Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Only 4 citations?

The University of Hong Kong’s council voted down the appointment of Prof. Johannes Chan as pro-vice-chancellor.  This is not surprising, with so many pro-establishment types appointed to the council.  Still, the reasons cited to turn him down, rejecting the recommendation of the search committee, are laughable if the matter is not so serious.  

Apparently, if I understand correctly, a Mr. L commented that Prof. Chan’s publications had been searched for only 4 times.  It is rather unusual for the number of searches to be used as a measurement of one’s academic achievements.  Perhaps he had meant citations?  Either way, 4 is a pitifully small number, if it were true.  

But, wait!  Someone has pointed out that the number of citations of Prof. Chan’s publications was at least 400+.  It is actually quite easy to verify it using online tools such as Google Scholar.  So, what is going on?  Did Mr. L tell a bold faced lie?  I did a quick check, and 400+ sounds much more plausible.  

Someone pointed out that if you type Prof. Chan’s full name in a specific way into a specific search engine, you can come up with a citation count of 4.

In fact, even very junior scholars know that an author’s name can appear in a citation in many ways.  To come up with an accurate count of citations you have to try many combinations, and then to weed out duplicates and other people with the same name.  

It appears that Mr. L is probably not very good at finding citations.  That in itself is not a sin.  Unless, however, when you are judging a professor’s academic credentials based on such erroneous information.   Then it is serious.  Making such a juvenile academic mistake should disqualify him from judging Prof. Chan’s academic credentials.  

Many of the other negative comments are equally laughable.  If this is the way the University of Hong Kong is run, it does not bode well for the university.  By the way, who appointed these people?  

Monday, September 28, 2015

The Beginning of Occupy Central

A year ago today, this was what I posted:

“When my wife and I got to Central around 3 PM, someone was threatening to jump off a bridge over Harcourt Road.  Access to the Government Headquarters were blocked. But Harcourt Road was still open.  We then went around the corner to the junction of Cotton Tree Drive, Harcourt Rod, and Queensway.  

There a small group of people had sat down on Cotton Tree Drive going up to the Peak.  They were surrounded by police. 

Another group started to walk onto the part of Cotton Tree Drive linking Harcourt Road with Queensway.  Some started to sit down in the middle of the road.  Traffic were blocked. The small group on the uphill section moved to join the bigger group on the level.   

More and more people joined in, and soon the whole street was blocked. 

Then a banner was brought in, and people started marching towards Government Headquarters.  Traffic on Harcourt Road was blocked.”

My wife and I went home - we were afraid there might be confrontation.  Later that evening, the police fired tear gas at the people.  

We remember. And we do not give up.  

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Is Chang’e (嫦娥) happy?

While I was enjoying my favourite moon cake, I remember something I saw this morning.  

Next to the Clock Tower in Tsim Sha Tsui, colorful lanterns were set up for the Mid-Autumn Festival.  Among all the fruits and animals, there was a cute little cartoonish smiling girl with a huge head.  Presumably that was supposed to be Chang’e.  I felt something was not right then, but I could not quite put my finger on it.  Now I know why.  

Chang Er stole from her husband an elixir and imbibed it.  She acquired immortality but was stuck on the moon, with only a rabbit for company.  Her predicament was depicted so compellingly by 李商隱.


Like many Chinese tales, it is a nuanced story.  When we want something really badly, we may resort to desperate measures to acquire it.  When we do get what we desire, however, there may be a dark side to it that causes us to regret.  Those twists are what make the story so compelling.  Turning Chang’e into a cartoonish cutie removes that nuance.  Something is lost.  We seem to be doing that to a lot of our culture.  We want everything to be cute and happy.  But life is not always cuties and happy faces.  

By the way, for those who do not recognise the moon cake, it is 金華火腿五仁.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Calligraphy and Life

Today I went to listen to a famous calligrapher, 施子清, who spoke at our Confucius Institute (孔子學院).  

Two things that he said stuck in my mind.  Firstly, what we see and how we feel get expressed in our calligraphy.  He used 王羲之’s 蘭亭集序 as an example, to encourage us to observe nature and cultivate our minds in order to make good calligraphy.  

