Budding artists (2)

Here are some more beautiful winning entries of this year's International Children's Exhibition of Fine Arts Lidice. The first three are by children from Latvia, aged 6, 10 and 10 respectively. The fourth one is by a child from Lithuania, aged 8 and the last one is by a 9-year-old child from Minsk:


Budding artists (1)

It was in the front page of local newspapers that the drawings of two Hong Kong children won prizes in the prestigious LIDICE exhibition.

I did an Internet search and found that the exhibition, known as the International Children's Exhibition of Fine Arts Lidice, "was established in 1967 to commemorate the child victims from the Czech village of Lidice murdered by German Nazis, as well as all other children who have died in wars". Nowadays it has become well known all over the world, with works of art coming from 50 to 60 countries.

The theme this year, "Biodiversity - Variety of Living Nature", was proposed by UNESCO. This year, there were 25,132 entries from 61 countries. Altogether, 624 prizes (including 65 medals to individuals, 28 medals to the schools and 531 honourable mention) were given to children from abroad (countries other than Slovakia and the Czech Republic). Quite an achievement for the Hong Kong kids then, especially the who won an individual medal. Here is his winning entry:

While this Hong Kong young artist is only 4 years old, there are also many other medal winners who are below ten. Here are some of the works I particularly like, and they are (from top) by children from Belarus (aged 4) and India (aged 8 and 10) respectively:


Chase dreams, not flats

It is rare that any articles in the local Chiense newspapers are worth quoting, not least those in the finance section. But there is one exception today.

There is an article entitled "It is better for the post 80s to chase dreams than flats" the ideas of which I mostly agree with. The writer expresses his disappointment in seeing most young people in Hong Kong seeking to buy a flat at all cost. He thinks that at that age, young people should instead be chasing dreams, moving about, changing jobs, going overseas and doing something not related to money. In so doing, he believes, they will have a better understanding of themselves and the way ahead.

He quotes an example of a friend of his who got married and became a civil servant right after graduation. After twenty years of life without worries, the friend suddenly quit his steady and well-paid job, told his wife that he would go wandering, and then took his rucksack and started his nine-month journey without a pre-set destination. He realised that having no itinerary was the best itinerary and it was refreshing to be chasing dreams. The writer said that for the well-disciplined Chinese people, such behaviour is inconceivable, but for foreigners this sort of soul searching is very much a part of life.

I totally agree with what the writer says. The later one embarks on his soul searching journey, the higher the opportunity cost, as I can personally testify. So the best life plan is to start early when one does not have many burdens on his shoulders.


Life under the Great Leader

A BBC team from the Newsnight programme were recently invited to North Korea for the celebrations marking the birthday of Kim Il-sung, the founder of the country. Throughout the stay they were accompanied by some government minders. Here are the Dos and Don'ts regarding their activities in the country:

  • Film model farms, model villages, model schools, model homes...
  • Film statues of Kim Il-sung t and portraits of Kim Jong-il

  • Don'ts
  • Leave the hotel without the government minders
  • Use mobile phones - they are confiscated
  • Use the Internet - there is no access
  • Film anything off the official programme
  • Speak to anyone unscripted

  • And how about the Korean people? Look at the following lists:

    What they have access to
  • TV broadcasts of the two leaders and pictures celebrating the country's army, model farms, model villages

  • What they don't have access to
  • Any other kinds of news item or documentary about their country and the rest of the world
  • The Internet

  • What they know
  • Kim Il-sung is the Great Leader, Kim Jong-il is the Dear Leader, and Stalin and Mao Zedong are the other admirable leaders

  • What they don't know
  • Who Nelson Mandela is
  • 20100526

    Broadcaster of the People

    The qualities that an authoritarian regime looks for in a TV anchor or anchorman must be very different from those of a free country.

