Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Dao and Christ (道 與 基督)

At our Spring (Church) Book Club (泉福書社), we are discussing the topic “When Dao meets Christ”, a dialogue between Daoism (the philosophy 道家 and religion 道教) and Christianity (基督教).  We started by studying 3 quotations.  One is from the Bible, specifically the first verse of the  first chapter of The Gospel according to John (約翰福音), in the Chinese language, specifically - the Chinese Union Version (和合本).  Another is the first verse from Dao De Jing (道德經), the classic text of Daoism the philosophy.   Yet another is a verse from one of the main texts (太上老君虛無自然本起經) of Daoism the religion.  

The three verses are from different texts.  Yet they use very similar words: , 太初, 萬物.  And say very similar things.  The Bible verse equates Dao with God; it says Dao/God created everything.  Dao De Jing also says that Dao is the source and mother of everything.  Hence Daoism and Christianity has similar views of the origin of the universe.  Except that Daoism calls the source Dao/, while Christianity calls the source //God. 

Regarding the wordings, the word “” has been in use in Chinese culture for at least 2,500 years.  The Gospel of John was written ~2,000 years ago.  The word that was translated into “” in the Chinese Union Version 100 years ago was “logos” in Greek and “word” in English.  Why was it translated as “” rather than “”, “”, “智慧”, …?  The translator certainly would have been aware of the meaning associated with the word accumulated from the 2,000+ years of usage.  

The advantage of using such a word with its rich heritage is that the Chinese people would have grasped its meaning instantly.  The disadvantage is also precisely because of the rich heritage - that the word conjures up the beliefs behind Daoism the religion as well as the philosophy.  Daoism the religion believes that Lao Tsz (老子, 太上老君) is actually a manifestation of Dao.  

Daoism the philosophy teaches that in nature is the truth, and that the universe has an origin. Much of Daoism philosophy is not incompatible with the belief of Christianity.  On the other hand, Daoism the religion believes in many fantastic gods, which is obviously quite incompatible with Christianity.   When Christianity is introduced to the Chinese, it does not into a vacuum, where there are no preconceived ideas about the universe and the “truth”.  It is worth making the distinction between what is compatible with the Christian faith and what is not.  

From the point of view of the Christian faith, it should not be surprising that this is the case.  The ancient Chinese sages, without the advantage of direct connections to God through the Old Testament prophets, nevertheless searched tirelessly for the truth through diligent observations of the universe.  The universe, having been created by God Himself, reveals much about God.  Hence the Chinese sages did discover quite a bit about God, although not the whole truth.  Now is the chance to complete that knowledge through Christianity. 

Just to put in my two cents worth.  

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Confucius Day (it is about education)

At the Confucius Institute Day opening ceremony just now, I was reminded of something very relevant to what is happening at the universities in Hong Kong these days. 

One major theme of Confucius Teaching is that the seniors set good examples for the juniors to follow.  If those who occupy higher ranks are moral, than those at the lower ranks would follow.  That is something parents and teachers should all be aware of.  Children and students don’t just do what they are told.  More often, they watch how we behave; and they would do the same, both consciously and unconsciously.  

Are some of our university management, such as Mr. L at HKU, setting good examples then?  Some of them have demonstrated that they are vindictive and mean spirited, treating some of the staff and students as enemies rather than someone they have to set good examples for.  These “leaders” of the university are setting bad examples for the students.  But I suspect that they do not care.  They are there for the power, not to educate.  

Confucius also teaches that when the seniors are generous, the juniors would also learn to be magnanimous. It is something we can use in service-learning.  

I picked up a free book on learning Pinyin, an ink brush, and the proper way to put our hands together to great each other.  

I didn’t realise that the men and the women put their hands together differently.  You learn something every day.  

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Cambodia pre-trip

I am in Cambodia for the third time this year, to prepare for the project in summer 2018.  This year the project has a new dimension.  We will have 3 groups of students, one from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, another from University of Maryland, and a third from the Royal University of Phnom Penh.  In 2016, our team and the Maryland team held joint classes via video conferencing in the Spring of 2016, and the teams worked together in Rwanda in June.  This year we added the RUPP team, and the 3 teams will have joint classes in Spring and then work tougher in Kampong Speu in Cambodia in June 2018.  Hence we are here to scout the sites.  

We are also checking out the projects that were done earlier.  Our first used cargo container-turned-into-community learning centre, set up in 2015 in San Mok looks and functions well.  I would love to be able to claim that it was my idea, but it was the students’ and the staff’s idea.  At least I can be proud of them.  

Here in San Sok, it is sitting on the grounds of the leader of our partner NGO Kong People Do.  Hence it is well attended to. The books, computers, etc., are used quite extensively.  The solar panels are humming along, generating electrical power to run the lights and computers. 

