Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The story of M

The life story of my friend G’s praying mantis, M, in a series of pictures.

(1) M trying to steal a watch.

(2) His attempt to steal discovered, M boxing with the owner of the watch.

(3) Defeated, M begging for mercy.

(4) M preparing to jump to his death when his plea was rejected. 

[epilogue: M survived the jump.]

Friday, November 25, 2011

Reading with children

My wife and I read with our children, literally before they could read.  We bought books made with cloth so that we could read with them in the bath.  We started with books with colourful pictures and no words; then books with colourful pictures and few words; then books with fewer and fewer pictures but more and more words, ... 

When they could start to read by themselves, we sat with them, each of us reading our own books.  When we went to restaurants with adult friends, we asked our children to bring along their favourite books.  They could then have something to read before the food came, after they finished with their food, and when they were bored by the adults’ conversation. 

We don’t have a lot of worldly treasures.  The one thing that we have quite a bit of is books.   All our three daughters love to read, although they have very different interests in books.  One loves her books so much she would get upset with me if I wrinkle up her books.  We would like to think that our reading with them when they were young have something to do with it.

I was therefore happy to read that a recent PISA study found that
  • “15-years-old students whose parents often read books with them during their first year of primary school show markedly higher scores in PISA 2009 then students whose parents read with them infrequently or not at all.” 
  • “The performance advantage among students whose parents read to them in their early school years is evident regardless of the family’s socio-economic background.”
  • “Parents’ engagement with their 15-year-olds is strongly associated with better performance in PISA.”
  • Such parent-child engagements with positive associations include: “discussing political or social issues”, “discussing books, films or television programs”, “discussing how well children are doing in school”, eating main meals together around the table”, and “spending time just talking with one’s children”.

[The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a worldwide evaluation in OECD member countries of 15-year-old school pupils' scholastic performance.]

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Literally, it is Gold Coin Chicken.  But there is really no chicken in it.  It is pieces of pork lard (肥豬肉), pork liver (豬肝), Char Siu (barbecued meat, 叉燒) stacked together and roasted like 叉燒.  The lard added flavour and juice to the relatively dry meat.   Quite tasty and worth a try.  Throw away the lard if you are health conscious. 

It was common at 燒臘店.  But it is quite rare these days.  I found these at a 燒臘店 in Hung Hom.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Primary School Examinations

When I finished primary school, decades ago, we had to take the Secondary School Entrance Examination (SSEE), or 中學入學考試, if we wished to go on to attend secondary school.  The SSEE tested Chinese, English and Mathematics.  At that time, secondary school was neither compulsory nor free.  Everyone of us wanted to get into secondary school.  But some could not afford the fees; others did not do well enough in the SSEE.  So there was pressure.   But there was also a clear sense that if you were smart and work hard, you would get into a good school and improve your prospects in society.   It was a kind of meritocracy.  I did well enough in SSEE but had difficulties with the school fees.  Eventually I got a government scholarship to attend Aberdeen Technical School (ATS), a boarding school run by the Salesians for under-privileged students.  I remain grateful to the government, and the Salesians.

People complained that the education system was elitist and too-heavily examination driven.  Many waves of reformation were carried out, year after year. So what do we get now? 

There is no more SSEE.  Supposedly, progression to secondary school is no longer dependent on the student’s performance in a single examination such as the SSEE.   The students have to take the Territory-wide System Assessment (TSA), or 全港性系統評估.  The TSA tests English, Chinese and Mathematics, to give schools feedback on the effectiveness of their teaching.  

They also have to take the Pre-Secondary One Hong Kong Attainment Test (Pre-S1 HKAT), or 中一入學前香港學科測驗 (中一編班試).  The Pre-S1 HKAT is used by Secondary Schools to assess the performance of their Form 1 entrants in Chinese, English and Mathematics.  It is also used to scale the internal assessment results of the Primary 6 students proceeding to Form 1. 

Theoretically, a P6 student’s results in the TSA and the Pre-S1 HKAT do not affect directly the secondary school the student is placed into.  However, the students’ results determines to which class in the secondary is the student placed.  The results also affect the ranking of the primary school.  Just try telling the students that they are not pressured to train for these examinations. 

There are, of course, internal examinations (升中呈分試) at the Primary School, the results of which are used to classify the students into one of three bands, for the lottery which allocates F1 places to the P6 students.

You tell me now, is this an improvement over the SSEE?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Australia Dairy Co. (澳洲牛奶公司)

This place is a true phenomenon.    Its name says diary company, but it is in reality a 茶餐廳., but a very popular one.  It does serve diary products such as 燉奶.  But many people go there for popular items such as scrambled eggs on toast (炒蛋多士), etc.  

At any reasonable hours of the day, there is always a long line in front.  Your orders arrive unbelievably fast.  And you are also expected to eat unbelievably fast.  The waiters are not shy in letting you know their impatience. 

Many customers, most of the time one-timers or tourists, complained about the service.  But there is always a long line in front of the restaurant.  And they have no lack of repeat customers. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

Air-dried Meat in Yaumatei

Air-dried whole ducks, duck legs, boneless duck breasts.  Air-dried pork bellies.  Pork sausages, duck liver sausages, goose liver sausages.  Yummy. 

The only thing missing is gold and silver liver 金銀膶 - pork liver stuffed with translucent lard. 

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Old Yaumatei

When I was small, people used to comment on the growing number of banks this way, “There are more banks than rice shops (銀行多過米鋪).”  The assumption being that rice shops were numerous.  Nowadays, however, they are quite hard to find.  Here is one in Yaumatei, between Jordan Road and Austin Road.

It still sells rice by the catty, just like in the old days.  But the rice is now stored in small plastic buckets.  Not huge, three-feet tall wooden tubs.  And there are pitifully little rice to sell.   Partly because we eat much less rice than before.  The 7 million people in Hong Kong eats only 26,000 tonnes of rice a month.  It amounts to about 8 pounds (6 斤) per person each month.  But the bigger reason is that we tend to buy our rice from supermarkets nowadays.  So these rice merchants are doomed, unless we give them more business.

This one, at least, retains an old style balance, which is still in use.  This, in itself, may be reason enough to shop here. 

Here you can get your knives and scissors sharpened.

Or buy traditional herbs stored in big glass jars and small drawers. 

The old Hong Kong is fading away quickly.  It is getting more and more difficult to find.  Soon it will disappear completely.  

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

John Nash in person

Went to listen to John Nash’s seminar at our university on Monday.  He is, of course, the famous mathematician known for his work on game theory, and also because of the movie “A Beautiful Mind”, loosely based on his life. 

This time he discussed some of his recent papers which tried to explain how seemingly cooperative, even altruistic, behaviour can arise out of self-interest in game theory.  During the question and answer period, I asked him, based on his work, whether he believed that there were no truly altruistic behaviour, that all such behaviour can be explained by motivations of self-interest.  He answered at length, at one point mentioning the economic and market situation in Hong Kong.  Unfortunately, I was sitting too far from him to hear his answer very clearly.  But I believe he was rather critical of some of the things that he observed in the market. 

It was quite an experience to hear him speak, even though much of the mathematics was quite difficult to follow.