Another broken string? Good!

What is the use of tennis strings? An obvious answer is that they are to be used in the game of tennis to give the player fun, health and satisfaction.

Only the player doesn't have to be human. Tennis strings have given my cats lots of fun, health and satisfaction. Whenever my tennis racquet has a broken string and the set of strings have to be removed, I will keep some of them, roll each piece into a sort of round shape and turn them into one of my cats' favourite toys. They will chase and 'attack' the string like mad until they accidentally thrust it under the sofa. We always find two or three pieces of tennis strings under the bed or the sofa when vacuuming the floor.

I am particularly pleased to see how the strings help sharpen the senses and boost the confidence of Piper the blind cat. After detecting the location of the string using his auditory faculty, he would hurl at it and attack it as if it was his worst enemy. The level of contentment and confidence Piper derives from the strings probably exceeds what I get from the strings in my tennis racquet.


Story of a slanted coffee mug

I use a slanted coffee mug at the office and it draws remarks of curiosity or appreciation every now and then.

The attention comes because coffee mugs are supposed to be upright, not slanted. It shows how people are interested in things that are out of the ordinary. That's the number one rule creative artists need to bear in mind.

That coffee mug also draws a special memory. It is actually one of a set of four - all with unconventional characteristics. For the other three, one is very slim, one is very wide, and one has two ears. They were bought very cheaply from a 'business operation' that has ceased to exist for a few years.

It used to be that on my way to work every morning, I would walk past a street that was lined with stalls on both sides. The stalls were not open for business. It was too early in the morning. But there was this old woman who occupied one of those stalls. She would display for items that you would find in gift shops, such as photo frames, tableware, decorations, etc. She mostly only had one of each item for sale and the prices were very cheap. I came to know that they were samples from an import-export company that she somehow got hold of. It had soon become my hobby to stop by every morning to see what new items she had to offer for the day, and to make a kill when I saw something I liked.

Those four "weird" coffee mugs were one of those opportunist acquisitions. They were commissioned by a Dutch supermarket group called CoopCodis. Unfortunately, I broke the ear of one of them - the very thin one - while washing it. It looked even more weird, I know, but I couldn't stand the blemish and chucked it away. Four has now becoome three.

After some time, the old woman stopped showing up in the morning. I wondered whether it was because she no longer had the supply of curios, or.... Anyway, without her plying her trade in the borrowed space, the stall looked more deserted than ever. Even today, when I walk past the stall, I would half wish to see her there again, laying out her interesting collections.


Same or different?

A friend of mine sent me a set of PowerPoint slides with pictures of Hong Kong in the yesteryears. One of them shows Hennessy Road in Wanchai. Of course the topography is very different from the Hennessy Road today that I get past almost on a daily basis, which is as shown in the photo at the bottom. For a nostalgic guy like me, the choice of which scene I prefer is not a difficult one.

Two things particularly strike me. The first is that one can actually see the hills as backdrop in the old picture - something that is totally impossible today! With those tall buildings lining the road, you can hardly even see the sky. The second is the nature of business of the shops. While the old picture shows, from what I can make out, two restaurants, a tailor, a private school, etc., in the recent one, the four signs in the foreground show three finance companies and one bank.

These two pictures are very revealing about the changes that have taken place in Hong Kong in a matter of half a century.


Doing an ordinary thing extraordinarily well? Says who?

From a sermon I listened to as a teenager, I remember this quote cited by the priest:

"Do every ordinary thing extraordinarily well."

The priest attributed it to Saint Teresa.

I've always wanted to verify the source of the quote, but I just couldn't find evidence that Saint Teresa actually said it.

My Internet search, though, resulted in quotes that are very similar, notably:

"Excellence is doing an ordinary thing extraordinarily well."

"Success is doing an ordinary thing extraordinarily well."

Putting today's blog and yesterday's together, one could say that two essential qualities for success are (1) making finer and finer distinctions about things, and (2) doing an ordinary thing extraordinarily well.


Making finer and finer distinctions

I've forgotten from which book it is, but I remember reading a definition of success which says that it is simply the ability to make finer and finer distinctions about things. With the life experience I have accummulated all these years, I greatly appreciate the wisdom of the idea.

