Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The farcical HKU council

The University of Hong Kong has been looking for a pro vice chancellor responsible for academic staffing and resources.  The search committee has already recommended a person, professor C, months ago.   Normally the council simply endorses the search committee’s recommendation.  For some reason, perhaps to “punish” HKU because some of its students and staff were so active in the recent “Occupy” movement, some in the pro-establishment camp started to campaign against professor C in the newspapers.  

Professor C himself does not seem to be in the active pan-democratic camp  He is simply independent-minded, which is what you would respect in an academic.  But apparently it is not something that the pro-establishment camp appreciates. In any case, the Chief Executive appointed new members to the HKU council.  The council subsequently decided to delay the appointment of the pro vice chancellor.  The excuse given is so lame that it is laughable - that they want to wait until the provost (superior to the pro vice chancellor) is appointed.  Many people, including staff, students and alumni, see this as an obvious attempt to subvert independent academic integrity. 

It is logical that the pro-establishment camp is unhappy with some of the staff and students at HKU.  But the heavy handed manipulation of the council and the inane excuse used to block Professor C’s appointment is not worthy of civic society, let alone higher education where independent thinking and integrity is supposed to be sacrosanct.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The butt directs the brain (屁股指揮腦袋)?

One pro-establishment type (Mr. Y) says of another (Mr. L): “the butt directs the brain”.  The context was that Mr. L was appointed to be a government minister, and people are complaining that Mr. L cannot be trusted to act partially.  Presumably Mr. Y is claiming that when Mr. L takes the position of a minister, he will act impartially as demanded by the position.  Many people remain unconvinced. 

Mr. Y, apparently, did not realize that the saying is derogatory. It implies that the person in question cannot think independently, and his behaviour will inevitably be biased by his position.  No one will use it on one’s friend on purpose.  What does that tell us when Mr. Y used it on Mr. L?

On the other hand, Mr. L is presently firmly pro-establishment.  But he was, in the beginning of his political career, in the pan-democrat camp.  That’s part of the reason he is the target of so much derision.  Others question his qualification. 

Such is the quality of some of the “leaders” of the pro-establishment camp. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Why is English so easy and Chinese so hard?

Currently a student has to achieve level 3 in both Chinese and English in the DSE to qualify for university in Hong Kong. Hence making Level 3 the passing grade for Chinese and English.  The passing rates for Chinese (52.6%) and English (52.4%) are almost identical.   It sounds as if Chinese and English are equally important, and treated equally.  

However, many students in the universities have difficulties understanding lectures in English, reading textbooks in English, and carrying a conversation in English. 

On the other hand, practically all of the students taking the DSE do understand spoken Chinese, can read books in Chinese, and carry a conversation in Chinese.  Yet as many as 47.4% of them fail in Chinese. 

Obviously many of the students who achieve Level 3 in English are not very good in English, at least not really good enough to study in English.  Yet many of those who gets less than Level 3 in Chinese are perfectly capable of studying in Chinese.  In fact, all the universities in Hong Kong are supposed to be teaching in English.  One does not need to be good in Chinese to study in the universities in Hong Kong.  

What, then, is the purpose of making Chinese so hard, and English so easy, in the DSE?  Political correctness, perhaps?

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Management of Schools in Kwun Tong

Some of the primary schools in Kwun Tong seem to be having difficulties attracting enough students.  There are at least 2 schools which only have enough students to have two primary 1 classes for 2015-16.  That means they probably have to release some of the teachers.  Or even worse, the school itself may have to be closed if this persists.  This is surprising since the number of children in that age group in Hong Kong seems to have stabilised, after falling for many years. 

At the same time, I heard that 2 new primary schools have opened in recent years.  Apparently, some officials in the Education Bureau had estimated that the population in that district require new schools to be built. Obviously the projection is wrong.  

Perhaps there was a hidden agenda?  Perhaps there was a hidden plan to force some schools to close?  That’s an even more scary thought.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The West Rules - for now

Ian Morris developed an index to measure social development, defined as a measure of communities’ abilities to get things done in the world.  It is based on (a) energy capture, (b) social organization, (3) information technology, and (4) war-making capacity. 

