Thursday, November 28, 2013

Ping Che (坪輋) Hike (2)

There were many more interesting sights along the route.  In Sheung Shui we went to visit Liu Man Shek Tong (ancestral house) - 廖萬石堂.  Along with the usual implements, there were many plaques commemorating various prominent members of the Liu clan throughout the past several hundred years. One of them in particular caught our attention.  It commemorated a Mr. Liu who graduated from the University of Hong Kong with a Bachelor’s Degree with Second Class (Upper) Honors!  Obviously there were much fewer of them in 1961!

Just before we started climbing up Wa Shan, we encountered this truly “exclusive” parking space outside one of the villages. We wondered how the owner was going to get it off the parking space. 

From a great distance, throughout the trail snaking along the hill tops, we could see an ugly landfill between Ta Kwu Ling (打鼓嶺) and Sha Tau Kok (沙頭角).  That’s probably the infamous North East New Territories (NENT) Landfill, or Ta Kwu King Landfill, where waste was reported to be leaking into nearby rivers recently.   

There were many butterflies, and caterpillars along the way.  This train of 7 caterpillars can be beautiful, or revolting - depending on the observer.  I think they were rather beautiful - from a distance.  

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Ping Che (坪輋) Hike

Last Saturday we hiked from Sheung Shui (上水) to Ping Che.  To be more precise, we started from Sheung Shui MTR station and walked due north along Man Kam To Road (文錦渡路) towards the border.  We passed over Ng Tung River (梧桐河), and turned right at Hung Kiu San Tsuen (紅橋新村) to started climbing and hiking along a series of hills running towards Ping Che in the east.  

We hiked towards Wa Shan (華山) and continued past it.  Yes, there is a Wa Shan in Hong Kong.  It is much much smaller and nothing compared to the grandeur of Hua Shan (華山) in Shaanxi (陝西).  Nevertheless it still offers quite a nice view.  On our right, in the south is the plains of Sheung Shui, Fan Ling (粉嶺) and Kwan Tei (軍地).   

We can also see the San Wai / Tai Ling Firing Range (新圍/大嶺靶場).  We often hear of   announcements over the radio about road closings near the place because of shooting practice. From a distance, it resembles somewhat a landing strip for airplanes.  Upon closer inspection, however, it is, of course, quite different.  

In the distance, across the plain to our left in the north, we could see the high rises of Shenzhen.  The plains on either side of our trail reminded me that, as crowded as Hong Kong is, we still have much land that can be developed.  Why aren’t they?  Mostly it is greed - the desire of the land owners to restrict the supply of land, to push up the prices.  Who cares that most Hong Kong’ers have to slave for decades for the privilege to live in cramped quarters.  

There are few highrises on the Hong Kong side near the border.  What we have in abundance, however, are cargo containers. A particular pile reminded me of a container ship in a big green sea.  A pretty picture?  Or an eyesore and a blight on the land.  

Friday, November 22, 2013

Elite DSS Schools

Many elite schools in Hong Kong have turned into Direct Subsidy Schools (DSS). It gives the schools more freedom in admission, setting school fees, etc.  Some of these schools have taken the opportunity and additional resources to improve the campus, hire more and better teachers, provide more opportunities for their students for experiential learning or other innovative teaching methods.  They get even better.  

However, the increase in school fees discourage students from families with modest incomes from applying to these DSS schools.  Even though the schools may provide scholarships for such students, the reality is that fewer poor students enroll in them.  The result is increased inequality in society.  

I had this impression that many Christian (Protestant) schools have turned DSS, while fewer Catholic schools have done so.  So I did a study based on what I can gather on the Internet.  What I found was that 7 out of 11 (64%) of elite Christian schools have turned DSS, while only 3 out of 14 (21%) of elite Catholic schools have done so.  I might have missed a few, but I believe the data is representative. 

I have also heard that some Catholic schools felt that they have “what it takes” to become DSS, but they decided to remain aided schools (no school fees required) so that children with modest means can also attend. I applaud that idea. I had benefited from this noble quest myself when I was young. I would think that we Christians, particularly, should stand with the poor.  And not to contribute to make the world more unequal.  

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Black Kite (麻鷹) disappointed

The curious black kite that spied on our meeting brought back memories of another kite I encountered back in 2009.  

I was at the typhoon shelter in Chai Wan when I spotted several black kites circling overhead.    

Soon one of them swooped down, likely trying to catch a fish right in the shelter.  But it pulled up short at the last moment, when it discovered that it was just a piece of garbage. So its eye sight was not as keen as I thought. 

They are still majestic in flight. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Black Kite (麻鷹)

A black kite (黑鳶, 麻鷹) coming to visit us on the 17th floor when we were having a meeting yesterday.  Actually three of them landed on the windowsill but only one stayed.  I resisted the urge to whip out my smartphone to take a photo during the meeting.  Fortunately, one of them stayed until the end.  The lighting wasn’t quite right so the photos did not come out very well.  

The kite was about one and half feet from head to tail.  Its wing span is roughly three times its height, about four and a half feet. It is a pretty big bird.  It has very sharp eyes, and seemed quite curious, peeking at us through the window for quite some time.  If I were chairing the meeting, I would have called a halt to study the kite.  It was a rare opportunity to study a kite up close.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Government for the rich - proof

Two days ago, a pro-Communist legislator, Mr. Chung 鍾樹根, gave an amazing demonstration of how our government serves the rich.  He said, as reported in multiple newspapers: 我依家知道王維基點解會衰咗喇,原來做個新電視台infrastructure(基建)都要60億,王維基嗰幾十億身家,收皮啦肯定!」 His words translate roughly as:  “I know now why Ricky Wong failed.  One needs 6 billion just to construct a building for a TV station.  Ricky Wong only has several billion in total. He should close up shop.” His actual words were much crasser, making use of expressions from illegal gambling dens - but I do not want to translate them exactly that way.