Today, in trying to locate the definition from the Internet, my search came up with a few statements that are also very meaningful:

"The practice of criticism involves making finer and finer distinctions among like things, but it is also a way to ask fundamental questions about art and life. To pursue both of these functions requires a broad foundation in art history and aesthetics, as well as a wide-ranging knowledge and curiosity about contemporary culture."

"Detail is drawn out of chaos in a continuous process of refinement, making finer and finer distinctions, one after another."

"In the Rich Dad, Poor Dad book series the author talks about how to get smarter by making finer and finer distinctions about different subjects and ideas. The more distinctions one can make, the more they can drill down to the heart of the matter and come to a more educated conclusion."

"To get really clear about what you want you need to be wiling to continuously draw finer and finer distinctions. Here is a simple example. You say, "I want to buy a shirt," so you go to a clothing store with that thought in mind. Unfortunately this "vague idea" about what you want is not going to get you very far. To translate that desire into action you need to be willing to make some more detailed distinctions - do you want a dress shirt or a casual shirt? Long sleeved or short? What colors do you like? What fabric? What style? What exactly is the shirt for? Where do you intend to wear it? Etc."

"Even the simplest physical act becomes enjoyable when it is transformed so as to produce flow. The essential steps in this process are: (a) to set an overall goal, and as many subgoals as are realistically feasible; (b) to find ways of measuring progress in terms of the goals chosen; (c) to keep concentrating on what one is doing, and to keep making finer and finer distinctions in the challenges involved; (d) to develop the skills necessary to interact with the opportunities available; and (e) to keep raising the stakes if the activity becomes boring."

There are certainly more if one cares to dig deeper, but the above should suffice if one cares to learn the wisdom.


A letter to a squirrel

Dear Squirrel (or shall I call you Mr Squirrel as I believe you are?)

Please forgive me if I am a bit too creative, but I bet, first of all, that today was not the first time we met. It was at about this same spot that I saw one squirrel chasing another along the tree trunks the other day. Wasn't that you and your loved one?

You didn't seem to be scared of me. Your big jet black eyes just fixed upon me and you only leapt up the tree when I got too close for your comfort.

I bet, too, that you are Mr Squirrel, and that acorn you were holding in your mouth today you were going to share with the lucky Miss Squirrel that you were frolicking, or rather flirting, with yesterday. You should win her heart with your gentlemanly act.

Maybe sometime later, when I walk past this same spot again, I will see some baby squirrels. When I do, I'll be creative again and know them as your children.

You are a lucky guy, Mr Squirrel.

All the best
Your Admirer


I can't do it... It's impossible...

The above are two slides in a PowerPoint file someone sent to me. Inspiring stuff.

Interestingly though, the world's largest sporting giants Nike and adidas tell you something different when you say "I can't do it" and "It's impossible":

Now who will you listen to - them or God?


Around the World in Earth Day

Here are some pictures of activities marking the 40th anniversary of Earth Day in some parts of the world.

The first two show some Korean youngsters who have painted themselves as Avatar characters in a rally in Soeul.

The next two are about a projection of lights on the wall of Jerusalem's Old City in Israel.

And the last one shows that there were only taxis on a main avenue in Medellin, Colombia during the "A Day Without Cars" campaign.


Happy Earth Day to You

It may not be very representative, but I've searched the websites of two leading local newspapers and found no mention of Earth Day in their issues today.

And on the official Earth Day website, the only event you can find organised in Hong Kong is an Earth Day Week organgised by a local company to promote awareness in reducing the office's carbon footprint.

That's as far as our awareness of and interest in the Earth Day get.

In contrast, Google uses this beautiful logo in its search page today:

In contrast, people and organisations all over the world are responding by taking actions or organising events. The actions that people post up to the official Earth Day website range from the more convention ones, such as

"I am trying to make others aware of the green movement by setting an example by recycling, becoming a vegetarian and saving water."

... to the more cheeky ones, like

"I had sex in the shower with my girlfriend and we used cold water and instead of having 2 showers we had 1 ;D with lights off... eu natural."

