Friday, February 28, 2014

Freedom of Speech threatened?

Kevin Lau Chun-to (劉進圖) a well-known editor of a respectable, relatively independent newspaper, Ming Pao (明報), was savagely chopped.  His two attackers have not been found. 

Shih Wing-ching (施永青), founder of the free, relatively independent newspaper AM730, was attacked in July 2013. Fortunately, he was able to escape from harm.  Mainland-linked companies have been said to be pulling advertisement from AM730. His tow attackers have not been found. 

Albert Ho Chun-yan (何俊仁), a law maker of the Democratic Party, was beaten several years ago in 2006.  He suffered only minor injuries.  His attackers were caught, but the mastermind(s) have not been found. 

Albert Cheng King-hon (鄭經翰), an outspoken talk-show host, was savagely chopped in an attack in 1998.  His attackers have not been found. 

Li Wai-ling (李慧玲), an outspoken and popular talk-show host, was recently fired by Commercial Radio. 

Jimmy Lai Chee-ying (黎智英), owner of Apple Daily, was threatened in 2013.  Some one tried to set fire to the office of Apply Daily in 2013. 

Each of these may be an isolated incident.  Put together, however, it is difficult not to get a feeling that the freedom of speech in Hong Kong is under serious threat. 

Note: Back in 1967, during the Cultural Revolution-linked riots, Lam Pun (林彬) an out-spoken radio commentator fiercely critical of the leftists, was burned to death.  It was widely believed to have been ordered by the communist leaders, although neither the attackers nor the mastermind(s) were ever found. 

Observation: Since 1997, the victims in such attacks seems to have always been independent or pro-democracy. Never pro-establishment or pro-Communist.  Is it simply a coincidence?  I believe not. 


Thursday, February 27, 2014


When I went to Myanmar earlier in February to set up a service project for this summer, it felt a bit like I was spying on my daughter A.  She has taught English and travelled widely in Myanmar in the last two years, knows the country well, and even speaks Burmese.  Everywhere I went, I wondered whether she has been there before.  

Myanmar/Burma is opening up and changing fast.  But it still has a lot of distinctive features.  I had known before that the Burmese wear the longyi.  It was still quite a shock to see a wall of men wearing it at the airport, welcoming the arrivals.  So much so that I forgot to take a picture.  

Longyi are indeed everywhere, worn by men and women, so I got used to seeing it soon enough.  But I haven’t seen it again in the form of a human wall.  

Chewing the betel nut is something else that I have heard of, but have never seen before. 

The Burmese people are certainly very polite and friendly.  I took a stroll along a highway, and watched the people got off work, picked up their children from school, took the bus, gambled on games, bought fruit, bought flowers, collected donations, chewed the betel nut, cock fighting, …, with many of them smiling at me.  


Wednesday, February 26, 2014


When my daughter A started giving me books to read, I was intrigued - she was reading these interesting books that I have never heard of.  Increasingly, I am proud that my little girl is growing up to be an independent, resourceful reader.  Some of her books do not appeal particularly to me, but many of them do.  There is at least one thing that my wife and I did right as parents - encouraging our daughters to read.  

Soon after each of them were born, we would start reading to them.  Then we read with them.  I suspect part of it was simply that they enjoy doing things with us, and my wife and I really enjoy reading.   Soon they were able to read by themselves, and we continued to read alongside them.  Then they started buying their own books.  Now we are reading some of their books.  Sometimes they read our books as well.  

I do not know how much credit we can claim - regarding their interest in reading.  I would like to think that we did contribute to it.  

Monday, February 24, 2014

Unrest in workers’ paradise (曹征路之問蒼茫)

I have been getting a lot of education lately from my daughter A, through the books that she recommended.  This is one of those novels that I cannot put down.  Its central character is a young woman who went from a remote village in the mountains of Guizhou to work in a factory in Shenzhen.  Some of her friends had to “開處” - offer their virginity to the recruiters - in exchange for a job.  The factory paid very low wages during the “trial” period, at the end of which it fired most of the workers on trial.  Repeating this process, the factory kept the labor cost very low.  When a young woman worker was badly burnt trying to put out a fire, the owner accused the victim of ”碰瓷“ - deliberately getting herself hurt -  to get herself a big payout for compensation.  These are just some of the horrors in the factories of Shenzhen.  

The day after I finished the book, I bumped into many stories of labour unrest on just one single page in a local newspaper.  Many of which looked like they came straight out of the novel.  This is ironic to the extreme.  The Communists are in power in China.  They came into power by claiming to be fighting for the workers, who were oppressed by the Capitalists.  If it were true, a Communist country should be a paradise for workers.  Why are the workers so unhappy?  Why do the workers continue to be exploited?  Do Communists turn out to be Capitalists in disguise?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Marathon and social cohesion

The marathon is one of the few things that most people in Hong Kong seem to agree on.  Yes, there are a few complaints about the noise and the closing of roads.  But by and large most people seem to think it is a good thing, and want it to go on.  The number of participants keep going up, and each year thousands of people are turned away.  

For half a day, the rich and the poor, the left and the right, Hongkongers and mainlanders, young and old, Communists and capitalists, …, run, drink water and sports drinks, eat banana and chocolate side-by-side. If only there are more occasions such as these in Hong Kong. 

In our service-learning class on Saturday before marathon day, we were discussing diversity in our society: religion, race, language, culture, wealth, …  We naturally associate with people that are like us.  But that would destroy social cohesion, and lead to bias, discrimination, and worse.  One way to improve social cohesion is for us to cross the boundaries to interact with people from the other side.  In a small way, the marathon does that.  If a government cares about social cohesion, it would encourage and organise more of such activities. 

