Friday, September 30, 2011


The Cave of the Patriarchs in the heart of the old city of Hebron is considered the second holiest site for the Jewish people.  This is where Abraham & Sarah, Isaac & Rebecca, as well as Jacob & Leah are buried.  The fortress built by Herod the Great around the caves 2,000 years ago is still standing today.

For several hundred years after Jesus, this place was under Roman and then Byzantine control.  Then the Persians conquered it. Then the Muslims converted it into a mosque, the Ibrahimi Mosque. 

Hebron, like Bethlehem nearby, is a Palestinian city in the West Bank.  Until 1929 Jews were forbidden from entering the site.  After the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel regained control of the area for the first time in 2,000 years.

There have been numerous conflicts over control of the site since then, causing many deaths.  The latest agreement, in 1996, left Muslims with control over 80% of the site, and the Israelis, 20%.  Hence the strong presence of the military.  I had to leave my pocket knife with them when I entered the fortress.  But they returned it to me politely afterwards. 

The actual caves are inaccessible.  Instead, six cenotaphs (empty tombs) have been set up, dedicated to the patriarchs and matriarchs.  Many people visited, prayed and studied there in the Jewish section. 

Including a family with several kids and one very cute baby, with huge eyes and a round head. 

Jews, Christians (Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Protestants) and Muslims are all descendants of Abraham, genealogically or spiritually.  There are an estimated 3.8 billion of them, 54% of the world population.

Abraham is probably turning in his grave watching his descendants fighting and even killing each other. 


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Shechem - Nablus

We were standing on Mount Gerizim.  Down below our feet, to the north and east, was the Palestinian town Nablus.  To the north of us, across Nablus, was Mount Ebal.  We were in the heart of the West Bank of the Jordan River.  In 1947, the United Nations resolved to partition Palestine (then administered by the British) into two states, one Jewish and one Arab.  The West Bank was supposed to be part of the Arab State.  But it was seized by Jordan in the Arab-Israeli war in 1948, when Israel declared independence.  It was subsequently captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War.  

Nablus was also the Biblical Shechem.  Abraham built an altar to God here when he first entered Canaan.  Later, Jacob’s sons massacred the city’s inhabitants to avenge the rape of their sister. 

Joseph bones, which the Israelites brought up from Egypt, was buried here - Jacob’s Tomb.  Before he died, Joshua assembled the Israelites here, and said to them these famous words, “... choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, ...  But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”  The Israeli tribes replied, “We too will serve the Lord.”  

In the New Testament times, Jesus talked to a Samaritan woman by a well dug by Jacob - the famous Jacob’s Well, here.  Some of our students who went with us to Cambodia may remember Jacob's Well restaurant in Phnom Penh.  Well, the original Jacob's Well was down there in Shechem.

Today, the inhabitants are predominately Muslim, with small Christian and Samaritan minorities. But the Israeli continue to refer to it as Shechem.  Nablus - Shechem remain a focal point of conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis.  Will they find a way to live peacefully with each other?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Campus worship

Several Christian groups on campus jointly organized a worship service at the start of the new school year.  More than a hundred people attended the service at a renovated square.  The speaker, Dr. Philemon Choi, is an experienced and respected leader in working with the youths, not only among Christians but also across Hong Kong, and, more and more, in mainland China.  He exhorted the gathered students to go beyond academics - broadening into a truly holistic education, and among other things, moral intelligence in education. 

What he said is very much in line with the sharpening focus in our new 4-year programs: leadership (really psycho-social competencies), and service learning (civic responsibility and community service).  More can and needs be done.  And I am quite distressed by the lopsided culture at our university that puts research way above teaching.  But I am quite proud of both (1) our vibrant Christian community on campus, and (2) the encouraging developments towards a truly holistic education.

Friday, September 23, 2011

New Newspaper

A new “free” newspaper started publishing a few days ago.  Immediately, many people and organizations started criticizing it for publishing adult content, including photographs of skimpily-dressed young ladies and sexually-explicit articles.  One of the older “free” newspapers that was available at our building also had an article reporting such criticisms.  Ironically, this older newspaper is itself infamous for publishing similar content.  Isn’t this a case of “the pot calling the kettle black”?  Or “五十步笑百步”?  Some might even say hypocrisy. Would you recommend it to your children?  Probably not.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A Plump Fox

Look out for a plump fox roaming the streets of Hung Hom. 

Of course it is a Shiba Inu rather than a fox.  It is just so cute.  