And there are a wide range of events, many of which show much creativity, like this "Adopt a Meter2 of Land" one...

Or this "All Green Everything" one...

For more details, go to the Earth Day official website and check them out.


Learning by texting

"Texting eclipses calling among US teenagers", a recent article from the BBC website was so titled.

While there wasn't even a dictionary entry of the word "text" being used as a verb as recently as twenty years ago, "texting" has become the most popular form of communication among teenagers in the US, according to a research study.

More than 30% of the young people send more than 100 texts a day. Two thirds of teenagers are more likely to "text" their friends than call them on the phone. On average, girls send 80 messages per day while boys send 30.

"Texting is now the central hub of communication in the lives of teens today, and it has really skyrocketed in the last 18 months," said Amanda Lenhart, one of the researchers. "We have kind of hit a tipping point where teens now expect other teens to respond to text messaging and to be available."

Realising how big mobile phones are a part of life of children and teenagers and applying the principle of "education by stealth", western countries, especially the Scandinavian ones, have been designing activities which make use of mobile technology to provide learning opportunities for them. While Hong Kong has been promoting "IT in Education" for years, educators have yet to be aware of, let alone capitalise on the promise of mobile technology.


Take that, long nose!

A few days ago I talked about the joy of watching my cats engage in their "virtual fights". For all the "fierce" actions they never have any ill intent to hurt. In a newspaper column today, the writer expressed similar feelings when she described the funny scene of her three rescued dogs fighting with her cat:

"Watching the dogs... and the cat mock fighting is hilarious.

"The cat lies on her back, batting at any dog who comes within reach, while the dogs nose her and roll her over, or try to walk with a two-kilogram cat clinging to their back legs or tail.

"But then the cat decides to take off.

"For no real reason she goes, with three dogs in hot pursuit, barking and sliding after their much smaller target.

"The cat, of course, forgets that moments before they were playmates, and heads for somewhere high, turns, hisses and shoots out her claws to rake any nose that gets too close."


Hero or villian?

A newspaper article quoted from our "hero" Mr Wong Fuk-wing's blog some relevations and observations he had when he went to Sichuan to do rescue work after the earthquake in 2008.

"There is still a lot of news that has not been reported. Now I begin to understand why China said initially that it was a Level 6 earthquake rather than a Level 8 one. It seems that if a Level 8 earthquake happens, relief teams from other countries will come at once, and there will be no so-called military secrets in the region. Some people might not have died. That's what lives mean here!"

"The school buildings have collapsed, but there are only cracks in the adjacent hostels. Not a single one tumbled. Why? Anyone can tell what this means, even someone as dumb as myself. I absolutely don't believe that this is natural disaster. Why didn't the other buildings fall?"

He was decorated post-humously by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, with that "Gold Whatever" Medal, for his selfless and heroic deed. What is so ironic is that in China what he said on the blog could amount to something like treason or leakage of state secrets, and if he were a Mainland citizen and still living, he should have been thrown into jail.

Now how should he be classified? A hero or a villian? I am utterly confused.


Access denied. Help denied.

There was a lot of media coverage of Mr Wong Fuk-wing, the Hong Kong hero who died in the Qinghai earthquake after he returned to the collapsed building of the orphanage where he worked as a volunteer, trying to rescue more children and teachers from the debris. Among the reports was the record of an incident, extracted from a blog written by a person who knew Mr Wong when he did voluntary work in Sichuan.

"When some people with ill intent came and rumours were spread, the government began to purge the volunteers. Wong as someone from Hong Kong was among the first to be persuaded to go, but he didn't want to, as he felt that he had unfinished business here, so he sneaked into a Taoist temple. There he helped the temple with its renovation work by laying brick after brick with the monks every day."

A foreign priest I know encountered the same fate sometime ago. After helping to provide education for orphans and street children and a sanctuary for the handicapped and outcasts through a relief work operation he set up for a number of years, China suddenly denied his access to the country by refusing to renew his visa. He has been unable to set foot on Chinese soil. Obviously, there were political reasons behind the move. It is a country where it doesn't matter what good work you have done or noble causes you have. When it comes to politics, there is no compromise.


