The happiest and saddest events of 2010

The Thai King's recovery from illness was rated as the happiest event of 2010 by the Thai people while the political unrest was considered the saddest, according to a poll on the extremes of 2010 as reported by the Bangkok Post.

Sounds reasonable. But wait! Let's check the numbers. Let's look at the percentages of the responses to these and some other survey items:
  • The happiest event: the King's recovery (78.37%), better unity among Thai people (21.63%)
  • The saddest event: the political unrest and protest (64.37%), division in society (35.63%)
    The male politician they like most: Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva (68.09%), former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra (31.91%)
  • The female politician they like most: Paweena Hongsakul of the Chart Thai Party (70.13%), Sudarat Keyuraphan, former executive member of the dissolved Thai Rak Thai Party (29.87%)
  • Wishes for the next year: peace in the country (53.04%), the country to have true democracy (46.96%)

Notice anything? Yes, for each item, the numbers add up to 100 per cent. It looks like in conducting the survey, the pollsters at Suan Dusit Rajabhat University offered two options for each item for the 9,065 respondents nationwide, and there was probably not a third option of "others" or "no opinion".

How reliable is a survey like that then?

Fortunately, another poll, conducted by the Bangkok and reported in the same article, lent some support to one of the above items. According to the second poll, "the city burning in May" was chosen as the worst among 10 incidents that happened in Thailand this year. There is probably no dispute that the political unrest is the saddest event of the year then?


The killing fields

According to a report by a newspaper in Guangdong, some dried vegetables that have been soaked in sewage is on sale in Hong Kong.

An article in the newspaper reported how the operation by an unlicensed farm in Dongguan worked. The freshly harvested vegetables were cooked with boiling water for 20-30 minutes in a stove right next to the fields, after which the cooked vegetables will be cast into a drain for cooling, the putrid water of which came from three public toilets and a chicken run closely upstream.

Asked by the newspaper report whether they dared to eat those dried vegetables, the women working in the fields were starkly frank. "No, no!" they said. "They are for selling only."
Here is a very good indication of the moral standard of many in this great nation. It is alright to do absolutely anything to make money, just as long as they themselves do not consume whatever sub-standard, fake, harmful or toxic products they produce.

Or so they think, at least. One thing they probably fail to see is that when everyone has that mentality, most products other than the ones they sell are likewise compromised, corrupted or contaminated.

Or perhaps they do see the problem but feel that they have a solution. When they have made enough money out of selling those products, all they need to do is to come to Hong Kong or go overseas to buy whatever will give them better peace of mind. Just let those who cannot afford to do so "enjoy" their proud production.


What the driver said

It is always interesting to talk to the taxi drivers when you travel, if they can speak English.
And this one who took us to the Bangkok Airport can. And, for a taxi driver, very good English too.

When I complimented him on that he said: "I was a limousine driver for the Peninsula for 15 years before I quitted and bought this taxi last month.” I did notice that it was very new.
Why did he do that? There were a few reasons.

To have more time with his family – As a taxi driver, he doesn’t have to work shift, so he can see his children more, especially his elder daughter who lives in the university hostel and is only back home occasionally.

To be his own boss – Before quitting, he had been given two warnings by his boss because of complaints by hotel clients. The traffic of Bangkok was so bad that occasionally he was not able to take clients to the airport in time for their flights. When that happened, he would be in trouble. This is something he can now live without.

To earn more money – Occupancy rate of the Peninsula had been low in recent months after the unrest of the country in May. The tips he received had been shrinking.

So what does he think about the political turmoil? It is bad for the country, as tourism is hard hit and so is the economy. But as a red shirt, he thinks that the protest is necessary and well justified, and he feels that the movement has been vilified.

Will there be more demonstrations by the red shirts? Yes, soon, he said with conviction.

Talking to this upbeat and eloquent driver pepped up an otherwise tortuous taxi trip. I didn’t realize that an hour had passed so quickly after we covered conversation topics which ranged from scandals involving the Thai crown prince and, inevitably, the weather.

"Thailand has no winter,” he said jovially. “We only have two seasons. Hot and very hot.”
Very true indeed.


Bonne année, Ana!

Here's another piece of evidence from the field of tennis which shows what a big difference confidence and self-belief can make to one's performance.

