Sunday, January 20, 2013

Volunteering, Hong Kong style

Here is a piece of data which is pretty damming if true.  This chart appeared in the South China Morning Post earlier this month.  The percentage of people who volunteer in Hong Kong is shamefully low, compared to countries that we often compare ourselves with.  Taiwan is not much better, while mainland China is abysmal.  Some people have tried to defend it, saying that perhaps some Hong Kong people do not consider certain types of activities as volunteering while other countries do, etc.  But other countries can probably make the same argument.

I remember one discussion in our university in which I brought up the case of University of Pennsylvania.  UPenn’s students “adopted” a high school next to their campus, and helped to make tremendous improvements at the high school.  In response, a senior professor claimed that Hong Kong does not have a inner city as run-down as that of Philadelphia, where UPenn is; hence there is no such need for community service by our students.   I challenged him to take a 10 minute walk over to Yaumatei, so that I could show him where the needy people were.

Looking at the SCMP chart now, he reminded me that there are deep-seated reasons why Hong Kong’s number is so low.  Instead of being discouraged, however, I am the more determined that we should do our best to take our students out of our campus, to engage the community.  And probably our professors (some of them, at least) need the experience more than our students.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Faith and the blind

This morning I bumped into a number of people selling “flags”.  It is, of course, a common sight in Hong Kong on Saturday mornings, and a uniquely Hong Kong feature - charities asking for donations in return for a small sticker.  

One of the couples struck me particularly - an elderly lady leading an elderly gentleman selling flags in the train station. They were doing what they can to help themselves and others with similar needs.  They were very grateful for the little bit that I put in the bag.  I can’t help but to ask myself: “What can we do for them, and what have we done for them?”  At the same time, many Bible verses came to mind.

“If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.” (Proverbs 21:13)

“If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:16)

“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”  (1 John 3:17)

“For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20)

What God wants us to do is quite clear.  But are we doing what we should be doing?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Faith against injustice

What does God want from us?  Repeatedly, God says: “Do not exploit the poor.” “Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor.” “Let true justice prevail.” “Let justice roll on like a river, righteous like a never-failing stream.”  Then, why are we so unwilling to speak against injustice, and to stand with the poor? 

Jesus himself heals the sick, opens the eyes of the blind, and raises the dead.  He always stands with the weak and the poor.  He does all these while he preaches the Gospel of Heaven.  No one can accuse Jesus of caring only about the physical well being of His people. Nor does He care only about the soul.  He cares about the whole person, body and spirit.  Yet, very often, we seem to care only about how many people are in church, and the well being of the people in our church.    As if it is somehow not spiritual to be concerned about the physical well-being of the weak, the poor and the oppressed.

And when the rich and powerful are in our church, that makes it that much harder to stand with the poor and oppressed, against the rich and powerful.  It is not always a blessing that a church becomes too prosperous, rich and powerful. 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Faith should be encompassing

There is something wrong when many Christians focus their opposition exclusively on homosexuality.  It is just one of the long list of things that God does not agree with, which include also adultery, idolatry, murder, cheating, exploitation, envy, selfishness, injustice and a myriad other things. Why should people seem to speak publicly against  one thing only, and remain silent about all others? 

Why are many people so reluctant to speak against the imprisonment of Liu Xiaobo? the murder of Li Wangyang? the massacre of June 4? the exploitation of the poor by the rich right here in Hong Kong, and elsewhere? the dishonesty in government? the domination in the legislature by the rich and powerful?  the refusal to treat the refugees and asylum seekers better?  the discrimination against the ethnic minorities?  Instead, all we hear is that we should comply with the government’s rule, as if the government can do no wrong.  And even if the government is wrong, it is still wrong for us to speak against it.  I do not think that is what God wants us to do. 

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Hope or pessimism

It is difficult not to be pessimistic about the political future of Hong Kong.  Dictatorship by the Communists is written into the Chinese constitution, and jealously guarded by the Beijing government.  The brutal and crude suppression of the weekly newspaper Southern Weekly (南方周末) is yet another example for that.  There is no motivation for them to relax their control of the political system in Hong Kong.  In fact, all indications point to a desire for more control, not less.  

