, however, they can be encouraged to try.  And, like all of us, they rejoice at succeeding.  Their joy and smiles are our reward.  

We also came away more convinced that technology has a role to play.  That we can design games and other tools that is fun for the seniors, and at the same time help them retain important faculties such as memory.  That such games can help to make the job easier for those who are dedicated to take care of them.

The most important lesson, however, is that technology is just a tool.  If we just give the seniors a game, but do not spend the time and effort to help them play, that the game will just sit there, another piece of mysterious gadget that they do not and cannot understand.  Ultimately it is the people, the care, the love that is most valuable.  That is the lesson that we are learning continuously.  


Saturday, February 12, 2011

Fighting on tourist bus - What is wrong with this picture?

Two people were said to have been fighting in public.  In one corner was L, a slim young woman who have said almost nothing in public since the news broke.  In the opposite corner was Z, a heavy set former soldier, shouting loudly in front of the camera.  It was said that L insulted Z and his wife, and a fight ensured.  Z was angrily showing off a purported scratch and demanding justice as he boarded an ambulance.

The following day Z dropped the charges and said it was all a misunderstanding.  Apparently he was paid 120,000 dollars by the company that L worked for.  It was said that Z had demanded 700,000 initially.  It was also reported that Z had made other complaints on the trip prior to the fight.  Immediately after the fight, he was citing “standard” rates of compensation for various complaints occurring in such trips in the mainland.  Obviously the man came well prepared.

Was Z really the innocent victim of a greedy tourist guide who went out of control? Did the lightweight L actually try to beat up the former soldier Z? We will probably never know.  But I have my doubts. 


Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Cosplay - Hong Kong Style

Our campus seems to have become a center for Cosplay (Costume play).  Practically everyday, young people dress up as characters in cartoons, manga, animations, or computer games.  They are almost invariably teenage-looking girls.  Many of them in Lolita-style girlie dresses. 

It is the photographers that are truly disturbing.  Some of them are trendy-looking young men.  But many are leering, over-weight, balding, sloppily-dressed adult men, old enough to be the girls’ fathers.  Some do not even bother to equip themselves with impressive-looking professional cameras with telephoto lens.   It is blatantly obvious that it is the young girls rather than the costumes or the photography that is of interest. 

It has been said that the girls are willing participants.  Perhaps so.  They may be willing to go a long way for the sake of the attention.  But it does not make it any less disturbing.  It is made worse that our campus is used for this purpose (I heard that the same is happening on other campuses as well.)


Sunday, February 06, 2011

Rev. Carl Beach (貝家樂牧師)

Last Sunday, we went to the memorial service for Rev. Carl Beach.  He came to Hong Kong in the 1960s from the USA as a missionary.  He had no advanced degree, was not particularly eloquent, spoke very poor Cantonese and had little money.  But he had a powerful handshake, liked to give big bear-hugs, smiled all the time, and had boundless enthusiasm.  He went to the poorest housing estates (徙置區) in 橫頭磡,大窩口,屯門 . He established self-study rooms (自修室), roof-top schools (天台學校), and churches.  He negotiated with bureaucrats tirelessly.  He scavenged furniture, set chairs, and cleaned toilets, so that the students could study and believers could worship.  He built movable baptismal basins so that he could baptize people where they were.  He never gave up. 

He retired and returned to the USA after working 30+ years in Hong Kong.  He had been away from Hong Kong for more than 10 years when he passed away about a month ago in the USA, after struggling with Alzheimer's for several years.  Yet, at his memorial service, 300+ people packed the church.  Numerous people - headmasters, pastors, preachers, professionals, mechanics, ... - stood up and call him father, Christ-like.  I translated for him for several years at Sunday sermons.  At that time, I was impressed mostly by his enthusiasm.  At the memorial service, I was reminded of the depth and width  of his impact among the numerous people that he touched. 

I have the highest respect for Carl - and the God that motivated him.  I hope to see him again in heaven.  


Friday, February 04, 2011

Chinese New Year 2

There were lots of people at the 賀歲花車巡遊 last evening, the first day of the Chinese New Year.  Earlier this morning, when I went out running, big crowds converged on the Avenue of Stars on this second day of the new year.  Later this evening, fireworks would certainly attract big crowds again.  It certainly looks like a festive Chinese New Year. People celebrate by buying, eating, going out, watching shows, taking trips, spending money. 

Personally, I enjoy more the scene of fishing boats filling up the Aberdeen Typhoon Shelter.  Many fishermen take time off from their work, and anchor their boats in the shelter, making it much more packed than usual.  I have seen some of these boats working strenuously in the waters near Hong Kong.  Now they are all peaceful and quiet.

One can also see families gathering together on their boats, to play and eat.  On the one hand, it is an obligation to visit ones’ relatives at Chinese New Year, taking quite a bit of time and energy.  On the other hand, it feels good to see them again.  We used to see each other much more often when we were kids.  Now, because of the pressure of life, we hardly see each other during the year.  It is good to catch up with happenings in their families, to reconnect.  And often, I would be presently surprised by how interesting their lives are. 


Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Chinese New Year Celebrations

How do we celebrate Chinese New Year?  We Chinese people take the Chinese New Year very seriously.  At least, we used to.  Many people, as is the custom, wash with leaves of the Chinese pomelo (沙田柚).  It is said to get rid of evil spirits, illnesses, and bad luck in general.

Many people take a fairly long time off to celebrate Chinese New Year.  For some people, it is the only long vacation that they ever take.  My neighbourhood Cha Chaan Teng (茶餐廳) is so short of hands that they have resorted to serving noodles in styrofoam cups. 

My favourite newspaper vendor told me that she is not taking time off, however.   According to her, taking one or two days off is not that useful.  And they also cannot afford losing the income. 

According to an OECD survey, South Koreans work longer hours than any other members of the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development - an average of 46.6 hours a week.  Hong Kong was not included in that survey.  According to a separate survey, the average full-time worker in Hong Kong work 48.8 hours a week - even longer than the South Koreans.  I, like a lot of people, work many more hours than that. 


Tuesday, February 01, 2011

年宵市場 之 "Fun「宵」展關懷"

Some of our students and staff have set up a booth “Fun「宵」展關懷”
at the Chinese New Year Fair (年宵市場) at Victoria Park.  They are working with several secondary schools to raise funds for Non-Government Organizations.  Please go and support them if you can.

Also at the fair, I recommend Szeto Wah‘s (司徒華) books at the 支聯會 booth.  And Audrey Yu’s calligraphy at the Citizen Party booth.