From being number one in the world in 2008, tennis glamour girl Ana Ivanovic saw her ranking dropped to outside the top 60 early this year. But after claiming titles in Austria and Bali in the last three tournaments she played for the season, she climbed back to 17 and her career is finally back on track.

Ivanovic attributed her revival to a renewed belief in her own ability.

"It is a strange thing," she said. "Once you lose it (confidence) you feel like it is very hard to get it back... I tried to search for it in many different directions and many different places and with different people, but you realise that it is all the time within you, you just have to discover it."

This belief in one's own ability is similar to what Normal Vincent Peale said about "selling yourself on yourself" in his book Enthusiasm Makes the Difference.

But it takes more than just "discovering" the lost confidence. Ivanovic said she started working on her fitness with a close friend after Wimbledon. "Once I got fitter, I felt like it gave me confidence on the court," she said. "Once you start to feel better the confidence just grows and to have two titles at the end of the year meant a lot to me."

While we should start believing in ourselves in the first place, we must also choose the right course of action and work hard to produce results that will keep fuelling that confidence.

"I am very excited about this upcoming year," Ivanovic said. She has much to look forward to in 2011.

Haven't we too?


You'll have a yabba dabba doo time... You'll have a gay old time

During our stay at the Thai hotel in the Christmas holiday, I sometimes flicked the remote control to the Boomerang TV channel and watched some classic cartoons, such as The Flintstones, The Merry Melody Shows, Scooby-Doo, Yogi Bear and the Fantastic Four. It was like taking a trip down Memory Lane.

When I was a schoolboy, I never watched the soap operas in the evening, always choosing the seat at the dinner table with my back to the TV. But after school, I would rush home and switch on the TV to the welcoming tunes of the Merry Melodies shows or the Flintstones. Then for the next hour or so, I would have a good laugh at the duels between Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner, Tweety and Sylvester, and Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny, as well as the funny episodes that happened at the town of Bedrock.

By the standard of spectacular hi-tech animations, those hand-drawn cartoons yesteryears look sadly outdated, like an old photo album with yellowish pages and photos of fading colours. Some plots also smack of being rather silly and repetitive. But there is something fascinating and romantic about those vintage productions, something in the music, the characterisation and the voiceover that appeals to one's nostalgia and makes these cartoons true classics. Old wine becomes more mellow with time.


To whom should Christian worshippers' allegiance be pledged?

This picture shows a worshipper in a church in the Yunnan province of China arranging flowers to celebrate Christmas.

In his traditional Christmas Day message from the Vatican this year, Pope Benedict XVI singled out the plight of persecuted Christians in China. He urged the Roman Catholics in China to remain hopeful in spite of limitations and to face with courage the limits on their freedom.

The Communist administration in China has been forcing Catholic Bishops to attend events organised by the state-backed "patriotic church". To me, this thing called the "patriotic church" is a classic example of the administration's brutal and naive distortion of truth. Whereas the relationship between Christianity and worldly authority was best summed up by Jesus when he said “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s" (Matthew 22:21), this "patriotic church" thing is a shameless attempt to not only link the two together but also put the church at the service of the state.

Christmas is a good time to remind us to pray for an improvement in relations between the Vatican and China as well as the situations of Christians in the Communist country.


Santa Paws is coming to town!

This is the e-card I have designed for this Christmas.
A friend to whom I sent it commented: "People in Europe and Northern China would certainly like it."


Arts of the Kingdom

During this trip to Bangkok, we went to the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, the beautiful Italian Renaissance and Neo Classic style building which was used as the Parliament House until 1974 and is now a museum.

The first thing I noticed upon arrival was how strictly they prohibit taking photographs of the building. Twice I was stopped by the security guards when I tried to point my camera at its direction. It was really quite a shame. The building, the construction of which was commissioned to the architects Mario Tamagno and Annibale Rigotti using marble from Italy and other foreign materials, was really quite magnificent.

The highlight of the museum was the "Arts of the Kingdom" exhibition, in which exquisite traditional Thai handicrafts ranging from Thai fabrics to items encrusted with gold, silver and jewels were on display. The breathtaking and beautifully crafted works were produced under the Foundation for the Promotion of Supplementary Occupations and Related Techniques or the SUPPORT Foundation initiated by Her Majesty Queen Sirikit. The aim was to enable farmers to earn supplementary incomes on the one hand and to preserve Thai arts and crafts on the other. Since its establishment in 1976, The Foundation has been setting up SUPPORT Centers in various regions of Thailand which offer training courses in different departments of crafts.
The crafts on display in the "Arts of the Kingdom" exhibition represent years of hard work of the people involved. According to the descriptions of many display items, it has taken hundreds of artisans a number of years to produce each of them.

