Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The awesome GeoPark (地質公園)

Hong Kong is a small place, yet it contains awesome natural wonders.  Yes it is a small place, yet some of these impressive sights can be difficult to reach.  The blandly-named GeoPark (香港世界地質公園) is one such place.  

On the day after Easter, my wife, our daughter and I got on a speed boat at Sai Kung, and visited several impressive sights in the GeoPark.   These include Fa Shan (花山), 

Po Bin Chau (破邊洲), 

Wang Chau (橫洲), Bluff Island (Shau Tong Hau Shan, 沙塘口山, or Ung Kong 甕缸), Jin Island (吊鐘洲), and Sharp Island (橋咀洲).   We could not get to the East Dam (of High Island Reservoir 萬宜水庫), and Basalt Island (火石洲) because of the big waves.  

It is believed that this whole area was one huge volcano, with lava all over the place.  When the lava cooled, they solidified and shrunk, forming vertical columns with polygonal cross-section.  

These rock formations are dispersed over a number of inhospitable islands and hard-to-access coastal areas to the east of Sai Kung.  The most practical way to get there seems to be by boat.   A slow boat would take hours just to get there, hence you need a speed boat.  Further more, some of these islands are practically in the Pacific Ocean.  Beyond these islands the next landfall is the Philippines.  It would be dangerous for a small speed boat in bad weather.  Herein is another challenge. 

Erosion has created some spectacular caves, such as this one at Wang Chau, 

and this one at Bluff Island.  

Fortunately, some parts of the GeoPark, such as Sharp Island, is very accessible.  And lots of people do get there.   The tombolo (sandbar) linking the small island to the larger one is accessible only at low tide. 

We don’t have to go very far to have fun. 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Lee Po Magic Mirror (照妖鏡)

The inexplicable case of Lee Po (李波) has become a magic mirror.  He, one of the 5 persons associated with Causeway Bay Books (銅鑼灣書店) who disappeared from Hong Kong under mysterious circumstances.  He later re-appeared in Mainland China.  It is established that he did not travel to China through the normal, official channels.  He had published many books banned by Beijing, and personally expressed fear for his safety should he travel to China.  It is widely believed that he was transferred to China  involuntarily and illegally.  Without the furore caused by his disappearance, we probably would not have known where he is now.  

As it is, he re-appeared in China, and has now come back to Hong Kong, at least temporarily.  He has said that he travelled to China voluntarily.  However, many people do not believe it.  Many believe that he is under some kind of threat, and is afraid to speak the truth about his transfer to China. 

Some people, mostly pro-establishment ones apparently, say there is no reason to believe he was transferred to China reluctantly - since he has re-appeared to say he went voluntarily.  

Based on his publication of banned books and his past statements about fear of travelling to Mainland China, it is illogical to believe he would travel to China voluntarily and illegally.  It would appear that these pro-establishment types are making such nonsensible statements because of their pro-establishment position.  

Lee Po has become a Magic Mirror.  One can tell who is pro-establishment by the statements they make about Lee Po.  It is also sad commentary on us human beings when some many people are afraid to speak honestly for political reasons.  

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The service-learning experience

Working hard as a team for a challenging cause greater than oneself is one of the most satisfying experiences in life.  That is why I enjoy so much taking students to service-learning projects away from Hong Kong.  Since 2006, I have gone on 19 such trips.  We have conducted robotics summer camps in Hubei for rural high schools, installed a computer laboratory and networks for an orphanage in Gansu, conducted graphical surveys for villages in Indonesia, installed computer networks, installed solar electrical power, and conducted numerous workshops for children, genocide victims and villagers in poverty in Rwanda, conducted computer and robotics workshops for rural schools in Myanmar, conducted surveys for slum dwellers, conducted training for rehabilitating trafficked girls, installed laboratory in a suitcase for rural schools, installed solar electrical power for villagers in Cambodia, and much much more.  

