Is there hope in Hopenhagen?

Hong Kong people have had a taste of extreme weather in the last year or two. An extremely cold February last year (with the temperature being below 12 degree Celsius for more than twenty consecutive days) followed by the hottest February on record this year. Again, this year, the hottest August and September on record are followed by the coldest November on record. The average temperature between January and September this year is also the highest on record.

But the worst is yet to come, according to the Hong Kong Observatory. They predict that the extreme weather resulting from global warming and greenhouse gases will intensify. Before the century is over, there would be four droughts in which rainfall is expected to be only half the average level, and there will be hugely destructively typhoons coming to Hong Kong.

There is a website called Hopenhagen which has been set up in response to the climate change conference to take place in Copenhagen in 8 days' time. For many people, the question is how much hope we have in the positive solutions being reached in the conference, or how much hope humans have before the tipping point is reached at all.

According to today's Gospel (Luke 21:25-28), the answer is an emphatic 'yes'. Close as we are to the situation where "on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves", Jesus made this great promise:

"And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand."


Purr-fect exploitation

As if it's something that needs to be proved by research evidence.

Researchers at the University of Sussex have recently "discovered" that cats "exploit" humans by using a "soliciting purr" to garner attention and food. What the research did was to train cat-owners to record both the "soliciting" and "non-soliciting" purrs of their cats. The recordings were played to volunteers, who found the "soliciting" purrs more pressing and less pleasing, and this pestering purr often convinced beleaguered pet lovers to give them what they want.

But do we really need this research study to tell? Ask us us who have our cats lording over us. Try closing the bedroom door and shutting those Lords of the House out, for instance, and see how you can bear with their protests!


What's in a name

I recently have some business dealing with a rather powerful woman with a distinctly masculine name. While I was impressed by her candor and directness, I also wondered the extent to which that personality has had to do with the name. There was that secondary school classmate of mine who had a girl's name and to this day he still walks and talks in a very sissy way. I think such personality or peculiarity is not so much the outcome of the spell cast by those words in the name as the effect of socialisation. After all, names are given by parents and thus largely reflect the expectation parents project on the child. It is very unlikely then that this expectation moulds the way they bring up the child.

Apart from that secondary school classmate, I had a primary school classmate who was also a victim of her name or whatever the name encompassed. Many older generation Chinese people liked to have sons rather than daughters. If to their disappointment they give birth to yet another girl, they may give her a name like 'calling son', 'beckoning brother', etc. Apart from sounding ridiculous, such a name also gives the cruel message to the girl that 'it's not you we want'. And it is such a name that my primary school classmate had to live with.

She was a brilliant student, and my main rival on the academic side. Once our English teacher held a competition where those with five dictation full marks in a row would win a prize. After four dictations, 'Calling Son' and I were the only ones left to qualify. I can never forget how it hurt when after the fifth one, I was given only 98 marks because of a stupid punctuation mistake I made and she went on to claim the coveted prize! Despite her academic success, she didn't seem happy. She was much too serious and reserved for a young girl and there was hardly any smile on her face. Could it be that she had an unhappy family life, I didn't know.

Her parents got what they wanted - a son, whom they named 'Celebrating Son'. As he went to the same primary school as mine, I was able to see what a spoiled brat he was. A stark contrast to her speckless sister.

Obviously, it's more than the name itself that shapes the person.


You'll never walk alone

When you walk through a storm hold your head up high
And don't be afraid of the dark.
At the end of a storm is a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark.
Walk on through the wind,
Walk on through the rain,
Tho' your dreams be tossed and blown.
Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone,
You'll never, ever walk alone.

Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone,
You'll never, ever walk alone.


Life Without Limbs

The guy in this picture looks pretty normal, but people who have heard of him, Nick Vujicic, will know that he is a man without limbs. It doesn't take much imagination to see how difficult his life is. Just think about how you can no longer do almost everything you normally can do. For most people, this surely isn't a life worth living.

So it's amazing that someone who is so disabled not only has overcome the crippling handicap but also become a source of inspiration and motivation for many through sharing his story. But of course it hasn't been all plain sailing. At the tender age of 10, he was so depressed after being bullied at school that he started contemplating suicide. It was only when his mother showed him a newspaper article about a man dealing with a severe disability that he realised he wasn't the only one with major struggle. He began to thank God for being alive, and he started to devote his life to spreading God's good news. Incredibly, this person with no arms and legs is striving to become financially independent - by doing television shows, writing books and producing DVDs.

