Monday, February 25, 2013

The Uncompleted Marathon

My ankle was hurt half a year ago, and it had not completely healed when I ran in the marathon yesterday.  At the beginning, I stopped after each 5 kilometers, the first time while getting on the Stonecutter Island Bridge, to stretch to reduce the discomfort.  After 10 kilometers, near the Nam Wan Tunnel on Tsing Yi Island,  I had to stop every 2 kilometers.  After getting on the Tsing Ma Bridge, it was every kilometer.  After the Ting Kau Bridge and the Half-Marathon mark, my right leg threatened to cramp.  After 25 kilometers, I was walking more than running.  After 28 kilometers, I gave up trying to run, instead tried to walk fast.

After 30 kilometers, it became impossible.  As the muscles at the back of the leg cramped, I tried to stretched them by pulling up my toes; then the muscles at the front got shortened and started to cramp. As soon as I put my leg down, the whole leg threatened to cramp.  As I limped towards the entrance to the Western Cross-Harbour Tunnel, it was disappointing to see that it was closed already, and I had to stop.  Since 2007, this is the first time that I have tried to run the full marathon but failed to finish, having completed it in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012. At the same time, it was relieving to know that I was stopped, that I did not have to make the decision to quit.

In fact, my chiropractor had told me earlier that my leg had not healed sufficiently for me to train seriously. So I should not run this year, even though by next year, I should be OK.  All my family members and friends had told me I shouldn’t run, at least not the full marathon.  I had also been mentally prepared to stop after 8 kilometers, that being the longest distance that I had been able to run in the last 2-3 weeks without pain.  In the end, I had achieved more than what I could realistically hoped for.  And what stopped me was not the injury, but the lack of training due to the injury.

On the Stonecutter Island Bridge, ocean going container ships passed under my feet.  Sights like these made the run a lot of fun.  My legs will hurt for a few days, But it feels good to know that I earned that feeling.  Somehow, Don Quixote and The Impossible Dream came to mind.

It was also demonstrated that GPS did not work inside tunnels.  When I was returning through the Cheung Tsing Tunnel after coming down the Ting Kau Bridge, Runkeeper misread my position, and overestimated the distance by roughly 2 miles.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The quality of some politicians

A couple of days ago, there was a heated exchange at a meeting of the Legislative Council sub-committee on Constitutional Affairs.  A man, Ma (馬恩國), speaking as a representative of the professionals, was revealed as a member of a pro-Communist party, and a member a political organization of a province on the mainland.  When a Legislative Councilor, Leung Kwok Hung criticized him for not declaring (hiding?) his political affiliation, he exploded.  He used foul language repeatedly.  He claimed to be a patriot of Australia, Hong Kong, and China (?).   He claimed that he was a lawyer and a university graduate while Leung was not, hence Leung did not have the right to criticize him, etc.

It was really ugly.  Shameless even.  Particularly for someone who claimed himself a university graduate, a lawyer, and a leader of a political party.  With leaders like Ma, perhaps some political parties really are not ready for democracy in Hong Kong.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Cambodia’s Curse

Here is a much more credible book on Cambodia, Joel Brinkley’s Cambodia’s Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land.

It traced the history of Cambodia from the time of the Ankor Empire, down to French domination, independence in 1953, Lon Nol’s coup in 1970, American bombing, Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror and genocide 1975-79, Vietnamese invasion in 1979, Vietnamese withdrawal in 1989, United Nations occupation 1992-93, and since then, Hung Shen’s reign. It looked into Cambodian culture, the lack of education, the impact of Communism, the genocide, the American influence and apathy, the corruption, the political struggles, ..., to try to find out why Cambodia is in such a miserable state.

Brinkley interviewed numerous villagers and village chiefs, government officials high and low, politicians, policemen, school teachers, United Nations troop commanders, foreign aid workers, American ambassadors, ..., for his book.  He did his homework.

