Tuesday, May 31, 2011

June 4, 1989

Beginning on April 15, 1989, groups of young people, many of whom university students, started gathering in Tiananmen Square in Beijing to protest against corruption, to demand more economic and political liberalization, and democracy. It was sparked by mourning over the death of HU Yaobang, former Communist Party Secretary, who was considered a reformer and was purged when his reforms for political liberation were considered to have gone too far. 

The protests were peaceful, and there was no violence. But the government considered the protests illegal, and Premier Li Peng declared martial law on May 20. The government demanded that the protesters leave the square, but the protesters persisted. The number of protesters fluctuated from day to day, and ranged from tens of thousands to a million. There was a genuine hope that China would become more liberalized because of this. 

Armies were sent into Beijing, and for a couple of weeks, there was a stalemate. In the evening of June 3, soldiers pushed into the Square to clear the square. Many people died in the confrontation, in or near the square during that night. Estimates of deaths ranged from hundreds to thousands. 

The protesters were widely supported in China, Hong Kong, and overseas. There were numerous demonstrations in many cities in support of the protesters, even before the massacre. And there were more afterwards. It was reported that a million people in Hong Kong went on the street to demonstrate against the massacre. We were living in Ottawa in Canada at the time. My wife was pregnant with our first daughter. Starting sometime in May, we went to the Chinese embassy every Sunday after church to show our support for the protesters in Tiananmen Square and for their demands. On the morning of June 4th, our church held a prayer meeting during our Sunday service for the victims of the massacre. We hurt so badly that many of us wept openly.  We then marched to the Chinese embassy. The hymns we sang all focused on God's love and mercy and justice. 

As human beings and as Christians, what is our position on this matter? From a narrow point of view, this is not a matter of faith. Some Christians and churches feel we should not be involved. From a broader perspective, it is a matter of human rights. As responsible citizens, it is our responsibility to take a stand against injustice. Even if we only consider it from a point of view of self-interest: If we do not speak up when others' human rights are violated, no one will be there when our own rights are violated. 

Ultimately, God loves justice and mercy, and hates evil. Throughout the Bible, God always stands on the side of the oppressed, and exhorts us to do likewise. The Bible does call on us to respect those in power. But God states clearly that we should obey God rather than men, when there is a conflict. Personally, I believe we should speak up for the oppressed, for the sufferers of injustice. We should love those whom God loves, and God certainly loves them as much as He loves us. Love should be manifested in deeds as much as in words. 

There has been a Candlelight Vigil in Hong Kong in memory of the massacre every year since 1989. Typically, videos of the protests and massacre will be shown, people involved with the protests will be interviewed, and songs in memory of the dead will be sung. The main themes are: freedom for the democracy activists, justice for the victims of the June 4 massacre, end of one-party rule, and democracy for China. I have been attending practically every year. Personally I am comfortable with almost all of the main themes. But each person should decide for himself. It is an open event, so anyone can come and go at any time as one pleases.  I urge you to go. 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Taxi Lilies

A week ago I got in a taxi in Hung Hom and found that the driver had a bunch of white lilies on his dash board.  It was quite refreshing and we started talking.  He told me that if he kept changing the water he could keep the lilies for a week.  Not a bad investment, I think.  He had to sit in his taxi all day, and it helped to have something nice to look at, and to smell. 

We went on to talk about paintings (he started it).  And how he got to like Picasso, how he discovered that Picasso did not use straight lines, that all his lines were curves or crooked, ...  (Actually I wasn’t sure what he was talking about.)

Anyway, there was a surreal feeling about all that.  Normally taxi drivers talk about the (bad) government, bad drivers, the weather, housing prices, etc.  This one was certainly different, and a welcome break.  The world would be a more interesting place if there were more people like that. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Challenging and Satisfying Internal Motivation

My youngest daughter asked me for help with a mathematics problem that she was working on, in preparation for her end-of-year examination.  It took me a while to figure out how to find the answer.  I was still not quite sure why the solution worked.  But I didn’t want my daughter to wait too long, so I started to tell her what I thought was the solution, with the caveat that I could not yet explained why it worked.   It didn’t matter.  She seemed to grasp  the gist of it almost instantly, jumped up and ran away before I could fully elaborate on my hesitations.

