Saturday, June 29, 2013

Kampoeng Code

 My friend Paulus from Duta Wacana Christian University took me to a community in Jogja along the river that his team has been serving for many years.  The community is actually below the bridge spanning the river, with an entrance identified it as Kampoeng Code.  On some web sites it is referred to as Kampung Kali Cho-de.  I don’t know which is the correct name but I will stick with the name I saw on the gate.

Many of the people living there seem to be from the country side and relatively poor.  Many of the houses are built in traditional styles using bamboo and timber, and some are quite elegant.  There is a a community “hall” where people gather that looks simple but quite pleasant.  The community won an Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 1992.

I heard that the government wants to move these people away so that they can develop the land.  But these people moved here from the country side because life is hard on the farm, perhaps because the land is not fertile enough.  If the government drives them away they are just going to find a way to come back to the city, perhaps living in a worse situation.  We have seen the same played out in Phnom Penh, at the Buoeng Kak Lake communities.

Some of the people are better off than others.  Their houses are well-built, spacious and clean.  Some raise ducks and chicken.

Many farm fish - catfish seems to be popular here.

There are also some who collect recyclables such as plastic bottles and paper to make a living.  I heard that one can sell paper collected at 500 rupees (~5 cents US) a kilogram, and plastics at 1,500 rupees (~15 cents) a kilogram. For comparison, it costs about 2,000 rupees to park a car.  The conditions here, however, are much better than the situation at the slum at Stung Meancheay garbage dump in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The houses and alleys here are fairly clean and fee of garbage.

The majority here seems to be Muslim.  There is a simple mosque in the middle of the community.  It is clean and tidy, with separate areas for men and women.

Thursday, June 27, 2013


Three days after returning to Hong Kong from service-learning in Cambodia, I am off to Indonesia to visit another team of our students doing service-learning.  Specifically, I am in Yogyakarta (Jogjakarta or just Jogja), in the south of central Java. Jogja is actually a “special region” of Indonesia, ruled by a sultan.    

Just before landing, the plane flew over Jogja, and, I believe, passed over the largest shopping mall in Jogja, a city of 500,000 people.  There appeared to be few buildings more than a few storeys high.  Our students are actually serving and living in a village an hour outside of Jogja, and I will be visiting them tomorrow and Friday. 

I was pleasantly surprised to find the plane stopping with its nose no more than 20 meters from the terminal. There was no bridge leading into the terminal, we simply walked down the stairs, and walked right into the luggage claim area.  I looked around, and found only 2 planes (including ours) on the tarmac.  While we were waiting for the luggage to appear, I took a peep through the entrance, and our plane was right there outside the door.  It is a cozy little airport.

At dinner, I was introduced to a drink with real pieces of durian and a special coconut with very soft flesh. A good start.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Cambodian dodgeball

Kids (and my students) at San Sok playing a kind of dodgeball.  Here they use a shuttlecock (jianzi, 毽子) instead of a ball.  Can you see the flying shuttlecock?


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Stop-motion animation in Cambodia

These took place at the primary school at San Sok. 

Can you tell what these students are doing?  If you answer is “stop-motion animation”, that would be correct.  The students are taking photographs of a sequence of posts, which, when chained together, animates a story.  This is one of the techniques to tell a story using digital technology.  In other words, digital storytelling.

Most of the children have never used a computer before.  But they learned to do stop-motion animation quickly.  Of course, our university students had made meticulous preparations before hand, so squeeze as much teaching and learning as possible into just one week.  In the process, they work with the Cambodia associate degree students from Asia HRDI.

The teaching was very successful, and everyone had a lot of fun.  With the “computer lab in a suitcase in a tuk-tuk”, which will be driven to the school every week by a volunteer at the Cambodian YMCA, we are hoping the children will continue to practice what we taught them, and perhaps even continue to learn on their own.

We will come back to check on their progress in a few months, and continue to plan the next step.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Country Living - Cambodian style

13 of us were assigned to live in a village house in San Sok, where our sleeping quarter was one big room on the upper floor.  It looked quite similar to many of the read-and-blue village houses that I have seen all over Cambodia.  We could see through the gaps between the floor boards, some of which were 1 cm wide.  But the boards looked and feel solid enough, so we were not worried.

Mosquito nets were set up.  After heavy rains, the temperature was surprising cool.  So it actually felt comfortable even inside the nets.

The biggest problem for my students was the bathroom.  It had no roof, and the water for bathing was not crystal clear.  The reason was obvious - the water tank was not covered, hence leaves, dusts, and insects could easily drop into it.  In the dark, I checked the water under my torch.  It looked a little cloudy but otherwise OK to me.  So I poured some over myself, washing away the grime and the sweat, and I felt refreshed.  However, many of my student did not want to risk the water, and stewed in their own sweat overnight.  Later on, however, I heard that the discomfort helped them overcome their anxiety with the water, and they started bathing with the water.

After dark, the place was LOUD.  The frogs, crickets, and what not were literally deafening.

The morning revealed a great view, across houses, lotus ponds, little paths, and lots and lots of green rice fields.

All the students that I talked to turned out enjoying the adventure. It is surely something they can be proud of, and will remember for a long time.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Computer Laboratory on a tuk-tuk

We have built a computer server with wireless access, and 30 mobile smartphones that can connect to the server wirelessly. We have also installed software including Wikipedia and eBooks on the server. So children can use the smartphones to read the eBooks on the server and use other applications.  It is essentially a wireless computer laboratory by itself, even without access to the Internet. There is sufficient power in the batteries to run for half-a-day.