    There is this 65-year-old anchorwoman of a North Korean TV station who is branded as "National Treasure" by the Communist regime. She has been given the "Broadcaster of the People" and "Industrious Hero" awards and enjoys special privileges. She is treasured for her idiosyncratic style of reporting the news, extolling the Kim family and blaming the country's "enemies" to an extreme degree. Such "performance", an example of which can be seen on Youtube, would certainly have been regarded as unprofessional in the free world, but then you can't really apply reason and logic to a country like North Korea, can you?

    I should also add that such a character is fully admired by a certain ally of Pyongyang. For proof, here is a piece of mobile news by the China Daily:

    DPRK anchor enjoys perks
    65-year-old Korean Central Television anchorwoman Lee Chun Hee enjoys special accommodation from the DPRK government due to her outstanding work. The veteran who specializes in broadcasting government announcements lives in a modern-style house in Pyongyang and owns a car.


    Before I die

    Borrowed Jenny Downham's novel Before I Die from the pubic library and noticed a fairly selfish but unfortunately not uncommon practice by young local readers. Above the difficult words on the pages were written, in pencil, in childish handwriting, the Chinese definitions. Also very typical of those teenagers, they don't go very far. The definitions stopped at page 10.

    I wonder if Little Vandaliser chose that book because of what the blurb said, that sixteen-year-old Tessa, who only has a few months to live, has made a list of ten things she wants to do before she dies and number one is sex.

    Little Vandaliser never got to that juicy part, either the determination wasn't there or the book was simply beyond him or her.

    I did get to that part about the sex, but decided that I'm probably not going to finish the book before I die. I just didn't find it very interesting.


    Happy Birthday, PAC-MAN!

    The above is not just any other banner from the Google search page. It is an interactive doodle and, according to the PAC-MAN official website, the first ever. It is designed to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the classic arcade game.

    The video game featuring the cute characters PAC-MAN and the four ghosts was (and probably still is) so immensely popular that it received the Guiness World Records award for being "The Most Successful Coin-Operated Game". Over the years, PAC-MAN has chomped away not only the dots in the maze but also countless number of coins, including a few of mine. When I was a teenager, I frequented video games arcade like my peers, and PAC-MAN was one of my favourite games. Unfortunately, I never was very good at the game, not having learned the formula that I saw others use to get maximum scores.

    You devoured a lot of my pocket money PAC-MAN, but I would still like to wish you a Happy Birthday!


    Spirit of God

    I was stuck in the process of writing yesterday's haiku, which was about a recent hiking experience, being unable to come up with a satisfactory last line.

    The problem was solved in the Mass today as we celebrated Pentecost Sunday. One of the hymns sung was my all time favourite Spirit of God. The hymn was so beautifully written that it moves me to tears every time I sing it.

    Of course, I should have known that the Spirit of God was there in the lovely experience I had during the hike.

    (words by Sister Miriam Therese Winter)

    Spirit of God in the clear running water
    Blowing to greatness the trees on the hill.
    Spirit of God in the finger of morning,
    Fill the earth, bring it to birth
    And blow where you will.
    Blow, blow, blow till I be
    But breath of the Spirit blowing in me.

    Down in the meadow the willows are moaning
    Sheep in the pasture land cannot lie still.
    Spirit of God, creation is groaning,
    Fill the earth, bring it to birth
    And blow where you will.
    Blow, blow, blow till I be
    But breath of the Spirit blowing in me.

    I saw the scar of a year that lay dying
    Heard the lament of a lone whippoorwill.
    Spirit of God, see that cloud crying,
    Fill the earth, bring it to birth
    And blow where you will.
    Blow, blow, blow till I be
    But breath of the Spirit blowing in me.

