Now where is the law which says I can't...?

Following on what I said yesterday, I must add, in all fairness, that while in Hong Kong people always try to be one up on you or a step ahead of you, most of them do it in legitimate ways. People seldom go beyond what rules or the law or rules would tolerate. So they don't jump queues. They don't swindle. Before the law banning smoking in public was passed, smokers take a drag in restaurants and ignore whatever "no smoking" signs were put up, but most of them stopped after the law was introduced.

It may annoy you to that no drivers would stop or slow down to let you cross the road, but as long as there are no provision obliging them to do so, they don't see the need or the value to do so. It may drive you crazy to be forced to listen to the phone conversation of the jerk at the next carriage of the train, but unless speaking on mobile phones in public places is banned they just won't have the civility or self-discipline to lower the level of their voices, not to say to stop.


Give way? No way!

There are such a lot of people in Hong Kong that anywhere you walk you are bound to cross path with other people. One brutal difference between the people here and the people elsewhere is that those you cross path with will invariably speed up, take an extra step and cut in before you. Giving way is extremely rare. This phenomenon is not just confined to walking. I also notice that exactly the same happens on the road. In bottle-neck situations where maybe two lanes are converged to one, drivers will scramble for the next spot and frantically try to get ahead of the car at the other lane. And unless there are mechanisms, like a traffic light or a zebra crossing, which make it mandatory for a car to stop, most drivers make full use of their right of road use and do not let the pedestrians cross the road.

Here in Hong Kong, people seldom give way. They compete fiercely, even in situations where competing is not necessary or even counter-productive. They see most situations as a zero sum game and they try to be the winner to take it all. They seldom think about how to create a win-win situation or even let others take the cake. This is not only a rather selfish but also stressful way to live.

As if life in this city of incredibly brisk pace and high cost of living is not stressful enough.


Are you Jo King?

Tim Burr, Justin Case, Barb Dwyer, Stan Still.

These names may sound like bad jokes, but they do exist, according to an online article. Some researchers have scoured through phone records in the UK and the US and unearthed them.

Imagine growing up as someone with one of these names. Imagine having to introduce yourself to a crowd or a class. Imagine how they will smirk, howl, or make fun of the name. As poor Stan Still recalled: "When I was in the RAF my commanding officer used to shout, 'Still Still, get a move on' and roll about laughing."

Here are some more of those unfortunate names:

Terry Bull
Paige Turner
Mary Christmas
Anna Sasin
Doug Hole
Hazel Nutt
Pearl Button
Barry Cade
Carrie Oakey
Priti Manek
Anna Prentice
Bill Board
Jo King

Jo King? Are you joking? Well, this is exactly the question you should ask your parents!


What is draconian and drastic: a vegetarian diet or a western diet?

Which is 'draconian' and 'drastic': a vegetarian diet or a Western diet?

Is going veg something very extreme? Conside these two quotes:

'Some criticize the plant-based diet as extreme or draconian. Webster's dictionary defines draconian as "inhumanly cruel". A closer look reveals that "extreme" or "inhumanely cruel" describes not plant-based nutrition, but the consequences of our present Western diet. Having a sternum divided for bypass surgery or a stroke that renders one an aphasic invalid can be construed as extreme; and having a breast, prostate, colon or rectum removed to reat cancer may seem inhumanly cruel. These diseases are rarely seen in populations consuming a plant-based diet.'
-Doctor Caldwell B. Esselstyn, Jr.

'I don't understand why asking people to eat a well-based vegetarian diet is considered drastic, while it's medically conservative to cut people open or put them on powerful cholesterol-lowering drugs for the rest of their lives.'
-Doctor Dean Ornish
(Both quotes are from John Robbins's book Health at 100)

Need one say more?

How luck may not be enough

There is another colony of stray cats which is a few minutes' walk apart from the one I mentioned yesterday. This colony appears to be more lucky, because around the same time every day there is a woman who will bring food and water to feed them (I just said 'appears' because not seeing anyone feed the first colony doesn't mean it doesn't happen; it may just be a matter of my timing). As I can see, she is very good to them, giving them canned food and stroking them while they eat. They are so friendly to each other that it is like she owns them.

It is certainly heartening to see that there are such kind people who would devote their time and love to poor stray cats like that, but I can't help wondering how good such a bond will do to them. There may be changes in circumstances where it becomes difficult or impossible for a carer like this woman to come for the feeding, such as when there is very heavy rain or a typhoon for days. In more extreme situations, the carer may move homes, leave the country or even pass away. In cases like these, the poor cats which have developed a reliance on the provision of the carer will suffer.

