Saturday, September 28, 2013


What does this look like?  A school of baby fish swimming in milk? 

It is actually my wife’s version of 楊枝金露.  It is fairly easy to make, requiring no heating.  But very very good. The main ingredients are pomelo, mango and evaporated milk.  It tastes fruity, just slightly sweet, light, and most importantly, fresh.  One of our family’s favourites.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Celebration of International Service-Learning

We had a great time last evening.  We could have been forced to cancel the event because of the typhoon.  That would have been a great disappointment for the students and all of us involved because we put so much effort into it.  In the end, it came off smoothly, and we all had a good time.  

During this past summer, we sent out 4 teams with a total of 98 students.  We went to Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Rwanda and did some great work.  We designed and installed a mobile computer laboratory in a suitcase on a tuk-tuk.  We designed, built and deployed more than 20 solar-powered LED light systems, at less than US$25 each. We designed, constructed and gave away 20+ US$9.9 programmable robot cars. We installed several computer networks at schools and  orphanages.  We taught robot programming, social network marketing, digital storytelling, stop-motion animation, and much more. We surveyed and made maps.  We investigated into rural agricultural, water, and other problems, proposed, tested and demonstrated solutions.  We organized seminars by experts for the villagers.  We visited homes for the handicapped and tried to propose service projects for them.  We lived, ate and made friends with so many people... 

Our students practiced hard for their presentations for last evening.  The way they talked last evening was un-recognizably better than the first rehearsals two weeks ago.  In between we helped them with the material, the way they talk, the way they point, the way they carry themselves, ...  It is something else that they can use for the rest of their lives.

A lot of people came.  Senior management from our university, deans, department heads, professors, colleagues, donors, counsels, collaborating NGOs, ...   Based on the way they listen, their comments afterwards, the way they stay behind and chat, the many suggestions they made, ..., I am sure they thoroughly enjoyed it. 

This year’s work is done.  We can be mightily proud of our students.  But the work for the new round of projects has already started.  We are already scrambling to develop new subjects, lining up new projects, finding the funding to send new teams, ...

It is challenging work.  But also satisfying work. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Restaurant for mainland tourists only (內地團飯堂)

Restaurants do a lot of things to attract their customers: colorful signs, fish tanks, sample dishes, discounts, menus, ...  It is unusual to see a restaurant that makes no such effort to attract customers.  In fact, there is no way for people on the street to find out what kind of food this restaurant serves, and what the prices are. They make no effort to bring you in.  It seems they do not want your business.

This is, of course, a “canteen for tourist groups from mainland China”, 「內地團飯堂」, situated next to the wet market in To Kwa Wan (土瓜灣).  This is a place frequented by working class locals, with few, if any, tourist attractions.  I noticed this particular one several years ago.  I was mildly surprised that it was still in business yesterday.

There is also this chocolate shop, across the street from the restaurant.  It is next to a fruit vendor, directly under a old people's home, and directly facing a huge pile of used styrofoam boxes.  Busloads of mainland tourists would be disgorged by buses, pile into the chocolate shop, walk across the street to the canteen, and get back on the bus now parked outside the canteen, without visiting anything that can remotely be considered "tourist attractions".

There is actually a temple at the street corner dedicated to "Tin Hau" (queen of heaven), a goddess worshipped especially (at least originally) by fishermen.  It is frequented by locals.  But I have never seen any mainland tourists there.

It seems to be a characteristic of low-cost tours organized by Hong Kong and mainland China companies - “tourists” eating and shopping at specialty stores catering only for them, far away from the normal tourist attractions.  One wonders whether this truly qualifies as “touring”.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Fish Head

What is this to you?

Just a 7-inch head of a salmon which is soon to become soup? 

Beautiful nature?

Delicious food?

Cruelty to an animal?

Disgusting, nauseating, upsetting?

Do our reactions to it say something significant about you and me?  Or am I just reading too much psychology?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Multinational Cuisine

Sunday evening my wife whipped up a simple but truly international dinner. The fusilli pasta and grape seed oil were from Italy.  The shrimp was from Vietnam.  The smoked salmon was a gift, carried from Canada.  The French beans were from Kenya.  The mushrooms were from Korea.  The broccoli, bought rather reluctantly, was from China.  The soy source was from Hong Kong.  The wine, another gift, was from Chile.  Finally, the wine glass was a souvenir carried back gingerly in my suitcase from Chile.