I heard that the one set up in 2016 on Silk Island is also running well.  There it is sitting on the grounds of a primary school and is supported by the teachers.  But I heard that the teachers cannot use the computers well.  Perhaps we have to either provide more training, or make the computers easier to use. 

In Kampong Speu, the centre set up only this past summer in 2017 is also maintained well.  The water collection system is working.  The facilities are maintained well.  Young People Do cannot send people here too often because it is an hour and a half away from the city.  But they are planning an overnight camp here for a new group of university student volunteers.  The boys will be sleeping in tents while the girls sleep inside the centre. It is a great idea and we wish them well.  

When I stepped inside, I was pleasantly surprised that it felt reasonably cool - I could stay inside for quite some time, while it is 33 C outside.  The fans powered by the batteries charged by the solar panels are really working well!  I was skeptical in the beginning but am now quite convinced.  

The solar panel-battery charging stations are also working well, mostly.  There is a bit of wear and tear, mainly with the cables rusting and breaking.  Some many have experienced some damage due to short-circuiting and need to be replaced.  

Perhaps we have to provide more training to the local students so that they can carry out more maintenance and even installation on their own, as we have discussed with RUPP already. 

We are very happy to see that the systems we have installed are still working, that our partners are thriving, and that we have more challenging and exciting projects coming up.  God has been graciously guiding us step by step.  We know, because we certainly did not plan it this way in the beginning.  


Sunday, October 01, 2017

Prospective University Students

Yesterday our campus was jam packed with young people when we held an Information Day for prospective students.  Many of them looked really young.  Perhaps that should not be too surprising.  The majority of them should be 18 when they enter university next year.  Now they may be barely 17.  

I could be predisposed. But it did appear to me that more females inquired at the health science booths, and they tend to be more vivacious.  At the engineering booths, on the other hand, many of the mostly male clientele seemed content to just hover on the periphery, hoping to snatch a pamphlet or souvenir without having to talk to someone.  I also noticed that many of the engineering booths had only one entrance/exit, which was often obstructed by people or exhibits. So that didn’t help either. 

What kind of student are we going to get next year?  It is well known that the secondary school system and the public examinations in Hong Kong favour students who are obedient, have a good memory, quick, and can optimise for the specific question and answer styles.  These are not exactly the type of students that we look for, but that is what we are going to get.  The fact that their scores at the open examinations do not correlate strongly with their performance in university is revealing, and damning.  

What kind of campus are they coming into?  I pray that people would leave us (teachers and students) alone.  A university is where you ask questions, discuss, learn and grow.  If the university administration is hostile to the students (such as exemplified by the infamous Mr. Li), if the establishment sets too-strict boundaries on what can and cannot be even discussed, if the professors are not allowed to teach and correct the students without undue interference, then I am afraid it is not conducive to learning and growing up.  

Many of the university students turn out to be mature and responsible - in spite of the obstacles posed by the system, not because of them.  This is testimony to the human spirit embodied by the students themselves and the efforts of many of their teachers.  We should applaud them.  Many of the adults in responsible positions certainly have not behaved in honourably ways. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Drinking Buddha

Pubs and bars are ubiquitous in Ireland.  But I am not sure whether the real Buddha would actually run a bar, even in Ireland.  

There is more than beef and potatoes to eat in Ireland (Galway, actually).  Next to the Buddha Bar is a Chinese restaurant run by a couple from Hong Kong.  My friend from Singapore, who cannot live without Chinese food, took me there.  The food turned out to be quite good, and the place was doing good business.  It is quite small, seating no more than 15 people, and a lot of people come for takeout.  The young couple who run the place was from Hong Kong.  And they seem to enjoy the more tranquil life in Galway.  I wish them well.  

There is also more than the Cantonese style and Shanghai style Chinese food.  I was quite surprised to find Xian street food.

And Beijing street food in a convenience store.

Is this what is meant by soft power?  Or simply an influx of Chinese students and immigrants?

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Street Scenes Ireland (Galway)

There wasn’t much time to venture out of Galway because I spent most of my time at the conference on service-learning.  But I did walk around Galway as much as I could and it was quite rewarding.  

There were a lot of murals that were very attractive, even though I could not always figure out what they were or what they were trying to say.  Such as this one with a big eye in it.  

Many bars / pubs had such pleasing murals that induced an urge to go inside to find out more.  On this account they are very successful.  

Some are so vibrant that they became natural backdrops for street performers, or people who wanted to raise donations for some cause.  

There were still some of the old-fashioned thatched roofs.  Although I was told that they are becoming quite rare in Galway. 

