Saturday, October 29, 2011

Mantis infestation

My friend G’s mantis population has expanded 300% (from 1 to 3) in 2 weeks.  Before this, I thought mantises were all spindly green.  It turned out many of them mimic flowers by growing spikes and patches, putting on fanciful colours, and swaying their bodies rhythmically.

These mantises, at about 1-2 cm, are only babies (nymphs, to use the proper terminology).  They are probably only a month old.  In a few months, they will grow into adults, after a number of number moltings. They will be several inches long, similar in size to the more common mantises that we see around Hong Kong. 

These tiny monsters are already voracious eaters.   They grab these fruit flies, sometimes one in each claw (foreleg), in lightning-fast strikes.  They start eating the fly from the head, alive.  I don’t like flies, and insects in general.  But I can barely stand watching the process, particularly at close-up.  

Their compound eyes sometimes give the impression that their eyes have small pupils, or perhaps even that they are blind (where are the eyes?).

The green guy was really aggressive.  He would wave his claws menacingly whenever anyone came close.   At one point I pushed my camera to may be within 2 inches of him to get a close-up.  He jumped onto my lens, and I jumped.

It is said that the female would eat the male after mating, and sometimes during.  This behaviour had actually been observed in laboratories.  Subsequently, other researchers claimed that the behaviour could not be observed in natural settings, and speculated that it might have been induced by the stress generated by the laboratory setting.  In any case, the world of mantises is a strange one.  

The world of nature is full of wonders.  It is hard to imagine that it all just happened without a purpose.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

McDull (麥兜)

Saturday morning, I was running on the TsimShaTsui East Promenade towards the Star Ferry when I spotted something in the distance on the Avenue of Stars.  At first, I thought it was the statue of Bruce Lee.  But it looked more rounded, more like a big ball.  But why would someone put a ball on the Avenue of Stars?

As I got closer, I realized it was a bronze of our favourite lard ball.  McDull was truly created in Hong Kong, by artists educated in Hong Kong.   He is not very smart; and he almost always fails.  But he has a good heart and many dreams, just like most of us.  He is easy to identify with, perhaps - a bit like Charlie Brown of the Peanuts comics in the USA.   

Life is really unpredictable, even for cartoon characters.  He started as a supporting character in the McMug comics; but has since acquired a huge following.  Now he has even got a bronze on the Avenue of Stars.  Who would have predicted it from the beginning?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Is it OK to accept donations from Jimmy Lai?

Some have criticized Cardinal Joseph Zen for accepting donations from Jimmy Lai.  Jimmy Lai is the publisher of Apply Daily (蘋果日報), and the “free” Sharp Daily (爽報).  Because Apply Daily and Sharp Daily often publish photographs and articles with sexually explicit content, many people would not want to be associated with him.  Hence the criticism of Cardinal Zen for accepting donations from a man of such dubious character. 

Personally, I do not like this aspect of Apply Daily, and I blame Jimmy Lai for it.  But I would not criticize people who feel it is OK to accept his donations.  The situation may be similar to the situation of something like the Jockey Club.  It promotes gambling, which causes many social problems.  But many people accept the donations from Jockey Club.  Perhaps they take the position that some good may still come out of something bad? Or: the bad has already happened, we might as well try to do some good from the proceeds?  I don’t really know. 

In fact, I don’t know which is worse.  To publish sexually explicit material or to promote gambling.  Both are lawful.  Both are morally offensive and both cause social problems.  The turnover of the Jockey Club is a staggering HK$ 129 billion in 2010-11.  The Jockey Club has a monopoly on gambling in Hong Kong.  Hence it can be said to be largely responsible for much of the social problems caused by gambling. 

On the other hand, Apply Daily is only one of the many major newspapers that publish sexual content.  The “free” Sharp Daily, is also only one of many, albeit possibly the most explicit.  It does not excuse Jimmy Lai from the responsibility, of course.  But their impact may not be that high.  

So what is worse?  Accepting donations from Jimmy Lai?  Or the Jockey Club?

