Sunday, February 28, 2016

Run to Sai Kung

Running has a lot of benefits.  One of which is you can go anywhere you want and see interesting sights.  One thing I learned this morning is that Sai Kung is almost exactly 20 kilometres form my home in Hung Hom, through Clear Water Bay Road. 

There I encountered a mournful-looking giant cuttle fish.  It probably knew that it was going to be eaten.  

There was a pair of horseshoe crabs. The species has been around for 450 million years, and is considered a living fossil. The animal is all shells and gills.  There is almost nothing that can be eaten.  I really don’t know why people would want to eat them other than as a curio and something to brag about.  

There were some flathead lobsters (琵琶蝦).  Now these are ugly but tasty. 

There was also sea urchin.  

Lots of boats were anchored off the sea wall, selling all kinds of sea food.  

There were some that I could not name.  

Friday, February 26, 2016

Garbage or valuable indigenous flora?

Today my colleagues at the Department of Computing gave me a retirement party. I will retire from the department next month.  Then I will start a new appointment as the head of the Office of Service-Learning.  

Laying on the floor outside my new office is a pile of branches from palm trees around the campus.  They are quite common around Hong Kong.  Normally they will be picked up by the street cleaners and thrown away, as garbage.  They are even more plentiful in Cambodia.

Tomorrow I will start teaching the students in our service-learning class how to turn them into something useful.  Then when we go to Cambodia in June, they can show our friends there how they can turn these dead branches from these plentiful indigenous plants into something they can use themselves, or sell. 

Last year we designed LED lights for our friends in Rwanda and Cambodia. They are powered by batteries charged with electricity generated by solar panels. Tomorrow I am going to teach our students how to cut and shape these palm branches, and to embed LED lights in them, to make desk lamps, floor lamps, wall lamps, ceiling lamps, …

Service-Learning is the reason why I stay at the university after retirement.  In fact, I am not really retiring yet because I am enjoying it so much. 

Friday, February 19, 2016

News as Horror

At our home, we do not watch much television other than movies and news.  But lately, the news has been rather difficult to watch.  In fact, it is often quite horrible.  

We have seen protesters throwing bricks at the police, the police throwing rocks back at the protesters, protesters trying to beat up the police and reporters, the police actually beating up the protesters and reporters and seemingly anyone nearby.  

We have seen the government saying the protesters are animals, pro-establishment politicians saying the police should shoot the protesters, the government condemning the protester violence but refusing to look into possible police misconduct, the government condemning protesters yet refusing to admit that government action and institutional iniquity could be the source of citizen rage.  

The violence so far is actually relatively mild compared to the violence in many countries.  Yet the trend of increasing violence protests is worrying.  It is the same with government stonewalling,  the same with the government and the police treating citizens as the enemy.  

The protesters should be aware that they are losing the moral high ground by resorting to violence.  They will end up isolating themselves. 

The government should be aware that their stonewalling and double standard is generating more and more anger.  Despite their superior fire power and political hegemony, they cannot suppress the anger forever.  Sooner the anger will erupt and consume them together with the rest of the community.   A cleverer government would find ways to release the anger before it is too late. 

You hit me.  I hit you back, harder.  You make me bleed.  I make you bleed more.  When is it going to end?  Until one side is, or both are dead?

For both sides, it is better to stop before it is too late. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Jainism and Ahimsa

The violence witnessed recently reminded me of the Jain temples we visited in Khajuraho in India.  

Jainism prescribes ahimsa (nonviolence) towards all creatures. Ahimsa leads naturally to vegetarianism.  Even insects should not be harmed, hence escorted out of the house instead of killed.  They would also brush the ground free of insects before they tread.  

The Swastika is an important symbol, where the 4 arms represents the 4 states of existence: heavenly, human, hellish, and subhuman (flora or fauna). 

Nakedness is an essential element on the road to liberation.  Hence the naked statues and many naked monks.  Perhaps it is related to the principle of non-attachment.

However, it does not sound very practical in many parts of the world.  

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Violence is not the solution

There is a worrying trend of more and more violence protests.  Both the protesters and the establishment are hardening their positions and resorting to more violent actions.  

