Sunday, January 25, 2015

Marathon 2015

It was a hard race.  But I survived.  For the first 35 kilometres, I ran reasonably well.  I had to stop several times to stretch, because my ankles were hurting, and the legs were threatening to cramp.  Yet I kept running.  But I just couldn’t tackle the climb out of the West Harbour Tunnel and the subsequent climb up to the elevated highway.  After that, the ankles and the cramps got worse, and several times I tried to walk it off, and run again.  But I did finish the course, in a little over 5 hours. 

Along the way, there were people handing out stickers with umbrellas and demands for truly open elections.

There were people with matching socks. 

There was this man heavily costumed, but I wasn’t sure why.

There was this man with a flag of the Republic of China. 

There were these two cute little horses. And much more. 

Every year I seem to be losing a few steps.  Even though I tried to train better, I seem to be running slower, not faster.  During the last several kilometres, my legs and feet were screaming: abuse! Yet I keep coming back year after year.  I am not sure whether I am being persistent, foolhardy, hardheaded, or all of the above. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Osmanthus fragrans 桂花

Coming back to campus late afternoon today, I was suddenly made aware of a strong, familiar fragrance.  Yes, it was osmanthus fragrans, also known as sweet olive.  In Chinese, 桂花.  The flower is very small, no more than 1 cm across. But it has a powerful, sweet fragrance.  

Often we see it in the form of 桂花糕.  To me, it recalls an image of my grandmother’s house.  There was a couplet 對聯 on the door of my uncle’s room in my grandmother’s house.  It was written by my uncle in very neat Chinese inkbrush calligraphy: 天上桂香飄月殿, 人間瑞氣靄籣房.  When we were very young, my grandmother would make fried dumplings (油角, 角仔) for Chinese New Year.  There was one year when I discovered that my grandmother stored those dumplings in a big jar in my uncle’s room.  I hid in the room and ate so many dumplings that I couldn’t eat dinner.  But I cannot remember whether or how I was punished. Perhaps I blocked it out subconsciously.  At that time, I did not know what 桂花 looked or smelled like.  But it made such a strong impression on me that it is still with me to this day.  

Sunday, January 18, 2015

SoCo’s Children

On my way to a bookshop, I stumbled upon a photo exhibition.  I think what made me stop to look was photos of some young people in underprivileged situations.  It turned out to be a project of the Society for Community Organisation (SoCo) - an organization that I have heard some good things about.  I am glad that I stopped to look.  

There is a girl who came from Mainland China with her mother to look for her father, who turned them away.

There is another girl who came from Mainland China with her mother to look for her father, who also turned them away. 

There is a Nepalese boy who was born in Hong Kong, who struggled in learning Chinese, which became an obstacle in his education.  

There is this sister-brother pair who grew up in poverty.  The sister is now a university student in Taiwan, while the younger brother is a manual labourer. 

There are many others.  Not necessarily stories of triumph over adversity.  But all touching stories nonetheless.  SoCo and other organisations are working hard to help.  But they also need our help.  Are we willing?   

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Persian hospitality

I had heard that Iranians are very friendly.  Now that I have experienced it first hand, I am totally convinced.  They are really the most hospitable people that I have met.  

This man in Kashan was part of a group of men cooking huge cauldrons of food to be given away as Islamic charity.  When I poked my head into the pot to see what was cooking, he offered me a plate of fruit.  I only took an apple because I was in a hurry.  The peels on the plate is evidence. 

This man was roasting something at Persepolis.  When I went to see what he was roasting, he offered me a chicken wing.  He wanted me to take more.  But I was in a hurry. 

This couple was smoking a water pipe near the Koran Gate in Shiraz.  They offered me a cup of tea. 

These people were buying bread in Shiraz.  The bread comes in very large pieces more than a foot long.  They have to break up the bread into smaller pieces to carry home.  The lady in the middle offered me a large chunk of the bread that she bought.  It was fresh and hot, straight out of the oven.  Really good. 

Never before had I experienced such hospitality in other countries. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Beautiful Isfahan - again

The Ali Qapu Palace on Naqsh-e Jahan Square has a fascinating music room.  Covering the walls and ceilings are numerous cavities shaped in the form of musical instruments.  They are there to reduce echoes, presumably.  I couldn’t try out the sound effects.  But it made for a beautiful sight. 

The Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque on Naqsh-e Jahan Square has a very intricate dome.  When the lighting is just right, a peacock would appear, with the eyes of its feathers covering the dome.  

Around the square are numerous carpet shops.  Some of them have intricate two-sided patterns. 