This project which seeks to solve the poverty problem and preserve the precious heritage of Thailand is a commendable one indeed.


"You liar. Is this your global warming?"

This unusual cold December in Europe, northern China and now eastern US has sparked quite some cynicism and sarcasm towards global warming.

Roger Cohen, journalist of the International Herald Tribune, said that global warming, which some people "apparently took to mean the end of European winters", is part of the reason for "the current farce", in which a few inches of snow have cast Europe into chaos. "This, according to some, is the result of global warming," he wrote in an article called Snow! Hit the panic button. "So if all else fails, blame global warming for the freeze."

Another journalist, The Guardian's George Monbiot, received a message on his voicemail: "It's minus 18 Celsius and my pipes have frozen. You liar. Is this your global warming?"
But Monbiot was adamant. His response to the message, given in his article entitled That snow outside is what global warming looks like, was: "She's not going to like the answer, and nore are you. It may be yes."

Making reference to the Arctic oscillations phenomenon, he maintained that "there is now strong evidence to suggest that the unusually cold winters of the last two years in Europe and the UK are the result of heating elsewhere". He also reminded the readers to pay attention to averages. "A global warming trend doesn't mean that every region becomes warmer every month," he wrote. For support, he quoted NASA's datasets, which show that the world has just experienced the warmest January to November period since the global record began 131 years ago, that 2010 looks likely to be either the hottest or the equal hottest year, and that this November was the warmest on record.

He was well aware that people's reaction to what he said is likely to be "Now you're claiming that this cooling is the result of warming!" or "Just look out of the window... there's a foot of snow outside", to which his response was that humans are so governed by their senses that what they see, taste and feel overrides analysis.

Admittedly, human beings are not known to be very rational.


Match for Africa

For once, the score in the Titanic clash between the two tennis greats Roger Federer and Rafael Nadel does not matter. What really counts is the money raised for African children.

The 10,500 tickets for the "Match for Africa", a charity exhibition match which took place in Zurich, Switzerland, were sold out within minutes when they went on sale in September. Federer has been hoping to raise around USD1,000,000 for his foundation, which backs educational work with children in Africa.

After the good-natured match, both players expressed mutual appreciation for each other. Nadal said that Federer's "gesture to play a game here to raise funds for needy people is incredibly generous" and he was "very happy to be part of this event".

"Both of us realise we are in a very privileged position, where we have everything lin life, the least we can do is to help people who are in difficulty," he said.
Federer responded by saying it is wonderful that Nadal supports charities "at such a young age". As for the match, he said: "This is a special match for me, which I will remember forever. I’m just so proud and so happy that we all made it work.”

Another exhibition match will take place in Madrid tonight, this time to raise money for the Spaniard's charity.


A venue for cultural exchange

"The BACC aims to create a meeting place for artists, to provide cultural programmes for the community giving importance to cultural continuity from past to contemporary. It aims to open new grounds for cultural dialogue, networking, and create new cultural resources from both the public and the private sectors. It is intended as a venue for cultural exchange in terms of content, curatorial and cultural management, giving Bangkok an operational base on the international art scene."

After an afternoon visit to the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, I can perhaps testify that it serves well the aims that are stated in this extract from its website. After watching a couple of creditable performances in the Thailand Jazz Competition on the ground floor, we moved up to the few storeys with exhibition corners, shops and cafés where artists, students and the general public alike gather or linger as they please. On the top floors are two exhibitions – one on some traditional artworks by Thai artists and the other, called “Rupture – cause and effect”, showing the photos taken by five renowned photo journalists in the May unrest.

This is a venue that makes for a pleasant visit. Better still, it is absolutely free.


"We'll always have Bangkok."

Going to Thailand for a short holiday seems to have evolved into a kind of ritual for us. And there are several reasons for that.