There is no easy way out. It's a very noble act for the woman to take care of the stray cats like that, and this colony is very fortunate to have her indeed. But as long as the cats do not have the protection of a home and a real owner, they are always going to be exposed to the all sorts of natural challenges.


When being friendly is not a desirable trait

As usual, while taking my lunchtime hike today, I flirted with one of members of one of the two colonies of stray cats. Unexpectedly, that young cat of about one or two years old responded to my cooing by standing right under my feet. It didn't run away when I tried to stroke it, and it even nudged me after a while.

This people-friendliness is supposed to be a desirable trait, but with some animal-hating cowards lurking in the dark, this trait may put the poor a street cat in grave danger. Those perverts may lure the cat into befriending them, and then make a lethal, cold-blooded strike when the trusting cat least expects it.

In many ways this is a cruel world. For a stray cat without any protection it is even more so.


The power of temptations

I believe the everlasting value of the Bible lies in the richness of meaning of its passages to different people, or to the same people at different phases of their lives.

Take today's Gospel, which is about how the devil tempted Jesus with different means (Luke 4:1-13), for an example. This is a story I've read and heard for countless times since I was a primary student, and I find that my understanding deepens as I come across it and reflect on it yet again.

As I ruminated on it while at church, it dawned on me how powerful and subtle the devil's temptations are. It's almost frightening how the devil will leave no stones unturned to prey on us and how easy it can be for us to be caught off-guard. Here are some examples:

"He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over he was hungry."

Just as there are moments when we are better prepared to stand our ground (like when Jesus fasted in the desert for forty days), we also have weaker moments (like when Jesus felt hungry after his fasting). And it is during those weaker moments that the devil comes to make an assault.

"Then he led him to Jerusalem, made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, 'If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you, and: With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.'”

The devil is so good at couching his temptations with truths and sound reasoning. How outrageous it was that he even quoted from the Scripture in trying to tempt Jesus!

"When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time."

The devil may go off for a while, but he never lets off. He will always be looking for the next opportunity.

By ourselves, it is difficult to withstand such powerful and intricate force, so we must constantly pray for the the vigil to see the temptations and the strength to resist them.


Self-mastery is the DNA of life-mastery

Here is Robin S. Sharma's third virtue of enlightened living as introduced in The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari.

The Symbol
The Sumo Wrestler: a symbol for continuous self-improvement

The Virtue
Practice Kaizen (constant and never ending improvement)

The Wisdom
‧Self mastery is the DNA of life mastery
‧Success on the outside begins within
‧Enlightenment comes through the consistent cultivation of your mind , body and soul

The Techniques
‧Do the things you fear
‧The 10 Ancient Rituals for Radiant Living

  1. The Ritual of Solitude - Ensure that your daily schedule includes a mandatory period of peace
  2. The Ritual of Physicality - Take some time every single day to nourish the temple of your body through vigorous exercise
  3. The Ritual of Life Nourishment - Go on a vegetarian diet
  4. The Ritual of Abundant Knowledge - Become a student of life and use what you have learned in the classroom of your existence
  5. The Ritual of Personal Reflection - Take the time to think; get into the habit of personal introspection
  6. The Ritual of Early Awakening - Rise with the sun and start the day off well
  7. The Ritual of Music - Spend a little time with music every day
  8. The Ritual of the Spoken Word - Repeat a mantra
  9. The Ritual of Congruent Character - Take daily incremental action to improve your character
  10. The Ritual of Simplicity - Live a simple life

Some Good Quotes
"No man is free who is not a master of himself." - Epictetus

"Success on the outside begins with success on the inside."

"When you have cultivated a deep sense of faith in your abilities and an indomitable spirit, nothing can stop you from succeeding in all your pursuits and living with great rewards."

"Questions are the most effective method of eliciting knowledge."

"Ultimately, the degree of courage yo live with determines the amount of fulfillment you receive."

"The only limits on your life are those that you set yourself."

"When you dare to get out of your circle of comfort and explore the unknown, you start to liberate your true human potential."

"Do the things you fear... Do the things you have always wanted to do but didn't because you tricked yourself into believing that you were too young, too old, too rich or too poor."

