Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque)

Istanbul has a lot of wonderfully unique architecture, such as the “Blue” Mosque, actually Sultan Ahmed Mosque, which is more than 400 years old.  From the outside, under the winter sun, it looks powerful and austere. 

Inside, however, it is surprisingly brightly colored. Practically all the interior surfaces are covered by colourful tiles: blue, green, pink, red, gold, ... The patterns, particularly those under the main and the 8 secondary domes, are very intricate.  

Islam can sometimes give the impression of being very serious and severe. The view looking up inside the Blue Mosque, however, makes one feel life can be bright and lively - something to enjoy.  

At night, when the lights are turned on. The beauty of the mosque is stunning. It looks mysterious, but also warm.  

There are many faces to Islam. 

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Unique Map of Istanbul

My wife and I are flying to Istanbul this evening for an eight-day tour.  And this morning, we received a wonderfully special Christmas gift from our daughter A.  It is a hand-drawn map of Istanbul with its major attractions.  We plan to visit, of course, those famous mosques and palaces such as Hagia Sophia, Topkapi, Sultan Ahmed (Blue Mosque), ...  We also hope to see Taksim Square, the site of so many public events in the history of Turkey: parades, celebrations, demonstrations, protests,   

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Wilfred Lai, memorial

One week after Wilfred’s death, the staff association held a memorial service for him on campus, at lunch time on Friday. Hundreds of people came, dressed in black.  Many wept.  More flowers were placed. More posters appeared on the Democracy Wall, demanding explanations and actions to address issues related to his death. There is a palpable disquiet on campus.   

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Wilfred Lai, RIP (2)

It has been 5 days since Wilfred Lai fall to his death on Friday.  Someone placed the first bunch of flowers there sometime on Saturday.  Then a second one. I placed the third. On Monday morning there were 5. By Wednesday morning there were more than 20. 

Obviously his death is affecting us deeply. Many have wept. More are puzzled. Some are scared. Some are even angry.  

Many come to stand for a moment of silence.  Some are afraid to come close.  More seem oblivious.  How is this going to turn out?  Will we learn from it and change the way we work and the way we treat those whom we work with?  Will he be forgotten soon, as if nothing had happened?

Everything happens for a reason.  Something positive can come out of this tragedy if we are determined that it will, but only if we are determined that it will.  

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Wilfred Lai, RIP

I was having lunch, at the end of a busy week working in Hanoi when a colleague texted me to tell me that Wilfred jumped to his death at the M(ain) Building on campus. It was quite a shock. He has been helping us publicize service-learning projects in the past couple of years. And he has always been smiling and friendly.  The fact that he jumped at the workplace, and that he left a note complaining about pressure at work, made it quite clear why he took his life.  Naturally, there has been a lot of talk around campus about this. 

Some of us placed flowers at the site in memory of him.  He has been working here for 20 years.  He has a lot of friends.  His death also caused many of us to think about our own working life here. 

I do not believe that it is ever worth it to kill myself because of work.  On the other hand, I can understand how sometimes pressure can seem unbearable.  I can only hope that he is now at a better place. And I resolve to do my best to not place undue pressure on people that work with me. In fact, I will work to create an environment in which we can all enjoy working together.  

Thursday, December 05, 2013

The Fall of Saigon

On April 30, 1975, the troops of Communist North Vietnam captured Saigon, toppling the South Vietnam government. At the time, South Vietnam was popped up by the United States. Superficially, the war between North and South Vietnam was widely perceived as a fight between Communist dictatorship and Capitalist democracy.  In reality, there were many interlinking, complicating factors.  One important one was that the South Vietnam government was corrupted to the core, partly by the money poured in by its supporters.  On the other hand, the Americans, despite their superior firepower and technology, could not win a guerrilla war against a people determined to defend their homeland.  These lessons have been repeated many times since, in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Somehow, however, the lessons do not seem to result in changed behaviour. 

I went to the building which was the presidential palace at the time when Saigon fell. On the roof of the presidential palace, I could see the front gate that the North Vietnam troops blasted through back in 1975.  

A presidential helicopter sat on the roof, so that the president can walk to the helicopter without getting out of the building.  

There were many other relics such as a mahjong table for the first lady. 

After 1975, Vietnam went through a long period of relative isolation.  In the past 10+ years, however, it has been opening up economically, as evidenced by the high rises in the distance, but still visible from the rooftop of the presidential palace.  Much poverty remain, of course. And we are hoping to find some partners to set up appropriate service-learning projects for our students. 

Monday, December 02, 2013


I have heard and read quite a bit about the war in Vietnam. But after I arrived in Hu Chi Min City yesterday, I realized that I know almost nothing about this city that used to be called Saigon, where the name “Saigon” is still everywhere.  Even the hotel that I am staying in is named “Saigon River Boutique Hotel”.  I came here to give a talk on service-learning to a group of university students. Perhaps more importantly, I came to find suitable partners and locations, to prepare for a service-learning project in Vietnam in summer 2014. 

After working through most of the day, my colleague and I went out to take a walk to the quaint and historical post office. Walking out the front door of the post office, we found the Notre Dame Cathedral to the right.  I was not surprised to find it full for late Sunday afternoon mass.  But I was mildly surprised to find it full of young people.

We could see a small crowd gathered outside the cathedral.  What were they doing there?    I noticed that the crowd was quiet and attentive.  And they were all looking through the open front gate of the sanctuary.  It looked like they were following the mass through the open front gate.  And they were standing next to their motorbikes.  Perhaps this was a way to attend mass without having to park their motorbikes?

Across the street in the park, underneath tall, ancient-looking trees, in the shadow of the cathedral, a bunch of young people were jamming.  A lot more people sat around listening, eating mangos and snacks. We also stood and watched for a while, soaking up the atmosphere.  Saigon is an interesting place.