First of all, the country is just a couple of hours' flight away. If you take an early morning flight to Bangkok, you can finish your hotel check-in before noon and then go out to have lunch at your favourite restaurant. Second, most Thai people are friendly and simple, and they provide good service. Third, even with the Hong Kong dollar's unfavourable exchange rate against the Thai baht these days, accommodation and dining in Thailand still represents good value for money. Last but not the least, Thailand offers such a wide range of places of interest for people with different preferences that it is almost impossible to get bored. Just take Bangkok for an example. We've visited the city several times, but we are still able to find new attractions on top of our old favourites. Bangkok has a much more international ethos than Hong Kong which calls itself "Asia's World City", and that is one thing that makes the cosmopolitan city so lively and vibrant.
Bangkok, therefore, is one exception to my rule of travel that the capital cities of countries can and should be skippe

The film Casablanca has a parting scene, regarded as one of the most poignant in film history, in which Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman were prised apart at the airport. Bogart said the immortal line "We'll always have Paris", referring to the zenith of their love affair.
Maybe years later, when we look back at our younger days, we can make the proud declaration that "we'll always have Bangkok".


Finding joy in the journey

"While goals disappear the moment you achieve them, the journey never disappears. It goes on forever - as does the joy that you experience along the way."

I used this extract from the ending of Mike Hernacki's book The Ultimate Secret to Getting Absolutely Everything You Want in a speech a few days ago. The response from the audience showed that the effect was good and my purpose of using the extract to give some encouragement and moral support to the audience was well achieved.

The book is an example showing that many events in life do not happen by chance but serve some preordained purposes. As I wrote in a blog entry in September, the book, which was given to me by an Indian shortly before he left Hong Kong after having lived here for almost twenty years, had for a long time been forgotten, and it was when I took the journey to Japan in summer that I picked it for reading during the trip. That was how it came to inspire me after serving its previous owner. Then, recently, when I was preparing for the speech and looking for some reference to spice it up, I remembered the meaningful ending. That became yet another mission that the book was made to serve.

Was it by chance that the book was passed on to and then read and used by me? I don't think so. I even believe that the chain of effects may yet go on.


The girl with LV in her eyes

Historians in Italy have recently discovered that there are the letters and symbols in the eyes of Leonardo da Vinci's painting Mona Lisa. By magnifying the eyes with the microscope, the letters LV can be seen in the right eye.

This is no groundbreaking discovery, I dare say. There are the letters LV in the eyes of many women in Hong Kong and China, and you don't need a microscope to see that! Just look at the queues outside the Louis Vuitton shops.


Resolving human-tiger conflict

While it is encouraging that some countries have made great efforts to protect critically endangered wild animals, how these animals and the humans living in their habitat can co-exist peacefully is a huge challenge. Such is the case for the 150,000 sq km of forest in Russia’s Far East which is the habitat of about 350 Amur tigers and is also dotted with small human settlements.

Even though Amur tigers are now extremely scarce, they do sometimes come close to villages. When they do, they might prey on a domestic animal or even attack humans. That is where the special Tiger Response Team, set up by the Russian government in 1999, serves the important function of helping to resolve "human-tiger conflict". When a tiger is seen or discovered in a certain neighbourhood, the team is contacted and dispatched. Depending on the situation, the team takes different actions. Sometimes it just scares the tiger away. Sometimes it capture the animal, after which it puts a radio collar on it and either puts it back where it was or moves it to a different location.

One can imagine how very threatening it is when a tiger walks into the neighbourhood of the local communities, so it is really important that there is such a support team to deal with that and to give the local people a signal that there is a group that cares about their welfare.
Dr John Goodrich, a conservationist and wildlife photographer who has worked with the team, said that most tigers that attack people in Russia have been shot by poachers or injured by traps. It is these injuries that change the tigers' behavior. When they are incapacitated and unable to hunt, they move into human populations to pick on domesticated prey. Wounds from botched poaching attempts, according to Dr Goodrich, are a leading cause of Amur tiger attacks on people.

It is my belief that wild animals and humans can co-exist peacefully. I also believe that they probably did, a long long time ago, in pre-historic times, but human beings changed that relationship forever when, driven by greed, they started to threaten the survival of the wild animals.

Can we still revert the situation? Or are we to drive them to extinction?