"Fear is a conditioned response: a life-sucking habit that can easily consume your energy, creativity and spirit if you are not careful. When fear rears its ugly head, beat it down quickly. The best way to do that is to do the thing you fear. Understand the anatomy of fear: It is your own creation. Like any other creation, it is just as easy to tear it down as it is to erect it."

"Truly enlightened people ... are prepared to put off short-term pleasure for the sake of long-term fulfillment. So they tackle their weaknesses and fears head on, even if dipping into the zone of the unknown brings with it a measure of discomfort."

"Doing what you love... requires a great deal of courage. It requires you to step out of your comfort zone. And change is always a little uncomfortable at first. It is also more than a little risky. Having said this, this is the surest way to design a more joyful life."

"Solitude and quiet connects you to your creative source and releases the limitless intelligence of the Universe... The mind is like a lake... By simply taking the time to be still and quiet every day, the lake of the mind becomes as smooth as a plate of glass. The inner quietness brings with it a wealth of benefits including a deep sense of well being, inner peace and boundless energy."

"If at all possible, commune with nature daily. Being with nature... allows you to tune in to the infinite wisdom of your highest self. This self-knowledge will move you into the uncharted dimensions of your personal power."

"To breathe properly is to live properly."

"Try not to live your life bound by the shackles of your schedule. Instead, focus on the things that your conscience and heart tell you to do."

"To truly get the best out of a great book, you must study it, not just read it."

"Read as many books as you can...every answer to every problem you have ever faced is in print."

"The only way to improve tomorrow is to know what you did wrong today."

"Happiness comes through good judgment, , good judgment comes through experience, and experience comes through bad judgment."

"Figure out what is right and what is wrong in your days and in your life. Then set about making immediate improvements."

"The ten-minute period before you sleep and the ten-minute period after you wake up are profoundly influential on your subconscious mind. Only the most inspiring and serene thoughts should be programmed into your mind at those times."

"You are what you think about all day long. You are also what you say to yourself all day long."

"Your self-image is a governor of sorts. It will never let you act in a way that is inconsistent with it."

"You sow a thought, you reap an action. Reap an action, you sow a habit. Sow a habit, you reap a character. Sow a character, you reap a destiny."

"...industry, compassion, humility, patience, honesty and courage. When all your actions are congruent and aligned with these principles, you will feel a deep sense of inner harmony and peace. Living this way will inevitably lead you to spiritual success."

"Focus only on your priorities, those activities which are truly meaningful. Your life will be uncluttered, rewarding and exceptionally peaceful."

"Every being on this Earth, every object on this Earth has a soul. All souls flow into one, this is the Soul of the Universe... When you nourish your own mind and your own spirit, you are really feeding the Soul of the Universe. When you improve yourself, you are improving the lives of all those around you. And when you have the courage to advance confidently in the direction of your dreams, you begin to draw upon the power of the universe... Life gives you what you ask of it. It is always listening."

"Failure is not having the courage to try, nothing more and nothing less. The only thing standing between most people and their dreams is the fear of failure. Yet failure is essential to success in any endeavor. Failure tests us and allows us to grow. It offers us lessons and guides us along the path of enlightenment... It is a fundamental Law of Nature to profit through loss. Never fear failure. Failure is your friend."

"The universe favors the brave. When you resolve, once and for all, to lift your life to its highest level, the strength of your soul will guide you."

Key Words
kaizen, self-improvement, courage, laugh, mantra


A massaging culture

I've visited Thailand so many times that I can finally see the relationship between Thai massaging, traditional Thai music and dance, and the way Thai people speak to guests. These are all done very expertly with the pleasure and comfort of the recipient or audience in mind. In this caring culture, they have made it an art to treat their guests well. They do it in a soft and soothing manner, as if they are massaging you - with their tones, their smiles, their art forms, and not necessarily with their fingers.

In this respect, the Thai culture is a massaging culture.


Waves against the shore

The concert at the Thailand Cultural Centre on 10 February in which the Siam Philharmonic Orchestra played Mahler's Ninth Symphony opened with a piece of classical Thai music called "Waves Against the Shore".

During this trip to Thailand, on a couple of occasions I sat facing the sea and just watched and listened to the waves lapping against the shore. And I learned a lesson or two from them. I learned that:

They are weeping for the human misery.
They are caressing our souls, healing our wounds.
They are revealing to us some immortal secrets about life if we care to listen, like how time is immaterial, or how to persist on the one hand and let go on the other.


