Tuesday, February 28, 2017

一念無明 (Mad World)

Yesterday I attended a special pre-release showing of an unusual movie.  It is a movie centred around a man with a mental illness, more specifically, bi-polar disorder. His father left home, his brother went to the USA, and he was left under tremendous pressure having to take care of his mother with chronic illness all by himself.  His mother died in a confrontation.  He was exonerated by the court but was sent to a mental hospital.  When he got out, his father tried his best to take care of him.  Together, they went through a lot of difficulties.  

The special show was arranged by someone in the Education Department.  In attendance were many teachers, headmasters, social workers, and at least one psychiatrist.  Both the director and the screen writer are graduates of the School of Creative Media at City University.  The movie has won a number of awards and is scheduled for commercial release shortly.  

Many attendees agreed that the movie portrays mental patients and their experiences realistically.  Many praised the effort of the team in making the tremendous effort in understanding the problem and in making the movie.  Many voiced the hope that the movie will help to educate the public about sufferers of mental illnesses, their struggles, the prejudice and discrimination that they face, and how people can at least avoid causing further suffering.  

There are two aspects of the movie, however, that are unfortunate.  One is the portrayal of a psychiatrist as being insensitive and mechanical.  The other is the portrayal of a church as lacking in understanding and also being sensitive - to the extend of causing serious damage - even if it is unintended.  This unfair portrayal of these two communities is perhaps un-intended but have the potential of offending the two communities that can, and are actually very supportive of mental patients.  

The movie is quite intense and at times difficult to watch.  Despite the two unfortunate portrayals, I would still recommend the movie.  

Friday, February 24, 2017

Our money

It was recently announced that the Hong Kong government has a fiscal of HK$ 92 billion for the current financial year.  We have actually been running huge financial surpluses for decades, perhaps one of the very few (perhaps the only) economies to do so.  The result is that we have piled up a fiscal surplus of HK$ 935 billion, which is just sitting there.  The only ones to benefit from it are the banks that manage it.  

In the mean time, we have under-invested in our schools, universities, hospitals, and other social institutions.  What could have been done with the money?  It could have been used to run 10 universities and hire 50,000 teachers for the past 10 years.  Or we could have used half of the money to run 5 universities and hire 25,000 teachers, and still have more than 400 billion to run many hospitals, improve social welfare and many other needed services.  

The result would have been the most intelligent workforce in the world, and much higher productivity.  In turn, we would have generated much increased income for the government, and even bigger surpluses and reserves.  Nothing would have been lost.  But we would have a much happier population, much less conflicts, and a much more harmonious.  

Now, the questions is: Do we want the same people (or people just like them)  to run our government?  A harder question: Do we even have the option to find a set of different people to run our government?

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Caravaggio in Malta

It was a great and very pleasant surprise for me to find Caravaggio’s The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist at St. John’s Cathedral in Valetta, Malta.  
Caravaggio (Michelangelo da Caravaggio) is one of my favourite painters, well known for his radical naturalism and turbulent life.  He killed someone and fled to Malta, which was controlled by the Knights Hospitaller (Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem).  Caravaggio was inducted into the Order and the Knights commissioned him to make the huge oil painting (12 ft by 17 ft) for the altar.  It is now hanging in the Oratory in the Cathedral.  It is considered Caravaggio’s masterpiece. We were not allowed to take photographs of the painting.  But I found one from Wikipedia.   

The painting attracted a lot of interest and questions.  The attention of the viewer is drawn to the executioner rather than Saint John the Baptist.  There is relatively little blood considering that Saint John’s throat has already been cut, even though he has yet to be beheaded.  Only one of the persons in the painting expressed horror, presumably at the injustice committed.  Some think that the woman expressing horror is Herodia.  Caravaggio signed his name in the blood, believed the only time that he has signed his painting.  

Later on, Caravaggio was imprisoned in one of the forts on Malta.  He died in Tuscany at the age of 38.  

My wife and I spent a lot of time staring at the painting, and listening to the local tour guide explaining to us the painting.  

The outside of the church gives little indication of the glittering, extravagant  gold inside. The extremely rich decoration hints at how rich the Knights were.  

The ceiling was also richly-painted.  The painted-on shadows make some of the figures look three-dimensional.  

Many people were buried beneath the church.  Many of them important members of the order.  

For such a small place, Malta is really quite interesting.  

