Monday, July 25, 2011

Mount of the Sermon

We spent a lot of time around the Sea of Galilee.  Because Jesus lived around Galilee and spent a lot of time in Galilee.  One of the places we visited was the slopes where Jesus preached the "Sermon on the Mount".  According to legend, it was the slopes to the left of the photograph.  Was is really this place?  Perhaps it does not really matter where it was.  Jesus did preached the Sermon on the Mount, and the impact is still being felt today.  

About some of the places, such as Sea of Galilee, there is little doubt that they exist, and that they are where people think they are.  I am, however. rather skeptical about some of the locations said to be the places mentioned in the Bible.  To me, it does not really matter where people found all the places mentioned in the Bible.  Their existence (or the lack of such)  does not prove or disprove the accurateness of the Bible.  They do, however, make the images of the events in the Bible that much more vivid.  Now, whenever I open the Bible, images of certain places jump to mind, making the stories, places, and people that much easier to visualize and appreciate.  

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Caesarea, Israel

We have just arrived at Tel Aviv in Israel, and after making a quick stop at Jaffa (Joppa), our first major site is Caesarea on the Mediterranean Sea.  Caesarea was built as a harbour and grand Roman city by Herod the Great, on the foundations of a small city.  

Paul was imprisoned for 2 years here after he was arrested.  He was interrogated here several times until he was sent to Rome because he appealed to Caesar as a Roman citizen.  Hence it was quite exciting for us to come to this place.  Both for the historical and cultural significance of the place.  But particularly for its place in our faith.  I can't help but to imagine Paul stating his faith in front of the Roman governor and Jewish accusers.  What he did was nothing more than believing in a reasonable and loving God.   

One of the many interesting things was an inscription with the name of Pilate.  His name was in the Bible, and for a long time, no where else.  This discovery is just one of the numerous archeological evidences that the Bible and its contents are real.  

[By the way, I am not done with Cambodia yet.  I will post more on it when I can get around to it.]  

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Amazing New Life Center

New Life Center is an amazing place.  It is a network of community centers, churches, development agencies, all rolled into one.  As far as I understand, it was started by an American missionary many years ago, who remains the senior pastor.  But the place is now run by a bunch of energetic young Cambodians.

It offers training in office skills, English, information technology, and others.  V is a graduate from its English program who speaks English like an American.  He is graduating from university with a bachelor’s degree in IT, and is already running its IT training program. He used to a street kid who ran away from home and school.  He came to New Life to learn English, found his faith and a truly new life for himself.  Now he is helping others.

New Life runs outreach programs at the slums and at the garbage dump.  It bathes the kids, feeds them, teaches them to sing and to pray.  It digs wells for the villages.  It builds community centers in the city as well as the provinces.  It lends cows to families in the villages, lets them keep the calves, and then lends the cows to other families, to give them a way to make a better living.  If there is such a thing as serial cow-loaning, this is it.  It also builds churches all over Cambodia. 

It sets up dormitories in the city so that orphans and young people from the provinces have a place to stay.  It gives scholarships to young people so that they can continue to study.  It set up a transportation company as a social enterprise so that a bunch of young people can make a living and to learn to do business. 

CN is an orphan from the provinces.  He learned to speak English at New Life and became a Christian.  He lives in their dormitories and is helping in their youth programs.  He drives a van for the transportation company.  He is always reading a book in English when he is not driving.  In October, he is going to university with sponsorship from New Life.  I will certainly be praying for him. His boss CL is a young lady who is very smart and well-organized, who remembers our travel itinerary better than we do.  They are people that we feel we can trust. 

There are so many other projects that I am barely scratching the surface.  We are so privileged that we can work with the young people at New Life.  Our students taught video making and editing, and basic IT skills.   We also went with them to the slums to help in their outreach programs, helping in bathing the kids, and then in the singing and games.  We cannot help but be infected by their unbounded enthusiasm and dedication in serving others. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Tapioca (西米) Production at the Slum?

A few days after the outreach event with New Life, we went back to the slum behind Sovanna Shopping Center after the rain. 

A van was unloading bags of a root that seemed to be cassava (木薯), the raw material for tapioca.  Tapioca is, of course, the main ingredient for tapioca pudding (西米布丁), 西米露, bubble milk tea 珍珠奶茶, and many other delicious foods.  To be exact, 西米 should be sago, which is extracted from sago palm 西谷椰子.   Sago palm is relatively expensive.  Hence most of the sago products nowadays are actually made of tapioca extracted from cassava or other similar roots. 

