In our workplace, I've seen too many of my well-paid colleagues dozing off or using the computer to do any other thing than the office work that they are paid to do.
Now who should command more respect?
Who are better off - the employers in Thailand or those here? It's hard to say. It probably depends on whether it is money or freedom and leisure you value more.
It's not easy to come back to the 'home' where the days are gloomy and rainy and the temperature is only one third of Pattaya where we spent our sunshine holiday in the last few days. It really takes quite some resolve to get back into an uplifting mood and quite some imagination to convince myself that it's the same sun lying behind the clouds and one should be able to feel its presence and be warmed if one really tries.
But I have tried and it worked.
When it comes to travelling, I have a couple of 'don'ts':
- Don't visit the capital city - it is usually almost always the most busy, the most unfriendly and the least interesting place of a country.
- Don't take a taxi - it is not only expensive but also environmentally unfriendly. (Taking a plane is even more environmentally unfriendly but given my tight schedules there is no other alternatives.)
- Don't visit the same place twice, no matter how you were enchanted by that place the first time round. The attempt to relive or better the good memory always ends with shattering it instead.
But I always make exceptions for Thailand. It is only after visitng Bangkok many times that I begin to feel that enough is enough - such is the charm of this chaotic capital city. I do take a taxi from the airport to Bangkok or to Pattaya because taking a taxi is not that much more expensive than taking a bus and the bus schedule doesn't always work (there is no way I would be stuck in the airport for 1 hour and 45 minutes to wait for another bus after missing the last one for 15 minutes like I did a few days ago). And I do come back to Pattaya to visit my friends - the elephant and the mahout family - in the elephant camp I served as a volunteer a couple of years ago.
Talking about visiting the elephant and the mahout family, this time there was an interesting twist of events. I was told that my young mahout friend had gone to the south of Thailand on a honeymoon, with a western woman who had been a volunteer at the camp before. "He is twenty-three," said the elephant camp friend who told me about the affair on my way to the camp. "His mother is forty-five, and the woman is just two years younger. Her husband killed himself last year." While she said this in a nonchalant way, I didn't fail to detect the slightest sign of disapproval in her tone of voice. But when I reached the family's stilted hut and saw a new hut next to it and the brand new pick-up truck parked outside, I realised that maybe it wasn't entirely Cupid at work, but it was perhaps difficult to resist this sort of attraction. Romance apart, could the young man who hardly speaks any English be trying to help improve his family's standard of living as well?
Somehow, the tropical and very affordable way of life here seems to work for many Western men, as there are lots of settlers here, many of whom appear to have a happy family - a young, docile woman for a wife and some kids too. There is definitely something in the laid back and very accommodating culture of Thailand that attracts some Westerners like honey attracts flies.
The way I see it, this is a culture that is almost an antithesis of the Chinese culture. While many Westerners would happily make Thailand their second home, how many would so consider China or Hong Kong?
I am updating this in the early morning, at the patio of a hotel room. From the panoramic seaview I am watching how the morning light banishes the darkness and casts golden edges on one side of the restful boats in the sea. One of Nature's most spectacular shows. And yesterday I saw another. I sat at the beach watching the sun set - seeing how the sun retreated to its majestic repose and the trees turned from lush green to becoming silhouettes against the multi-coloured backdrop.
While I am awestruck by the breathtaking beauty, I am also a bit saddened by the fact that these shows by Nature, which should be free for everyone's enjoyment, have become such a luxury and rarity for cityfolks who are typically busy and cut off from Nature. A not so enviable aspect of modern life.
"This is a beautiful image, well composed and shows probably the biggest single issue that faced us all in the last decade and will stay with us for the next," said Andersen.
To me, this picture shows Planet Earth shedding a tear, especially after the much awaited Copenhagen climate summit had so little to deliver in terms of getting the nations coming to some form of agreement on carbon emissions.
At 38,000 feet, I read this from Robin S. Sharma's The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari and was deeply touched, not just by this particular statement but also by what the whole chapter called "The Power of Discipline" said.
Not bad. How about marking today as "the first day of the rest of my life"?
It's been pretty much non-stop celebration for me in the last two days because of the two impending major festivals coming up - the Winter Solstice and Christmas. And there goes my weekend because of the dining and partying. Did I really enjoy it? To be honest, not really. 'Eating, drinking, playing, merry-making' does not excite me. I particularly question the wisdom and meaning of senselessly stuffing ourselves with excessive food on certain days of the years.
