Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Flute Player

In the pedestrian tunnel at the junction of Lion Rock Road and Prince Edward Road, I met him again.  I met him for the first time at exactly the same spot 7 months ago.  He was playing the same flute then.  I was touched by the smooth but slightly haunting sound, the sound of a man who worked to master the instrument but had struggled in life.  I had passed through the tunnel since then, each time disappointed when I didn’t see him there.  

This time I was not expecting him.  Then he surprised me by showing up.  I wanted to listen to him more.  But when I gave him some money, he thanked me so profusely I was embarrassed.  …  No, it was not really embarrassment.  I was profoundly sad that such a talented man should be beaten so badly by life.  I was angry at something, but I was not sure what it was.  Yes, I am embarrassed that simply because I had a little bit of money, which he didn’t have, I was put in a seemingly superior position. Life is so not fair.  I should be thanking him for the beautiful music. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Disappearing villages

On Sunday, I ran up one of the highest public housing estates, the Shatin Pass Estate (沙田坳邨) and the Tsz Wan Shan Estates (慈雲山邨). 

Along the way, in Kowloon City, I passed the remains of an old temple (上帝古廟).  Not much is known of the temple.  Except that it was dedicated to the Northern Emperor (北帝, 北極玄天上帝, 真武大帝).  But it could be related to one of the makeshift “palaces” of one of the last Sung Dynasty Emperors, on the run from the Mongolians.  

I went to have another look at Nga Tsin Wai Village (衙前圍村).  Some people are trying hard to keep it alive.  

But much of it has already been torn down.  Barring a miracle, the village will probably not survive. 

I was surprised to find another village near the Wong Tai Sin Temple, Chuk Yuen Village (竹園鄉). Unlike Nga Tsin Wai, the buildings do not seem to be very distinctive.  I doubt that it will survive much longer. 

All in all, it was an interesting run, letting me see some parts of Hong Kong not commonly seen.  Right next to Shatin Pass Estate is the popular Tse Wan Temple (慈雲閣). 

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Refugees amid luxury

On my way to a meeting at the Education Bureau today, I saw that a number of refugee claimants continued to camp out on the sidewalk of Queen’s Road East, outside Wu Chung Building.  They are protesting against poor treatment by the Social Welfare Department and alleged corruption by the International Social Services.  

Less than 100 meters away, promotion of luxurious items in celebration of Easter were laid out outside Hopewell Building.  Mind you, these are nothing compared to ostentatious shops on Canton Road, with the long lines of people trying to get in, as if the goods are for free.  Yes,  I do understand many of the shoppers for the luxury good are from China Mainland.  Yet, there are plenty of Hong Kong people among the shoppers. The contrast was simply jarring, when I walked pass them in quick succession.  

If we in Hong Kong are wealthy enough to splurge on unneeded luxury, surely we can afford to treat the refugees among us a little better?  Yes, I understand the usual arguments against making their lives too easy.  That many of them are not really escaping from persecution, political, religious, or otherwise.  That many of them are really economic refugees seeking a more comfortable living.  That if we are too nice to them, it might encourage more of them to come.  There may even be some validity to these arguments. 

Still, we can surely afford to treat them a little better.  For the sake of humanity?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Suicide and Honour

My wife raised a question yesterday.  It was triggered by the suicide of the Korean teacher who survived the tragic sinking of the ferry.  Apparently he felt responsible for the deaths of the hundreds of people who perished in the sinking, being the one who decided on the trip.  It seems that many Koreans and Japanese committed suicide, either because of the heavy burden of the sense of guilt, or as a way to show that they are willing to bear the responsibility after some major disaster.  

The actual question was: why do we not see the Chinese doing the same?  

The Korean, Japanese, and Chinese culture share a lot of similarities, emphasising a person’s role in and responsibility to society.  In Chinese history, there were indeed may stories of people committing suicide under such circumstances.  But we hardly hear of similar cases in mainland China in recent memory.  Why?

One possible explanation that has been broached is this: the Chinese Communists, through the Cultural Revolution and other related campaigns, have tried very hard to eradicate traditional culture, including person-to-person relationships, family, trust - and the sense of shame and honour.  Such opinion can be found in numerous web sites, such as the one above, and the following, both from Tianya (天涯社區).

I wonder whether there has been some studies on this.  If not, someone should.  For this is already having a major impact on Chinese society.  In the longer run, it may actually determine whether we (deserve to) survive as a society.  

Monday, April 21, 2014

Pushing carts in Hong Kong's streets

It is a strenuous and dangerous way to make a living pushing carts in the streets of Hong Kong. Many of them are the elderly, transporting boxes, cardboards, garbage, recyclables, etc.  Not only are the carts heavy.  They also have to fight with the many taxies, minibuses,  … and double-decker buses. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Red Minibus for Taipo (紅 Van)

Red minibuses have become a Hong Kong legend.  They have become a symbol of breakneck speed, recklessness, earthliness and also defiance.  A novel (那夜凌晨, 我坐上了旺角開往大埔的紅VAN) published on the Internet in 2012 used it as a central motif for a story of science fiction.  The hero boarded a red minibus in Mongkok for Taipo.  When the minibus started, the driver said they have “lifted off” (起飛).  When the minibus exited from the Lion Rock Tunnel in Shatin, the 17 people in the minibus found that they were the only people left on earth.  Thus started a story which tackled juvenile delinquency, oppressive government control, nuclear catastrophe, military experimentation, virtual reality, memory manipulation, and much more.  All set in the familiar environment of 24 hour convenient stores (便利店), cha chaan tengs (茶餐廳), Tai Wo, Taipo Hospital, Tai Mo Shan, …  

It is actually an interesting novel, which, of course, is now a movie.  I haven’t seen the movie.  But the book is worth reading. The story is quite readable - I finished it in about 4 hours.  And there is a lot of room for association with issues on our minds lately.  