I just do not think it is such as a bad thing for Cardinal Zen to accept the donations from Jimmy Lai and to use them for good causes.  Given the sensitive situation of some of the people that he has been helping, it is perhaps not appropriate to make public all the details.  Among the people in the public eye, he is probably one of the most respected and trusted.  He is accountable to the Salesian Brothers, the Catholic Church, and ultimately, to God.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Modern Family

A young couple was sitting in the first row on the upper deck of a double-decker airport bus.  A plump boy about 3 years old sat between them, playing some game on a hand-held machine.  It was not quite clear what kind of game it was, but it was loud, with violently-flashing graphics.  Strictly speaking, the boy was not really playing the game.  He pushed the buttons randomly and shrieked loudly for a while.  Then he lost interest.  But the machine was never shut down, and the annoying sound was never turned off, or even turned down.   This went on for an hour, until the bus arrived at the airport.

The upper deck was 2/3 full, and naturally, everybody was getting off at the airport.  The family was sitting close to the stairs and was among the first ones to descend.  The father went down first, followed by the boy, and then the mother.  Apparently the parents wanted the boy to practise walking. The boy was small and the steps of the stairs were steep, so the mother had to bend over forwards to hold the boy’s hands, in order to prevent him from falling.  Obviously, they were quite slow.  The people waiting behind the boy-and-mother tandem were visibly impatient, even though nobody said anything.

The young mother was wearing a pair of jeans with a low waistline.  When she bent over to hold the boy’s hands, the jeans went even lower.  As the boy descended the stairs, she had to bend over forwards even more, ...

Obviously, this is a modern family that believes in child-centered rearing, where the boy has to be given top priority and the freedom to do whatever he wants; the parents’ role is to support the boy at all costs. 

If our children turn out to be self-centered, undisciplined, taking things for granted and unmotivated, it is not necessarily the children’s fault.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Praying Mantis

This is my friend Dr. G’s new pet.  It looks mean and its claws look sharp.  I was told it can eat 7 stupid fruit flies in one sitting.  Fortunately, it is only 1 cm across. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Dr. J Requiem

450 people attended the requiem mass held for Dr. Jenny Chung at Rosary Church.  Every seat in the church was taken, and many people had to stand.  Her whole family was there, as were colleagues, students, friends, fellow church members, ...   She is gone now.  But she surely touched many lives while she was here.  

I only got to know her better in the last year, when we started working together on a research project, and service learning.  As fate would have it, I actually got to know her better as her health got worse.  I shall always remember how we held hands when I prayed for her in the hospital the day before she passed away.  
At the mass, as we sang, the priest preached, and family, friends, students, colleagues shared about her, I had the strongest feeling that she is still there, somewhere, even though we could not see her.  Surely she was watching all these with interest.  She would have been pleased that we were all there.  
We all are here on earth for a purpose.  We have one life and one chance to make an impact.  Surely we don’t just want to leave behind mounts of money, great titles, tons of academic papers, or even positions of tremendous power.  Surely it is more satisfying to leave behind beautiful relationships, fond memories and deep respect.  In the end, it is love that endures.  

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Tea (of unknown type)

A colleague gave me a package of tea, which was given to him by someone from mainland China.  The package was big and nice-looking.  However, try as I did, I could not figure out what type of tea it was.  It was not marked on the outside of the package, not on the inside, not on the two smaller boxes that actually hold the tea, ...  

When I actually brewed the tea, I found that the tea leaves were misshapen, broken, had holes in them, and some were even burnt.  Even after drinking the tea, I still could not tell what kind of tea it was. 

It is symptomatic of many things from China.  It looks good on the outside, but the inside is of poor quality.  It is true of the high speed trains that crash because of the problems with the signal systems.  It is true of many hotels that are poorly maintained.  It is true of many schools that were built at great cost but poorly used. 

I remember distinctly one high school in Hubei that we worked at a number of times.  It looked elegant from the outside.  The grounds were paved with smooth stones that looked like marble.  The walls of the buildings were covered with ivy.  It had the looks of an elite school.  Some of the classrooms, however, were flooded with water draining from the air-conditioners.  The computers were covered with dust, and looked like they were never used.  There was a showroom with many scientific specimens which was locked up all the time.  The worse, as is common in many places in China, were the filthy toilets, that we dared to use only for emergencies.  We had to hold up our breaths and tried not to look.  It was especially hard on the girls.  