The cassava were peeled and cooked in big pots to extract the starch, to make tapioca pearls and other products.  What I saw the big pots for the first time, I was wondering what they were for.  Perhaps this was their communal kitchen?   Now I know.  Seeing the condition in which the tapioca was extracted, one can only hope that these products do not get into our pearl milk tea and tapioca puddings. 

While the adults were working hard, many of the kids were having fun in the pool of rain water in the middle of the road, right in front of the entrance to the slum.  This was obviously not normal, clean rain water.  But the kids seem genuinely happy, and oblivious to the garbage and the filth. 

Dan Ariely’s book “The Upside of Irrationality” discussed the great ability of humans to adapt to almost any situation.  Perhaps this is what he had in mind?  The children were probably born into this situation, and knew no better.  How long did it take for the adults to adapt to it?  Perhaps they were also born into this?  If we were to be thrown into it, how long will it take us to adapt?  And why were they born into this, but not us?  Now that we have seen this, how do we respond?  What would God want us to do? 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

At the Slum with New Life

One Thursday afternoon, we sent a team of 10 students to go with the New Life Outreach team to a slum behind Sovanna shopping center, in the south west of Phnom Penh. Most of the “houses” were no more than a bed in a shed, sitting on top of files of garbage.  This is not the notorious “garbage mountain” of Meanchey - more about that later.  These are just “normal” garbage.  The bed is where people (and dogs) sleep, eat, and do everything else. 

The filth, the stench, the garbage, the state of dress (undress) of the children was overwhelming.  The New Life team had to bathe (hose down) some of the kids, and clip their nails before letting them join the gathering.  This is part of their program to teach the kids basic hygiene. 

At first, we were wondering where they would find the venue for a gathering of about 50 kids.  The day before, we saw them cleaning a big tarpaulin and wondered how they would use it.  It turned out there was an alleyway less then 10 feet wide running through the slum.  The New Life team simply laid the tarpaulin down in the middle of the alleyway, and let the kids sit on the tarpaulin.

Then they taught the kids, gave them some food, and pray with the kids.  Our students led the singing and games.  The kids were really lively and a lot of fun, despite their state of poverty.

Half way through the program, wind picked up and heavy rain came.  We tried to continue.  Eventually it became so bad we had to retreat.  A lady living there offered to let us shelter in her shed - those we tried to help ended up helping us.  The rain did not stop, however.  And some of our students who got wet started to get cold.  I had to order them to retreat.

I went out to the street to get some tuk-tuks with the help of the leader of the New Life team.  Then I went back to get our students.  By then I was completely soaked from head to toe, my only protection being a totally wet hat.  But my main concern was the safety and health of our students.  Thankfully, we went back to the hotel safely and nobody got sick. 

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Flooding at Emmanuel School

We are in the rainy season in Cambodia.  The day normally starts bright and sunny.  By mid-afternoon,   however, clouds start to gather.  By late afternoon, heavy rains start, which last for an hour or more.  Flooding is very common in Phnom Penh.  On Wednesday morning, the school was flooded. 

The school used to be a big leather factory.  It is essentially a cavernous hall bordered by 4 classrooms, slightly elevated from the crumpling cement floor.   Since there are 6 classes from primary 1 to 6, Two have to meet in the hall, set off by a simple partition.

In the morning, the hall and 2 of the classrooms were flooded. So the 6 classes squeezed into 2 classrooms.  I am proud of our students for continuing the teaching despite having to wade through several inches of dirty water.

By the time I got there in the afternoon, the water has receded quite a bit, but there were still much standing water in the hall.  And we had to get to some of the classrooms by stepping on strategically places stones.  

Upon closer inspection, some of the stones turned out to be coconut shells.  I have never heard of stepping coconuts.

There were two main reasons why the flooding was so bad.  Firstly, for an insane reason, the floor of the old factory was set lower than the road outside.  Secondly, there were several gapping holes in the roof.   So we made a couple of suggestions to the school: fix the holes in the roof, and to install a water pump.

The flooding actually made the service that much more memorable. 

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Service-Learning at Emmanuel School

Emmanuel Christian School is a primary school set up by a HK NGO.  Primary education in Cambodian government schools is free.  However, the teachers are paid such low salaries (less than 100 USD a month) that they collect various fees from the students to supplement their income.  Many students cannot attend government schools because they cannot afford to pay those fees. 

