Thursday, March 30, 2017

University-Community Partnership

While many people despair of fair elections in Hong Kong, there are still many positive and constructive things that can be done for Hong Kong.  

Today we are running a symposium and exhibition of come of the service-learning projects that we are doing in partnership with the community.  While the symposium is just for today, the exhibition will stay on campus for some time.  

There is a bowling ball embedded with sensors, as an assistive device, to help the blind play bowling. 

There is a STEM project that built a doll-catching game, making use of the electrical signals generated by flexing muscle - linking biology with electronics with fun.  

A team designed a gadget to assist the elderly to wash their hair.  

A team shadowed the elderly around the public spaces around the neighbourhood to learn of the obstacles they face and find ways to improve their mobility.  

A team has spent years developing attractive material and fun games to teach English.  

And much more.  University staff and students are doing what they can to engage in community positively and constructively. Don't they deserve our applause and support?  Please come and join us.  

Monday, March 27, 2017

Now What?

Now we have a new Chief Executive.  One chosen by Beijing but evidently not by Hong Kong citizens.  Many people are disappointed and despairing.  Many feel we are running against a brick wall, that Beijing will never allow open and fair elections and real democracy in Hong Kong.  Some are even predicting that violent revolution is the only way to force changes.  

History has taught us that the development of a a more open, democratic, fairer and better society is not inevitable.  It is always the result of persistent efforts by the society over many many years, centuries even.  And the road is always bumpy with many twists and turns, advances and setbacks.  

In the mean time, in Hong Kong, fundamental changes in the government is not realistic at the moment.  Does that mean that there is nothing worth doing?  That we should all get out of Hong Kong because the situation is so intolerable?  Certainly not.  There is much in Hong Kong that are unfair, unjust, inefficient, ignorant, narrow-minded, and otherwise need improvement.  By working on these matters in education, housing, poverty, health, …, we are building the foundations of a better society. We are improving the quality of the community and prospects of a better society. There is plenty of room to work on these practical and worthy matters. 

So we are disappointed but should not despair.  

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Mountain of Religions

Lo Wai, in the the mountain above Tsuen Wan, is littered with numerous temples.  There are temples of Chinese Buddhism, Thai Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism-Daoism-Buddhism, etc.  

It was a long run from Hung Hom of 19+ km.  But it was worth it.  

I could only spend some time at  this time.  So I will probably be back.  

Chinese Buddhism (漢傳佛教) is quite different from Thai Buddhism.  It was believed to have arrived in China from the northwest over land through the Silk Road in the Han Dynasty.  It is often considered a part of Mahayana Buddhism (大乘佛教), which seem to stress the possibility of universal liberation from suffering for all beings (hence ‘Great Vehicle”), and the existence of buddhas and bodhisattvas (菩薩).     

Thai Buddhism, on the other hand, is generally believed to be of the Theravada school (school of the elderly monks, 上座部佛教).  It is believed that Theravada Buddhism was brought to Thailand through Sri Lanka after Buddhism declined in India itself.  But Thai Buddhism also adopted many aspects of Chinese Buddhism because of the large number of Chinese immigrants to Thailand.  So it is complicated.  

Daoism is indigenous to China.  It started out as a philosophy perhaps around 500 BC.  In the Han Dynasty, a new religion declared that it was based on Daoism.  Daoism the religion later integrated a lot of folk religion, Confucianism and Buddhism into itself.  It is patently obvious at Yuen Yuen Institute (圓玄學院), where they worship Confucius (孔子), Lao Tse (老子, the founder of Daoism the philosophy) and Buddha (佛祖) side by side.  

In this sense, the Chinese is wonderfully creative, practical and accommodating.  

Monday, March 20, 2017

Street Sleepers

It seems more and more people are sleeping on the streets of Hong Kong. Many of them are building more durables abodes, such as those under the flyovers in Shumshuipo.  Some, if not all, have been served eviction notices.  But it seems some are staying put. 

There are some, though apparently fewer, under the flyovers in Yaumatei.  Right next to the police station.  

Some are relatively sheltered in the tunnels. 

Many are just sleeping on the sidewalks, surrounded by their meagre possessions.   

Some are even more basic. 

