Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday?

It is obvious the world is in trouble. What is not so obvious is how we can get out of it. For thousands of year, across continents and civilizations, people see the suffering, the hatred, the fighting, and finally the inevitable death.  Part of the problem is the capricious nature.  The greater problem, however, is how we treat each other.  The two places that we are taking our students this summer are Cambodia and Rwanda.  Both countries have suffered from horrendous genocide in their recent past.  People are trying to help.  But there is only so much that we can do.

The sages of Chinese Taoism noted wisely that following the ways of natural will remove a lot of obstacles and make life much smoother.  That works to some extent.  But what if nature is naturally capricious to start with?  Sickness, competition, looking-after-yourself-first, and death are all part of nature.  How can we escape by following the ways of natural?

The buddha tells us that suffering will cease when we are enlightened and achieve nirvana. Indeed, much that we feel are actually happening in our minds and do not necessarily reflect reality, as neural science is telling us.  The suffering around us, however, are so overwhelming, physical, incessant and real. I doubt very much that our minds, even when enlightened, are strong enough to deliver us from such evil.

In the end, I am convinced that evil and suffering are real and physical.  And it takes a tremendous sacrifice - in the form of the suffering and death of Jesus the Son of God - to free us from it.  Today we commemorate His act of salvation for us - hence it is truly a “Good” Friday.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

What is left of Nga Chin Wai (衙前圍村)?

Nga Chin Wai 衙前圍 was a 600 years old walled village. In fact, the only one in the urban areas of Hong Kong (Kowloon).  The name literally means “walled village in front of the magistrate’s office”.  It stood in front of the Kowloon Walled City 九龍寨城, or 九龍城寨.

The Walled City was, of course, obliterated completely many years ago. When I went to 衙前圍 several years ago, however, there were still quite a number of houses there, even though they were quite rundown.  Some people were living there.

When I went there again last Saturday, the place was all boarded up, and a severe-looking Sikh guarded the place.  When I peeked inside, I found that all the houses had been torn down, except one miserable looking row of perhaps 5 houses.

The board outside said: “revitalization of historical buildings”.  I guess one can argue that saving one row of houses is better than tearing down all of them.  It is still mightily sad to see another historical village biting the dust.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Chey Ta Koun

 Chey Ta Koun is a small village some 40 kilometers south west of Phnom Penh, in Kampong Speu province.

The last 10 kilometers of the road leading to Chey Ta Koun from Phnom Penh are unpaved.  In the dry season it is very dusty.  People riding motorbikes wrap their heads in scarves, otherwise their lungs will fill up quickly with sand and dust. There are lots of potholes which make the traveling slow and dangerous. In the rainy season it is often impassible.

Just outside the village there is a small community school with two class rooms.   Other than the bare benches there is little that indicates that this is a school.  Like the rest of the village, there is neither electricity nor running water.  So classes can only be held when there is sun light.

The children seem weary of strangers.  They don’t seem to know how to deal with us.   They huddle together closely, perhaps for security.  Probably very few outside people visit them, because of the remoteness.  I am sure they will respond to us if we have more time.  Unfortunately, we can stay only a little while this time. Perhaps in June, when we come again, it will be better.

The main source of water in the village is the rain water collected from the roof and stored in big pots.  When that runs out, they have to buy water from the vendors, or travel long distances with containers to obtain water provided by the government.

Those who can afford it buy car batteries which can provide electricity for lighting, or even a short period of TV viewing.

The distance is just 40 kilometers, but it seems as if we have gone back hundreds of years.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Where is the Stung Meanchey baby?

Last year in June, I met a new born baby and his mother in a little shed at the infamous Stung Meanchey (old) Garbage Dump.  We spent a week at the dump.  The baby was born on either the second or third day that we were there. 

Yesterday I went back there to make preparations for another project in June.  Naturally I wanted to see how the baby and his parents were doing.  The garbage mountain was still there.  The shed was still there.  But the family was gone.

The staff of the NGO who worked with them told me a now-familiar story.  The father left the mother and the baby soon after he was born. The mother couldn’t possibly raise the baby by herself, so she went back to her village with her baby, who should be 9 months old now.

Perhaps it is actually better for her and her baby.  Hopefully her own family and relatives would be able to help her raise her baby.  Hopefully they have enough to eat.  Hopefully they can make a fresh start.  Hopefully.

I hope the baby does not have HIV. Why is it that it is always the women and the children who suffer more?