His life and achievement certainly challenge us able-bodied people to reflect on our own lives. How much more should we be able to achieve with our agility and strength if only we would put our mind to it!


Christ the King Sunday

On my way to the church this morning, I felt a piece of sand in my shoe. I stopped by the roadside and took off my shoe to shake it off. After a few more steps, I felt that it was still there, so another round of clearing was performed.

And here is perhaps one of life's biggest irony. How I would take all the trouble to remove a tiny grain of sand that caused some discomfort during my travel but let myself carry all the burdens and distractions with me to the Sunday worship is quite incomprehensible. After all, as the liturgical calendar so aptly reminds us in celebrating Christ the King Sunday today, it is our king - Jesus the King - that we go to the church to see. With our minds so filled with worldly concerns and worries, what space is left for us to receive the King, who came into the world to testify to the truth, and to understand His Kingdom, which does not belong to this world (John 18:33-37)?

Lord Jesus, help us shake off our worldly burdens, receive us into Your Kingdom, where we can listen to Your voice and learn the truth tnat You testify to.


Wish upon a star

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you

If your heart is in your dream
No request is too extreme
When you wish upon a star
As dreamers do

Fate is kind
She brings to those who love
The sweet fulfillment of
Their secret longing

Like a bolt out of the blue
Fate steps in and sees you through
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true


Toilet ideas

A Hong Kong student won a renowned national scientific competition regarded as the Nobel Prize for Chinese teenagers with his invention called "Inedible Cellilosic Ethanol". Chu Hoi-ming of Carmel Pak U Secondary School succeeded in generated electricity from the biofuel ethanol obtained from the fermentation of waste paper.

Asked about the source of inspiration, Chu said it came from the toilet in the school. "I saw lots of hand-drying paper being thrown away in the school toilet and remembered that the paper contains lots of tissues," Chu said. "How good it would be if it can be used to generate electricity, I thought."

Hong Kong people like to label bad ideas as "toilet ideas", but I believe otherwise, and Chu Hoi-ming's victory is a case in point. My personal experience is that countless times I "suddenly" remember something I would otherwise forget or generate some ideas (including ideas for this blog, by the way) when making a trip to the loo. I believe it all has to do with a change of place and posture, after getting stuck, both mentally and physically, in the same place or situation for too long. It might also be that one becomes more quiet and still when "doing business" in the toilet. As Psalm 46:10 says: "Be still and know that I am God."

Chu's "toilet idea" not only enabled him to beat hundreds of gifted students in China, it also won him a handsome HKD50,000 (or is it RMB?) scholarship and direct admission to top universities in China. Not a bad one, huh?


Loo-ve ya

Today is World Toilet Day – a day to raise awareness of the global sanitation crisis. Most of us who live in the developed world probably take the toilet for granted, but this humble facility is vitally important. Here are some reasons:

  • 2.5 billion people (nearly half of the world's population!) do not have somewhere safe, private or hygienic to go to the toilet, which strips their dignity and risks their health.

  • Lack of sanitation is the world's biggest cause of infection.
  • The majority of the illness in the world is caused by fecal matter.
  • The simple act of washing hands with soap and water after going to the toilet can reduce diarrhoeal diseases by over 40%.

  • Safe disposal of children's faeces leads to a reduction of nearly 40% in childhood diarrhoea.

  • Diarrheal diseases kill five times as many children in the developing world as HIV/AIDS. That's 5,000 children dying every single day.

Visit this website to learn more.


New deal needed

"Based on our knowledge of recent trends and the time it takes to change energy infrastructure, I think that the Copenhagen conference next month is our last chance to stabilise at 2C in a smooth and organised way," said Professor Corinne Le Quere, lead scientist of the Global Carbon Project (GCP), which uses just about every source of data available to build up a detailed picture of CO2 emissions.

According to the GCP, , emissions rose by 29% between 2000 and 2008. Before 2002, the rate of increase was about 1% per year, rising to about 3% due mainly to a rise in China's economic output. All of the growth came in developing nations, but a quarter of it was for production of goods for industrialised countries.

"If the agreement is too weak or if the commitments are not respected, it's not two and a half or three degrees that we will get, it's five or six - that's the path that we are on right now," warned Professor Le Quere.