Even among street sleepers, there appears to be a hierarchy.  I remember an incident several years ago involving an esteemed professor, when our university started to make service-learning a required subject.   He argued that service-learning is not needed in Hong Kong because we do not have as much need as the USA, where there is severe poverty in the inner cities.  I challenged him to walk over to Yaumatei to see for himself to see some of the people in need.  He did not take up my challenge.  I so wish he could see it for himself.  

Sunday, March 19, 2017

StoneCutter Island

Yesterday morning I was out for a run from Hung Hom to Tsien Wan.  At the junction of Sham Mong Road (深旺道) and Hing Wah Street West (興華街西) I found a pedestrian ramp leading south west along Hing Way Street West.  That was generally in the direction of StoneCutter Island and the container terminals.  I was intrigued and decided to explore.  I figured that I might come upon some dead-end and have to turn back.  I would still be able to run a satisfactory distance and learn something.  That started my half-day tour of StoneCutter Island.  

Soon I came to the waterfront where I could see StoneCutter Island.  It used to be a real island where there were barracks of the British Army in the Colonial Days.  Now it is connected to Kowloon because huge areas of the waters between the island had been reclaimed.  The barracks are still there but they are now occupied by the People’s Liberation Army.  

Entering the island from the north-east, I came upon the Government Dockyards.  Here is a water-selling station.  I suppose this is where the ocean-going ships buy their drinking water?

The smell of rotting garbage started getting rather unpleasant although not yet overwhelming.  

Surely enough, I soon found the entrance where garbage trucks continuously file in and out of the loading area.  Where is the garbage being taken?  To the landfills, perhaps?  

Soon I came upon the boundary between the government dockyard and the (eastern part of the) military compound.  

I ran around the outside of the barracks, and arrived at the main entrance on other (western) side of the barracks.  I couldn’t get in, of course. 

Beyond the barracks is the beginning of the the container terminals.  Here huge trucks drop off their cargo, to be loaded onto the barges.  

This is also the eastern end of the StoneCutter Island.  There appears to be no way to get on the bridge.  So I tried to run underneath it, to see how far I could go before being stopped by the water.  

While I concentrated on finding my way, I almost stepped on a dog!  It sprung up and barked fiercely.  Fortunately it was chained.  I don’t blame it for being upset.  It was completely my fault for running into its territory.  

So I turned back, giving up running under the bridge.  Instead I tried to run along the container terminals, despite the exhaust from the heavy trucks, the dangerous traffic, and the thick dust on the pavement.  

At one point, I spotted customs officers checking on some cargo containers. 

Eventually, however, I decided that it was too hazardous and returned to my normal route, ran past the hospitals on the hills, and arrived safely in Tsuen Wan. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Mount Etna

Towards the end of January, my wife and I saw Mount Etna from Taormina on the East coast of Sicily.  

When we went out early in the morning, the sun should have risen, but it was cloudy.  It was quiet everywhere  There were very few people in the streets, and small cafes were just starting up to serve breakfast.  Mount Etna laid quietly behind the clouds in the distance to the west of where we were.  It looked mysterious and slightly gloomy. 

Little did we know that it would erupt again so soon after we left. It would have been quite exciting had it happened while we were there.  It is a reminder of how unpredictable a volcano can be.  

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Bonhoeffer the prophet?

At our Book Club, my wife has been leading a study on “The Cost of Discipleship” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  He was a German pastor and theologian.  He was arrested in 1943 for publicly criticising Nazi dictatorship. He was executed during the last days of Hitler.  

He criticised the then German church of making God’s Grace cheap.  Grace is free.  But Grace is also costly.  Grace cost God His Son.  When we are called by Jesus, we are called to give up our lives, just as Jesus died for our sins.  In the Cost of Discipleship he said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Hence Grace is also costly for us.  Yet many in the then Church presented Grace as something people can simply receive without having to make any changes in their lives.  

He criticised Hitler’s persecution of the Jews.  In 1933, the German church decided to remove officials of Jewish descent from their posts.  He once said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”  

In my mind Bonhoeffer is like the prophets in the Old Testament who spoke against the evil committed by the kings and high priests - the rich and powerful.  The prophets criticised not only idol worship - the spiritual sins, but also the oppression and exploitation of the poor, widows and orphans - the social injustice.  Bonhoeffer, like the prophets, knew that he was taking great risks, even at the cost of his life, in speaking out.  But just like the prophets, he was compelled to stand up for truth and justice.  