    Spirit of God, every man's heart is lonely,
    Watching and waiting and hungry still
    Spirit of God, man longs that you only
    Fulfill the earth, bring it to birth
    And blow where you will.
    Blow, blow, blow till I be
    But breath of the Spirit blowing in me.



    butterflies flutter
    birds chirp, bugs buzz, leaves rattle
    spirit of god speaks


    Wurst is worst

    During a buffet lunch with my six-and-a-half-year-old nephew last month, I noticed that every time he came back to the table, he would com back with another helping of sausages. Remembering that his mother had said he shouldn't eat too many sausages, I eventually had to stop him.

    Good that I did. According to a recent study by Harvard University, eating just 50g of processed meat, such as sausages, ham, luncheon meat, salami, bacon, a day raises the risk of heart diseases and diabetes. The researchers speculated that the increased risk is due to the salt and preservatives in the processed food.

    As a vegan, of course I do not eat sausages. But sometime ago, I used to use vegetarian sausages to make hotdogs. Fortunately, I soon stopped, as my common sense told me that even without meat, those sausages probably are not any better than their non-veg counterparts. The colouring and flavouring, apart from the salt and preservatives that the above-mentioned study highlighted, definitely do not seem healthy.

    The fact that my nephew is somewhat overweight may also have something to do with his food preference.

    Next time you have a craving for a sausage or die wurst, think twice.


    The next station is ...

    "The next station is Causeway Bay."

    Listening to this announcement on the train this morning, a question suddenly arose, after having heard it thousands of times throughout my life: The announcement contains a promise nobody ever questions. Certainly every passenger takes it for granted that they will get to the next station. But what if they didn't? What if I didn't make it because, say, I dropped dead? Highly unlikely I know, but what if it were to happen?

    And if my soul still existed after I died and I still had some form of awareness, how would I feel? Would I feel ready, or would I rue something I should have done but didn't? What would those things be? Not having the amount of money I would have liked in my bank account? Not saying the things I have always wanted to tell my beloved ones? Not making the trips to the places on my "must visit" list? ....

    I remember years ago reading about a successful Japanese woman who died during an avalanche at Mount Everest. Climbing the Everest had been her biggest dream in life, and died without really making it to the summit. Was it a tragedy? In my opinion, far from it. It was one of the best deaths one can ever have the luck to have - maybe apart from sacrificing one's life for others, like Mr Wong Fuk-wing in the Qinghai earthquake last month. What can be more fulfilling than losing your life while pursuing your life's biggest dream? If, as some people believe, Mount Everest is a god, he must have created the avalanche out of love of the woman, just to take her into his bosom.

    Compare that glorious death to dying on a train and regretting not having lived one's life as he would have liked to. Which death is more tragic?

    Maybe I should be more ready for the possibility, albeit seemingly remote, that I might never get to the 'next station'. Who knows?


    God bless Thailand

    "I am unhappy for Thailand because Taksin chiavat is very bad," wrote a Thai friend to me on my Facebook Wall yesterday.

    And I reply:
    "We are really concerned about your country and saddened by what has thrown it into such chaos recently. The loss of lives, money and, above all, peace that has for such a long time your country is blessed with is very unfortunate. I'll have Thailand, you, Aom and everyone of my Thai friends (including the elephants) in my prayer!"

    In a way, the theme of "death" goes on. The "loss of lives" was mentioned in my reply.

    Anyway, may God bless the lovely country and its lovely people. May the crisis be over and peace and order be restored.


    Life's too short. Enjoy it.

    "Life's too short. Enjoy it. "

    It seems that once I've started to touch upon the topic of death, I just can't stop, but I am alerted by this concluding sentence in a brief report in Koptalk, Liverpool Football Club's premier fan site, yesterday - which, incidentally, is about death.

    The report is about the death of Besian Idrizaj, a former player, at the age of 22. He died in his sleep and the cause is believed to be a heart attack.

    For a young footballer to die at such a tender age is really tragic. I'm sure very few of us expect or are prepared for a sudden death, but really, who knows? When God decides that the time is right, that's when it will happen, just like how it happened to this player. So really we should be on guard.