Richard Betts, head of climate impacts at the UK Met Office, agreed. "If we want to be staying below 2C then it's true to say we've only got a few years to curb emissions," he said.



White lips puff small clouds
Clothes and scarves smell of moth balls
Cold spell makes winter


Too hot? Says who?

While a couple of months ago I moaned about the unusually hot weather, having experienced probably the hottest August ever which had a record breaking 307 hours 50 minutes under "Very Hot Weather" warnings, now the pendulum has swung to another extreme. The "Cold Weather Warning that was issued by the Hong Kong Observatory at 4:20pm today is the earliest on record.

Is it mere coincidence that such extreme weather conditions have occurred in the space of a couple of months? Do we need any more conrete proof that human activities have greatly disrupted the balance of the global climate?


Learn a lesson from the fig tree

Today's Gospel is one giving great hope to those of us who look on in despair at the disorders and damages in today's world.

The condition of our earth today is such that the ceaseless and ever-increasing exploitation of its resources driven by human greed has greatly threatened the balance of the ecosystem and the life-supporting climate system, to the extent that, according to scientists, we are nearing the tipping point - the point of no return. We are nearing the days described by Jesus in Mark 13:

"In those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken."

But Jesus then assures us that we will then see "'the Son of Man coming in the clouds' with great power and glory, and then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the end of the earth to the end of the sky." We will not be foresaken. On the contrary, as our old reference of permanence and orderliness, such as the sun, the moon and the stars, becomes shaky because of human greed and madness, Jesus offers the promise that, as sure as the branch of a fig tree becoming tender and sprouting leaves heralds the coming of summer, the existence of those anomalies heralds the coming of Jesus to restore order. So if we are to seek Him and follow HIm, what do we have to be afraid of, even in the midst of the crumbling of the world of the old order?


The 'Crying Fish'

Often, when asked why I chose to become a vegetarian, I would say that it is not for religious reasons. I am not a Buddhist or anything. The choice was made on humanitarian grounds. The primary reason for me to choose not to eat meat, fish and eggs and drink milk was that I did not want my diet preference to lead to animals being killed or having to suffer. Of course, as I was to find out along the way, there were so many other side benefits, such as good health, spiritual growth, environmental friendliness, getting to know great people who are vegetarians, etc. But they are just the icing on the cake. Animal welfare is my prime concern.

One of my often used examples of cruelty in meat eating that eventually caused me to make up my mind to go veg is the way fish vendors sell their goods. In order to show that the fishes are fresh, they would take them out of the water, put them on a rattan basket and let them wriggle. That, to them, is a good way to advertise. How the fishes suffer as they gasp in agony probably never crossed the minds of the sellers and buyers alike. To me, it is bad enough that the fish is to be eaten, it is even worse that it has to suffer like that before being slaughtered.

Sadly, it is very much in our culture to eat animals in the most horrifying ways. This Youtube video, called "The Crying Fish", shows a fish whose body had been cooked but was somehow left to live, again as a way to highlight its "freshness". What the cook did was to wrap the head with a wet towel and dip the body in burning oil to deep fry. Again, the pain of the fish was hardly the concern of anyone. The way those callous diners in the video laughed and 'poked' (pun intended) fun at the miserable fish was simply disgusting!

And I bet the fish did cry during the horrendous process of torture, thus the name of the video?


CCTV Cup English Speaking Contest

While I flicked the remote and hit at the 2009 CCTV Cup English Speaking Contest just now, I couldn't but not but be hugely impressed by the performance of the youngsters who invariably did a marvellous job making a prepared speech, giving an impromptu talk and standing their ground when fiercely challenged by three seasoned challengers. The organisation, content and fluency of their speech, their composure, their ability to think on their feet, their pronuncation, even accent, were all almost spotless. While we have been so used to mocking the howlers we see on placards and in menus on a daily basis, we should not overlook the fact that in its quest for a stake in the world stage, China has churned out, among so many of its sub-standard products, these very competent kids who are ready to rule the world.

One interesting phenomenon is that out of the eight contestants of the day, only two were male. I wonder how much that may tell us about the difference in the language abilities between the sexes. Mind you, though, the young man whose performance I managed to see was very good, and he was voted as the best by the audience in the studio.