Accountability re-defined

"Grandfather” must be quietly pleased with the effort the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government is learning his way of doing things, such as conveniently re-defining a word or expression to give it a meaning that suits a particular political purpose. In China and, increasingly, in Hong Kong, “harmony” now takes on the unique meaning of “the silence of dissident voices”. In recent years, the HKSAR Government has also given “accountability” a special interpretation which deviates from the universally understood notion of “being responsible for the effects of one’s actions”. A good example is the way the government reacted to the findings of a report recently released by a Legislative Council select committee on the post-retirement saga involving former director of housing Leung Chin-man.

Civil service chief Denise Yue was accused by the report as failing to act as a gatekeeper in approving Leung's application to work for New World China Land, whose parent company got the Hunghom Peninsula subsidised housing project at a bargain price. The report described Yue’s failure as regrettable.

To prove that the accountability system for principal officials is at work, the HKSAR Government has taken punitive action against Yue – civil service chief has been “rebuked” by the chief executive. Chief Secretary of Administration Henry Tang defended the action taken, saying that the rebuke is appropriate, and that Yue has accepted responsibility and apologised to the public.

That is the new meaning accorded to “accountability”, if you like.

I have been trying to picture Sir Donald Tsang rebuking his terrified subordinate. He only needed to be half as harsh as when he answered queries by Legco members or the public and that would be quite a scene.

"Ms Yue, I hereby rebuke you for…,” I can see Sir Donald fuming. “@#*$!”

Ironically, the news on the same day reported that a Philippine delegation will meet today with Sir Donald and Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee to review the investigation into the Manila bloodbath in August. While the Philippine Government has admitted that errors have been made. I wonder what the HKSAR Government’s reaction would be if the delegation reported that the President has “rebuked” the officials at fault and they think that the punitive action is “appropriate”.


Talking to animals (2)

The above artwork, entitled Shaman Talking to the Animals, was painted by Norval Morrisseau (1932-2007), one of the greatest aboriginal Canadian artists.

Born in Beardmore, Ontario on 14 March 1932, Morrisseau was raised by his maternal grandparents in accordance with the tradition of the Anishnaabe people. His intellectual and artistic development was profoundly influenced by the contrast between the two religious traditions he learned from his grandparents. His grandfather, a shaman, taught him the traditions and legends of his people. His grandmother, a devout Catholic, taught him the tenets of Christianity.

Morrisseau was a self-taught artist who, according to Wikipedia, "developed his own techniques and artistic vocabulary which captured ancient legends and images that came to him in visions or dreams".

The high regard in which his artworks is well summed up in the following quote:

"His work invokes our memories of childlike simplicity. His colors effect us in ways that are not immediately apparent. His visions, like ancient taboos that have turned into dreams of the future, come to life on canvas and paper. They are talismans of the future and images of respect of the past."


Talking to animals (1)

A friend of mine claims to have the ability to communicate with animals clairvoyantly.

I have tried to "talk" to my pets and other animals, but I cannot say that I have had any success. I haven't had any concrete reply or feedback from my attempts to have a "conversation", except having the feeling of certainty that they understand my love towards them. Still, I do believe that animals have more understanding in us than we realise.

In Norman Vincent Peale's book Enthusiasm Makes a Difference, he described the following experience of a friend:

"A friend of mine, the president of a big company, when faced with a tough problem would call his dog and go into the woods. He said his dog had more understanding than a lot of people. He would sit on a stump, the dog at his feet looking up at him. Then he would describe the problem out loud to the dog. Of a sudden he would hear - not by the outer ear but by the deep inner ear - the answer. He and the dog would then go home."

Maybe the next time I have a problem, I should try tell one of my cats and let him give me the solution.


Get you bum off that chair! (2)

It is commonly believed that occupations that require standing for long hours, such as shop sales assistants and restaurant waiters and waitresses, jeopardise the employees' health. While it is true that these people may have sore feet after a day at work, those who have the "privilege" of sitting in the office all day may actually have got a worse deal.

A New York Times article entitled Stand Up While You Read This! suggests that people who sit for long periods put themselves at increased health risk, irrespective of whether they exercise vigorously.

The article quoted the findings of a study, which observed that among people who sit in front of the television for over three hours a day, those who exercise are as fat as those who do not, and suggested that sitting a lot appears to offset the benefits of exercising a lot.

According to the article, there are two problems with sitting. The first problem is that since sitting is passive, those who sit a lot do not use as much energy as those who spend more time on their feet. The former people not only may gain weight more easily but also are more prone to health problems. The second problem has to do with the so-called "physiology of inactivity", which suggests that muscular inactivity resulting from sitting leads to less production of substances that have a beneficial effect on the body, such as lipoprotein lipase which enhances metabolism.