In his blog published today, Justin Rowlatt of the BBC also raised a similar question. In this blog, he examined the relationship between the food we eat and the threat of a food crisis. He began by reminding those who are enjoying their Christmas dinner that one in six of the world's population will go hungry this year. He went on to point out that there are two causes of the problem. First, much of the food has been used for producing bio-fuel. Second, even more food has been used to feed the animals we eat. With the developing countries becoming richer and the world population growing, the second factor is getting increasingly more critical. The obvious problem here is that while we will need much less food if people stop eating meat, it is very difficult to get people to change their diet.
Justin Rowlatt has two reasonable suggestions: First, eat less meat. Second, actually eat the stuff you buy (rather than waste it). And here is his festive challenge:
"I want you to craft that limp carrot, half-eaten packet of cheese and the remains last night's pizza into a delicious Christmas spread. It has to be possible to rustle up something palatable... doesn't it?"
Are you ready to take it up?
The problem with many people here is that they do not think deeply about what it is that they are celebrating. As long as there is a day designated for a certain cause, be it a birthday or a festival, they 'celebrate'. Without any deep thinking or reflection, the celebration is no more than what the popular Chinese saying 'Eating, drinking, playing, merry-making' suggests. As Larry Gillick of Creighton University's Online Ministries said, "We do tend to cram into the emptiness and longing of Advent, Christmas parties and staff, faculty, office dinners which can make the celebration of His birth, and ours, not very uplifting."
But then he added: "We have time! There is still stillness to give us a sense of waiting, wanting, watching." Very well said indeed. "Stillness" is what we need for us to reflect on the meaning of this day for which we celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus. Jesus Himself said this about the purpose of His coming into the world: "Behold, I come to do your will, O God." (Hebrews 10:7)
This, therefore, is the biggest reason for our celebration - that God's will is to be done through the birth of Jesus. And, as Elizabeth said when she greeted Mary, "Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled" (Luke 1:45). The birth of Jesus is the biggest testimony of how what was spoken by the Lord would be fulfilled.
According to British government figures, about 8.3 million tonnes of food is thrown away each year, enough to fill 4,700 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Organisers hoped that fewer people would discard food as a result of the campaign. To me, the icing on the cake is that the meals given away were vegetarian meals.
He Hongqing is an expert in the ancient art which is at the heart of traditional Sichuan Opera.
He is able to change his masks with lightning speed and is widely regarded as the best in the country.
Some Chinese people would try to ease their conscience by cramming the surplus food into their stomach. While making them feel horrible physically, this action creates a false impression that no food is wasted. The truth remains, however, the surplus food is never needed and shouldn't have been ordered in the first place.
For rational people, this face-saving thing is rather hard to understand, but for the Chinese, it is something that they would morbidly hang on to.
'What does it mean to live in a country without law?
It means that the parents of the schoolchildren who died in the Sichuan earthquake will never get their day in court.
It means that people poisoned by China's filthy factories have never been able to sue.
That farmers robbed of their land by corrupted officials are left destitute.
And it means living in fear, which drives people to desperation.
In Chengdu, Sichuan, 47-year-old Tang Fuzhen tried to stop the local government from demolishing her home.
But the bulldozers and demolition crews arrived early one morning.
She could take no more, so she covered herself in petrol and set herself alight. She later died in hospital.
Eight of her family members, including her husband and son were then detained for "disrupting government work".'
The article also bursted the bubble of hope that human rights in China are improving. The correspondent said:
'It was thought the Olympics would make things better, prosperity would make things better, and leaving China to move at its own pace would make things better.
But human rights and legal reforms are moving backwards, not forward.
China is a country ruled by law, the government likes to claim. Except, it is not.
Wang Shengjun is the chief justice, but he has never been to law school.
However, he does have excellent contacts within the Communist Party.
And he has been a very loyal cadre, halting years of legal reform by telling China's judiciary to reject the concept of independent courts.
Instead they should consider Communist Party interests first, then the people's interests, and finally constitutional law.'
Just like when I saw first the government ministers of the Maldives and then those of Nepal hold their cabinet meetings underwater and on Mount Everest respectively, for the purpose of raising the world's awareness to their difficult situation brought about by climate change, I was deeply moved this morning when I saw in the news how Ian Fry the representative from Tuvalu choked back tears and said the above in a meeting at the Copenhagen climate summit.