In Hong Kong, there is a significant number of die-hard pro-Communists.  They were the persecuted ones in colonial times, but are now enjoying more power.   They are the known factors, but not really the majority.  What is more worrying are those who are not ideologically in favour of Communism, but are willing, and in fact eager, to support and aggressively promote increased control by the mainland.  They know that this stance will buy them more influence.  This group is becoming more vocal and numerous.  

These two groups are in control of the government and the legislature.  They would not be in favour of more open elections, which threaten their own power and status, and is not something Beijing would be favourable of.  Hence it is easy for Beijing to say: “We do not object to universal suffrage in Legislative Council elections in 2017.  But look, there is a majority of legislators and a significant number of Hong Kong people who are opposed.  There is no consensus for universal suffrage in Hong Kong in 2017.  Let us postpone it.”  That argument can be applied ad infinitum.  

In the face of such depressing reality, we can draw some hope from the reaction to the suppression of Southern Weekly.  Many people have stood up to protest against the suppression.  It reminds us of the protesters in 1989, Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波), and others, that there have always been courageous people in China and Hong Kong who value justice more than political power and wealth.  It is just that there have not been enough of them yet. 

Saturday, January 05, 2013

New Year’s Protest March

In the evening of New Year’s Eve, tens of thousands of people came out to the water front for the count down.  There wasn’t actually much to see.  People seemed to just want to come out onto the street and be among people.  They were looking for a reason to be happy. Roads were closed.  It was liberating to be able to walk on the streets where you couldn’t normally walk.

In the afternoon on New Year’s Day, tens of thousands of people came out to the street to protest against the government.  Some of the streets were closed.  But the police had very specific ideas where they wanted you to walk, and when.   The mood was certainly not festive.  Many people were angry about the lies, the illegal structures, the lack of progress in open elections, the lack of support for retirement, the control from the mainland, and a wide range of other things.  The people were visibly angry.

We were standing on a foot bridge overlooking the marchers in Wanchai.  The police set up barricades in parallel to the side rails on both sides of the bridge, narrowing the bridge by almost half.   They didn’t want us to stay to watch, claiming that we were blocking other people from crossing the bridge, while we were doing no such thing.  A young man got upset and started calling the police dogs, and  a policeman challenged him.  I was afraid, for a moment, that there might be a confrontation.  Some of the by-standers tried to calm the young man down.  The policeman probably also realized that it would not do him good to have a confrontation, and backed down.  

Somehow the barricade in front of us got moved against the side rails of the bridge, and we were able to get a better view of the marchers and better pictures.  When the policeman discovered this, he got quite upset.  He went between the barricade and the side rails and pushed us back.  He used polite words but the tone was testy.  When I asked him why there had to be barricades, he said they were for our protection.  He said people at the back might pushed us against the rails, someone, or something might fall over the bridge, and in fact, it had happened before.  We did not really believe him.  But I didn’t want to antagonise him further, so I did not press it.  

Hong Kong people have proved again and again that we can express our opinion, and disaffection with the government, in a civil manner.  We are as ready for democracy as any other civilized society.  

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Trawlers mourned

Trawlers have been banned from the waters of Hong Kong starting 2013.  If the ban stays, we won’t see trawlers near Aberdeen such as this, for a long time.  Not that we will not be able to find fish in the wet markets.  Together with farmed fish, fish caught in Hong Kong waters constitute less than one quarter of the fish we consume.  But they will probably be a little less fresh, and more expensive.

Whether the groupers, yellow croakers, shrimp and so on will recover is yet to be seen.  What is clear is that it cannot go on. From numerous videos on youtube, photographs and newspaper reports, it is abundantly clear that most of the catch from the trawlers are trash, as much as 80% according to many reports.  The amount of fish caught is small, and the fishes themselves are small.

Whose fault is it?  The government blames the trawlers, sweeping out everything - particularly the young ones before they have a chance to grow bigger - indiscriminately, and destroying the ocean floor.  The fishermen blame the large scale constructions such as the airport, the big ships  churning up the ocean floor, and the dumping of garbage.  There is no doubt there is a humongous amount of garbage in the water, and the big fishes are gone.  There is probably some truth on both sides.

There is something very appealing in the image of fishermen catching food for us from the waters around us, and us going to the wet market to buy food from them that are fresh, beautiful, tasty and natural.  It is really a shame that we cannot manage to keep it going.