Emmanuel was set up to give these poor students a chance for an education.  The school building was an old leather factory given by the government.  Not only does the school not collect any fees, it even provides the students with uniforms.   Even then, many of the students cannot afford shoes. 

Besides the Khmer teachers, they have a Chinese from Hebei teaching Putonghua, and 2 Kenyans teaching English.  Besides the prohibitively expensive international schools, there are probably not too many schools that can provide this level of teaching.  What motivated the people who set up the school?  The love of God, of course. 

Our students are teaching digital photography, shooting and editing videos, collecting and writing stories.  Many of the students have never seen digital cameras and computers before.  Naturally they are very curious and eager to learn.  By the end of the first day, some of the kids have already become so attached to us that they were reluctant to go home. 

Each of the 6 grades is supposed to have about 20 students.  We notice that the higher the grade, the smaller is the number of students in the class.  The class list for primary 5 has 14 students, but there was only 6 in the class.  There were only 3 in primary 6.   It turned out that as the children get older,
their parents want them to stop attending classes in order to go to work. 

Outside the school there is a fairly well-equipped playground built by the government.  On closer look,  however, it is strewn with garbage, as is elsewhere in the village.   Few children play in the playground, besides a flock of scrawny chicken.  There is this young boy, however, who was carrying a baby.  Probably one of those skipping classes to work?

On Wednesday, the school was flooded because of heavy rains the previous evening.  My students have to wade through dirty flood water several inches deep to get to the dryer classrooms.  I happened to have gone to New Life Fellowship, and missed it.  But I am proud of my students who insisted on carrying out the work despite the flooding.   And I would love to have been there with them. 

Such is the state of the poor in Cambodia.  And practically all of it man-made.  Why do man insist of making each other so miserable? 

Monday, July 04, 2011

Anger among July 1 Protest Marchers

I went with my wife and daughter to the footbridge outside Police Headquarters around 2:45 PM to watch the July 1st Protest March.  Reporters from TV stations and newspapers had already set up their cameras there way before I reached there.  There were also a group of students from HKU there to count the number of marchers.  However, I haven’t heard what their results were. 

The head of the march reached our position just after 4:15 PM.  By 6:30 PM I went with my family to Pacific Place to have dinner.  By 8:15 PM, when we came out of Pacific Place, people were still marching and we could not see the end of the march.  Certainly there were a lot of people marching.  My estimation was that the march went on for more than 4 hours.  I noted that the number of people who marched past my position ranged from less than 100 to more than 400 per minute, with an average of 200-300.  Based on these numbers, my rough estimate is that there were about 100,000 people in the march. 

Some of these people were angry about the proposed rules for the Legislative Council By-elections.  Some were angry about the domination of the Hong Kong economy by real estate developers.  Some were angry about the lack of democracy and true elections.  Some were angry about the heavily-biased so called civic education curriculum.  Some were angry about incompetency of certain government officials, in matters of distributing the promised 6,000 dollars, lack of beds for maternity wards, lack of space for burials, etc.  The demands varied.  But the common sentiment was anger.   The marcher was peaceful.  But the anger was palpable. 

Whether there were 50,000, 100,000, or 200,000, there were certainly a lot of angry people out there.  Why did they spend their precious day off sweating in such hot and humid weather?  If the government was truly listening and responsible to the citizens, shouldn’t there be some evidence of self-reflection and real action in response? 

Friday, July 01, 2011

COMP397 Service-Learning in Cambodia

This is July, I am going to Cambodia, just like last year.
Together with 2 other colleagues and some helpers, we are taking 30 students from our university to Cambodia this weekend.  We will be splitting into teams to work with these 5 organizations for about 7 days: 

(1) Emmanuel Primary School, for children in poverty near the city garbage dump.

(2) Human Resource Development Center, a vocational school operated by a HK NGO. They teach certificate level IT and English courses.

(3) New Life Fellowship, a large church run primarily by local Cambodians. They offer English and IT training, among much other work.   

(4) House of Rainbow Bridge, operated by Happy Tree, a HK NGO. It is a hospital for 70 HIV-positive children.

(5) White Lotus, a shelter for trafficked girls run by 2 American lady missionaries.

We will be doing mainly teaching and training involving IT and English, for the local kids and young people.  We will help with the computer support and training for the NGO and church staff.  We will also help with New Life's outreach work at the slums and the garbage dump, by leading singing, dancing and games.  It is going to be very challenging. 

My friends: please remember us, the students, and the people that we will be working with.