Here's his full speech, wherein lies the humble appeal of him and his country:
“It has been said in the media that I am trying to embarrass the country of Denmark. This is not my intention at all…
“…Madame President, I know that you tried to visit Tuvalu, though you did not make it. Had you visited, I think you would understand our position. Our entire population lives within 2 meters of sea level… I understand that we are waiting for the US senate. It is ironic that we are waiting for one country to decide before the international community can move forward. President Obama was currently in Sweden accepting a Nobel Prize, whether rightly or wrongly. For him to honour his Nobel Prize, he should address the greatest threat to humanity, climate change, and the greatest threat to human security, climate change. This is not just an issue of Tuvalu… millions of people around the world are affected. This is not just Tuvalu. Over the last few days I’ve received calls from all over the world, offering faith and hope that we can reach a conclusion on this issue. Madame President, this is not a media trip for me, I have refused to take media calls on this issue. As a humble servant of the government of Tuvalu, I have to make a strong appeal to you that we consider this matter properly. I don’t want to cause embarrassment to you or the government.
“… I want to have for the leaders an option to consider a legally binding treaty. We’ve had our proposal on the table for 6 months. 6 months, it’s not the last two days of this meeting. I woke this morning, and I was crying, and that’s not easy for a grown man to admit. The fate of my country rests in your hands.”
I remember the health condition of Piper when he first came to our home. The kind woman who gave him and Parker his one-eyed brother to us told us that he was still on a regime and we should crush a quarter of an anti-biotic tablet and mix the tablet into his food. Piper sneezed quite a lot. His feces were somewhat watery. And while he and Parker were siblings of the same litter, it didn't look it because Piper were (and still is) much smaller in size. It was after a couple of months of good care that the sneezes stopped, the feces became solid, and the very discernible spine became padded by some flesh.
Piper goes on to become the brave, happy and plump little furry thing he is today, but he must have been much badly attacked by viruses to start with, thus his complete loss of sight and his poor initial condition. That's why, as I said yesterday, you don't see any (or at least many) blind cats hanging around in the street. It would be extremely tough for them to make it.
Elderly home worker Chan Sau- kuen, 49, who shoved an old woman's feces into her mouth as a punishment for soiling herself, was remanded in custody for sentencing on December 29, pending background reports."
This local news item was reported in different media yesterday, most probably because of the sensationalism associated with the "disgusting" act the elderly home worker was accused for - feeding the old woman her own feces. This is especially the case since there is in Cantonese a very vulgar equivalent to the English curse words "drop dead".
But what caught my attention was what the magistrate said. I was wondering whether a court judge should be doing more than passing worldly sentences. What business did he have telling a convict that she will be "punished and condemned by heaven"?
And what is "heaven" anyway? This is the obscure status that the diety in Chinese worship is endowed with. Since strictly speaking, we do not have a religion, we have the inclination of turning to "heaven" for worship or wishes. For example, the emperor was the "son of heaven". And, as reflected in the magistrate's comment, heaven watches over us, judges our behaviour and gives reward or punishment.
But unlike other dieties, this heaven is without an identity or a creed. It is just a vague concept, but one that has been governing many people's value or belief system. How facile!
These were the real you, you see
Not the professional you a while ago
Who pestered tourists
Asking for money to have your pictures taken
Using English too sophisticated for yourselves to understand
“Give me Hong Kong coins”
“For collection, for souvenir”
But maybe that was just your job
Your duty at the office
Here in this ancient wat
On 16 October, the Maldives, the world's lowest lying nation, had a cabinet meeting underwater. Yesterday, Nepalese ministers held one on Mount Everest, at an altitude of 5,200m above sea level. Both meetings had the same purpose - to raise the world's awareness of the effects of climate change.
For the meeting yesterday, the entire 21 ministers of Nepal travelled by helicopter to a plateau next to Everest's base camp to endorse a resolution on climate change, which they called the "Top of the World" Declaration.
"We wanted to stress one point: that the Himalayas are a global treasure, said Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal. "They are the water towers of Asia, feeding its largest rivers and nourishing hundreds of millions of people downstream."
A Buddhist monk who waited to greet the ministers on their return, said: "For us, nature is God. But we are not teating our God fairly and that is why we are having problems."
I love watching my cats fight. It's not because I'm sadistic or anything. I'm just fascinated by the fact that however physical and animated the 'fight' is, there is no malice in it. While it looks like they are trying to tear each other apart, there is abolsutely no intention to hurt. They are just sharpening some hunting or self-protection skills which would be crucial for their survival in a natural environment. What is so amusing and such a joy to watch is that even in the thickest of action, when they are locked in a furry heap seizing the throat of each other, they would suddenly show camaraderie by licking each other.
That, to me, is a perfect example of healthy competition. My cats have shown me that competition is something we all need in life to equip or elevate ourselves, but it doesn't have to be antagonistic, ugly or cut-throat - something which always happens in the human world.
It is just as tough to be a Chinese animal as a Chinese animal lover.