    Koptalk suggests enjoying life as it is too short. The crucial question is how to define 'enjoy'. The response will range from seeking a hedonic life to a self-actualised one.


    A really cool way to go

    Just in case you find scrambling to get into a certain pavilion of the Shanghai Expo too undignified, how about going to the Asia Funeral Expo?

    Just in case you find a celestial burial too radical, or cremation too hot or too environmentally unfriendly, how about the really really cool "promession"?

    This is a way of disposing of the dead body, invented by a Swidish firm four years ago and highlighted in the Asia Funeral Expo which took place recently in Hong Kong. According to a newspaper article, this is how it works:

    "The corpse is frozen at minus 18 degrees Celsius in a "Promator" and kept in a biodegradable casket. The casket is then lowered into liquid nitrogen at minus 196 degrees Celsius. Then the contents are subjected to light vibration, during which the remains of the deceased are reduced to dust particles of around five millimeters in diameter. The remains are then placed int a biodegradable starch coffin. After six to 18 months, the dust particles will be absorbed by the soil without causing any pollution."

    Simply put, it's "frozen, shaken and pulverised".

    As the newspaper headline says: it's "a really cool way to go".


    Let my spirit soar to the sky with the eagles

    A friend sent me a PowerPoint presentation showing the celestial burial of Tibet with the following remarks:

    "Exotic custom. If you can bear it, you can view the slides with a sense of respect for the Tibetan culture."

    I can understand why the warning 'if you can bear it' was given. Not only is the process of the celestial burial, as shown in the slides, rather gruesome, the practice of having your beloved's or even your own dead body cut apart and then devoured by eagles is definitely not what everybody would easily accept, particularly the Chinese. But the Tibetans believe that having every bit of the corpse eaten by the eagles means the person did not have great sins during his lifetime, while the eagles soaring to the sky after the feeding means ascension of the soul.

    I think this way of treating the dead body is not only sacred but also in harmony with Nature. One's body is just a physical frame for housing the soul during one's lifetime, and if we believe that death is not the end of existence, there really is no need for the living to cling on to the physical form. The living should instead be praying for the soul of the dead to be detached from all worldly burdens and embark on the next journey in peace. In that sense, feeding the eagles with the dead body until nothing is left is liberating.

    I wouldn't mind disposing of my body that way after I die. It is definitely better than having to undergo those ceremonies in a funeral parlour.

    Let my body fill the stomachs of the eagles. Let my spirit soar to the sky with them.


    Where has all the flour gone?

    It is all very well for countries in Europe to have festivals related to food, such as the Bread Festival which is going on in France this week, or the Tomatina Fiesta in Spain and the Ivrea Carnival in Italy where people pelt tomatoes and oranges at each other. It is all very well that in Hong Kong most people uphold the 'tradition' of ordering too much food as a sign of abundance when they treat others to dinner. But it is unsettling that in a country like India, some children have to eat dried mud and silica to quell their hunger pangs, as a BBC feature article reports.

    Even though one third of the world's poorest people live in India, the country has no shortage of food. And with its economy continuing to grow at impressive speed, India should be able to feed its people. However, despite the efforts made to improve the situation, such as the national Right to Food campaign, and the Food Security Bill to be debated by the parliament, the problem remains that huge quantities of food provided by the state good missing because of corruption and theft. According to official estimates, 75% of subsidised grain does not make it to the intended target. So unless the Indian government shows resolve to improve the delivery system and tackle the corruption problem, the subsidised food will not reach the people who need it most, and the situation of poor people eating mud and falling ill will continue.


    Is there room for a Little Shadow?

    "Shadow - this little innocent girl was found partially blind and starving near the Man Mo Temple. As if that isn't enough her hearing is impaired too - none of this however stops her from being a bundle of fun and energy."

    This ad appealing for adopting of a two-and-a-half-months-old kitten called Shadow touched my soft spot. Parker, one of my four adopted cats, is also partially blind, and was rescued by an animal loving volunteer in similar fashion about two years ago.