Busy as a (dead) bee

For quite some time now, I have been observing a rather unsettling phenomenon.

Twice a week I would play tennis at a court somewhere under the Lion Rock. I notice that there are always some bees on the court surface. Some are ailing. Some are dead. I keep thinking what caused them to suffer and to die. Is it the use of pesticide near their hive? Or can it be that the air has become so polluted that these insects become poisoned? It really is rather scary.

Bees' importance to the humans lies in pollination. When bees waltz among flowers some of the pollin they carry may fall of and pollinate the plants. About one third of our food supply is pollinated by insects, mostly bees.

Unfortunately, human beings don't seem to realise that their fate and that of other living things are tied.


Peepoo bag

While the name doesn't sound particularly inviting, the Peepoo bag is an innovation that serves two important functions - improve human waste management in areas where people have limited access to toilets and provide useful soil fertilizer.

People in the developing world lack infrastructure to treat their waste, so they end up contaminating the water they drink. Today, one child dies every 15 second bebcause of contaminated water. So a group of Swedish researchers developed this inexpensive "sanitation system". There is a big difference between this innovation and the way of using plastic bags to dispose of waste used in some developing countries, such as the "Flying Toilets" in the slums of Kenya where people throw the bags out of the window. The plastic bags do not remove the waste, but Peepoo bag turns them into fertiliser.

The following paragraphs from an online article explains how it works:

"The Peepoo bag is a long thin bag (14 x 38 cm) with a guaze liner, and coated on the inside by a thin film of Urea. Urea is the most common fertiliser in the world and is a non-hazardous chemical. When the urea comes into contact with faeces or urine, an enzymatic breakdown takes place into ammonia and carbonate, driven by enzymes which are naturally occurring in faeces. As the urea is broken down, the pH value of the material increases and hygienisation begins. Waste born pathogens (viruses, bacteria and parasites) are killed over a period of a couple hours to a few weeks.

"The Peepoo bags are biodegradable (currently made from 45% renewable materials but they aim to up that to 100%), and when the bags degrade in the soil, the ammonia byproduct acts as a harmless fertiliser taken up by the plants. So not only does the Peepoo bag help them get rid of hazardous waste, it provides a valuable agricultural resource."

At two to three US cents per piece, the very low cost Peepoo bag can bring about great improvement to the sanitation of some of the poorest populations in the world, and has deservedly won many awards, including being named as one of the Top 10 Business Ideas of 2010 by springwise.com.

The official website of the Peepoo bag is http://www.peepoople.com/.


The underwear guy

While the story of a man having to sell underwear to help raise his family even after his retirement sounds sad, Patrick Rafter may disagree.

Eight years after he retired from the tour in 2002, the thirty-seven-year old former Australian tennis star now lives the life of a family man in Queensland, his daily routine including sending his two children off to and picking them up from school. In between he runs a few errands and gets some exercise, which includes golf, surfing and rugby.

How about tennis which has brought him all the fame and fortune? These days Rafter only plays regularly when he is preparing for the senior tour. The shoulder that forced him into retirement precludes him from working on his serve. But he hasn't been doing badly in the senior tour, defeating John McEnroe 7-6 7-6 in a final recently to win an ATP Champions Tour event in Florida.

Rafter has achieved a lot in tennis, being the first Australian to win back to back US titles since Neale Fraser in 1959-60, was briefly world number and was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. But as writer Greg Hernandez said, "even more than his accomplishments, it was what else Rafter brought to the game: sportsmanship, good humor, a beautiful serve and volley game, and as much sex appeal as has ever has graced a tennis court."

That was a fair comment. During his illustrious career, Rafter won several awards on sportsmanship. In 1997, he received the Diploma of Honour by the International Committee of Fair Play, for gesture of fair play that may have cost him victory. During a match in Adelaide in January that year, he reversed a line call in the second set tie-break to virtually hand the match to his opponent. He also won the Stefan Edberg Sportsmanship Award in 1997, 1998, 2000 and 2001. In February 1999, Rafter donated his Australian Open earnings and founded the Patrick Rafter Cherish the Children Foundation to give assistance to children in need. In 2000, he won the "Billy Brown Community Award" in recognition of his sporting achievements and service to the community. In 2002, he was named Australian of the Year.