Hand-printed table cloths are pretty.  The stamps themselves are relatively small.  A multicoloured, large table cloth requires more than 1,000 stampings.  Considering how much manual labour go into these tableclothes, they are really not too expensive.  

The Chehel Sotoun (40 columns) palace is a classical Persian Garden.  The pavilion at the end of the water channel actually has 20 wooden columns.  The other 20 refers to their reflection.  The pavilion, the water channel, the surrounding trees, provides a peaceful refuge - a “paradise”.  

The pigeon towers in Isfahan are built to attract and house pigeons.   Their droppings provide rich fertiliser for melons.  Most of the towers are deserted now.  Those that remain become curiosities, providing intricate patterns.  

No wonder so many people want to come to Isfahan. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Lung Yeuk Tau (龍躍頭) Hike

Our ATS73 hiking team walked through a part of Lung Yurk Tau, Lau Sui Heung and ended at Kau Lung Hang Village. 

We went to Tsung Kyam Church Village (崇謙堂村), where there is Tsung Kyam Church (崇謙堂). It is one of these rare villages where there is a church but no ancestral shrine (祠堂). In fact, the village was said to have been named after the church.  About a hundred years ago, missionaries established a church, then the believers built their houses around the church …  

There is Ma Wat Wai (麻笏圍) walled village.  Here is an impressive wall that runs around the small village, where the entrance is guarded by a gate made of iron chains.   

Lo Wai (老圍) is another famed walled village.  

Lau Shui Heung reservoir (流水響水塘) is used for irrigation.  The water is clean and clear, with plenty of fish and lush vegetation all around it.   It is a nice, quiet place to spend some time away from the busy city.  

Along the way, we can see the KCR, the highway between Fanling and Taipo, and Kau Lung Hang Village (九龍坑村).  

The Umbrella is also not far away. 

We ended at Lau Lung Hang village, where people farm in the shadow of the MTR railway.  Hong Kong is a small place.  But not so small that the traditional and the modern should be able to co-exist, and thrive together.  

Friday, January 09, 2015

Beautiful Isfahan

Isfahan is located at the junction of the main north-south and east-west routes crossing Iran, was the capital of Persia under the Safavid Dynasty, and was one of the largest cities in the world.  It still retain some of the most beautiful architecture.  

The Si-o-se Pol (33 Bridge, Bridge of 33 Arches) is a 300 meter bridge on the Zayandeh River running through Isfahan.  It was built by Shah Abbas I’s chancellor, an ethnic Georgian.  At one point, Georgia was ruled by Persia and a large number of Georgians were settled in Persia.  Legend has it that 33 arches were put in the bridge because Jesus Christ died when He was 33 years old.  It is beautiful during the day and stunning at night.  

The story behind the bridge testifies to the power of the Persian Empire, the rich ethnic composition, as well as religious tolerance.  

The Naqsh-e Jahan Square is as huge as it is pretty.  It is a rectangle with a landmark mosque or palace on each side.  It is lined with interesting shops all around, and linked to the Imperial Bazaar.  One can spend days wandering the shops here selling carpets, sweets, handicrafts, …

On the south side is the Masjed-e Shah (Shah Mosque, Imam Mosque).  It is a masterpiece of Persian architecture and depicted on bank notes. 

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Liu Anting 劉安婷 - Teach for Taiwan

Liu Anting was born in Taiwan.  In 2008 she was admitted to Princeton University, the only one from Taiwan to do so.  While she was a Princeton student, she volunteered as a teacher in Ghana and Haiti, exchanged at Paris, interned for an NGO in Geneva, and researched in Cambodia.  Her final year thesis was the best of her class.  When she graduated in 2012, she got an enviable job at a major consulting firm.  

In 2013, she went back to Taiwan to start “Teach for Taiwan”, a non-profit organization dedicated to improve education in the countryside in Taiwan. Her TEDxTaipei 2013 talk can be found at:

We need more young people like Liu Anting.  

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Lion biting bull at Persepolis

One of the most famous bas-relief at Persepolis has a lion biting a bull.  Mostly animals and humans are shown in profile.  But the full frontal face of the lion is depicted here.  Perhaps a sign of how important it is. 

One interpretation, that I read about, says that the scene depicts Nowruz, the Persian New Year.  Nowruz marks the first day of Spring or Equinox, and the beginning of the year in the Persian calendar.  The lion is the sun, and the bull is the moon.  They are equal in power on this day.  Nowruz is important for Zoroastrians, the faith of the Achaemenid Empire of Cyrus and Darius, who built Persepolis. 

Another interpretation, that I heard from our Iranian tour guide, says that the lion is the king and the bull represents bounty.  The king sheds the blood of the bull, which nourishes the land, his domain.  It sounds more romantic and even heroic.