    As I am writing this, three of my cats are sleeping peacefully next to me. There is inside of me an urge to take Shadow and give her a safe and happy life like my cats, but I do realise that while one would like to be charitable, one also has to be sensible, and four cats are as much as we can manage. So the only things I can do are to ask around and to pray that Shadow will soon be able to find a loving home.


    Newspapers are not for reading

    There is one factor which may cast the circulation figures of the free newspapers in doubt.

    One thing I notice when commuting to work these days is that a lot of old people line up to collect the free newspapers. In all likelihood, they take the newspapers not to read them. Many of them who line up for the English papers do not look like those who might have the knowledge to read English. Also, I once heard the one who handed out the papers tell off an old woman who had re-joined the line to take another copy so many times that she remembered the face. There are other old people who wait near the turnstiles of the subway station and ask the commuters for the newspapers they have finished reading. Obviously, these old people collect the newspapers and then sell them to the businesses for recycling.

    These days you also see a lot of old people sitting for hours in fast food shops without any purchase. One could argue that these actions are not very fair as they infringe other people's rights. But the fact that it is not a very dignified way to earn very little money and to live and still quite a lot of old people do it shows that their life must be rather difficult. This is not a city that allows old people, especially the poor ones, live in dignity.


    No news is good news

    I have heard some people say that they don't watch the news on TV or read the newspaper anymore. When I look at the following headlines that I picked from the first few pages of a free newspaper today and notice how many negative terms like 'fears', 'pressures', 'anger', 'death', etc., I think I can understand why:



    You can't hate rain. It brings spring.

    Who says that rain is not good? Myself, for one.

    All these years my hatred of gloomy, ugly rainy days has been absolute, and it has only been intensified by the countless tennis sessions having been washed away. On a couple of occasions it even happened at the very moment I stepped onto the court, making me feel like a complete fool. Rain is such a nuisance, and the worst situation is when the cursed words 'a trough of low pressure' is mentioned in the weather forecast, because it guarantees that there's going to be rain, rain and more rain for days on end.

    There was a touching story called Jenny that I read from the Christian magazine Guideposts. I remember Jenny, a devout Christian who was so good at appreciating life, telling her friend who lacked such faith and, like me, didn't like rain: "You can't hate rain. It brings spring." Or something to that effect.

    But my hatred wasn't swayed a wee bit. "I do too hate rain," I would tell Jenny if I saw her. "It brings doom and gloom."

    It is really until recently that I have learned to become more tolerant. I begin to convince myself that without rainy days, one will not be able to see how lovely sunny days are; that the sun is still there, only it has temproarily hidden behind the thick cloud. And all that.

    And today I was taught a lesson by Mother Nature. By noon the morning rain had stopped, and I decided to take the lunchtime hike. As I strolled up the steep trail, it struck me how full of life the natural environment can be after the rain. It was such a feast to the senses. The air was so fresh. Here and there there life forms were moving about, such as the fluttering butterflies and the darting birds. The birds and the insects were singing a beautiful hymn in praise of God, with the sound of the tiny waterfall as background music. And the rain had adorned everything with a coat of sheen. It was almost magical and I was mesmerised.

    Jenny was right. The rain does bring spring. And a lot more.


    Bread Festival

    Today is the beginning of the annual Bread Festival (la FĂȘte du Pain) in France. The week-long event takes place from 10 to 17 May this year.

    It is not a large festival, but during the week in almost every city and town, bakers, artists and painters get together and display bread in artistic ways. In large cities there may be a tent with displays and demos. In small towns, local bakers may give free classes. There may also be games for young children.

    The website dedicated to the festival is http://www.lafetedupain.com/. The content is all in French.


    Sunflowers - from Amritsar to Xinjiang

    The photo above, showing an Indian man in a sunflower field in Amritsar, reminds me of a photo I took a few years ago on a trip to Xinjiang, China.