There is more and more palpable anger in the community, particularly amount some of the more extreme groups.  There is indeed a lot of institutional injustice in Hong Kong.  Political dominance by the pro-Beijing factions. Financial exploitation by the big corporations.  Poverty among the less educated.  Lack of opportunity for the young.   Forced nationalistic education.   Examination driven education.  Selective enforcement of the law.   Privilege for the rich and well-connected.  The list is endless and people are justifiably angry.  

But violence is not the solution for Hong Kong.  The situation is not so dire that justifies violent revolution.  It might have been the case at the end of the Ching Dynasty in China.  But not here and now in Hong Kong.   

Violent anger destroys the angry person from the inside.  It hurts the angry person more than the one causing the anger.  Violence destroys the credibility of the angry person.  It destroys Hong Kong. Non-violent methods take longer to work and give less satisfaction in the short time.  But ultimately they may cause more fundamental, longer lasting changes.   

In the mean time, I believe the government is responsible for much of the anger in society.  It is also responsible for not tackling the deeper problems, together with the rich corporations, the legislators, people who enjoy the benefits from the inequality.  They are also the ones with the power to change society.  Even then, all these still do not justify the violence, hence we should condemn the violence.  But that does not mean the government should not bear much of the blame.  Blaming the perpetuators of the violence without addressing the deep seated iniquity will not solve the problem.  It will just make the hatred worse.

I pray that God comforts the angry and shows them that He understands and will judge wisely.  That the evildoers will be punished.  I also pray that God will move those who has the power to do good, or evil, to do the right thing.  That those who are hurting others will realise what they are doing is wrong, and repent.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Joy of Running Outside

I have run from Hung Hom to Lohas Park (日出康城) 3 times now.  The route is roughly 21 kilometers, just about half a marathon, a good test of my fitness.   It also takes me through different parts of Kowloon, with a variety of scenery.  I run through residential areas, industrial areas, piers, and parks.  A significant portion is on the waterfront, or where I can see the water from above.  The most gruelling part is running up the Junk Bay Chinese Permanent Cemetery (將軍澳華人永遠墳場).  But it is also the most beautiful, where I can see views of Hong Kong not normally available.  

While I was going up the cemetery, I could see, right below, the typhoon shelter at Leu Yue Mun (鯉魚門). I could also see Sam Ka Tsuen (三家村), where people go for seafood. 

In the distance, there was the typhoon shelter at Shau Ki Wan (筲箕灣).  

Making the sharp turn towards the cemetery, I could see Shau Ki Wan and Chai Wan (柴灣) side by side, separated by a rocky hill. 

And then going down from the cemetery, Lohas Park in Junk Bay.  And the humongous garbage dump. It is still operating, but is said to be nearing capacity.  What will happen when it does?

Clearly Lohas Park was built on reclaimed land.  What is actually underneath and around it?

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Happy Chinese New Year?

On the first day of the Chinese New Year, we visited my three aunts, in Aberdeen, Ap Lei Chau and Tuen Wan.  We are glad to see them.  But it was exhausting.  Hence today, we got up late and just stay home.  Throughout the day, I have been receiving and sending New Year’s greetings.  Almost without fail, we wish each other good health,  good fortune and prosperity.  Many of us also invoke God’s blessings.  It is cool but sunny outside.  I just finished a book and will soon start a new one.  My wife cooked a very tasty pasta lunch.  I roasted some nuts and had a cup of tea, while my wife and daughter had ice cream.  My wife is sewing.  My daughter will cook tonight. All in all, a good day.  

All the time, however, I cannot help but think that there is more to life than health, prosperity, and blessings from God.  Less than a month ago I witnessed first hand people struggling to make a living in the slums in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  

Immediately before that I visited friends in Rwanda who live in houses of literally four walls of mud, with very little else.  Most have no running water nor electricity. 

Less than a month before that, my wife and I were in India, which has the largest number of people in absolute poverty, many of them women and children.  The situation was shocking, even though we were mentally prepared for it.  

Even in Hong Kong, right outside our homes and churches, there are plenty of people in poverty, ethnic minorities with few opportunities, … and so much injustice.  

For most of these people, what we consider as God’s grace and Good News seem alien.  

At the beginning of the year, we indeed should thank God for His grace, and wish each other good health and prosperity.  However, how can we reconcile our good fortune with these other scenes, unless we are working hard with God to bring God’s grace to them as well?