He is very critical of almost everyone. But his observations ring true.  I can testify to the lack of basic amenities such as running water and electricity in large parts of the country, the terrible slumps, the dilapidated state of the schools, the fees charged by the teachers that prevent many children from attending school, the poor state of the universities, the bribes demanded by the police from motorcyclists, the selling (and re-selling) of young girls into prostitution, the lack of basic infrastructure such as public transport, ...

I cannot help thinking: why isn’t there a Cambodian version of Aung Sang Suu Kyi of Burma?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Hong Kong Book on Cambodia

Ever since we started doing community service in Cambodia in 2010, I have been eager to learn as much as possible about the country.  So I was happy to find this book published by one of the local universities, edited by a well-known professor of political science and an active person in the local political scene.

I was extremely surprised to see that, according to this book, 93.8% of the 6-year-olds were in school in 2009. And even more surprisingly, 95.8% of those aged 6 to 11 were in school.

This is incredible.  Everywhere we went in Cambodia, even in Phnom Penh, the capital city, numerous children wandered in the streets during school hours.  Many of them were in tattered clothes, or none at all.  Many were begging, picking up trash, or just plainly loitering.  When we worked inside some of the schools, many children stood outside the school gates, peeking in longingly.  It breaks you heart seeing it, watching children suffer, not getting what all children deserve - a chance to be educated.

In one school run by a NGO, there were ~20 students in primary one, ~15 in primary 2, ~10 in primary 3, ...  and no more than 3 in primary 6.  According to the teachers, many of the older kids were old enough to work - mostly picking recycle-ables from the garbage, so they cannot come to school.  And this situation is not atypical.

The percentage of 6-to-11-olds in school is definitely much less than 95.8%.  The book’s authors and editors probably just took the data published by the Cambodian government, without checking the data’s validity.  If the data is correct, Cambodia would not have been in such dire straits.  It would have been much more hopeful.  It should be obvious to any educated person that the data is not believable.  Why did they not bother to check?

What good is such a book then?   It is worse than not having a book because it is a lie.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Head of the Family?

It was on a bus on route 973, on the way from Stanley to TsimShaTsui on the 3rd day of the New Year. A mother, M1, probably in her 30s, was sitting in the outside seat, with her 2-year-old daughter, D1, in the inside seat, next to the window.  The seats were all occupied already, with more people piling in.  Another mother, M2, came on, with her own 2-year-old daughter, D2.  M1 picked up her daughter, moved to the inside seat, and offered the outside seat to M2. M2 put her own daughter on her lap.  All four of them were seated, a civilized solution.

D1 started to cry, wanting her seat back.  M1 passed D1 to the father, F1, seated behind.  D1 kept on crying, twisting and turning.  After a while, M2 could not stand it anymore.  She stood up with D2 and gave the seat back to M1 and D1.  D1 is now happy.  Another person across the aisle offered her seat to M2 and D2.

Further down the bus, a young mother, M3, probably in her 20s, came in with her own 2-year-old daughter, D3. My daughter stood up and offered her seat to M3.  M3 put her daughter on the seat.  She then asked her daughter whether it was OK if she took the seat, and put her in her mother’s lap.  D3 said no.  The seat was facing the aisle, and D3 was really too small to sit properly by herself, with the bus swerving left and right all the time.  Her mother had to lean over awkwardly to keep D3 in her place.  After a while, D3 got tired, and allowed her mother to take the seat, and to hold her.  She soon fell asleep.

It makes me wonder who are really the parents here, taking charge of the family.  And how these children are going to turn up as they grow older.

In addition, my wife pointed out to me that most likely neither D1 nor D3 paid the fare.  They should not be occupying the seats in the first place.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Analects of E

A: We have been eating a lot of oranges.  Let us have some other fruits, such as peaches.
C: There are no peaches in winter.
E: Peaches have hairs, they should not be afraid of the cold!