Monday, February 20, 2017

Nicosia, Cyprus

One of my more intriguing experiences in Cyprus happened in Nicosia.  We went to Ledras Street and walked towards the north.  When my wife and I climbed up an observation tower in the middle of Ledras Street we were able to look to the north, across the buffer zone, towards “North Cyprus”.  We could see Selimiye Mosque, which was originally St. Sophia Cathedral, a catholic church.  We could see the white-on-red Turkish flag, and side by side, the red-on-white “Northern Cyprus” flag. 

Under an umbrella in the middle of Ledras street, we found the checkpoint between Republic Cyprus and “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”.  We watched people entering Northern Cyprus freely.  When they return from the north, it seemed that they need to produce their passport.  I was tempted to venture into Northern Cyprus but decided not to take the risk.  

Cyprus was settled by the Greeks more than 1,000 years BC.  It was, in turn, occupied by the Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, …  Between 1571 and 1878 it was occupied by the Ottoman Empire and Turks settled in the north.  In 1914 Cyprus was annexed by the British.  In 1960 Cyprus became independent.  In 1974 Turkey invaded and occupied northern Cyprus. In 1983 the occupied north declared independence but was recognised only by Turkey.  Nicosia has remained divided ever since.  

Cyprus history has taken many turns.  Will the north and the south reunite?  Who knows?

Sunday, February 19, 2017


From Malta, we flew to Cyprus, in reverse to Paul’s journal to Rome.  According to the Acts of the Apostles, Paul’s ship was forced to pass by the east and then north of Cyprus, before going onto Crete, and shipwrecking on Malta.  We stayed in the south and didn’t venture into the north, which is politically sensitive.  

On Cyprus, we were taken to a place near Paphos where Greek legend says Aphrodite (Venus in Roman legend) was born.  Some say it is specifically the second rock.  The view is just beautiful.  

There are cats everywhere.  At the fort on the harbour on Paphos, there was a cat that seems to own a castle.  

A pair of pigeons also behaves as if they own the place.  The cat and the pigeons don't seem to bother with each other.  

Our room at the hotel near Limassol had a fantastic view looking out towards the Mediterranean Sea. One morning I went out for a run along the seaside.  It was sunny and cool, and the temperature was just perfect.  But i heard that it can be very hot in summer. 

Cyprus seems to be a modern country like Malta, with similar weather.  But it has much more open space and countryside.  Very liveable. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

St. Paul’s Islands, Malta

To the north of the main island on Malta is St. Paul’s Bay.  At the mouth of the bay is a couple of islands called St. Paul’s Islands.  In the Acts of Apostles it was recorded that the ship that was taking Paul from Caesarea to Rome was shipwrecked on an island identified as Malta.  Legend has it that St. Paul was shipwrecked there on these islands, hence they are called St. Paul’s Islands.  

The Acts also recorded that Paul was bitten by a snake, a viper.  He was expected to die but Paul suffered no ill effects. The Maltese people believed that it was Paul who laid the foundations of Christianity in Malta.  It seems quite amazing that I might have been walking where Paul walked two thousand years ago. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Mdina of Malta

In the old city of Mdina of Malta, we were quickly reminded of St Paul.  According to the Acts of Apostles, Paul was in a ship heading for Rome when it was shipwrecked.  He landed on Malta.  There he encountered Publius and cured his father.  According to church tradition, he became the first bishop of Malta and its first saint.  It is a fact that Malta became one of the first Christian nations in the world starting with Publius. Here at the rear of the Mdina Gate, we found the reliefs of St. Publius, St. Paul and St. Agatha. 

We entered Mdina through the Mdina Gate.  

St. Agatha is another fascinating story.  She was a virgin who refused to renounce her Christian faith around 221 AD.  Legend has it that she was tortured and her breasts were cut off.  St. Peter appeared to her and healed her.  Eventually she died in prison.  Prior to her martyrdom in Sicily, she took refuge in Rabat, the suburb of Mdina on Malta.  Hence she is the patron saint of Malta and breast cancer patients, among many other people and places.  

From the city walls of Mdina, which is sitting on a hill, one can see as far as the seaside towns such as Valetta and beyond that, the sea itself in many directions.  Hence the strategic value of Mdina.  

There is a lot of elegant architecture, including intricate door knockers.  

It is fun walking around Mdina.  

Malta is a small but interesting place.  

I am glad we came. 

Saturday, February 11, 2017

桂花 (Sweet Olive)

As I was walking through campus this morning, I was suddenly made aware of a familiar fragrance.  I instinctively knew it was 桂花 osmanthus fragrant. 

