Sunday, July 30, 2017

Running in the Oppressive Heat

Yesterday I had my one of my hardest runs.  Not because of the route was particularly tough with a lot of slopes.  But because of the heat and the bad air.  

I know I can run 20+ kilometres on level ground without serious discomfort, except sore legs and feet.  But yesterday, I felt it hard to continue running after only 13 kilometers.  After I slowed and cooled down in the shade for a few minutes, I could continue.  But after another kilometre, I found I had to slow down again.  And I could only last shorter and shorter durations. When I came near Kowloon Tong MTR station, I gave up, feeling that it might be hazardous to my health, or even immediately dangerous to continue.  

Along the way, in the beginning, I passed under the flyover in Yaumatei where a mini shanty town was cleared.  A couple of people were weaving together a network of ropes.  I wonder why it is acceptable to let people use the public space for commercial activities, but not to let people who have nowhere to go to stay for a short while.  

In a quiet corner in an elevated pedestrian walkway in Yaumatei behind the Fruit Market, a man was taking a nap.  It was still only 10 am in the morning and the heat was not yet oppressive.  Yet I was already completely soaked with sweat.  

Soon afterwards, I passed by another elevated pedestrian walkway crossing in Mongkok.  I remember helping out in Sunday worships organised by an open air church under the walkway a couple of years ago.  Later on another mini shanty town grew up around the structure.  Now that shanty town has also be cleared out.  Where are the people now?

The big shanty town in Shumshuipo was still there.  But how long can it remain?  There were two sisters helping some of the residents there to clean up their sheds.  There were also two police officers going into some of the sheds, but I was not sure what they were doing.  Nether did I stay to find out.  

At around 12 kilometers, in Cheung She Wan, I found that my phone was locked up.  I suspected it was because it got wetted by my own sweat.  So I took it out of my pocket and held it in my hand to allow it to dry while I continued to run.  This had never happened to me before, even when I run in the rain.  So I was worried.  Fortunately, it unlocked itself in 4 minutes, and continued to function.  

In Tai Hang Tung, I passed by the spot where the Ice Cream Grandpa’s  cart was chained up after he died.  Now the cart is gone.  All that remains are just memories.  

I was practically exhausted when I passed the big banyan nearby.  Soon after, I felt I had no choice but to stop, even though I was short of my minimum target of 20 kilometers.  

I was disappointed at myself.  Nevertheless, it was a hard but memorable run.  At the end I discovered I had lost 7 pounds of sweat. 

Friday, July 28, 2017

Squatting - Hong Kong Style

On the last day of last year (31 December 2016), I ran pass a mini shanty town underneath a flyover in Yaumatei, 

right behind the Yaumatei Police Station.  

It was very small compared to the one in Shumshuipo.  Nevertheless it made an interesting story.  An eviction notice was posted on one of the shacks.  It was dated 28 Dec 2016, ordering the shacks to be demolished in one month, i.e., by 27 January 2017.  

On 11 March 2017, the shanty town was still there.  In fact, it seemed to have grown. 

On 18 March, it was still there. 

On 22 April, it was still there. 

By 17 July, everything was gone.  

What happened to the squatters?  Where did they go?  What is going to happen to the one in Shumshuipo now?

Some people simply cannot afford to rent even a subdivided flat.  Neither can they qualify nor wait for public housing, the line for which is more than 3 years long.   What can they do?

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Why do I still go to the Book Fair?

Like many people, I have a love-hate relationship with the Book Fair.  Put it another way, I like some part of it - but do not like some other part of it.  

There are just too many people, making it difficult to get around and to see things at my leisure.  But that is being selfish - other people have as much right to go there as I do - so I should not complain too much.  There are also many books that I am not interested in, and many that are not even books.  But then other people have their own interests.  So there it goes again.  

The Book Fair does give me an opportunity to browse the scholarly publications of the university presses in one place. 

I ended up buying one from CityU Press and another from ChineseU Press.  