Sunday, March 10, 2013

(New) Cheung Ek Garbage Dump

We are back in Cambodia for a few days, to prepare for the up coming trip in June, when we will take another 50 students here to serve at a number of NGOs for a week. 

The infamous Stung Meanchey Garbage Dump, where people foraged for recyclable material among the garbage, had been closed.  Since no new garbage is being dumped there, very few people scavenge there now, even though thousands of people continue to live around there.  We surveyed one of the communities next to the dump for an NGO last year.  The horrible conditions that they live in and their negative outlook on life - particularly for the children - were gut-wrenching. 

We heard that a new garbage dump has been started at Cheung Ek, right next to the Killing Fields.  When we tried to get there this afternoon, all side roads leading to the dump were blocked, so we couldn’t get close to it.  But the mountain of garbage, the trucks disgorging the fresh garbage, and some of the scavengers could be seen from the main road.

How much longer do people have to live this way?  Why?

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Respect for Authority (not absolute)

Our family was reading Chapter 13 of Epistle to the Romans in the Bible.  We came upon this passage often used by many people to teach that we should comply with the government: “... all authority comes from God, ... so any one who rebels against authority is rebelling against what God has instituted.”  What they want to say is that it is wrong to protest against those in power.

However, the passage does not end there.  It continues to say: “... the authority do not strike fear in people who are doing right, but in those who are doing wrong. ...  They are God’s servants, sent for the very purpose of punishing those who do what is wrong.”

Hence the authority from God is not absolute nor arbitrary.  Those in power are given the authority to punish the wicked and to protect the good.  If the people in power do not do that, should we still comply with them?  Should we not, at least, point out that they are abusing their authority?

For in Micah (6:8), as in many places elsewhere in the Bible, it says: “O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.” 

At numerous times in the Bible, prophets stood up against kings when the kings committed adultery or idolatry, exploited the poor, oppressed the people, or otherwise behave unjustly.   The prophets were certainly “rebelling against authority”.  But they were commanded by God to do that.  Who can say the prophets were wrong?

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Life beyond Death

A colleague and friend, W, died just before Lunar New Year.  At his funeral last evening, the cavernous hall was completely full.  There must have been more than 500 people there.  There were his relatives, people from his church, the schools he taught at, the university, and many many friends.

As far as I could tell, he was not rich, famous, or politically powerful.  But he was obviously a good man, caring, loving, and well-loved.  He only started working for our university 2 or 3 years ago.  His job was to strengthen our links with secondary schools.  He knew many people in education, and worked energetically tirelessly.  Even after he was diagnosed with late-stage liver cancer in September and was given just a few months to live, he kept working while he was undergoing treatment.  In January, he responded enthusiastically when I broached with him a project related to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in schools.  We agreed to meet to discuss it, but we did not get a chance to.

We all miss W.  Looking at the 500 people gathered there, it was hard to accept that he was no longer there, and that we wouldn’t see him again.  We believe there he is with God and that one day we will see him again.  Life is really too capricious and unbearable if he just died and disappeared.  We refuse to believe that.

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Niall Ferguson’s Civilization

Ferguson claims that 6 “Killer Applications” helped the West conquer the world in the last 500 years.

According to Ferguson, competition among the relatively small countries in Western Europe stimulated innovation, while lack of competition turned the once-great giant China stagnate and mediocre.

Development of science in the West make tremendous advances in military power, allowing the West to defeat the Ottoman Turks and subsequently Qing China.

Accumulation of private property simulated investment in the West.  Yet much of the development was made possible by declaring the Indian’s land owner-less, hence up for grabs by the colonizing Europeans.

The arguments regarding medicine were even stranger.  He claims that the challenges of colonization (e.g., tropical and infectious diseases) stimulated developments in medicine, and also provide plenty of subjects (indigenous people) for clinical trials.  The advances in medicine are, of course, beneficial.  Does that mean that the evils of colonization are thus justified?
Consumption of clothing and other goods created the demand for industrialization.  While he did admit that the West industrialized at the expense of countries such as India, he seems to argue that the benefits outweigh the evil.

The positive Protestant outlook on work encouraged Western Europeans to work hard and become prosperous.

Towards the end of the book, he laments “Empire has become a dirty word, despite the benefits conferred on the rest of the world by the European imperialists.”  That, to me, is hard to stomach.  The West may have developed a number of good ideas, but that still does not justify the evils of imperialism.