It is one of my favourites.  It is not big in size, loud in colour, complex in structure, or overpowering in fragrance.  It is small in size, pastel in colour, simple in structure, and strong yet subtle in fragrance.  I have always heard that it flowers in Autumn.  Yet I have discovered that those on campus flower every few months.  Perhaps it is because of the warmer climate in Hong Kong.  It almost seems that they realise that they are small and not attraction grabbing like others.  Hence it works hard to bloom as soon as it can, when it has recovered from its last blooming.  

I like 桂花.  It makes our campus that much more pleasurable.  

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Streets of Catania

We got to Catania when the sun was setting, with a couple of hours to spare before taking the plane to Malta.  When we saw soldiers patrolling the street, I wasn’t sure whether I was supposed to feel more secure.  

At almost every street corner, people were selling candied nuts.  They look very similar to the candied peanuts popular in Hong Kong when I was small.  

Another vendor was selling brightly coloured frozen juice bars.  They looked very appetising.  But I cannot help wondering where the colours came from.  

Just meters off the main street, my wife and I stumbled upon the remains of an old Roman amphitheatre.  Some of the rooms under the theatre were still there. 

Same as some of the seating areas.  Well-drawn illustrations explain the original structure, and the parts that have been dismantled or built over.  It is quite thought-provoking to see the very old existing side by side with the new.   Much of the old have been destroyed, and to make way for the new.  But there have also been much effort made to preserve the old for the current and future generations.  Unlike Hong Kong, the fight here is not completely lost yet.  

A man was surrounded by two huge, black mastiffs.  He is on the street.  But he is not poor in terms of canine companions.  

We peeked into the door with a sign which seemed to be advertising something about art.  It turned out to be a market of distinctive crafts.  Such as these nicely-made and detailed facades of miniature houses. 

And these wonderfully whimsical puppets.  

Catania is not a large city and we spent only a couple of hours there.  But we had a surprisingly enjoyable time.  

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Salesians in Taormina

I was pleasantly surprised to find a building marked ‘Salesiani Don Bosco” in Taormina on Sicily.  Don Bosco is, of course, the Catholic priest who set up the Salesian Order to help underprivileged youths, starting in Turin and ended up spreading all over the world.  I encountered the Salesians for the first time at Aberdeen Technical School in Hong Kong, where I received a transformative education for which I am forever grateful.  It was when I was at ATS that I found God.  And the education I received from the Salesians was a big part of the reason that I am in service-learning.  

Taormina is a small picturesque town in Eastern Sicily. From the plaza in front of the Salesian building one can get a breathtaking view of the coast facing the Mediterranean Sea to the East.  To the south-west we got a glimpse of the volcano Mount Etna, mostly hidden in the clouds.  

The Salesians are truly everywhere.  After we left Taormina, I learned that there was a couple in our tour group who attends St. Anthony Church on Pokfulam Road.  One of my former teachers, Father Wong Kin Kwok, is at that church and they know him well.  The husband attended St. Louis School, another school run by the Salesians.  Father Wong was still Brother Wong and not yet a priest when I knew him.  

It is a small world in some sense, and the Salesians are everywhere.  Thank you, Don Bosco.  

Sunday, February 05, 2017


From Capri, we took a ferry back to Napoli.  From Napoli, we cross over to Palermo in famed Sicily overnight in a small cruise boat.  There I found that the local people like to represent Sicily with a snake-haired Medusa with 3 legs, symbolising the triangular shape of Sicily.  

The cathedral at Monreale is much more impressive inside than outside.  It is decorated with glass mosaic covering practically every inch of the inside walls.  Set in a huge half dome is a huge portrait of Jesus.  It is said that his hand is a meter long.  Or it is his finger?  It was said that after making all the mosaic, the builders ran out of money, hence they didn’t make a vaulted ceiling.  Not sure though whether that is true.  

Outside in the square, a dog suns himself lazily, while old men chatted on benches. That’s the image I had of Sicily before I came.  Another image in mind was big men dressed in impeccable white shirts and black suits.  I actually saw some men that fitted this image perfectly; but I was afraid they might not like their picture taken - hence no photos. 

Nearby, a big black dog shakes hands with a young lady.  She was obviously enjoying it.  

At a nearby renovated building, my wife and I chanced upon an exhibition of St. Francis of Assisi in movies.  I have no ideas that so many films have been made about him.  He is certainly popular, not just in Italy, but also around the world.  

Then there was this big swordfish at a seafood vendor.

My favourite image at Palermo, however, was that of a bunch of wide-eyed kids.  

They are just lovely.