Sunday, July 31, 2016


I first heard about the Lions’ Gate at Mycenae in an Art History course in the 1970s. Finally, I am here.  

The city was said to be ~3,000 years old.  It was the home of King Agamemnon, the leader of the Greeks in the Trojan War.  It invokes images of Helen, the beautiful face that launched a thousand ships; Paris, whose seduction of Helen triggered the Trojan War; Odysseus,  the hero of numerous amazing tasks as well as sufferings; Hector, the great fighter who died in defence of Troy; Achilles, with the famous Achilles’ Heel; Apollo, one of the gods on Troy’s side; Athena, one of the gods who favoured the Greeks; … 

Some of the characters and exploits seem magical.  But Mycenae and Agamemnon and many others seem real enough.  This is particularly real when I stand right in his city, underneath the Lion’s Gate, and atop the amazing theatre.  Much lies in ruins.  But without a doubt a prosperous, powerful, skilful and creative people lived here thousands of years ago.  And their influence on us continues today. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2016


This could be the high point of my trip to Greece.  Today we went to Olympia, the site of the original Olympic Games ~2,700 years ago.  And I ran in the original stadium of the Olympic Games.  

It was hot. I had hiking shoes on me.  I was carrying a fairly heavy backpack.  But I didn’t care.  I would hate myself for passing up the opportunity to run in the original Olympic Stadium.  I ran from one end of the stadium and back.  Runkeeper said I ran 320 meters in 1 minute 43 seconds.  Not very fast, of course. But I did run.  

There was also the place where they light the Olympic Flame, in front of the Temple of Hera, the wife of Zeus.  

This place is great.  

Sunday, July 24, 2016


I moved out of my office which I have occupied for 22 years. Because I have retired from the Department of Computing to work at the Office of Service-Learning.  I moved the books that I need to my new office, and then, following the good practice of some of my retired colleagues, piled the rest of the books outside my office to pass on to other colleagues and research students.  There were probably ~250 of them.  

The stuff that I threw away - papers, proposals, reports, theses, student assignments, and various documents, etc. - filled 3 big green dumpsters.  That’s how much stuff I have accumulated in those 22 years.  Academic papers deserve special mention.  While you remain an active academic, academic papers in respectable conferences and journals are treasured, indeed, critical for survival and respect - both from yourself and otherwise.  Once you are retired, however, do people still care how many papers you published?  I doubt it very much.  Hence I recycled the hardcopies without a shred of regret.  Of course, that is also because I have practically all of the soft copies in my computer.  

A lot of thoughts and memories came to mind while I was going through my staff.  Right now, I am just relieved I managed to clear out 22 years of stuff in 4 days. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Amazing Frog

At the Manchester Museum, we met Dr. Andrew Gray, an expert on frogs, and other amphibians.  He showed us a sleeping frog, which, from a distance, was almost indistinguishable from a green leaf.  

Then he woke the frog up, and it turned into this amazingly colourful little critter. It climbed onto my hand, and sat quietly.  Amazing.  

We fought to take photos and to hold it. The frog turned us all back into little children. 

Then Dr. Gray brought out a chameleon and a python.  More Awe!!! Ah!!! Wow!!!  Some, however ran away.  If only we can spend more time with nature.  

Sunday, July 17, 2016

History in University of Manchester

Our group went to Manchester to learn about the amazing social responsibility program at the University of Manchester.  

I have always had an impression that UM has a strong history in science and technology.  I also knew that after the Second World War, Alan Turing worked on computers at Manchester. Hence I was very happy, when I got there, to see the many references to Alan Turing.  

I was even more excited that one of our meetings was held in Rutherford’s laboratory.  It  is amazing that I can sit in the room where Rutherford and his associates probed the atom with alpha particles. When some of the alpha particles were deflected, it was an evidence that the atom has a heavy nucleus.  His experiments and the resultant model advanced our understanding of the structure of the atom tremendously.  It is a great privilege to be able to sit in his laboratory and discuss advances in university education.  I did not realise it at the time, but I can see my computer on the table in the photo.  

One of the many social responsibility projects at UM is the study of the hundred+ languages spoken in Manchester, a result of the huge influx of immigrants from the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, South Asia, Middle East, Asia, etc.  Languages are of course associated with specific ethnic groups.  We met the project team in the Indian restaurant “Shere Khan”, obviously named after Shere Khan the tiger in Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book stories.  Shere Khan left a deep impression in me because I watched with my daughters the Jungle Book movie by Disney many many times when they were young.  

I wish I can take my family here one day.  