These are the happiest experiences of my past 23 years at the university.  We are able to really teach our students at the moment in the field when they feel the need to learn.  The students truly enjoy what they are doing and learning.  We teachers and the students and our partners share the same purpose.  We can see with our own eyes how we are making an impact in other people’s lives.  Most importantly, there is a genuine sense that we are part of a cause larger and higher than each of us. 

In those moments we can forget about the suffocating bureaucracy, the fierce fighting over resources, the jealousy over opportunities, the frustration over student apathy, and the political jockeying for power in the university.  What we see are the people in need and the opportunity to help.  Our focus is on how we can best help.  The camaraderie is intoxicating.  Watching students learn is gratifying.  Seeing dreams come true is paradoxically both fulfilling and humbling.  

I thank God for the privilege of working on service-learning.  It is not just my job, it is my life and my faith.  

Sunday, March 13, 2016

A Great Day

Yesterday morning, my daughter and I ran in a 10 kilometre fund raising race.  She has not run a 10 km before and was concerned whether she could finish.  When we arrived at the finishing line with a very decent time, we were both very happy.   I could have run a little faster, but I enjoyed running together with her much more. 

In the afternoon, our Service-Learning subject was in session.  We actually had 5 classes running in parallel yesterday.  In one class, two of the Rwanda Teams (Maryland and Penn)  learned to set up computer networks.   In another, one Rwanda team (solar micro station) tested designs for the micro station.   In the third, the Cambodia team learned to set up the Raspberry Pi micro-computer.  In the forth, the Myanmar and Kyrgyzstan teams designed the case for the Raspberry Pi micro-computer.  In the fifth, the Hong Kong team learned about designing games for the handicapped.  They are getting ready for the projects in summer.  I am retiring from the university, and not supposed to be teaching anymore.  But I signed on to stay for two more years, concentrating on Service-Learning.  Hence I am still teaching, but only Service-Learning, which I enjoy tremendously. 

In the evening, I gave a talk at the Book Club at our church, on “Radical Islam and Christianity”. This is also something I enjoy very much - discussing how faith relates to our lives and the world.  The group was larger than usual, with 50+ people.  Towards the end of the talk, when I was answering a question, the lights in the hall started going off.  Soon it was almost completely dark.  While I was wondering what was happening,  my daughter rolled in a cake, with candles blazing, from a side door.  It turned out my wife conspired with our pastor and several people to give me a birthday party.  I was completely in the dark and really surprised.  

Throughout the day I had been receiving birthday wishes through WhatsApp, Facebook, and other means, from a whole bunch of people.  I feel really blessed with my great wife, our three daughters, church, friends, colleagues, students, and collaborators.  I am supposed to be retiring, to “enjoy life”.  But I am enjoying my work at the university, at church, in Cambodia, Rwanda, Myanmar, Vietnam, Kyrgyzstan, and so many other places.  I don’t want to stop, if God is willing.  

Monday, March 07, 2016

Lost and found - a good man

Yesterday I ran to Sai Kung.  The run was smooth and I felt good.  So I walked around, ate some rice pudding (雞屎籐茶粿), and watched people selling seafood from the boats anchored off the pier for a long time.  One big crab was selling for HK$700.  

When I got home, I realised I had lost my Hong Kong Identity card.  Thinking back, I thought I might have lost it when I fished for money from my pocket to pay the minibus.  I spent the evening trying to find out how to apply for a replacement card, all the while annoyed at myself for being careless. 

This morning, when I got to my office, I got a phone call from a Mr. Chan, who said he had my ID.  It turned out someone found it near the 茶粿 shop. I must have dropped it when paying for the 茶粿, rather than the minibus. Someone with a tour group found it, asked around and realised it did not belong to the tour group.  Somehow it ended up with this Mr. Chan.  Since I inserted my business card in a plastic holder together with my ID card, Mr. Chan tried to call me at my office several times yesterday and this morning, until he found me. 

I got to Sai Kung as soon as I could, and found Mr. Chan in front of one of the biggest seafood restaurants.  I was, of course, very grateful to him.  He refused to accept any monetary reward, and in fact, seemed embarrassed by it.  He quickly turned around and walked into the restaurant.  