Homecoming not welcoming

It is not easy to leave the sunshine and the beach behind and come back to the chill and gloom of Hong Kong, even if I have been away just for a few days. The temperature difference of almost thirty degrees Celcius take some getting used to, and the abrupt temperature drop presents an added challenge to my flu which has worsened in the last couple of days. The thick sheet of grey that completely shrouds the sky all day isn't very uplifting either. I keep telling myself to look to the 'bright side' and remember that the sun is actually somewhere behind the clouds, but it stretches the imagination to picture what a sunny day looks like.

Just like what I wrote when I came back from a trip to Kuala Lumpur on 9 January, I seem to be quite harsh on my birth place. But this blog spot is supposed to be for the expression of my honest opinions and there is no reason to hold back anything.

Maybe I will feel better when I overcome the flu, yet again without any medication.


"There isn't any food I like. There isn't any food I like."

As I waltzed through the enticing food at the buffet breakfast this morning, I could hardly believe it when I heard the unmistakable Hong Kong kid (judging by his Cantonese, size and manners) repeating to himself: "There isn't any food I like. There isn't any food I like."

I dearly wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt and wished that he was just joking, even though it didn't look like it as he was clearly mumbling to himself and he did look rather upset. If he did mean it, what he said would be one of the most ungrateful statements I've ever heard. How can one possibly say that he cannot pick from the rich selection of fine food that can only be available from a luxurious resort hotel like that one? It was almost profane.

I was wondering what it was that he was looking for and came to the sad and abhorring conclusion that it was probably either a hamburger or a bowl of instant noodles with sausages and eggs.


Happy Year of the Puma...I mean, Tiger

Does this picture of a tiger in motion remind you of anything?

To me its posture bears remarkable resemblance to a Puma logo.

Anyway, the picture shows what a tiger signifies - powerful, majestic, lively, agile. May we all show these qualities in the Year of the Tiger!


Stripey Year of the Tiger

The little guy in the pictures below is Stripey. He is a six-month-old tiger cub featured in the "Save Our Tiger" project held in partnership by Aircel, Dentsu Communications and WWF in India. The project is initiated as a fight to save India's tigers, whose population has dropped from about 40,000 a hundred years ago to the current 1,411, from extinction.

The project portrays the world as seen through the eyes of Stripey, who is shown to be waiting for his mother who will never return. Not only does Stripey have a blog, the project is also on Youtube, Facebook and Twitter.

A fitting campaign for the Year of the Tiger. I certainly hope it works. Tigers are such a majestic animals that they do not deserve the fate of extinction. Also, as a speaker in a seminar I attended many years ago said, it may not be so obvious, but the fates of tigers and human beings are actually tied. Places where tigers used to roam but now no longer exist are places which has become so polluted that lives are not sustainable. So it's not just them. It's us too.


On our way to Hua Hin

sunlight on dashboard
shimmering gold like Buddha
why bother with time?


Who is in the details - the Devil or the Angel?

Supposedly, whole wheat bread is healthier than white bread. John Robbins, in his book Health at 100, goes so far as to say that "the whiter the bread, the sooner you're dead", because the fibre-rich bran and the nutrient-rich germ from the wheat have been stripped away, leaving only the nutrient-depleted starch. So if we buy whole wheat bread instead of white bread we should be okay, right?

Not if we read the fine print. Check out what the ingredients of the commercially produced whole wheat bread are and we will know that the consumption is not as healthy as it is supposed to be:

"Wheat Flour, Graham Flour (cereals contain gluten), Sugar, Yeast, Skim Milk Powder, Margarine (palm oil, emulsifier, antioxidant, colour), Salt, Malt, Egg, Emulsifier, Acidity Regulator, Stabilizers, Raising Agent, Flour Treatment Agent, Anticaking Agent".

Reads like a Sci-Fi. Presents a strong case for buying a bread making machine and making your own bread.


Rare old photos of Bhutan

In my blog on 9 November last year there were two pictures of Tibet taken more than half a century ago. Below are a couple of rare photos of Bhutan, also taken over half a century ago, which have been on display at a recent exhibition in Delhi, India.

The first one is a photo of Rinpung monastery in Paro taken in 1864.

The second one shows the king and queen of Bhutan looking out towards the Taj Mahal from Agra Fort during their state visit to India in 1954.

The third one shows students and teachers at a school in Paro.

Lovely glimpses into the past.