In Chinese, we say 金玉其外,敗絮其中.  With money, it is relatively easy to modernize the hardware: the buildings, the trains, the machines, and the clothes.   But it is much harder to modernize the software: the people, the culture, the behaviour, and the mind.  Indeed, it is very true that the revolution has not yet succeeded - 革命尚未成功,同志仍需努力.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Chung Yeung (重陽節)

On Chung Yeung Festival, I went with my relatives to the cemetery to pay our respects to my grandparents.  As I walked around the cemetery waiting for my relatives to arrive, I noticed that, in the old days, it was lawful and quite common for a man to have two wives. 

Nowadays, in Hong Kong and most other places in the world, it is illegal to have two wives, or two husbands.  (With the major exception of certain Muslim countries, of course.)  Most people would consider this to be a sign of progress, the recognition of equal rights between men and women in marriage.  This is also one of the many changes associated with the Xinhai Revolution and the modernization of China. 

I also paid my obligatory visit to Cai Yuan Pei’s (蔡元培) grave.  He was a successful scholar in the old Qing Dynasty.  But he was deeply disappointed by the ruling class and turned into a revolutionist.  He was studying in Germany when the Xinhai Revolution 辛亥革命 broke out.  But he came back to China immediately to participate in the revolution.  He was the first Minister of Education 教育總長 of the Republic of China. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Xinhai Revolution (辛亥革命)

A hundred years ago today, the first shots were fired in Wuhan, which kicked off the Xinhai Revolution.  In January 2007, I visited the headquarters of the first revolutionary government set up in Wuhan, together with 2 other colleagues and 3 students.  We were on our way to visit high schools in Huangshi and Yangxin, in preparation for a service learning project that summer.  

The Xinhai Revolution eventually led to the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty, and the establishment of the first Chinese Republic.  China today is much stronger than what it was in the late Qing Dynasty.  The society is much more stable.  And a significant group of people have become quite rich.  But a lot of people are still suffering terribly.  There is rampant corruption.  Liberty and democracy is still no more than a dream. 

Perhaps a violent revolution was inevitable, given how ignorant, inept, stubborn, selfish and cruel the Qing rulers were.  Perhaps the populace then was really not ready for true democracy.  But I could not help but try to imagine what would have happened had a constitutional monarchy been allowed to develop. 

Perhaps the monarchy could be retained as a unifying power, while citizen’s rights could be introduced gradually.  Perhaps there would not have been so much violent conflicts.  Perhaps China would have developed more gradually and peacefully.  Perhaps there would not have been so much suffering.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Steve Jobs and Apple

I used a first generation MacIntosh when I was a research student in the 1980s.  Subsequent products from Apple simply did not seem as attractive.   Several years ago, after Jobs returned to Apple, their products started looking interesting again.  Four years ago my eldest daughter bought an old MacBook. I could not resist it any more and bought my first MacBook Pro.  Now my whole family use Macs. 

Steve Jobs was no doubt a most creative and influential person.  It is fitting that a stroke of creative genius is now wildly circulating in the Internet in tribute to him.  I am honoured that the young man who created it is a student of our university. 

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Dr. J

Dr. J was an outstanding professor.  She was pretty, elegant, kind and compassionate.  She was devoted to her work and her students.   Her life of service was recognized by many awards. 

Several months ago, she was diagnosed with a rare kind of cancer.  Many of her colleagues, friends and students came to visit her.  Her family surrounded her with love and care.  A few days ago she passed away.  The Facebook account set up in her memory is quickly filling up with condolences.  She obviously touched many lives. 

Her university is faced with many challenges: pressure to do research and publish; competition for resources to do research; the government gave her university with far less resources for research than some others; obsession with rankings inside and outside of the university; competition for good students; competition for publicity; ...  I can’t help but feel that these pressures might have something to do with her health problems. 

Sometimes it feels like true scholarship and education has been losing out amid the pressure to compete.   It takes very strong faith and convictions to insist on living your life your own way.  And not to conform to others’ expectations of you - even those out of good intentions. 

There are signs it is changing in the right direction, putting teaching back at the right place in our university.  For the sake of the students and their professors, let us pray that the changes continue.  In the mean time, we shall remember Dr. J.