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Ting Kau (汀九) Village


This little village - set against a slope, shaded by tall trees, and looking out over its own beach - looks idyllic.  

In fact, however, it is surrounded by the Castle Peak Read, in the shadow of the massive Ting Kau Bridge.  Typical Hong Kong. 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Caste Peak Road (青山公路) Run

I found out this morning it is 15 kilometres from Tsuen Wan (荃灣) West MTR station to Gold Coast in Tuen Mun, along Castle Peak Road. 

It is not a bad route to run.  I basically ran along the sidewalk along Castle Peak Road, with the sun in my back, and the sea to my left.  Across the waters, you can see Tsing Yi (青衣), Ting Kau Bridge (汀九), Tsing Ma Bridge (青馬大橋), Ma Wan (馬灣), Kap Shui Mun Bridge (汲水門大橋) and then Lantau (大嶼山).  There was some traffic between Tsuen Wan and Shum Cheng; even then it was not heavy.  Beyond Shum Cheng there were few cars.  Same with pedestrians and runners. There were even a few dogs, clearly pampered ones.  

What were these Star Ferries doing there.  It seemed they were just moored there.  Were they taking a break?  Or is that how they retire?

You can swim in the shadow of the Ting Kau (汀九) Bridge.  But I understand the current can be swift, and the water may not be very clean, even though it looks nicely green.  

You can have roasted goose at Shum Cheng (深井) if you wish.  

You can watch giant container ships trying to squeeze under the TsingMa Bridge. 

Ma Wan, in the distance, used to be an isolated island.  People used to take the ferry at piers such as this, to get over there at Tsing Lung Tau (青龍頭) to get to Ma Wan.  Or to rent a boat here to go fishing in the waters between Lantau and Tuen Mun.  My father took me fishing and we caught some pretty big ones, perch, yellow croaker, …, using finger-size life shrimp as bait.  It is much harder now.  Much of the fish are gone. 

There is a big prison at Tai Lam (大欖).  Set in the green mountain, under the bright sun and clear skies, It looks almost idyllic.  But the inmates probably do not think so. 

At Gold Coast (黃金海岸), one can catch a glimpse of Harrow International School Hong Kong.  I heard some parents are willing to sacrifice a daughter to send a son there.  Perhaps it is just a rumour.  I have no independent validation.  

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Kindergarten War

Kindergarten E takes over the premises of kindergarten T by paying more rent for the space. T may be forced to close if it cannot find an alternate site before the next school year. E then offers to take over the students of T. 

E’s operator claims that it has done nothing wrong, Hong Kong being a free economy. E can offer more money, hence it feels entitled to force T to move out or close, and to take over the students. This can actually be a case study for illustrating how the “free market” works - and how cruel it can be.

Is this the kind of education we want for our children? That the rich can dictate the terms to those less so, that one can do anything to hurt others as long as one does not violate the law?   

I posit that people like that has no place in education.  Education is more than just a business.  We want our children to grow up to be responsible citizens who care about each other, not just money making machines who only look out for themselves.  We want people who have that vision to educate our children. 

Otherwise we do not deserve to survive as a community.  And we will not. 

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Freshwater Eel (白鱔)

Do you recognise this?  It is freshwater eel steamed with fermented black soybean (豆豉).  I thought 豆豉 were made with black beans (黑豆) and were naturally black.  But my parents said they were made with soybeans which were yellow.  They only turned black through the fermentation process. 

In any case freshwater eel steamed with fermented black beans (豆豉蒸白鱔) is very tasty.  The flesh is white, fatty, soft and succulent.  There are very few bones, and whatever bones they have are quite soft.  So you can eat essentially the whole thing, with very little wastage.  Really good. 

I heard that these freshwater eels are actually born in sea water.  When they grow bigger they swim up rivers to live.  Then they return to the sea to give birth.  Very strange. 

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Basic Education in Myanmar

At the conference on Higher Education in Myanmar earlier in February, a person involved with the education reform made a presentation on the situation of basic education in Myanmar: primary and secondary schools.  The data is quite alarming.  While ~90% of the children enrol in primary school, only about 30% enrol in upper secondary.  Noting that these are government figures, the actual data can be worse. 

She also said that evidence shows the students learn by rote memorization, and the teachers have poor pedagogical skills.    As a result, the students are unprepared to contribute to society, or for higher education.  Many of the people I met during my very short stay seemed to corroborate that observation.  

Much of this is, perhaps, due to decades of isolation.   The challenge is great indeed.  In our own small way, we hope to make a contribution with our service-learning projects.