Haitian art

The following works by Haitian painter Frantz Zephirin were inspired by the recent earthquake in the country. The first one shows the living dead pleading for help. The second one shows hands reaching up from a river of blood flowing through Port-au-Prince. The third one shows a family trapped under the rubble.


A precocious child

While having dim sum lunch at a Chinese restaurant yesterday afternoon, a child at the next table caught my attention. I seemed to see an adult in the frame of a child of about eight. It was not just that he wore glasses. The way he was dressed, the way his hair was parted and his manners all exuded a maturity beyond a child of his age.

As the lunch went on I was able to learn more. These days it simply isn't possible for you not to overhear the conversations of the other diners at a Chinese restaurant. The tables are placed so close to each other, and since the place is so noisy people have to shout to be heard (not only by your mates but also by the other guests unfortunately). So I learned that there were two families in that table. Uncharacteristic of a Chinese restaurant, the conversation evolved around modern Chinese and world history. Amazingly, almost every time his father spoke, the child cut in with additional information or his own views, questions or challenge. From the level of sophistication in terms of his knowledge, language use and organisational ability, it was obvious that he was a child prodigy.

I was hugely impressed, but I could also imagine how difficult it must be for such a brilliant child to survive in a world composed mostly of people not with the same IQ. While his frequent interruptions in family conversations are taken as the most natural thing in the world or even encouraged, I am not so sure that his peers and teachers in a normal classroom will be quite so tolerant. They must be wanting to strangle him if he keeps interrupting or questioning or challenging the classroom teaching because he cannot help it.

Child prodigies are rare gifts, but they need to be specially nurtured. A world where mediocrity is the norm may not be where their endowments are welcome.


"Greetings, madam..."

Ironically, when you pick up the phone these days, the most dreaded word you hear must be "Greetings!" because it almost certainly means the caller is trying to sell you something. The next sentence is invariably going to be "I am calling on behalf of XXX Bank". With me they have no chance. I just curtly say "sorry, I am busy at the moment" and then cut off. My common sense tells me that anything banks take the trouble of employing people to call and try to sell to you is probably not something to your best interest.

The most amazing thing is that it often takes just this couple of seconds of self introduction for the caller to convey to the potential customer that he or she is not doing the work with a soul. Not only do they speak like a machine, some of them don't even bother to address the other party correctly. It's irritating enough to receive such calls. It's even more so to be addressed "Greetings, madam!" when you are someone who wears a beard. It's beyond my wildest imagination how a sales call like this can be successful.

In my opinion, telesales should be completely banned.


All the racquets I have ever owned

Here's a list of all the tennis racquets I have ever owned and played with (in chronological order):

Wilson Advantage
Wilson Sting 2
Rossignol F250
adidas CD3000
Kneissl White Star Twin
Kneissl White Star Mid
Yamaha Secret 04
Donnay WST Cobalt
Head Genesis 660
Kneissl White Star Aero 30C
Fischer Vacuum Power
Fischer Vacuum Pro Midplus
Volkl V1 Classic
Volkl Quantum V1 Midplus
Volkl Catapult V1
Head Liquidmetal 4

It was only after I made this list that I realised these facts:
(1) I have owned and played with fifteen racquets so far.
(2) Except the Wilsons and the Yamaha, all the other racquets are European brands.
(3) Many of these are cult racquets which mainstream tennis lovers may not have seen or heard of. Some of the companies, like Rossignol and Kneissl, have even stopped producing racquets altogether. See for example the following pictures.


From American racquets to American players - a stereotypical view

Wilson Advantage and Wilson Sting 2 were the only American racquets I have ever played seriously with. Although I did experiment briefly with three classic racquets used by legendary players - Jimmy Connors's Wilson T2000, Stefan Edberg and Pete Sampras's Wilson Pro Staff Classic and Michael Chang's Prince Graphite Oversize, I have actually disregarded American racquets. Wilson, Prince and ProKennex racquets have a sizeable market share and I do not doubt their performance, but I just find that in most cases their designs lack style, unlike many of their European counterparts which reflect a combination of artistic and functional values.