While you may not have to adopt the radical solutions by some to the sitting syndrome, such as using a stand-up desk which is equipped with a treadmill so that you walk while you work or an exercise bike operated television, you should take heed of the advice given at the end of the article:

Beware your chair.


Get your bum off that chair! (1)

I cannot recall how many times the following scenario has happened.

I have been labouring on a task at my desk. My mind has got completely stuck after searching for a long time for a solution which has been eluding me. And then when I stand up and go for a drink or a trip to the toilet, an inspiration strikes like lightning.

I did not notice the amazing change at first, but I have had enough such experiences now to convince me that one thinks better while standing.

So get your bum off that chair - at least once in a while!


Revolt against reason

"We live in a time of revolt against reason. Revolt against beauty. Revolt against joy. Artists dribble paint out of paint cans onto canvas. Sculptors weld together pieces of old iron and concrete they have scavenged from a junkyard. Musicians blow klaxons and bang tire irons for symphonies. Poets babble trivial obfuscations. Philosophers prove by reason that reason can prove nothing.”

This is what Norman Vincent Peale, in his book Enthusiasm Makes the Difference, quoted James Dillan Freeman as saying. I am afraid what Freeman said some decades ago still very much rings true now, and even more so than ever. So businessmen and politicians pounce on and feast on this gullibility. They know that we are not willing or even able to think, so to achieve their ulterior motives, they feed us with well-packaged, sugar-coated half truths. And they usually get by. Who is to blame but this lazy, foolish generation of people ourselves? Technology, particularly information and communication technology, has enabled us to do things we have never before thought possible. There is now this reliance on and obsession with technology to do everything for us, even to the extent that the planting of a microchip into us will provide us all the knowledge we will ever need.

We are playing God, but look at how people playing God in history ended up.


Another poem that went to the moon

This powerful poem, I Am There, is the second work of James Dillan Freeman that made its way to the moon. Astronaut Colonel James B. Irwin left a microfilm copy of it on the moon in 1971, two years after Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr. brought The Prayer for Protection with him when he made his moonwalk.

Do you need Me ?
I am there.

You cannot see Me, yet I am the light you see by.
You cannot hear Me, yet I speak through your voice.
You cannot feel Me, yet I am the power at work in your hands.

I am at work, though you do not understand My ways.
I am at work, though you do not understand My works.
I am not strange visions. I am not mysteries.

Only in absolute stillness, beyond self, can you know Me
as I AM, and then but as a feeling and a faith.

Yet I am here. Yet I hear. Yet I answer.
When you need ME, I am there.
Even if you deny Me, I am there.
Even when you feel most alone, I am there.
Even in your fears, I am there.
Even in your pain, I am there.

I am there when you pray and when you do not pray.
I am in you, and you are in Me.
Only in your mind can you feel separate from Me, for
only in your mind are the mists of "yours" and "mine".
Yet only with your mind can you know Me and experience Me.

Empty your heart of empty fears.
When you get yourself out of the way, I am there.
You can of yourself do nothing, but I can do all.
And I AM in all.

Though you may not see the good, good is there, for
I am there. I am there because I have to be, because I AM.

Only in Me does the world have meaning; only out of Me does the world take form; only because of ME does the world go forward.
I am the law on which the movement of the stars and the growth of living cells are founded.

I am the love that is the law's fulfilling. I am assurance.
I am peace. I am oneness. I am the law that you can live by.
I am the love that you can cling to. I am your assurance.
I am your peace. I am ONE with you. I am.

Though you fail to find ME, I do not fail you.
Though your faith in Me is unsure, My faith in you never
wavers, because I know you, because I love you.

Beloved, I AM there.


The poem that went to the moon

What is the greatest achievement for a writer? His work becoming a best-seller or getting rave review?

How about having his work taken to the moon?

James Dillet Freeman is a writer with this honour. His work has been taken to the moon. Not once, but twice! The following poem, called The Prayer for Protection, which Freeman wrote for all soldiers during World War II, was taken aboard Apollo 11 by Lunar Module pilot Edwin Aldrin during the first manned moon landing:

The Light of God surrounds me.
The Love of God enfolds me.
The Power of God protects me.
The Presence of God watches over me.
The Mind of God guides me.
The Life of God flows through me.
The Laws of God direct me.
The Power of God abides within me.
The Joy of God uplifts me.
The Strength of God renews me.
The Beauty of God inspires me.
Wherever I am, God is!