His research showed that the West developed first, because the geography in region that we now call the Middle East favoured domestication of animals and plants starting around 14,000 BC. 

The West actually reached a high during the heydays of the Roman Empire around the time of Jesus Christ.  It then went into a long decline as the Roman Empire collapsed.  Around the same time, the East also reached a high during the Han Dynasty in China.  The Han high was lower than the Roman one.  But the subsequent post-Han decline was also not as deep, and the East recovered faster.  

Around 500 AD, the East surpassed the West in social development.  The East subsequently reached a high during the Sung Dynasty, which was as high as that achieved by the Romans. 

The West started to regain its lead when the Western Europeans discovered America, and particularly when the industrial revolution increased productivity tremendously.  The West pulled ahead dramatically in the 19th century.  

Now the East is catching up, while both are accelerating.  In fact, the East is growing faster and, at the present rate, is poised to overtake the West in the middle of the 21 century.  That is the optimistic view.  

There are a lot of wild cards, of course.  Environmental degradation, global warming,  the fight for oil, nuclear weapons, artificial intelligence, diseases, …, all add to the uncertainty.  There is no guarantee that we humans are capable of overcoming these challenges.  

Friday, July 17, 2015

Arc of Instability

Recently I spent a month and a half on service-learning projects in Rwanda, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam and southern mainland China.  At the same time, I have been reading Ian Morris’ “Why the West Rules - for now”.  And I realise that much of these places are part of a region often called the “Arc of Instability”.  

Based on Morris’ version of the arc, Rwanda is at one end of the arc, while Myanmar and Cambodia are at the other end.  All 3 places are very poor and face immense challenges.  

Rwanda went through a genocidal civil war 2o years ago and much of the country is still without electricity or running water.  

Cambodia went through a genocidal civil war 40 years ago, a large part of the country is still without electricity or running water, and corruption is rampant. 

Myanmar has been under decades of self-imposed isolation and social development suffered tremendously.  

Yet all 3 of these countries look at least partially hopeful.  Rwanda is exceptionally clean, both physically and in the government; the people are self-confident and optimistic.  In Cambodia the roads have improved a lot, and construction is accelerating.  Myanmar is opening up, and the Internet is much more accessible.  

We have also been invited to other countries in or near the arc, such as Pakistan, India, Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, …  In some of these countries, we have real concerns of security and are not quite ready to go there yet.  

What is clear is that those of us living in the more developed countries cannot ignore what is happening in these countries.  As Morris and other people point out, instability in these countries affect the whole world.   We are all in this world together.  

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Rwandan Tree Tomato (tamarillo)

I have never seen this before coming to Rwanda.  And I have not seen it elsewhere yet.  I heard that it is a native of South America.  But it is quite common in Rwanda.  It is related to eggplants.  But it certainly does not taste like an eggplant.  

We had them for breakfast, I bought some from a market, …  It tastes somewhat like a tomato - together with a heavy dose of lemon juice.  

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Rwandan Sorghum (高粱)

Sorghum is rare in Hong Kong.  We might have heard of it.  We might even have seen it in movies.  I know that you can make wine out of it.  But most of us would not recognise it when we see it.  

In Rwanda, however, it is everywhere.  The houses where we installed the solar panels were surrounded by sorghum.  

A young lady showed me how to rub dried sorghum between my hands to remove the shell, and to eat it raw.   

It tasted rather bland that way. But it is an important crop here, used to make porridge, bread, and beer.  

I did not expect that I would learn about sorghum in Rwanda.  I think I will think of sorghum in a much more favourable light from now on.  

Thank you, Rwanda. 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Dreams in Cambodia

We have been taking students on service-learning projects in Cambodia since 2010.  After the project in 2013, some of the students wanted to continue and set up an organization “Connect Beyond Dream”.   They went back to Cambodia in 2014 and they are going back again in August this year.  

They want to buy an used 20-feet container and turn it into a learning center.  They will stock it with books and a computer laboratory powered by solar energy, sponsor some of the children who cannot afford to go to school, etc.  They have already found a place in a village to place the learning centre - donated by a villager they have known for many years.  