Later in the evening, while she was tidying up her desk to go to bed, she suddenly blurted out excitedly, “I want to continue to work on these mathematics problems!”  I confirmed with her that it was because she found it so enjoyable that she wanted to continue, even though it was time for her to go to bed. 

It was a wonderful feeling, watching my little girl basking in the deeply personal satisfaction of overcoming an academic challenge.  This is the kind of internal motivation that Daniel Pink wrote of in his best seller “Drive”.   I am also fully convinced that this is the best kind of sustainable motivation for everyone, including our students.  Our job, as a teacher, is to help our students discover and leverage on this kind of motivation.  I went to bed very happy last evening, despite the many other things on my mind. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Salute to a mother

I am often late, not for appointments, but in remembering important dates such as Mother’ Day.  On Mother’s Day this year, I was flying out for a conference, and later to meet my wife for our eldest daughter’s graduation.  I actually thought my daughter’s commencement, which was one week after Mother’s Day, would happen on Mother’s Day.  It was my wife who corrected me of that mistake.

My wife is very smart and decisive.  I started graduate school before her but she got her PhD before I did.  But she gave up a promising career in cancer research when our second daughter was born, to stay home to raise our children. 

She continued to teach university level courses part-time and developed a very popular method to tutor young students in English and science, creating a sizable following.  She is also very active and well respected in our church as well as a number of NGOs.  She is passionate in promoting a deeper understanding of the relationship between faith and science.  Sometimes she seems busier than I am. 

Yet, on my daughter’s graduation, watching our daughter fly all over campus and then ascend the podium to receive her diploma from one of the most prestigious universities in her chosen field, I was reminded more of her mother’s love and dedication to our family, our children.   

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Four Years - and graduation

It seemed not so long ago that our whole family drove my eldest daughter to university as a freshman.  It was very hot, and the dormitory did not have air conditioning.  We felt bad that it seemed uncomfortable in her room.  It was a vast campus, physically, academically, culturally and spiritually.  And she could have gotten lost in it.  But she did not seem too concerned.

When we left her campus without her, it hurt terribly.  It was as if a part of us had been torn away, leaving behind a big gaping hole.  We knew we weren’t losing a daughter.  She was growing up and it was necessary for her to learn to be independent.  But it was hard not to be miserable.

Four years later, she has now graduated.  She has already got a great job, and is making arrangements to enter graduate school.  On the day of her commencement, it was cold, windy and raining.  But we were elated.  The weather could not have dampened our spirits.  A milestone had been established.  A test successfully passed.  At some points, it was as if she was floating on air. 

It was not all plain sailing in those four years.  At times she had to overcome setbacks and obstacles.  But God had kept her safe, and picked her up when it was needed.  It is a great feeling watching her grow up. 

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Find the iChameleon at CHI 2011

We are attending the International Conference on Computer Human Interface (CHI 2011) at Vancouver.  We are demonstrating our iChameleon software framework that supports the rapid development of multi-modal interfaces.  Using our software, one can easily link up a wide variety of gadgets and devices to control programs running in computers.  For example, one can use Nintendo WiiMotes, Apple iPhones, verbal commands, hand gestures, eye tracking devices, multi-touch tables, etc., to control Paint, Google Earth, Bing Maps, robots, or any other program running in a computer. 

Many people have visited our booth. Our two students, who did the bulk of the work, have also done an excellent job demonstrating the system.  CHI is a huge conference attended by 2,500+ people.  There are fascinating inventions, researches, and case studies that inspire.  A wonderful experience. 