We are also buying and modifying a tuk-tuk, so that we can store the computer laboratory in the tuk-tuk.  Someone will then drive the tuk-tuk to the San Sok primary school regularly to run the computer laboratory for the children.  Finally, we are also sponsoring a university student to manage and support the running of the mobile computer laboratory on a tuk-tuk.

Many people are quite excited about this experiment. Someone actually donated the 30 smartphones when they heard about this project. If it works as planned, it can be replicated for many more schools.  

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Computers in San Sok

Today, one of our teams started running a series of workshops on computers, digital story telling and robotics.  Early in the morning, we tested a bunch of children on how well they can use smart phones.  This San Sok primary school has no electricity or running water, and no computers.  Hence they are “un-spoiled”.  They learn quickly.  On their own, many of them learned to turn on the smart phone, take photographs, play music, and read eBooks.

I would have stayed to keep an eye on my students as they started to teach.  Unfortunately, one of them got sick and I have to take him to see a doctor.   The student turned out to have been infected by some kind of amoeba, with a high fever and diarrhea. I ended up spending most of the day at the clinic. Very frustrating.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Rain in Cambodia

Our team of 50+ PolyU students and staff have been in Cambodia for 4 days, undergoing intense training, preparations, and orientation with the 30+ students and staff from Human Resource Development Institute, a local community college.  We are all excited about the services that will start on Monday.

One thing that we are getting acquainted with again is the rain.  This is the beginning of the rainy season.  In the past, the rain usually starts in the afternoon, and last a couple of hours.  To some extent, it is a welcome relief from the oppressive heat.  It is usually much cooler after the rain, and the air smells fresher.

This year, the rain seems to start earlier in the day, heavier than before, and last longer.  As soon as it rains, the streets are flooded, cars and motorcycles stall, traffic stops, and it is a big mess.

Many children do not seem to mind the rain.  All over town, children - mainly those that are poor - frolic in the puddles.  It is quite disturbing, however, to note the garbage and filth in the puddles.

Many of the roads seem to be deteriorating quickly, probably due to the increased traffic, particularly those heavy trucks.  One of the roads, 371, leading the Killing Fields from the south of the city is practically impassable.  That’s perhaps part of the cost of modernization.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Deja vu

When I picked up the SCMP this morning, I thought I was stuck in a time warp. In the middle of the front page was a photograph of two men that were there yesterday. At first I thought perhaps I was picking up yesterday’s paper.  But no, this is today’s paper, but the photograph and the lead article were quite similar.

Why would a newspaper publish a photograph of and lead with the same two men on consecutive days?  Yes, they are the leaders of the two most powerful countries in the world, and they are having a meeting in California.  But they are not meeting over a war, a disaster, or some crisis that had captured the world’s attention.

Is it simply laziness?

Is the SCMP becoming more like the newspapers on the Chinese mainland?

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Views from Beacon Hill

How much are you willing to pay for his perch - shaded by the tall trees, with a panoramic view of Kowloon in front of you, caressed by the gentle breeze from all around you?  For me, it is worth a lot of hiking and sweat.

Looking towards the west, you can see the Stonecutter Island and bridge, Shumshuipo, Taikoktsui, Kennedy Town on Hong Kong Island, Green Island, and even part of Lantau.

Looking towards the east, from another point on Beacon Hill, you can see the runway of the old Kaitak Airport, and the narrow gap between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island directly in front of it, with mountains on both sides.  You can imagine taking off with your airplane from the runway, while making sure you don’t crash into one of the mountains.

For the record, I ran the first 5+ kilometers from Hung Hom up to Kowloon Tong, then hiked halfway up Beacon Hill.  I was thwarted by 5 monkeys, who occupied the road and wouldn’t give way.  (1) There were 5 of them and just 1 of me, (2) I really do not like monkeys, and (3) it was said that “discretion is the better part of valour”, so I retreated.  From Kowloon Tong KCR/MTR station, I took the train back to Hung Hom but forgot to turn off Runkeeper.  The GPS also went a bit haywire today, as you can see.

High level water

Prudent hikers carry lots of water with them, particularly on a hot day.  Hiking up Tse Wan Shan 慈雲山 (Temple Hill), however, I saw many people carrying empty plastic bottles uphill.

It turns out there are many places up the hill where streams of water run off the hill.  There is one place near the Kwun Yin Temple 觀音廟. which is particularly popular among the water collectors.

This temple is the reason why Tse Wan Shan is also called Temple Hill.  In fact, "Tse Wan 慈雲" itself refers to the “cloud of compassion” of Kwun Yin (觀音的慈雲).   That's probably why this particular stream behind the temple is so popular.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

June 4

The candle light vigil started normally.  We arrived at 7:30 PM and were able to squeeze into the second last soccer field.  Soon the organizers declared the soccer fields full, and started directing people to the grass field across from the soccer fields.

Then the rain came, at precisely 8PM.  People started wiping out their umbrellas.  A young lady offered to shelter the young man next to her with her umbrella.  The young man, in turn, offered to share his plastic sheet with me.  Fortunately, my youngest daughter had an umbrella with her.  it was enough to keep my camera dry, otherwise I would have to leave.

Soon it was pouring, and we all got soaked despite all the umbrellas.  Amazingly, some people managed to keep their candles lit under the umbrellas.  And gradually, more and more candles were lit again.

Many people brought their young ones, many of them not yet born in 1989, when the massacre happened.

It is yet another sign that the sense of right and wrong is very powerful.  The power of evil cannot completely overcome the sense of justice after-all.