Thursday, October 31, 2013

Education of ethnic minorities

This is something that we should be ashamed of.  It is also something that we have known already for some time, but as a society, do not bother to do something concrete to address. 

Starting with kindergarten, the south asian children in Hong Kong fall behind Chinese children already.  Twice or three times as many of them do not attend kindergarten.  The problem is probably a combination of finances as well as language.  Kindergarten is not free, and most of them teach in Chinese. 

The situation continues into primary school, secondary school, and university.  I have been teaching in a university for 20 years, and I can count the number of south asian students that I have taught on one hand. The data in the graphic appeared in SCMP, and is the result of research conducted by HKIE.  It confirms what many of us know from experience.  

It is a shame because Hong Kong is affluent enough to address the inequality but we don’t.  Our education system for the majority of the Chinese students is full of problems.  But our children come out of it with a reasonable level of competency.  But much of the ethnic minorities, mostly south asians, are not provided with that opportunity. 

[Some NGOs and others are trying to help.  As part of our service-learning program, some students from our university are teaching Chinese to some of the ethnic minorities and refugees in Hong Kong.  But the impact so far is very limited in view of the scale of the problem and official apathy.]

We Chinese often complain of being discriminated against, when we go to foreign countries such as Europe, North America and Australia.  But we treat the ethnic minorities among us no better. What hypocrites we are. 


Monday, October 28, 2013

Nga Tsin Wai Tsuen (衙前圍村)

It turns out that I was wrong about Nga Tsin Wai Tsuen, literally the village in front of the magistrate’s office.  I thought it was on the west side of Kowloon Walled City (九龍城寨) and was essentially completely torn down.  It turns out it is on the east side of Kowloon Walled City and it has not yet been completely torn down - yet.  I am indebted to a friend who pointed out my mistake.  And I have to apologize to those that I have misled, even though it was not on purpose. On Saturday I decided to go and have a look when I went out running.  

The government decided that it will “re-develop” Nga Tsin Wai Tsuen.  Evidently the Urban Renewal Authority has taken over most (perhaps all?) of the houses.  Most of the houses have been abandoned, and many have already been torn down.  Some have been gutted and only the walls stand.  For most of them, even the walls have been torn down and there is absolutely nothing left. 

My dictionary says “renewal” means to “extend the  period of time when something is effective or valid”.  In Hong Kong it seems to mean to raze, to demolish. 

There are still a few hold-outs.  Several houses are still occupied.  People are cooking, growing potted plants, keeping caged birds, worshipping at the Goddess of Heaven Temple, ...  

Several hair-cutters have set up their businesses in tents outside the village.  It costs only 20 dollars for a hair cut, and there were quite a number of customers on that Saturday morning.  Some have laid out their wares around the village. A store was still operating.  

Many banners complain about the low level of compensation for their houses, demand preservation and rebuilding of the village, complain about high pressure tactics of the government and the Urban Renewal Authority, ...  

The village is many hundreds of years old.  There was a wall around the village with many old buildings, that were quite historical.  But nothing was done to preserve the buildings.  The houses deteriorated.  Now they are beyond saving.    A once-vibrant community destroyed.  A familiar story all over Hong Kong. 


Friday, October 25, 2013

Hong Kong losing its nerve?

The saga of awarding new TV licenses is more entertaining than anything produced by our current TV stations. If the saga is conducted on purpose by the government, it would demonstrate innovation and skill.  But that is, of course, ludicrous. No government would shoot themselves in the foot this way on purpose. 
Most people try hard not to link this to political manipulation by the mainland government, at least not publicly. Many point to, instead, a wish to maintain the status quo of domination by a small number of big businesses, protection of  the privileged TVB, preservation of mainland-linked AsiaTV, and anxiousness over the creative, energetic but hard-to-control HKTV.  

Apart from the overt political considerations, this is sad reflection of the state of the mind of those who are ruling Hong Kong.  It has long been said that Hong Kong has few resources other than its people.  It was in fact our willingness to work hard in the face of challenges and competition,  sense of fairness in treating ourselves and others, and creative application that made Hong Kong successful.  However, the current saga is clear indication that our rulers has lost much of the core values that made us what it is today.  I fear for the future of Hong Kong if we continue in this manner. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A pig that thinks he is a dog

Is this a dog? or a pig?  We encountered this friendly little guy towards the end of our hike, near Lok Ma Chau.  He (actually I wasn’t sure that it was a he) was apparently a pet of the owner of a store, where many hikers and bikers stopped for drinks and refreshments.  

There were lots of such pleasant surprises along the way.  Such as a huge tree with tons of apparently ripe starfruit strewn on the ground around it.  There were also many left on the tree.  V ate one, which turned out to be quite fresh - but sour.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Lok Ma Chau (落馬洲) Hike

Much of the formerly-restricted area bordering Shenzhen was opened in the last year.  Today we hike the route leading from the LoWu (羅湖) border crossing to the LokMaChau (落馬洲) border crossing (more or less).  The route is evidently getting quite popular, as we encountered many fellow hikers and bikers. 

We started from the LoWu prison for women, on Ho Sheung Heung Road.  I really didn’t know that there is such a prison.  Apparently, it holds 1,400 inmates. And it was opened only in 2010.  Does that mean Hong Kong is putting more people behind bars?

Soon we walked through a formerly-fortified fence; now the gate has been removed even though the fence remains.  For a long time, particularly in the 60s and 70s, this area was heavily patrolled, to prevent mainlanders from entering Hong Kong illegally.  Now they are less desperately poor, and less intensely oppressed over there.  Hence people smuggling is not as bad.  Hence a large part of the border area has been opened. 