How many HK students enter unversity?

Only 14,500 (18%) of Hong Kong students can find a place in the first year of a government-funded degree program in a local university.

How many enter a university overseas?  According to my own study 2 years ago, it is about ~8,600 (11%).  [“Hong Kong Students in Overseas Universities?”, September 21, 2009,]

In addition to that, it is estimated there are ~3,000 (3.7%) self-financed degree places, ~8,000 (10%) associate degree places, and ~9,000 (11%) Higher Diploma places.

Altogether, there is an estimated 54% who can enroll in accredited post-secondary programs.  But only 29% are in degree programs (local and overseas). 

The total number in local universities (both government-funded and self-financed) is ~17,500 (22%).  In comparison, it is 50% in New Zealand, 41% in Finland, 37% in UK, Denmark and Norway, 30% in Canada, ...  We still have a long way to go to catch up with other developed countries.  

Sunday, September 18, 2011

3-3-4 in 2012

The education systems in Hong Kong is undergoing a major change.  Currently it is a 5-2-3 system: 5 years of secondary school, 2 years of pre-university courses, and then 3 years of university leading to Bachelors degrees.   It is now transitioning into 3-3-4: 3 years of junior secondary, 3 years of senior secondary, and 4 years of university.  In 2012, there will be two batches of students entering university: (1) the last batch of those taking the Hong Kong Advanced Level Examinations (ALE), who will be entering 3 year degree programs, and (2) the first batch of those taking the Hong Kong Diploma of Secondary Education (DSE), who will be entering the 4-year degree programs. 

The 4-year programs are quite different from the 3-year programs.  There are two sets of places reserved for the two batches of students, with different entry requirements, obviously.  They are not competing for the same sets of places, but some of the students and their parents are not full aware of that; consequently there is a lot of confusion and anxiety.  Our university is holding 2 separate information days for applicants over this weekend: Saturday is for DSE, and Sunday for ALE.  We have to do more work, but it is better for the students.  

This is just the beginning of the big crunch.  From 2012 to 2015, there will be an additional batch of ~3,000 students on campus, in addition to the ~10,000 full time students (and another ~10,000 part-time students).  We will need more class rooms, teachers, dormitories, canteens, everything. 

These are just the logistical, quantitative challenges.   We are also moving towards more broad-based admissions.  Many students can be admitted to a broad discipline, say Computing.  Then they can take 1, 2 or even 3 years to decide whether they wish to major in Information Technology (more technical, hardware related stuff), Computing (mainly software design and development), or Enterprise Information Systems (more business oriented).  We have to be much more flexible in the program design, and operation. 

On the other hand, the additional year also allows us to design unique and university-wide characteristics into our programs.  These include exciting introductions to the broad discipline, personal development and leadership, and learning through services.  I am happy (and anxious) to have a role to play in these new challenges. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The New Science of the Teenage Brain

It is generally believed that our brains undergo a massive reorganization between the ages of 12 and 25.    The axons (connectors) between neurons become better insulated with myelin.  More heavily used synapses (junctions) strengthen, and the little used ones wither.  The result is a faster, more sophisticated and more specialized brain.  We become more balanced and more sensible.  While the brain is thus maturing, we may be easily distracted, excessively sensitive, take unnecessary risks, etc. 

New research has illuminated the teenager brain from a different angle (National Geographic, October 2011, p. 36-59).  Recent research have found that the teenager brain is more sensitive to dopamine.  As a result, it learns quicker, and values rewards (against taking risks) more than the adult brain.  It is also more sensitive to oxytocin, making social connections more rewarding.  Hence they prefer the company of their peers more than adults. 

All these make teenagers do more foolish and dangerous new things with young friends.  

On the other hand, they also make them more interested in making friends, more adaptive, more likely to leave home to strike out on their own, and invest in the future rather than the past.  These are traits that make us more social and more successful in life. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Bethlehem was where Jesus was born.  It was certainly a Jewish town in those times, some 2,000 years ago.  It was captured by the Arabs in 637 AD.   The Crusaders took it in 1099.  Saladin, the Kurdish Muslim Sultan of Egypt and Syria, captured it again.  Later it passed into the hands of the Turkish Muslim Ottoman Empire.  Today it is a Palestinian city in the West Bank (of the Jordan River), under Israeli control. 