Secondly, he said we should not blindly copy our calligraphy teachers.  Instead we should make calligraphy in our own style.  This suits me well.  Due mainly to laziness, I have never taken lessons in calligraphy.   

In secondary school, I had a teacher of Chinese who liked to copy Chinese poems onto the blackboard, and his blackboard writing was very elegant. I tried to copy his writing. I also have a couple of fellow classmates whose handwriting were beautiful.  So I borrowed their notes to copy.  They were my teachers, unwittingly.  I do enjoy watching good calligraphy.  Other than that,  I have been essentially been on my own.  Hence Mr. Sze’s words resonate with me.  And I extended his ideas.  

Friday, September 25, 2015

What to think of the police watchdog?

My expatriate friends think Hong Kong is great.  So those of you who complain about problems such as police brutality must have a bad attitude; you should reflect on how you can be more constructive. 

It is mildly amusing if anyone reasons with such faulty logic.  But if it comes from the mouth of the chairman of the police watchdog, it is truly disturbing.   The Hong Kong Police have earned quite a positive image over the years, due to the concerted efforts of the ICAC and the Police Force themselves.  But that image was greatly tarnished during Occupy Central last year.  Now the chairman of the Independent Police Complaints Council is demonstrating to us that the watchdog cannot be trusted to do its job rationally and impartially.  

First of all, he didn’t seem to have surveyed expatriates in Hong Kong systematically or widely.  Secondly, expatriates generally enjoy privileges unavailable to most of us.  They certainly are not suitable as a benchmark.  If the chairman of the watchdog exhibits such faulty reasoning, how can one trust in the council’s judgements?  And what about the people who appointed him?  It does not bode well for the rest of us.  

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Crystal Shrimp (水晶蝦)

It is incredible that these little shrimps at a shop in Mongkok are almost HK$2,000 each.  In fact, I vaguely remember that a year ago, I saw some that looked identical, at the same shop, at HK$7,000 each.  

These are less than 1.5 cm long.  They probably weigh less than 0.1 gram.  That means they are worth HK$20,000,000 per kilogram.  In comparison, gold is only roughly HK$300,000 per kilogram.  These little animals are worth as much as diamonds.  Incredible.  

Sunday, September 20, 2015

What do luxury residences and prisons have in common?

A friend pointed out to me the many security cameras on the fence of a luxurious (at least in price) private residence along the waterfront next to the Science Park.  

I observed similar set ups at another private residence along Clear Water Bay Road.  In fact, fences, barbed wires, security cameras surround a lot of such private spaces. 

The curious thing is that the same set up can be seen at the Pik Uk Prison along Clear Water Bay Road. 

And other such facilities, such as Siu Nam psychiatric hospital.

There is one crucial difference, of course.  At the prisons, the barbed wires and security cameras face inside, to prevent the inmates from escaping.  At the luxury private residences, on the other hand, the security cameras watch the outside, to prevent people from getting in.  

It is a sign that the rich and powerful, from which the ruling class is drawn, live apart from the rest of us.  They are afraid of mingling with the rest of us.  

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Is the Virtual World more interesting than Real Life?

When I was walking through the canteen this morning, two young people caught my attention.  A young man and a young lady were sitting side by side, in front of a computer.  The young man was on the right, staring at the screen, intently.  On the screen, a man was face to face with a woman; perhaps it was a scene in a movie.  The young lady was not watching the screen.  She was reclining on the table, with her head on her left arm, staring at her friend sideways, forlornly. There is something unsettling about this picture. 

The scene reminds me of something I just read in Susan Greenfield’s “Mind Change”. That the “digital natives” nowadays are so such captured by the “two-dimensional world of only sight and sound”, that they are less and less interested/comfortable/involved in the three-dimensional world of real people.  There are more and more signs that she is right.  

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Kyrgyz people

While my friends were buying SIM cards for their mobile phones at the bazaar at Tokmok, I stepped outside to watch the people passing by.  There was an amazing mix of people.  

The old.  The young.  The muslims.  Those who covered their heads.  

Those who don’t.  

The Russians.  The Kyrgyz.  …   One of my favourites is a partial shot of a little girl holding her mother’s hand. 

Inside the bazaar, I saw a mannequin - she was so still, looking straight ahead, and her facial features were so perfect.  