At one point we could see the LoWu border crossing building on the Shenzhen side, even though we stayed on the Hong Kong side.   Hundreds of thousands of people cross the border easily each day.  Back in the 60s and 70s, who would have thought that this would happen?  When I went to mainland China for the first time in 1978, China was starting to open, but it was still a bit of a nerve-wrecking experience.  

We could also see the huge water pipes bringing the water from the Dong River (東江) to Hong Kong.  We could not build enough reservoirs to collect enough water in Hong Kong.  Hence we have been purchasing water from Dong River since the 1960s.  The pipes are as big in diameter as a man is tall.  Actually, they do not look all that big, considering that more than half of the water that the 7 million of us drink and clean with come through these pipes.  We could also see the MTR trains running towards LoWu in parallel to the water pipes. 

All along the border, Shenzhen is evidently all built up.  On the Hong Kong side, however, it is all fields and fish ponds.  Based on what we saw along the border, it is easy to conclude that mainland China is a highly developed place, while Hong Kong is a sleepy backwaters.  Partial pictures can be mightily deceptive.  

Kwun Tong (觀塘) Run

The distance from Hung Hom to Kwun Tong is shorter than I thought.  Just 12 kilometers on foot through the streets.   The hardest part was at the beginning, running up the steep slope at Fat Kong Street (佛光街).  Because of road work in San Po Kong (新蒲崗), I had to make some detours which was annoying.   The running, at a leisurely pace, was easy.  There were quite a number of street crossings, which was also annoying.  But they gave me a chance to take a breath, so perhaps I should actually be thankful.  

The route gave me a welcome chance to run through some unfamiliar neighbourhoods, such as Ngau Tau Kok (牛頭角).  Some of the oldest public housing at Ngau Tau Kok were torn down just a short while ago.  Looking at the gaping open space left, there was a sense of lost.  But if it gives the residents new and better homes, it should also be a good development. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Puffer Fish

I was looking at a fish tank at Lau Fau Shan (流浮山) last Sunday and found this cute little puffer fish looking back at me. He seemed very curious, much more so than the other fishes there.  Does that mean he is more intelligent than the other ones?  

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Sun-dried Grouper (生曬龍躉)

This is sun-dried giant grouper that we found at Lau Fau Shan (流浮山) last Sunday.  It has been lightly salted and dried under the sun for a couple of days.  It has lost much but not all the moisture.  It is firmer than fresh grouper but not as dry and hard as salted grouper.  My wife sliced and steamed it with shreds of ginger.  The meat is firmer than steamed fresh grouper, really tasty and not “fishy” at all.  

This is what it looks like, when alive.  Highly recommended. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The Price of Inequality

I found Joseph E. Stiglitz’s “The Price of Inequality” depressing.  Stiglitz is able to analyze and present complicated economic issues clearly, precisely, and concisely.  The book is easy to read.  The points that he make are convincing.  Perhaps too convincing, and the that is what makes it depressing.  Nobel prize winners are of course very smart.  But he is special in that he can make it understandable by lay people like us. 

The book looks dirty because I have more than read it.  I have truly studied it.  What I get from the book is that the rich are in control of the USA, and in effect, the world.  “The top 1% seized more than 65% of the gain in national income.” Research have also shown that the richer are the parents, the better are the economic, educational and socio-emotional prospects of the children. In other words, the gap between the rich and the poor is perpetuating and widening. 

The market is supposed to be free and open.  But the rich have access to more information, more resources, control of the courts, control of the political processes, and control of the economic policies.  Faced with such overwhelming odds against them, the poor have a bleak prospect.  

Just witness an infamous and well known recent case.  The big investment banks took too much risk and caused the Great Recession of 2008. But they were able to persuade the government to rescue them with gigantic bailouts.  They then used the money to pay themselves huge bonuses.  It is the rest who suffer the consequences, with no recourse. 

How do the rich do that?  Actually it is not very subtle.  The people in charge of  the monetary policy, such as the Federal Reserve Board, are nominated by influential people who either work for the big banks or otherwise hold views favourable to the rich.  These people in turn decide on the bailout which benefit the big banks.  Talk about conflict of interest.  Yet it is done blatantly.  

Poor people, who have the labour, work for the rich, who have the money.  The economic system makes it easy to move money around, so that those with the money can choose to invest their money wherever, and in whatever it is most favourable to them.  But the poor cannot move, change jobs, or learn a different skill so easily.  The market is supposed to be open and free, but in reality it is not.  For the rich, perhaps it is, but not for the poor. 

The world is ruled by the rich.  I guess we all know that.  But it is still depressing to get it confirmed by such well-researched facts and well-presented arguments. 

Stiglitz seems to believe there is hope, and he make some suggestions.  But I am not so optimistic. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Tsuen Kam Au (荃錦坳) Hike (2)

There were also stunning flowers, fungi, trees,


Tsuen Kam Au (荃錦坳) Hike (1)

Two weeks ago we (old secondary school classmates) went on a hike from Tsuen Kam Au (荃錦坳) down the Kap Lung Forest Trail (甲龍林徑) to Shek Kong Village (石崗). 

It was an easy and shady trail.  We walked under tall trees most of the time.  

But there were plenty of interesting sights.  There was this snail on whom it is difficult to tell the body and the shell apart.  And the shell looked really odd.

There were also some nests full of fiery red ants.  They were made up of leaves glued together with a sort of white glue which looked suspiciously like the white glue that you buy from the bookstore.  

Monday, October 07, 2013

Cruelty to cats

Some people really like cats.  These photos were taken in Causeway Bay on Sunday.