People at work

These pictures, taken in Pattaya, show people at their workplace. These are jobs that are most probably not highly regarded anywhere and even non-existent in a place like Hong Kong. But look at the care and concentration these humble people give to whatever it is they are doing.

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?


They don't pay you much, but...

Whenever I visit Thailand, I can't help noticing how different the job markets of Hong Kong and Thailand are. Not only are there jobs that exist in Thailand, like bus conductors, that do not have a place in highly automated Hong Kong, there are also jobs that would have been carried out by one person in Hong Kong that are given to two or three in Thailand. So high are the running costs of businesses here that owners look to maximise use of their labour and time. In Thailand, on the other hand, work is generally less stressful. I have seen a restaurant posting two waitresses at the door to welcome guests. While patrons have been few and far between, they just chat there virtually all evening. On two occasions, I have seen department store salespersons playing balls in the toys department. Once two salesladies were shooting hoops with a toy basketball set. Another time two or three sales persons were kicking a toy ball around. I actually got hit by a ball they kicked my way and one of them quickly came up and apologised with that very typical sheepish but charming Thai smile. I can't imagine any Hong Kong department stores tolerating that and any employee here able to get away from hitting a customer with a ball they play at the workplace! But that is just very illustrative of the difference between the two places. Here we are better paid, but we generally work like slaves, and the cost of living is high too. In Thailand, they give you the jobs but do not pay you a lot of money and do not ask for much.

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.


Give me a hand

This is one of the pictures I took in Pattaya that people like. I find the result rather satisfying too.



Homecoming isn't always as sweet as it sounds.

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.


An unlikely romance

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?


"Pattaya. Good for man. Not good for woman."

Pattaya is hardly at the top of tmost people's list of must-visit places. As the jolly taxi driver said pointedly on my way here from the Bangkok Airport: "Pattaya. Good for man, not good for woman." That pretty much summed up why men flock to this little Thai enclave. Here, the most typical scene one sees is that of a bar, with red light glowing, music of the seventies and the eighties blaring from the loudspeakers, and under a wideTV screen showing a recorded Premiership football match sit many middle aged Western men with one arm around the shoulders of a Thai girl and one hand holding a beer. Around them are other Thai girls who are either twisting to the rhythm of the music or waiting to flirt with other Western men passing by. Somehow, I feel a little sad for those merrymakers - men who look lewd and lost.

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?


Nature's free shows

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.


A tear from Planet Earth

This is one of the "pictures of the noughties" chosen by Odd Andersen, Regional Photo Editor of Associated Press. It shows an iceberg melting in Kulusuk Bay, Greenland.

"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.


The first day of the rest of my life

"This will be a great day. The first day of the rest of my life."

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"?


Here we come!

Off we go, for a much needed break, to see my friends - human and elephant friends - in Pattaya.

Will be updating from there.


Why celebrate like we do?

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?


Why celebrate?

On my way home last night, I saw that Christmas lighting had been put up, as usual at this time of the year. The word 'Celebrate', in glowing red, was particularly eye-catching.

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.


How naughty are "the noughties"?

As the first decade of the millennium draws to a close, there are efforts to identify words, ideas, objects or events that characterise these ten years they call "the noughties".

"One of the observations I like best is Matt Frei's comments on what he called "the fundamental conflict of the unnerving noughties":

You have increasingly locked horns with the institutions that are supposed to represent you or act in your interest. You have lost faith in the banks to which you have entrusted your money, in the politicians to whom you have pledged your votes and the companies that have put food on your table.

You have become inquisitive, suspicious and picky. And when you can do something about it on Twitter or your own blog, you have flourished.

But there are some things over which you have no control: like how your garbage is collected, how wars are fought on your behalf or how politicians govern in your name. And that has made you frustrated.

The biggest conflict then in the past decade has been between You and Your expectations."

Remembering how people hailed the arrival of the new millennium as though it were the dawning of a new era, the first decade has been a bit of an anti-climax, if not downright disappointment.