I don’t think my wife did it on purpose.  It just happened that our dinner came from seven different countries.  I wouldn’t say it happens “only in Hong Kong”.  But certainly “particularly” in Hong Kong.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The butt directs the brain

It has been pointed out to me that Hong Kong’s government officials “receive” salaries much higher than the people that they are supposed to serve, but in fact, rule over.  [I started out with “earn” instead of “receive” but then realized that they might not have earned that salary.]

I was actually puzzling over another, related, phenomenon.  Many of our high officials claim to have come from families with modest financial status.  In fact, two out of three Chief Executives, and many ministers like to boast of their humble beginnings.  They should have a good understanding of the plight of the poor.

In reality, however, they have demonstrated by their words and actions, that they have little real understanding, and less sympathy with the masses.  One boasted of having many rich friends who treated him with meals, trips, and all kinds of gifts; but the largesse have apparently dried up since he left office. So, it is more  likely that those were bribes for the powerful, rather than gifts for a friend, isn’t it?  Another made generous promises to fix the housing problem during the campaign for election; but have since appeared to have forgotten them.  It is so typical of politicians.

I have heard of a somewhat crass but perhaps apt saying: “The butt directs the brain.”  Presumably it means that the way one thinks (position on issues) depends on where one sits (your position).  It matters not where you came from a poor and humble, or rich and powerful background.  Once you become the establishment, you behave like establishment.  It is a sad commentary on the supposedly noble character of us humans.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Moon-cake or prunes - part 2 (GDP)

No doubt eating the prunes is better for my health than eating the moon-cake.  It should, in the long run, improve my well-being.  However, from the point of view of the commonly accepted measurement of the standard of living - the gross domestic product per capita - it makes no difference whether I eat the moon-cake or the prunes, because they cost the same.

Actually, it is well known that the GDP is not a very good measure of well-being.  Unfortunately it is the commonly-accepted measure and favoured by finance people, the people in power.

The GDP per capita in Hong Kong is said to be US$36,796 in 2012.  It translates into HK$287,009 per year, and HK$23,917 per month.  I know for a fact that most fresh university graduates in HK are lucky if they can earn HK$13,000 per month, and the majority of Hong Kong workers do not even have a university degree.  The median household income is said to be HK$22,000, with an average household size of 2.9.  The median monthly income for men is HK$13,000, and for women, it is lower.   Hence it is clear the GDP lies again.  The real income of the majority of the people in Hong Kong is much much lower.

The people in power, holding all the real money, is doing a very good job in deceiving the rest of us.  They have succeeded in making us feel rich, with artificially high GDP numbers, big real estate bubbles that we eagerly feed into, and high prices for junk food that we gobble up greedily.  What is so rich about working inhumanely-long hours, living in spaces more cramped than mainland China, Indonesia and even Rwanda, and eating high-priced but unhealthy junk food?  Why do we still not wake up?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Moon-cake vs prunes

It is moon-cake season again.  A reasonable-quality moon cake costs about HK$50.  Other than the skin and the salted eggs, a moon-cake is filled mainly with a lotus seed paste.  According to a recipe provided by an old bakery, the filling is made up of ~43% lotus seed, 36% sugar and 21% oil.  No wonder it is very sweet, and unnaturally so.  If I had not eaten a lot of them when I was small, I probably wouldn’t like it.  But the image, the texture, and the taste had been seared so deep into my memory that there is no escape for me.

On the other hand, this plate of extra-large prunes weights about two pounds, and costs about the same as a moon-cake.  It is also very sweet, but naturally so.  It is expensive, but no more than the moon-cake.  If I have to choose, I would choose the prunes.  But I would rather have both. 

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Be obedient, to whom?

A church in central is frequented by the rich and powerful, including many government officials.  The pastor of the church, unsurprisingly, is speaking against the “Occupy Central” movement. He even said that pastors who support the movement should quit as a pastor.  He has spoken in favour of the government repeatedly in the past, so this is no surprise.