    We were on our way to Yili and as the car sped past field after field of sunflowers, the temptation eventually got the better of us. We asked the driver to stop and then sneaked into
    one of the fields to take photos. The one below is one of the outcomes.

    Not all the fields had sunflowers blooming like those in the photo. There were a few where the flowers had all wilted. The driver said that because of the short summer in Xinjiang, farmers mostly managed to grow only one crop, and should some natural hazards happen, they would lost their major source of income for the year.

    Behind the sunny side seen by tourists like us lies the hardship of life in northwest China.


    The Great Pacific Garbage

    When a friend of mine recently told me about the Great Pacific Garbage, I thought it refers to the Tsang administration - the load of xxxx who are governing Hong Kong. After all, who else or what else can be better qualified for this label?

    But according to Wikipedia, it actually refers to "a gyre of marine litter in the central North Pacific Ocean". There are different estimates about how big the patch is, ranging from the size of the state of Texas to larger than the United States. The patch is characterised by a high concentration of plastic, chemical sludge and debris that has been trapped by ocean currents.
    Research shows that at least 267 species of wildlife are affected. Not only does some of the plastic marine debris end up in the stomachs of birds, fish and animals. When the fish in turn end up in the stomachs of humans, so do the toxic chemicals. Efforts have been made to clean up the debris, but this is by no means an easy task.

    Sad to say, it is not easy to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage that is governing Hong Kong either.


    How real is the game of money?

    On our way to taking the transport home after having dinner yesterday, I said to my friend that I think 'the game of money is unreal', referring to the astronomical amount of debts that the US is having, and its attempt at making the debts worth less by printing more and more money.
    My statement turned out to be a little prophetic. This morning, I looked at the TV screen with my jaw dropping as the news said that for a couple of brief minutes the Dow plunged by almost ten percent, and then just as incredibly a couple of minutes later the index recovered. The graphs made the most dramatic and thrilling reading!

    It is so far not known what caused the tumultous fluctuation. Speculations are rife and investigations have been launched by the US Government. Whether it is, as rumoured, that it was caused by a trader incorrectly entering data or it is an audacious attempt at manipulating the market and taking profit, this incident just shows how fragile the market can be and, as I said to my friend, how unreal the game of money is. but that's a game in which so many people bet their lifetime saving.

    That, in itself, is also unreal.


    Glorious facade, rotten core

    Shown in these pictures are not some palaces in Europe. It is a hotel in Hunan that a friend of mine stayed at during his recent trip to China.

    The facade is absolutely glamorous. The hotel is no 5-star upmarket affair, but like so many other things in the nation, they are so taken to the window-dressing business, and with the sort of money they have and the costs of labour and materials still being largely affordable, such showy but tasteless creations or imitations are the order of the day.

    Behind the facade, though, one can often find that the core is rather rotten. My stays at hotels in China are not always satisfactory. I have to confess that it is no 5-star upmarket affair that I patronise, but there is always something wrong about the room, such as the plumbery or the smell, or the service. The people just don't seem to be adequately trained to for the hospitality business. For example, while in other countries, checking out a a simple business of paying and giving an honest answer to the question "Have you used anything in the minibar?", in China you have to wait until someone has done a thorough search and they are satisfied that you have not only not used anything in the minibar but also not snatched a towel or the coffee-maker. You just don't feel valued or respected.

    Another very telling example is the recent Expo in Shanghai. While this is the most expensive Expo ever and China is so proud of the hardware, such as the spectacular opening ceremony and the various pavilions, what has appeared in the news in the first few days after the glamorous are the chaotic scenes of people scrambling for entry and confrontations between officials and the public and the media.

    The country should realise that it is not the fireworks and the fanfare that counts but the fidelity.



    dark clouds troop forward
    fresh breezes heralds first rain
    summer has arrived