With these words, one needs no further proof that our government is there to serve the rich.  Even if you have several billion, you still do not qualify to be served.  What hope is there for the rest of us?  

Stranger still is that Mr. Chung belongs to a pro-Communist party ostensibly representing the masses. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Zhang Xin 張欣 - No “correct” answers

“When I first got there (University of Sussex, UK), I though, ‘there has to be a model answer so these essays we write every week,’ because that is how the Chinese write. I would submit the essay and my tutor ... wasn’t interested at all whether this answer was right or wrong. Only later, I understood this was a way of cultivating your intellectual curiosity. That is still largely missing in Chinese education.”

Many people have been expressing similar thoughts.  This time, however, it was Zhang Xin, property developer, chief executive director Soho China, one of the country’s most influential real estate companies.  Her words appeared in an interview in the Post Magazine, published in South China Morning Post.  

Her words reminded me of what is transpiring in our class rooms this semester in the subject “Information and Internet Ethics: Whose Data Is It Anyway?”  Is Snowden’s releasing alleged illegal collection of personal data by the National Security Agency an attack on USA’s national security?  Is China’s recent 500-repost rumour law an unacceptable restriction of freedom of information?  Is the Hong Kong government’s refusal to grant a free TV license to HKTV an attempt to manipulate the free operation of the market?  Political control of the media?  Black-box operation of the government? ...

We also told our students similar things.  That the point is not to find the “correct” answer.  Rather it is to identify the issues, the relevant principles, and learn to apply the principles.  That there will be a lot of interactions and discussions, to sharpen and test our ideas. 

At the beginning of the semester, we had quite a few students from the Chinese mainland in our class.  Soon all of them dropped out.  We are now left with ~40 Hong Kong students, and a few Korean students.  We were wondering whether the lack of a promise of clear-cut answers and the promise of frequent discussions had something to do with it.  

The current classes and discussions turn out to be quite lively. 

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Government For The Rich

Rarely does a government admit that it serves the rich.  Even though most of them actually do (serve the rich), they would still claim that they serve the people instead.  Our Hong Kong government, however, tells the truth in this particular instance (of the bungled free TV licensing) - that it is there to serve the rich.  

It did not use exactly these words.  But it did say that HKTV was not given the license because it is not as rich as the other two applicants.  It does not matter whether HKTV is more creative, whether it has invested more money, whether it has built a stronger team, whether it has demonstrated the ability to produce better programs.  Our government is saying: if you are richer than the other person, then we are at your service; the other issues are not as important.   

Perhaps our government should be commended for being honest, just this once.  

It is equally ironic that the pro-Communists support a government that declares itself in support of the rich.  Isn’t the Communists supposed to lead the poor exploited workers against the rich capitalists that exploit them?  Perhaps the Communists have lost their way?  Or they are really only interested in grabbing power, any way they can, in the first place? 

Monday, November 04, 2013

Information Ethics and TV licenses (2)

We moved our Information Ethics class to the talk by Ricky Wong of HKTV last Friday so that we can study a number of questions up close.  Such as: Is the government justified in restricting the number of TV licenses?  Is the government justified in refusing to disclose the reason for not awarding a license to HKTV?   Is  this a correct application of the confidentiality principle of the Executive Council? ...  

Just a few days prior to the talk, we had just discussed some of the reasons that governments use to justify control of information, such as: national security, foreign relations, public morality, crime-fighting, commercial reasons, ...  Several weeks earlier, we had discussed the public’s right to know.  In between we have also discussed some of the information technologies involved and the related ethical issues.  

And just when we are ready, a perfect case study presents itself.   

Saturday, November 02, 2013

The Ethics of TV Licenses

Three companies applied for new free TV licenses.  Among the 3, Ricky Wong’s Hong Kong Television Network (HKTV) has done the most work in preparation and was widely expected to be granted one of the licenses.  When the government decided to turn them down, while awarding the other 2, it caused a huge uproar. The furor has continued for 2 weeks now, with no sign of subsiding. The government was reeling, with many officials distancing themselves from the decision. It is not a pretty sight. 

It just happened that I am teaching (together with 3 colleagues) a subject on Information Ethics this semester.  Just 5 days ago, on Monday, I used this incident as a case study in my lecture to illustrate a number of issues.  One point of contention is that our chief executive used the so called “principle of confidentiality” for the Executive Council as an excuse to not explain why HKTV was turned down.  We discussed in class whether this was a justifiable reason for withholding information from the public.  

Then we discovered that our student union had invited Ricky Wong to come to speak to the students this evening (Friday), at the exact time when we were supposed to have a tutorial.  This presented a fantastic opportunity for us to listen to one of the major protagonists.  So we cancelled our tutorial class - actually we moved the class to Logo Square, where the talk was to be held.  

The place was packed with people, mostly students.  One of the students in our class, a Korean, actually asked him a question.  I wanted to tell Ricky Wong that between his company and the government, they provided us a great lesson in Information Ethics, and civic engagement.  But I didn’t get a chance. 

My wife found me in a photograph that appeared in the Apply Daily web site.  Such a thing is not always an honour - at least in the opinion of my daughter A.  But this time I do not mind.