Saturday, February 28, 2015

Solar Power Coming

Preparation for this year’s "Technology Beyond Borders" service-learning projects have started in earnest.  We installed two small scale solar power systems at two schools in Rwanda.  Half a year later, they are still operating.  So we can confirm that the design works.  

This year we plan to install 45 such systems in Rwanda and another 45 in Cambodia.  Solar (photovoltaic) panels will be used to charge car batteries, and the batteries will be used to light LED lamps, charge mobile phones, and more.  

The students are now given workshops on basic electricity, solar power, and … basic electrical and mechanical skills such as sawing, deburring, … soldering, …

Many of the students, both boys and girls, have never handled a saw, a file, a clamp, …, before.  Now they do.  Many are taking to it enthusiastically.  

It is a good start.  Let us pray that our plans work out well.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Lunar New Year in Mongkok

My wife and I heard that the cooked-food vendors who would traditionally open for business on Kweilin Street 桂林街 in Shumshuipo during Lunar New Year were chased away by the government.  We went there to have a look on the 3rd day of the new year, and indeed the vendors were no where to be found.  

Disappointed, we went to Saiyeungchoi Street 西洋菜街 in Mongkok to have another look.  The crowds were thicker than usual, but nobody felt pressured.  By and large, it was festive and fun. 

You can get yourself photographed.  We wondered why people would want to pose like that in the public, for the world to see.  Then we think of what people have been doing on Facebook, and we realised that we should not have been surprised. 

There were many groups singing, some of them quite well.   

You could get yourself sketched. 

You could buy a wallet made with money.  Not real money, of course. 

You could also watch this man, without fingers, doing calligraphy in a way that put us all to shame.  He  certainly deserved (more than) a big red-packet (lai see 利是). 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Fan Ling to Sha Tin Route

It is 21 kilometres along the bike path from Fanling KCR station to Shatin KCR station.  Almost exactly a half-marathon.  Between Fan Ling and Tai Po, the bike path runs alongside the KCR tracks. 

You get to see how the peach blossoms (桃花) are grown. 

There are no hills to climb.  But slogan demanding free elections to see. 

There are, however, two places where you have to climb up and down a footbridge to cross over to the other side of the railway tracks.  I stumbled and almost fell running up on the undulating ramp, which were there presumably to slow down the bikers when going down the ramp.  

Between Taipo and Shatin, the bike path runs alongside the To Lu Harbour and then Shing Mun River, offering wide vistas.  

And this resilient tree that holds a firm grip on the sea wall.  These "tree on rocky walls" are adaptable and tough, just like some Hong Kong people.  But it seems that we Hongkongers are getting soft these days, after many years of prosperity.  We complain a lot, and demand help.  We seem lost, and less confident that we can solve our problems ourselves.  

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Sketch by 尊子

My real reward from the New Year's Eve market: a sketch by 尊子.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Lunar New Year’s Eve Market

My wife and I went to the market between 8 and 11 PM on the last day.  On the one hand, I was a bit apprehensive of the big crowd.  

On the other hand, I did want to get a feeling of the festive atmosphere, and to see what was on offer this year.  

We were not disappointed.  There were some of the more popular politicians such as Yu and Ho writing Chinese couplets.  

Many of the products on offer are related to the themes of democracy, 

Occupy Central, 

displeasure with the Chief Executive, 


Lunar New Year

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Children of Jubilee

About this time 7 years ago, in January 2008, I was working in an orphanage in Changkou in Dingxi County in Gansu Province, with a group of about 10 of our students.  There were 20+ children there in the orphanage then.  We donated several computers, set them up in their computer room, wired up the local area network, and taught the children as well as their teachers how to use the computers. 

Many of the children were about to be sent “home”, to their relatives, for Chinese New Year.  Their normal diet consisted mainly of potatoes, noodles, steamed buns, and vegetables.  Not bad food, but pretty bland. For dinner on the night before they were to be sent “home”, their were treated to a course of French Fries!  They kids loved it.  After 5 days of living together, we bonded well with them.  It was an emotional experience for all of us.  

Since then we went back twice in 2008 and 2009.  We installed a fibre optic cable to link two buildings together, installed wireless networks, taught robotics, taught drag-and-drop programming with SCRATCH, set up a remote teaching system with teachers from a primary school in Hong Kong committed to teach an English class once a week, …  By then they have 40+ children. 

Then it all came crashing down.  The orphanage was closed in 2009 and the children all sent away.  I still have photographs of each and everyone of the 40+ kids posted on the bulletin board in my office. I took those photos myself.  They shall forever remain my children.  

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Run from Tai Wo to Shek Kip Mei

My wife and I went to Tai Wo 太和 to buy organic produce.  She took the train home and I tried to run back home.  A drizzle started as soon as I took off from the market.  I ignored it and kept running.  Then it got heavier, and I ignored it.  Then it got even heavier.  Someone seemed determined to make me stop.  

I had my mind set on running last evening.  I even checked with my wife to ensure that there was nothing on our schedule that would preclude my running.  So the rain was really annoying.  The more it rained, the more I was determined that I would continue running.  By the time I reached the Science Park it was raining cats and dogs and I was completely soaked, and the University Station of the KCR was close by. By then I had run 8 km in about an hour and it was already a decent good workout. I could have hopped on the train and called it a day.  