The campus of the National University of Ireland at Galway is beautiful.  Such as this quiet quadrangle with perfectly kept green lawn, and vine-covered facades.  

Thursday, September 21, 2017

A taste of Ireland (Galway)

I feel that I am not sure whether I can say I have seen Ireland.  I have actually only been in Galway for about 4 days.  But I did get a taste of Ireland, at least that of Galway.  

During this time, I have tasted some very nice wild boar sausage, washed down with a local beer form Galway.  The only regret was that there were not more sausages.  I have become quite fond of wild boars, perhaps from reading a little too much Asterix.  Asterix and his pal Obelix always tuck into big, delicious roasted wild boars after a big fight.  

They must have a lot of cows here, because the beef steaks were quite inexpensive.  At least in comparison to Hong Kong.  They seem to be quite meticulous about their beef too.  You can get fresh beef, beef aged for so many days, etc. - even from a regular supermarket.  

They have a lot of cheeses.  And I did see a lot of cows, sheep and horses along the highway between Dublin and Galway.  

The seafood looked fresh too.  But I am not sure that all of them come from the seas around Ireland.  

You can even pick up apples from the grounds of the National University of Ireland at Galway.  They were edible, but small and sour.  Not my favourite.  But you don’t have to pay for them.  So I couldn’t complain.  

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Diversifying Service-Learning

I am here in Galway to attend an international conference on the serious matter of Service-Learning at the National University of Ireland at Galway.  Somehow I ended up staying at a hotel on the touristy Quay Street, with my room right on top of a row of pubs and restaurants.  It was very hard to sleep until the din died down way past 2 am.  

In the morning, on the way to the university, I get to count the number of kegs of beer each pub consumes in just one evening.  

And to imagine how it feels to sleep in the street in near freezing temperatures.  Somehow, the site of my hotel seem especially apt for the purpose of my trip here. 

At the beautiful campus, we discuss staff development, measurement of impact, public scholarship, recognising engagement in promotion and tenure, …

In the closing session, the incoming chair of the organisation asked for input on diversification.  I raised three issues that I feel are important.

Firstly, there are many more females than males in service-learning, among both students and teachers.  What are the gender-based differences and impact? and how can the imbalance be addressed?

Secondly, much of the service involve social sciences disciplines.  Why are the so-called hard sciences and engineering disciplines not contributing?  Engineering exists to solve problems. How can we get the engineers to contribute more to tackle these social issues?

Thirdly, service-learning is dominated by the (North) Americans.  But the culture and political situation is very different in other communities.  For example, advocacy is considered favourably in USA.  But it is not considered so favourably in places like Hong Kong, and downright dangerous in places like China.  How should service-learning be practiced outside USA?

As a teacher, administrator and advocate in our university, these matters are of immediate and critical concern to me and my colleagues.  

Friday, September 15, 2017

University and matters of national significance

Imanol Ordorika of Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (Autonomous National University of Mexico, UNAM) delivered the opening keynote at the 2017 IARSLCE (International Association for Research on Service-Learning and Community Engagement) Annual Conference in Galway, Ireland.

He asked: where were the universities when the UK debated on Brexit - the British exit from the European Union?  … when the Occupy Wall Street was going on?  … when corruption led to constitutional crisis in Brazil?  … through the Black Lives Matter campaign?  … against the “alternate facts” frenzy in the USA? 

These are matters that captured the attention of the whole nation and were enormously important for the nation.  Yet the universities in the respective nations were strangely silent.  How can universities claim to be socially responsible, engaged in society when they are silent on issues that tremendously affect their nation?  

He didn’t mention Hong Kong specifically.  But we can equally ask the same question:  Why were the universities silent on matters such as Occupy Central? Why do universities think they have no role to play in the debates in society of such enormous importance to everyone?  Is it because of a lack of expertise?  information?  … or courage?  How can we teach students to be engaged, responsible citizens when we ourselves are not willing to be the same?

Thursday, September 14, 2017


Within just one week, I came through Heathrow again.  This time, I was not going to London, just changing planes to fly to Dublin, and then to take a bus to come to Galway - to attend a conference on Service-Learning.  

My first impressions of Ireland - both when the plane made landfall, and on the bus from Dublin to Galway - was that Ireland is very green.  

It also has a lot of animals: sheep, cows, and horses.  Particularly sheep, both the real ones grazing on the green fields and those cute ones decorating shop windows.  

Ireland also has a lot of bookshops and restaurants, which I like. 

Sometimes the two are linked, which I like even more.  

There are many many pubs, of courses.  Many are quite old, or at least look old.  

There is a lot of music, on the streets, in the pubs, …

At the beautiful cathedral in Galway, there is a prayer that I like a lot, perhaps because it speaks to my heart.

What is the link between alcohol, books and faith?