And how is the second decade going to unfold? After all, we have entered a very critical phase in terms of global warming, and with the Copenhagen climate summit in doldrum, there is little cause for being optimistic.


'Wasted' food not wasted

While I talked about how Chinese diners are inclined to waste food by ordering too much in order to impress the day before yesterday, the very next day an event took place in Trafalgar Square, London, where "mis-shapen" fruit and vegetables thought unsuitable for sale by supermarkets were turned into free meals for feeding 5,000 people, as a campaign to highlight the issue of wasted food.

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.


China's fastest face changing performer

A Chinese performer has been wowing crowds in Sichuan province with his face changing skills.
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.

An online video clip shows He Hongqing, a performer of traditional Sichuan opera, changing his masks with lightning speed, and he is dubbed "China's fastest face changing performer".

And I was thinking that it was those Hong Kong politicians who turned from staunch supporters of democracy to mouthpieces of communist China almost overnight who fit the bill perfectly.


Why Chinese people like to order too much food

Earlier this evening, while having dinner with an Indian friend who came to Hong Kong for a short business trip, she asked whether we Chinese like to order a lot of food, I told her that this is related to the Chinese mentality of face. In having extra food left on the table, they would like to give those they are having the meal with an impression of abundance. Having face is a bigger concern than not wasting food.

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.


Why Chinese people are unwilling to be Chinese

I mentioned in my blog on 31 October that the result of a poll conducted by a Mainland Chinese website showed that the majority of Chinese people were unwilling to be Chinese again if they were to have a next life (and if they had a choice, I suppose). An article in the BBC website, called No Respite for China's human rights dissidents, gave some very good reasons:

'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.'


"The fate of my country rests in your hands"

"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.”

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.”


Piper when he first came

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.


One-eyed cats

Probably because I have a cat with one eye and another with none, I tend to pay more attention to cats which suffer from sight impairment. Today I saw two one-eyed cats.

It was during my lunchtime walk. I have noticed for some time that there is this kind woman who would take some food to feed a family of stray cats everyday at about the same time. When I slowed down to observe the cats today, I saw that one of the kittens, like my furry friend Parker at home, had only one eye. Then, after walking on for another ten minutes, I saw another family of strays, and among them another one-eyed cat.

Two thoughts sprang up in my mind. First, it is so easy for cats living in the unhygienic environment of the street to be infected with all kinds of viruses, including this particular kind that leads to the loss of sight. That was exactly the condition of Parker and Piper when they were picked up from a rubbish bin by volunteers. Second, I was wondering why there were only one-eyed cats but no blind ones and I came to the chilling realisation that it would be hard for a blind cat to stand the challenge of a cruel street life. What would have happened to Piper had he not been found and adopted? Close as he is with Parker, could his one-eyed brother have been able to help him survive?



Sun dances on leaves
Birds chirp, butterflies flutter
I am back to life


"You will be punished and condemned by heaven"

"A woman who fed human feces to a helpless elderly woman in her care will be "punished and condemned by heaven," a magistrate said yesterday.

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!


The children of Cambodia (6)

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



Christmas lighting shines
Lost in urban wilderness
No spirit of Christ


The world's highest cabinet meeting

Less than two months after we had the world's lowest cabinet meeting, now we have just had the world's highest cabinet meeting.

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."


Healthy competition

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.


Animal abuse, anyone?

According to a news report yesterday, an abhorring case of animal cruelty was revealed in Tianjin, China where a few hundred cats were found to be kept under horrible conditions. The cats, many of which were believed to be stolen, were destined either to be sold to Southern China for food or to be skinned alive for their fur. They were kept in chicken cages so small that they could not move at all and some had been squeezed to death. Incredibly, when some animal lovers cracked down on the case, the person who claimed to have been running the 'business' for years called the police to ask for assistance. In any case, he would not be held legally responsible for what he did because there is no law against animal abuse in China. When cases such as this are uncovered, the only thing animal rightists can do is to make the case known through the Internet and try to lobby public support. Whatever they do, they are doing it at their own risk as they are not protected by the law.

It is just as tough to be a Chinese animal as a Chinese animal lover.