Thank you, Mr. Chan.  You are a good man.  

Sunday, March 06, 2016

Riot? What about Lam Bun (林彬)?

Many pro-establishment figures condemned what happened on the evening of Chinese New Year in Mongkok as a riot, and the people involved as rioters.  All these even before anyone appeared in front of the courts. 

If that was a riot, what about 1967?  What about burning Lam Bun and his cousin to death?  For those who are too young, Lam Bun was a popular radio commentator.  In those days, the British still ruled Hong Kong, and the Communists were not in power in Hong Kong, yet.  The Cultural Revolution started in 1966 in Mainland China.  Corpses started flowing down the Pearl River, and washing up on our beaches in Hong Kong.  In this atmosphere, the Communists in Hong Kong started strikes, protests, …, throwing real and fake bombs, and many were hurt.  

Lam Bun criticised such acts fiercely.  He created a popular program on Commercial Radio called  "Can't Stop Striking" (欲罷不能), satirising the Communist agitators,  who were called Leftists at the time.  On 24 August 1967, men posing as road workers stopped his car, locked the car doors, poured gasoline on Lam Bun and his cousin, and burned them alive.  Both died.  

The Communist newspaper, Ta Kung Pao (大公報), condemned Lam Bun but not the murderers.  On of the articles was titled "地下突擊隊鋤奸, 敗類林彬受重傷".  Another article commented  “突擊隊懲戒林彬".  The murderers were never caught.  But it was obvious where the Communists stood on this murder.  Many believed that the Communists ordered and carried out the murder. 

During the 1967 riots, 52 people died, and 800 were injured.  I was 11 years old at the time.  One afternoon, while playing with my friends, I picked up a small package, about 6 inches long and wrapped in newspapers, from a flower bed on the grounds of our apartment building, and threw it away.  We lived in a compound which housed government employees.  During the riot, the Leftists often wrapped the bombs in newspapers and placed them near government buildings.  The one I picked up turned out not to be a bomb.  But it scared my parents to death, and my father gave me a severe beating, for being so foolish.  That was the last beating I remember.  Hundreds of people were not so fortunate.  

Burning Lam Bun alive was an despicable act.  What happened in 1967 was a real riot.  And there was no doubt that the Communists did it.  What about it then?

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Joint Class and Project with University of Maryland

This year our university has an exciting new project in collaboration with University of Maryland.  Each of us will send a team to work together in Rwanda to set up a community learning centre in May.  We will set up a self-contained computer system with a server and a number of client computers based on a bunch of inexpensive micro-computers, the Raspberry Pi.  We will install a lot of electronic resources on the server, to make a self-contained "Internet-in-a-box” without expensive broadband connections to the actual Internet. The whole thing will be powered by a solar panel electrical system that we designed.   We are responsible for teaching both groups of students the setting up of the system.  Maryland is responsible for teaching both groups of students to develop the training classes for the local youths making use of the system. This is a truly joint effort both in teaching and in carrying out the project.

We have already started running classes via video-conferencing.  In the first class, we taught our own students in Hong Kong and the Maryland students in Maryland (remotely) to construct a computer using a Raspberry Pi microcomputer, a small touch screen, a keyboard and a mouse.  

Then we showed them the design of the solar panel charging system that we designed last year.  In future classes, there will be a lot more to teach and learn.  

The fun has just started. 

Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Sugar Stir-fried Chestnuts (糖炒栗子)

This is one of my favourite street foods.  I suspect the sand was not necessarily black to start with.  But the heat would burn the sugar and turn the sand black anyway.  

In any case the chestnut, fresh from the wok, is very appealing.  Applying the right amount of pressure at the right place, the shell is quite easy to crack.  The golden yellow flesh, the slightly sweet taste, the unique texture, enhanced by the heat - it is a real treat.  

At HK$40 a pound, it is still quite affordable.  Good food does not have to be outrageously expensive.