Here is what Freeman said about the poem:

"On the very first flight to the moon, on Apollo 11, astronaut Col. James Aldrin carried Unity's 'Prayer for Protection' with him. He did not know me or Unity.

"It has appeared in hundreds of different publications that have no connection with Unity, and millions of people have carried it around on cards that fit into their pocketbooks, pockets, and billfolds. It has been translated into many languages. Sometimes it appears with me as the author. Often no author is given. Sometimes other people are named as the author.

"It has been changed and changed again before it reached the form that it now has that best meets people's needs. This prayer is the product of much thought and concentration and of a mind that was willing to stay open to receive divine inspiration."


"Whatever" you say

How does a statement like this make you feel?

"Whatever you think about using grating words, at the end of the day it's actually better not to say whatever, if you know what I mean."

You should be somewhat pissed off, if the Marist poll on the most annoying word or phrase in the English language is anything to go by. "Whatever" tops the list, followed by "like", "you know what I mean", "to tell you the truth" and "actually".

What makes these words or phrases so irritating? If you look at these top five, you will notice that they are either dismissive, patronising or condescending.

How about the Chinese language? It will be interesting to have a poll like that. My personal picks of annoying words and phrases are context specific. When financial analysts on TV say "in terms of" in every other sentence to sound more professional, when salespersons in shops harrass you by saying "can I help you?", when cold callers reveal their identity by saying "how are you, sir?", it drives me mad.


Other people's dishes

The other night, my wife and I ate out. After finishing our orders, I glanced at the steaming dish the waitress placed on the next table and whispered to my wife with envy: "See how big that dish of fried rice is."

Seeing that I was comparing that dish with the one we had been served earlier, her response, calm as a millpond and yet sound as a bell, was: "Other people's dishes always appear to be bigger."


The inner rewards of reading

The fact that these days I have almost completely stopped buying books has nothing to do with my love of reading. It is just that since many years ago the need for more and more space for bookshelves to accommodate the books that I kept buying became a bigger and bigger challenge. It also didn’t make much economic sense for me to pay a lot of money to buy books that I read but once (or didn’t even read, because being in possession of the book generates the feeling of complacency that I can read it later) and then shelve.

So in recent years I have turned to the public libraries. Not only do we have a good computerized library system that enables us to make a reservation for any book in the online catalogue and pick it up in any library of our choice, borrowing books from the library also has the advantage of forcing me to finish reading the book within a short timeframe – I might not even be able to renew it if someone else has made a reservation.

There is recently an article from the BBC news magazine in which the writer laments the slashing of many libraries in the UK. In defence of the libraries, she said: “In our culture the library stands as tall and as significant as a parish church or the finest cathedral. It goes back to the times when ideas first began to circulate in the known world. I worry where wisdom will come from.”

It seems that here in Hong Kong we don’t need to have such a worry as yet. Our problem lies in many people not having the love of reading. On the joy of reading, the writer of the article says it well: “It is the inner rewards of reading a book in a private and concentrated way that lead you into realms of your own imagination and thought that no other process offers. Something happens between the words and the brain that is unique to the moment and to your own sensibilities.” It’s the kind of joy that reading gossip magazines, which is what many Hong Kong people do, can never offer.


Guilty of fighting for justice

What has Zhao Lianhai, father of five-year-old Zhao Penrui who was one of the victims of melamine-tainted milk in China, done to deserve a 30-month jail sentence?

"Inciting social disorder", according to the verdict. Zhao was found guilty on four counts - organising a gathering of a dozen parents of sick children at a restaurant; holding a placard in front of a court and a factory on the first anniversary of the tainted milk scandal; giving media interviews in a public place; and trying to gather people to demand justice for Li Ruirui, an undergraduate who was raped while held in an illegal detention house as she tried to petition against her college expulsion.

It is very clear that, in a country which treats human rights with utter contempt, which upholds "social harmony" (defined in China' dictionary as silencing dissident voices at all costs), his real crime is fighting for justice, not only for his own son, who still carries a stone in his kidney, but also for the other 300,000 victims by setting up the "Kidney Stone Babies" website to exchange views with other parents on how to sue the firms involved.

