Thursday, August 17, 2017


Here I am, in modern day Tunisia.  This was the ancient land of Carthage, itself a colony setup by the Phoenicians, who came from the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea, the modern day Lebanon.  From here, Hannibal took the fight to the Romans around 2,200 years ago and almost destroyed them before the Romans had a chance to build an empire spanning 3 continents.   

We started at the Carthaginian fort, the basis of the fearsome Carthaginian naval power.  The bay is still there, but the fort left few traces.  

Some Carthaginian graves have been found.

Many tiny coffins littered the site, supposedly made for the babies that had been sacrificed to their gods.  Today, it is hard to imagine that people would burn their babies to please their gods.  But apparently it was a common practice in those days more than 2,000 years ago.  

The Romans won, of course, and turned Carthage into its “African” province, from whence the continent derived its name.  They then built cities and theatres, and grew so much corn that they could feed their army for centuries.  This theatre, with the iconic semi-circular shape, is said to seat 5,000 people.  Not the largest of its type, but impressive enough.  

Here lived the great Augustine, well known for the concept of the original sin, Confessions, the City of God, and so much more. 

To the right of the theatre in the photo is a mosque, a symbol of Islam, who, in turn, overcame the Romans.  

Why would someone ever find history boring?

Monday, August 14, 2017

Learning from Service-Learning (a humbling experience for the teacher)

One of the tasks in this year’s project in Rwanda was quite challenging.  We had to install a set of 12 solar panels onto the roof of a house more than 10 feet high.  Each set measured roughly 8 feet by 4 feet, weighting 24 kilograms.  We had to setup 4 such charging stations.  This was probably the most challenging, risky and critical task of the whole project this year.  Everyone had to work together correctly, efficiently, and safely.  

We went through a lot of planning and training in Hong Kong prior to going to Rwanda. On the first morning on site, we worked fairly quickly.  At one point, everyone was busy except one of the students, G (not in the photo), who seemed to be wondering what to do.  So I asked him to cut some metal wires and pull them through the holes at each of the 4 corners of he set of solar panels, so that they can be used to secure the panels once the set was on the roof.  I showed him a big pool of metal wires.  He grabbed one end and started pulling.  I watched in horror as the wire got tangled up!  I shouted to stop him, then told him he had to gently ease the metal wire from the pool.   Subsequently, it took him quite some time to figure out the length of the wire needed, how to measure the length and twist the wire for more strength.  I knew I had to be patient with him, but could not hide my impatience.  Then I got upset with myself of being impatient.  (Follow up: At the second station on a following day, G was able to do that properly.)

In the evening, the team sat down to review and reflect on the work for the day.  I remembered that there was an incident earlier when some of the students did something that upset some of the teaching staff and were then scolded.  We told the students that they should reflect on their behaviour, and have the courage to admit their mistakes.  Then I thought of myself: what about me?  Shouldn’t I have the awareness that I was wrong to be angry with G, and then have the courage to admit I was wrong.  At that point I told the group exactly that.  It was embarrassing for me to admit that I was wrong and apologise to a student.  But I felt I had to be honest to myself and to God, and I should do this "in public" to set an example.  

This is particularly relevant since Service-Learning is more about character than cognitive skills.  It is difficult to teach students something that we cannot, or will not, practice ourselves.  It is not just the students who have something to learn from Service-Learning, The same is true for us teachers.  It should not be surprising.  But I suspect we, as teachers, do not do that often enough. 

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Falling Further

Has Hong Kong fallen beyond the point of no return?  I don’t really know.  The present situation and the direction where it seems to be going are not encouraging: Communist China continues to grow in self-confidence and it is obvious it desires to impose tighter control on Hong Kong.  It also seems that Hong Kong is falling further when:

The land is increasingly in the hands of wealthy corporations controlled from the Mainland. 

More and more and more university students from the Mainland ask to be taught in Putonghua.  

More and people people, not necessarily educators, demand that schools teach in Putonghua.  

Fewer and fewer stations broadcast in English.  Even “English speaking” stations advertise in Chinese.  

More law students are taught by academics educated in the Mainland.  

Hong Kong   (where the law is held in high esteem) is regularly lectured by people from the Mainland (where the law serves the party) on matters of the law.  

More and more people counsel Hong Kong to submit to the reality of the overwhelming economic, political and military power of Communist China. (It is hopeless to try to resist, so it is better to stop resisting and learn to “enjoy” it.)

More and more religious “leaders” (who are supposed to trust in a higher order of justice and love) want us to submit to the authorities (irrespective of whether they are just or not). 

It is very difficult to be optimistic under these circumstances.  But I refuse to give up hope completely.  I believe God loves justice and He rules in the end.  And also because a life without hope is too painful to contemplate.  

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

The Fall of Hong Kong

Hong Kong did not fall on 1st July, 1997 when the Communist Army marched into Hong Kong.  At least, not completely. 

Hong Kong falls a little when “nationalist education” turns out to be “education in praise of the Chinese Communist Party”.  

Hong Kong falls a little when agents of the Chinese Communists Party becomes  formally legitimate Hongkongers, having stayed in Hong Kong longer enough - acquiring the right not only to vote but also to stand for election.  

Hong Kong falls a little when the chief executive exaggerates the supposed threat of Hong Kong independence so that he can demonstrate his loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party by suppressing the supposed independence movement. 

Hong Kong falls a little when the obviously incompetent official in charge of education was kept in place, apparently to spite those opposed.  

Hong Kong falls a little when the appointment of a professor as a senior manager at a university is brutally suppressed because of his relatively open minded political stance.  

Hong Kong falls a little when the chairman of a university council treats his own students as the enemy to be suppressed, instead of students to educate.  

Hong Kong falls more when the police fires tear gas at peaceful demonstrators. 

Hong Kong falls more when our residents are mysteriously and involuntarily removed to the mainland and persecuted because of speech considered unacceptable to the Communists. 

Hong Kong falls more when writers are dismissed from newspapers and reporters dismissed from broadcasters because their voices are critical of the establishment.  

Hong Kong falls more when more and more newspapers and broadcasters sell out to the establishment.   

Hong Kong falls more when Communist law is executed in Hong Kong because it is convenient for the government, even if it is a violation of the law, even when there are lawful alternatives. 

Bit by bit, Hong Kong is falling by the death of a thousand cuts.  

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.