Many tourists visit the Church of Nativity, which commemorates the birth of Jesus.  There is also the Tomb of Rachel - the second wife of Jacob.  Ruth, of the Book of Ruth, gleaned the fields to the east of here.  David was born here, and was anointed to be the second king of Israel by Samuel here. 

Today the population is mainly Muslim.  It also has a sizable Palestinian Christian community - which is shrinking due to emigration.  There are no Israelis living here, as far as I know.  Our Israeli tourist guide was not allowed in Bethlehem. 

Tourists who come to Bethlehem have to ride in buses with bullet-proof glass windows, because of the frequent violence - rocks, bombs, etc.   Recently, the Israeli government built a snaking wall to separate the Palestinian districts from the Israeli districts - supposedly to prevent further conflicts.   This wall restricts the freedom of movement and hurts the economy, leading to further resentment. 

This labyrinthine mixture of history, culture, religion, human rights and economics is probably impossible to dis-entangle.  I do know personally, however, one Israeli who is partnering a Palestinian in business, not because of some noble cause, but simply because both find it profitable.  I also met a Jewish rabbi who actively engages Christians (and presumably other people) in dialogue seeking mutual understanding. 

Isn’t it better to try to work together so that both can prosper?  Or at least to “live and let live”?  Rather than mutual destruction?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Cost of 911

Ten years ago, four airplanes were hijacked in the USA.  Two of them slammed into the World Trade Center in New York City, causing both towers to collapse.

According to the South China Morning Post graphics, the 911 attacks killed ~3,000 people.  They also led directly to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and indirectly to conflicts in Pakistan and elsewhere, killing 224,000+ people, including soldiers, insurgents, and civilians in the countries affected by the conflicts.  That is roughly 75 times more than the direct casualty in the original attacks. 

On the financial side, the 911 attacks cost the USA 100 billion US dollars.  But the following wars were estimated to cost ~4,400 billion - to the USA alone.  That is roughly 44 times the direct costs of the original attacks. It does not even start to account for the costs to the other nations.

The 911 attacks were due to previous conflicts.   And the current conflicts will not stop today.  As rich and powerful as the American military is, it will not be able to truly subdue its enemies.  It does not even know exactly who the enemies are, let alone where they are and how to stop them.  Its enemies are not going to stop themselves either.  As angry and determined as they are, they are not able to really destroy the USA in the foreseeable future.  If anything, the conflicts will continue and just get worse, the way it is going. 

What, then? If neither military might nor devious terrorism can provide the answer; can people come up with better ways to get us out of this killing frenzy?  Can people at least try to identify the vast majority of the people who do not really want to kill each other, distinguish them from the die-hard incorrigible extremists, and see if something can be done to help those who simply wish to live in peace?

For the sake of the human race, would you please try?  For practical reasons, would the ones with the power, the upper hand, take the initiative to find a better way?  For those who believe in God, whatever you call Him, wouldn't God want you to do that?

Friday, September 09, 2011

Cats of Israel

Before I went to Israel, I was told there were lots of cats there.  Indeed there were!   There was, of course, this cute black cat in Jaffa.   There was also this lazy cat in Capernaum, hiding under a church built on top of supposedly Peter’s home, where Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law. 

It did not even move one whisker when I poked my camera practically right into its nose.    

The first evening we were in Jerusalem, my wife and I were walking back to the hotel when we were startled by sharp squeals.  It turned out a black-and-white cat was being chased by a white-and-yellow cat.  Even when the B&W fled to the other side of the street, the W&Y would not quit.  

Even when the B&W ran and ran and finally stopped in a flower bed to catch a breath, it turned and looked backwards with perked-up ears. 

There was this one on the Via Dolorosa, which checked out the scene around the corner wearily before walking out under the sun. 

And then there was this one with gummed-up eyes at a kibbutz hotel, eating a cheese sandwich.  The life of a cat in Israel is not necessarily easy. 

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Curious Black Cat of Jaffa

A bunch of tourists were standing in the square of the old city of Jaffa, Israel.  Jaffa, or Joppa, is said to be the port from which the prophet Jonah got on a boat to escape from God’s assignment - to preach to the city of the hated Nineveh.

A black cat walked by the group of tourists, nonchalantly.  It did not look at the crowd of 30 people. Not even once. 

After going behind a post, however, it couldn’t help bending over backwards to poke its head around the post. 

GOTCHA!  The cute black cat was curious afterall.  

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Where do you sit in class?