The irony is that while such a case would most certainly result in an astronomical sum of compensation in a lawsuit if it were to happen in a more civilised country, under this barbaric regime the rightful plaintiff is thrown in jail instead. Even if the verdict is anything to go by, one may well ask what is wrong with a victim's parent organising a gathering of other parents, holding a placard to protest, giving interviews and helping a rape victim?

This is the regime to which so many people have pledged their allegiance and love.


Trekking in the Himalayas, meditation and yoga

"...I was in the Himalayas having a fabulous trek in the snow... I am now full involved with yoga activities... I am "fully enjoying my time in yoga"... Meditation is gradually becoming a part of normal life. It is very very gratifying when positive benefits (health and healing) arise to those who are doing yoga with me."

The above is extracted from an email sent to me by the yoga teacher I made friends with while attending the World Vegetarian Congress in Goa in 2006 (see the few entries on 29 October - 5 November). This remarkable man gave up a respectable job to pursue a life he craves for. These few lines are the best proof that his decision has been an excellent one.

While I am happy for him to have led such a fulfilling life, my heart aches with yearning. How I would have liked to do the same!


"I wanna eat fish balls, sausages, egg puffs, and siu maai!"

"I wanna eat fish balls, sausages, egg puffs, and siu maai!"

A little girl in school uniform started pester her mother once she got on the train.

I cringed at the matter-of-course manner of the request (or demand, depending on how you look at it), but I bet that the little despot routinely gets her wish.

On her wish list are, of course, the famous (or infamous, depending on how you look at it) street food of Hong Kong. Such street food is a very good reflection of the typical Hong Kong lifestyle - quick, convenient and strong-tasting. Never mind that the greasy, highly-processed and heavily-seasoned food is not healthy and the street stalls cooking and selling it are not clean. As long as the food can excite the taste buds and fill the stomach, that is fine.

And who am I to comment on or even criticise other people's food preference? Didn't I, too, use to crave for such street food at the end of a school day? The only difference is that Hong Kong wasn't such an affluent society in my childhood days that a schoolboy could sabotage his mother to buy him such street food every day after school.


Dictée: Il faut sauver les tigres!

The following is my dictation of an article from http://www.lespetitscitoyens.com/:
La semaine dernière, treize pays d’Asie étaient réunis en Russie afin d’essayer de sauver le tigre. Le plus grand des félins est en effet en voie de disparition! Il y a cent ans, on comptait environ 100 000 tigres… Et aujourd’hui, à peine 3200. L’espèce pourrait éteindre d’ici douze ans si rien n’est fait.

Mais les pays qui participaient au sommet pour la protection du tigre espèrent changer les choses. Leur objectif, c’est qu’au lieu de disparaître, le nombre des tigres ait doublé d’ici douze ans! Du coup ils doivent lutter en priorité contre la chasse des tigres: elle est intérdite, mais le braconnage continue, car le peau du tigre se vend très cher. Un accord a été conclu – pour punir très sevérèment les braconniers. Désormais, ils risquent douze ans de prison s’il tuent des tigres!


"Please singe and return to me"

There was a letter I needed to send out today. After preparing the original copy, the office clerk needed my signature before issue. She placed it in a clear holder, on which was a sticker which said: "Please singe and return to me."

Depending on how you look at it, this spelling mistake is both a howler and a taboo. You can either take it in a light-hearted way and quip "You mean return the ashes?" or associate it with the Chinese custom that we burn paper offering to spiritual beings or the deceased and so consider asking people to singe something and return to her as something inauspicious to say.

Either way, however, it is another demonstration of the uncomfortable truth that in casting itself as a bilingual city, Hong Kong gives the game away rather too easily.


They feed us what we like, don't they?

I find it utterly appalling and disgusting that one of Hong Kong’s best-selling Chinese newspaper should publish the photos of the naked body of a woman when reporting the news of this corpse being discovered in a country park yesterday. Even though the sexual organs have been blurred, the publication of these photos represents a blatant violation of professional ethics and ruthless trampling of the privacy and honour of the deceased and her family.

While a newspaper like this will do anything to boost its circulation, it goes back to the fundamental question about why it is that it not only survives but also thrives.

At the end of the day, this is probably what the readers in Hong Kong deserve.