Saturday, July 16, 2016

English food

In a short 3 days, I have already encountered a number of iconic, or at least unusual, food in Manchester.  At the first dinner in a famous local pub, I had bone marrow for appetiser.  It is basically fat and occasionally eaten in China.  Hence I was mildly surprised when some of my Mainland Chinese companions ordered the same but could not stomached it when it arrived.   

Yet many cultures treasure it as nutritional, and even medicinal.   In Isaiah 25:6 in the Old Testament in the Bible, “On this mountain the Lord of Hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food … full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.”  To me, it tasted … just like pure fat.  

On the following day at breakfast I encountered again black pudding (a black disc), which is basically a sausage made with blood as an ingredient. 

On the final day, before going to the airport, I had fish and chips for lunch.  The fish was cod, soft and white, with a mild taste.   

In between, I had a memorable lunch of Indian cuisine.  There were sumptuous amounts of curries, meats, spices, sauces, breads, …  It was a feast of aromas, colours and tastes.   

No, I did not eat Chinese food in Manchester. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Works, Manchester

The Works is a project by University of Manchester to match workers with jobs.  Workers looking for jobs register with The Works.  University of Manchester posts its jobs with The Works.  Applicants who need certain skills required for the jobs are then given the appropriate training to help them qualify for the jobs.  Some times applicants work as volunteers at the organization to acquire job experience and build up confidence, to prepare for real jobs.  In the three years since its opening The Works has helped thousands of people find jobs.  A senior human resource manager at University of Manchester manage The Works.   When he spoke of the benefits to the unemployed, the community, the society, …, he spoke with passion, more like a social worker or government official rather than an administrator.  

The benefit for the university?  Better relationships with the community, better reputation in general, better recruitment of students, … - for a modest investment of resources.   It sounds like something that applies to any large employer. Why aren’t more universities doing this? Why aren’t more employers doing this?

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Black Lives Matter

The University of Manchester made Social Responsibility one of its 3 main strategic goals, alongside research and teaching. I am here to learn about that in an event organised by the University Social Responsibility Network.  Last evening, when the program is over, I went out of the hotel around 8:45 PM to run a few kilometres before it gets dark.  I was immediately confronted by a big crowd marching and chanting up Oxford Street from the south.  

At first, I wasn’t sure whether I should stay away.  As I watched from the distance, the marchers seem peaceful even though I could not make out what they were saying.  There also seemed to be just a few police officers around and they did not look tense or threatening.  So I walked along the marchers a bit.  

It turns out it was a “Black Lives Matter” march.  They were protesting against police brutality, apparently triggered by the recent killings in the USA.  Some of the marchers seemed angry, shouting repeatedly demanding justice, stop to the killing, etc.  But there were no violence and the marchers were orderly.  The buses and cars stopped, the marchers passed, and the traffic resumed.  There were probably several thousand people, certainly more than just hundreds. 

There was one thing that was a little disturbing.  Some marchers were holding a banner demanding the release of Munir Farooqi.  The newspaper described him as a “former Taliban fighter given 4 life sentences for trying to recruit people to fight in Afghanistan.”  But some people claim that he was just trying to build bridges amount communities.  

The University of Manchester has 30,000+ students.  More than 10,000 are foreign students.  Among the British students, however, many are ethnically Chinese, South Asians, Africans, Arabs, …  Diversity is celebrated in the university.  The majority of the marchers were black.  But there were quite a few whites.  I saw no Chinese as far as I could tell.  In this society, ethnic issues are a serious matter.  


Saturday, July 09, 2016

Quiet Reading

That was half of the story I told at the graduation ceremony at the primary school.  Here is the other half.  The guy who graduated from primary school twice (GWGFPST) is not rich.  The one thing that he has quite a bit of is books.  And the reason why he likes to read was due to something that many would consider a character flaw.  

He was and is still very shy, getting very nervous whenever he has to talk with people.  Early on, he discovered that if he was reading something - anything - people would leave him alone.  So he made sure that he always had something with him to read: books, magazines, newspapers, …   It started out as a defence tactic.  But gradually he discovered the joy of reading and learning - and reading turned into almost an addiction.  

He read classics such as War and Peace, and Quo Vadis ("Where are you going?" - a legend of Peter, who fled from persecution from Rome, met Jesus, ask Jesus this question - who replied that He was going to Rome to be crucified again, returned to Rome to be crucified upside down), stories  of Chinese guerrillas who fought the Japanese, ..., novels of existentialism. He memorised maps of the provinces of China, world maps, 長恨歌,琵琶行,…, the names of the emperors of the Ching Dynasty. He was fascinated by the shape of sharks and airplanes, which led to interest in the beauty of geometry, mathematics and engineering.   He remains fascinated by science, history, philosophy, religion, psychology, …, neuroscience. 