Can you find the iChameleon? It is the green lizard near the bottom of the first photograph.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

The End of the High Junk Peak Hike - Po Toi O (布袋澳)

When we came down from High Junk Peak (釣魚翁山), we went to Po Toi O for seafood.  Many people drove there just for the sea food.  We hiked 3 hours up and down High Junk Peak to get there.  Hence the food, and the beer, tasted particularly good. 

It is a small fishing village south of Sai Kung.    There probably isn’t too much fishing left here these days.  There are a few fish farms.  But the bulk of the sea food come from far away places like Qingdao, Da Lin, Indonesia, Philippines, ... 

The bay, with its narrow opening to the ocean, does look like a small-mouth bag.  There are fish farms, houses on stilts, and quite a few sea food restaurants at the edge of the water with great views.

There were sea weeds and salted fish drying under the sun.  They smelt fresh. 

We came at low tide.  Some of the boat houses sat comically, more than a meter below the make-shift piers that serve them. 

I like the place.  Not the least because of the sea food.  The sea food, in reality, can be found in a lot of the numerous restaurants and wet markets in Hong Kong. 

But the atmosphere is hard to duplicate.  Sadly, authentic and enjoyable villages and communities like this are fast disappearing from Hong Kong.  Perhaps partly by design, but more because of simple neglect and ignorance.

Before we went down to Po Toi O, we stopped by the Tin Hau Temple to look at the rock carvings from the Sung Dynasty.  The Sung is one of the most open and civilized periods in Chinese history.  The emperors were far less autocratic and brutal.  There were fewer restrictions on industry, commerce, travel and personal freedom.  Technology and the arts made tremendous advances in the Sung Dynasty.  After that, China went backwards.  More on that later. 

Monday, May 02, 2011

The ugly and the beautiful - all from one hike (2)

The beautiful part of the trail is on the left, to the east, the Sai Kung side of the trail, and on the mountains.  Tranquil bays, small houses, surrounded by greenery.  Even the winding roads and vehicles looked cute from a great distance.  The sky was a bit hazy, but we could still see many green islands in the distance.  For a while, we could pretend we were not living in a city with 7 million other people. 

Further on, the dramatic view of Clear Water Bay.  The water revealed so many shades of green and blue.  The sands showed off subtle variations of white and yellow.  Even the people dotting the beach did not spoil the picture.  Nor did the boats mooring off the beach.  I am sure it would have been noisy on the beach.  But coming down from the height of Junk Peak, the noise barely reached us. 

All along the way, colorful flowers.  There was this perfectly rounded dandelion; a flower that looked like a bunch of tube worms from the bottom of the sea; wild azaleas high above Clear Water Bay; lots of unknown (to me) little flowers.  And all kinds of trees that make dramatic patterns with the light. 

On our right, the man-made ugliness of our destruction of the environment to build ostentatious “luxury” housing and to sustain boastful and wasteful consumption.   On our left, the natural beauty of mountains, oceans, sand and water, trees and flowers.   I think God was trying to remind us of what is truly desirable. 

Sunday, May 01, 2011

The ugly and the beautiful - from the Junk Peak trail

The Junk Peak Trail (釣魚翁郊遊徑) is a trail of two views, one totally ugly and the other quite beautiful.  We started from 五塊田 in the north, and walked south towards 大廟坳.  It started with a fairly steep climb.  The steps formed by the paving stones actually put more pressure on our knees.  So we tried to walk on the side as much as possible.  Here having real hiking shoes would have helped. 

Once we got over the forest, we could see quite far in all directions.  Looking back towards the north, rustic Sai Kung was to the right in the east, and heavily populated Junk Bay to the left in the west.  Here the views diverge dramatically. 

As we walked towards the south, we could see the whole of Junk Bay to our right in the west.  Junk Bay was and is still being used as a huge landfill for our city’s garbage.  It is also being rapidly and heavily built up.  High rises are built on top of, or right next to former landfills.  Excavations carve humongous holes from, or simply obliterate whole mountains.  Active landfills are partially covered up with green tarpaulins. 

That’s the ugly side of Hong Kong that we don’t see very often.