They are now raising some funds on Fringebacker to realise this dream, so that some of the Cambodian children can realise their dreams.  

Would you help them?

Friday, July 10, 2015

No problems in the stock market?

After wiping out one third of the value of the stock market in China, there was a rebound.  Immediately pro-government newspapers proclaimed: No problems in the stock market!

Really?  Prior to the recent fall, the stock market doubled in value while the Chinese economy was slowing down.  The stock market was overheating because people borrowed heavily to bet on the market rising.   The government resorted to extraordinary measures such as forcing people to buy and forbidding people from selling in order to prop up the market.   How can people claim that there are no problems?

Of course, we all know that the pro-government newspapers are just mouthpieces of the government.  They have no choice but to say things to support government policies.  There are no surprises there and we learn nothing new. 

However, there are many pro-establishment types, politicians, businessmen, and common people alike who seem to buy that.  There seems to be only two possible conclusions.  Either they are really not smart enough to see the reality; or they are saying things they do not believe in. 

Either way, it does not paint a favourable picture of them.  A society with too many of such people is perhaps not really ready for true democracy. 

Thursday, July 09, 2015

When is a market not a market?

The stock market in China is experiencing wild swings.  In recent weeks its stocks have gone down a lot.  A lot of people, including the government, are panicking.  In reality, the stocks are generally still higher than a year ago.  When the stocks were doubling in value, nobody complained.  Yet when the stocks simply return to what they were worth a few months ago, people demand that the government step in to keep the stocks rising.  

Amazingly, the government does.  Now you are not allowed to sell.  Only to buy.  And more than half of the stocks have even been taken away from the market so no one can buy or sell them.  

People have always been saying that trading stocks in China is like betting in a casino.  In a casino, you know that the odds are against you.  However, the odds are up front for all to see.  And you know the rules when you place the bets.  In the Chinese stock market, the rules can and do change after you place your bets.  That is the really scary part.  

It is amazing that some people still ask us to trust in China’s laws.  

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

The Mekong Delta

A week ago, we drove from Ho Chi Minh City to Long Xuyen in An Giang Province in Vietnam.  We were there to visit our students on service-learning projects in An Giang. 

The trip took 5 hours, and took us deep into the Mekong Delta.  

We crossed wide branches of the famous Mekong River on long concrete bridges.  And also small bridges. 

We also took a ferry to cross another very wide branch of the river. 

There are so many bridges of all shapes and sizes.  

There are also hundreds and thousands of boats, big and small.  

Parts of the river run very fast.  There are also parts that are almost completely still.  

It is a wonderful, fascinating place.  Millions of people live there, and make their living there.  TheMekong starts in China, flows past Thailand, Lao, Cambodia, and then Vietnam. Much of the delta are really islands in the middle of the river, created by the sand washed down the river.  Now they feel solid.  How long did it take for this to happen?  And for how long will they stay this way?

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Fan Ling to Sha Tau Kok Run

It is not a particularly difficult run from Fan Ling to Sha Tau Kok along Sha Tau Kok Road.  It is a straight road, very easy to follow.  But it is really hot today.  Hence the 10 kilometres feels more like 20.  

The first half of the road is heavily built-up.  

As it moves away from Fan Ling, there are more open spaces, and life seems to slow down a bit.  

There used to be a checkpoint near the junction with Luk Keng Road.  

The area beyond that check point used to be restricted.  Now we can enter freely.  

At one point, I saw a big lump of black on the sidewalk.  For a split second, I thought it was a huge cow pie.  It turned out, however, to be an actual cow.  

There are some rather nice scenes in the former restricted area.  

The checkpoint is now very close to the border with Mainland China.  

There isn’t much to do besides having a bowl of toufufa.  Then I had to turn back. 

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Motorbikes on steroid

The motorbikes in Vietnam carry amazing and amusing things. 

They do similar things in Cambodia.  But there are also some distinctive practices.  For example, here they seem to use bags more, in a more systematic way.