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Chinese New Year’s Eve Market

My wife and I went to the Chinese New Year’s Eve Market at Victoria Park last evening.  As in past years, we were not really there to buy anything.  But rather to experience the atmosphere, get a sense of what the community’s sentiments are, and see if there are some innovative ideas.  The 100Most (100毛) stall was one of the most crowded.  Lots of young people were buying books and stuffed toys. That is probably a reflection of the buzz that their magazine and online TV programs have generated in recent years.  

At the MINE (Money Is Not Everything) stall, a lot of young people were lined up to buy.  In this aspect, at least, it is very successful.  

We like, quite a lot, the stuffed vegetables at one of the stalls. The design and production were done very well. 

I like, very much, the stuffed Pineapple Bun with Butter. 

There were quite a few political-themed stalls and products. Some of them, unsurprisingly, were operated by anti-establishment political parties. 

Stalls operated by political parties were not attracting a lot of attention in general.  Among them, it is interesting to observe that those operated by pro-establishment political parties were completely devoid of customers.  That is quite revealing.  

There were a total of 4 aisles.  The two aisles selling mostly food and fun things were very crowded.  The one aisle selling mainly flowers much less so.  That has been the case for many years.  Why don’t the organisers do something such as widening the more crowded aisles and squeezing the flower aisle a little?  

Friday, February 05, 2016

The Rock Church of Adadi Mariam

Ethiopia has a distinctive culture and religious tradition. Legend has it that the child of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba came to settle in Ethiopia.  Historically, it was one of the earliest countries to adopt Christianity as a state religion.  Today a majority of the population belong to the Oriental Orthodox Church. One of its most visible symbols are the rock hewn churches, the most famous of which are the ones at Lalibela.  Lalibela is too far from Addis Ababa (9 hours by car).  So we settled on visiting the Adadi Mariam, about an hour outside Addis. 

Below the big tree, in the distance two crosses mark the top of the rock church.  The whole church is below ground level, carved from the solid rock.  

Around the church are houses for the monks who come to meditate. 

To get to the church, one has to do down the steps, roughly 20 of them.  There was a woman kneeling and praying at one of the doors.  This is a practice that I have not seen very often at other countries - kneeling and praying outside the church rather than inside.  But it seems to be common in Ethiopia.  

There are corridors, again carved from the rock, on both sides of the sanctuary.  The left for the men, and the right for the women.  

There is, naturally, an icon of Mary and Jesus.  

Above the door to the sanctuary, there is an icon of the Trinity.  At the 4 corners are the 4 animals representing the 4 Evangelists: human (Matthew), lion (Mark), ox (Luke), and eagle (John).  This is, again, common in Ethiopian churches.

The Adadi Mariam was quiet and peaceful, modest and unpretentious.  There were few tourists.  People can come, and they do come, to pray and worship.  It is obvious they are very serious about their faith, which is very much alive.  I like this place.   


Wednesday, February 03, 2016

El Hambre (Hunger)

Ethiopia is an old country with a rich culture. It is also one of the poorest countries in the world.  It is estimated that 20 million people (out of a population of 94 million) live under the US$1.25 (per day) poverty line set by the World Bank.   In simple terms, they are not getting enough to eat. 

India is said to be the country with the largest number of hungry people, roughly 363 million. 

China is not far behind, with 157 million.

There are also lots of hungry people in Cambodia, 3 million.

All together, it is estimated that 1,000 million people in the world live under the poverty line. 

There are, of course, many reasons for the hunger: natural disasters, soil erosion, lack of land, lack of fertilizer, lack of seeds, poor farming technique, laziness, corruption, exploitation, colonialism, land grab, greed, …

Books such as Martin Caparros’ “El Hambre (Hunger)” observe that the world actually produces enough food for every single person on earth to eat.  There is really no need for anyone to go hungry, to starve, to die hungry.  Why do we allow this to happen?

It is easy to pretend that these are just numbers that do not concern us.  But they are actually real human beings that are just like us.  The more we see their faces, the more we hear from them, and the more we get to know them, the harder it is to not care.  How can we allow this to happen?  How can we live and sleep in comfort, knowing that these people are hungry, starving and dying from hunger, and we are doing nothing?