But I persisted. By the time I reached Tai Wai the rain had slowed to a drizzle again.  I felt I had won.  But I had planned to run to Kowloon, so I got on Tai Po Road and ran uphill.  That was hard.  

But I was rewarded by scenes that I suspect few people see with their own eyes - there was no one around on foot, and no driver stopped to look.  One is the water treatment plant.  This is where our drinking water becomes drinkable.  The other is the entrance to the Shing  Mun Tunnel linking Shatin with Tsuen Wan. [Actually it is Tsing Sha Highway.  Thank you, Homing Tam, for pointing it out. :-)]

At the top near the reservoir, I found that the battery of my phone was dead - my run was not being tracked anymore!  My legs were wobbly already, and I wanted to stop.  But I was determined to get back to Kowloon, at least to the bottom of Tai Po Road.  Fortunately, by then it was all downhill.  By the time I saw SCAD (what a name!) in Shek Kip Mei 石硤尾, my legs were really protesting, and I decided to take the MTR to get home.  I estimated that I ran ~22 kilometers in ~3 hours.

My ankle is swollen, my legs wobbly, and my legs hurt.  But it is a good kind of hurt, if there is such a thing.  

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Fields of Blood

Many people blame religion for many, if not all, of the wars in the world.  In Fields of Blood, Karen Armstrong argues that the problem lies not so much in religion but the violence embedded in our human nature and the nature of the state.  

Until the modern period, religion permeated all aspects of life. Hence it is linked to all human activities, including empire building, nationalism, … and war.  The state required the forcible subjugation of at least 90% of the population, and empire builders invariably invoke religion to endow themselves with legitimacy.  

Constantine’s Roman Empire showed what could happen when an originally peaceful tradition (Christianity as an often-persecuted community) became too closely associated with the government (the politically powerful state church). 

In modern times, religion has often been displaced in public life by secularization.  Yet violence has not receded.  In revolutionary France, for the first time, nationalism has mobilised the whole of society for war.  In the Indian subcontinent and the Middle East, the alien ideology of nationalism transformed traditional religious symbols and myths and gave them a violent dimension.  

War, it has been said, is caused by our inability to see relationships.  Our relationships with our economic and historical situation.  Our relationship with our fellow men. And above our relationship to nothingness.  To death.  There is still massive inequality and an unfair imbalance of power.  But the dispossessed are not helpless peasants anymore.  They have found ways of fighting back.  

If we want a viable world, we have to take responsibility for the world’s pain and learn to listen.  All this requires the surrender, selflessness and compassion of true faith.  

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Vank Cathedral in Isfahan

I have heard that there remains in Iran some Christian communities. And I have wondered how these communities survive in a country which has been Muslim for more than a thousand years.  Particularly after the Islamic Revolution in 1979.  Hence I was quite excited when we had a chance to visit the Armenian Vank Cathedral in Isfahan.  

I learned that Armenia had been ruled directly or indirectly by Persia for more than a thousand years since the days of Cyrus and Darius.  In the 1,600s Shah Abbas moved 500,000 Armenians to Isfahan, and the Vank Cathedral was built around that time.  Today, it is believed that 80,000 Armenians live in Iran.  Many of them are Christians.  

On the wall above the exit, there is a huge fresco of the Day of Judgement.  Some are ascending to heaven, while others are descending into hell.  

It is said that in the old days, most people could not read or write.  Pictures like these were important for educating the people.  The scenes of the Day of Judgement would be the last images the believers saw when they leave the church, reminding them of the rewards and punishments awaiting them.  

Within the cathedral’s compound, there is a memorial of the 1915 Genocide in Turkey, in which a million Armenian were believed to have been killed.  Most people are aware of the killing of 6 million Jews by the Nazis in the 1940s.  But far fewer remember the Armenians that were killed.  

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Zoroastrianism in Iran

Zoroastrianism is one of the oldest monotheistic religions that originated in Iran.  It was the religion of Cyrus and Darius, and was prosperous for many years.  Today its followers are relatively few, and many of them live in Yazd.  There are various interpretations of the elements of their main symbol, Fare-e-Kiani.  The winged disc is said to represent the winged sun, a symbol of royal power.  The person in the middle is said to be a guardian angel.  But there are other interpretations and I am not sure which is correct.

Zoroastrians believe in Mazda, the creator god.  Water and fire are considered agents of purity.  A sacred fire is housed in a fire temple, such as the one in Yazd.  This one is supposed to have been burning for hundreds of years, and moved around many times, until it was set up in this temple.

They practiced a form of sky burial until the 20th century.   Clothes were taken off a body, which was then left exposed to the sky on a rounded mountain top.  After the scavengers such as vultures had stripped the flesh off the bones, the bones were thrown into a very deep pit in the middle of the site.

This was done, presumably, so that the rotting flesh do not defile the scared earth.  It can, I suppose, be considered environmentally friendly.  Even though it may sound gruesome and disturbing.  

Iran is dominated now by Shiite Muslims.  Yet Zoroastrian, as well as Armenian Christian communities survive, openly.  One of my greatest rewards of this trip to Iran is seeing at first hand how this is happening.