Rafter's sex appeal still serves him well. He endorses Australian underwear maker Bonds. “Now I’m known as the underwear guy,” he said. “I do pictures and TV commercials, which I absolutely detest.”

Most probably his fans don't.


Why money does not enter urgent doors

As the Chinese saying goes, "Wealth does not enter urgent doors."

The following, from Rhonda Byrne's excellent book The Secret, explains why this is the case:

"If you do not have enough, it is because you are stopping the flow of money coming to you, and you are doing that with your thoughts. You must tip the balance of your thoughts from lack-of-money to more-than-enough-money. Think more thoughts of abundance than of lack, and you have tipped the balance."

"When you need money, it is a powerful feeling within you, and so of course through the law of attraction you will continue to attract needing money."


"Feelings are Facts"

This remarkable photo shows a man visiting an installation art work called "Feelings are Facts", which is a collaboration between Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson and Chinese architect Ma Yansong.

The title of the art work reminds me of what Rhonda Byrne's book The Secret says about feelings. Here's a summary:

  • Our feelings are caused by our thoughts.
  • Our feelings tell us very quickly what we are thinking. We have two sets of feelings: good feelings and bad feelings.
  • Since our thoughts cause our feelings, it is impossible to feel bad and have good thoughts at the same time.
  • Our feelings are communication from the Universe to let us know what we are thinking.
    When we are feeling bad , it is the Universe sending us a warning that we are thinking bad thoughts. We should change our thoughts and think about something good so that good feelings come. We can then have whatever we want in our lives.

In that sense, our feelings are not only facts but also very important signals that we should constantly be aware of and monitor. And they can be adjusted as we change our thoughts. It is perfectly possible to make ourselves feel better or worse. The choice is entirely ours.


The sheer bliss of helping animals

"The principle of feeling good applies to your family pets, for instance. Animals are wonderful, because they put you in a great emotional state. When you feel love for your pet, that great state of love will bring goodness into your life. And what a gift that is."
James Ray, quoted in The Secret, a book by Rhonda Byrne

It is sheer bliss to see Piper growing up as a happy and self-assured cat. Given that he is completely sightless, it is almost like a miracle that he is able to jig and prance around without a care in the world, and that in those "virtual fights" with Parker his one-eyed brother he can ambush, crouch, pounce, lunge and entangle into one tearing and yanking fur ball with his "enemy" in the most fearless manner. There are, of course, several factors that have combined to make this possible, such as the inborn prowess and suppleness of the feline, the guidance and help of his hyperactive brother, the very secure and stable environment of the home. But I just can't help wondering how he would have fared had he and his brother not been found and picked up by the volunteer from the garbage bin when they were still babies.

It is certainly heart-warming to know that we have provided this poor little animal with a safe and warm home, but while on the surface they are receiving the help we give, I do feel that we are the ones who reaps the benefits. That "great emotional state" mentioned in the quote is beyond words and is the greatest reward one can ever receive.


Harmony, "ha! money!", "harm only"

Hong Kong people should congratulate ourselves that we still have a rather different interpretation of the word 'harmony' from Communist China, which defines it as having only one voice - that of the ruling power of course - with all other being suppressed at all costs. It is a definition that can be interpreted, I think, as "Ha! Money!" or "Harm Only". It is a definition that the Donald Tsang administration and the pro-government camp have been trying to transplant to Hong Kong. The government would like to rule in whatever blunt, brutal and barbaric way they like, just as former deputy secretary for health and welfare Laurence Ho pointed out that government policies are not passed by the will of the people but by the votes of a select group, and if there is so much as the smallest attempt in showing dissent, like to recent campaign for universal referendum, they will try to quash it at all costs.

It is in this context that the latest poll conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong showed that Hong Kong's score in the 'harmony indiex' is 2.98 (5.0 is the maximum and 3.0 is regarded as 'pass'). Hong Kong people do not consider this a harmonious city.