There are opportunities to see publications related to the current political scene.  One does not have to agree with anyone of them.  But it is still interesting and educational to see who is saying what, and how quickly.  

There is also, of course, opportunities to buy some good books, at a discount.  I found 3 books that I like.  So I did benefit from it.  

And even some things that I wasn’t expecting.  Such as calligraphy.  

I say the Book Fair still gives everyone an opportunity to get a little bit what they want.    I only wished that I had more time to spent there.  So it should continue.   I hope it gives me more of what I want, but it may be asking too much.  

Friday, July 14, 2017

What can we learn from Liu Xiao Bo (劉曉波)?

A hero is down.  But he is going to live long in our hearts.  His fame and influence after his death may yet exceed that which he enjoyed while he was alive.  Whether he does or not is up to us - those who are yet living.  

His death brought me back to 2009, when he was sentenced to 11 years in prison.  I remember those posters on campus protesting his sentence, and the vigils outside the Legislative Council.  At the time, I did not expect him to die in prison, and in such a sudden manner.  

What can we learn from him then?  Certainly it is not just that the struggle for freedom and justice is arduous and hazardous; that one may have to pay for it with one’s life; that the road to freedom is long - very very long.  

We learn that one man may lose his life, yet be able to unite many in the fight against evil.   Liu Xiao Bo has made friends of a very large number of very different people, with very different views.   We are impressed by his decades-long fight for a more open and democratic China, by his demanding that the communist regime comply with Article 35 of the Chinese constitution, which says citizens should enjoy “freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of procession and of demonstration”; by his reasonableness; by his returning from the USA to support the students in the June 4 Movement; by his insistence on using peaceful means to fight for freedom; by boldly promoting Charter 08; by insisting that he has no enemies; by renouncing hatred because hatred can rot away a person’s intelligence and conscience; by showing us how one man can fight against a repressive regime.  

Liu Xiao Bo, we salute you.   We shall remember you and the lessons you have taught us.  To honour you, we shall never give up.  

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Magnus 7 Cambodia

Last Saturday I was asked to speak at the signing ceremony of the Magnus 7 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  This is an alliance of 7 major public universities in Cambodia on Social Responsibility.  

I was apparently the only foreigner in attendance, in an audience of many rectors and senior managers of universities.  I was asked to talk about why the universities in Hong Kong, specifically Hong Kong Polytechnic University, take social responsibility so seriously, and what we have actually done.  I, naturally, focus on service-learning and what we have done in Cambodia.  I stressed that a university educates students to become citizens, responsible citizens, and service-learning is one of the best methods to achieve that.  It is a matter of concern for all students, and all disciplines should be able to contribute.  Hence we require all our students to take service-learning, and all departments are encouraged to offer service-learning.  It seems well-received.  Or perhaps they are just being polite.  ButI the fact that I am the only foreigner invited here means something, I hope.  

We are been working with some of the staff and students from Royal University of Phnom Penh for 2 years now and the experience has been encouraging.  There is a group, perhaps small, of academic staff who are very keen on reforming the education programs, and some seem to have bought into the vision of service-learning. The students are smart and enthusiastic.  So there is certainly hope.  After the signing ceremony, we went to a cafe run by the students for lunch.  It was built out of two used cargo containers.  The same type that we have been turning into community learning centres in the past 3 years.  So we are curious and excited.  It also testifies to the creativity and entrepreneurial spirit of the students.  

Education in Cambodia face tremendous challenges.  They are severely underfunded at all levels, from primary to secondary to tertiary.  I heard even the “public” universities receive only a fraction of their funds from the government.  Hence they have to offer numerous self-financed programs to bring in more income in order to operate.  Professors are paid very little, hence they have to teach additional courses to make a decent living.  Over the years we have worked with many primary schools and NGO that work with children.  Primary education is officially free.  But schools are so underfunded and teachers re so underpaid that many additional fees are charged. Many kids, such as this little street vendor, do not attend school.  