From Aberdeen Technical School, he learned woodworking, small hand tools, machine tools such as drilling machines and lathes, electronics, electrical wiring, technical drawing.  From his extremely-dexterous father, he learned how to do home repairs, even mixing concrete.   

Years later, now that he is asked to develop service-learning at the university, he has to take students to install solar panels, wire up houses, learn and explore multiple foreign cultures, persuade colleagues in all disciplines to apply their discipline to service-learning projects - it feels like God has been preparing him throughout his life for what he is doing now.   All the time, he thought he was just following his heart - doing something that he enjoyed.  Little did he know that God was preparing him for something he could not have imagined.  

Hence, the lesson from GWGFPST: follow your heart, pour your heart into everything that you do, and be courageous when God opens the way.  

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Primary Graduation

On Saturday I spoke at the Graduation Ceremony at a primary school.  I told them the story of a professor who graduated from primary school twice.  When his elder brother entered primary 1 at the age of 6, his parents decided to send him to the same school, so that they can take the brothers to school together.  He was only 4 at the time.  

He didn’t do too well but survived primary school, competing with classmates 2 years older.  When he finished primary 6, he was allocated to King’s College, a prestigious secondary school.  He was put in section D, believed to be the worst performing section.  His parents were afraid he might not be able to make it, and decided to send him to Aberdeen Technical School.  ATS was a desirable school for the working class children at the time because the technical training prepared the students well for apprentices’ jobs after finishing form 5.    The other reason was that he got a government grant for attending it, due to the family’s low income status.  Because of his young age, he was only admitted into primary 5.  Hence two years later, he graduated from primary school again, at age 12. 

When he finished secondary school 5 years later (completing form 5), he had no expectations of entering university because, in those days in the early 70s, there were only 2 universities in Hong Kong, and the fees were high.  But he did so well in the public examination that he was admitted into form 6 by La Salle College, another prestigious preparatory school.  When several of his classmates applied for a prestigious scholarship for study at American universities, he followed suit, without much hope.  Against all odds, he was granted a full scholarship for 4 years.  

It was a big, bold step for him to accept that scholarship.  At that point, he had never left home, and he had never taken an airplane.  Using borrowed money, he bought a one-way ticket from Pan Am, which is now defunct - not knowing when he would have enough money to come home.  …  Many years later, he received his Doctor of Philosophy degree and, more years later, returned to Hong Kong.  He is now a professor at a local university.  He has an unusual job -  taking students away from Hong Kong, to Cambodia, Rwanda, Vietnam, Myanmar, Indonesia, …, to help them learn through performing community service.  They are installing computers, computer networks, …, and solar panels to generate electricity, for communities that are without electricity nor running water. 

The lesson then is that you often do not know what future holds for you.  One may aim at being a professor, or may not.  One may end up a doctor, an engineer, a businessman, …, a librarian - all laudable posts in life.  You simply don’t know what opportunities may open up for you.  At different stages in life, you may also encounter benefactors who give you help.  But you must be prepared to take up the opportunities offered to you.   And you must be courageous to take on challenges.  How you turn out depends on you.  

I hope the audience find the story useful.  At the least, it is real.  

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Pak Nai (白泥)

Many people drive to Pak Nai on Deep Bay to see the village life, the fish ponds and to watch the sunset.  I prefer to run. 

The route is essentially flat, and runs along Deep Bay (后海灣) for much of the route.  

The many container depots and construction companies are eyesores.  But there are enough pleasing sights to compensate for that.  

Reflections from the puddles left by the rain.    Houses on the fish pond.   Raging streams pregnant with muddy rain water. 

I stopped to take photos of the mud flats, oyster fields, and the Shenzhen Bay Bridge (深圳灣公路大橋).   They continue to produce very big, fat oysters here.  But i am not convinced that I should eat them. 

When I heard a dog barking in the distance, I did not pay it much attention.  After all, I was standing on the side walk on a public road, and there are no houses on my side of the road.  In fact, there was nothing but mud flats between me and the water.  But the barking seemed to be getting closer, and I had gotten the photo I wanted, so I started running again.   The barking seemed even closer, so I turned to look - the dog was just meters away, and it was black, slim and fierce-looking, possibly a Doberman.   At that point, I saw 2 cyclists stopped about 10 meters ahead of me.  They asked me what the dog was doing and commented that it seemed intended on biting my feet.  At the point, the dog seems to have stopped.  I continued.

I am glad that I was not hurt.  But I am also angry that the owner allowed the dog to attack someone on the public road, nowhere near any house.  Some people who live in the New Territories seem to think that the law does not apply to them.

That spoiled my run.  Upon reaching Ha Pak Nai (下白泥), I decided to take the minibus instead of running back along the same route.