And I feel the same about American tennis versus European tennis. It is a very personal feeling, with a certain degree of stereotyping in it, I have to say, but I find that while American players are in general hugely effective, they look to win at all cost, sometimes at the expense of style and grace. Just as there are notable exceptions, there are also notable examples of this type of players over the years. John McEnroe was outrageously talented, but he also tried to increase his chance of winning with his tantrums and gamesmanship which put tennis to shame and rightly earned himself the name of "Super Brat". Brad (not Brat) Gilbert epitomised the spirit both as a player and later as the writer of the book "Winning Ugly". And talking about ugly, there is a world-beating but pretty ugly doubles pair in the eighties, Ken Flach and Robert Seguso. An interesting Sports Illustrated article said it well about the pair: "for all their success, they remain more infamous than famous".

My two most favourite tennis players, Stefan Edberg and Roger Federer, both know how to play tennis and win matches with style and grace. But while they are not Americans, they both play with an American racquet.


My second racquet

Wilson Advantage was the only wood racquet I ever owned or played with, and the challenge of handling that unwieldable stick prompted me to go for another one as soon as I was able to afford it. My second racquet, also a Wilson, was a Sting 2.

Looking back, I have to admit that the choice was not an informed one. Back then in the pre-Internet era of the early 80s, it was not easy to research about racquets like we do today, and there was no such thing as demo racquets in the sporting goods shops in Hong Kong (this is sadly still the case today), so unless you were lucky enough to have a friend who owned a racquet you were thinking about buying and let you have a few hits with it, the decision could only rest on how much the brand, the look and the price appealed to you. The chance of such a decision being the right one was at best a long shot. As it turned out, my choice of Wilson Sting 2 proved to be a costly mistake. The racquet was too advanced for my elementary skill level. It was only after a couple of years, as my game began to pick up, that I was more able to handle the weight of the racquet and the precision it required. Only my heart had by then been set on other racquets, and the Sting 2 was given away to make way for a new purchase.


First ever tennis racquets

This is the first ever tennis racquet my nephew recently bought:
And this is MY first ever racquet:

Here is how a tennis website describes this racquet:

"The Wilson Advantage is the king of woods. Acknowledged by collectors as being among the most beautiful wood tennis racquets ever made, its stellar performance as one of the best evolutions of the Wilson woods also place it among the most capabable wood racquets in existence. This rare racquet is one of the very few remaining brand-new examples available."

The racquet, branded as "the Rolls Royce of the Wilson woodies", is a beauty, but it is not easy to play with, especially for a rookie like me who didn't have the skills to match. So overall I did not have much satisfaction playing with this racquet, and it soon gave way to a graphite stick as soon as I was able to afford to buy one.


Hiking haiku

Looked down from above
Saw people hunting, grunting
Saw myself in them


Toilet, ho!

I've read about how our sub-conscious mind regulates our body's functions, often without us being aware of it. An obvious example is that we are able to keep breathing when we are asleep (does this then mean that animals also have sub-conscious minds because they too are able to breathe while asleep?).

I've noticed that I tend to start feeling the urgent call of nature when I am within a few minutes of reaching home. This has happened too often for it to be a coincidence. Surely it is the sub-conscious mind telling my body, "Now you have access to a clean, familiar and safe place for relief. Go for it." Likewise, I've also noticed that when I am out somewhere, I can go without feeling the need much longer than usual (that is, when I am home or at the office and a toilet is easily accessible). Again it must be the sub-conscious mind restraining my body: "Hold it, pal. A clean loo is not easy to come by."

So it appears that not only does the subcious mind regulate our body's functions based on our physiological needs, it also does so by assessing the circumstances on our behalf without our conscious knowledge of it.


One city, two worlds

Two scenes I observed on the MTR in the last couple of days spoke volumes about the difference between the children of the haves and have-nots.

One was a primary school child being escorted to school by her Filippino maid. They were sharing a few laughs while asking each other in English: "Do you love me?"

The other involved two boys from a secondary school which I know has a majority of weak students. Not only the boys' uniforms look shabby and untidy, the one who sat next to me stank of body odour. The boy who was standing in the carriage talked about himself and his family, how he missed the time when he was last in the class and there was no pressure from anyone because his father rarely came back, but now that his father no longer works in China he is home a lot more often and sometimes supervises his study.

"You have two mothers, right?" the standing boy asked.

"Yeah, the other one I call 'auntie'. I don't see her often as she is in China."

The exchange took place in a most matter-of-fact way. Then after the standing boy got off at the next station, the one sitting next to me just stared blankly at the empty ice-cream sundae cup in his hands.

Looking at the way different people live their lives here, it is hard to imagine that they are living in this same "vibrant and dynamic" city.