My friends in education in Cambodia are facing very big challenges.  Yet they are persevering.  We are very glad to be able to work with them, and playing a small role in something much bigger than ourselves.  My good friend L said to me: “we have seen many foreigners come to Cambodia professing to care about Cambodia; yet they come and go without leaving a trace.  Some of you stay and we can tell which are those who really care.”  We are honoured to be counted as true friends


Sunday, July 09, 2017

Foods of Cambodia

I find many kinds of food in Cambodia that I do not often see in Hong Kong.  Some I have actually not seen anywhere else.  There is a kind of sun-dried mango paste that seems to be ubiquitous in the villages of Cambodia, which I have not yet seen outside.  

There are banana flower buds, which can be made into decent salads.  Bananas are also very common in Rwanda, but as far as I know, Rwandans do not eat them.  I wonder why.  

In Rwanda, I have seen people feeding the hearts of the banana tree (plant?) to cows, who seem to relish them.  In Cambodia, hearts of the banana plant are sold in the wet market, presumably as food for humans. 

Roasted, peeled bananas seem to be a popular snack.  Although I'd rather not eat them off the street. 

Crickets, as well as many other kinds of insects, are commonly eaten. 

As are worms, larvas. 

Or you can fight the bees for honey and their combs. 

There are many kinds of palm fruits, other than the coconut.  

Some are delicate, gelatinous, juicy and mildly sweet. I like that a lot. 

Others are fluffy, slightly sweet but rather dry.  Not my favourite. 

The soursop somewhat resembles sugar apple (sweetsop), but is actually rather sour and not as good.  I don't quite like it.  

The lotus shoot, if not eaten, will bear the lotus flower, and eventually the receptacle containing the lotus seeds.  It is commonly used in stir-fry in Cambodia.  

There is a kind of lime, with a named loaded with bias (kaffir, which - I was told - means non-believer in Arabic, a slur against black people).  So some people call them makrut. 

Cambodian food is very interesting, if not always pure, innocent fun.  

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Reconciliation in Rwanda

How can you forgive someone who murdered your loved one?  In 1994, 800,000 people died in 100 days in the Genocide in Rwanda.  What the country has been doing to recover from the trauma is nothing short of miraculous.   On the one hand, they vow to remember.  Sites of the Genocide such as the church at Nyamata were preserved.  Murderers were judged in courts and sent to prison.  Those 100 days were remembered every year.  On the other hand, the government, the churches and many organisations work together to reconcile the antagonists.  I asked Pastor Albert, the AEE staff in charge of their effort in reconciliation, to speak with our students about it.  

AEE itself experienced terrible personal trauma in the Genocide.  Their leader then was a Hutu but spoke against the persecution of the Tutsi.  As a result, he was killed at the beginning of the Genocide in 1994.  The current team leader has 2 children of his own, but over the years has raised 20+ children of relatives, left uncared for after the Genocide.  One staff who drove us to Gicaca last week was from Nyamata, with his wife and 2 children murdered in the very church that we visited.  Pastor Albert had to flee the country for education and for his own safety.  His father was told not to return to his job on day in 1973 because he was a Tutsi.  A senior staff was shot protecting others who were about to be murdered; fortunately he survived and recovered.  

Pastor Albert himself hated all Hutus until he was transformed by faith in Christ.  Faith is also the basis of AEE’s work in reconciliation.  He now believes that there are good Hutus and bad Hutus, just like there are good Tutsis and bad Tutsis, there are good people in Hong Kong and bad people in Hong Kong.  Many Christians were implicated in the Genocide, when the population was nominally 90+ % Christian.  Why is Christianity so popular in Rwanda today, many of whom are of the Evangelical denominations?  Why don’t people feel that God has abandoned them? - one of our students asked.   Pastor Albert said it is perhaps because many people have been transformed by God’s love.  The love of Jesus Christ is so powerful that it enables us to forgive.

Evidently, many of our students are touched by his testimony and sharing.  I encouraged our students to keep Rwanda in their hearts.