Today, many church leaders again preach against taking a stand against social injustice, saying that the church should be concerned about spiritual matters only.  Why, then, does God speak so much against injustice, against the exploitation of the poor, the weak, the widows and the orphans through the prophets and the Bible?

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Red Cotton Tree (木棉) Flower

Out running today, I was suddenly aware that the red cotton trees are in full bloom.  The distinctive big red flowers are everywhere, even miraculously on a wire fence (I know who placed them there :-) ).  

The blooming of the red cotton tree is a sign that spring is here. Spring is a time of hope, of warmer, better days to come.  Can we look forward to a more hopeful time for Hong Kong?  That reminded me of a poem that stuck in my mind more than 40 years ago, when I was still in secondary school.

Do our young people inspire more hope than those who are in power? 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Azure Window, Malta

In January, my wife and I went to see the Azure (Blue) Window on Gozo Island in Malta.  It was a beautiful natural arch formed by years and years of erosion on the limestone.  I used “was” because a couple of days ago the arch collapsed and totally disappeared.  

When we were there I climbed partly up the rocks to get closer to the arch but did not walk across.  Many people did.   Later I heard that visitors had been prohibited from climbing on the arch.  But I have also seen a video in which a man jumped off the arch into the sea below.  As he jumped, some pretty big pieces of rocks came loose and felled - a clear demonstration of what people can do to damage the arch.  

It has been said that erosion would cause the arch to collapse at some point anyway.  But I would have felt quite bad if I had contributed to the collapse.  

I don’t know whether to feel good, or bad, to have seen the arch which is no more. 

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

“Chorus" in Kowloon Park

My wife and I went to Kowloon Park on Sunday afternoon to see/listen to the sound installation “Chorus”.   It is an exhibition, a part of the Hong Kong Arts Festival.  It is an unusual exhibition, and the organisers should be applauded.   Loudspeakers at both ends of rotating arms emit different sounds and the rotations vary the sound in a rhythmic way.  

I tried to walk around and through the 13 tripods.  I tried standing up and sitting down.  I tried closing my eyes and simply listen.  Unfortunately, I didn’t find the experience particularly pleasurable or soothing. 

There were a number of unfavourable factors.  It was in broad daylight, so light effects would not be effective.  There were also many people around.  In particularly, a group of young people were exercising nearby, generating a lot of noise.  I tried to ignore all the distraction, but it didn’t seem to help much.  There were some helpers around, but they did not seem to know much about the exhibition and were not of much help.  

Nevertheless, it was an interesting experience.  

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Inter-planetary travel as service-learning

On this pleasant Saturday morning, as this post is being written, a group of primary school kids is in our computer laboratory.  Our students are teaching these kids to program robots to travel from planet to planet, to carry out challenging tasks.  They have to position the robot correctly, program the robot to travel in the right direction, reach the planets in the right sequence, navigate through obstacles, and knock a certain target off its position.  

These kids work so hard to plan the tasks.

They are so excited when the robot does what they want it to do.  

They moan loudly when the robot does not do what they want it to do. 

This afternoon, their robots will compete in the final competition, to see which team scores the highest mark.  There will surely be a lot of fun, shouts, moaning, and ultimately, a lot of things learned, by all parties involved. 

Our students teach them how to program, plan the routes, and how to solve problems when they occur. Of course, they also design the project itself, layout the field, and a lot more.  They have to learn to program the robots themselves, learn about the kids and how to deal with them, plan their lessons, work as a team, and myriad other things. 

Our teaching team, of course, have to teach our students how to do all these.  We also have to design the subject, secure funding, find the school partners, negotiate the collaboration with the school, arrange the logistics, recruit the students, …   Today, all the work come to fruition for this class.  We are excited.  Such is the joy of teaching service-learning.  

In the afternoon, 2 other classes are running …  These teams will go to Cambodia and Rwanda, to install solar panels and more.  Yet another class for a team serving at a local special school for severely-handicapped kids have a day off because the teachers are involved in a computer-hacking competition. 

Service-learning is always happening somewhere.  It never stops for us.