The same poll showed that Hong Kong people consider consider the wealth gap as "very serious", harmony between ordinary people and tycoons has deteriorated badly, and one in four people believe that radical actions are the only way to attract government attention.

If the Tsang administration and their followers believe that they can keep doing and saying all they like and then try to fool the people with cheap PR shows, they can think again.


Going veg not as healthy as it seems?

Some recent developments seem to challenge the long held belief that consumption of fruit and vegetables helps prevent cancer.

First, there is new evidence in the UK showing a link between nitrate-rich fruit and vegetables and gullet cancer. Research shows that the rise of gullet cancer follows the same curve as the use of nitrate fertilisers but with a time lag of ten to twenty years. The research team plans to carry out further tests to find out the extent of the problem.

Then, another research study shows that increasing intake of fruit and vegetables only accounts for the protection against about 2.5% of cancers. Further, the researchers said they could not rule out that even the small reduction of cancer risk seen was down to the fact that the kind of people who ate more fruit and vegetables lived healthier lives in many other respects too.

Lastly, tennis legend Martina Navratilova, who is an icon of a super-fit vegetarian, has been diagnosed with breast cancer. The nine-time Wimbledom champion said she cried after finding out. Besides saying that the diagnosis was like a "personal 9/11", some other things she said may not make pleasant reading for vegetarians:

"I feel so in control of my life and my body, and then this comes, and it's completely out of my hands."

"I stay in shape and eat right, and it happened to me."

I never believe that going veg is the panacea to all health problems. I am well aware that the excessive use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides has put people eating fruit and vegetables under much risk. But would that stop me from being a vegetarian? Not a chance. To begin with, health was never the main reason for my dietary preference. It was a commitment to animal welfare and to environmental protection that was the driving force and I am not about to waver.

And back to the issue of health. I think one has to look at a combination of factors to determine how healthy fruit and vegetable consumption is. One should look at the way fruit and vegetables is consumed. For example, is there a rich variety? Is unrefined, whole food being consumed? One should also consider the enormous health hazard of food containing animal protein.

After all, the researcher whose study confirmed that "any association of intake of fruits and vegetables with risk of cancer is weak at best" stressed that specific substances contained in certain fruit and vegetables could still have an important, protective effect. And data still suggests that fruit and vegetables may protect us from cardiovascular disease.

All considered, I don't think I've made a bad choice.


Sublime similes

We have learned in school that using figurative language such as similes and metaphors can our writing or speech. Here are two examples of excellent use of simile:

The first one is quoted from Gandhi's biography:

"...all my life through, the very insistence on truth has taught me to appreciate the beauty of compromise... truth is hard as adamant and tender as a blossom."

The second one is from the newspaper. After Arsenal was so soundly beaten by Barcelona in yesterday's Champions League quarter-final second-leg match, manager Arsene Wenger gave Barca's four-goal hero Lionel Messi probably the highest compliment one can give to a football player by saying:

"He is like a PlayStation player, he can take advantage of every chance."


Another unenviable number one

On 31 January I wrote about an unenviable number one spot Hong Kong occupied - being China's "most toilsome city". Actually, we have an even more disgraceful title of being the shark's "number one killer". According to a report by Oceana, an international ocean protection and restoration environmental advocacy group, Hong Kong imported 10,000,000 kg of shark fins in 2008 and was the world's largest single market for the product. That means each Hong Kong person consumed over 1 kg of shark fins per capita, although it is also likely that part of the shark fins were re-exported to China. So it is definitely heartening to see that some Hong Kong young people have awakened to the cruelty and irresponsibility of eating shark fin and are campaigning for newly-weds not to serve shark's fin soup at their wedding banquets and for the guests to express their disapproval if they do.

As I wrote on 23 January, whenever I attend dinner gatherings and banquets and see shark's fin soup being ordered or served, I so dearly wish to tell them about the harm but I lack the moral courage to do so. The fact that the 'no more shark's fin soup in banquets' campaign is on the front page of a leading newspaper in Hong Kong should go some way towards raising people's awareness about the selfishness of bringing suffering to other lives and even driving them to extinction just to satisfy one's own gastronomic cravings.


