Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Kauppatori, Helsinki

At the kauppatori, market square on the waterfront in Helsinki, we were surprised to find a lot of wonderful, succulent food.

There were blue berries as large as cherries, brightly colored carrots, onions, and radishes, brightly yellow, mouth-watering paella, sizzling salmon steaks, sausages, shrimp, big fish, small fish, ...

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Three Graces - Finland version

Three versions, actually, all found at the train station in Helsinki, while we were waiting for the train for Saint Petersburg.

I like the military version the best.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Agile Seagulls of Scandinavia

On the cruise boat taking us from Stockholm to Helsinki, we found many seagulls flying along and behind us.  My wife took some bread crumbs and started throwing the crumbs at them. 

At first I was a bit doubtful whether the seagulls could actually see those tiny bits of bread.  But they had really sharp eyes and were amazingly agile.  Not only could they spot the crumbs.  They could keep their eyes on the bits, even when they were flying at high speed. 

Often they had to twist their necks and even the whole body around, to keep the bread crumbs in sight, all the while keeping themselves afloat in mid-air.  Amazing.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

A Great Way to Teach National Education (國民教育)

Sitting in the crowd protesting against the National Education subject outside the government headquarters last evening, I thought to myself: hat a great way to teach civic and national education!”

Soon after I arrived, the Chief Executive announced that the government would reexamine the heavily-criticized Guidelines, remove the 3-year deadline, and allow schools to decide how to teach, including whether to make it a separate subject.  As I was leaving, the hunger strikers were about to leave. And everyone stood to applause. 

This protest has all the needed elements.  It illustrates vividly who holds the power.  On paper, it is the Hong Kong government.  In reality, the power is vested in Beijing.  Even though the people do not have the vote, we can still make a difference if we are determined and willing to pay the price.  If enough of us are willing to stand and be counted, the price that each of us has to pay is relatively small.  Without the protest, we would not have spent so much effort to learn about all these.

We now have a much better understanding of what national education is about, both in the government’s mind, and what we think it should be.  Without this protest, few, if anyone, would have read the Guidelines.  Now, many of us can point out where and how the Guidelines are biased.   We also have a much better idea how the government gives favours to its cronies, by giving them our hard-earned tax money to produce Teaching Manuals that are worse than useless - the manuals are Communist propaganda that are really harmful.

The protests have also exposed the teachers, headmasters, and organizations who are ostensibly educators, but are in fact no more than mouthpieces of the establishment, who are willing to sacrifice our children to curry favours from the people in power.

We now know how our good our secondary school students are (some of them, at least, and not a small number of them).  It is not just one 15-year old who speaks more clear-mindedly, level-headedly, passionately, forcefully, reasonably and maturely than many officials decades older than he is.

It is also all the others who persevere, hunger-strike, organize the protests, maintain order at the sit-in, distribute water and the buns, etc., who showed us that our children are not just book-worms or goof-offs.  With them, and the teachers and parents who support them, we are in a fairly good position to stand firm against future attempts to brain-wash.

My dinner last evening was a bottle of water, and a simple, cold bun donated by someone I have never met.  But I didn’t mind a bit.  I was even grateful. 

So were the tens of thousands clad in black.  It was a mixed crowd: old, young, male, female, children, rich, poor, ..., mostly quite young, and a lot of females.  All passionate and angry at the intransigence of the government, but calm and patient and orderly and peaceful. 

Who can say we are not ready for democracy?

Friday, September 07, 2012

National Education (國民教育科) 3

在有關德育及國民教育科的爭議中,政府聲稱很多人混淆了《教學手冊》(「中國模式國情專題教學手冊」)與《指引》(「德育及國民教育科課程指引」)。它聲稱(由親共組織出版的)《教學手冊》可能確實存在一些問題,但它僅僅是參考材料,教師可以選擇使用或不使用。因此,我們不應把焦點放在教學手冊。另一方面,官方 (由教育局公佈) 的《課程指引》是好的,我們應該支持它。我不同意。