Saturday, February 09, 2013

New Year’s Eve Market - people’s anger

We milled about in the crowd at the New Year’s Eve Market at Victoria Park for more than an hour last evening.  We didn’t buy anything, as usual. It was just to get a feel of the festive atmosphere.  And to see whether they are any creative ideas, as products, or as protests.  Not too many surprises either way.  Yet, one still get a feeling of the depth of dissatisfaction with the government.  This time, it is mainly directed at the Chief Executive and to a lesser extent, some of his cronies.

It is no surprise, given some of the incidents in the last several months.  The furor over national education have barely died down.  Then the Chief Executive threatened to sue The Hong Kong Economic Journal《信報》over an article「梁氏涉黑實可雙規」by  練乙錚.   Obviously Leung wanted to stop people from criticizing him heavily.  What he got, in return, was almost universal condemnation, except from the diehard Communists.  And a lot more attention to the article, and the associated accusations against him.  Not sure whether this is what he expected.

This is now a familiar pattern.  An unpopular politician comes to power by aligning with the politically powerful, and by wooing the people.  He appoints his supporters who are not really fit for public service, to high positions.  He fails to deliver on his promises.  The people criticize him.  He sees the people as enemies.  He uses his new-found power to hurt his enemies - the people.  The people hate him even more...

What comes next?  If he is smart, he distributes some sweets to placate the people, to buy more time to consolidate his power.  If not, he turns more arrogant and antagonistic.  The people will hate him even more.  Let us see where he turns now.

Of course, he can really start to take into consideration what the Hong Kong people really want, and not just what his backers in Hong Kong and Beijing want.  But that may be expecting too much.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Schools for the rich

Here is yet another reason why it is so much easier for the rich to get educated.

The English School Foundation is saying you can nominate a child to an ESF school with a $500,000 debenture.  150 places have been reserved for this scheme, out of the ~1,000 students admitted each year.  They claim this is not a debenture, which confers a right to a place at a school.  They call theirs the “Nomination Right Scheme”, which “only” confers a right to “nominate” a child, who still have to be interviewed, as if it makes a great difference.

In reality, this only creates yet another privileged class (those who can afford the additional $500,000) within a privileged class (whose who can afford the $66,100 - $102,000 school fees each year).

In the colonial times, ESF was for the children of the colonial masters and rich expatriates.  Now it is for the merely rich.  For the poor, it has always been out of reach. 

For a while, there were good schools in Hong Kong where you have a decent chance to get into, if you are really intelligent and you study really hard, even if you are poor.  Now it is getting harder and harder.  Many of these schools have turned into Direct Subsidy Schools, where you have to pay tens of thousands dollars each year.  That’s where it really hurts.  

That’s how our society keep the poor poor - keep them out of the good schools; keep them out of universities, at least the good ones; keep them away from the good jobs; keep them away from sharing the spoils.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Universities for the rich

The recent study by the Institute of Education confirms what many of us suspect, that it is much easier for the rich to enter university in Hong Kong.  There are still some surprises, however.  Firstly, It is much more unequal than I thought, and secondly, it wasn’t nearly so unequal 20 years ago, according to the data.  

In 2011, 19.3% of 19-20 year olds are in university - a figure pretty much within expectations.  The corresponding figure in 1991 was 5.6%.

In 1991, the percentage of the rich who were in university was 9.3%, higher than the 8% for the poor, but not outrageously so.  In 2011, the corresponding numbers are 48.2% and 13%, a ratio of 3.7 to 1.  That’s really too much.  While university education has expanded tremendously in the past 20 years, it has benefitted mainly the rich.

From the perspective of equality in educational opportunities, the situation under Chinese rule is much worse than when Hong Kong was under British colonial rule.  The situation is really ironic.  Aren't the Communists supposed to be fighting on the side of the poor and exploited working class against the rich and exploiting capitalist class?  Why is it that after the Communists took control of Hong Kong, the rich actually become comparatively much richer - at least in the realm of education?