Then she moved and smiled when I took her photograph. 

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Power and Faith (anti-) Correlation

A while ago I was doing a study on the history of the Jewish people.  I stumbled upon an interesting correlation, or more correctly, negative correlation.  Perhaps others have known it earlier.  For me, however, I learned something new.   Abraham was and continues to be an example of admirable faith in God; but he had no political power.  In fact, he was wandering around for long periods of time, trying to find a place to settle down. Moses introduced the Ten Commandments from God; but the Israelis had to flee from Egypt and wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.  

After Joshua’s victories, the Israelis continued to conquer and populate Palestine; but the spiritual and moral decay was shocking.  David led the fight against the Philistines and gradually built up a small empire; he gained God’s favour, with some lapses.  His son, Solomon, oversaw the glorious period in Israeli history; but he had numerous pagan women and worshipped their idols.  

When the Jews were exiled to Babylon, they entered one of the darkest periods in their history; prophets lamented, yet somehow they retained and in fact renewed their faith in God, and stopped worshipping idols.  

When the Hasmoneans drove away the Greeks and Herod subsequently went into a building frenzy, their power was evident in the great buildings such as the Second Temple; yet their spiritual corruption was equally evident, e.g., as recorded in the New Testament.  

When Jerusalem and the Second Temple was destroyed by the Roman army, the Jews were driven away, again.  Yet they developed the powerful Rabbinic Judaism which has sustained them for 2,000 years.  

It seems that spiritual power and political power may be mutually exclusive. Perhaps political power corrupts the spirit?  Jesus himself said in Matthew 6:21 “… where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”  Throughout history, political power and material prosperity have a natural affinity with each other.   When we set our hearts on prosperity, we are not focused on God.  

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Sai Kung Seafood by the bucket

At the Sai Kung public pier, it is quite entertaining and educational to watch people buy seafood from the boats moored off the seawall. 

Here one can buy groupers, snappers, leather jackets (沙鯭), octopus, cuttlefish, giant prawns, shrimps, mantis shrimps, fresh water crabs, sea water crabs, rays, clams, snails, lobsters, …  There are many species that you won’t find even in a respectable aquarium. 

And you buy them by the bucket.  A bucket of 10 small leather jackets costs less than 100 HK dollars.  But a bucket of a big grouper can cost hundreds.  

A fair amount of trust is required for the buying and selling to occur.  After the product, the processing (skin those leather jackets) and the price are settled, the vendor in the most delivers the product in a net at the end of a long pole, to the customer more than 10 feet up on the seawall.  The customer retrieves the product, and then places the money in the net.  The vendor collects the money and then delivers the change, if any.  Both sides have to trust that the other side would honour the agreement, which is purely verbal and often not very explicit - what if the customer collects the fish and then walks away?

Trust between strangers is more important than we often realize.  

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Balasagun (八剌沙衮)

The Barana Tower is probably the most famous historical relic of Tokmok, at what was  Balasagun, at the foot of Tian Shan.

Balasagun was once the capital of the Turkic Kara-Khanid Khanate (疏勒國, 黑汗國, 喀喇汗國), around 1100 AD. And later the Kara-Kithai (喀喇契丹), also known as Western Liao (西遼), around 1200 AD.  It is no surprise that Turkey has strong interest in Kyrgyzstan. 

The climb up and down the stairs can be challenging.  But it is worth it. 

At the top of the tower, one can see flocks of cows, green fields, …, and in the distance, some of the snow-capped mountains of Tian Shan. 

There are many petroglyphs - carved tomb stones - near the tower.  Most of them are carved with human figures (hence “stone grandfathers”) holding wine glasses.  Not quite sure what the wine glasses signify. 

Today the place is popular for wedding photographs.  The wine glasses may seem peculiarly fitting from this point of view.  

Over the past 2,000 years, many people have passed through these crossroads to elsewhere.  Some have conquered and since perished.  Some have stayed.  Today different ethnic groups are here, and I understand sometimes there are conflicts.  I pray that people will respect one another and find ways to live with one another.   Nationalism can be useful in helping people come together, to fight imperialism and colonialism, to beat off oppressors.  But more is needed now, when we have to live with one another.