I was asked to go to speak to the incoming class of freshmen at their orientation.  When I go there, I found them sitting in the usual pattern.  The last rows at the back of the lecture hall were quite full, while the first two rolls in the front were completely empty.  They were behaving exactly like a normal class of our university’s students: the majority of the students prefer to stay as far away as possible from the lecturer. 

Before I spoke about Service Learning, my assigned topic, I sketched on the board the result of a study that I did two years ago, on my database class.  It was a graph plotting the final grade of each student (y-axis) against the distance between the student and the lecturer (me) at the first class (x-axis). 

There were a lot of fluctuations in the curve, as expected.  But there was also a easily discernable negative correlation between the grade and the distance: the further away the student was, the lower was the final grade.  The study did not look into the cause, but the negative correlation was obvious.  I wonder whether they might behave differently this year.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

New Hung Hom Promenade (紅磡海濱長廊)

Probably few people have seen these images.  This is the new Hung Hom Promenade.  The photographs were taken Sunday morning, 3 September, 2011, before the official opening that afternoon.  In fact, right after I have taken the photographs, I was ushered off the promenade by a man in a uniform. 

If you start from the Avenue of Starts on the Tsim Sha Tsui East Promenade, and walk eastwards towards Hung Hom, you can go up the slope leading to a footbridge outside the Hong Kong Post International Mail Center.  The footbridge takes you over and across the piers of the International Mail Center, and the piers linked to the railways.  Then you can go down another slope right next to Harbourfront Horizon, to the western end of the new Hung Hom Promenade. 

In the distance in the east is the Hung Hom Ferry Piers. 

Now you can walk (or run) from the Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Piers (尖沙咀天星碼頭) to the Laguna Verde (海逸豪園) and Fishermen’s Wharf along the waterfront, without having to cross any roads.   It is about 4 kilometers in length, and quite a nice run.   The only problem is sometimes you have to fight through the crowds of tourists at the Avenue of Stars. 

I have a dream, that one day I can run from Lai Chi Kok (荔枝角) to Kwun Tong (觀塘) along the north side of the waterfront.  And from Kennedy Town (堅尼地城) to Chai Wan (柴灣) on the south side. 

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Wailing Wall

After visiting Jaffa, Caesarea, Mount Carmel, Meggido, Galilee (Sermon on the Mount), Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, Mount Arbel (Great Commission), Golan Heights, Mount Tabor (Transfiguration), Caesarea Philippi, Dan, Shiloh, Shechem (Nablus), River Jordan, Jericho, Dead Sea, Qumran, ..., we finally arrived in Jerusalem. 

It was late afternoon when we arrived at the hotel, several blocks outside the West Gate of the Old City.  After dinner, we went straight to the Wailing Wall.  I was wearing shorts, but relatively long ones.  But I did not have head cover.  Fortunately, there was a box of skull caps there.  So I borrowed one (I did return it later), and walked gingerly through the entrance to the men’s section in front of the Wailing Wall.  All the time, I was prepared to be stopped.  But no one did. 

All around us, men in black suits, black coats, and black hats rocked back and forth, left and right and every other way.  Some stood with their noses to the wall.  The cracks were stuffed with papers carrying payers.   Just like what I have read before. 

It was prophesied in the Bible that the Temple would be totally destroyed and it was said to have been fulfilled when the Romans put down the Jewish rebellion about 40 years after Jesus’ death.  So what is this West Wall, or so called Wailing Wall that is still standing?   It turned out, of course, that the Temple was destroyed, but part of the foundations of the Temple, the so called Temple Mount, survived.  The West Wall that we see today is actually a small section of the western wall of the Temple Mount. 

This series of photos of a model at the entrance to the tunnels underneath the west wall illustrates the construction very well. 

(1) The site was originally a mountain. 

(2) A massive foundation was built on the slopes of the mountain. 

(3) The Temple was built on top of the foundation.  The First Temple built by Solomon was destroyed by the Babylonians.  The Second Temple, renovated by Herod, was destroyed by the Romans. 

(4) A mosque with the golden dome (Dome of the Rock), was built at the site - it is still there now.

The last photograph shows the golden-domed “Dome of the Rock” mosque sitting on the Temple Mount, and the West (Wailing) Wall of the Temple Mount. 

Jerusalem, and particularly the Temple, testifies to the reality of God, the uniqueness of His interactions with the Jews, the strength of their faith, the amazing resilience and recovery of the Jewish people, and the ultimate reliability of God.  There is truly no other like Him.