The year of the cat

It is commonly believed that one year of a cat's life is equivalent to seven years of a human's life. Scientists have discovered that the scale is not uniform at all. The first two years in the life of a cat is a period of rapid growth and is equivalent to 24 years of human life. After that, the growth slows down and each feline year becomes about four human years. The scale is shown in the following table:

So by the time Parker and Piper have their two-year-old (human years) birthdays early next year, they will be 24 years old in feline terms.


Lunch boxes, anyone?

I saw in the news that due to a snow storm, highways in Hebei were closed and many truck drivers were stranded there. As in many cases of natural disasters in China in recent years, Premier Wen Jiabao swiftly arrived to give moral support. All credit to him for making the gesture, for what it is worth.

Many Chinese people do not have such empathy though. The news said that after being held up on the road for days, the drivers suffering from cold and hunger were eventually able to grab hold of some lunch boxes, but were purchased at much inflated prices. It probably never occurred to those who were selling the food to show the least amount of sympathy to the drivers who were in peril. It was more important to rip people off, especially when they have lost their bargaining power.


Children of Cambodia (5)

"I can draw!” you declared proudly
And in English too
Indeed you could
Your two pencil sketches of the great Angkor Wat
Showed much promise
Were you one of the luckier children
Who could go to school
To learn things
To nurture your talents
To develop that confidence that was so rare among your peers I have met?


The Dalai Lama in Arunachal Pradesh

Two pictures about the Dalai Lama's visit to Arunachal Pradesh, India a couple of days ago make interesting contrast with the other two taken over half a century ago, by Heinrich Herrer during his time in Tibet. Compare the Dalai Lama in 1951, in the last picture of him taken in free Tibet, with the Dalai Lama today and reflect on how things have changed.


The generous widows

Two of today's Bible readings are both about generous widows. The one in I Kings 17:10-16, despite having no bread but only a handful of flour and a little oil which she had to share with her son, agreed to make a little bread cake for Elijah from what little she had before making one for themselves. The one in Mark 12:41-44 put two small copper coins into the treasury of the temple. A paltry sum, but it was "all she owned, all she had to live on". While many rich people had put in large sums, Jesus said to His disciples that "this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury".

Reminds me of the man with a horrible hobble that I talked about yesterday. Today's Bible reading is a revision of the lesson the man was teaching.


Unfolding the secret of better decision-making

If a recent research study by the University of New South Wales is anything to go by, it may not take any education to teach us to think carefully and make better decisions. All it takes is to get into a bad mood.

According to the study, people who were put in a bad mood in an experimental setting were not only able to make better judgement but also to communicate it. And it is because of the way the brain "promotes information processing stratgies" when a person is in that emotional state.

So next time you want to make a better decision, try being grumpy.


Giving coal when it snows

On my way to dinner yesterday, I was walking behind a man who was handicapped. He was inching along because of his horrible hobble, and he stopped in front of another handicapped person who was begging by playing music. He handed the other person a pack of instant noodles.

I always have hesitation about making an offering to beggars, not entirely convinced that they are really in need. Maybe this hobbling man knows the meaning of "compassion" and "sympathy" better, being in a similar situation. Maybe he was trying to teach me that lesson.


Children of Cambodia (4)

I asked you for permission to take this picture
When I met you again on my way out of the wat
And you graciously agreed
About an hour ago, you and your younger sister were pleading me, without success, to buy a wooden snake that I had no real use for
I bet she didn’t have a clue what it meant to be posing for a picture
She’s still such a baby and wouldn’t keep still
But you did your very best to hold her there
While I waited for some tourists to move away from the background
And when I showed you the image on the camera screen, you gently said “thank you”
My face grew hot with shame
Who should be doing the thanking –
Me who had enjoyed all the privileges
Or you and you sister who , after entertaining me, had to fight for another day?


A schizophrenic nation

Despite its incessant claim that it does not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, China has recently made audacious attempts at exporting its censorship to other countries.

Here are some recent examples.

A few days before the start of this year's Melbourne International Film Festival, an official from China's consulate in the city called Richard Moore, the executive director of the festival urging him to withdraw a film about the Chinese activist Rebiya Kadeer, saying that the festival organisers needed to justify their decision to include the film in the programme. "It was a remarkable display of confidence and arrogance," said Richard Moore.

China complained to Japan for allowing Rebiya Kadeer to enter the country.

China asked the organisers of the Frankfurt Book Fair to ban writers Dai Qing and Bei Ling who had been invited to a symposium connected to the fair.