Many pro-establishment Christian leaders like to quote certain passages in the Bible which appear to support their stance.  These include: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” [Romans 13:1] “Obey your leaders and submit to them.” [Hebrews 13;17]  “Remind them to be submissive to rulers and leaders and authorities” [Titus 3:1]  “be subject to the elders.” [1 Peter 5:5] “Be subject ... to every human institution,” [1 Peter 2:13]

However, there is another side of the coin. Many of the same Bible passages that speak of submission to authority qualify that authority.  “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities” is followed by “... for rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.” [Romans 13:3] “Obey your leaders and submit to them” is followed by “... for they are keeping watch over your souls.” [Hebrews 13:17]  “Be subject ... to every human institution,” is followed by “... as sent by him to punish who do evil and to praise those who do good.” [1 Peter 2:13]

So, what do we do with a government who does not keep watch over our souls, do not punish those who do evil, do not praise those who do good, ... but actually does the opposite - suppressing freedom, oppressing the poor and the weak, and protecting the rich and corrupt, ...?

In response to rulers who where commanding them to do what the opposite of what God commands, Peter had this powerful reply: “We must obey God rather than men.” [Acts 5:29]

Jesus Christ himself always aligned with the poor, the sick, and the oppressed.  He did not turn away the rich and powerful, for they also needed the good news that He was preaching.  But he never curried favour from the rich and powerful.

50 years ago, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech at the “March on Washington” civil rights demonstration. If that should happen today in Hong Kong, he probably would have been criticized by our pro-establishment pastors as “disobeying the government.”

It should have been quite clear where Christians should stand.  Sadly, some who should have been leaders of us are choosing to trust in money and earthly power, instead of the almighty God.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

The Lean and the Fat Years

There are simply not enough places in the primary schools in Hong Kong, particularly in the northern district.   This is mainly because of the increase in the number of babies born in Hong Kong in recent years, both by local women and by mainland women coming to give birth in Hong Kong.  The shortage of places is keenly felt this year, and is expected to get worse in the next few years.

Many of us still remember that only a few years ago, there was a shortage of primary school students.  Many schools were closed, and many teachers dismissed.  I was (and still am) sitting on the management board of a primary school.  We were unfortunately situated in a district where the buildings and the inhabitants were growing old, and the shortage of students was particularly severe.  The school was actually run quite well, according to the Bureau of Education’s own inspections.  But the school was forced to make many teachers redundant, who were, understandably, quite bitter and disillusioned.  Fortunately, our school survived, despite the near-fatal cut in number of classes and teachers. 

We have since been given a new building in a growing district, and we are now getting more students than we have places for.  Many other schools suffered worse fates, and many were closed permanently.  Many teachers were dismissed, forced into early retirement, or to find other employment, often something they were not prepared for.

The decline and increase of the number of births did not happen overnight. A school system run with a longer planning horizon would have found ways to retain the schools and teachers in the lean years, in anticipation of recovery in a few years down the road - to avoid the disruption to the schools, and anguish and suffering forced on the teachers.  Unfortunately, our school system does not seem to be run with a very long term perspective.  And there does not appear to be a  strong sense of care for the well-being of the teachers.

In the mean time, many secondary schools are being threatened with closure, because of a supposed lack of students, ...  While, in several year's time, most likely there will be a rush for secondary school places just like that for the primary schools now.   Do people (in the government) never learn?  Or care at all how their decisions affect the schools, the teachers, the students, and the parents?  Perhaps, as some people speculated, that their own children are enrolled in either international schools or overseas schools with fees paid by their allowances - hence they cannot not feel the pain?

Sunday, September 01, 2013

I have a dream

Almost exactly 50 years ago, on 28 August, 1963, 250,000 people participated in the March on Washington, a civil rights demonstration in Washington, D.C., in the USA.  At the demonstration, Martin Luther King Jr., gave his famous speech:

“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and  the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character ...

I have a dream today.”

Martin Luther King Jr. is a great man.  In the intertwining 50 years, much progress in civil rights have been made, even though many problems remain.

Vast numbers of people from many other countries would love to be able to live in the USA.  Probably because of the freedom and the opportunities rather the wealth - one does not instantaneous become rich by immigrating. 

One simply have to note the huge number of people who are trying to immigrate to the USA, if one needs any evidence for that.  Most of the thousands of refugees and torture claimants stuck in Hong Kong want to immigrate to the USA.  When we crossed from Canada into USA last month, many would-be immigrants of all sorts waited at the immigration office to be processed.  We had to wait in line for more than two hours, so that our daughter - who was entering university in the USA - can get her passport stamped.

Despite what people say about the rise of China, the people trying to get out of China vastly outnumber those who are trying to get in.  People are still voting by their feet.  Actions speak louder than empty words of patriotism.