我細讀了《指引》。它的確聲稱鼓勵學生從多個角度 ,獨立和理性的考慮各個問題,研究價值觀的衝突,作出合理的判斷。

但是,《指引》用極大量的篇幅灌輸正面的看法。大量的談論文化, 經濟, 領導,發展, 成就,...    至於關鍵問題如共產黨專政,國民(不可以)參與政治,大陸和台灣之間的衝突,普遍的腐敗,言論不能自由,環境惡化,農民生活痛苦,貧富懸殊,..., 避而不談。《指引》強調國家領導人所作出的貢獻 - 當然它指的是大陸,而不是台灣。《指引》談到自然災害,但不談人為的災害。《指引》輕描淡寫地提到國家領導人,並與香港和國家所面臨的問題, 但並無任何實質。




Wednesday, September 05, 2012

National Education (國民教育科) 2

In the current debate on the subject on Moral and National Education, the government claims that many people confuse the teaching manual 中國模式國情專題教學手冊  with the guidelines 德育及國民教育科課程指引.  It claims that the teaching manual (published by a pro-communist organization) may indeed have some problems, but it is just reference material that teachers may choose to use, or not.  Hence we should not focus on the teaching manual.  On the other hand, the official curriculum guide (published by the Education Bureau) is fine, and we should support it.  I do not agree.

First of all, the government gave the funding to the organization to produce the teaching manual, which is essentially communist propaganda. Obviously the government should ensure that such material is suitable for use by schools.  Otherwise the government is not doing its job responsibly.  After all, the funding comes from our taxes.  It is our money.  We have a right to demand that the money be spent wisely, for the benefit of our society.  If the government uses our money to produce something that is blatantly biased, it is not just wasteful, it is also doing harm to our society, and it enriches certain organization and people unfairly.  I object strongly to the government using my money to harm me and my family.

Secondly, the curriculum guide is also obviously biased.  As I explained in the previous post, it presents a predominantly positive view of the country.  I had pointed out some of the deficiencies in the previous post, after reading the complete guide rather carefully.  It claims to encourage balanced and critical examination of the issues.  But in reality, it does not ask hard, critical questions.  It essentially asks us to love the country without questions.  That I cannot do.  I want my children to love their country, but I want them to be rational and clear-headed above all.

The government claims that a country is entitled to encourage patriotism and China is no different.  But blind and unquestioning patriotism is very dangerous, and can easily turn into destructive extremism.  That is amply exemplified in some of the reactions to the Diaoyutai problem. 

Furthermore, the authoritarian Chinese political system is not yet such a desirable system and the national leaders, including Deng Xiao Peng, admitted it.  Otherwise there is no need to guarantee that the socialist system will not be practiced in Hong Kong and the way of life will not be changed for 50 years.  We would be cheating our children if we tell our children to love the country unconditionally.

The way forward is not to tell Hong Kong students only the good side of the country.  Rather, we should face the reality honestly, identify the problems faced by the country, and to work together to solve those problems.  Pretending that there is no problem, or ignoring the problems will not make the problems go away. 

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

National Education (國民教育科)

I read the guidelines (Moral and National Education Curriculum Guide, 德育及國民教育科課程指引) published by the Education Bureau.  It is not as bad as the teaching manual (中國模式國情專題教學手冊) written by the Baptist University, published by a pro-communist organization with funding from the Education Bureau.   It does state that it encourages students to consider issues from multiple angles, independently, and rationally, sort our conflicts in values, and to make judgments rationally.

However, it presents a predominantly positive view of the country.  It writes extensively of the culture, the achievements, the leaders, developments, the economy, ...   It says nothing about critical issues such as the dictatorship of the Communist Party, how common people can (or cannot) participate in the political arena, the conflict between the mainland and Taiwan, pervasive corruption, degradation of the environment, the suffering in the rural areas, ...   It does, however, emphasize the contributions made by the leaders of the country - by that it probably meant the mainland, not Taiwan.  It talks about natural disasters but not man-made disasters.  It mentions, in passing, problems faced by the leaders of the country, and those faced by Hong Kong and the country.  That is as critical as it gets.

The message is to love your country, and do not ask hard questions.  That is a problem.  If the mainland is in such good shape, we won’t need the 50-year no-change guarantee for Hong Kong.  Why aren’t we allowed to face the reality openly and honestly?

Monday, September 03, 2012

A dog and its man

We were in Stockholm, waiting to board the cruise boat taking us to Helsinki, when I saw this little dog lying quietly and looking intently at its man.  What was going on in its mind? 

“Hey, what is going on?”

“It is boring here.  When are you going to put down that book and play with me?” 

“Please! Please! Please!”