In our own way, out service-learning projects also do that.  

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Marathon 2014

 This Standard Chartered Marathon is special.  Last year I could not complete, having to stop after 30 km because I could not train properly, because I hurt my ankle.  My ankle recovered enough just before the marathon so that I could run, essentially without any training.  So this year, I hope to do better. Unfortunately, i had to take a couple of trips in December, and then I got sick, so training was interrupted. But I was hoping that I would at least be able to finish.  

Last night, my wife heard that the Reporters Association would be asking the runners to wear a blue ribbon, in support of press freedom.  So she made me one.  At the starting line, I was given another one.  So I actually had 2, proudly.  When I got to Wanchai, about 2 km from the finishing line, I had to stop to stretch because my legs were cramping up again.  At that point, a policeman approached me, in a polite way, and asked about the meaning of the blue ribbon.  So I told him about the ribbon and why I had two.  I was surprised that the policeman did not know about it.  Isn’t it their business to know about such pubic events and social action?

There were also some sharks just like the past years, even though the costumes were a little different this year.  At one point, one shark was chasing another one, while greeting another in the opposite lane.  Shark infestation!   But this kind, of course, is welcome by everyone. 

It was cold and windy. But overall a joyful event, and good for social cohesion.  I actually used it as a case for discussion on the topic of “Diversity in Society” in our subject of “Service Learning: technology across boundaries” on Saturday.  Academic studies do not have to occur only in the ivory tower. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The firing of LI Wai Ling (李慧玲)

A well-known and popular host of phone-in programs on Commercial Radio (商業電台) was fired several days ago, on 12 February, 2014.  Commercial Radio did not give the reason for the firing.  Li has been a harsh critic of the government, and she believes that Commercial Radio is bowing to pressure from the government.  Commercial Radio and the  government (of course) both deny the allegation.  

Li has been a very popular host for many years, since joining Commercial Radio in 2004.  Her phone-in programs have been attracting a lot of listeners, and drawing in a lot of advertising revenue.  Why would a company fire an employee who is one of their major drawing cards?  Other than political pressure, there are no obvious explanations so far. 

The message seems clear: If you criticise the government too harshly, you are going to lose your job. It indeed looks like a bleak day for freedom of speech in Hong Kong.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Escape from Dongguan

Dongguan is a city in Guangdong Province in southern China, about 100 kilometers north of Hong Kong. It is a bustling city of factories, hotels, restaurants, and ... the sex trade. A couple of days ago, 6,000 police conducted a massive sweep.  They raided 200 saunas, 672 foot massage parlors, 362 karaokes, and 694 sites of other types of “entertainment”. 162 people were taken away for questioning.  

A huge number of people fled from Dongguan for a number of neighboring cities.  The exodus was captured vividly by the traces left by the mobile devices. The largest number fled towards Hong Kong.  The owners of these mobile devices probably did not expect that their movements could be traced this way. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

When is an American a Chinese national?

A Mr. Vincent Wu is being charged with 10 serious criminal charges in Guangzhou.  What attracts quite a lot of attention in this case is not the charges themselves.  But rather his nationality. He is being charged as a Chinese national. According to some news reports, it is because he entered mainland China earlier using his Hong Kong resident’s home-return card. He is also a US citizen with a US passport.  But China does not recognize dual citizenship, and he is now charged as a Chinese national.  

According to news reports, Wu left China in the late 1970s as a stowaway to Hong Kong, where he obtained residency.  He moved with his family to the US in 1994 and eventually became a US citizen.  Since then he has spent most of his time in China.  

Many Chinese people from Hong Kong are in a similar situation regarding citizenship.  They have immigrated to Canada, USA, Australia, etc., acquired citizenship and a foreign passport.  They have similarly returned to Hong Kong, and often travel to China using a home-return permit.  They could apply for a visa to enter China, using their foreign passport.  It is, unfortunately, more expensive and less convenient.  

However, when they get into trouble, would they also be charged as Chinese nationals?  Most likely yes.  Would their foreign nationality and passport give them any protection?  Probably not.  They did enter China using a home-return permit, which presumes Chinese nationality. 

Would their situation be different if they had traveled to mainland China with their foreign passport?  

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Lunar New Year at Hanoi

We go around to the pagodas and temples to see how the Vietnamese celebrate Lunar New Year.  One of the most popular sites is the Temple of Literature. On the second day of the New Year, we went with some Vietnamese friends.  The place was so crowded that our taxi was not allowed to stop in front of the gate. We had to fight through hundreds of motorbikes parked on the side walk just to get to the front gate.  

The gate is similar to many similar ones in China, complete with couplets in Chinese characters.  But few Vietnamese can read them nowadays.  Increasingly, the Chinese characters are replaced by the Romanized Vietnamese script.  Only old temples still have Chinese characters. 

People bring their children here to worship Confucius. To pray for success in studies. Thousands of people mill around, outside, inside, ... everywhere.  We learn that many Vietnamese study Chinese in high school, and they know part of the history of Confucius.  Vietnamese history is studied as part of history, but not as a separate subject.  It seems many young Vietnamese may not be very familiar with the details.  

Many traditional practices are alive and well.  Two men place Chinese chess on a huge chessboard in open air right in front of the big hall where people worship Confucius.  Chess is slow, and many of the spectators can not really follow the play.  But many people watch intently. 

Many young people write their wishes on special red boards.  It is probably safe to assume that many of the wishes are related to academic success.  

Long lines form in front of the hall on the right of the main hall.  It turns out to be people seeking calligraphy on, again, success in studies.  Many of the people requesting the calligraphy do not look like students.  Parents are often more concerned about the academic achievement of their children than their children themselves.  It is the same for the Chinese.