Amazingly, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said when questioned about its policy of non-interference: "I believe the Chinese government has not violated the principle of interfering in others' internal affairs."

No justifications needed.


Which is a more dignified way to respond?

The way the Chief Executive of Hong Kong lashed out at the media questioning his integrity following the coupon scheme for energy-saving light bulbs, brutally branding the query as "groundless smear campaign" and "purely empty accusation", is a stark contrast to how some less belligerent government officials in the west would handle what they consider to be abuses by the public. Take the following letter, published by the Guardian and considered by some Netsurfers as "probably the best letter ever written", as an example of how maybe a dose of ice-cold irony is the better way to go:

Dear Mr Addison,

I am writing to you to express our thanks for your more than prompt reply to our latest communication, and also to answer some of the points you raise. I will address them, as ever, in order.

Firstly, I must take issue with your description of our last as a "begging letter". It might perhaps more properly be referred to as a "tax demand". This is how we at the Inland Revenue have always, for reasons of accuracy, traditionally referred to such documents.

Secondly, your frustration at our adding to the "endless stream of crapulent whining and panhandling vomited daily through the letterbox on to the doormat" has been noted. However, whilst I have naturally not seen the other letters to which you refer I would cautiously suggest that their being from "pauper councils, Lombardy pirate banking houses and pissant gas-mongerers" might indicate that your decision to "file them next to the toilet in case of emergencies" is at best a little ill-advised. In common with my own organisation, it is unlikely that the senders of these letters do see you as a "lackwit bumpkin" or, come to that, a "sodding charity".

More likely they see you as a citizen of Great Britain, with a responsibility to contribute to the upkeep of the nation as a whole.

Which brings me to my next point. Whilst there may be some spirit of truth in your assertion that the taxes you pay "go to shore up the canker-blighted, toppling folly that is the Public Services", a moment's rudimentary calculation ought to disabuse you of the notion that the government in any way expects you to "stump up for the whole damned party" yourself. The estimates you provide for the Chancellor's disbursement of the funds levied by taxation, whilst colourful, are, in fairness, a little off the mark. Less than you seem to imagine is spent on "junkets for Bunterish lickspittles" and "dancing whores" whilst far more than you have accounted for is allocated to, for example, "that box-ticking facade of a university system."

A couple of technical points arising from direct queries:

1. The reason we don't simply write "Muggins" on the envelope has to do with the vagaries of the postal system;

2. You can rest assured that "sucking the very marrows of those with nothing else to give" has never been considered as a practice because even if the Personal Allowance didn't render it irrelevant, the sheer medical Logistics involved would make it financially unviable.

I trust this has helped. In the meantime, whilst I would not in any way wish to influence your decision one way or the other, I ought to point out that even if you did choose to "give the whole foul jamboree up and go and live in India" you would still owe us the money.

Please send it to us by Friday.

Yours sincerely,

H J Lee
Customer Relations


Tastes so good, feels so bad

People may find processed food, such as processed meat, refined grains, fried food and sweetened desserts tasty, but apart from the widely known fact that these foods are fattening, a recent UK study also revealed that people eating a diet high in such food is more likely to suffer from depression than those eating a whole food diet.

According to the University College London team who conducted the study, people with a diet high in prcoessed food had a 58% higher risk of depression than those eating very little processed food. By contrast, those eating a diet high in whole food were 26% less likely to suffer from depression than those who ate less whole food.

Unfortunately, in the UK, people are consuming less nutritious, fresh produce and more saturated fats and sugars. My guess is that people in Hong Kong are faring no better.


Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees

And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the seal of the living God; and he cried out with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was granted to harm the earth and the sea, saying, "Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we have sealed the bond-servants of our God on their foreheads."
(Relevation 7:2-3)

The earth is the LORD's, and all it contains,
The world, and those who dwell in it.
For He has founded it upon the seas
And established it upon the rivers.
(Psalms 24:1-2)

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
(Matthew 5:3)

The various Bible readings today echo nicely. The message in Relevation and Psalms is loud and clear. We who have the ability to "harm the earth or the sea or the trees" should not do so, for "the earth is the Lord's, and all it contains". We do not own the world. We are here to manage it. But what a lousy manager we have been to have let the earth and the sea and the trees be harmed to such an extent as we see today, all because we greedily wish to have more and more. And so Jesus urges us to become "the poor in spirit", for it is by becoming thus that we inherit the kingdom of heaven.