Whose one less worry?

You have to hand it to the businessmen and the creative teams of advertising agencies for coming up with brilliant ideas to boost sales of their products.

There is this recent series of advertisements, first on TV and now in MTR compartments, by Wyeth the milk powder producer. Entitled "One Less Worry", the advertisements for their Biofactors line begin with by saying "Mothers have countless worries". On the surface, this is just an illustration of how mothers are concerned about the growth of their babies. But considering that, as said in yesterday's blog, melamine milk products have recently resurfaced in China, prompting many Mainland mothers to rush to Hong Kong and frantically snatch the more dependable milk products here off the shop shelves, this perfect timing cannot be mere coincidence. The businessmen are cleverly and foxily playing on their worries and fears. In that sense, the advertisements, are actually targetting at the China market and not as innocent as they first look.

And I'm sure the ploy will work. There is nothing mothers will not do to protect their babies.


Mother and child (3)

What is in common between the women in these two photos? They are mothers. They are from Mainland China. They have been shopping in Hong Kong. They have come to buy milk powder.

Since melamine-tainted milk products have resurfaced in China recently and what little confidence consumers might have about milk products produced in the country has been completely shattered, Mainland mothers have been flocking to Hong Kong to scoop up imported milk powder. This apparent mad dash actually makes perfect sense. How else can the mothers protect their children from being intoxicated by the poisoned milk products which in 2008 killed six babies and made 300,000 others sick (Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao recently admitted that the actually figure was about 30,000,000, a hundred times more than what was originally claimed), many of whom developed kidney stones?

What is worse, the parents of the sick children are not even given the chance to fight for justice or their rights. A group of parents founded an organisation called "Home for the Kidney-Stone Babies". The founder has been arrested and charged with "quarrelling and stirring up trouble".

Parents of children whose deaths during the Sichuan earthquake in 12 May 2008 were linked to the allegedly shoddy construction of school buildings met a similar fate. Those bereaved parents who attempted to investigate the allegations of corruption and shoddy school construction have been routinely kept under surveillance, harassed, detained or put under house arrest.

Maybe the animal mothers as shown in the photos in the blogs of the last two days are a little more lucky.


"Truth is inconsistent with business"

April Fool's Day is a good time to talk about truth and lies.

This piece is a following up on my blog on 17 March in which I talked about how Gandhi's view on truth may be incompatible with the business world today. In Gandhi's autobiography he wrote the following about the first public speech in his life, one that he gave during a meeting of all Indians in Pretoria, South Africa, in 1893:

"I went fairly prepared with my subject, which was about observing truthfulness in business. I had always heard the merchants say that truth was not possible in business. I did not think so then, nor do I now. Even today there are merchant friends who contend that truth is inconsistent with business. Business, they say, is a very practical affair, and truth a matter of religion; and they argue that practical affairs are one thing, while religion is quite another. Pure truth, they hold, is out of the question in business, one can speak it only so far as is suitable. I strongly contested the position in my speech and awakened the merchants to a sense of their duty, which was twofold. Their responsibility to be truthful was all the greater in a foreign land, because the conduct of a few Indians was the measure of that of the millions of their fellow-countrymen."

Gandhi's insistence on and courage for speaking the truth was certainly admirable, but I cannot help wondering how many of the Indian businessmen in the audience would agree with him. Chances were that they thought the same as his merchant friends that "truth is inconsistent with business". Advertisements are a perfect example. I remember that in an issue of the MAD comics magazine years ago contained a parody of how advertisements would be like if they were stripped of the sales pitch or gimmicks and only allowed to tell the plain truth and they looked rather ridiculous. Today, with such powerful technology and creative talents at their disposal, businesses are so good at producing mesmerising advertisements containing illusions that border on being blatant lies. Advertisements about property developments are classic examples. They not only stretch imaginations but also the limits tolerated by rules and regulations.

It would be interesting to see how Hong Kong's business tycoons would react if Gandhi were to deliver the speech to them today.